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!

Although I am an ordained deacon of the Catholic Church, the opinions expressed in this blog are my personal opinions. In offering these personal opinions I am not acting as a representative of the Church or any Church organization.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Pope Benedict's Address for World Peace Day

The Vatican has released, in advance, the Holy Father's annual address for World Peace Day, January 1, 2011. In his address Pope Benedict focuses largely on religious freedom and the growing and widespread religious persecution throughout the world.

I've included just a few interesting excerpts below. [Any emphasis included in the original address.]

Here Pope Benedict condemns the persecution of Christians...
At present, Christians are the religious group which suffers most from persecution on account of its faith. Many Christians experience daily affronts and often live in fear because of their pursuit of truth, their faith in Jesus Christ and their heartfelt plea for respect for religious freedom. This situation is unacceptable, since it represents an insult to God and to human dignity; furthermore, it is a threat to security and peace, and an obstacle to the achievement of authentic and integral human development.
...and those who would deny life and religious freedom. 
Respect for essential elements of human dignity, such as the right to life and the right to religious freedom, is a condition for the moral legitimacy of every social and legal norm.

 He also looks to Western nations that have lost their own sense of religious identity.
A freedom which is hostile or indifferent to God becomes self-negating and does not guarantee full respect for is inconceivable that believers should have to suppress a part of themselves – their faith – in order to be active citizens. It should never be necessary to deny God in order to enjoy one’s rights.
The pope goes on to stress the importance of the family and the marriage bond between a man and a woman.

The family founded on marriage, as the expression of the close union and complementarity between a man and a woman, finds its place here as the first school for the social, cultural, moral and spiritual formation and growth of children, who should always be able to see in their father and mother the first witnesses of a life directed to the pursuit of truth and the love of God. Parents must be always free to transmit to their children, responsibly and without constraints, their heritage of faith, values and culture.
He continues at some length, discussing the importance of religious freedom not only as a moral issue, but also as a key element of the development of society. And he does not disguise his condemnation of those who would deny religious freedom or distort its application.
Fanaticism, fundamentalism and practices contrary to human dignity can never be justified, even less so in the name of religion. The profession of a religion cannot be exploited or imposed by force. States and the various human communities must never forget that religious freedom is the condition for the pursuit of truth, and truth does not impose itself by violence but “by the force of its own truth”
And pursuing this same train of thought, the Holy Father, goes on to equate fanaticism and secularism because both, although in different ways and for different motives, seek to deny religious freedom.
It should be clear that religious fundamentalism and secularism are alike in that both represent extreme forms of a rejection of legitimate pluralism and the principle of secularity. Both absolutize a reductive and partial vision of the human person, favouring in the one case forms of religious integralism and, in the other, of rationalism. A society that would violently impose or, on the contrary, reject religion is not only unjust to individuals and to God, but also to itself. God beckons humanity with a loving plan that, while engaging the whole person in his or her natural and spiritual dimensions, calls for a free and responsible answer which engages the whole heart and being, individual and communitarian.
I encourage you to read Pope Benedict's entire address. You can find it here: World Day of Peace.

Pray for peace...

Persecution Watch: Indoneisa

According to the Indonesian constitution, citizens of every religion have the right to practice their faith, and no one can prohibit religious celebrations and services. In this Muslim-majority country, however, extremist Islamic groups have been putting pressure on local governments to prohibit Christian worship. And in direct violoation of the nation's constitution, these local officials have been going along with the extremists.

In West Java, for example, Catholics have been denied a building permit and so the local officials have prohibited them from conducting religious celebrations of any kind, even on their own property. Despite the government's illegal prohibition, the 3,000 parishioners of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church decided to hold their Christmas celebration anyway, and to hold it in the parking lot of their elementary school. Hundreds of parishioners attended the outdoor Mass.
Indonesian Catholics celebrating Christmas outside
This kind of not-so-subtle persecution is typical in Indonesia. These same parishioners were prevented from celebrating Mass at Easter due to threats of violence by Muslim extremists.

Interesting, isn't it? The future of the Catholic Church seems to be in Asia and Africa and South America, and not in Europe and North America. It is in these former mission territories that the church is suffering its greatest persecution; and yet, in the face of that persecution, the Church is growing in both numbers and in faith.

Pray for these courageous Christians and for their persecutors.

To read more, click here:  Java Catholics Deny Ban

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Homily: 5th Day in the Octave of Christmas

Readings 1 Jn 2:3-11; Psalm 96; Lk 2:22-35

In today’s Gospel passage from Luke, we witness the Holy Family in Jerusalem to fulfill the demands of the Law of Moses: the purification of the mother and the presentation and redemption or buying back of the first-born.

According to Leviticus, the mother of a male child was unclean for forty days, when she underwent a rite of purification. Mary, though sinless and certainly not unclean, submitted to the Law.

You and I, though, should follow her example, for we all need purification and atonement. We also need God’s love, the fire of God’s love to cauterize our souls. We can learn so much from Mary and Joseph.

They were also there to offer sacrifice for their first-born son as the law required, for in Exodus God claims every first-born male for Himself. To show that Jesus, the first-born, belonged to God as His special property, a rite of redemption was performed. This involved a sacrifice – a lamb, or if they were poor, a pair of doves or pigeons. As St. Paul tells us, Our Lord, though He was richer than all of creation, became poor so that by his poverty we might become rich. And so He chose to have a poor man’s offering made on His behalf.

There in the Temple, Mary and Joseph encounter Simeon, whom Luke describes as a righteous and devout man, obedient to God's will. Filled with the Spirit, Simeon recognizes Our Lord, even as a Baby, and addresses Him as a servant would address his master. Simeon, who has waited his entire life in expectation of the Lord’s coming, is almost overwhelmed when he realizes this moment has arrived, this divine piercing of time, this moment that explains his entire life. When he takes the Child in his arms, he knows. He knows, not through study or intellect; no, he knows through a gift, a special grace from God, that this Child is the promised Messiah, the Consolation of Israel, the Light of the nations.

Simeon's canticle, which is prayed by the universal Church every night of the year in the Liturgy of the Hours, is more than praise and thanksgiving. It’s also a prophecy. The first part, an act of thanksgiving, expresses profound joy at having seen the Messiah. The second, prophetic part reveals the blessings the Messiah brings to Israel and to the world. And this is key: Simeon’s canticle highlights the fact that Christ brings redemption to all men without exception – something foretold in throughout the Old Testament.

Simeon is filled with joy, but he’s also humbled because he himself had seen what so many patriarchs, prophets and kings had yearned to see. And here Simeon was, holding the long hoped-for Messiah in his arms.

Mary and Joseph marveled too, not because they didn’t know who Jesus was – for Gabriel had already revealed that to them.  No they were in awe at how God was revealing Him to the word.  And once again this Holy Family teaches us to contemplate the many wondrous mysteries surrounding the birth of Christ.

But Simeon wasn’t finished, and neither was the Holy Spirit. After blessing them, Simeon added another prophecy about the Child’s future. Yes, Jesus came to bring salvation to all men, but He will also be a sign of contradiction because some people will obstinately reject Him – and for this reason He will be their ruin. But for those who accept Him with faith Jesus will be their salvation, freeing them from sin in this life and raising them up to eternal life.

And then he spoke the words that must have affected Mary deeply, that she will be intimately linked with her Son's redemptive work. The sword tells her that she will have a share in her Son's sufferings; that an unspeakable pain will pierce her soul. Yes, brothers and sisters, Our Lord suffered on the cross for our sins, and it is those sins which forge the sword of Mary's pain. And so, we have a duty to atone not only to God but also to His Mother, who is our Mother too.

The birth of Christ is revealed by three kinds of witnesses each in a different way: the shepherds, led by an angel; the Magi, guided by a star; and Simeon and Anna, inspired by the Holy Spirit. Do you see that no matter how insignificant some lives seem in the eyes of men, they can become instruments of the Holy Spirit to make Jesus Christ known to others?

In His plan of salvation, God chooses whomever He wishes to do great things. The Spirit is always working, always providing opportunities for you and me to take God’s love to others.

Don’t let those opportunities pass you by.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Vatican: 2010 In Review

Rome Reports has put together a five-minute video addressing what it considers the top ten news stories from the Vatican in 2010. It seemed fitting to include it in a post here as the year comes to an end.


Another Miracle

With all the strangeness in the world to distract us, it is easy to forget that God continues to bless our lives with one miracle after another. The most recent miracle in our family is our eighth grandchild, little Benedito (named after our current Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI). He's all of three-months old but has already developed quite a unique personality of his own, so different those of his four older siblings. A truly happy baby, he loves to smile and laugh and be hugged and held. As long as he's the center of attention, he's perfectly content.

I've included a photo I took on Christmas Eve. A perfect blend of Brazilian, Irish and English heritage, Ben is quite the handsome boy.

God's peace...

Sunday, December 26, 2010

al-Qaeda Threatens Copts

The growing antipathy toward Christians in much of the Muslim world has taken a new twist. The leading jihadist terrorist group, al-Qaeda, has published the names, addresses and telephone numbers of 100 Egyptian-Canadian Coptic Christians it claims are responsible for encouraging Muslims to convert to Christianity. Calling those named the "dogs of diaspora" an al-Qaeda website threatens to "cut off their heads."

Such threats should not be taken lightly, particularly after a team of terrorists linked to al-Qaeda slaughtered dozens of Catholics in a Baghdad church a few weeks ago. Since then al-Qaeda has labeled Christians as "legitimate targets" and encouraged its supporters to kill them.

All of this, plus the seeming growing support among Muslims for terrorist groups like al-Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah, makes one wonder exactly where the majority of Muslims stand. And even if a majority reject terror, would that really make very much difference? I suspect not.

Is Islam a religion of peace?

Or is it something else entirely?

These seem to be questions only Muslims can answer for the rest of the world. I believe I can safely say that we Christians will never cease our peaceful evangelistic efforts, even among Muslims. To do so would be a rejection of the great commission Jesus gave us: "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you..." [Mt 28:19-20] It would seem, then, we are faced with what appears to be an inevitable conflict, certainly one that cannot be resolved by human means. Recent history seems to bear this out, as one peace effort after another crumbles under the weight of hatred.

I'm reminded of the prayer Pope Benedict prayed at Ground Zero during his visit to New York in 2008:
O God of love, compassion, and healing, look on us, people of many different faiths and traditions, who gather today at this site, the scene of incredible violence and pain.
We ask you in your goodness to give eternal light and peace to all who died here — the heroic first-responders: our firefighters, police officers, emergency service workers, and Port Authority personnel, along with all the innocent men and women who were victims of this tragedy simply because their work or service brought them here on September 11, 2001.
We ask you, in your compassion to bring healing to those who, because of their presence here that day, suffer from injuries and illness.
Heal, too, the pain of still-grieving families and all who lost loved ones in this tragedy. Give them strength to continue their lives with courage and hope. We are mindful as well of those who suffered death, injury, and loss on the same day at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Our hearts are one with theirs as our prayer embraces their pain and suffering. God of peace, bring your peace to our violent world: peace in the hearts of all men and women and peace among the nations of the earth.
Turn to your way of love those whose hearts and minds are consumed with hatred. God of understanding, overwhelmed by the magnitude of this tragedy, we seek your light and guidance as we confront such terrible events.
Grant that those whose lives were spared may live so that the lives lost here may not have been lost in vain. Comfort and console us, strengthen us in hope, and give us the wisdom and courage to work tirelessly for a world where true peace and love reign among nations and in the hearts of all.
Here we encounter the Holy Father praying for the conversion of those who would carry out such horrendous acts of terror. Perhaps we should all make this our prayer as well.

God's peace...

Homily: Feast of the Holy Family

Readings: Sir 3:2-6,12-14; Ps 128; Col 3:12-21; Mt 2:13-15,19-23

As a deacon, husband, father and grandfather, there are two days in the liturgical year that have special meaning for me.

One is St. Stephen's Day, when we honor St. Stephen, the first deacon and the first martyr. The other is the feast of the Holy Family. And this year they both fall on the same day…today.

Like most of you whose children are grown, coming together as a family is increasingly rare. What Diane and I once took for granted are now special times, moments to anticipate and cherish.

Family relationships are certainly different, aren’t they? We’re drawn to each when crises arise. And for most of us, it’s wonderful to be surrounded by one's family. I’d like to be able to say our family is the ideal, populated by perfect people, but you’d know I was lying. We’ve had our share of problems and crises and arguments and slammed doors and tears. But, you know, the problems are eventually solved, just as each crisis is invariably overcome. And the arguments and slammed doors? Well, they always seemed to end in apologies and forgiveness and hugs, with the tears wiped away.

I’d like to take the credit, for even a small piece of it, for all the good things, but again I’d be lying. Despite 42 years of crises, large and small, Diane and I realize we’ve been blessed when it comes to our children and the love we have for each other and for our family. We’ve come to realize that it’s God who works His Will through us and through our weaknesses. And so we continue to struggle to discern His Will in the life of our family.

Now I know that many of today’s families have very serious problems, indeed. And many households are really not families at all, but simply groups of individuals who happen to share the same accommodations.
The Holy Family (Raphael)
Oh, how we need the example of the Holy Family in today's world, a world openly hostile to marriage and the family. By most statistical measures, the family is an institution in sharp decline. The symptoms are all around us in a profound shift in cultural values away from family commitment and toward self-fulfillment, away from self-sacrifice and toward self-gratification. The divorce rate is well over 50%. 40% of today’s children are born outside of marriage. The plague of abortion has devalued not only the child, but human life itself. Large numbers of fathers abdicate their parental responsibility and abandon both mother and child.

Some few years ago our elder daughter was teaching 2nd grade in an inner city school in California. The fathers of 40% of the children in her class were in prison. But even in affluent families, mothers and fathers spend increasingly less time with their children, or devote themselves to their children’s material well-being and success at the expense of their spiritual well-being and moral character.

Single parenthood is a fact of life today, and it carries with it a whole set of financial, emotional, and psychological burdens. If raising a child today is a challenge for a two-parent family, just imagine what’s it’s like to do it alone. Most single parents love and care for their children admirably, but can we really expect them to be both mother and father? What have we lost when the beneficial effects of a loving, caring father are lacking? When masculine role models are found only outside the family, too often in objectionable ways?

Now I’m no sociologist, so I won’t even attempt to explain these problems and their causes. But today, on the Feast of the Holy Family, we might do well to consider an often overlooked figure in the Gospels. As Matthew relates the story of the conception, birth and childhood of Jesus, there emerges a quiet, modest figure, the perfect model for fathers today, St. Joseph.

Just consider the sort of man he must have been. Out of all the men who ever lived, God the Father chose Joseph as the guardian, teacher, and guide of His only Son. And He chose Joseph to love and protect Mary, the virgin Mother of the Son of God. Yes, Joseph must have been a very special man indeed.

* a courageous man of honor determined to protect Mary’s reputation. Why? Because he’s a righteous man and this is what God would want.

* a man who then takes Mary as his wife even though the child she carries is not his. Why? Because God told him to take the Child and His Mother to himself. And so Joseph obeys.

* a man who, to protect his young family, leads them into exile, into an unknown future. Why? Because God told him to do so.

Joseph doesn’t stop to think it over; he doesn’t even spend a day planning the trip. No, he leaves immediately in obedience to God’s command. He “rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt.”

What a mystery! That God, to protect His Son, the uncreated Word of God, should choose to do so through the mediation of a humble carpenter. It’s all part of the greater mystery of the Incarnation, in which the Father and the Holy Spirit now relate to the Son not only as Divine Word but also as incarnate Man.
Flight into Egypt

Matthew glosses over the flight to Egypt in a few words, but the reality was surely a nightmare. Traveling by night and hiding by day, the Holy Family would have required several weeks to travel the 300 miles through an inhospitable desert from Jerusalem to Egypt. Then, as homeless refugees, the family would rely solely on Joseph to earn a living during their exile. And just when Joseph had probably established himself in this foreign land, God tells him to return to Israel. Once again he obeys.

The murderous Herod is dead, but in Judea and Samaria, Herod's son, Archelaus now rules, and Joseph fears him. And rightly so, since Archelaus began his rule by slaughtering 3,000 of Judea’s most influential citizens. And so Joseph, again in obedience to God’s command, guides Mary and Jesus far to the north, to the safety of a small town nestled in the hills of Galilee, to Nazareth. It’s through the obedience of Joseph that the prophecies are fulfilled. “Out of Egypt I called my Son.” And “He shall be called a Nazorean.”

Notice how, throughout Matthew’s brief narrative, God doesn’t reveal everything to Joseph at once. No, Joseph remains continually dependent on God’s next word. For Joseph, the just man, is nevertheless fully human, and like all of us must learn to grow in God’s love and grace. He must experience, as we all must, the trial of faithfulness, the trial of perseverance in seeking out the will of God in our lives. And so Joseph waits patiently for God to speak, just as God waits patiently for Joseph to grow in fidelity to His will.

It’s in Nazareth, in the home of this family, that Jesus grows to maturity. It’s here that Joseph, according to Jewish custom, teaches Jesus to recite his prayers, to sing the age old Psalms of David, and to read from the Torah, the Law of Moses. It’s from Joseph that Jesus learns to appreciate, first hand, the importance of following the laws and customs of His people. In Nazareth, working alongside Joseph in his carpenter's shop, Jesus comes to recognize the value and dignity of work. Here, in the home of Joseph, Jesus encounters daily a man happy to be poor in spirit, happy to be meek, happy to be just and merciful, happy to be pure of heart, to be singlehearted.

Later, when Jesus begins His public ministry, he often speaks of God the Father as “Abba” or Daddy. And it was from the loving and caring Joseph that in his humanity Jesus first learned what a daddy was. At the very heart of Joseph’s sanctity is obedience, an unquestioning obedience to accept the will of God in his life…and to act on it. And because he obeys, God comes to him again and again. God walks in Joseph’s soul just as He walked with Adam in the Garden. Is it any wonder He entrusts to Joseph what is most precious to Him?

Mary and the child Jesus remain almost hidden in this Gospel narrative, contained in the decisions and actions of Joseph. Joseph leads, but doesn’t dominate. He leads by serving – by serving His God and by serving His family. Then, his task complete, Joseph seemingly disappears from view. His work is finished. Jesus, whom he has loved, taught, and protected, must now step forward into the light of history. Joseph, like John the Baptist, like you and me: "He must increase. I must decrease."

On March 19th, in the Preface of the Mass of the Solemnity of St. Joseph, the celebrant honors Joseph with these words:
He is that just man, that wise and loyal servant, whom you placed at the head of your family. With a husband’s love he cherished Mary, the virgin Mother of God. With fatherly care he watched over Jesus Christ your Son, conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit.
We Catholics have always prided ourselves on our devotion to Mary, the Mother of God. How it would please her to see us, and especially those of us who are fathers, deepen our devotion to her husband. With Jesus we owe honor to Joseph, and honored indeed would Joseph be if fathers today would accept him as their model. And if single mothers would turn to him, asking for his fatherly intercession in the lives of their children.

Today, on this beautiful feast of the Holy Family, let us pray for our families, and especially for fathers. Would that all fathers were just men like Joseph -- wise and loyal servants of the Lord who cherish their wives and watch over their children with fatherly care.

St. Joseph, pray for us.

The President and America's Religious Identity

Although it hasn't received very much coverage by the mainstream media, our president has been habitually misquoting the Declaration of Independence. On several occasions he has quoted the document by saying, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, endowed with certain inalienable [sic] rights..." The document actually reads, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights..." Why has the president repeatedly omitted any reference to "the Creator"?
Signing of the Declaration of Independence by John Trumbull

It's all a bit troubling, especially since his misquoting of the Declaration was repeated at several different venues. That could hardly be accidental. And it's particularly troubling given that, during a trip to Indonesia, he stated that our national motto was "E Pluribus Unum" or "Our of Many, One." In truth, however, our national motto is "In God We Trust" and has been for decades. As president, he should know this.

Perhaps he suffers from a form of theophobia, and prefers to avoid any mention of God, particularly when his audience is likely to include some ACLU members.

In the below video the president is addressing the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and includes one of his misquotes of the Declaration.

Thomas Kidd, writing an opinion piece in USA Today, addresses this issue further: Watch Your Religious Language, Mr. President.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

"A Christmas Carol" by G.K.Chesterton

The Christ-child lay on Mary's lap,
His hair was like a light.
(O weary, weary were the world,
But here is all aright.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary's breast
His hair was like a star.
(O stern and cunning are the kings,
But here the true hearts are.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary's heart,
His hair was like a fire.
(O weary, weary is the world,
But here the world's desire.)

The Christ-child stood on Mary's knee,
His hair was like a crown,
And all the flowers looked up at Him,
And all the stars looked down.

Pope Benedict's Christmas Message

Pope Benedict XVI delivered a special Christmas greeting to the people of the United Kingdom and, indeed, to all English-speaking people. It was broadcast yesterday evening on BBC radio. You can listen to his words below:

The following is a complete transcript of the Holy Father's BBC broadcast:
Recalling with great fondness my four-day visit to the United Kingdom last September, I am glad to have the opportunity to greet you once again, and indeed to greet listeners everywhere as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ. Our thoughts turn back to a moment in history when God's chosen people, the children of Israel, were living in intense expectation. They were waiting for the Messiah that God had promised to send, and they pictured him as a great leader who would rescue them from foreign domination and restore their freedom.
God is always faithful to his promises, but he often surprises us in the way he fulfils them. The child that was born in Bethlehem did indeed bring liberation, but not only for the people of that time and place - he was to be the Saviour of all people throughout the world and throughout history. And it was not a political liberation that he brought, achieved through military means: rather, Christ destroyed death for ever and restored life by means of his shameful death on the Cross. And while he was born in poverty and obscurity, far from the centres of earthly power, he was none other than the Son of God. Out of love for us he took upon himself our human condition, our fragility, our vulnerability, and he opened up for us the path that leads to the fullness of life, to a share in the life of God himself. As we ponder this great mystery in our hearts this Christmas, let us give thanks to God for his goodness to us, and let us joyfully proclaim to those around us the good news that God offers us freedom from whatever weighs us down: he gives us hope, he brings us life.
Dear Friends from Scotland, England, Wales and indeed every part of the English-speaking world, I want you to know that I keep all of you very much in my prayers during this Holy Season. I pray for your families, for your children, for those who are sick, and for those who are going through any form of hardship at this time. I pray especially for the elderly and for those who are approaching the end of their days. I ask Christ, the light of the nations, to dispel whatever darkness there may be in your lives and to grant to every one of you the grace of a peaceful joyful Christmas. May God bless all of you!
Of course, the pope also delivered his traditional Christmas greetings to the crowds who had gathered in St. Peter's Square. The complete text of that message follows:
Dear brothers and sisters listening to me here in Rome and throughout the world, I joyfully proclaim the message of Christmas: God became man; he came to dwell among us. God is not distant: he is “Emmanuel”, God-with-us. He is no stranger: he has a face, the face of Jesus.
This message is ever new, ever surprising, for it surpasses even our most daring hope.
First of all, because it is not merely a proclamation: it is an event, a happening, which credible witnesses saw, heard and touched in the person of Jesus of Nazareth! Being in his presence, observing his works and hearing his words, they recognised in Jesus the Messiah; and seeing him risen, after his crucifixion, they were certain that he was true man and true God, the only-begotten Son come from the Father, full of grace and truth (cf. Jn 1:14).
“The Word became flesh”. Before this revelation we once more wonder: how can this be? The Word and the flesh are mutually opposed realities; how can the eternal and almighty Word become a frail and mortal man? There is only one answer: Love. Those who love desire to share with the beloved, they want to be one with the beloved, and Sacred Scripture shows us the great love story of God for his people which culminated in Jesus Christ.
God in fact does not change: he is faithful to himself. He who created the world is the same one who called Abraham and revealed his name to Moses: “I am who I am … the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob … a God merciful and gracious, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (cf. Ex 3:14-15; 34:6). God does not change; he is Love, ever and always. In himself he is communion, unity in Trinity, and all his words and works are directed to communion. The Incarnation is the culmination of creation. When Jesus, the Son of God incarnate, was formed in the womb of Mary by the will of the Father and the working of the Holy Spirit, creation reached its high point. The ordering principle of the universe, the Logos, began to exist in the world, in a certain time and space.
Our home is blessed today with the presence of our elder daughter, her husband, and their five little ones. We all attended the Vigil Mass yesterday evening (I returned to assist at the Midnight Mass) so the children were up bright and early this morning. After singing "Happy Birthday" to Jesus and thanking Him for sharing His gifts with us as He does every Christmas, we turned to the tree and all the beautifully wrapped presents piled beneath it. It was an wonderful morning. We are truly blessed.

Our entire family wishes you all a happy and holy Christmas.

God's peace...

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Christian in a Saudi Jail: Brian O'Connor's Story

Asia News, the Catholic online news organization, is an excellent source of information on the worldwide persecution of Christians. It also played a major role in the release of Brian O'Connor, an Indian Evangelical Christian who spent over seven months in a Saudi jail on trumped-up charges of spreading Christianity, selling alcohol, and possession of pornography. Arrested by the Muttawah, the dreaded Saudi religious police, O'Connor was subsequently tortured and placed in a communal cell with murderers and other criminals. An international campaign to secure his release was ultimately successful. When asked if he now regretted his earlier decision to accept a job as a baggage handler for Saudi Airlines, O'Connor replied:

"No! As I said, it was a blessing in disguise. In 2003 I was offered a job in Great Britain but I turned it down. Perhaps, it was the Holy Spirit's doing.  If I had accepted I would not have been able to bear witness to the Gospel in a Saudi prison."
 Click here to read the full story on Asia News: A Christian in a Saudi Jail.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Happy and Holy Christmas!!

Our daughter, son-in-law and their five beautiful children have arrived from Massachusetts and will monopolize most of our waking moments (and even a few of the non-waking ones) for a while. I do not expect to post very much during their stay, so I want to wish a Happy and Holy Christmas to all who read this blog and to your families. If I can I'll post a photo or two once in a while.

As my gift, here are a couple of neat little videos I stumbled across on YouTube. They inject some of our current technical and networking capabilities into a very special first century event.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Tessa Dahl, Benedictine Nun?

Tessa Dahl, the daughter of two famous people, Roald Dahl and Patricia Neal, has spent much of her adult life fighting addictions and surviving bad marriages and relationships, all the while searching for inner peace. It appears she has finally found that peace at age 53 in Regina Laudis Benedictine Abbey in Bethlehem, Connecticut. Although many doubt the depth if not the sincerity of her conversion, it appears to be genuine. Read more here: A Tale of the Unexpected.

Tessa Dahl with her mother, Patricia Neal, in happier times

Spencer and Kreeft debate Islam

The below video is a debate between Robert Spencer and Peter Kreeft on the subject of Islam and its impact on Christianity. It took place in November at Thomas More College in Merrimack, New Hampshire. Mr. Spencer takes the affirmative in the debate which centers on the statement, "The only good Muslim is a bad Muslim," while Dr. Kreeft, Professor of Philosophy at Boston College, takes the other side of the question. This debate between two Catholics with different views on Islam is certainly worth watching...although you'll have to set aside a lot of time to watch it all.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Abortion, Ireland and the EU

Just to demonstrate how far we have fallen morally in the West, of the 27 nations that now make up the European Union only two -- Ireland and Malta -- prohibit abortion. Both of these largely Catholic countries have so far resisted continued attempts to change their laws and allow the murder of unborn babies. But the pressure is on.

An EU agency with a contradictory name, European Court of Human Rights, has ruled that Ireland is breaking European human rights law by prohibiting abortion. The Irish government has repeatedly refused to legislate in favor of abortion despite a 1992 Irish Supreme Court ruling. In its defense the government has also stated that it's laws prohibiting abortion had their basis in "profound moral values deeply embedded in Irish society." God bless them for that!

Although the Irish government has not yet indicated whether it will appeal the ruling, some legislators want to held a referendum on abortion to show how strongly the Irish people support the current law and thereby overturn the Irish Supreme Court's earlier decision. A recent poll supports the idea of a pro-life referendum, with 70% favoring the abortion ban and only 16% wanting it overturned.

Pray that the Irish people, and their government, maintain their sanity and their faith.

To read more, click here: European Court Rules Against Ireland

Monday, December 20, 2010

Muslims and al Qaeda

Although Mark Twain borrowed the phrase, I believe it was Benjamin Disraeli who first said, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics." I found this to be generally true when in graduate school I took a course in probability and statistics. Toward the end of the quarter our professor gave us an interesting assignment. Providing us with a large amount of data about some subject that I can no longer recall, he instructed us to manipulate and present the data in two ways that would support completely contrary conclusions. What amazed me at the time was how easy the task actually was. Success was obviously not determined by the data itself, but by how one presented the data -- what was included, what was omitted, and what words one used when presenting the conclusions. It was my introduction to what we now call "spin."

I begin with this anecdote because one can certainly come to different conclusions based on some recent polling conducted by the Pew Research Center. The survey in question was conducted this past spring by Pew's Global Attitudes Project and sought to determine, among other things, Muslim attitudes towards Hamas, Hezbollah, and al Qaeda -- all considered terrorist organizations by the U.S. and most western nations. Muslims in seven nations -- Jordan, Lebanon, Nigeria, Indonesia, Egypt, Pakistan and Turkey -- were surveyed. While the survey addressed a range of issues, the results that most interested me were the Muslim public's attitudes towards these three terrorist groups. I've included a Pew graphic below.

Pew reports in its conclusions that,

"While views of Hamas and Hezbollah are mixed, al Qaeda -- as well as its leader, Osama bin Laden -- receives overwhelmingly negative ratings in nearly all countries where the question was asked. More than nine-in-ten (94%) Muslims in Lebanon express negative opinions of al Qaeda, as do majorities of Muslims in Turkey (74%), Egypt (72%), Jordan (62%) and Indonesia (56%). Only in Nigeria do Muslims express positive views of al Qaeda; 49% have a favorable view and just 34% have an unfavorable view of bin Laden's organization."
This may sound like good news until one does the math by applying the percentages of those who view al Qaeda favorably to the overall Muslim population figures for these countries. As it turns out, in just these seven nations something like 130 million Muslims view al Qaeda favorably. (For more on this, see the commentary by Brian Fairchild at Pajamas Media.) Yes, those who look kindly on al Qaeda may be in the minority, but they still represent a lot of people. And if history tells us anything it's that a small number of dedicated and ruthless people can lead successful revolutions despite the opposition or apathy of a large majority.

I thought these survey results were particularly interesting given al Qaeda's recent statement that one of its goals in Iraq is the destruction of all things Christian, including presumably Christians themselves. It's disturbing to think that so many Muslims would agree with such sentiments.

To view the survey results as presented by Pew, click here: Muslim Public Divided.

Pray for peace and conversion.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Alice, it's for you. Wonderland's calling.

Reading the morning newspaper or listening to the news in the evening, I sometimes think I've fallen down the rabbit hole and joined Alice in Wonderland. Here are just a few examples of some of the strangeness I've culled from news reports...

UN brings cholera to Haiti. There's something about internationalist bureaucrats that causes them to leave chaos in their wake. In this instance, although they are purportedly in Haiti to help, it seems the United Nations peacekeepers either from Bangladesh or Nepal are apparently responsible for introducing the cholera epidemic that has left over 1,000 Haitians dead. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, genetic analysis of the strain of cholera currently causing so many deaths in Haiti indicates it originated in South Asia. (You can read the results of the study here: Origins of Haitian Cholera.) Don't get me wrong. I'm not against providing aid to people suffering from devastating natural disasters. Far form it. I simply think we shouldn't send incompetent and corrupt organizations like the United Nations to do the job.

Planned Parenthood "Christmas" Card. This primary provider of abortions has sent out a "Christmas" card that calls for "Choice on Earth" and wishes recipients a "happy and healthy holiday season." It makes one wonder how healthy it will be for the thousands of unborn human beings Planned Parenthood will murder over the next few weeks.

Junk Science and Moon Goddesses. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was recently held in Cancun, Mexico. Attended by a large number of surprisingly apathetic delegates from 192 countries, the convention yielded the usual crazy predictions that the world is doomed and universal destruction is right around the corner unless we revert to stone-age technology and return to the caves our ancient ancestors deserted.

The tenor of the convention was set right from the beginning when the Convention's Executive Secretary, Christiana Figueres, kicked off the proceedings by praying to the Mayan goddess Ixchel (depicted at left) whom she described as "the goddess of reason, creativity and weaving." In her prayer to Ixchel, Figueres said, "May she inspire you -- because today, you are gathered in Cancun to weave together the elements of a solid response to climate change, using both reason and creativity as your tools...Excellencies, the goddess Ixchel would probably tell you that a tapestry is the result of the skilful [sic] interlacing of many threads.  I am convinced that twenty years from now, we will admire the policy tapestry that you have woven together and think back fondly to Cancun and the inspiration of Ixchel."

Makes you just want to run away from home and join the Mayan priesthood, doesn't it? Of course, the Mayans and the Aztecs weren't particularly "green" in their day, but could more properly be labeled "red" since their one area of expertise was human sacrifice. The Aztecs, for example, sacrificed upwards of 80,000 people in one four-day period. They remind me a bit of one of my environmentalist friends who once told me over a third glass of wine, "What the world needs is a major war or a devastating plague, so we can get rid of most of the people. We're the ones who are killing the earth." He would have fit right in with the Ixchel worshipers.

I suspect that Figueres' prayer, along with the Climate-gate fiasco, just might cause some people to question whether real "science" is behind the claims of human-caused global warming.

Experts Surprised by Higher Unemployment Figures. Speaking of experts, a few weeks ago when the latest figures on unemployment were released, we were told the unemployment rate had increased from 9.6% to 9.8%. We were also informed that this took the experts completely by surprise. The experts, we are told, were expecting a decrease rather than an increase in the rate. It seems to me that the designated experts are being taken by surprise more and more frequently these days, and not just on unemployment rates, but on a whole range of political, economic and social issues. My question is, why do we keep calling them "experts" when they obviously don't have a clue?

It calls to mind William F. Buckley's famous comment: "I'd rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University."

Department of Defense Fastest Computer: PlayStation. If you are concerned about the size of the federal budget and the growing deficit, here's one to make you weep.The Air Force has constructed the Defense Department's fastest supercomputer by linking together 1,760 PlayStation 3 gaming systems. It's capable of performing 500 trillion (that's 500,000,000,000,000) floating point mathematical operations per second. For those of you who are technically challenged, that's a very fast computer. The Air Force, of course, couldn't call their system "PlayStation Group" and so they named it "Condor Cluster." The total cost was $2 million, a pretty reasonable cost for something so capable and certainly far less than it would have cost had the Air Force used their usual procurement process. Makes you wonder what else the government could buy off the shelf at BestBuy.

Ah, well, enough of these secular musings...

Pray that God's will be done in our world.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Our New Bishop Installed

Yesterday our pastor, and four of our deacons, along with two of our wives, drove to Orlando and joined a few thousand other people who attended the Installation Mass of Bishop John Noonan, the fifth bishop of the Diocese of Orlando. The Mass was celebrated at the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe in Orlando. Although the shrine church seats over 2,000 people, it was a standing room only crowd. I knew it would be crowded when the deacons were told our seating would be on folding chairs in the area at the back of the sanctuary. I suspect there were close to a hundred of us packed in back there.

The installation was performed by Bishop Noonan's predecessor, the fourth bishop of Orlando, Archbishop Thomas Wenski, who is now the shepherd of the Archdiocese of Miami. Also present was the third bishop or Orlando, now-retired Bishop Emeritus Norbert Dorsey, along with quite a few current and retired bishops from other Florida dioceses. 
Archbishop Wenski (right) congratulating  Bishop Noonan at his installation
It was a beautiful Mass and the music was absolutely wonderful. The large choir and the musicians who accompanied them added much to the beauty of the liturgy. It was also evident that the people of the diocese were happy to meet their new bishop and to hear him preach. His homily was a moving call to do more to bring the Good News to the community at large, particularly to "the silent and forgotten among us."

Listening to him, one is reminded of his origins, for he still retains a bit of his Irish brogue. Born in Limerick, Ireland, Bishop Noonan, 59, came to the United States as a young man, eventually settling in the Miami area. Ordained to the priesthood in 1983 in the Archdiocese of Miami, he spent most of his subsequent ministry involved in education at both the high school and college seminary levels. This was evident during his homily when he paid special attention to the seminarians of the diocese and called them forward to be acknowledged by the congregation. As a consequence of his 15 years as rector of St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami, Bishop Noonan has a close relationship with many of these young men whose spiritual and intellectual formation was largely his responsibility.
Bishop Noonan receives a hug after his installation
After Mass several of us made a brief stop at the shrine's large gift shop, which is a great place to buy Christmas and other gifts. The shop also has a wonderful selection of religious books; and so, naturally, I bought a few. And for those who make the occasional family trip to Orlando and all its attractions and theme parks, I recommend stopping by the shrine for Mass and prayer during your stay in the area. It's located right off Interstate 4, not far from both Disney World and Sea World, and it's definitely worth a visit.
After leaving the gift shop it suddenly dawned on Diane and me that we were hungry. We had been up since 5 a.m. because we had to get the meal started at the the soup kitchen before heading off to the installation in Orlando. And now, late in the afternoon, we realized we hadn't really had anything to eat all day. And so another deacon and his wife joined us at a nice little steakhouse not far from the shrine. 

From there is was a 75-minute drive home where we faced the ongoing task of wrapping Christmas gifts before the grandchildren arrive next week. All in all, a good day, and a blessing for the local church of the Diocese of Orlando.

Keep our new bishop in your prayers.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Navy 31, Army 17

On Saturday Diane and I drove to the home of a fellow USNA alumnus here in Florida and joined another 20 or so other grads and their spouses to watch the Army-Navy game. We were an enthusiastic and only semi-rowdy crowd of retirees ranging from the class of 1944 to the class of 1971. The food was wonderful, and with a whole collection of big-screen TVs spread throughout the house, everyone had a good seat.

And -- no surprise here -- Navy won once again...actually for the ninth straight year. For a moment I actually felt a little sorry for Army. Losing nine in a row can't be pleasant. Fortunately that moment passed quickly. It was evident, however, that the Army team is much improved under their new coach and I expect they will continue to improve and present a greater challenge to Navy in the future. Of course, Navy will meet that challenge and continue to beat them.

My only sadness resulted from my brother's absence this year. Jeff, who died in January, was a 1962 graduate of West Point. We both enjoyed our little annual rivalry. I miss him tremendously.

Here's a five-minute tribute to the game and to both of these wonderful institutions...


Biblical Israelites Just a Metaphor?

It seems they've done it again. Continuing to show their displeasure with the Holy Spirit and His obviously misguided inspiration, the World Council of (empty) Churches continues to issue revisionist declarations of theological truth. 

Oh, wait a minute -- there are two things wrong with that statement. First, the WCC couldn't possibly believe in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit; indeed, I suspect its leadership doesn't even believe in the Holy Spirit, except perhaps as a warm and fuzzy, kumbaya spirit. And second, being complete relativists, they don't believe in truth, unless it's one of the the "truths" uttered by the WCC. I know, it's all very confusing.

The WCC has informed us in the past that Jesus is simply a symbol, and the Bible...well, they're not real sure what the Bible is, but it's certainly not Holy Scripture, and by no means can we consider it the Truth. A century or more of historical-critical interpretation have made that clear enough. Adding to the WCC's enlightened theological outlook is the Bern Perspective, a 2008 meeting that essentially declared that Biblical references to Israel and the Israelites are only metaphorical. In other words, don't take all the Holy Land and Chosen People and Jerusalem stuff literally. Doing so only perpetuates and encourages the aggression of those displaced Jews who illegally occupy the land that properly belongs to the Palestinian people.

If I were a Jew living in Israel, I'd be very concerned about this organization that seems to give unqualified and unquestioned support to those whose primary goal is the destruction of Israel and its Jewish citizens. Its documents are filled with condemnations of Israel for defending itself. Noticeably absent are any strong criticisms of Hamas and Hezbollah, the terrorist organizations that have brought about so much suffering among the Jews and among the Palestinians, whether Christian or Muslim. 

It's a mystery to me why Israel is the only nation in the world that is apparently not permitted to defend itself against determined attacks on its people and territory. When Hamas sends its suicide bombers to kill Israeli civilians and when it launches continued mortar and rocket attacks against Israeli villages, Israel must not defend itself or retaliate. It's all very strange...but it becomes a little more understandable when you read translations of Arabic newspapers that condemn the Jews in terms similar to those printed in Germany in the late 1930s. And when that hatred is brought to reality through the encouragement of children suicide bombers, it begins to make a kind of twisted sense.

These are Palestinian children dressed up as mock suicide bombers.
Years ago, in 1957 to be exact, Golda Meir, speaking to the National Press Club in Washington, DC made her famous statement: “Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.” I'm afraid the former prime minister was correct.
To read an Israeli Jewish perspective on the WCC and their anti-Israeli policies, click here: Jerusalem Post

And if you're really ambitious and feel called to read all the documents that came out of the WCC's 2008 Bern Perspective, click here: Bern Perspective. I read several last evening and that was enough for me.
For the peace of Jerusalem pray: "May those who love you prosper!
May peace be within your ramparts, prosperity within your towers."
For family and friends I say, "May peace be yours."
For the house of the LORD, our God, I pray, "May blessings be yours."
[Ps 122:6-9]

US Intelligence Misread 2005 Papal Election

One of the interesting bits of news to come out of Rome recently is how wrong so many "experts" were in their pre-papal election analysis in 2005. Apparently none expected Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to be elected, believing instead the next pope would come from a developing nation in either Latin America or Africa. These erring experts also included the US intelligence community who were apparently unable to penetrate the wall of secrecy surrounding the conclave. Here's a video report from Rome on the subject:

Personally, I didn't expect Cardinal Ratzinger to be elected...until I listened to the homily he delivered on April 18, 2005 at the Mass just preceding the conclave. That's when I thought that the Holy Spirit would make this man the next pope. If you have never read that homily, you can find it here in English translation: Cappella Papale Mass.

Pax at bonum...

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Homily: Gaudete Sunday (3rd Sunday of Advent)

Readings: Is 35:1-6,10; Ps 146:6-10; Jas 5:7-10; Mt 11:2-11
Back in the seventies the wife of an acquaintance of mine just upped and left him and their children, saying that she had to “find herself.” There was a lot of that going around back then – men and women leaving their families and their seemingly settled lives in search of something else, presumably something better. I suspect that most of you have known someone who did the same.

Personally, I’ve always found their rationale a bit odd. They go off into the world in search of themselves, when what they really seek is right there in front of them and within them. You see, no one can fully understand their own identity until and unless they discover the identity of Jesus. We Christians know this, or at least we should.

Who is this Jesus? Is He God? Is He man? Is He both? These questions have been asked for 2,000 years. Ultimately, our answers to these questions determine whether we accept or reject the truth of His teachings, whether we acknowledge that when Jesus speaks, God Himself speaks.

This changes both our entire worldview and how we view ourselves. For once we accept Jesus for who He is, identity crises disappear. In a word, we find ourselves. When we find ourselves in Jesus, He becomes the very center of our being. It’s then we begin to experience the distance between who we are and who we’re called to be.

In today’s Gospel reading, John the Baptist has his disciples ask these same questions of Jesus. “Are you the one who is to come, or do we look for another?”

I’ve always thought that John knew full well the answer to this question, but that his purpose was to release his disciples, to turn them into Jesus’ disciples. After all, wasn’t John the one who said, “He must increase, and I must decrease”? And didn’t John, as an unborn infant, leap in Elizabeth’s womb when Mary arrived at his mother’s doorstep? If the infant knew who Jesus was, then surely the adult knew as well. And hadn’t John, as he baptized Jesus in the Jordan, watched the Spirit descend and heard the voice of the Father praising the Son?

No, John he knew his mission was ending. And now, locked in Herod’s prison awaiting execution, John had only to convince his disciples of this same truth. Indeed, this would be the final act of his mission: to send his disciples to Jesus, the one who must increase.

And so his question is not about himself; it was about Jesus. John didn’t need to find himself; he simply needed to help others find Jesus. For that had been His mission all along.

How fitting this all is. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus had just sent out his disciples to evangelize the world, to bring His saving presence to others. And then John sends his disciples to Jesus, seeking from Him the fullness of revelation. Is Jesus the One revealed by the prophets?

This is the last thing John teaches his disciples: to go to Jesus. “Ask Him yourselves,” he’s telling them, “and you will see.” “Are you the one who is to come, or do we look for another?”

Jesus’ answer, neither “Yes” nor “No”, likely disappointed some who heard it. But John no doubt understood. For in answering the prophet’s question Jesus turned to Isaiah, another prophet.

The passage, originally written to celebrate the return from the Babylonian Exile, is also a revelation describing the reign of the Messiah. And so, calling on Isaiah, Jesus testifies to the signs that are taking place…by Him, in Him, and through Him. The blind see; the deaf hear; the lame walk; the poor—those who are outcasts, those without hope—hear the Good News. The Kingdom of God has come. And Jesus adds a beatitude, a blessing: tell John that those who take no offense at me, who are not disappointed in me, are blessed.

And with this answer we hear no more of John. Stripped of his disciples, his mission complete, he dies at the hands of Herod. “He must increase. I must decrease.”

The Gospel tells us that the Messiah has come, but, we are, in a sense, still waiting in anticipation. Certainly Jesus is present and working through His Body, the Church, but He still has to come more fully into each of our lives. Jesus heals. Jesus cleanses. Jesus brings back to life that which was dead. Jesus brings good news to those who despair.

In today’s Opening Prayer, we asked to "experience the joy of salvation" - that power of healing and wholeness which Jesus can bring into our lives. This is something we each must do, individually and as a Catholic community. For so many, Christians included, have yet to know the deep joy of becoming whole in Christ.

You see, our Christian vocation is not unlike John’s. We’re called to prepare the way for Jesus to come into our hearts, and into the hearts of others. We’re called to prepare others so that they, too, may "experience the joy of salvation", that healing, wholeness and holiness we all long for and which alone give real meaning to our lives. 

What will be the message others receive about your life and mine? Do our lives bring hope to others? What answer will they hear when they ask: “Are you the one who is to come, or do we look for another?”

Do we give the answer Jesus gave? Is there light in our lives, a light that helps the spiritually blind see, a light that points to hope, a light that reveals the presence of God’s salvation in our lives?

What about those who listen but cannot hear, those for whom Jesus is simply a name…those who search in vain, looking in all the wrong places, seeking themselves, but finding nothing. Will our voices open their ears to the Word of God?

And the lame, those crippled by hatred. Or today’s lepers – the ostracized, the cast-offs, the forgotten – those filled with self-hatred. Will you and I bring them Jesus and the hope of salvation, or should they look for another?

Believe me, we’re also sent to raise the dead back to life. But don’t look for them in the cemetery. No, to find the dead, the spiritually dead, go to the prisons and jails. Go to the nursing homes, the soup kitchens, the shelters. Bring hope where there is despair. Bring the good news to those who know only bad news.

Put all that is hurting, stained, dead and impoverished in our lives in front of the Lord. Let nothing come in between us and Jesus Christ. Shame and sin paralyze, brothers and sisters. Only the love of Christ brings healing.

This is our vocation: to be prophets, to be interpreters of Jesus Christ, the Word of God. Our lives must reflect God’s Love within us, so the world might experience conversion, and know that the Kingdom is here, in Christ and in His Church!

Christmas is a time of gifts -- both giving and receiving. And so let’s ensure that among the gifts we offer to others is some of the Christian joy we ourselves have received, that joy we celebrate today on Gaudete Sunday, the Sunday of Joy.

Especially today, also the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe…may the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, through her intercession with the Sacred Heart of Jesus, help us bring the love of God to the world.

The world doesn’t need to find itself. It needs only to find Jesus Christ. And we are the ones sent by God into the world so those in search of Jesus need not look for another! Blessed are those who are not disappointed in us.

Friday, December 10, 2010

More on Women Priests

Pope Benedict, quoted in the book-interview with Peter Seewald, Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times, states unequivocally that the Catholic Church cannot ordain women. 

Specifically, the pope said, "The church has 'no authority' to ordain women. The point is not that we are saying we don't want to, but that we can't...we are not a regime based on arbitrary rule. We cannot do what we want." 

He is, of course, only reaffirming what the Church has taught from the beginning, that Jesus, when He instituted the priesthood, restricted ordination to men, making this in essence "divine law", unchangeable by the Church.

Coincidentally, yesterday a friend sent me a link to a video interview with Linda Poindexter, a Maryland woman who was an Episcopal priest but subsequently converted to Catholicism. I throught her comments worth repeating here...

As many of the disciples said of Jesus' teachings, ""This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?"

God's peace...

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Video: Pope Benedict's Consecration of Sagrada Familia

Just in case you missed it last month, here's a video that encapsulates Pope Benedict's visit to the Basilica of Sagrada Familia in Barcelona which he consecrated on November 7. Not only can you hear the highlights of the pope's homily, but you will also enjoy some wonderful views of the "new" basilica. I hope you enjoy it...

Gaudi, Sagrada Familia, Sainthood & More

If you've been following this blog for the past few weeks, you'll know that Diane and I spent some time in Barcelona last month. We both agree that the highlight of our stay was our visit to the newly designated Basilica of Sagrada Familia (Holy Family). Its consecration as a Catholic church and basilica by Pope Benedict XVI occurred while we were in Barcelona, and we were privileged to have seen the Holy Father as he passed by us in the Popemobile en route to the church. We actually didn't visit Sagrada Familia until the following week after we had returned from a week-long cruise in the western Mediterranean. We would happily have joined Pope Benedict at the consecration on November 7, but I think our invitations got lost in the mail.
Sagrada Familia from Montjuic (Note large cranes.)

Over the years I've visited and worshiped in a lot of churches and cathedrals, but this basilica is far and away the most remarkable. The exterior is so unique, so different from any other church, that one can spend hours just looking at it from every possible angle, trying to absorb all that the architect, Antoni Gaudi, has presented to the world. Gaudi actually began working on the project in 1883 and completely revised the original architect's designs. His many successors have been diligent in bringing Gaudi's vision to reality. As it stands now, the church has been under construction for a mere 128 years and will likely remain so for another decade or two. If I am fortunate, I may live long enough to see its completion and perhaps make another visit. But Diane and I both consider ourselves blessed to have had the opportunity to experience it at least once.

Sagrada Familia: The Passion Facade

As remarkable as its exterior is, the interior can only be described as breathtaking. Indeed, that's exactly what happened to me when I first entered and tried to take it all in. I literally had my breath taken away. It was similar to the experience of first entering St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, except there I had expected to be astounded by both size and beauty. Entering Sagrada Familia, however, was different because what I encountered was so completely unexpected. The basilica is shockingly beautiful. It possesses the familiarity of a large church or cathedral with all the standard features: nave, transepts, apse, etc... But everything is so completely different from anything I had ever seen before.
Central Vault with the four evangelists
The work of Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926), Barcelona's most famous architect, is scattered throughout the city and elsewhere and is typified by its seeming liquidity, its gravity defying designs that sometimes appear almost alive. Before my visit to Barcelona I didn't expect to like his work, but it took only a moment for Gaudi to change my mind. Diane and I especially enjoyed our visit to La Pedrera (sometimes known as Casa Milà), a building designed by Gaudi and completed in 1912. 
Facade of La Pedrera from the street
Interestingly, in most of the guidebooks and other publications I read before and during our visit, there was remarkably little about Gaudi the man. Almost everything centered on his work. In particular I could find no answer to the one question that intrigued me: Why did he devote almost all of the last 30 years of his life to Sagrada Familia? After all, he was a very successful and high-priced architect. Why would he drop almost everything else to focus on this one project? I had read that he even poured all of his personal wealth into the project and for 30 years led an ascetic life, even taking up residence in the church as it was under construction.Was this just a personal obsession, a professional fixation on a major project?

And then, in one guidebook, I read about the cause of it all. After he had been working on Sagrada Familia for a decade, Gaudi, it seems, underwent a conversion in his 40s. Subsequently, from 1906 until his accidental death in 1926, he lived an almost monk-like existence in which he abstained from meat and alcohol, went to daily confession and Mass, and developed a deep prayer life. Sagrada Familia became, in his words, his "expiatory temple" and God became his client. Indeed, he became known as "God's acrhitect."

I also just discovered that Gaudi has been under consideration for beatification and ultimately for sainthood. I didn't realize his cause has progressed to this point. Indeed, I actually didn't realize he even had a cause, but apparently it was initiated over ten years ago. It's all very interesting. You can read more here (from 2000) and here (from 2010).

I've included a few more photos of both Sagrada Familia and La Pedrera below. I took these and the above photos during our visit to Barcelona.

Sagrada Familia: 4 of the towers (cranes digitally removed)
Sagrada Familia
Sagrada Familia: the Nativity Facade
Sagrada Familia: Interior
Sagrada Familia: Above Sanctuary
Sagrada Familia: the Nave
Sagrada Familia facade detail: Marriage of Mary and Jospeph
La Pedrera: Rooftop Sculptures
La Pedrera: Atrium
La Pedrera: Interior rooftop in atrium well