Saturday, May 30, 2009

Obama nomination would boost ranks of Catholics on court - The Boston Globe

Obama nomination would boost ranks of Catholics on court - The Boston Globe

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Daily News from the General Chapter

As you know, I am in Assisi until the end of June doing communications work on behalf of the English Speaking Conference of the Order (for which I am the Executive Secretary). My job is to keep the friars back home informed of what is happening here in Assisi. I've been doing this via daily email news briefings, but I have just made those briefings available on the web as well.

If you're interested: DAILY GENERAL CHAPTER NEWS BRIEFINGS

Friar Facts

Here are some interesting statistics on the Franciscan Order today:

Worldwide: 15,030 friars working in more than 110 nations

The English Speaking Conference has the second largest number of friars in the world: 1,856 (The Italian Conference is first with 2,434)

Areas of increase
The following areas of the world have had an increase in friars since 2002:
Asia: +65
Africa: +100
Bolivian Conference (including Bolivia, Colombia, Peru): +27

Receive the Holy Spirit

SOLEMNITY OF PENTECOST, May 31, 2009

One bright Sunday morning like today, Benson's mother hurried into her son's bedroom to wake him up. “Benson, it's Sunday. Time to get up and go to church!” Benson mumbled from under the covers, “I don't want to go.” “What do you mean you don't want to go?” said the mother. “That's silly. Now get up and get dressed and go to church!” Benson said, “No, I don't want to go and I'll give you two reasons why I don't want to go - First, I don't like them and second, they don't like me.” His mother replied, “Now, that's just plain nonsense. You've got to go to church and I'll give you two reasons why you must. First, you're 40 years old and, second, you're the pastor!”

Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” We celebrate today the great feast of Pentecost. This was originally a Jewish festival 50 days after Passover celebrating the giving of the Law to Moses and the foundation of the covenant making Israel God’s chosen people. Today, as Christians we celebrate 50 days after Easter, the New Passover, the giving of the Holy Spirit and the new covenant established in the Church.

The story of the first Christian Pentecost began in fear in the upper room and ended in joy. Pastor Benson could as well be any of the apostles whom Jesus had commissioned to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria and to the ends of the earth. But as soon as Jesus leaves them, what do they do? They retire to their upper rooms and hide themselves. They were afraid of the Jews. Like Benson they knew that the people did not like them, they knew that their message was different from the popular message of the time, and they just felt like wrapping themselves up in bed and not having to get up and face the hostile society.

We too are often like that, going to church quietly, receiving Jesus in our hearts quietly, and going home again quietly to say our morning and evening prayers quietly. But what about the charge that Jesus left for you and me to be his witnesses and to share the Good News of God's love with all people? Sometimes we think that people do not like to be reminded of God. We’re afraid they’re going to tell us to “go away” if we speak to them about God. We’re afraid they won’t listen to us. We’re afraid they’ll say we’re too religious and out of touch with reality. We’re afraid that our faith isn’t strong enough to stand up. Or more simply, sometimes it’s just, they don't like us and we don't like them. And so, like Benson, we give up on our God-given duty and go on enjoying our comfortable silences, our comfortable sleep.

But, Jesus said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Fortunately, Pastor Benson has a guide, his mother, who wakes him and persuades him to go out and preach. There is a wonderful prayer that we always pray at the beginning of daily meditation, “Come Holy Spirit and fill the hearts of your faithful, and enkindle in them the fire of your love.” This is the kind of work that the Holy Spirit does in the hearts of believers. When fear of trouble tends to freeze our faith into silent submission, the Holy Spirit warms us up – enkindles the fire - and empowers us to go out and make a difference.

The Holy Spirit reminds us, as Benson's mother reminded him, that we have a mission. Our mission is to tell everybody the Good News that God is their Father, that God is the Father of us all, that in spite of all the visible difference of language and culture and social status, we are all one family and should live as brothers and sisters. Our mission is to break the barriers between “us” and “them,” between male and female, between Jew and Gentile, between rich and poor, between conservative and liberal, between Black and White, between whatever it is that divides us and to bring all people to speak the one universal language of brotherly and sisterly love. This is possible only through the working of the Holy Spirit. And so, Jesus says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

One reason his mother gave Benson why he should wake up from his sleep is that he is 40 years old, in other words, he is of age. Christianity is now 2000 years old in the world. Yet even in the so-called Christian civilizations, the universal brotherhood of all humankind in God through Christ has not been understood. “What can I do?” you may say, “I am only a single individual. What difference can I make?”

A black squirrel once asked a wise old owl what was the weight of a single snowflake. “Why, nothing more than nothing,” the owl answered. Well, the squirrel went on to tell the owl about a time when he was resting on a branch in a maple tree, counting each snowflake that came to rest on the branch until he reached the number 3,471,952. Then with the settling of the very next flake -- crack. The branch suddenly snapped, tumbling the squirrel and the snow to the ground. “That was surely a whole lot of nothing,” said the squirrel.

Our daily personal efforts to spread the God’s Kingdom of love and justice may be as light weight as snowflakes. But by heaping our snowflakes together we shall eventually be able to break the heavy branch of sin, evil and injustice growing in our world today. And we can only do that if we are open to the Holy Spirit who wants to enter our lives and give us the strength we need.

So, on this day celebrating Pentecost, let this be our prayer, “Come Holy Spirit and fill the hearts of us, your faithful people, and enkindle in us the fire of your love.”

May God give you peace!

Friday, May 29, 2009

A wonderful discovery

So, yesterday as part of the General Chapter, we had an incredible celebration of Vespers at the Church of San Damiano, the great chapel where Jesus spoke to St. Francis from the cross, "Rebuild my church." (You can view the service here: www.youtube.com/escofm)

After the service, a few of us decided to walk back to Domus Pacis near Santa Maria degli Angeli in the valley below. Along the way, we made a wrong turn, but God always does such wonderful things with wrong turns.

Before we knew it, we were on our way to Rivo Torto, one of the early sites where Francis and his followers lived and worked. Now, believe it or not, in my many travels to Assisi there are still a few places I haven't been to or found. For example, one of the places that I want to go to while I'm here this month is the Church of San Stefano up in the old city. My interest in this church comes from a little note in one of the sources that says the bells of San Stefano were rung at the moment when Francis died. So, I'll get there perhaps over the weekend.

But, another of the places I've wanted to find is the Church of Santa Maria Madalena. I had read that this Church is one of the original sites where St. Francis minsitered to lepers outside of the city walls of Assisi.

Back to our wrong turn. I wasn't looking for Santa Maria Madalena yesterday, but I knew it was somewhere between the Portiuncula and Rivo Torto and as we walked and talked and laughed and took in the sites, suddenly I heard a simple church bell ringing in the country side. And there before us was this Church.

Now it is small and has Mass only once a month. To get in, you have to find the woman who lives near by and has the key. And here we were at the Church for the probably 15 minutes it was open that day and the woman was ringing the bell.

She welcomed us, "Benvenuti Frati!" she said with a smile. And she gave us the key telling us that when we were done, she lived next door on the first floor. We stayed and we prayed and we left walking the rest of the way to Domus Pacis with the joy of our great find!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Franciscan General Chapter


Here's a few things that I'm working on here in Assisi for the General Chapter if you want to keep an eye on what we're doing:



Pace e bene!
Padre Tomaso!


Sunday, May 24, 2009

Franciscan General Chapter


The Provincial Ministers of the English Speaking Conference of the Order gathered in Assisi for the General Chapter.

What's in a name?

Seventh Sunday of Easter, May 24, 2009:

“Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are one.” Keep them in your name. In Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare raised the question, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” Our Gospel today asks us much the same question as Jesus prays to the Father to keep His followers in God’s Name. What’s in a name? Just think of your family. One of the outward signs that unites a family are the common names we share. People often want to know – what are your family names? Last names are important. First names are important. For myself, every time I find out someone is pregnant, I remind them what a beautiful name Thomas is. No takers yet. But, isn’t it a source of pride when the newest member of your family becomes your namesake?

I was reading in Time Magazine this week about names. You know, not too long ago, Catholics always gave their children religious names – naming them after Biblical or saintly individuals. Why? Because a name says something, means something. It says something about who we are, and something about who we hope to be. This is less the case today. We live in an age where names come from wherever – movies, television, sometimes just made up. Just to give you an example. My two beautiful twin nieces are named Samantha and Makayla. For the life of me, I still can’t figure out how to spell Makayla. Is it Michaela, is it Mikhala, is it Makayla? The good news, according to Time is that in our post-9/11 world, people are returning to Biblical names for their children. The top three boys names last year were Jacob, Michael and Joshua – all good Old Testament names. Popular among girls are not necessarily Biblical, but definitely spiritual. Girls are being named things like Destiny, Genesis, Trinity and perhaps the most interesting one Nevaeh. That’s Heaven spelled backwards.

What’s in a name? Well, our name is reflective of our identity. It tells people who we are, where we come from. It is attached to our reputation for whatever we have done good or bad in the world. Just think of some names in our history – all you have to do is say the name and it instantly calls up its heritage. Names like Hitler, Bin Laden or John Paul, Mother Teresa and so on, need no further explanation. The name alone tells a story of the person. Whether famous or infamous the mere mention of their names brings to mind their deeds and you react with acceptance or rejection.

There is a story told about the famous Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. As he went out for a walk one day near his summer home, a little girl joined him and strolled with him for a while. When the girl announced that she had to go home, her distinguished companion commented proudly of himself, “When your mother asks you where you have been, you can tell her that you have been walking with Oliver Wendell Homes.” Unimpressed, the little girl replied, “And when your Mom asks you where you have been, you can tell her that you were walking with Mary Susanna Brown.”

At the beginning of the Rite of Baptism, the very first question asked of parents is, “What name do you give your child?” This name is carefully written in the permanent records of the Church and over the years the dates of other important sacraments will also be recorded. The Church marks with pride the milestones of growth in the Christian faith and practice of each person who enters this family through the waters of Baptism. It is through this Baptism that we are welcomed into the Christian community as brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, and it is through Him that we come to know God as our Father.

In our Gospel today, Jesus prays for us, to the Father and asks that we be kept in God’s Name. He knows how important a name is and so He gives us the identity of the most important name ever – the name of God. Jesus places us under the protection of God’s Name so that we may share in the joy of God’s eternal kingdom.

We hear in Acts of the Apostles that it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians. And in the familiar words of the hymn, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” It is up to each of us to claim the name we have been given, the name of the Sons and the Daughters of God, the name Christian. It is up to us to live up that name and all that it challenges us to and all that it promises.

Today, the Sunday after the Ascension of the Lord, but before the Feast of Pentecost is a unique day in the history of the Christian Community. What the community experienced on this day was that they were on their own. Jesus had left them to return to the Father, but the promised Holy Spirit had not yet arrived. They spent their time waiting and praying. It was the first time, as Christians, that they had the experience of Jesus being apparently far away and having no clear direction about what to do next. In the meantime all they could do was wait – and ponder this Name, this new identity, that would be theirs forever – the identity of a Christian.

So, what is in that name? Well, in the name of Jesus, the Son of God, we have been claimed for eternity. In the name of Jesus, we were baptized as members of the family of God. In the name of Jesus, bread and wine will become His Body and His Blood. In the name of Jesus we will be blessed at the end of Mass. In the name of Jesus, the sick are healed, the blind can see, the deaf can hear, demons are driven out, the dead are raised. In the name of Jesus, we can pray for what we need with a confidence that what we ask for in His Holy Name will be granted. In the name of God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we were welcomed into this community of faith and it is in this same name that we will be commended to the joy of Heaven when our final day comes.

“Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are one.” Have we allowed ourselves to be kept in God’s Name? Have we embraced it ? Do we live it? Indeed we pray with the whole church in the words of the Divine Praised, “Blessed be God, blessed be His Holy Name.”

May God give you peace.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Ascension of the Lord


You be Jesus!

Here is an Ascension Thursday homily from the archives:

A mother was preparing pancakes for her young sons, David and Billy. The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake. Their mother saw the opportunity for a moral lesson. “If Jesus were sitting here, He would say ‘Let my brother have the first pancake, I can wait.’ David turned to his younger brother and said, “Billy, you be Jesus!”

The Preface to today’s Eucharistic Prayer says, “Christ…has passed beyond our sight, not to abandon us, but to be our hope. Christ is the beginning, the head of the Church; where he has gone, we hope to follow.”

Today’s feast of the Ascension of Jesus to Heaven, marks something of an ending – it commemorates the end of Jesus time with us on earth as a man. This feast doesn’t try and explain how the Ascension happened – that is a mystery; instead, it sheds light on what it all means, “Christ…has passed beyond our sight, not to abandon us, but to be our hope.”

Ascension has two strong qualities of hope and of challenge or commissioning. First the hope: Jesus didn’t ascend to an unknown place. He didn’t disappear into the clouds and no one knows where He is never to be seen or heard from again. No instead, “Where He has gone, we hope to follow.” Jesus attained the goal of all humanity – an eternity in Heaven; an eternity caught up in the loving gaze and grace of God the Father; and eternity of glory and perfection that can only be found in Heaven. And, all of us who have been baptized into life in Christ hope to follow Him to that place.

But, we are also challenged today by the realization that with His ascension, Jesus has left everything else in our hands until the end of time. Another way of phrasing this challenge, is that as He ascends to the Father in Heaven Jesus says to us the same as the punch line of the joke I began with: “Now, you be Jesus.”

As Jesus returns to the Father, He says to us, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses …to the ends of the earth.” He says, I will send the Holy Spirit so that you will have what you need to be My presence in the world until I return. Jesus brought to us the most incredible gifts ever – He brought us the Gospel; He brought us the Sacraments; He brought us the Church. And then, He left them in our hands to be the ones who proclaim those Holy Words; share those Divine Gifts; and welcome the world to take part in this mystery as one great community of believers.

St. Paul reminds us of the same thing in the reading from Ephesians, “May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call…for us who believe.” We are the hope of the Gospel; we are the hope of Jesus. We must all pick up the call that He has given us to preach the Good News to the ends of the earth. We’re being called to bear witness to the Gospel and to make disciples of all nations.

Our mission, should we choose to accept it, is to be Jesus in a world crying out desperately for Him. Our mission is to be the presence of His kindness, compassion, joy, and love to a world that is too often dominated by vengeance, evil, war, greed, materialism, and meanness. To all of those societal ills, we are commissioned: You be Jesus! To the immorality all around us, we are challenged: You be Jesus. To the impurity we are faced with every day – whether the scourge of the profane on television and movies and in music; the epidemic of people living together outside of wedlock; the destruction of the family; the attacks on the sanctity of marriage – we are called: You be Jesus. To the lack of peace in our world – in marriages, relationships, family, our country and world – we are charged: You be Jesus! Because if not you; if not me; than who will be Jesus in our world?

I saw a bumper sticker once that said, “Jesus is coming…look busy!” Jesus reminds us that He will send His Spirit to empower us; that with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can in fact be His presence in our world now. We need only to open ourselves to the grace of His Word, His Sacraments, and His Holy Spirit. If we do these things, my brothers and sisters, He promises us that mountains will be moved by our faith.

“Christ…has passed beyond our sight, not to abandon us, but to be our hope. Christ is the beginning, the head of the Church; where he has gone, we hope to follow.”

My brothers and sisters, you be Jesus.

May God give you peace.

Doctor's Orders

Q: Doctor, I've heard that cardiovascular exercise can prolong life. Is this true?
A: Your heart is only good for so many beats, and that's it... don't waste them on exercise. Everything wears out eventually. Speeding up your heart will not make you live longer; that's like saying you can extend the life of your car by driving it faster. Want to live longer? Take a nap.

Q: Should I cut down on meat and eat more fruits and vegetables?
A: You must grasp logistical efficiencies. What does a cow eat? Hay and corn. And what are these? Vegetables. So a steak is nothing more than an efficient mechanism of delivering vegetables to your system. Need grain? Eat chicken. Beef is also a good source of field grass (green leafy vegetable). And a pork chop can give you 100% of your recommended daily allowance of vegetable products.

Q: Should I reduce my alcohol intake?
A: No, not at all. Wine is made from fruit. Brandy is distilled wine, that means they take the water out of the fruity bit so you get even more of the goodness that way. Beer is also made out of grain. Bottoms up!

Q: How can I calculate my body/fat ratio?
A: Well, if you have a body and you have fat, your ratio is one to one. If you have two bodies, your ratio is two to one, etc.

Q: What are some of the advantages of participating in a regular exercise program?
A: Can't think of a single one, sorry. My philosophy is: No Pain...Good!

Q: Aren't fried foods bad for you?
A: YOU'RE NOT LISTENING!!! ..... Foods are fried these days in vegetable oil. In fact, they're permeated in it. How could getting more vegetables be bad for you?

Q: Will sit-ups help prevent me from getting a little soft around the middle?
A: Definitely not! When you exercise a muscle, it gets bigger. You should only be doing sit-ups if you want a bigger stomach.

Q: Is chocolate bad for me?
A: Are you crazy? HELLO Cocoa beans ! Another vegetable!!! It's the best feel-good food around!

Q: Is swimming good for your figure?
A: If swimming is good for your figure, explain whales to me.

Q: Is getting in-shape important for my lifestyle?
A: Hey! 'Round' is a shape! Well, I hope this has cleared up any misconceptions you may have had about food and diets.

And remember: 'Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways - Chardonnay in one hand - chocolate in the other - body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming 'WOO HOO, What a Ride'

AND.....For those of you who watch what you eat, here's the final word on nutrition and health. It's a relief to know the truth after all those conflicting nutritional studies.

1. The Japanese eat very little fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than Americans.
2. The Mexicans eat a lot of fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than Americans.
3. The Chinese drink very little red wine and suffer fewer heart attacks than Americans.
4. The Italians drink a lot of red wine and suffer fewer heart attacks than Americans.
5. The Germans drink a lot of beers and eat lots of sausages and fats and suffer fewer heart attacks than Americans.

CONCLUSION: Eat and drink what you like.Speaking English is apparently what kills you.

Vatican newspaper commends Obama Notre Dame speech

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican newspaper said U.S. President Barack Obama sought common ground on the divisive issue of abortion in his commencement address at the University of Notre Dame.

The newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, said the president also confirmed that pushing for a more liberal abortion law would not be a priority of his administration. The comments came in a L'Osservatore report May 18, the day after Obama spoke at the university in Indiana.

"The search for a common ground: This seems to be the path chosen by the president of the United States, Barack Obama, in facing the delicate question of abortion," the newspaper said.

It said Obama had set aside the "strident tone" of the 2008 political campaign on the abortion issue.

"Yesterday Obama confirmed what he expressed at his 100-day press conference at the White House, when he said that enacting a new law on abortion was not a priority of his administration," it said.

The newspaper, which was reporting on the Notre Dame commencement for the first time, acknowledged the controversy caused by the president's appearance at "the most prestigious Catholic university in the United States."

"Yesterday, too, as could have been predicted, there were protests. But from the podium set up in the basketball arena, the president invited Americans of every faith and ideological conviction to 'work in common effort' to reduce the number of abortions," it said.

The newspaper noted that Obama had called for reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies, facilitating adoption and supporting women who want to carry their babies to term, and that he had also spoken of drafting a "conscience clause" for medical personnel who are morally opposed to participating in abortions.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Beloved, love one another

SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER, May 17, 2009:

We heard in our second reading today from the First Letter of John, “Beloved, let us love one another because love is of God.” In fact, all our Scriptures today and all week have been an ongoing reflection on the nature of love – especially God’s love for us and His command that we love each other. But, language is such an imprecise thing. What does this command to love look like? What does it mean? For example, in Italian, the expression amore divino can be understood in two ways. It could be understood as the “love of God” (amore divino) or it could also be understood as the “love of wine” (amore di vino).

And, just think of how imprecise the word love is in English. We use the same word to talk about ice cream, music, spouses, and even God. Surely the way we love ice cream is different from the way we love God. In Greek, which most of the New Testament was written in, there are three different words for love. There is eros, which is an erotic or sexual love; there is philia or the love between friends or a brotherly love; and there is agape, which is love in its highest form. Now, eros is never used in the New Testament – only philia and agape. And agape by far is the word used most often and the one that St. John is using today when he speaks of the love that is of God; the love that we are called to imitate in our own lives.

John today paints for us a picture of God’s love, which is really just another name for true love. John’s teaching on love can be summarized under three headings: why love? what is love? and how does one love?

So, why love? The passage begins with an exhortation. “Beloved, let us love one another.” John addresses his readers as “beloved” showing that even as he writes there is already love in the community. John asks of them is to continue loving one another. This message is one that we all need to hear. If we love one another, then we should continue loving one another even more. And if we do not yet love one another, then it is time to start doing so. Are we just a group of people who happen to find themselves in the same church today or are we truly community of believers who love one another?

John tells them why they must love one another. It is “because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” In this brief explanation, John gives two reasons, a positive one and a negative one. Positively, he says that love is from God, it finds its origin, its starting point in God. Living a life of love, therefore, is the way to be sure that we know God and that we are children of God; born of God. On the flip side, he makes it plain – if you don’t have love for others then quite simply you do not; cannot know God. It is this simple: If we have love in our lives, we have God in our lives; and if we do not have love in our lives, we cannot possibly have God either. God and love are two different words that mean the same thing. You cannot separate one from the other.

John is addressing people who believe they know God, people for whom it is important to love God, people who are focused on loving God so much so that they sometimes neglect loving their fellow human beings. John is saying that anyone who claims to be a spiritual person or devout lover of God but does not focus equally on the practicality of loving his or her brothers and sisters is living a lie. For example, we cannot claim to love God and have no care for the hungry, the homeless, the poor, the needy, the sick, and so on. To love God is to love them – all of them; in fact, especially those who are often difficult to love; or who have no love in their lives. To grow in our knowledge and love of God, we must endeavor to grow in our knowledge and love of our fellow human beings, our brothers and sisters.

This, of course, begs the question: what does this love look like? What does God’s love look like, and how does it differ from natural human love. John gives us a practical example. He says, “God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.” Jesus is what God’s love looks like. Unlike much of human love, which is driven by self-interest, God is moved to love us not because He needed something but because we needed something which only He can give.

Human love starts with the question, “What is in it for me?” But, God’s love begins with the question, “What can I do for you?” Regular human love comes because we want to receive something, be it something as intangible as simply feeling good in the other’s company. God’s love isn’t about receiving; it is about giving. That is why God’s gift of His only Son on the Cross becomes a climactic sign of the way God loves us and the paradigm for the way we should love one another.

This last point on the difference between how God loves and how humans love is so important for John that he goes on and adds one final statement on the nature of true love. “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.” God loves us unconditionally; God gives Himself to us in His Son; God’s love is freely, eagerly given. Our love is often quid pro quo (something for something). For John, this True Love is found not in the way humans usually love but in the way God loves.

We can sometimes view this command to love as just one of many things that God asks of us. Today John teaches us that love is, in fact, the only commandment; it is the source and motivation for all the other commandments.

Moreover, love is not just a commandment of God, love is God Himself. May God, our loving Father, who is love itself; love incarnate, help us to purify our love for Him and multiply our love for one another, so that we can love as generously and as unconditionally as He, loves us.

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God.”

May God give you His love and His peace.

Mary's Month

Angels & Demons & editors

This is one of the best leads to an article I have ever read. - FT

Since 'Angels & Demons' takes place mainly in the Vatican, and is festooned with the rites and ornaments of Roman Catholicism, I might as well begin with a confession. I have not read the novel by Dan Brown on which this film (directed, like its predecessor, 'The Da Vinci Code,' by Ron Howard) is based. I have come to believe that to do so would be a sin against my faith, not in the Church of Rome but in the English language, a noble and beleaguered institution against which Mr. Brown practices vile and unspeakable blasphemy."

-- NY Times film critic A.O. Scott

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Saint of the Day: St. Matthias

According to Acts 1:15-26, during the days after the Ascension, Peter stood up in the midst of the brothers (about 120 of Jesus’ followers). Now that Judas had betrayed his ministry, it was necessary, Peter said, to fulfill the scriptural recommendation: “May another take his office.”

“Therefore, it is necessary that one of the men who accompanied us the whole time the Lord Jesus came and went among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day on which he was taken up from us, become with us a witness to his resurrection” (Acts 1:21-22).

They nominated two men: Joseph Barsabbas and Matthias. They prayed and drew lots. The choice fell upon Matthias, who was added to the Eleven.

Matthias is not mentioned by name anywhere else in the New Testament.

Comment: What was the holiness of Matthias? Obviously he was suited for apostleship by the experience of being with Jesus from his baptism to his ascension. He must also have been suited personally, or he would not have been nominated for so great a responsibility. Must we not remind ourselves that the fundamental holiness of Matthias was his receiving gladly the relationship with the Father offered him by Jesus and completed by the Holy Spirit? If the apostles are the foundations of our faith by their witness, they must also be reminders, if only implicitly, that holiness is entirely a matter of God’s giving, and it is offered to all, in the everyday circumstances of life. We receive, and even for this God supplies the power of freedom.

Quote: Jesus speaks of the apostles’ function of being judges, that is, rulers. He said, “Amen, I say to you that you who have followed me, in the new age, when the Son of Man is seated on his throne of glory, will yourselves sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28).

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

Sectarian Catholicism

At last a rational voice on the Notre Dame issue. I could not have said this better myself. When are we going to realize that we need to be in conversation with the world - especially those with whom we don't fully agree - and not become a marginalized, head-in-the-sand church?

AMERICA MAGAZINE
The editors MAY 11, 2009

The clouds roll with thunder, the House of the Lord shall be built throughout the earth, and these frogs sit in their marsh and croak—‘We are the only Christians!’” So wrote St. Augustine about the Donatists, a perfectionist North African sect that attempted to keep the church free of contamination by having no truck with Roman officialdom. In the United States today, self-appointed watchdogs of orthodoxy, like Randall Terry and the Cardinal Newman Society, push mightily for a pure church quite unlike the mixed community of saints and sinners—the Catholic Church—that Augustine championed. Like the Circumcellions of old, they thrive on slash-and-burn tactics; and they refuse to allow the church to be contaminated by contact with certain politicians.

For today’s sectarians, it is not adherence to the church’s doctrine on the evil of abortion that counts for orthodoxy, but adherence to a particular political program and fierce opposition to any proposal short of that program. They scorn Augustine’s inclusive, forgiving, big-church Catholics, who will not know which of them belongs to the City of God until God himself separates the tares from the wheat. Their tactics, and their attitudes, threaten the unity of the Catholic Church in the United States, the effectiveness of its mission and the credibility of its pro-life activities.

The sectarians’ targets are frequently Catholic universities and Catholic intellectuals who defend the richer, subtly nuanced, broad-tent Catholic tradition. Their most recent target has been the University of Notre Dame and its president, John Jenkins, C.S.C., who has invited President Barack Obama to offer the commencement address and receive an honorary degree at this year’s graduation. Pope Benedict XVI has modeled a different attitude toward higher education.

In 2008, the pope himself was prevented from speaking at Rome’s La Sapienza University by the intense opposition of some doctrinaire scientists. The Vatican later released his speech, in which he argued that “freedom from ecclesiastical and political authorities” is essential to the university’s “special role” in society. He asked, “What does the pope have to do or say to a university?” And he answered, “He certainly should not try to impose in an authoritarian manner his faith on others.”

The divisive effects of the new American sectarians have not escaped the notice of the Vatican. Their highly partisan political edge has become a matter of concern. That they never demonstrate the same high dudgeon at the compromises, unfulfilled promises and policy disagreements with Republican politicians as with Democratic ones is plain for all to see. It is time to call this one-sided denunciation by its proper name: political partisanship.

Pope Benedict XVI has also modeled a different stance toward independent-minded politicians. He has twice reached out to President Obama and offered to build on the common ground of shared values. Even after the partially bungled visit of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with Pope Benedict, Vatican officials worked quickly to repair communication with her. Furthermore, in participating in the international honors accorded New Mexico’s Governor Bill Richardson in Rome last month for outlawing the death penalty (See Signs of the Times, 5/4), Pope Benedict did not flinch at appearing with a politician who does not agree fully with the church’s policy positions. When challenged about the governor’s imperfect pro-life credentials, Archbishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe responded on point, “We were able to help him understand our position on the death penalty.... One thing at a time.” Finally, last March the pro-choice French president Nicolas Sarkozy was made an honorary canon of the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the pope’s own cathedra

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Lost Generation

Christopher West's approach questioned

Denver, Colo., May 12 (CNA).-Renowned Catholic thinker Dr. Alice von Hildebrand has criticized Theology of the Body speaker Christopher West, saying his approach has become too self-assured. She criticized his presentations as irreverent and insensitive to the "tremendous dangers" of concupiscence.

Also cautious of West's remarks on his recent interview with ABC television were Mary Shivanandan and Fr. José Granados, both Catholic authors and theologians.

The news segment showed him calling for Catholics to complete "what the sexual revolution began." He also described "very profound" historical connections between Hugh Hefner and Pope John Paul II.

West spoke to CNA on Friday, claiming the report somewhat sensationalized his views. He also denied several characterizations conveyed by the news story, explaining that he believed Hefner to be right in rejecting "the disease of Puritanism" but radically wrong in beginning the "pornographic revolution."

He had told ABC that Hefner had a "yearning," an "ache" and a "longing" for love, union and intimacy.

In a Monday interview CNA spoke about West with Dr. Alice von Hildebrand, a Catholic philosopher and theologian who is professor emerita of Hunter College of the City University of New York.

Dr. von Hildebrand said she knew the "gist" of Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body and believed it was "very indebted" to her husband Dietrich von Hildebrand's 1927 book "In Defense of Purity." She said there is obviously an "abysmal difference" between the views shared by her husband and John Paul II and those presented by Christopher West.

Reporting that she had seen CNA's follow-up interview with West, Dr. Von Hildebrand was very critical of the speaker.

"My feeling is that Christopher West has become famous because he started discussing the Theology of the Body, which is extremely appealing topic. The difficulty is that, in the meantime, he became so famous that I do believe he has become much too self-assured and has lost sight of the extreme sensitivity of the topic."

This is "very troubling" because what she calls the "intimate sphere" is something "very mysterious, very profound, something that has a direct relationship with God."

"My feeling is that his vocabulary and his way of approaching it totally lacks reverence."

"Reverence is the key to purity," she told CNA." The intimate sphere "is not a topic of public discussion" but is "extremely serious."

"It seems to me that his presentation, his vocabulary, the vulgarity of things that he uses are things that simply indicate that even though he might have good intentions he has derailed and is doing a lot of harm."

She said people should not forget that we have been "profoundly affected" by original sin.

"In paradise there was perfect harmony between Adam and Eve. There was no concupiscence."

"After original sin, not only were we separated from God and condemned to losing eternity. On top of it, every single human faculty was affected. Our intelligence was darkened. Our will was weakened. And all of a sudden, we had the dreadful experience of something called concupiscence.

Before the Fall, there was no inner temptation to impurity between Adam and Eve even though they were naked, she explained. After they sinned, the two started to look at one another with concupiscence.

The Fall had consequences that are "so serious" that it was only the Redemption and the grace of God could remedy.

The fight against concupiscence is "not an easy process," Dr. von Hildebrand continued. "It is something that calls for holiness, which very few of us achieve. It is a sheer illusion to believe that by some sort of new technique we can find the solution to the problem."

While one can lead a holy life in marriage, she said to become a saint is "a long and difficult process that calls for a spirit of penance, a readiness to sacrifice."

"The tragedy of original sin is that all the beautiful male qualities of strength, courage, objectivity, nobility, a chivalrous attitude towards women, degenerated. The danger created by original sin is that many men use their strength and become brutal and abuse women or look at women as mere objects of pleasure.

"Eve was also profoundly affected by original sin," she added.

"To my mind the conflict between man and woman can only be healed by striving for holiness," she said. "There are many things Christopher West does not mention."

Additionally, she charged that West does not mention the Old Testament figures who fell to sexual sin: David, King of Israel, who was blessed in "an extraordinary way" but ordered the murder of the husband of a woman with whom David committed adultery.

"Adulteries lead to murder. It is one of the most abominable stories you can imagine," she said, explaining the Prophet Nathan's rebuke of David led to the composition of Psalm 50.

She said it was upsetting to her as a youth to learn that a young man who prayed for "the straight and honest heart so that I may serve my people" went on to have 750 concubines.

"How can you be so good when you're twenty, and lead such an abominable life when you're seventy?" she asked. "As far as I can tell, this is something that Christopher West forgets, in this sphere which is extremely dangerous."

She reported that a priest friend of hers had told her 90 percent of the sins that men accuse themselves of involve the Sixth Commandment against adultery.

Christopher West's approach makes him forget that sex is "an extreme danger." Though sex can be sanctified, that sanctification implies "a humility, a spirit of reverence, and totally avoiding the vulgarity that he uses in his language."

"I'm shocked and horrified by the words that he uses. His mere mention of Hugh Hefner is to my mind an abomination."

Mary Shivanandan, a theologian who authored the book "Crossing the Threshold of Love: A New Vision of Marriage in the Light of John Paul II's Anthropology," was also critical of West's remarks.

"The sublime teaching of John Paul II's theology of sexuality is not well served by West's comparison to Hugh Hefner and his playboy bunnies," she told CNA in a Monday e-mail. "The late pope had a profound reverence for God's plan for human love, which such a comparison, no matter how well intentioned, can only diminish and degrade."

Also providing comment for CNA was Fr. José Granados, a theologian who co-authored with Supreme Knight of Columbus Carl Andersen a book on John Paul II's Theology of the Body titled "Called to Love."

Fr. Granados said West's suggestion that John Paul II took the sexual revolution a step further was "highly inadequate and open to serious misunderstanding." He explained that Puritanism shares with pornography a negative vision of the body, viewing it without reference to the dignity of the person and to God's plan for man.

"It is deprived of its symbolism and its language," he said. While Puritanism attempts to silence the body and its urges, the sexual revolution exalts them "as an absolute."

"Pornography is in no sense an attempt to recover the beauty of the body and sexuality, but a sign of despair regarding this beauty and the possibility of finding meaning in human love," he said.

John Paul II's Theology of the Body recovers "the meaning of the body" with reference to love and to man and God, Fr. Granados told CNA.

"The Pope's proposal is not just about sexuality, but about the truth of love as the foundation of the person's dignity and the meaning of reality; and about the family as the place where the person finds himself and his way towards happiness.

"Moreover, one of the results of the sexual revolution is precisely the pansexualism that surrounds our society. We cannot respond with a different kind of pansexualism, with a sort of 'Catholic sexual revolution,' which in the end promotes a similar obsession with sex, even if 'holy'."

Monday, May 4, 2009

Say "YES" to God

So, yesterday was the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, and as you can imagine, now that I am a vocation director, I'm thinking even more about vocations than before.

It has been quite a transition, moving from New Milford to Boston; and moving the Vocation Office from Andover to Boston, but it hasn't been without its humorous moments. One in particular, I went to the bank to set up the checking account for the office. Once everything was set up, the teller asked me to look over everything she had set up and it was then that I noticed that she set me up as the "Franciscan Vacation Office." I think that's a job that I would like to have!

On Saturday, I was at NH YouthFest '09 up at St. Anselm College and it was a great day and a great opportunity to talk to some young people about the possibility of pursuing a vocation. It was really a great day.

I had been stationed in New Hampshire for 8 years so I know a lot of the people and clergy up there and I had a conversation with one young priest that I know who I haven't seen in a while. And, I asked him how things were going. He shared with me that he was now pastor of a parish and that it was going well and then he said something that stopped me in my tracks. He said, "It's great, and I'm lucky, I'm only pastor of ONE church."

Can you imagine that we have come to this point where forget the possibility of having more than one priest in a parish, that priests are excited if they only have the pastoral and spiritual care of one parish?

I read this today in America Magazine:

"Silence and fervent prayer for vocations are no longer adequate responses to the priest shortage in the United States. As the church prepares to observe the Year of the Priest, which begins on June 19, open discussion about how to sustain the church as a eucharistic community of faith and fortify the pastoral life of Catholic congregations has become imperative. For making do within the limits set by present demographic trends presents a double threat to Catholic life: Catholic communities will become only infrequent eucharistic communities, or eucharistic communities will be severed from the pastoral care and public witness of priests.

In 2008 the sociologist Dean Hoge said: 'We need at least a doubling of ordinations to maintain the American priesthood as we know it now. But this is impossible.' Of current diocesan priests, only 70 percent are available for parish ministry, with the rest sick, retired or absent for a variety of reasons, according to Mary Gautier of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. An increasing number of Catholics are unable to participate in a Sunday or weekday Mass. All this prompts the question, Will the priest shortage impose a eucharistic famine on the Catholic people?

The de facto remedy already applied in many places— making the priest a circuit rider moving from parish to parish to dispense the sacraments—risks narrowing the ministry of the priest and impoverishing the Christian life of the communities he serves. A narrowly sacramental definition of priesthood satisfies the requirements of only one of the three canons that define the pastoral responsibilities of the priest, Canon 530. As a consequence the sacramental office is as a practical matter severed from its integral connection with comprehensive pastoral care. Canons 528 and 529 provide a broader understanding of the priestly ministry. The first sees the priest as one who instructs, catechizes, fosters works of justice, shows special care for the education of children and brings the Gospel to those who have ceased to practice the faith. The second requires that he should come to know the faithful entrusted to his care, visit families, share their concerns, worries and griefs, help the sick and seek out the poor, the afflicted and the lonely. Diminishing numbers make it difficult to carry out this holistic vision of the priest’s pastoral ministry.

We hope that the upcoming Year of the Priest will lead to a broader discussion of the priesthood in the contemporary world and, in particular, will open examination of the various ways the shortage of priests can be addressed honestly and with imagination. New vocations can be promoted through youth rallies, the Internet and, as always, with prayer. In addition, the pastoral needs of parishes may also be met in part by more effective pastoral assignment of permanent deacons and by increased leadership by lay men and women."

My contention of course always remains that the crisis we face is a crisis of awareness and openess to where God is leading people. You know to say there is a vocation crisis - that we don't have enough vocations - is to place the blame at the feet of God. It is to say that somehow God is at fault for not placing the call on people's hearts.

Of course, God is always calling in abundance men and women to serve His church. But, we have created an environment that makes it nearly impossible for people to choose a path in ordained or consecrated life.

We ask the People of God have got to honor this way of life. We have got to extol it; encourage it; invite men and women into it.

God is calling. He is calling so many. He is calling adequately, more than enough. But, we have been conditioned to ignore the call or find reasons to avoid it.

You know, study after study shows that the overwhelming majority of priests and religious are very happy in their way of life - and yet the perception out there is that we are not. There is nothing more wonderful than following God's plans into the priesthood and/or religious life (if that is what God is calling you too).

Let us pray that more will have the courage to say YES!

Rosie sings the theme from "Maude" to Bea Arthur

This is a nice tribute to Bea Arthur who passed away last week.

How have we gone so wrong?

This is absolutely one of the saddest things I have ever read. It absolutely makes me want to cry. What is wrong with our Catholic population that we can have so strayed from what we are about to have numbers like this in favor of torture? How can we have such a strong witness against abortion and support torture? It only tells me that somehow we are anti-abortion, but we are NOT pro-life. Pro-life isn't a situational ethic, it is a core belief, a truth, that cannot bend or change or be subject to changing winds. We're so busy praying for everyone else's conversion on issues of life - when will pray for our own?

Washington D.C., May 3, 2009 / 05:30 pm (CNA).- A new survey from the Pew Center Forum on Religion & Public Life claims that Catholics are more likely than the general population to favor the use of torture against suspected terrorists.

The survey of 742 American adults asked whether the use of torture can often, sometimes, rarely or never be justified. About 19 percent of white non-Hispanic Catholics said they believed that the use of torture against suspected terrorists can often be justified, while 32 percent said it can sometimes be justified. About 27 percent said the practice can rarely be justified, while only 20 percent said it can never be justified.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church condemns torture, saying that which “uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred” is “contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity.”

Pope John Paul II’s 1993 encyclical Veritas Splendor, reiterating the Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, described “physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit” as being “hostile to life.”

Bishop of Albany, New York Howard J. Hubbard of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on International Justice and Peace has also spoken out against torture. He was a signatory to the National Religious Campaign against Torture’s January 9 letter to President-elect Barack Obama.

The letter asked President Barack Obama “to restore our nation’s moral standing in the world by rejecting the practice of torture.”

According to the Pew Center poll, white mainline Protestants were slightly less likely than Catholics to say torture can often or sometimes be justified, at a respective rate of 15 and 31 percent. White evangelical Protestant respondents said torture can often be justified at a rate of 18 percent, while 44 percent held that it can sometimes be justified.

The religiously unaffiliated were least likely to approve of using torture against suspected terrorists, with only 15 percent saying it can often be justified and 25 percent saying it can never be justified.

White mainline Protestants were most likely to say torture can never be justified, at a rate of 31 percent, while 26 percent of the unaffiliated shared that position.

Those who attend religious services at least weekly were more likely to support torture, with 16 percent saying it can often be justified and 38 percent saying it can sometimes be justified. Only 25 percent of regular churchgoers said the practice can never be justified.

Those who attended religious services seldom or never were least likely to approve of torture. Only 12 percent said it can often be justified, while 30 percent said it can sometimes be justified and 26 percent said it can never be justified.

CNA contacted the Pew Research Center for additional details and was told all analysis on the data had been published

Hearing the Shepherd's Voice

FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER, World Day of Prayer for Vocations, May 3, 2009:

Jesus was walking around Heaven one day and came out by the gates where St. Peter was hard at work sorting out those who would enter Heaven from those who wouldn’t. Jesus said, “Pete, you’re at the gate a lot. When do you take a break?” Peter said, “A break? Never. This is my job. All the time.” Jesus, feeling compassion for his friend said, “Hey, I’ll take over for a while, why don’t you grab a cup of coffee.” Peter gladly said yes and went on his way. Jesus opened the Book of Life and looked up to the next person in line. “Name?” he said. “Mary O’Donnell,” the old woman responded. Seeing her name he said, “Ah, yes, here you are. Head right on in, we’ve been waiting for you…Next.” A middle-aged man stepped up and gave his name, “John Smith.” Jesus looked at the Book and didn’t see his name. “Sorry John, you’re not in here. You’ll have to take that elevator over there…press the down button…Next.” Suddenly an old man appeared before Jesus and he looked familiar. “And you are…” Jesus asked. The man responded, “I’m a carpenter. And, I was told that my son was in there. I’d like to see him. You’d recognize him, he’s got nail marks in his hands and in his feet.” Jesus was stunned, he leaned forward, looked at the old man, smiled and said, “Dad?” The man’s eyes widened and he looked at Jesus and said, “Pinnochio?”

“I am the Good Shepherd, I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” We celebrate today the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. And, what a perfect day to be mindful of vocations as we hear this Gospel reading in which Jesus gives us this powerful image of Himself as the Good Shepherd. He knows each one of us individually. He knows the cares and concerns of our lives. He knows our needs. He knows our strengths and weaknesses. He knows what we can be. And this is the heart of vocation. Discovering our best identity – who we are called to be in God’s sight. God continually calls people. We must create environments in our lives, in our families where we help and allow people to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, so that they can follow where He will lead. The Good Shepherd is calling all of us to something. He is most definitely calling someone here today to the priesthood or religious life. The question is, can we hear His voice?

You know, people talk about the vocation crisis – what are we going to do, there aren’t enough priests and religious? As a new vocation director, I can tell you that there is no vocation crisis. All can show you countless young people that who love God, who are involved in many aspects of our parish life, who are always there when it comes to service, who very likely may have a vocation to the priesthood or religious life. But, time after time, that seed of vocation planted in their hearts is not nurtured or encouraged by those around them.

Just think about your own experience for a moment. When was the last time you said to someone, “I think you’d make a good priest, or religious sister or brother?” I would not be a priest today if it weren’t for the crucial, caring people who affirmed that vocation; who helped me to hear God’s call - Dominican sisters who taught me and encouraged a vocation, my aunt Maureen who is a Sister of Mercy and who showed me the joy that can be found in religious life, Fr. Marc who was my first mentor and led me toward a life of priestly service, and most importantly my mother and father, who gave witness to me of what it means to live a Christian life. The crisis the Church is facing is not a vocation crisis, it is a crisis of vocation awareness. We each have to take this responsibility personally. We, you and I, must be the people who encourage a young person to consider a life dedicated to God through the Church. Unless we’re willing to do that, we shouldn’t be surprised at dwindling numbers of priests and religious in our Church.

I challenge all of our young people to consider living a life dedicated to God as a priest or religious. And, even more so, I challenge everyone here today to pray for vocations and just as importantly encourage vocations. If you’ve ever thought that someone might be called to the priesthood or religious life, tell them. Make that promise to me today – that you will speak to someone this week who you think might have a vocation. Maybe they’ve been waiting for someone to confirm what they’ve been feeling inside.

We have all been led here by a Good Shepherd who knows His sheep and wants the best for them. We will meet Him in a profound and special way in the Eucharist and discover who we are in God’s sight and what God has planned for us in His Kingdom.

“I am the Good Shepherd and I know mine and mine know me.”

Let us pray that more young men and women will have the courage to pursue the vocation that God is calling them to; that they will follow the Good Shepherd. And let us be the people who encourage them to do so.

May God bless the Church with many vocations and may God give you peace.