Sunday, March 29, 2009

Trust and follow

FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT, March 29, 2009:

A man was standing on the edge of a cliff one day admiring the beautiful scenery laid out before him. Suddenly, without warning, the ground beneath his feet broke away and he began to fall. In desperation he grabbed a small branch and held on with all his might as he hung over the edge. The rocky ground was hundreds of feet below his dangling legs. So the man began to yell out, “Help me! Is there anyone up there! Help me! Help me!” Suddenly the man heard a loud voice that said, “This is God. I will help you. Put all your faith and trust in me and I will take you safely to the top. All you have to do is let go.” The man paused for a moment, looked intently at the ground far below and then back to the heavens and yelled, “Is there anyone else up there?”

Letting go and fully trusting in God is one of the most difficult things we’ll ever face in our spiritual journey. But, it is also one of the most necessary parts of truly living as people of faith. Jesus tells us as much in today’s Gospel passage, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be.” Jesus asks us to trust fully in Him in this life – not to trust in ourselves or our own ability – but to trust that His way is the right way – even when we can’t see the bigger picture; even when we can’t foretell the outcome. He simply asks us to trust and to follow. The hopes of our Lenten journey are that we will all embrace this trust more deeply.

There is a story about an emperor trying to choose his successor. The emperor decided to choose from among the children of the kingdom. Calling them together he said, “I am going to give each one of you a very special seed today. Plant it and care for it and return one year from today with what you have grown. I will then judge and the one I choose will be the next emperor!”

One boy, named Rex, went home and excitedly told his mother the story. She helped him get a pot and planting soil, and he planted the seed and watered it carefully. Every day he would water it and watch to see if it had grown. After about three weeks, some of the other youths began to talk about their seeds and the plants that were beginning to grow. Rex kept checking his seed, but nothing ever grew. Three weeks, 4 weeks, 5 weeks went by. Still nothing. By now, others were talking about their plants but Rex didn't have a plant, and he felt like a failure. Six months went by and still nothing. Everyone else had trees and tall plants, but he had nothing. Rex didn't say a word, however. He just kept waiting for his seed to grow.

A year finally went by and all the youths of the kingdom brought their plants to the emperor for inspection. Rex told his mother that he wasn't going to take an empty pot, but his Mother said he must be honest about what happened. Rex felt sick to his stomach, but he knew his Mother was right. He took his empty pot to the palace.

When Rex arrived, he was amazed at the variety of plants grown by the other youths. They were beautiful - in all shapes and sizes. Rex put his empty pot on the floor and many of the other kids laughed at him. When the emperor arrived, Rex just tried to hide in the back. “My, what great plants, trees and flowers you have grown,” said the emperor.

Looking over the crowd, the emperor spotted Rex at the back of the room with his empty pot. He ordered him to the front. Rex was terrified. When he got to the front, the Emperor asked his name. “My name is Rex,” he replied. He looked at the boy, and then announced to the crowd, “Behold your new emperor! His name is Rex!” Rex couldn't believe it. He couldn't even grow a seed. How could he be the new emperor?

Then the emperor said, “One year ago today, I gave everyone here a seed. I told you to take the seed, plant it, water it and bring it back to me today. But I gave you all boiled seeds, which would not grow. All of you, except Rex, have brought me trees and plants and flowers. When the rest of you found that the seed would not grow, you substituted another seed for the one I gave you. Rex was the only one who trusted to do what I asked no matter what. Therefore, he will be the new emperor!”

Rex trusted even when it seemed difficult. How many times in our own lives are we unwilling to offer pure and honest trust and instead try and change things ourselves, without God’s help. Scripture shows us time and time again, that when we fail to trust in God, things don’t go our way. Rex couldn’t understand how things had gone wrong with his seed, yet he didn’t alter his course; he continued to follow the emperor and for that he was rewarded. How much more so for those who trust and follow God.

Our Lenten journey calls us to just this kind of trust in the Lord, whom we should follow wherever He leads. “The Father will honor whoever serves me… And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.”

May God give you peace.

Mind over chocolate

By Alana B. Elias Kornfeld TIME Magazine, Mar 26, 2009

Move over, organic, fair trade and free range--the latest in enlightened edibles is here: food with "embedded" positive intentions. While the idea isn't new--cultures like the Navajo have been doing it for centuries--for-profit companies in the U.S. and Canada are catching on, infusing products with good vibes through meditation, prayer and even music. Since 2006, California company H2Om has sold water infused with wishes for "love," "joy" and "perfect health" via the words, symbols and colors on the label (which "create a specific vibratory frequency," according to co-founder Sandy Fox) and the restorative music played at their bottling warehouse. At Creo Mundi, a Canadian maker of protein powder, employees gather around each shipment and state aloud the benefits they hope to imbue it with for their consumers--increased performance, balance and vitality. Intentional Chocolate, founded in 2007 by chocolatier Jim Walsh, uses a special recording device to capture the electromagnetic brain waves of meditating Tibetan monks; Walsh then exposes his confections to the recording for five days per batch.

We hear your eyes rolling. But some claim there's actually something to the idea that humans can alter the physical world with their minds, and they offer research to prove it. Dean Radin, a senior scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences in Petaluma, Calif., conducted a test in which, he says, subjects who ate Intentional Chocolate improved their mood 67% compared with people who ate regular chocolate. "If the Pope blessed water, everyone wants that water. But does it actually do something?" Radin asks. "The answer is yes, to a small extent."

James Fallon, a professor of psychiatry and human behavior at the University of California at Irvine School of Medicine, is skeptical. "So I take a rutabaga and put it close to my head, and it somehow changes the food and improves the mood of the person who ate it?" he asks. "Nah."
Gimmick or not, in this economy any product that promises a spiritual pick-me-up could be in high demand. Since the recession, says Phil Lempert, editor of health-food site Supermarketguru.com "everyone is ready to jump off a bridge." With the right marketing, he says, embedded foods "could be huge."

Still, not everyone is keen on the idea of packaging spirituality. Once the profit motive comes into play, "it's difficult to keep things pure," says George Churinoff, a monk at Deer Park Buddhist Center in Oregon, Wis., who was involved with Intentional Chocolate in its early stages. "Then [the product] may not be blessed in any way with motivation except maybe to make money."

Friday, March 27, 2009

Cell Phones and Bibles

Did you ever wonder what would happen if we treated our Bible like we treat our cell phone?

What if we carried it around in our purses or pockets?

What if we flipped through it several time a day?

What if we turned back to go get it if we forgot it?

What if we used it to receive messages from the text?

What if we treated it like we couldn't live without it?

What if we gave it to kids as gifts?

What if we used it when we traveled?

What if we used it in case of emergency?

This is something to make you go....hmm...where is my Bible?

Oh, and one more thing. Unlike our cell phone, we don't have to worry about paying a big monthly bill because Jesus has already paid the bill for all of us. Makes you stop and think 'where are my priorities?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Awakening from winter sleep

March 25th message of Our Lady:

“Dear children! In this time of spring, when everything is awakening from the winter sleep, you also awaken your souls with prayer so that they may be ready to receive the light of the risen Jesus. Little children, may He draw you closer to His Heart so that you may become open to eternal life. I pray for you and intercede before the Most High for your sincere conversion. Thank you for having responded to my call.”

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Ant and the Contact Lens

From the email files:

Brenda was almost halfway to the top of the tremendous granite cliff. She was standing on a ledge where she was taking a breather during this, her first rock climb. As she rested there, the safety rope snapped against her eye and knocked out her contact lens. 'Great', she thought. 'Here I am on a rock ledge, hundreds of feet from the bottom and hundreds of feet to the top of this cliff, and now my sight is blurry.'

She looked and looked, hoping that somehow it had landed on the ledge, but it just wasn't there. She felt the panic rising in her, so she began praying. She prayed for calm, and she prayed that she may find her contact lens.

When she got to the top, a friend examined her eye and her clothing for the lens, but it was not to be found. Although she was calm now that she was at the top, she was saddened because she could not clearly see across the range of mountains. She thought of the bible verse 'The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth.'

She thought, 'Lord, You can see all these mountains.. You know every stone and leaf, and you know exactly where my contact lens is. Please help me.'

Later, when they had hiked down the trail to the bottom of the cliff, they met another party of climbers just starting up the face of the cliff. One of them shouted out, 'Hey, you guys! Anybody lose a contact lens?'

Well, that would be startling enough, but you know why the climber saw it? An ant was moving slowly across a twig on the face of the rock, carrying it!

The story doesn't end there. Brenda's father is a cartoonist. When she told him the incredible story of the ant, the prayer, and the contact lens, he drew a cartoon of an ant lugging that contact lens with the caption, 'Lord, I don't know why you want me to carry this thing. I can't eat it, and it's awfully heavy, but if this is what you want me to do; I'll carry it for you.'
I think it would do all of us some good to say, 'God, I don't know why you want me to carry this load. I can see no good in it and it's awfully heavy, but if you want me to carry it, I will.' God doesn't call the qualified, He qualifies the called.


Yes, I do love GOD. He is my source of existence and my Savior. He keeps me functioning each and every day. Without Him, I am nothing, but with Him ... I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me. (Phil.. 4:13)

Pope Encourages Eucharistic Adoration

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The strong, silent type

Solemnity of St. Joseph, March 19, 2009:

Today's feast is certainly one of the biggest feasts in the Church year. This is afer all the day that we celebrate St. Joseph as nothing less than the Patron of the Universal Church. The whole Church, then, in its broad sweep to the corners of the earth finds itself under the patronal protection of this great man, St. Joseph, the husband of Mary.

So, on this momentous day in his honor, what does St. Joseph have to say to us? Well, we've all heard the descriptive given to the strong, silent type: "He's a man of few words." Well, for St. Joseph, from the record of Scripture, we can take that another step. St. Joseph is a man of no words. In all of the pages of the New Testament, good St. Joseph doesn't speak a single word.

But, I think, it is actually from his silence that we can learn a deep and abiding lesson from him. St. Joseph is not a man of words, but he is a man of silence and deeds. In place of an abudance of words, St. Joseph gives us another example - one of deep obedience, of deep listening, followed by action. The Latin root of the word obedience means "to listen." And this is just what Joseph does.

We see this in today's Gospel passage from St. Matthew. After the angels reveals to Joseph what he is to do about his marriage to Mary, we don't hear that he pondered, that he questioned, that he disagreed. We hear simply, "When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him."

This is not an isolated example. God tells Joseph to marry Mary, and he does. God tells him to name their child Jesus, and he does. God tells him to protect them and shepherd them off to Egypt, and he does. God tells Joseph to return his family and raise their son in Nazareth, and he does. And God probably told him many, many other things in the years between that beginning and Jesus public life, and we can be assured that Joseph did what God commanded over and over, in his quiet and courageous way.

What an incredible lesson this is for us in the way we follow the Lord. How often do we follow God with such eagerness; with such certainty; with such confidence that God's way is the way?

Let Joseph's silence speak to us today. Let his silence speak loudly to us of the way we are to model our own relationship with God. Let us follow St. Joseph and listen deeply to God in our lives and follow where he may lead.

St. Joseph, pray for us.

May God give you peace.

A Pro-Life victory!!!

This is some of the best news that I've heard in a while on the pro-life front. The reasons may not be the ones that we support, but and end to capital punishment is an end to capital punishment. We'll take it and continue to pray that other states will follow!

SANTA FE, N.M. – Gov. Bill Richardson, who has supported capital punishment, signed legislation to repeal New Mexico's death penalty, calling it the "most difficult decision in my political life."

The new law replaces lethal injection with a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. The repeal takes effect on July 1, and applies only to crimes committed after that date.

"Regardless of my personal opinion about the death penalty, I do not have confidence in the criminal justice system as it currently operates to be the final arbiter when it comes to who lives and who dies for their crime," Richardson said.

The American Civil Liberties Union called it "a historic step and a clear sign that the United States continues to make significant progress toward eradicating capital punishment once and for all."

But the New Mexico Sheriffs' and Police Association opposed repeal, saying capital punishment deters violence against police officers, jailers and prison guards. District attorneys also opposed the legislation, arguing that the death penalty was a useful prosecutorial tool.

"I'm worried for our law enforcement officers who are out there courageously doing their job every night. We've lost a layer of protection and it's a sad day in New Mexico," Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White said.

New Mexico becomes only the second state after New Jersey to ban executions since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. Fourteen other states do not impose capital punishment.

The repeal passed the state Senate by a 24-18 vote Friday and was approved by the House a month earlier. With Richardson facing a midnight deadline to decide whether to sign or veto the legislation, he said he made the decision in the late afternoon after going to the state penitentiary.

There he saw the death chamber and visited the maximum security unit where those sentenced to life-without-parole could be housed.

"My conclusion was those cells are something that may be worse than death," the Democratic governor said at a news conference in the Capitol. "I believe this is a just punishment."

The governor also caught a glimpse of one of the two men on death row, Robert Fry. The repeal doesn't affect the death sentences of Fry or the other inmate, Timothy Allen, and Richardson said he wouldn't commute those sentences.

Richardson said he has long believed — and still does — that the death penalty was a "just punishment" in rare cases for the worst crimes. But he said he decided to sign the repeal legislation because of flaws in how the death penalty was applied.

"More than 130 death row inmates have been exonerated in the past 10 years in this country, including four New Mexicans — a fact I cannot ignore," he said.

"Even with advances in DNA and other forensic evidence technologies, we can't be 100 percent sure that only the truly guilty are convicted of capital crimes."

Currently, New Mexico allows for the death penalty for certain murders, including killing a child, a law enforcement or correctional officer and a witness to a crime. New Mexico has executed one person since 1960.

The governor solicited input over the weekend from state residents. He said he got to 12,000 responses by phone, e-mail and visits, with more than three-fourths in favor of repeal.

"It was never popular in New Mexico," said Patrick Tyrell, a social worker and longtime lobbyist for repeal whose brother-in-law was murdered in 1984.

Roman Catholic Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of the Diocese of Las Cruces, said the governor "has made New Mexico a leader in turning away from the death penalty with all its moral problems and issues of fairness and justice."

A former congressman and member of President Bill Clinton's cabinet, Richardson said he was disturbed that death rows contain so many minorities. And, from a foreign policy perspective, the death penalty "did not seem to me to be good moral leadership and good foreign policy."

"This is a milestone that will make other states stand up and take notice," said Larry Cox, executive director, Amnesty International USA.

In Montana, a proposed ban has cleared the Senate and is pending in the House. In Kansas, a bill failed to clear the Senate this week.
___
On the Net:
The repeal is HB285 at New Mexico Legislature: http://www.nmlegis.gov
Governor's statement: http://www.governor.state.nm.us/press.php?id1103

Solemnity of St. Joseph, husband of Mary

The Bible pays Joseph the highest compliment: he was a “just” man. The quality meant a lot more than faithfulness in paying debts.

When the Bible speaks of God “justifying” someone, it means that God, the all-holy or “righteous” One, so transforms a person that the individual shares somehow in God’s own holiness, and hence it is really “right” for God to love him or her. In other words, God is not playing games, acting as if we were lovable when we are not.

By saying Joseph was “just,” the Bible means that he was one who was completely open to all that God wanted to do for him. He became holy by opening himself totally to God.

The rest we can easily surmise. Think of the kind of love with which he wooed and won Mary, and the depth of the love they shared during their marriage.

It is no contradiction of Joseph’s manly holiness that he decided to divorce Mary when she was found to be with child. The important words of the Bible are that he planned to do this “quietly” because he was “a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame” (Matthew 1:19).

The just man was simply, joyfully, wholeheartedly obedient to God—in marrying Mary, in naming Jesus, in shepherding the precious pair to Egypt, in bringing them to Nazareth, in the undetermined number of years of quiet faith and courage.

Comment:

The Bible tells us nothing of Joseph in the years after the return to Nazareth except the incident of finding Jesus in the Temple (see Luke 2:41–51). Perhaps this can be taken to mean that God wants us to realize that the holiest family was like every other family, that the circumstances of life for the holiest family were like those of every family, so that when Jesus’ mysterious nature began to appear, people couldn’t believe that he came from such humble beginnings: “Is he not the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother named Mary...?” (Matthew 13:55a). It was almost as indignant as “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46b).

Quote:
“He was chosen by the eternal Father as the trustworthy guardian and protector of his greatest treasures, namely, his divine Son and Mary, Joseph’s wife. He carried out this vocation with complete fidelity until at last God called him, saying: ‘Good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord’” (St. Bernardine of Siena).


(This entry appears in the print edition of Saint of the Day.)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Real St. Patrick

Some 1,500 years ago a teenage boy from what is now Great Britain was kidnapped and enslaved by marauders from a neighboring country. Not since Paris absconded with Helen of Troy has a kidnapping so changed the course of history.

The invading marauders came from fifth-century Ireland. The teenager they captured eventually escaped, but returned voluntarily some years later. In the meantime, he had become convinced that he was handpicked by God to convert the entire country to Christianity.

Apparently, he was right.

In the process of converting the primitive people of Ireland, however, the former slave experienced a conversion, too. In the years that followed, he not only shared God with the people of Ireland, but also grew in his understanding of God through them.

And so it was that a young Briton named Patricius died an Irishman named Patrick. And neither Ireland nor Christianity was ever quite the same. This conviction of Thomas Cahill, Catholic author of the best-selling book How the Irish Saved Civilization, was made clear in an exclusive interview for St. Anthony Messenger last August.

Patrick in Myth and History

No, Patrick never chased the snakes out of Ireland. Nor do we really know whether he used the shamrock to teach converts about the Trinity. But what we do know about St. Patrick is far more interesting than many of the legends that grew up around him.

And the fact that we know anything about him at all is as great a miracle as any that later traditions ascribe to him. For Patrick is literally the only individual we know from fifth-century Ireland or England. Not only do no other written records from Britain or Ireland exist from that century, but there are simply no written records at all from Ireland prior to Patrick's.

Surprisingly enough, however, scholarly debate about the authenticity of what Patrick left us is almost nonexistent. The chronology of his life is very confused. Indeed, we can't even identify for sure when he was born, ordained a bishop or died! Experts agree, however, that the two examples of his writing that we have are clearly written by the same man, the man we know as Patrick.

These two brief documents, Patrick's Confession and his "Letter to Coroticus," are the basis for all we know of the historical Patrick. The Confession, because its purpose was to recount his own call to convert the Irish and to justify his mission to an apparently unsympathetic audience in Britain, is not a traditional biography.

And the "Letter to Coroticus," apparently an Irish warlord whom Patrick was forced to excommunicate, is a wonderful illustration of Patrick's prowess as a preacher but doesn't tell us much by way of traditional biography either.

The uncontested, if somewhat unspecific, biographical facts about Patrick are as follows:
Patrick was born Patricius somewhere in Roman Britain to a relatively wealthy family. He was not religious as a youth and, in fact, claims to have practically renounced the faith of his family.
While in his teens, Patrick was kidnapped in a raid and transported to Ireland, where he was enslaved to a local warlord and worked as a shepherd until he escaped six years later.

He returned home and eventually undertook studies for the priesthood with the intention of returning to Ireland as a missionary to his former captors. It is not clear when he actually made it back to Ireland, or for how long he ministered there, but it was definitely for a number of years.

By the time he wrote the Confession and the "Letter to Coroticus," Patrick was recognized by both Irish natives and the Church hierarchy as the bishop of Ireland. By this time, also, he had clearly made a permanent commitment to Ireland and intended to die there. Scholars have no reason to doubt that he did.

Stranger in a Strange Land

Though Patrick's writings tell us little in terms of names and dates, they do reveal much about Patrick the man. But traditional biographies of Patrick, suggests Thomas Cahill, author and former religion editor for Doubleday, don't really do him justice.

"I think they missed a lot of what Patrick was about because they approached him as a kind of plaster-of-paris saint. Two things," he says, "really shine through his Confession: his humility and his strength. That strength is what has been missing in the earlier biographies and portraits of Patrick."

In fact, Cahill says, "The Patrick who came back to Ireland with the gospel was a real tough guy. He couldn't have been anything else—only a very tough man could have hoped to survive those people. I don't mean to say he wasn't a saint—he was a great saint—but he was a very rough, vigorous man."

And he was his own man, writes Noel Dermot O'Donoughue, O.D.C., in his 1987 biography Aristocracy of Soul: Patrick of Ireland. When Patrick receives the vision that he believes calls him to evangelize the Irish, he doesn't hesitate, despite the fact that in 400 years no one had taken the gospel beyond the boundaries of Roman civilization. "He goes his own way following his own dreams and divine 'responses,'" says O'Donoughue, even though by doing so he is challenging the structure and ordinances of the Church he serves.

It doesn't take a scholar to recognize how he was able to do this. Patrick was so certain that he had been specifically called by God to do exactly what he did—return to the land of his captivity and convert the barbarians to Christianity—that his Confession leaves even the modern reader little room for doubt. In this certainty, Patrick finds his strength—strength sufficient, in fact, to overcome every obstacle he will encounter in the remaining years of his life.

The first obstacle was his education. The six years Patrick was enslaved in Ireland put him permanently behind his peers in terms of his classical education. His Latin would always be poor. Later in life when he used Latin less frequently, it was practically unintelligible at times.

Despite the fact that Patrick would be self-conscious about his literary limitations to the end of his days, he was not uneducated. One suspects, however, that he was primarily self-educated. His use of biblical quotations, Cahill says, "is far more accurate and appropriate than many of the Fathers of the Church."

And although almost any other qualification pales by comparison to Patrick's zeal for his mission, he must have set off equipped with an intellect both subtle and supple. For he not only decided, unilaterally, to do what no man in 400 years of Christian history had done before him—to carry the gospel message to the ends of the earth—but he also found a way to do it.

It's hard to grasp just what an accomplishment that was, says Cahill. When Patrick decided to "willingly go back to the barbarians with the gospel," Cahill explains, "he had to figure out how to bring the values of the gospel he loved to such people. These were people who still practiced human sacrifice, who warred with each other constantly and who were renowned as the great slave traders of the day.

"That was not a simple thing. This was before courses were given to missionaries in what is now called inculturation—how to plant the gospel in such a culture," Cahill says. "No one had ever even thought about how to do it; Patrick had to work his way through it himself.

"I know that Paul is referred to as the first missionary," Cahill says, "but Paul never got out of the Greco-Roman world, nor did any of the apostles. And here we are, five centuries after Jesus, who had urged his disciples to preach to all nations. They just didn't do that. And the reason they didn't is because they did not consider the barbarians to be human."

Patron Saint of the Excluded

Patrick's enslavement as an adolescent had to have been a critical factor in the development of his unique attitude toward the Irish. Even in captivity, he must have come to know them as human, hence, deserving of the gospel. This set the stage for his call to convert them.

As a result of his enslavement, Cahill, whose particular interest is the "hinges of history," says, "Patrick grew into a man that he truly would not otherwise have become. So you would have to say that Patrick's kidnapping was a great grace, not just for the people of Ireland, but for all of Western history."

Had he never been kidnapped, it seems quite likely that it would have been decades, probably centuries, before Ireland was converted. It certainly would not have been in a position to "save civilization," as Cahill so dramatically puts it in his book, when the Roman Empire crumbled and literacy was lost—lost, that is, by all but the Irish monasteries planted by Patrick and his successors.

Not surprisingly, his own experience in captivity left Patrick with a virulent hatred of the institution of slavery, and he would later become the first human being in the history of the world to speak out unequivocally against it.

"The papacy did not condemn slavery as immoral until the end of the 19th century," Cahill says, "but here is Patrick in the fifth century seeing it for what it is. I think that shows enormous insight and courage and a tremendous 'fellow feeling'—the ability to suffer with other people, and to understand what other people's suffering is like."

In fact, although he is renowned as the patron saint of the country and the people he evangelized, a better advocate than Patrick cannot be found for anyone disadvantaged or living on the fringes of society.

"He really is one of the great saints of the downtrodden and excluded—people that no one else wants anything to do with," Cahill says.

Women find a great advocate in Patrick. Unlike his contemporary, St. Augustine, to whom actual women seemed more like personifications of the temptations of the flesh than persons, Patrick's Confession speaks of women as individuals. Cahill points out, for example, Patrick's account of "a blessed woman, Irish by birth, noble, extraordinarily beautiful—a true adult—whom I baptized."

Elsewhere, he lauds the strength and courage of Irish women: "But it is the women kept in slavery who suffer the most—and who keep their spirits up despite the menacing and terrorizing they must endure. The Lord gives grace to his many handmaids; and though they are forbidden to do so, they follow him with backbone." He is actually the first male Christian since Jesus, Cahill says, to speak well of women.

"The Fathers of the Church had the most horrible things to say—it's frightening to read what people like Augustine or John Chrysostom had to say about women. As remarkable as anything about Patrick is that in his writings there is never anything remotely like that."

In fact, there are clear instances of him saying warm and appreciative things about women. O'Donoughue adds, "It is clear that the man who wrote the Confession and "Coroticus" is deeply and sensitively open to women and womanhood....But he does not take refuge in either 'the pretentious asceticism, nor yet in that neurotic fear of and contempt for the feminine' that has entered so deeply into the attitudes and structures of the Christian Church....In this respect he is a complete man."

Patrick the Mystic

Modern Catholics might have a hard time reconciling the portrait of the rugged individualist that Cahill describes with the current notion of a mystic. Yet O'Donoughue says that in the Confession, "the main lines of Patrick's spiritual development show through, and they are unmistakably the lines of a mystical journey." In fact, his biography of Patrick is the first in a series of works edited by Michael Glazier called "The Way of the Christian Mystics."

So what makes Patrick a mystic?

First, as recounted in the Confession, most of the major events in Patrick's life are preceded by a dream or vision. The visions were usually simple—almost self-explanatory—but they were also very vivid and carried enormous emotional impact with Patrick.

The first vision, which he received after six years of servitude in Ireland, came by way of a mysterious voice, heard in his sleep. "Your hungers are rewarded: You are going home," the voice said. "Look, your ship is ready." Indeed, some 200 miles away, there it was. (Patrick was nothing if not tenacious.)

The second vision—the one that came to him after he'd returned home and that called him back to Ireland—was equally straightforward. Victoricus, a man Patrick knew in Ireland, appeared to him in this dream, holding countless letters, one of which he handed to Patrick. The letter was entitled "The Voice of the Irish." Upon reading just the title, he heard a multitude of voices crying out to him: "Holy boy, we beg you to come and walk among us once more." He was so moved by this that he was unable to read further and woke up.

But the dream recurred again and again. Eventually Patrick tells his dismayed family of his plans to return to evangelize Ireland and soon begins his preparations for the priesthood. What is interesting about this dream calling Patrick to his lifelong mission to the Irish is that it comes not as a directive from God, but as a plea from the Irish.

It is also significant, O'Donoughue says, that "the voices in the dream do not ask for preaching or baptism but only that Patrick as one specially endowed should come back and share their lives, come and walk once more with them." In other words, at least according to his recollections decades later, Patrick wasn't commanded to bring civilization or salvation to the heathens. He was invited to live among them as Christ's witness.

When he finally returns to Ireland, he proceeds to treat the barbarians with the respect implicit in his dream. From the outset, Patrick feels humbled and honored that God has selected him to convert the Irish. Apparently he never doubted that he would be able to do so.

Patrick even came to see his own kidnapping as a grace, Cahill says. From the time Patrick sets off on his 200-mile journey to his "waiting ship," he is convinced "once and for all that he is surrounded by Providence and that he is really in the hands of God. And that is what gets him through the rest of his life. That is what enables him to do the incredible thing that he does by returning to the barbarians." And that closeness to God in no way diminishes as the years progress.

"Patrick was a mystic who felt the presence of God in every turn of the road," Cahill says. "God was palpable to him, and his relationship to him was very, very close." In fact, he says, it was very much like the relationship in the Bible that Jesus has with God the Father. "It is very familiar and comfortable, and that is how Patrick saw God at work in the world."

Patrick's Lasting Legacy

When Patrick looked back at the end of his life on his service to Ireland, Cahill says, he must have been pleased with his accomplishments.

By the time of his death, or shortly thereafter, "the Irish stopped slave trading and they never took it up again." Human sacrifice had become unthinkable. And although the Irish never stopped warring on one another, "war became much more confined and limited by what we might call the 'rules of warfare.'

"I think that though he probably died knowing that he had succeeded [in his mission]," Cahill adds, "he also died hoping that success would be permanent and not temporary."

In fact, Patrick's success couldn't have been more permanent. Not only had he accomplished what he'd set out to do—convert the nation to Christ—but in the process he'd retrieved from obscurity the primary objective set by Christ for his apostles: the spread of the gospel to the ends of the earth.

The inadvertent results of his conversion of Ireland, however, were equally astonishing and long-lasting.First, as Cahill makes the strong case in How the Irish Saved Civilization, it is Patrick's conversion of Ireland that makes possible the preservation of Western thought through the early Dark Ages by the Irish monasteries founded by Patrick's successors. When the lights went out all over Europe, a candle still burned in Ireland. That candle was lit by Patrick.

Second, by converting the Irish pagans to Christianity without making any attempt to romanize them as well, he founded a new kind of Church, one that was both Catholic and primitive.

Third, with Patrick's introduction of Christianity to Ireland, Cahill says, the faith was introduced for the first time into a culture free of the sociopolitical baggage of Greco-Roman civilization. Prior to Patrick's gift of the faith to Ireland, to be Christian was to be Roman, or at least to be a product of Roman civilization.

The conversion of Ireland, however, sees the faith thrive in an entirely different environment—in a culture that celebrates rather than abnegates the natural, a culture in which, according to Cahill, there is a "sense of the world as holy, as the Book of God—as a healing mystery, fraught with divine messages."

In this tradition, Cahill explains, "there is a trust in the objects of sensory perception, which are seen as signposts from God. But there is also a sensuous reveling in the splendors of the created world, which would have made Roman Christians exceedingly uncomfortable."

As a result, Cahill says, "The early Irish Christianity planted in Ireland by Patrick is much more joyful and celebratory [than its Roman predecessor] in the way it approaches the natural world. It is really not a theology of sin but of the goodness of creation, and it really is intensely incarnational."

And since it was the Irish monks who served as the bridge between classical Christianity and the Middle Ages, medieval Christianity tends to reflect the celebratory nature of Irish spirituality rather than the gloom and sin-centeredness of its classical predecessor.Finally, Patrick gave the Irish himself—knowingly, willingly, joyfully, proudly. He did this despite the fact that, even at the end of his life, "after 30 years of missionary activity," Cahill says, "he knows he's still living in a very scary place. You don't change people—people who offer human sacrifice and who war on one another constantly—you don't change them overnight."

But change them he eventually did. And the example of his life—his courage, his intelligence, his compassion and his incredible, indomitable faith—made the lives of all Catholics, even those living 1,500 years later, just a little easier.

To millions of modern-day Catholics, an Ireland without Patrick is unthinkable. But so, too, Cahill says, is the prospect of modern life without saints like him. The saints are for the ages, and ours no less than any other.

"Life would be almost unbearable without such people," he says. "I think it would be unbearable. The saints are for everyone—believer, unbeliever, Christian, non-Christian—it doesn't really matter. They are the people who say by their lives that human life is valuable—that my life is valuable—and that there is a reason for living. Without them, history would just be one horror after another."

Patrick at the Judgment

There is no question that Patrick taught us by his example that all life is, indeed, precious. Yet it's hard to imagine that there isn't a soft spot in his heart reserved just for the Irish.
In fact, there is an old legend that promises that on the last day, though Christ will judge all the other nations, it will be St. Patrick sitting in judgment on the Irish.

When asked whether that spelled good news or bad news for the Irish, Cahill doesn't hesitate.
"That's great news for the Irish," he says with a laugh.

Anita McGurn McSorley is associate editor of The Leaven, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas. She has also written for Columbia. Last year, she interviewed Father Edward Hays, founder of Shantivanam House of Prayer, for St. Anthony Messenger. She is a member of St. Patrick Parish in Kansas City.

(From American Catholic)

Cardinal calls on Irish to redicsover their faith

Armagh, Ireland, Mar 17, 2009 / 12:07 am (CNA).- The Archbishop of Armagh Cardinal Sean Brady has issued a St. Patrick’s Day message wishing a “happy and faith-filled” St. Patrick’s Day to celebrants. Noting the importance of the saint’s Christian faith, he expressed hopes that Irish people will rediscover the “joy and love” of faith.

Cardinal Brady also lamented the return of violence to Northern Ireland.

“It is my very great pleasure on this our National Feastday to wish Irish people everywhere a very happy and faith-filled St. Patrick’s Day,” he wrote on Tuesday. “All over the world today, Irish men and women, and those who claim Irish descent, will gather to celebrate their identity and their heritage.”

Saying the feast unites Irish people all over the world, he commented that Patrick has become a symbol both of Irish history and of Irish heritage.

“But simply to reduce Patrick to a symbol of that kind, worthy as it may be, without any reference to his own Christian faith distorts the truth and in no way does justice to the real stature of the man,” Cardinal Brady said, warning celebrants not to lose the “real focus” amid the “music, parades and merriment.”

“We join together today not just to celebrate Irish culture and identity, but also to remember the man who described himself as an ambassador for God and who prayed that it might never happen that he, Patrick, should lose the people which God had won for himself at the end of the earth. Today we honor a man who nurtured and spread Christianity throughout our native land – setting down a strong foundation by building on the solid rock of steadfast faith.”

“My hope, on this St. Patrick’s Day, is that more and more Irish people, who have lost their connection with faith, will rediscover it and rediscover what St. Patrick called ‘the joy and love of faith’.”

St. Patrick founded the Archdiocese of Armagh around 445 A.D.

Cardinal Brady, his successor, also commented on the recent killings of two British soldiers and a policeman in Northern Ireland.

Saying he is “very much aware” that violence has returned to Northern Ireland, Cardinal Brady said the “awful and tragic events” of last week could show the need to work “unceasingly” for peace in Ireland.

“I would urge all citizens to redouble efforts to build a peaceful society. Violence is not the answer. The perpetrators of violence are seeking to destroy the peace we are building,” he continued, calling for support for peacemaking politicians.

The cardinal then adopted as his own the prayer from St. Patrick’s Breastplate:

“Christ be in all hearts thinking about me
“Christ be on all tongues telling of me
“Christ be the vision in eyes that see me
“In ears that hear me
“Christ ever be.”

From Pauline Year to Priestly Year

While the yearlong celebrations of the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of St Paul prepare for their final lap, earlier today the Pope announced a focus for the following 12 months on the priesthood.

At the close of the annual plenary of the Congregation for the Clergy, B16 said that, with this year marking the 150th anniversary of the death of St John Vianney -- the Curé of Ars and patron of parish priests -- he would open a "Year of Priesthood" on 19 June; the French cleric's feast is marked on the anniversary of his death, 4 August 1859.

During the jubilee year, the Vatican said the Pope would declare Vianney "patron of all the world's priests" and that a directory for confessors and spiritual directors would just be one of many priesthood-related initiatives to roll out over its course. In remarks at the closing of the Clergy plenary, the pontiff added that the step was being taken "to support the priest's tension toward spiritual perfection upon which, above all else, depends the success of his ministry."

Benedict called on the Congregation, along with diocesan leaders and religious superiors to "promote and coordinate the various spiritual and pastoral initiatives that would appear useful to make better known the importance of the role and mission of the priest in the church and contemporary society."

The "Priestly Year" will close on 19 June 2010, with an international gathering of priests in St Peter's Square over which the Pope will preside.

(From Whispers In the Loggia)

Monday, March 16, 2009

True Irish quality

From today's Boston Globe:

By Kevin Cullen
Globe Columnist / March 16, 2009

We are told that tomorrow is a great day to be Irish. We are told this by people who hawk beer, and greeting cards that show creatures with simian features, and $20 cover charges.

St. Patrick's Day has become just another day to sell stuff. To suggest it has anything to do with being Irish is patently ridiculous and frankly insulting.

It takes a people and centuries of culture and colonization and famine and struggle and freedom and reduces them to an opportunity to promote overindulgence in alcohol and false pride.

There are qualities the Irish possess that are rarely celebrated on the day of their patron saint, and one of them is their disproportionate presence in the Third World. This is where Maura Lennon comes in.

She was sitting on a bench on the fishing pier on Castle Island the other day, trying to explain why she does what she does, and what she does is go wherever people are dying and tries to save their lives.

"When I was a girl," she was saying, "we were taught there was a responsibility to the poor, the hungry, and I think it resonated, even as a child, because of our history."

She was 21 years old, working as a nurse in Dublin, and one night she watched a documentary about the famine in Ethiopia.

"It was like a biblical scene," she said. "Sepia colored. Children dying in their mother's arms."
The next day, she went to a hospital run by the Daughters of Charity and grabbed one of the nuns and said she had to go to Africa.

Sister Antoinette said her order couldn't take on a lay missionary, but gave her the name of some mad sportswriter named John O'Shea who had worked with Mother Teresa and had started something called GOAL.

She met him on St. Stephen's Day, the day after Christmas, in 1984 in the GOAL office, which was a room in the Royal Marine Hotel in Dun Laoghaire.

"Fine," O'Shea said, giving her pitch two seconds consideration, "you can go to Ethiopia."

She slept in tents at night and played God by day. She looked into the eyes of the people struggling to get in the feeding center, feeling how hard they pushed against her, gauging who was the strongest, because there wasn't enough food.

She did things she couldn't back home. She stuffed children's prolapsed rectums back inside them, because if she didn't they would die. Sometimes they did anyway. She stuck needles in the bloated bellies of children to relieve pain. She slept as she spent every waking hour, haunted by death.

And when she was done in Ethiopia, she went to Sudan. Then Cambodia, Somalia. Everywhere she went, no matter where it was, no matter how bad it was, she met Irish nuns, women in their 70s who left when they were her age.

Unlike her, they never went home. She was in awe.

When her boyfriend realized her visits back to Ireland were just that, they called off the wedding. But he changed his mind.

"He couldn't beat me," Maura Lennon said, "so he joined me."

It's harder now, now that she is married with three boys. Her home in Galway is a million miles from the places she goes.

She came to Boston to thank some people who gave money to GOAL. As Vietnamese men arrived for some late-afternoon fishing, she watched the Aer Lingus plane that would take her home, gliding over Deer Island, where 160 years ago thousands of Irish fleeing starvation were quarantined.

"The nuns say three kinds of people do this work: missionaries, mercenaries, and misfits," she said, watching the plane float down. "But I added one to the list."

Across the water, the tires from the big green bird touched down and spewed white smoke.
"Mavericks," Maura Lennon said.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cullen@globe.com.

Celebrating St. Patrick's Day during Lent

Anchorage, Alaska, Mar 16, 2009 / 08:24 am (CNA).- On Mar. 17, the Catholic Church especially honors St. Patrick – Catholic bishop, “Apostle of Ireland” and one of the most well-loved and celebrated saints of all time. From special Masses to parades, the world rejoices on St. Patrick’s day.

In an interview with the Catholic Anchor, Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz recalled the annual revelries in his hometown of St. Paul, Minn. While a student in the Christian Brothers’ military prep high school there, he marched with the school’s drill team in the city’s St. Patrick’s day parade.

However, certain joyous feast days – like St. Patrick’s day this year – can fall during the penitential season of Lent.

Archbishop Schwietz explained that as long as the feast day is on the church’s calendar of feasts, the faithful may celebrate the feast in Lent. He added that when the feast day falls on a day of abstinence from meat, such as a Friday in Lent, the local bishop may grant a special dispensation from the law of abstinence for the celebration.

Archbishop Schwietz noted that in the past, when St. Patrick’s day has fallen on a Friday and at the request of St. Patrick’s Church in Anchorage, he has given a dispensation to the parish for its celebration that includes a traditional Irish meal of corned-beef and cabbage.

This year, St. Patrick’s day — as well as the often-celebrated St. Joseph’s day — take place on a Tuesday and Thursday, respectively.

The great patron of Ireland, St. Patrick was born in Scotland to Roman parents around 385. His mother was a relative of St. Martin of Tours. When he was 14 years old, St. Patrick was kidnapped by an Irish raiding party and taken to Ireland as a slave. For six years in the pagan land, the youth herded sheep for a Druid high priest and chieftain.

Throughout his captivity, St. Patrick fervently prayed to God. He later wrote: “...His fear increased in me more and more, and the faith grew in me, and the spirit was roused, so that, in a single day, I have said as many as a hundred prayers, and in the night nearly the same, so that whilst in the woods and on the mountain, even before the dawn, I was roused to prayer and felt no hurt from it, whether there was snow or ice or rain...”

At the age of 20, inspired by an angel in a dream, he escaped to the coast and journeyed across the sea back to his family. In Britain, he studied for the priesthood and was ordained.

Later, St. Patrick became a bishop. For 18 years, he helped St. Germanus successfully quell the heresies of paganism and Pelagianism which Christian Britain was battling. Still, according to The Catholic Encyclopedia, from time to time, St. Patrick saw visions of the children in Ireland crying to him: “O holy youth, come back to Erin, and walk once more amongst us.”

Eventually, Pope Celestine I charged St. Patrick with the mission of returning to Ireland to draw its people into the fold of Christ’s universal church. For his work, the Holy Father gave the saint many relics and spiritual gifts.

St. Patrick arrived at Ireland’s shores on March 25, 433 – on the feast of the Annunciation. While some Irish were happy to hear him preach the Gospel, the chieftains and the Druids – eager to maintain the hold of superstition among the Celts – were up in arms.

There are a number of dramatic accounts of St. Patrick’s heroic stands against the pagan forces.
In his work, “Confessio,” St. Patrick said that he and his companions were seized and carried off as captives 12 times. But the faithful servant of Christ overcame the trials as he and his followers converted thousands, built churches and formed dioceses across all of Ireland.

The humble saint is known for his powerful expositions of the principles of the Catholic faith. He even employed the ordinary, little, three-leaved shamrock plant to teach people about the Trinity.
Upon his death in the late 5th century, the Irish people came to mourn and venerate him. St. Patrick’s body was wrapped in a shroud woven by St. Brigid, and his remains were interred where the Cathedral of Down now sits.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Season of change

From today's Boston Sunday Globe:

By Scott Helman Globe Staff / March 15, 2009

Road rage. Facebook. Chocolate. Negativity. Hamburgers. Paper cups. The clothes dryer. The list of sacrifices local Christians are making to mark Lent this year is as varied as the denominations they belong to. But the underlying objectives are the same: cultivating one's relationship with God; whittling away luxury to focus on necessity; reexamining the pace of life; and preparing for the celebration of Jesus' resurrection.

"During the time of Lent, I'm just thinking about being closer to God - trying to live my life closer to God," said Tyiesha Thompson, a 34-year-old from South Boston who attends Fourth Presbyterian Church near Andrew Square.

Christian denominations differ on the practices of Lent. Some Protestants bristle at what they consider the strict rules of the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, and have developed their own modern observances. Some Catholics and Orthodox Christians believe in adhering to prescribed fasting and prayer rituals.

"The rule is given, and you follow the rule. It's a discipline," said the Rev. Nicholas K. Apostola, the pastor of St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Shrewsbury.

But whatever their practice during these six weeks, worshipers find deep meaning in the period of fasting, prayer, and reflection leading up to Easter.

Joyce Harvey, a 59-year-old member of St. Mary of the Angels Catholic Church in Roxbury, is giving up the chocolates, jelly beans, and marshmallow bunnies that she loves, but she is trying to combine that sacrifice with good deeds.

"I would like to try and do some more visiting of the sick and visiting some of the people I know that are in rehab," she said. "Lent should be both . . . a giving up and a doing more."

© Copyright 2009 Globe Newspaper Company.


Saturday, March 14, 2009

Octomom Hypocrisy

This story is in this week's "Newsweek" and really got a handle on something I've been feeling. I'm not sure what I think about this Octomom, but I am disturbed by the way society wants to punish her for having children. Read on.

Four reasons Nadya Suleman drives us crazy, and why we're wrong.

By Raina Kelley Newsweek Web Exclusive
Mar 3, 2009 Updated: 9:27 a.m. ET Mar 3, 2009

Just when you think the "Octomom" story has run out of tentacles, some new revelation jolts it back into the headlines. Last week, in an exquisite combination of smut and gossip, porn producer Vivid Entertainment offered Nadya Suleman, the infamous mother of newborn octuplets, up to a million dollars to star in an X-rated film.

Suleman turned the offer down, but that's not going to stop this train. The paparazzi follow her from Starbucks to the nail salon. Everyone who's ever known her has been on TV. Face it, Octomom is never, ever going away. This mother of 14 will become a staple of the gossip mags. A diet company will sign her up for the ultimate "body after baby" challenge. And I'm sure that someday we'll see her on "Celebrity Apprentice."

If this woman is going to be part of our everyday lives, like Lindsay and Britney and the rest, we should be honest about why she's there. Because, in truth, we created Octomom. With our glorification of bizarre behavior, we dare the emotionally needy to shock and appall us. And then we slam them. But are we seeing her clearly, or just addicted to feeling superior? Let's take a hard look at the four things about Suleman that ignite the most outrage. That way, the next time some knucklehead captures the national spotlight, we won't be lying to ourselves about why we're so interested.

1. How the @#$% did she think she could support 14 children without a job?

And why do we have to pay for her craziness?Consider this: Maybe Suleman thought she'd get a TV show. If I found out I was pregnant with eight babies, my third call would be to TLC. (The first call would be 911 for the resuscitation of my husband and the second would be to my shrink.) I mean, how do the beloved reality stars Jon and Kate Gosselin pay for their eight kids?

Remember, neither Jon nor Kate had a job when they brought their sextuplets home. And I bet that TV money helps out if you, like Discovery Health Channel stars the Duggar family, have 18 kids.

As for the use of "our" money, it is common knowledge that welfare and other programs such as assistance for women and infants (WIC), disability payments and food stamps are programs actually designed to use taxpayers' money to help pregnant women and children in need, right? There is no freak or idiot clause hidden within these programs. They're there to make sure American children aren't malnourished.

I know; it's unfair that Suleman's children are just as entitled to assistance as the children of people who don't creep us out, but let's not forget, they didn't decide to come into the world this way. And besides, Suleman isn't the only one who's getting "our" money for behavior we disapprove of—bank bailouts, anyone? And many of the institutions that got the first chunk of cash under the financial rescue plan haven't even answered requests from the federal government asking what they've done with the money. At least we know that the worst Suleman can do is buy a whole lot of empty carbs and some dairy with all those food stamps.

2. She wants to be Angelina Jolie!

Consider this: I want to be Angelina Jolie, too. She's rich, famous, charitable and unbelievably beautiful. What's not to like? Her boyfriend is Brad Pitt. And she is one of the miniscule numbers of parents who could afford to quit their jobs and raise 76 kids or buy a house right next to a film set so they can see their kids at lunch. I know we don't like to hear it, but money does make the work-home balance thing a lot easier.

3. The woman misused IVF fertility treatments and wound up with eight babies at the same time, and she has six more kids under the age of 7 at home.

Consider this: Cable news and newspapers have been flooding us with experts on how many embryos should be implanted in a woman and so on and such. And while the cost of IVF is usually mentioned, most of these experts conveniently forget to mention how few states "force" insurance companies to pay for IVF treatment.

So the question really is how many embryos would you ask to be implanted if you had a history of miscarriages and limited funds? Odds are that you'd pick more than one; only 11 percent of IVF procedures in this country involve a single embryo. Let's remember that Jon and Kate were already the parents of twins when they rolled the fertility-treatment dice and wound up with sextuplets. That's just an order of magnitude different from Octomom.

And that's the beautiful and exasperating thing about America—our democracy gives people the freedom to have as many children as they want. All we can do is rant and rave while we watch them on TV.

4. Is the porno offer a creepy testament to her Angelina Joliefication, or what?

Consider this : We are all, each of us, one national scandal away from being offered a million dollars to star in a skin flick. Asking the iniquitous and infamous to do dirty movies is how the porn industry tries to stay relevant. Think of it as "Dancing With the Stars"—only naked.
Look, I don't like the Octomom situation either, and each new revelation shocks me all over again. Suleman, just like Dr. Frankenstein's monster, has come to symbolize the ill that arises when humans delve into the realm of creation. Hungry for knowledge, glory, fame and power, Dr. Frankenstein never paused in his quest to create life to consider the consequences of his actions, nor, it seems, did Suleman—when deciding that six was not enough.

Now we're all snickering and feeling superior, but this could be a real tragedy for at least some of those 14 children, who face lifelong emotional and physical challenges that go beyond money. Suleman should be a warning to us: by sensationalizing her, we're inviting more trivialization of the most sacred aspects of humanity. In Britain, a terminally ill woman is selling her death on a reality program. If it's ever broadcast in the U.S., we'll probably slam that woman, too. But trust me, we'll still watch.

True worship

Our Deacon is preaching this weekend, so I did not prepare a homily. Here is a homily for your reflection this weekend:

Like the desert (Lent week 1) and the mountain (week 2), the Temple is a place of special encounter with God. But today we are not going to see the glorious face of Jesus; we are going to see his angry face. Jesus is not happy with what he sees precisely because the way the Temple worship has been organised no longer reflects God’s original idea of a worshipping community. Two reasons can be given for this, namely, (a) the religious leaders had put rituals over morality, and (b) they had put particularity over universality.

The religious administrators of the Temple worship took pains to see that worshippers were duly supplied with high quality cattle, sheep and doves for sacrifice. They even made sure that the “dirty” money people brought with them could be exchanged for the “holy” Temple money.

At the same time, however, they were plotting against Jesus. If they took all that trouble to please God in worship, why couldn’t they take the trouble to investigate the claims of Jesus rather than condemn him so readily? For them pleasing God had become something you do in the rituals of the Temple and not in your relationship with people. This kind of religiosity makes Jesus really angry.

The story is told of a priest who was coming back to his parish house one evening in the dark only to be accosted by a robber who pulled a gun at him and demanded, “Your money or your life!” As the priest reached his hand into his coat pocket the robber saw his Roman collar and said, “So you are a priest? Then you can go.” The priest was rather surprised at this unexpected show of piety and so tried to reciprocate by offering the robber his packet of cigarettes, to which the robber replied, “No, Father, I don’t smoke during Lent.” You can see how this robber is trying to keep the pious observance of not smoking during Lent while forgetting the more fundamental commandment of God, “Thou shalt not steal.”

The second reason why Jesus was mad with the Temple priests was their practice of religious particularity over against universality, of exclusiveness over inclusiveness. Some knowledge of the design of the Temple will help us here. The Temple had five sections or courts: (1) holy of holies (2) court of priests (3) court of Israel (4) court of women (5) court of Gentiles. Though these were seen as five concentric circles of sanctity, the design made room for everybody in the house of God. It was a universal house of God “for all the nations” where every man or woman on earth would find a place in which to pray. But the Temple priests forgot that and thought that it was meant for Jews alone. So they decided to turn the court of the Gentiles into a “holy” market place for selling the animals required for sacrifice and for exchanging money. You could bring Roman money as far as the court of the Gentiles but not into the other four courts. The court of Gentiles was no longer regarded as part and parcel of the house of God, it had become a market place, pure and simple. Now it was this court of Gentiles that Jesus cleansed. In so doing he was making the point that the Gentile section was just as holy as the Jewish sections. God is God of all and not God of a select group. Like the Jews of the time of Jesus, some Christians today still think that God belongs to them alone and not to others as well.

A certain man died and went to heaven and St Peter was showing him round. St Peter pointed to different mansions: “Here are the Jews, here the Buddhists, here the Moslems, etc.” Then they came to a large compound surrounded by a high wall and inside they could hear singing and laughter. “Who are those?” asked the new arrival. And St Peter hushed him, “Hush! They’re the Christians – but they think they’re the only ones here.” Believers like these need a Temple court experience to awaken them to the universal love of God and bring them back to true worship.

(from www.munachi.com)

Advice for the preacher

I saw this over on The Deacon's Bench, a favorite blog of mine, and thought it was worth sharing. I agree completely with these points:

Over at Inside Catholic, David Mills is offering some sound advice for preachers. It all makes good sense to me. (Personally, the best advice I ever heard on this topic came from a layman who once said, "Good sermons don't say 'You sinners,' but 'We bums.'")

Anyway...take a look:

1) Stay in the pulpit. Not only because it is the Place for Preaching, a sign of the authority with which you speak, but because staying there may also help you remember that you are a servant of the Word and of the Church. Standing in the aisle with a microphone can tempt the humblest man to think he's the star, and will tempt almost anyone to play to the crowd (Did they get the joke? Are they smiling? Do they look bored? How can I get them back?). Plus you can keep your manuscript or outline there.

2) Preach from a complete outline or a manuscript. A few people can offer complex, developed ideas from memory, but you are probably not one of them. The value of a sermon often lies in your sharing something one or two or three levels deeper than the obvious lesson, which needs to be explained with some care and precision. Very, very few men can do this off the top of their heads. You will need to practice speaking this way to do it well -- if you write out the sermon, reread the manuscript till you've got it at least half memorized -- but better to have substance read a little stiffly than piffle well-delivered. And having an outline or manuscript will keep you from running on.

3) Speak in a personal voice, using "I" and "you." I mean the kind of voice you hear in G. K. Chesterton's or C. S. Lewis's writing, not the kind of self-display you get from a guest on Oprah. Your hearer should think you are trying to show him something you see, not trying to make you look at him. Though you are speaking as an authority, and ought to speak with authority, you are also a man speaking to friends. Most people speak more clearly when they're talking to someone they know than when they are speaking to an abstraction called "the congregation" or "the 10-o'clock crowd." And most people listen better when they're being addressed by a friend rather than a lecturer.

Use "we" only when you are part of the group to which you're referring. Some priests use "we" when they mean "you guys" or "some of you" or "those jerks." This by itself makes a sermon abstract and sound insincere. Your listeners will know when you are not speaking honestly, when your "we" is just a cheap way of claiming an identity you don't have or pretending you're not criticizing someone else.

4) Speak from your own experience and your own knowledge. If you have a story from your own life that illustrates the lesson, tell it -- but only if it works as a story. A good rule is not to tell a story about yourself you would not tell if it were about someone else, and don't tell any story that does not have a direct relation to your theme.

5) Never use a cultural reference, especially a pop cultural reference, to look knowledgeable or hip or to "connect" with your people. It's annoying, like a 50-year-old wearing his baseball cap backward. And you'll probably get the reference wrong anyway, or you'll use one your people have already heard half-a-dozen times. (I don't know how many sermons I've heard that opened with the same quote from Joseph Heller's 1974 novel Something Happened, one of which I heard just last year.) Only use such references when you would use them in conversation and un-self-consciously.

Check out the link for the rest. Then, print it out and give it to a priest or deacon you know!

Catholic Charities calls President Obama's budget "very positive"

While a number of President Obama's initiatives (notably on embryonic stem cells and abortion funding overseas) have been criticized by Catholic leaders, Catholic Charities has welcomed some of his moves:

Seeing President Barack Obama's first federal budget proposal in his still young administration, Catholic Charities officials and others committed to meeting the needs of the poor are breathing a bit easier.

For the first time in years they are seeing a spending plan that boosts spending for health care wellness and prevention efforts, education, affordable housing, food stamps and Medicaid for cash-strapped states.

It's a budget, advocates and providers agree, that reflects a change in priorities. It's a welcome change, one which advocates feel moves closer to the biblical call for justice.

"We're pleased to be able to make a statement about this budget where we're not having to respond to cuts to the very programs that we know provide the substantial safety net for the families and individuals that we serve," Candy Hill, senior vice president for public policy and government affairs at Catholic Charities USA, said during a March 2 conference call with reporters to discuss a "values audit" of Obama's $3.6 trillion fiscal year 2010 budget.

"Overall, we would rate this budget proposal as very positive for the people we are concerned about," she said.

Hill's comments reflect a growing sentiment across a widening circle of advocates -- especially those outside of faith-based communities -- that government budgets are moral documents that reflect the policy priorities of the nation.

Continue at the CNS link for more.

Mercy is falling like rain

Our Scriptures today, from Micah, Psalm 103 and Luke's story of the Prodigal Son give us a clear image of the mercy of God.

What does that mercy look like? Well, look at what Micah has to say, "Who is there like you, the God who removes guilt and pardons sin for the remnant of his inheritance; Who does not persist in anger forever, but delights rather in clemency, And will again have compassion on us, treading underfoot our guilt? You will cast into the depths of the sea all our sins."

God's greatest desire is to cast our sins into the depth of the sea. The psalm response takes this up as we prayed "The Lord is kind and merciful."

But, as beautiful as these notions of mercy and forgiveness are, in these formats they are just theological notions. What does this mercy look like?

Jesus gives us the answer in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, sometimes referred to as the Parable of the Forgiving Father. In this unique and profound parable, Jesus shows us very practically what the mercy and forgiveness of God looks like.

We know the story, the son basically sins in every way possible. He is ungrateful and greedy, he takes his inheritance and squanders it on further sin doing everything possible to alienate himself from God and from his family.

He comes to his senses, recognizes his sin, and returns to his father guilty and full of penitence. And, what is the father's reaction? Great joy and celebration.

I often like to ask people when reflecting on this passage, "What did the father have to say about the son's sins?" Of course, the father said nothing, he was simply overjoyed at the return of his son. And so he gives him a fine robe and a festive meal and welcomes him back fully into his family.

And this is how God will treat us. Sometimes we have the cycle of guilt and forgiveness reversed. We come to confession, confess our sins, but still leave feeling guilty for what we've done. This in effect blinds us from receiving the full freedom that God offers us in the Sacrament.

Reconciliation shouldn't lead us to guilt. Rather guilt leads us to reconciliation. Reconciliation leads us to forgiveness and mercy and joy. Why? Because God has cast our sins into the depths of the sea.

The story of the Prodigal Son is our story. Only God has prepared for us a garment far more beautiful the the one the father gave this son. He gives us the robe of our baptismal innocence. And God prepares for us a meal far more festive and wonderful than the fatted calf. He gives us the very Body and Blood of His Son for our feast.

A feast that not only reconciles us to Him and to His family, but welcomes us into the very joy of eternity.

God's mercy is falling on us like rain!

First Reading:
Mic 7:14-15, 18-20
Psalm:
Ps 103:1-4, 9-12
Gospel:
Lk 15:1-3, 11-32

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Victory in Hartford

What began as an attack on the Catholic Church here in Connecticut, I think has the potential to be something to truly strengthen the Church in the end.

As you know, two state legislators here - Sen. Andrew J. McDonald, D-Stamford, and Rep. Michael P. Lawlor, D-East Haven - proposed legislation that would remove priests and bishops from any substantive role in the Catholic Church here leaving them mere functionaries and providers of sacraments while all true leadership in the Church would be conducted by locally elected lay boards.

The response to this by the Catholic community was loud, fast, and clear - keep your hands off of our Church. And I have to say, I was so wonderfully strengthened by the defense of the Church by its members.

There was supposed to be a hearing on this bill in the State House today and the state's bishops encouraged Catholics to come out en masse to protest this bill. Well, they let their voices be heard and this seemed to scare McDonald and Lawlor and they had a sudden change of heart and took the bill out of consideration.

So, in this, the Church has won a tremendous victory. As a Church, the last decade has been a tough one because of problems within and attack from without and it was beautiful to see people proud of their church and in defense of their priests and bishops. I for one am so grateful for that.

But, I also think this is a good example of what we can accomplish when we speak with one voice. I hope that Catholics are emboldened by this and that we seek to work together more on the serious issues facing our time.

I also hope that the voters of Stamford and East Haven don't forget this sad moment when two of their representatives have made this effort to attack the Church and the Constitution and that the two be returned home from their elected roles in the legislation. They are not worthy of the trust that voters placed in them. Their actions are shameful.

Here is an account of today's activity in the Capitol from the Danbury "News-Times":

HARTFORD -- Shortly after the rainy rush hour Wednesday morning, the buses -- more than 50 in all -- loaded up with the faithful in church parking lots throughout the state.

Their destination was the Capitol, and the goal was to make known opposition to a bill that, even though it was declared dead in the General Assembly, would have changed the way parish boards are incorporated.

People like Mary Lou Dulemba, an elderly member of Sacred Heart Church in Stamford, joined other parishioners who literally took over the Capitol complex Wednesday.

"We decided to take a stand," she said in the late-winter cold during an hour-long rally outside the Capitol. "You can't tell us what to do. It's not enough we're going socialist in this country, and now they're going to tell us what to do in church? No."

Maria Grieco, 18, of New Milford, agreed. "I'm here to rally in defense of my religion and my religious beliefs," said the student at Felician College, a church-affiliated school in New Jersey.

Virginia Harger, parish secretary at St. Joseph's Church in Shelton, said 46 people boarded its bus for the one-hour drive to Hartford.

"We have to protest the actions that were instituted to deny our religious freedom," Harger said.

Despite the legislation being killed Tuesday, the issue requires a show of strength and unity, she said. "You have to be vigilant. You have to make sure that something else isn't going to pop up, and you have to take a stand."

Katherine Vargas, 25, and her husband, Bryan Mercier, 35, who live in Milford, hopped on one of several buses at St. Mary's Church in Norwalk at 9:30 a.m., bound for the Capitol.

Mercier, as the youth minister at St. John Church in Darien, is a Bridgeport Diocese employee. That church is where the Rev. Michael Jude Fay embezzled about $1.4 million to support a lavish lifestyle, a crime for which he is serving three years in prison.

Vargas, an animator, said they weren't parishioners there at the time of the scandal, but she doesn't know anyone in favor of the legislation, which would have required more lay members to serve on parish boards.

"Or at least if they are, they haven't come out publicly," she said. "The feeling is very negative toward this bill."

Mercier agreed. "Everyone at the church is outraged. They find it absolutely preposterous. They can't even believe it can be put on the table, and I've talked to a lot of people," he said. "I don't know of anyone who actually believes in it."

Signs on display included a large banner that read "We protest Connecticut's ubiquitous attack on the freedom of the Catholic Church."

There were many hand-painted signs as well, including "My faithful voice says: stop dividing my church" and "Religious Freedom: Our Constitutional Right."

Another sign was targeted at the two lawmakers ­-- Sen. Andrew J. McDonald, D-Stamford, and Rep. Michael P. Lawlor, D-East Haven -- who raised the controversial legislation for a public hearing in the Judiciary Committee, then killed it when the controversy exploded over the weekend in churches throughout the state.

"McDonald," the sign read, "Stamford is watching you."

Msgr. Stephen DiGiovanni, pastor of St. John the Evangelist Church in Stamford, told the crowd the now-dead legislation would have been a blow to the church's religious authority and a step back in time, when Connecticut laws hindered non-Protestant denominations.

"The problem and the question of lay control of parishes and buildings, real property and finances was not then, and is not now, simply a question of lay oversight, but the desire to be autonomous," DiGiovanni said.

"We are not a religion that needs change with every change of wind or doctrine."

He said the Catholic approach to authority, with bishops and priest central to the life of the church, is much different than non-hierarchical denominations. He translated an old Italian saying, "Whoever controls the purse strings, rules."

Monday, March 9, 2009

Constitutional Lawyer weighs in on Bill 1098

Letter from Philip A. Lacovara,
Senior Counsel,
Mayer Brown LLP,
to members of the Judiciary Committee

Attorney Lacovara, a member of the Diocese of Bridgeport, has more than 40 years' experience as a constitutional law teacher and practitioner.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Dear Member of the Judiciary Committee:When you entered the Legislature, I assume that you took an oath consistent with the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution recognizing that the Constitution is the Supreme Law of the Land and that all State officials are bound to respect it.

You now have before your Committee a bill that tests your fidelity to your constitutional duty. The bill is No. 1098, which candidly announces that its purpose is to "revise the corporate governance provisions [of the Connecticut Statutes] applicable to the Roman Catholic Church."

In more than forty years as a constitutional law teacher and practitioner, I cannot recall a single piece of proposed legislation at any level of government that more patently runs afoul of the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment that does this bill.
I write to you as a Connecticut taxpayer, as a Catholic, and as a constitutional lawyer. This last capacity is most relevant for present purposes.
I have taught constitutional law at Columbia Law School, Georgetown University Law Center, and Hunter College of the City University of New York. I also have served as Deputy Solicitor General of the United States and as Counsel to the Watergate Special Prosecutor. I have argued 18 cases before the Supreme Court of the United States, most involving constitutional issues.
I find it utterly astonishing that Bill 1098 could be taken seriously enough to warrant a hearing before your Committee. I would find it difficult to use it as a "hypothetical" in one of my constitutional law classes, because even first year law students would have so little difficulty seeing why the bill goes well beyond the powers that the Constitution allows the States to exercise in dealing with organized churches.
Ever since we passed beyond the Colonial period during which several Colonies in New England barred Catholics and Catholic priests from practicing their faith as they chose to practice it, all persons — and churches — in this country have been protected by the fundamental guarantee of religious autonomy enshrined in the First Amendment.
One of the key doctrines embodied in this protection of religious liberty is that the State has no legitimate power to intrude into the internal affairs of a hierarchical church. That is, the guarantee of religious liberty applies not only to the private beliefs of individuals, it also protects the autonomy of organized churches assuch. That principle has been established for two centuries. The so-called "internal affairs" doctrine means that the leaders of a hierarchical church have the final and absolute authority to decide how the church will be organized and governed, and no State may override that autonomy by purporting to require that the church be reorganized in some other way simply because a public official may think that a different organization is "better" for the members of the congregation.
The great exponent of First Amendment religious liberty, Justice William Brennan, explained in one of the leading examples of the Supreme Court's enforcement of religious autonomy against State intrusion that a hierarchical church has exclusive authority to decide whether to reorganize its diocesan corporate structure and that the First Amendment deprives the State of any role in substituting its own views:

"It suffices to note that the reorganization of the Diocese involves a matter of internal church government, an issue at the core of ecclesiastical affairs; Arts. 57 and 64 of the Mother Church constitution commit such questions of church polity to the final province of the Holy Assembly. Kedroff v. St. Nicholas Cathedral, 344U.S. 94, 116 (1952), stated that religious freedom encompasses the 'power [of religious bodies] to decide for themselves, free from state interference, matters of church government as well as those of faith and doctrine'."

The quotation is from Justice Brennan's opinion for the Court in SERBIANORTHODOX DIOCESE v. MILIVOJEVICH, 426 U.S. 696, 721-22 (1976).
Legislative Bill 1068 is explicitly designed to have the State of Connecticut substitute its view about desirable structure of the governance of the Catholic Church.
AS the Supreme Court has warned over and over, however, a State Legislature may not usurp the power of the Catholic Church to decide this matter for itself "free from state interference." There is no doubt that, if the Legislature were to enact this bill, the federal courts would strike it down as unconstitutional on its face. I urge you not to provoke such a constitutional confrontation.
It has been said that this bill merely revises the existing statute providing for the incorporation of Catholic parishes and that the Legislature must have residual constitutional power to change those provisions as it thinks fit. This is a fatuous argument. When a State has the competence to address a matter, it must do in accord with the Constitution. For example, the fact that the State may enactlegislation consistent with the Constitution that outlaws racial segregation hardly implies that the Legislature must equally have power to enact legislation commanding racial segregation.
This distinction is obvious and applies here equally. That, of course, is precisely the logical flaw that dooms the argument put forth by proponents of this bill.
The existing statute defers to the Canon Law of the Catholic Church on the respective roles of the Bishop of the Diocese and his other canonical subordinates, including parish pastors. It places them in supervisory authority over all of the affairs of the parish communities, including "administrative" affairs. Within the meaning of Supreme Court cases guaranteeing the autonomy of religious superiors in a hierarchical church such as the Catholic Church over matters of internal governance, the existing statute respects the Church's autonomy.
By contrast, the bill before your committee would purport to overrule the Church's absolute autonomy over its form of internal governance and to substitute a form of government that flies in the face of 2000 years of Catholic Church law and practice. The United States Constitution forbids that assertion of State power.
Finally, it is said that some members of a Catholic parish in which a priest engaged in defalcation have suggested this legislation. It is easy to find clusters of persons who have pet "reforms" on a wide variety of issues. I suggest that the responsibility of a member of the State Legislature is to put clear and fundamental constitutional values ahead of political expediency.
In light of what I understand have been the comprehensive efforts of the Church leadership to assure financial responsibility within the Church, this bill seems to be a "solution" in search of a problem. In any event, it is a "solution" that our constitutional system does not allow the State to impose.
I appreciate your consideration of these views.
Philip Allen Lacovara

From Senator Michael McLachlan

Here is a response from Senator McLachlan. His response is articulate and helpful. I hope that everyone is making an effort to be in Hartford on Wednesday. Fr. Mike and I will be there! From Sen. McLachlan:

I will not support Senate Bill 1098 as this is clearly an example of government interference with the Roman Catholic Church. The proponents of Senate Bill 1098 and co-chairs of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Andrew McDonald and Representative Michael Lawlor, have demonstrated disdain for the priests, pastors and bishops of the Church for their opposition to gay marriage and abortion.

You may want to consider some or all of the following additional steps to convey your message to legislators:

You may testify in-person at the Judiciary Committee public hearing on SB1098 scheduled for Wednesday, March 11, 2009 at Noon at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford. You can find testimony guidelines at the following webpage: http://cga.ct.gov/asp/Content/YourVoice.asp

You may attend the public hearing to lend support for your fellow Catholics testifying in opposition to the bill.

You may also address written testimony to:
Honorable Members of the Joint Committee on Judiciary
Room 2500, Legislative Office Building
Hartford, CT 06106

You may call the Joint Committee on Judiciary at (860) 240-0530 during normal business hours and leave a message for the Committee Co-Chairs – Senator Andrew McDonald and Representative Michael Lawlor -- expressing your opposition to their proposed bill 1098.

You may locate your Senator and Representative at the following address: http://cga.ct.gov/maps/townlist.asp

Thank you for sharing your concerns with me.

I encourage you to contact me again with any future concerns or comments.

Regards,
Michael A. McLachlan State Senator
24th District Serving Danbury, Bethel, New Fairfield & Sherman
Legislative Office Building #2203 Hartford, CT 06106
Office (860) 240-0068
www.SenatorMcLachlan.cga.ct.gov

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Enterprise

Just released photos of the new (old) USS Enterprise for the upcoming Star Trek XI movie (out May 8). I still haven't decided if I like it.

Connecticut Legislature attacks the Catholic Church

This is the notification of what is currently going on here in Connecticut from the website of the Diocese of Bridgeport. It sums things up well - but suffice it to say, this proposed legislation from the Legislature is a direct attack on the identity of the Church. It is offensive and insulting - not to mention un-American. Let the church rise up and let her voice be heard!

This past Thursday, March 5, the Judiciary Committee of the Connecticut State Legislature, which is chaired by Sen. Andrew McDonald of Stamford and Rep. Michael Lawlor of East Haven, introduced a bill that directly attacks the Roman Catholic Church and our Faith.

This bill violates the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. It forces a radical reorganization of the legal, financial, and administrative structure of our parishes. This is contrary to the Apostolic nature of the Catholic Church because it disconnects parishes from their Pastors and their Bishop. Parishes would be run by boards from which Pastors and the Bishop would be effectively excluded.

This bill, moreover, is a thinly-veiled attempt to silence the Catholic Church on the important issues of the day.

The State has no right to interfere in the internal affairs and structure of the Catholic Church. This bill is directed only at the Catholic Church but could someday be forced on other denominations. The State has no business controlling religion.

The Pastors of our Diocese are doing an exemplary job of sound stewardship and financial accountability, in full cooperation with their parishioners.

For the State Legislature — which has not reversed a $1 billion deficit in this fiscal year — to try to manage the Catholic Church makes no sense. The Catholic Church not only lives within her means but stretches her resources to provide more social, charitable, and educational services than any other private institution in the State. This bill threatens those services at a time when the State is cutting services. The Catholic Church is needed now more than ever.

We reject this irrational, unlawful, and bigoted bill that jeopardizes the religious liberty of our Church.

We urge you to call and e-mail Sen. McDonald and Rep. Lawlor:
Senator Andrew McDonald: Capitol phone: (800) 842-1420; Home phone: (203) 348-7439E-mail: McDonald@senatedems.ct.gov

Representative Michael Lawlor: Capitol phone: (800) 842-8267; Home phone: (203) 469-9725 E-mail: MLawlor99@juno.com

We also ask you to come to Hartford this Wednesday, March 11, to be present at the public hearing. Details on bus transportation will be available on Monday. If you would like to attend, contact your Pastor.

It is up to us to stop this unbridled abuse of governmental power.

It is time for us to defend our First Amendment rights.

It is time for us to defend our Church!

More details: www.bridgeportdiocese.org