The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!


Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Marriage, Civilization's Cornerstone

I've written occasionally on the dangers of the ongoing massive effort to redefine marriage as something other than the sacramental union of a man and a woman. I've always seen this as a key battle in the cultural war being waged throughout the world today. This morning my daughter pointed me to an article that describes the battle and its potential consequences. It was written by Don Feder, a long-time acquaintance and a man for whom I have tremendous respect. Don is a believing, practicing Jew and can always be counted on to inject the reality of common sense into any discussion. In this instance Don is reminding conservatives, particularly all those fiscal conservatives, of the permanent things that must be preserved and cherished if our Judeo-Christian civilization is to survive.

I recommend reading his column. And for those of you who are unquestioning Glenn Beck fans, I highly recommend it:  If Marriage Is Lost, We Lose Everything.

Pray for our nation...

Monday, August 30, 2010

Crumbling and Decay

Driving from Florida to Massachusetts has become almost routine for us. I've lost count of the number of round trips we've made since retiring in 2003, but this is our second trip this year. The first night we stopped in Roanoke Rapids, NC, just a few miles south of the Virginia border, and stayed at a slightly seedy Best Western motel. The next night, after a day of horrible traffic jams and absolutely insane drivers, I finally could take no more and, as we neared New Haven, Connecticut, decided to stop at the first place we found. It turned out to  be an Econolodge in West Haven and it, too, will never be confused with a real hotel. It was probably the least expensive hotel in town, but still cost us $100. My doubts about the place began when we discovered our room was already occupied -- always an embarrassing situation. It was almost a joy to rejoin the I-95 craziness the next morning. The rest of the trip was uneventful and ended with a wonderful reunion with children and grandchildren.

For now there's nothing to do but enjoy their company as we wait for our elder daughter to let us know that grandchild #8 is ready to make his debut. At the moment I'm babysitting while wife and daughter are out somewhere spending money. So far it's been pretty relaxing, just sitting on the couch with four little ones as we watch old reruns of "I Love Lucy." The kids, especially nine-year-old Pedro, love this show. There's a certain innocence about "Lucy" and its unlikely plots, but it's still a very funny show and the kids and I laughed aloud through three episodes.


Watching "Lucy", one is compelled to compare it to the televised trash that passes for entertainment these days. We've come a long way since the 1950s. And such comparisons inevitably conjure up thoughts of societal decay. This, in turn, reminded me of a recent Spengler post on this First Things blog that places the proposed "ground-zero mosque" in an interesting historical context. It's well worth a read: Why Did Rome Fall?

But of all the things I've read about the controversy in lower Manhattan, the best by far is that written today by Joseph Bottom, the Editor of First Things: Holy War Over Ground Zero.

One final comment about this controversy. Most of the "Muslim on the street" interviews I've seen seem to indicate that many American Muslims are against the construction of the mosque. Like most Americans they, too, consider the plan insensitive. Perhaps more telling is the fact that Hamas, Hezbollah, and Al-queda have all indicated support for the project.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

On the Road Again...

Tomorrow morning Diane and I head north with the firm hope that our arrival in Massachusetts will precede that of our newest, soon-to-be-born grandchild. The length of our stay is uncertain (that's another nice thing about retirement) but I intend to post something on the blog every couple of days. We'll see.

I am taking all kinds of strange electronic devices with me, all supposedly designed to make my life easier. Diane, of course, believes I have become enslaved by Apple, HP, Canon, Asus, and an assortment of lesser known masters. Foolish talk. What else would one expect from a Luddite who has a cell phone but never turns it on? I love her dearly but she remains hopelessly locked in the 20th century.

All my little gadgets are fine and eminently useful tools, but what I'm really waiting for is the fulfillment of the grand unified theory of electronic gadgetry, the ultimate do-everything gadget. For a moment I thought the iPad might come close, but then I realized its shortcomings would demand that I still lug a video cam, an iPhone, and several other can't-do-without devices. And so I will wait at least until the introduction of the next generation of iPad before parting with any more of my increasingly scarce retirement funds. In the meantime, my little backpack just gets heavier.

I ask for your prayers -- that my daughter's new son will arrive healthy and that we will enjoy a safe trip through the living horrors of I-95.

God's peace...

Orthodox - Catholic Unity??

Since I started this blog two years ago, I've included a number of posts on the expanding dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches and the growing sense that unity, long thought to be impossible, just might be getting a jump-start by the Holy Spirit. And why shouldn't it happen? After all, Jesus prayed that His Church might be united and we know his prayer is always efficacious.

Well, the movement toward unity continues. Zenit News (a news service out of Rome) reported the following on August 24 about a meeting between representatives of the Russian Orthodox and Catholic Churches in Rimini, Italy:

Metropolitan Filaret and Cardinal Erdo embrace in Rimini
ROME, AUG. 24, 2010 (Zenit.org).- High-ranking representatives of the Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches embraced on Monday in a moment reflecting a will for unity between the two Churches.

A photo of the embrace between Cardinal Peter Erdo and Metropolitan Filaret was printed with the title "Europe's Brothers."

The embrace between the two high-level representatives was a highlight of the 31st Meeting for Friendship Among Peoples, an annual event sponsored by the Catholic Communion and Liberation Movement in Rimini, Italy.

The cardinal and metropolitan made their embrace of unity as they joined in a debate on the topic "Can An Educated Man, a European of Our Days, Actually Believe in the Divinity of the Son of God, Jesus Christ?"

Cardinal Erdo is the archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest, Hungary, and the president of the Council of European Bishops' Conferences (CCEE). Filaret is the metropolitan of Minsk and Sluzk and Patriarchal Exarch of All Belarus.

I recommend you read the rest of the article. Chick here: Catholic, Russian Orthodox Churches Embrace.

And then be sure to read Deacon Keith Fournier's personal take on this remarkable move toward unity after more than 1,000 years of separation: May the Two Become One.

Pray for unity...Jesus did.

"Free-market" China Still Totalitarian

Because the Chinese economy has undergone such remarkable growth in recent decades, largely due to governmental support of a quasi free-market economy, it's easy to forget that the Communist leadership still exerts near total control over every other aspect of Chinese life. The following AsiaNews story is a perfect example of the brutality that typifies life under totalitarian rule...
Young Chinese mother kidnapped and sterilized to enforce one-child law. Hong Kong (AsiaNews / CHRD) - A young mother of 23 was kidnapped and forcibly sterilized by the members of the population control office in Anhui. The news was reported today by the CHRD (Chinese Human Rights Defenders).
Li Hongmei, 23, from Changfeng County, gave birth to her first child last June 21. On 15 July, the office for family planning kidnapped her along with her child. When her family reported her disappearance, Li’s mother, Yang Yonglian, was arrested by local police and detained for 10 days on charges of "hindering the course of official duties."

Later the family learned that Li, a mother for less than a month, had been brought to the hospital in Shuangfeng, where members of the population control forced her to sign consent for her sterilization.
CHRD said that after the forced sterilization Li became ill and is suffering from dizziness and chest pains. At present she is still in hospital.


To ensure the economic development programs, and hold down the population growth, since the late 70's China has adopted a one-child law which allows a couple to have only one child. In every province, city, village an annual quota of new births is set. In order to meet this quota representatives of the Office for population control resort to forced abortions (even in the ninth month), sterilization of women and men, huge fines of up to one or two years of annual wages for those who have a second child.

Sociologists and economists have long warned about the dangers of a quickly aging population. Moreover, the preference for male children among farmers has led to a widespread practice of selective abortions, female foeticide and has also created a serious imbalance in the ratio between males and females. Because of this, different personalities are demanding that the state change the one child law, allowing at least two children per couple. Each year, however, the government reaffirms the "common good" of the On Child Act.
 
A Falun Gong peaceful protester in the "workers' paradise"
It's always for the "common good", isn't it? And while the economists and sociologists might criticize the one child law for its unintended societal consequences, the more obvious, and much more damaging, consequences are ignored. Not only has this law resulted in millions of innocent Chinese unborn babies and newly born infants being callously murdered and thrown in the garbage, but the cumulative effect on the moral sense of the Chinese people must be devastating. When the most innocent are destroyed without a second thought, respect for all human life suffers dramatically.

God bless the China Human Rights Defenders (CHRD). I suspect their work is not without its dangers. I was unable to access their website and assume it has been taken down.

Pray for them and for the Chinese people.
 

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Wildwood Soup Kitchen - A New Video

I've written before about my favorite charity, the Wildwood Soup Kitchen, an ecumenical ministry in Wildwood, Florida that feeds the hungry. The soup kitchen is staffed completely by volunteers -- over 150 of us -- who represent nearly 30 area churches. We serve and deliver approximately 250 meals daily, and last year provided almost 70,000 meals to our guests and to shut-ins. This number has been increasing at 10-15% annually, so the need is growing. We're able to carry out this ministry thanks to the grace of God and the generosity of individuals, churches, civic and neighborhood groups, and local businesses.

Our cooks prepare absolutely wonderful meals -- hot meals complete with salad, rolls, vegetables, a main course, and dessert. Dear Diane is the Thursday cook and supervises a terrific team of about a dozen helpers. Although I'm one of these helpers, about all I'm good for is the heavy lifting.

Recently one of the churches that supports us (New Covenant United Methodist Church) made a brief, three-minute video to introduce people to the soup kitchen. I have included it below. I hope you enjoy it. (I make an academy-award winning cameo appearance.)


Should you feel called to make a donation, just send it to:

Treasurer
Wildwood Soup Kitchen
P. O. Box 1762
Wildwood, FL 34785
Thank you and God's Peace...

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Blessed Aloysius Stepinac - Croatian Martyr

I spent my high school years at Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains, NY. The school was named for Aloysius Stepinac, a Croatian archbishop (He was later named a cardinal), who spent most of the post-war years either in prison or under house arrest, all thanks to the Yugoslavian Communist dictator, Josip Broz (aka, Tito).

After the war Blessed Aloysius was falsely accused of collaboration with the Nazis during the wartime occupation and was subjected to a show trial at which he was convicted and sentenced to 16 years of hard labor. The charges, of course, were ludicrous since he had openly and strongly criticized the Nazis, for which his life was threatened. The Voice of America and the BBC both broadcast his sermons during the war to give hope to those living under Nazi occupation. Glaise von Herstenau, a German Nazi general in Zagreb, speaking of Stepinac and his sermons, stated, "If any bishop in Germany ever spoke this way, he would not descend alive from his pulpit!" And when, in 1943, Stepinac was warned by the Holy See that his life was in danger from the Nazis, he replied, "Either the Nazis will kill me now, or Communists will kill me later." And the Communists accused Archbishop Stepinac of collaboration! Of course, the left has continued to spread these lies about him despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Interestingly, years later, in 1985, the prosecutor at his trial, Jakov Blazevic, admitted publicly that Cardinal Stepinac had been entirely framed, and that he had been tried only because he refused to sever the ties between the Catholic Church in Croatia and the Roman Catholic Church. After his release from prison he was given a choice: permanent exile in Rome or virtual house arrest, confined to the small village of Krasic. He chose to remain in his homeland. Although he was made a cardinal by Pope Pius XII in 1953, he was not able to go to Rome to be officially elevated; nor was he ever able to function again as an archbishop.

I remember when he died, now over fifty years ago, on February 10, 1960. At the time I was a sophomore at the school named after him. His years in prison had so weakened him physically that he never fully recovered and succumbed to a blood disease attributed to the harsh conditions under which he had suffered. He was interred in the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Zagreb. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1998.

Pope Pius XII once said of Blessed Aloysius, "this Croatian Cardinal is the most important priest of the Catholic Church" -- quite a tribute to this man who was a heroic and very public example of faithfulness and courage. And just a few months ago, at a Mass celebrating the 50th anniversary of Blessed Aloysius' death, Cardinal William Lavada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, called him a hero who "lived... sacrificing his own life for the truth and the unity of the Church in Croatia with the Successor of Peter."

Blessed Aloysius was also instrumental in saving hundreds of Jews from the Holocaust. He knew that often the only way to save them was to issue false baptismal certificates, and in a confidential letter sent to Croatian priests, he wrote:
"The role and task of Christians is in the first place to save people. When this time of madness and wildness is over, only those will remain in our Church who converted out of their own conviction, while others, when the danger is over, will return to their faith." 

Archbishop Stepinac gave another instruction to his clergy, telling them to issue the certificate of baptism to endangered Jews and Serbs whenever they requested it. This was to be done without the usual religious requirements, and often with false names. I know of nowhere else in occupied Europe where this was done.

Prior to his beatification, Jewish organizations in Croatia issued a statement saying, "The Jews in Croatia are grateful to Cardinal Stepinac for advocating the salvation of many Jews during the Ustasha Independent State of Croatia [the puppet state of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany during World War II]." The statement goes on to credit the cardinal with "success in saving from Nazi and Ustasha genocide the residents of the Lavoslav Schwartz retirement home, several groups of Jewish children and several hundreds of converted Jews in mixed marriages."

He was quite a man, this saintly archbishop and prisoner for Christ, and I am especially honored to have attended the school named for him. Read more here.

Persecution of Catholics in Pakistan

I've addressed this issue before, but sometimes the words just don't provide the whole picture. A few weeks ago Pakistani Catholics placed a video on YouTube (below) showing some of the recent persecution Catholics have experienced in Pakistan. Yes, those who made the video have some harsh words to say about Muslims and about Islam in general, words that don't mesh well with our politically correct sensibilities here in the USA. But before you're too critical about their choice of words, you might consider how you would feel if your parish church had been burned down by a mob, its contents desecrated, and many of your fellow parishioners burned alive. I suspect, then, your attitude toward Islam would be quite different.

The brief text that accompanies the video states:
"This is not new for the Christian World. We Christians are used to it in Pakistan. This was the enormous injustice and massacre of Christians in 2009. But 2010 is also worst for Christians in this Republic. But for Christians, Persecution = Unity."
These Pakistani Catholics are on the front lines of the universal call to evangelization and display a degree of courage that I'm not sure I could emulate. Keep them in your prayers.



And while I'm at it, here's another video that presents a collage of sorts depicting the persecution of Christians throughout the world.

iPhone Liturgy of the Hours

For both the clergy and the laity, who recite the daily prayers of the Liturgy of the Hours, there is a new iPhone and iPod Touch application called iBreviary. The application not only includes all the hours of the day, but also contains the complete Mass prayers and readings for the day, along with a generous selection of other Catholic prayers and rites. This is definitely a keeper. And the best thing about iBreviary is its price: FREE! This is in contrast to other, relatively pricey versions available as iPhone apps. Here's a link to brief video in which the developer, Italian priest Fr. Paolo Padrini, explains the application: iBreviary.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Tolkien Interview

I've been an ardent fan of J. R. R. Tolkien for my entire adult life, and in recent years have managed to find several audio recordings and a few videos where journalists and others interviewed the good professor. But I was just pointed to another, one of the more interesting, that can be found on the BBC website. Here's the link: J.R.R. Tolkien.

The video is almost a half-hour long and well worth viewing. Thanks to Mark Shea and Fr. Dwight Longenecker for providing the link. As Fr. Longenecker observes on his blog, it's a special joy to listen to some of the Oxford students of 1968 being interviewed as they wax stupidly on Tolkien and his work. They had a golden opportunity to receive a first-rate education, and they apparently squandered it. These are the same people (of my generation) who are more or less running the world today. It's no wonder we're in the shape were in.

Plus ça change...

In its 2,000-year history among men, the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church has suffered much for the sins of its members. There's no reason to believe this will change.

Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464)  -- scholar, scientist, bishop, cardinal, and one of those brilliant Renaissance men of the 15th century -- when praying over the Church of his day, wrote: 
"O, God, if in this time that is ours we can raise our head and see that our redemption approaches, it is because we see that the Church has never fallen so low as she is now."
St. Basil the Great (329-379) might have disagreed with Nicholas as he watched the 4th-century Church seemingly self-destruct. Basil wrote repeatedly and often to his colleagues, especially to St. Athanasius, lamenting the devastation he saw within the Church of his day. Here are a few samples of Basil's comments:
"The ambition of the unprincipled seizes upon places of authority; and the chief seat is now openly proposed as a reward for impiety; so that he whose blasphemies are the more shocking, is more eligible for the oversight of the people. Priestly gravity has perished; there are none left to feed the Lord's flock with knowledge; ambitious men are ever spending, in purposes of  self-indulgence and bribery, possessions which they hold in trust for the poor.  The accurate observation of the canons (the traditions of the fathers) are no more; there is no restraint upon sin. Unbelievers laugh at what they see, and the weak are unsettled; faith is doubtful, ignorance is poured over their souls, because the adulterators of the word in wickedness imitate the truth.  Religious people keep silence, but every blaspheming tongue is let loose. Sacred things are profaned; those of the laity who are sound in faith avoid the places of worship, as schools of impiety, and raise their hands in solitude with groans and tears to the Lord in heaven." [Letter to Athanasius, written in 371] 
"Has the Lord completely abandoned His Church? Has the hour then come and is the fall beginning in this way so that now the man of sin is clearly revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and is lifted up above all that is called God or that is worshiped?" [Letter to Athanasius, written in 373]
"Our distresses are notorious, even though we leave them untold, for now their sound has gone out into all the world. The doctrines of the Fathers are despised; apostolic traditions are set at nought; the devices of innovators are in vogue in the Churches; now men are rather contrivers of cunning systems than theologians; the wisdom of this world is given the place of honor and they have rejected the glorying of the cross. Shepherds are banished, and in their places are introduced grievous wolves hurrying the flock of Christ. Houses of prayer have none to assemble in them; desert places are full of lamenting crowds. The elders lament when they compare the present with the past. The younger are yet more to be compassionated, for they do not know of what they have been deprived." [Letter 90 to the bishops of the West]
"We live in days when the overthrow of the Churches seems imminent; of this I have long been cognizant. There is no edification of the Church; no correction of error; no sympathy for the weak; no single defense of sound brethren; no remedy is found either to heal the disease which has already seized us, or as a preventive against that which we expect." [Letter 113 to the priests of Tarsus]
From these isolated quotes, Basil might sound as if he were in the depths of despair, but he wasn't. He had tremendous faith in the Holy Spirit. No, Basil was reporting only what he saw.

We too must avoid the temptation to despair, for temptation it is, and have faith in the presence of the Holy Spirit. We expect Him to come to the Church's aid like a roaring lion or at the head of some heavenly host armed for battle. But that's not how He works. He invariably comes in a whisper, like the soft breeze barely felt by the Prophet as he awaits God's Word [I Kgs 19:12]. It is there, in the calm movement of the Spirit, that God acts through those he chooses. And He acts continuously, sometimes chastising, sometimes encouraging, sometimes leading, but always healing, always forgiving.

We all believe we have the solution and can't understand why God and the world won't listen to us. We should instead be listening to the Spirit for "when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth." [Jn 16:13] Through our failure to listen, our desire to lead rather than be led, we run the risk of grieving the Holy Spirit. As Paul instructed the Ephesians: 
"And do not grieve the holy Spirit of God, with which you were sealed for the day of redemption. All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. (And) be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ" [Eph 4:30-32].
We should listen, too, to the words of the Church's first deacon, St. Stephen, as he chastised those who, just moments later, would make him also the Church's first martyr: "You stiff-necked people...you always oppose the Holy Spirit; you are just like your ancestors" [Acts 7:51]. Tough words from a tough guy, but followed by a plea for forgiveness: "Lord, do not hold this sin against them" [Acts 7:60].

Pray for the Church that it may always follow the urgings of the Spirit, even when He leads it, as He led Jesus, into the wilderness [Lk 4:1].

Laudetur Iesus Christus...


Sunday, August 22, 2010

Monk Casket-Makers Persecuted

Near Covington, Louisiana there is a Benedictine monastery, St. Joseph Abbey,  where 36 monks pray and work as monks always have. The work done by these monks is a bit unique, though. They make caskets, beautiful, hand-made, wooden caskets which they sell at reasonable prices; and they've been making these caskets for well over 100 years. This casket-making has been fairly successful for the monks, and the proceeds help support the abbey. And through it they also fulfill one of the corporal works of mercy (remember them?): to bury the dead.

But their success has become a problem for the monks. The funeral home industry has called on the state of Louisiana to stop the monks from competing against the higher-priced and far inferior products sold through funeral homes. And the state responded by telling the monks that they may not sell their caskets because they lack the appropriate funeral director licenses and haven't paid the associated fees. Several of the monks are now being threatened with civil and criminal penalties and could actually be imprisoned for their casket-making. As you might expect, the monks are fighting this injustice and the Institute for Justice has come to their aid. 

Deacon Keith Fournier of Catholic Online  has written an in-depth article on this story. I suggest you read it. It will only reinforce those suspicions you probably already have about the funeral industry and it's grossly inflated prices. Here's a link to Deacon Keith's article: Monks Persecuted for Burying the Dead.

The below video, made by the Institute for Justice, explains the case...

It continues...

Homily: 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C

Readings: Is 66:18-21; Ps 117; Heb 12:5-7,11-13; Lk 13:22-30

Some years ago, working at a college in New England, I was asked to teach a course for senior marketing majors. I was pleasantly surprised when 25 students, the maximum allowed, registered for the course. Naturally I assumed my reputation preceded me. Only later did I learn that the person who taught this course previously was considered a “Santa Claus” – someone who gave A’s regardless of effort. This put a whole new perspective on things.

I spent about 15 minutes that first day describing my expectations and requirements. As I ran down the list -- weekly quizzes, frequent exams, several papers, a research project – the effect on my students was remarkable. Their earlier smiles and enthusiasm faded as they sank ever lower in their seats. I concluded by telling them that I would give each student an oral final exam. There was a collective gasp. I just ignored it and began to teach.

When I arrived for the 2nd class, only 18 students showed up. And by the end of the 2nd week, I was down to 12, a much more manageable number. As I recall, three students eventually earned A’s. You see, to do well a student was required to submit to the discipline of the course.  Now some rejected that discipline and dropped out at the first opportunity. Others wanted to do well, but resented the required discipline and failed to do what was asked of them. And some became complacent and assumed that the discipline didn’t really apply to them…or believed their winning personalities would carry them through. They inevitably did poorly.

For many Christians, today’s Gospel reading generates the same kind of apprehension and, too often, the same kind of responses.

“Lord, will only a few people be saved?”

Jesus took this simple question – and used it to teach us about salvation. It’s a rather curious question, as if he’s asking, “Hey, Jesus, what are the odds I’ll win the salvation lottery?” Or maybe, as one of God’s Chosen People, he thought he had an inside track on salvation – he knew the Law, obeyed the rules, did everything he was supposed to do as a sign of his justification. When you think of it this way, you can almost hear the complacency in the question, can’t you?

And yet what did Isaiah tell us in today’s first reading? “I come to gather nations of every language; they shall come and see my glory.” Isaiah is preparing God’s people to accept the truth of salvation, that God desires it for all, Jew and Gentile – a desire later fulfilled by Jesus when He instructs the Apostles to announce the Good News: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations…”

Or maybe our questioner was complacent because he knew Jesus…that as a disciple he really did have an inside track...after all, he had walked by Jesus’ side as He taught in the streets...had shared meals with Him.  Surely this would be enough. Like some of my students, maybe he believed he need only show up to win the prize.

Well, whatever his reasons, I’m sure he was surprised when Jesus, instead of a simple Yes or No, said some disturbing things. You see, it was the wrong question. How many will be saved isn’t the important thing. The important question, the one you and I should really be concerned about is: “How can we be saved?” And this is the question Jesus answers.

Now we all know that salvation is a gift. It’s nothing you or I can earn; rather it’s the result of Christ’s saving sacrifice on the Cross. And while everyone is invited to share in God’s Kingdom, accepting that invitation also means obeying His call to repentance and doing His Will. Or as we heard in today’s 2nd reading from Hebrews: “…do not disdain the discipline of the Lord…for whom He disciplines, He loves.”

And so Jesus begins, telling us that, even though the door is narrow, we must all try to enter. We can’t pin our hopes on the mere fact that we’re paid-up church-going people. The words “depart from me” are a stark and chilling reminder that the stakes are high – a heavenly or hellish eternity – a terrible reality facing everyone. Only a fool would turn a deaf ear to this warning. And yet, fools abound.

Many Christians, many Catholics, apparently believe in God, believe that we each possess an immortal soul, that Heaven and Hell are real… and yet live their lives as if God can be ignored. They believe in God and call themselves Christians, but act as if God’s clear commands are optional, that we can decide which must be obeyed.

A lot of us must be like this, because sociologists say that those who claim to be Catholic are almost statistically indistinguishable from non-believers when it comes to their acceptance of such behaviors as abortion, adultery, divorce, euthanasia, homosexual marriage, cheating on taxes, filing frivolous lawsuits, or even swiping pencils from the company supply room.

No, brothers and sisters, all roads do not lead to the banquet — only one road, one path, through one narrow gate. And if the practice of our faith is confined to Sunday Mass, but has no bearing on our daily lives, we’re guaranteed absolutely nothing. What you and I say for one hour each week means little. It’s what we do every hour of every day that matters.

Salvation comes when we accept Christ and start to follow him…when we accept Him in the Eucharist and in our hearts, when we become, not just hearers, but do-ers of the Word. It comes when we follow him after leaving this church today: how we love and discipline our children; how we decide to use our free time and spend our money; how we make decisions; when we pray; when we work and study; when we go about all the activities that makes up our daily lives.

Everything we do, every word we utter, every thought we hold, every emotion we display, every action – it all proclaims our love of Christ to the world, that we’re following him through the narrow gate, and that we know it’s a struggle. We can’t just sit back and take our salvation for granted, expecting God to do everything for us. We can’t ignore God and the teachings of His Church and expect the door to be opened wide. Like the students who earned that A, we must submit to the discipline of the course. And the instructor in this instance has much higher expectations. And it’s no coincidence that the word discipline has its origins in the word disciple.

And so when the question is asked – “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” – we must be willing to accept the answer.

We don’t fully understand this mystery of salvation, a salvation not limited by law, ritual, or our own expectations of who will or won’t be saved. Salvation is a gift from a God whose love is so expansive that it includes the whole human family.  A God who respects our freedom, takes our decisions seriously, and accepts the consequences of our decisions, even when we choose not to be with Him for eternity. But our loving God, whose heart overflows with mercy and forgiveness, always provides His disciples with the necessary grace. We need only cooperate by doing our part.

We really shouldn’t condemn ourselves. If we know we're not close to God, and our lack of prayer life bothers us, maybe then we can change. If we’re aware of what we’re doing wrong, or not doing right, and if this upsets us…well, that’s good. If we hear and answer the call to repent, then we have a chance. Maybe then we can count ourselves among those in the Gospel who are “the last.” Perhaps then we’ll actually accept help, help from others, and the help and forgiveness of God.

You and I are far from perfect but when the time comes I hope we’ll be pleasantly surprised to find ourselves in God’s presence. We’ll probably also be surprised at some of the others we’ll meet there, just as they’ll be surprised to see us.

The stakes are so very high, brothers and sisters. The last thing we want to hear is God saying to us, “Depart from me.” How much better to hear Him say, “'Well done, my good and faithful servant…Come, share your master’s joy.”

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Final Vatican Approval of English-Language Translation of New Roman Missal

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has announced the Vatican's approval of the English-language translation of the new Roman Missal. The president of the USCCB, Cardinal Francis George, announced that implementation of the new missal will take place on the First Sunday of Advent, 2011. For those of us who happen to be parish directors of liturgy, this is a big deal and provides us with a firm deadline for preparing our parishioners for the many changes. I've included the complete USCCB press release below:

____________________


U.S. Adaptations to Mass Prayers Also Approved
Parish Education Efforts Urged To Precede Implementation
Resources Available Through USCCB

WASHINGTON—Cardinal Francis George, OMI, Archbishop of Chicago and President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), has announced that the full text of the  English-language translation of the Roman Missal, Third Edition, has been issued for the dioceses of the United States of America. 
           
The text was approved by the Vatican, and the approval was accompanied by a June 23 letter from Cardinal Llovera Antonio Cañizares, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. The Congregation also provided guidelines for publication.
           
In addition, on July 24, the Vatican gave approval for several adaptations, including additional prayers for the Penitential Act at Mass and the Renewal of Baptismal Promises on Easter Sunday. Also approved are texts of prayers for feasts specific to the United States such as Thanksgiving, Independence Day and the observances of feasts for saints such as Damien of Molokai, Katharine Drexel, and Elizabeth Ann Seton. The Vatican also approved the Mass for Giving Thanks to God for the Gift of Human Life, which can be celebrated on January 22. 
           
Cardinal George announced receipt of the documents in an August 20 letter to the U.S. Bishops and issued a decree of proclamation that states that “The use of the third edition of the Roman Missal enters into use in the dioceses of the United States of America as of the First Sunday of Advent, November 27, 2011.  From that date forward, no other edition of the Roman Missal may be used in the dioceses of the United States of America.” 
           
The date of implementation was chosen to allow publishers time to prepare texts and parishes and dioceses to educate parishioners.
           
“We can now move forward and continue with our important catechetical efforts as we prepare the text for publication,” Cardinal George said.
           
In the coming weeks, staff of the bishops’ Secretariat of Divine Worship will prepare the text for publication and collaborate with the staff of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL), which will assist Bishops’ Conferences in bringing the text to publication. In particular, ICEL has been preparing the chant settings of the texts of the Missal for use in the celebration of the Mass. Once all necessary elements have been incorporated into the text and the preliminary layout is complete, the final text will go to the publishers to produce the ritual text, catechetical resources and participation aids for use in the Liturgy.
           
Receipt of the text marks the start of proximate preparation for Roman Missal implementation. Before first use of the new text in Advent 2011, pastors are urged to use resources available to prepare parishioners. Some already have been in use; others are being released now. They include the Parish Guide for the Implementation of the Roman Missal, Third Edition, and Become One Body, One Spirit in Christ, a multi-media DVD resource produced by ICEL in collaboration with English-language Conferences of Bishops. Both will be available from the USCCB. Information on resources can be found at www.usccb.org/romanmissal
           
Bishop Arthur Serratelli of Paterson, New Jersey, Chair of the Bishops’ Committee on Divine Worship, voiced gratitude for the approval.
           
“I am happy that after years of preparation, we now have a text that, when introduced late next year, will enable the ongoing renewal of the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy in our parishes,” he said.  Msgr. Anthony Sherman, Director of the Secretariat for Divine Worship of the USCCB noted, “A great effort to produce the new Roman Missal for the United States, along with the other necessary resources, has begun.  Even as that work is underway a full–scale catechesis about the Liturgy and the new Roman Missal should be taking place in parishes, so that when the time comes, everyone will be ready.”
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Friday, August 20, 2010

Praying for Russia

If you're old enough -- that is, if you attended Mass before 1965 -- you'll remember the recitation of certain prayers after low Mass. These prayers, called the "Leonine Prayers" because they were first instituted by Pope Leo XIII in 1859, were initially prayed for the "freedom and exaltation of Holy Mother Church." The prayers underwent changes over the years but eventually came to include three Hail Marys, the Salve Regina, and the familiar prayer to St. Michael the Archangel, along with an invocation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Then, in 1930, after the Vatican City State had been established as a result of the Lateran Treaty with Italy, Pope Pius XI changed the intention to "permit tranquility and freedom to profess the faith to be restored to the afflicted people of Russia." The prayers continued after every low Mass throughout the world until they were ultimately suppressed in 1964 as a result of the implementation of the Second Vatican Council's Constitution on Sacred Liturgy. The actual suppression can be found in the instruction, Inter oecumenici (Ch. 2, I.48.j.).

Although the prayers were no longer prayed after Mass, many Catholics continued to pray for Russia and its people. And the nuns who reside in one particular monastery in Rome are a perfect example. For over fifty years these cloistered nuns of the Byzantine Rite of the Catholic Church have been praying for Russia. The brief video I've included below will give you a taste of their unique apostolate and lives of prayer.


Given the instability in Russia these days, we should keep this intention alive in our own prayer lives and perhaps add prayers for China as well.

God's peace...

Things Unreported

I don't spend a lot of my time roaming the worldwide web because I actually have much better things to do. But if one is judicious the web is perhaps the only place one can access the important news that most media outlets ignore. And so every few days I check out a few favorite sites just to see what's really new in the world. Here are a few items I came across this morning. I doubt that you'll see them on the evening network news.

From American Thinker: Will the Real Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf Please Stand Up? Includes some interesting facts about the Arab/Muslim world's treatment of Palestinians.
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From Pajamas Media: The eminent classicist and historian, now gentleman farmer, Victor Davis Hanson, gives us his thoughts on societal decline: With a Whimper or a Bang -- or Not at All.

From Front Page Magazine: If you thought China was just an economic superpower, check out this analysis of the Pentagon's 2010 report on China's extraordinary military buildup. Are we once again all prepared for the last war instead of the next? China Rising.

From Catholic Online: Deacon Keith Fournier tells us about the demise of the last Catholic adoption agency in the UK. Catholic Care will no longer offer adoptions because they refused to compromise Church teaching and arrange adoptions for homosexual couples. The 2007 Equality Act Sexual Orientation Regulations demand that Catholic Care accede to these regulations or close it doors. Last Catholic Adoption Agency in UK Refuses to Compromise With Caesar.

From The Catholic Thing: If you want to learn about the persecution of Christians throughout the world,  don't bother looking in the mainstream media because it's not there. But here's an interesting story about Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) who, along with several colleagues, is demanding an investigation of an incident in which Vietnamese government authorities used deadly force against a religious procession. US Lawmakers Urge Probe on Vietnam Catholic Clash.

One morning's collection of interesting unreported news...

What a country!

Unless you're a total recluse -- and if you are, you certainly wouldn't be reading this blog -- you've no doubt heard of the controversy surrounding the planned construction of a $100-million mosque and Islamic community center in lower Manhattan, a block or two from the site of the 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. For politicians the timing couldn't be better, or worse, depending on their respective knee-jerk positions. The president, for example, speaking at a Ramadan dinner held at the White House, decided to take the constitutional high road and solemnly declared that Muslims had every right to build the mosque:
"But let me be clear: as a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country, and will not be treated differently by their government, is essential to who we are. The writ of our Founders must endure."
Nice words, but they don't really address the issue. They were apparently designed only to demonize those against the construction of the mosque by labeling them as bigots who disregard the constitutional rights of others when it suits them. But to my knowledge the opponents of the project have never questioned the right of Muslims to build their mosque near 9-11 "Ground Zero." Their opposition is not based on questions of legality; rather it is based on the propriety of building a mosque so close to the site of the attack by Jihadist  terrorists. Al-qaida and its supporters would, of course, celebrate the presence of the mosque as a victory over the infidels.

Additional concerns center on the unnamed sources of funding for the project and the radical ties and opinions of the man behind it, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, along with his wife, Daisy Khan, When one digs just a little beneath the surface, one thing becomes clear: Rauf and his wife are not the "moderates" they and their supporters make them out to be. (See Jihad Watch.)

Since the president turned the mosque into a national issue, the politicians have been scrambling either to join him or distance themselves from him. With the mid-term elections just two months away, most Democrat pols are not at all pleased that they must take sides on this potentially explosive issue. Reading the electoral tealeaves, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was quick to desert the president and joined the growing chorus questioning the wisdom of building a mosque so near ground zero. He has been followed by dozens of others who hope to defuse the issue prior to the November elections. And then we heard from Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who made perhaps the dumbest (or scariest) suggestion of the year when she stated that those who oppose the mosque should be investigated. If she was serious, and I can only assume she was, she's an even greater threat to our freedoms than I had thought.

It's really quite entertaining watching all this scrambling and posturing by politicians caught in the headlights. I suspect we'll see a lot more of it in the coming weeks.

New York's Mayor Bloomberg was one of the first to speak out publicly about the proposed project. I thought it particularly interesting that he was so strong in his support for the mosque's construction. In his words:
"Whatever you may think of the proposed mosque and community center, lost in the heat of the debate has been a basic question: Should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their particular religion? That may happen in other countries, but we should never allow it to happen here."
One got the impression that the mayor intended to do all in his power to fast-track the project despite the opposition of a significant majority of New Yorkers. I found this interesting because of the obstacles the City of New York has placed in the path of the Greek Orthodox community as they try to rebuild St. Nicholas Church (photo at left) which was completely destroyed in the 9-11 terrorist attack. The church had been there since 1916.

Few people have even heard about little St. Nicholas Church. It certainly hasn't received much attention from the mainstream media. And yet for nine years this small church's attempt to rebuild has been stonewalled by the city and the Port Authority, who seem determined to prohibit the church's reconstruction in its original neighborhood. According to representatives of the Greek Orthodox community, the Port Authority won't even speak with them about the church. "Unfortunately, they have just been silent -- dead silent, actually," said Father Alex Karloutsos, whose father was ordained at St. Nicholas. "They just simply forgot about the church."

Funny how neither the president nor the mayor said a word about St. Nicholas Church and the continued efforts by government agencies to prohibit it from being rebuilt near ground zero. It seems discrimination toward Christians remains the only politically correct form of discrimination. And so, as our politicians blissfully ignore the plight of this small Christian community, they make the appeasement of radical Muslims their top priority.

Memo to Mayor Bloomberg: Try listening to your own words...

"That may happen in other countries, but we should never allow it to happen here."

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Church in Muslim Malaysia

I've been to Malaysia only once, and that was for a brief two-day visit 40 years ago. I also had a Malaysian friend during my college days -- his father was Malaysian ambassador to the U.S. -- who willingly answered my many questions about the country and its people. These two sources, then, neither of which is current, along with some occasional subsequent reading, have left me with the little knowledge I have of Malaysia.

I know, for example, that a majority of Malaysians are Muslim, but I didn't realize Muslims represent 60% of the population. I honestly thought it was much higher. Among the other 40% of the population are Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, and followers of traditional animist religions. I also didn't know that the Christian percentage of the population is almost 10%, and that the majority of these are Catholic. The Catholic population, although it is growing, is concentrated largely on the island of Borneo, part of which is Malaysian territory. (Click here to read an article about the pressures on Malaysian Catholics.)

And it would seem that these days the Catholics are not being treated very well. Indeed, among Malaysians, non-Muslims are generally considered inferior. This attitude, as you might expect, leads to all kinds of discrimination. Further aggravating the problem, however, is the presence of two legal systems: one based on the county's constitution and carried out in its civil courts; and another, the Sharia Court, based on Islamic law. As you might imagine, when Sharia law comes into play, non-Muslims are regularly discriminated against. This happens most often in legal matters involving religious conversion, inheritance, property rights, and court jurisdiction. Although Islam is its official religion, Malaysia is a secular state with a constitution that guarantees complete freedom of religion; and yet, despite this, the civil courts regularly defer to the Sharia courts when a case involves a dispute over one of these issues between a Muslim and a non-Muslim. And in Sharia courts the Muslim almost always wins.

In recent years the Catholic bishops have expressed themselves forcefully on thse issues, reminding the government of the religious freedom guaranteed by the constitution. In one letter a few years ago, they stated, "that Islam is the religion of the Federation does not mean extending Sharî'a law to the entire legal system. . . . We reject any move to declare Malaysia an Islamic state or entail a role for Sharî'a law in the legislative and regulatory processes."

And then, a few months ago, two Muslim journalists, writing for the Al Islam magazine, attended a Mass and, impersonating Catholics, recieved the Eucharist which they intentionally spat out and desecrated. Such actions are against Malaysian law, but the attorney general apparently decided to take no action.

In the video I've included below Archbishop Murphy Pakiam, of the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur, is obviously concerned about the government's inaction and the magazine's refusal to apologize. One can only imagine the public reaction had a Christian preformed an act of descration in a mosque. In a Muslim-majority country like Malaysia it's important for Christians to defend their faith and their rights under the law or the radical Islamists will only increase their attacks.


Pray daily for those courageous Catholics throughout the world who live and practice their faith despite open discrimination, persecution, and worse.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Suicide of Western Civilization

In my previous post I provided a link to Elizabeth Scalia's blog, The Anchoress, but what I hadn't read at the time was her piece that appeared this morning on the website of First Things. Entitled, "Hating Ourselves to Death" it offers a brief glimpse of the West on its deathbed and provides what I believe is an accurate diagnosis of the likely terminal illness that has placed it there. It's well worth a read.

I've written a few posts recently on the subject Western Europe's probable demise and the spread of its fatal disease to our shores here in the USA. But what I find most interesting about this speculation (by me and others) is how James Burnham (1905-1987) anticipated it all almost a half-century ago. Back in 1964 Burnham recognized the basic flaws of modern liberalism and clearly saw the kind of future into which these errors would lead us. The title of Burnham's book, Suicide of the West, pretty much says it all.

Burnham, a once-radical Trotskyite, who is probably best known for his book, The Managerial Revolution, underwent a significant change in thinking back in the 1940s and became a stalwart of the conservative movement and a frequent contributor to William F. Buckley's National Review. It was there, back in the early sixties, in the pages of my father's copies of that journal, that I first encountered James Burnham. And it was just a few years later when I was handed a copy of Suicide of the West, also thanks to my father. According to Burnham, modern liberals are wracked with guilt and self-hatred, a syndrome that becomes manifest in all kinds of contradictory behaviors and beliefs. He would have agreed heartily with Scalia's article mentioned above.

In my opinion Burnham's best book, though, is The Machiavellians (1943), another prophetic look into the future (our present) in which he describes the ascendancy of a governing elite who will make effective use of the trappings of a democratic society as its members work toward one overreaching goal: the realization of their own personal interests.

James Burnham is still worth reading.

New Vocations - Women Religious

We hear so much these days about the lack of vocations, particularly among women, that one might think all religious orders will soon be only a memory. For some orders this is no doubt true. But what we don't hear about very much is the remarkable growth of vocations among so many of the new religious communities.

Elizabeth Scalia, who writes occasionally for my favorite monthly, First Things, also has a blog, The Anchoress, on the FT website. In yesterday's post she provides us with a "vocation round-up" and lists one order after another, describing their growth in vocations -- orders like the Nashville Dominicans who expect 30 new postulants later this summer. Among my favorites are the Sisters of Life (Bronx, NY), who just had ten of their number profess their vows at the Basilica of St. John the Baptist in Stamford, CT. Six novices of the Sisters of Life also recently accepted the habit. The Dominican Sisters of Mary (Ann Arbor), also blessed with vocations, recently witnessed eight of their sisters make their first profession of vows. The wonderful thing about these orders, and the many others listed, is that so many of these new sisters are young women. They all deserve your prayers and your financial support.
New novices of the Sisters of Life

Although Scalia focuses on the women, she doesn't completely ignore the men and refers to the 21 men novices of the Dominican Province of St. Joseph (New York) as well as the recent ordinations of new Norbertine priests. The Norbertine Sisters (California) are also experiencing real growth in vocations.

How refreshing it is to realize that so many young Catholic women are accepting their vocations to the religious life. Oh, how we need them! Keep them all in your prayers.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Homily: Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Readings:  Rv 11:19a; 12:1-6a, 10ab; Psalm 45; 1 Cor 15:20-27; Lk 1:39-56
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Titian's Assumption (Frari-Venice)
Today we celebrate one of the great solemnities of the liturgical year, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Although the Assumption wasn’t officially declared a dogma of faith until 1950 by Pope Pius XII, it had been a common and accepted belief within the Catholic Church for centuries. This is especially true in the Eastern Church where we find homilies on the Assumption, or the “Dormition” as it is often called in the East, dating to the fifth century. And so the defined dogma of Mary’s bodily assumption into heaven isn’t something new; rather, it simply confirmed the long-held beliefs regarding the uniqueness of Mary.

The Assumption celebrates the Blessed Virgin’s singular participation in her Son’s Resurrection by which she was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory when the course of her life was finished. Of course, the message for us is that Mary’s Assumption gives us a glimpse into what we too can expect when our own resurrection occurs on the last day.

Mary’s assumption is really the destiny of all those in Christ.  As St. Paul tells us in our 2nd reading, we shall be raised up from the dead with a glorified body like that of Christ Himself. Through the power of Christ’s resurrected glory, we’ll experience complete and perfect union with God in Christ in a glorified state, just as Mary experiences it now as a result of her Assumption.

In the Byzantine Catholic rite there’s a beautiful prayer that echoes this anticipation of resurrection: “In giving birth you kept your virginity; in your Dormition you did not leave the world, O Mother of God, but were joined to the source of Life. You conceived the living God and, by your prayers, will deliver our souls from death.”

Why did God do this for Mary? Why did He assume her, body and soul, into His heavenly presence? We can’t say for sure, because the Assumption is a mystery, and as a mystery of faith we can never fully understand it. But we must believe it, and so our understanding will not be based on reason, but rather on a supernatural belief.

We can, however, understand the mystery partially, and can say with some assurance that Mary’s Assumption occurred because she, as the Mother of Jesus Christ, is also the Mother of God, that her body, her immaculate body, a body conceived without sin, held the Incarnate Body of God Himself. And so Christ has an absolutely unique relationship with the body of Mary, to the extent that, in a mystical, mysterious way, the Body of Christ is also, to some extent, the body of Mary.

We can understand, too, that on the day of his Ascension into Heaven, Christ had already glorified, in a certain way, the body of Mary; and that, therefore, when her life on earth was ended, Mary necessarily had to be glorified, both body and soul.

We see implications of this in our first reading, from the Book of Revelation. The passage was chosen not because of its literal meaning, but because of a convenience of words. Mary is seen as the woman clothed with the sun, with a crown of twelve stars, and with the moon under her feet – as one who is above all of creation. Although this passage applies to the Church, Mary is Mother many times over, Mother of God, Mother of us all, and Mother of the Church, the symbol of what we all should be.

And so today we celebrate Mary, Theotokos, Mother of God, and Our heavenly Mother. But she is more than that, more than our Mother, for as a fellow disciple of Jesus Christ, she’s also our Sister. And as the perfect disciple, she’s our model, our model on how to live the Christian life, our model of faith and hope. She is among "the first-fruits" that Paul refers to, the first-fruits of "all those who belong to Jesus" and who share in his triumph. And we see her in this role most clearly in today’s Gospel passage from Luke.

What a remarkable scene! The young Mary, now Mother of the Incarnate God, is told by Gabriel of her aged cousin’s pregnancy; and in a humble act of love, makes the difficult journey from Galilee to Judea to visit Elizabeth.

Yes, Mary is the first and the best disciple of Jesus, something that Elizabeth points out by greeting her with, “Blessed are you among women...” Not to be outdone, Elizabeth’s son, John, “leaped in her womb” at Mary’s greeting. What an extraordinary response to what seems such a simple act on Mary’s part. But Mary continues and quietly yet strongly acknowledges the incredible grace that encompasses the whole scene: her son-to-be is the reason for the leaping with joy. “My soul proclaims the greatness of the lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior.”

All three, Mary, Elizabeth and John, greet one another filled with the Holy Spirit, and filled too with a joyful anticipation of the fulfillment of God's promise to give a Savior. How fitting a reminder to us today that Jesus Christ was greeted first by a baby in the womb, an unborn infant who pointed to His coming as the Holy Spirit revealed the presence of the King to be born. This is the power of the Holy Spirit; for He is God's gift to us. He enables us to know and experience the indwelling presence of God and the power of his kingdom. The Holy Spirit is God reigning within each of us.

And so Mary, filled with the Spirit and full of grace, the first and best of Jesus’ disciples, receives wholeheartedly the beauty and bounty of God. And from all this we learn that God visits us in the ordinariness of our lives. Here we see what would seem to be a not unusual family meeting of two gifted women and the encounter is suffused with the love of God.

We also come to realize that God remains with us in all our human activities, for He is the presence that holds us up; in Him we live and move and have our being. And it is through these encounters with God, these encounters that occur in the midst of our daily lives, that we are saved by God’s tender mercies.

As our model of faith and hope, Mary shows us all this and more. She accepted her mission with uncompromising faith and obedience. She acted with unwavering trust and faith because she believed that God would fulfill the word he had spoken. Her great hymn of praise echoes the song of Hannah and proclaims the favor of the Lord: God exalts the lowly and he fills the hungry.

The Holy Spirit is ever ready to renew faith and hope in God's promises and to make us strong in love for God and our neighbor. And so, today, as we experience God’s indwelling presence in the Eucharist, let’s turn our eyes towards Heaven, where Jesus and Mary await us, in the company of all the saints who make up, for all eternity, the Mystical Body of Christ!

Let’s pray to Mary, our Mother, asking her to intercede for us so that, through the Holy Spirit, we might worthily receive the Body and Blood of her Son, and like her become God-bearers for the Glory of the Father.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Good Memory is Overrated

My father had a friend, Bill Hersey, a self-taught memory expert who made a good living teaching others his memory aids and techniques. I still use a few of  them myself, although with my ever-present iPhone -- "There's an app for that!" -- I find myself relying more on the cellphone in my pocket than the cells in my brain. This increased reliance on man-made technology over God-given brainpower will no doubt have its effects over the long haul...well, assuming at my age I have a long haul.

I used to be envious of people who displayed extraordinarily good memories. And when an expert like Bill Hersey would say, "Anyone can have an outstanding memory," I'd usually mutter under my breath, "Yeah, easy for you to say. What else have you got to do? Memory's your business. I don't have the time to devote all my waking hours to learning these silly techniques." Of course, if I had actually studied and practiced those techniques of his, I would have spent far less time relearning things I already knew. At this point in my life, though, I really don't have the need. If I've forgotten something, I just Google it.

But back before Google, and iPhones, and PDAs, before the arrival of the digital computer, people had two choices: they either wrote things down or remembered them. And if they were illiterate, well, that left only one choice. Most experts who study these things believe that the people of the past had much better memories than you and me, a hypothesis that has apparently been successfully tested on primitive tribes that have no written language. Indeed, some of these experts believe that poetry and song, with its rhyme and rhythm, were originally developed as memory aids, as a means to record and pass down the history of families and tribes.

You can test this yourself by asking a stray teenager a series of questions to test his or her memory on the kind of things they would learn in school; questions like these: In what year did Columbus discover the new world? What nation attacked the United States on December 7, 1941? What two countries were involved in the Louisiana Purchase? And then check the music charts and ask them to recite the lyrics of the top three songs. I suspect they'll do a lot better on the latter than the former. Rhyme and rhythm make a difference. Of course, the fact that they may not have been taught any American history in school could have an effect on their answers.

I know that whenever I need to know the last day of the month, I find myself reciting, "Thirty days hath September, April, June and November..." It's just a lot easier than trying to remember a collection of unrelated facts like the number of days in individual months.

Just the other day I witnessed a rather poignant example of the impact of song and rhyme on the memory. The wife of one of our volunteer delivery drivers at the soup kitchen suffers from Alzheimer's. He is her sole caregiver and takes her along every Thursday when he delivers meals to shut-ins. The disease, though, has progressed to the point where she rarely speaks to us, and I'm sure she has no idea who we are. But the other day, some of the women kitchen volunteers began to sing old hymns as they filled the take-out containers with the day's meal. And wouldn't you know it? Donna joined right in and sang along with them. The melody, the words, the rhyme and rhythm were still there.

I noticed something similar some years ago when I would take the Eucharist to the residents of a local nursing home. Each week I would visit the Catholic residents, including those in the Alzheimer's ward. Even if they weren't able to receive Holy Communion, I would still pray with them, and always finished by reciting the Our Father. It was remarkable how many of these patients, who uttered not a word and often had the most blank expressions on their faces, would suddenly light up once they heard those familiar words. And even more surprisingly, most would then join me praying aloud.

These odd thoughts all began some minutes ago when I couldn't remember an acquaintance's last name. It finally came to me, but not before I had recalled two of my favorite quotes, both relating to memory. (I find it especially interesting that I have no trouble remembering these relatively obscure comments by two people I never knew personally, but had to struggle to recall the last name of someone I  was with two days ago. Go figure!)

Anyway, the first comment was made by Maurice Baring, an early 20th-century British writer whose book, A Puppet Show of Memory, is a classic memoir of the age. Regarding memory, Baring's words have provided me with much consolation as my memory power weakens:
"Memory is the greatest of artists, and effaces from your mind what is unnecessary."
Flannery O'Connor, self-portrait
This just reinforces my belief that the things I've forgotten weren't all that important anyway.

The second comment is by one of my heroines, Flannery O'Connor, who wrote:
"Total non-retention has kept my education from being a burden to me."
...and provided me with another reason to rejoice over my poor memory.

By the way, whether or not you're a Flannery O'Connor fan, I recommend reading a collection of her letters, published posthumously under the title, The Habit of Being. It is by far the most enjoyable collection of letters I have ever read...at least I think so, if I remember correctly...