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.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Lenten Reflection: Stations of the Cross

A reflection given at the Stations of the Cross on Friday, March 22.

As we pray the Stations together I suspect that, like me, most of you focus on Jesus and His sufferings. Joining Him on the Way of the Cross, we’re so saddened that our God was treated so abominably. But with this deep sorrow comes joy, the recognition that He did this out of love, that we are loved so greatly. It’s why we call next Friday, “Good Friday.” For it was through His passion, death and resurrection that He brought redemption to a sinful world and, with it, the gift of eternal life. And so I suppose this odd mixture of sorrow and joy is as it should be.

But if our reflection goes no further, if we focus solely on Jesus’ sufferings and our thanksgiving for His act of redemption, then we’ve missed a key element of this devotion. For the Stations of the Cross, like this holy season of Lent, is a call to conversion. It’s a time to examine ourselves and our response to Jesus’ call. Indeed, at each station Jesus pleads with us to reform our lives, to turn away from sin, to accept the Gospel. It’s the same call He proclaimed as He began His public ministry: “Repent and believe in the Gospel.”

Consider the first station. As He is condemned by Pilate, He looks into my heart and your heart and reminds us of the times we have condemned others. It’s the same look He gave Peter in the high priest’s courtyard after His friend had denied Him, betrayed Him, again and again. And we hear Him say to us, “Who are you to condemn? Who are you to exalt yourself above another and confine that child of God, that sister or brother of mine, to the category of human debris?”

Yes, standing there before Pilate, Jesus tells us, “There’s only one Lawgiver and Judge…and it is I, not you! Leave God’s justice to me, and love one another.” Once again He issues the call: “Repent and believe in the Gospel.”

Then we watch as Jesus, for love of us, takes up His cross. Bloodied and beaten, He looks up at us, and if we listen we hear His words:
“…whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.”
But you and I, as we strive mightily to avoid any kind of cross in our lives, find ourselves alone, unable to accept the burden.

…the burden of a terminal illness

…or the death of a spouse or a child

...or failure, rejection, loneliness or pain, or the memory of our own past sinfulness.

Again Jesus looks at us, again with love, and says:
“I have to do this alone, for that is the Father’s will. But you don’t. You need only ask and I will help carry your burden. Come to me...For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
Again, we hear the call to conversion: “Repent and believe in the Gospel.”

And then Jesus falls. Indeed, He falls three times…and the world simply watches. No one goes to help Him. How often are we just the observers? People fall in a thousand ways all around us – and we do nothing. They hunger, they thirst, they become ill, they’re imprisoned, they’re rejected by others, they’re confined at home…and we watch.

And then we fall…and suddenly you and I know the pain, the pain of absence, the pain of being watched but not helped. Don’t they know what I’m suffering? But He knows. He’s been there. He looks up at us from under the heavy cross and reaches out a wounded hand, a hand larger than the universe itself, and holds you in His forever-pierced palm. And then He speaks, encouraging us, pleading with us to love one another, as He loves us…
“…whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”
And so it goes. Every station along that Way of the Cross is a call to conversion. At every point Jesus speaks to us, pleads with us, begs us, calls us to conversion, to holiness. In His Cross we see the ultimate expression of love and the power for overcoming evil. Only God's love and grace can set our hearts and minds free from the tyranny of our own sinfulness.

Pope Francis speaking to the crowd gathered last Sunday in St. Peter’s Square for the Angelus, reminded us all of God’s love and mercy:
“God never tires of forgiving,” the Pope said, “but at times we get tired of asking for forgiveness. Let us never tire, let us never tire! He is the loving Father who always pardons, who has that heart of mercy for us all. And let us too learn to be merciful to everyone.”
But we must ask for that grace. We must ask for the virtues of mercy and kindness, virtues that spring from a divine heart full of love and forgiveness. We need to discover, grow, and ultimately take responsibility for building the Kingdom right here, right where God has placed us.

Lent is almost over, brothers and sisters. Let’s approach these final days filled with childlike joy, knowing that we’re the cherished children of our Father. We aren’t in charge of our salvation, nor are we the best judges of how much we’re achieving. So let God be God and just go about the work He’s given us to do, that of being His joyful children.

This, I think, is the holiness to which He calls us.

Praised be Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Homily: Wednesday, 5th Week of Lent

Readings: Dan 3:14-20, 91-92, 95; Dan 3:52-56; John 8:31-42

Torture at the Hanoi Hilton
A US Navy pilot who’d been shot down over North Vietnam was once more dragged from his prison cell, interrogated, beaten and tortured, and then interrogated again. The first thing his interrogator asked him was, “Wouldn’t you like to go home? Wouldn’t you like to be free?”

Barely able to stand, the American looked down at him and said, “I don’t understand your question. I am free.”

“Free? You call this free? Are you a fool? Do you understand nothing? Don’t you realize you are under our total control?”

“Well,” the young officer replied, “you do have control over my body, and my surroundings, but nothing more.”

“There is nothing more.”

“Ah, spoken like a true communist. Sadly for you, you’re wrong. There is so much more. There is the Good News of Jesus Christ, the truth of the Gospel. Because I believe in that truth, I am free. But because you don’t believe, you remain a slave.”

His interrogator shouted at him, “You dare to call me a slave. You’re the one in chains.”

“Yes, and I thank you for the leg irons. They remind me of how much Jesus suffered for us all…for you too. Maybe that’s why I’m here: to help you find him.” And with that the session ended. He was again beaten and dragged back to his cell where he spent the next five years.

And so now we fast-forward forty years or so and find ourselves worried about all sorts of things, earthly things, imagining the worst, and forgetting the truth. Too many people today are like that interrogator in Hanoi. They look around them and they see nothing more. Like Pontius Pilate they can look at the Son of God and sneer, “What is truth?”

Pope Francis: "Pray for me..."
Yes, so many folks today deny the very existence of truth. Pope Benedict aptly called it, the “dictatorship of relativism,” a kind of radical political correctness that forces itself on the world and screams, “How dare you claim to have the truth.”

It has infected even the Church. Christians want to take the Gospel, rewrite it to fit their own personal wants, and get rid of that pesky Cross. Pope Francis, in the very first homily of his papacy, a homily preached to the cardinals who elected him, stated:
“When we walk without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, and when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord. We are worldly; we are bishops, priests, cardinals, Popes, but not disciples of the Lord.”
Yes, the truth, the Cross of Jesus Christ, can be very inconvenient; for if we really accept it, we must come face to face with our own lives, our own sinfulness, our own slavery. But to accept the truth of the Gospel is to change. To accept the truth is to become a disciple. That’s why Jesus could say,
“If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” [Jn 8:31-32].

The truth not only sets us free, but we are free only in truth. It’s common for people to think freedom means the right to choose good or evil. But that’s not what Jesus tells us. True freedom is only the freedom to choose what is good – for once we choose evil, we cease being free. Instead we become slaves, slaves to that evil, slaves to sin.
King Nebuchadnezzar's Fiery Furnace
Brothers and sisters, our lives are marked by thousands of everyday decisions and actions, but at crucial moments in our lives we are expected to be heroic. Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the furnace, like that young pilot in Hanoi, if we want to be truly free, we have no other choice. It’s then, when we act in true freedom, that our true selves emerge most fully, most courageously, most divinely.

Do you believe that? Really believe it? I hope so because it’s the truth. And the truth – the truth of that deep divine life we are all called to share -- will set us free.

God's peace.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Pope Francis: An Interview

Some months ago, the Catholic television network, EWTN, interviewed Cardinal Bergoglio of Buenos Aires. At the time, of course, neither the network nor the Cardinal, knew that just months later he would be Pope Francis. Since so many want to know more about this man, I have included the interview below.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Pope Francis Surprises

While I certainly didn't expect Cardinal Bergoglio to be elected Pope, I did, however, expect to be surprised. And for me, at least, his election was definitely a surprise, although a most pleasant one.

Pope Francis Smiling
There are some, however, who are not at all pleased with his election, and many media outlets were only too happy to parade the disaffected through their studios almost as soon as the Holy Father's name was announced. With the DVR recording EWTN, I channel surfed the other networks to see what the self-appointed experts had to say. One network, obviously displeased that the new Pope was not a Unitarian, introduced an ex-priest and a (former?) nun who also happened to be a practicing lesbian. As you might expect they were very unhappy that the College of Cardinals had elected a man who strongly supported the Church's consistent teaching on moral issues. On another network, one interviewee, while admitting that Pope Francis appeared to support the poor, went on to question the depth of that support because he had long ago rejected liberation theology. I was amazed the network had been able to find someone who still equated Marxism with helping the poor. And then there was our new Pope's fellow Jesuit who added with some suspicion: "I've never seen him smile."

I encountered much more of the same that first evening of Pope Francis' papacy. I suppose all this was to be expected since most of the secular media are hostile to the Catholic Church and its teachings. Their usual tactic is to shine the spotlight on Catholics who share this hostility. This, they believe, will allow them to brush aside any charges of anti-Catholic bias. Their selection of commentators, however, only confirms the bias they try to disguise.

What interests me most about the secular media is their belief that the Catholic Church will somehow toss aside 2,000 years of magisterial teaching simply to appease them and those who share their ideology. They believe this because they've been able to find some nominal Catholics who agree with them. I say "nominal" because a Catholic who openly rejects the magisterial teaching of the Church is really rejecting the Church as well. Indeed, once a person rejects one set of teachings, what's to keep him from rejecting all the rest whenever it becomes convenient to do so? Moreover, one who believes the Church can change its teaching on such issues as abortion or homosexual marriage simply does not understand the Church. It's not that the Church stubbornly refuses to change its teachings in the face of the prevailing zeitgeist; rather, the Church cannot change because these teachings are founded on divine law, not human law.

I expect this truth will eventually and grudgingly be accepted, and result in either schism or a massive apostasy. In this I tend to agree with Pope Benedict XVI who foresees a future Church that will be smaller, holier and persecuted.

Over the past few days, as I've thought about Pope Francis and what he will mean for the Church, I've come to believe that he will probably surprise us all again and again throughout his papacy. He is fully Catholic, fully the Apostle, the one sent by God to serve His people. He is a man of orthodox belief, who, like his predecessors, will be unwavering in his teaching. And by choosing the name "Francis" he has shown us that he is a man of the poor, a man who understands better than most what Catholic social teaching really means.

Peter and John at the Temple Gate
When I first saw Pope Francis standing on that balcony, I thought immediately of St. Peter on the day of the first Pentecost when he and St. John encountered the crippled man begging at the "Beautiful Gate" of the Temple:
When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked for alms. But Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” He paid attention to them, expecting to receive something from them. Peter said, “I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, rise and walk.” Then Peter took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles grew strong. He leaped up, stood, and walked around, and went into the temple with them, walking and jumping and praising God. [Acts 3:3-8]
This was the image that came to mind when I first saw Pope Francis. He, too, was standing at a "Beautiful Gate," but today's temple gate looks out over St. Peter's Square and from there to the entire world; and the world was certainly watching. "Look at us," Peter said. And Pope Francis asked us to look at him and pray for him. This humble man bowed low to the people, to the Church he will serve, asking, begging for our prayers. Then he spoke to all of us, and blessed us all, knowing that like the crippled beggar outside the gate we, too, are broken and in need of healing, knowing that we are poor in both body and spirit. In his humility he reached out to us with the hand of the shepherd asking us to take hold so that, together, we can raise each other up, we can, through God's grace and in the name of Jesus Christ Crucified, make each other strong. Yes, together, we can enter the temple "walking and jumping and praising God."

This was what the Spirit showed me when I first saw Pope Francis. And on the next day the Pope reinforced this image in the first homily of his papacy as he spoke to the Cardinals who elected him, asking them "to walk, to build, to profess Jesus Christ Crucified."

Keep Pope Francis in your prayers, for he will need both strength and humility as he leads the Church. He will surprise the world, and the world will respond. Some will cheer him on and join in his work of walking and building and professing; too many will attack him; others will wonder what he's about; and perhaps the largest number will be forced to examine their own faith and how they live it.

Pax et bonum...

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Pope Francis: His First Homily as Pope

Pope Francis celebrated his first Mass as Pope on Thursday afternoon in the Sistine Chapel. This Missa pro Ecclesiae was celebrated with the cardinals who elected him.

The following is the full text of the Pope's homily. (Translation provided by Vatican Radio).


In these three readings I see that there is something in common: it is movement. In the first reading, movement is the journey [itself]; in the second reading, movement is in the up-building of the Church. In the third, in the Gospel, the movement is in [the act of] profession: walking, building, professing.

Walking: the House of Jacob. “O house of Jacob, Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.” This is the first thing God said to Abraham: “Walk in my presence and be blameless.” Walking: our life is a journey and when we stop, there is something wrong. Walking always, in the presence of the Lord, in the light of the Lord, seeking to live with that blamelessness, which God asks of Abraham, in his promise.

Building: to build the Church. There is talk of stones: stones have consistency, but [the stones spoken of are] living stones, stones anointed by the Holy Spirit. Build up the Church, the Bride of Christ, the cornerstone of which is the same Lord. With [every] movement in our lives, let us build!

Third, professing: we can walk as much we want, we can build many things, but if we do not confess Jesus Christ, nothing will avail. We will become a pitiful NGO, but not the Church, the Bride of Christ. When one does not walk, one stalls. When one does not build on solid rocks, what happens? What happens is what happens to children on the beach when they make sandcastles: everything collapses, it is without consistency. When one does not profess Jesus Christ - I recall the phrase of Leon Bloy – “Whoever does not pray to God, prays to the devil.” When one does not profess Jesus Christ, one professes the worldliness of the devil.

Walking, building-constructing, professing: the thing, however, is not so easy, because in walking, in building, in professing, there are sometimes shake-ups - there are movements that are not part of the path: there are movements that pull us back.

This Gospel continues with a special situation. The same Peter who confessed Jesus Christ, says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. I will follow you, but let us not speak of the Cross. This has nothing to do with it.” He says, “I’ll follow you on other ways, that do not include the Cross.” When we walk without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, and when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord. We are worldly, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, Popes, but not disciples of the Lord.

I would like that all of us, after these days of grace, might have the courage - the courage - to walk in the presence of the Lord, with the Cross of the Lord: to build the Church on the Blood of the Lord, which is shed on the Cross, and to profess the one glory, Christ Crucified. In this way, the Church will go forward.

My hope for all of us is that the Holy Spirit, that the prayer of Our Lady, our Mother, might grant us this grace: to walk, to build, to profess Jesus Christ Crucified. So be it.


What a wonderful homily. If all of us in the Church, all members of the Body of Christ, profess Christ Crucified, and do so constantly in all that we say and do, Jesus Christ will transform us and the Church will transform the world.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Pope Francis

Pope Francis greets Rome and the World.

Yes, we have a Pope! And he is Pope Francis, the former Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio.

The College of Cardinals has surprised the world by choosing this holy, humble man. He is first in so many ways: the first Francis; the first Jesuit Pope; and not only the first Argentinian, but also the first Pope from the Americas.

As the people of Rome shouted from St. Peter's Square: Viva il Papa!

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Habemus Papam!

We have a new Pope, although the world does not yet know his name. Like so many others I'm sitting here at home glued to the TV screen in anticipation.

The balcony is empty, but will soon show us our new Vicar of Christ.

God be praised!

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Atheist Defends the Church...Against a "Catholic"?

This brief video is truly remarkable. In it Piers Morgan, a nominal Catholic who disagrees with pretty much everything the Catholic Church teaches, turns to well-known atheist, Penn Jillette, apparently expecting to encounter someone who agrees with him. Instead, Jillette defends the Church and, in effect, asks Morgan why he doesn't just leave the Church since he can't seem to accept any of its teachings. Good question. Of course, Morgan, as usual, asks questions and then constantly interrupts, not allowing his guest to answer. Fortunately, Jillette perseveres and manages to make his case.

Homily: Wednesday, 4th Week of Lent

Readings: Is 49:8-15; Ps 145; Jn 5:17-30

The other day, while running a bunch of errands in the car, I happened to hear a radio preacher telling his listeners that their sins would lead inevitably to God’s punishment. “Your sins will open wide the gates of hell,” he told us, “and there’s not much you can do about it.” My first reaction was, “Well if we can’t do anything about it, why are you even telling us?” Later on, though, he did soften his message a bit and mentioned the need for repentance. But even then he didn’t sound very hopeful.

By the time I’d arrived at the post office, I realized I’d been listening to him for about 15 minutes and not once did he mention the Good News of Jesus Christ. It caused me to wonder how many Christians think of God only in terms of judgment and punishment. I suspect, too many. And it’s certainly no way to evangelize.

Of course we must understand that we’ll all be judged. Indeed, in today’s Gospel passage Jesus tells us explicitly that the Father gave Him the power to exercise judgment [Jn 5:22]. Yes, we will be judged.

But we will be judged by a God of mercy, a God of forgiveness, a God who gave His life for us, and a God who gives us a lifetime in which to return to Him in repentance. What could be better than that? And so the Good News is truly good.

Realize, too, that this Good News, this Gospel, isn’t new to the New Testament. It’s the same news proclaimed throughout the Old Testament as well. The prophets, after all, were in the business of pointing exclusively to one thing: to the Good News. Perhaps more accurately, they pointed to one person: to Jesus Christ.

Turn again to today’s reading from Isaiah. Can’t you hear the prophet preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ? As he tells the prisoners to “Come out!” and pleads with those in darkness to “Show yourselves!” No longer shall you hunger and thirst, “For the LORD comforts his people and shows mercy to his afflicted” [Is 49:9-10,13].

And our passage ends with perhaps the most comforting words in all of Scripture:
“Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.” [Is 49:15]
Such prophetic, consoling words…and such fitting words for today when so many are without tenderness for the infants in the womb.

Yes, Isaiah preached the Good News 700 years before the Incarnation, and gave the world a taste of God’s love, God’s forgiveness. Like John the Baptist, whom he foretold, Isaiah also walked in the wilderness to “prepare the way of the LORD!” [Is 40:3] – to prepare the way for Jesus Christ.

For it is Jesus, Who forgives the sins of the repentant.

Jesus, Who heals bodies and minds and souls.

Jesus, Who offers eternal life to those who believe.

Jesus, Who preaches this Good News to all.

Jesus, Who gives us His Church, the sacramental font of God’s grace.

And He does it all out of love for the Father, and love for us.

Do we really hear and accept the Good News Jesus offers us? Or do we only pretend to hear, remaining closed to the Word of God because sharing it demands a changed heart?

Ask Christ to touch your heart today and bring you the gift of openness to His Word. And never doubt God’s love, but recall those words from Isaiah: "I will never forget you."  -- words intended to strike the heart, words we all long to hear from those who love us.

Today, let’s just keep this simple truth in mind: God will never forget me.

I will go to Calvary in my prayer and pray:  "God will never forget me."

I will go to the Empty Tomb in my prayer and pray:  "God will never forget me."

I will bring my brokenness and worries, my problems and joys to God and pray "God will never forget me."

And then, filled with God’s love, let me then ask, “Who is God asking me to "never forget?"

The New Pope...Doing an Awesome Job?

Okay, it's time for a little levity amid all the in-depth commentary and oh-so-serious prognostications by the wags and pundits who have gathered in Rome to report on the conclave. The below video was made several days ago, before the College of Cardinals even entered the conclave, and consists of interviews of people on the street in which they are asked their opinions of the "new Pope". The scary thing, of course, is that these people probably vote in our elections as well...

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

No Pope Today

The Church remains "Pope-less" this evening after the electors of the College of Cardinals took their first secret ballot and, as expected, did not give one man the necessary two-thirds majority. Indeed, the black smoke seemed especially black as it poured out of that little chimney on the roof of the Sistine Chapel. Knowing there would be only one ballot on this first day of the conclave, the huge crowd in St. Peter's Square dispersed within minutes and either headed back to their homes or made their way to one of Rome's wonderful restaurants, many within easy walking distance of the square.

I must admit, I feel a slight touch of envy toward those fortunate enough to be in Rome during this exciting time. At my age this might well be the last conclave in my lifetime. For the first time in my life, many of the papabili are either my age or younger. As a priest friend of mine said to me some years ago, "You know you're getting old when you're older than the Pope."

How long will it take before the Cardinals decide on the man who will be the next Vicar of Christ on earth? I noticed that Timothy Cardinal Dolan of NY predicted a brief conclave, just a couple of days. And yet others think it will take more time than usual because there is no obvious "front-runner", if I may be excused for using this obviously political term.I suppose the only correct answer is, "Only the Holy Spirit knows."

"Where will be next Pope be from?" is the question the media never tires of asking. From Milan, or Brazil, or the Philippines, or Hungary, or Africa, or Canada, or even the United States? The truth is, it doesn't matter. If the Catholic Church is truly catholic, if it is the universal Church founded by Jesus Christ, the Church that displayed its catholicity under the leadership of St. Peter on that first Pentecost, the Church that spoke that very first day in the tongues of the entire world -- if this is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, then the nationality of the next Pope is unimportant. Far more important that he be holy and humble and strong and Catholic.

Let's all join together tonight in prayer, and ask the Holy Spirit to give us the Pope that the Church and the world needs.

How exciting it will be to once again hear those words, "Habemus Papam."

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Sunday, March 10, 2013

Homily: 4th Sunday of Lent

Readings:  Jos 5:9a, 10-12; Ps 34; 2 Cor 5:17-21; Lk 15:1-3, 11-32

It’s a wonderful story isn’t it? The parable of the prodigal son is really a gospel within a gospel, the heart of the good news that Jesus brings to a sinful world. It’s so simple that even I can understand it; and yet it’s so profound that no one can fully plumb its depths. And so today we’ll just skim the surface and see if we can take away some little nuggets of God’s wisdom that might help us better know God and ourselves.

Let’s begin by asking: Who’s described as the happiest, the more joyful in this parable? The answer, of course, is the father. Now, I’m sure the younger son is also happy, but that’s not mentioned, is it? Because it’s not the main point of the story.

You see, this story is all about the joy of Our Father, Our God – and because of this, I’ve always thought it should have been called the parable of the merciful father. Just recall how happy the Father is when his son returns. The Father’s joy is the last thing the son expects, but the first thing he encounters. This joy is the heart of the parable and a sign of the depth of the Father’s love.

You see, love reaches its completion in forgiveness. And since God is love, He is also forgiveness. This is why He finds such joy in mercy. The joy of the Father! The Father who rejoices in finding us, in forgiving us. And it’s in this joy, that Jesus lives! It’s this joy He wants to share with us. What did He say to the Apostles?
“I have told you this so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete” [Jn 15:11].
He wants us to be totally happy, something that happens most completely when we experience His forgiveness.

This is the joy that Jesus desires to bring us, so He can reveal the Father to us, so we can enter into His relationship with the Father. How did St. Paul put it?
“For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’” [Rom 8:15]
So we’re allowed to say, “Abba Father,” the way Jesus says it. We’re allowed to call God the Father our Daddy. This is what we’re all called to do, to know and love the Father so well that we too can pray to our Daddy God, our “Abba Father,” with the childlike love that the He desires.

Now, the father isn’t the only person in the parable, is he? There are also the two sons. And both are sinners.

The younger son is the obvious kind of sinner, the kind we all see and recognize because his sins are so large, so public, so in your face. Oh, yeah, he’s a sinner all right. His journey begins with selfishness, a selfishness that takes him from the home of his father to a place of sin and personal gratification, to a place where relationships never last. When his money disappears, so too do his "friends." And then he’s alone, mired in the mud of a pigpen, just as he’s mired in sin. And it’s there, immersed in his sinfulness, in the midst of all that filth, that his conversion begins.

Before he ever gets out of the pigpen, he admits his sinfulness, and finds two things: Contrition: "I will say to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you...” And the need for penance: “Treat me like one of your hired hands." [Lk 15:18-19]

Keep in mind that penance is for growth, not for punishment. That’s the difference between God’s justice and our justice. Our prison systems, although we like to call them correctional institutions, are really places of punishment. Rarely are they places of reparation, repair and correction; rarely are they places of growth.

Penance is reparation, repairing or correcting a sinful lifestyle; and its purpose is to help us change that pattern. "Doing penance" means taking steps to change your life, to make room for something new.

Of course, conversion can’t happen or even begin, unless we expect forgiveness. And forgiveness awaited the younger son, didn’t it? The father, in his wisdom, expected his son to return. Why else would he wait and watch for him? Seeing his son in the distance, the father runs out to meet him with an embrace and a kiss. Through one loving gesture, the father forgives the son—and the son hasn't even made his confession yet!

When the confession comes, the father hardly listens, because the important thing isn’t confession, but that his son has returned. The son doesn’t need to beg for forgiveness, he’s already been forgiven. This is the glorious Good News! God's forgiveness, just like His love, doesn't stop. This is the loving God Jesus reveals to us: the loving God who can’t not forgive!

Ah, but there’s another son, isn’t there? There’s the elder son, who seems like the perfect son. He honors his father. He works hard. He doesn’t ask for favors. Yes, he’s the perfect young man, the kind we’d all like our daughters to marry.

Oh, he seems respectable, but beneath that perfection, beneath the surface, there’s a hardness, a simmering hatred that bursts through the surface when his sinful brother returns and is given the royal treatment.

What does he do? He becomes angry and stays outside, pouting in the darkness. It’s always in the darkness where the worst sins are committed. He hates his younger brother, the foolish one who took the money and ran, the son who spent his birthright on sin. But he hates someone else as well.

He also despises his father, because he can’t stand the thought of his father’s forgiveness. You see, he’s also motivated by selfishness, but it’s a darker kind because it hides under the cover of respectability, the kind that says, “I’m better than you. I’m holier than you. I deserve more than you.”

Oh, the elder son was a sinner all right; he just didn’t think he was. He despises his father for being so forgiving, but it never crosses his mind that he needs that same forgiveness.

Yes, like the two brothers, you and I are also sinners. But the question each of us must ask today is: Which kind of sinner am I? Am I the in-your-face, party hearty kind of sinner, weak of will and easily led astray? Or am I the hateful, resentful, unforgiving, pouting kind of sinner, the sinner who places himself above all others? I suspect, for most of us, we have a bit of each in us.

But once we answer that question, once we know who we are, only then do we come to realize not only that we need forgiveness, but also that we need to forgive. It’s this knowledge, or the lack of it, that determines where we go from here.

Brothers and sisters, forgiving is no big thing for God. On the contrary, He delights in it, because forgiveness completes God’s love. In forgiveness, love is at its strongest. In forgiveness, love, especially God’s love, generates new life.

Yes, God’s delights in forgiveness. And that’s a good thing, isn’t it? Yes, it’s truly the Good News!

Fr. Barron on Garry Wills

Garry Willa
Garry Wills, one of those professional non-Catholic Catholics who likes nothing about the Church and so wants to change every aspect of it, has written another book: Why Priests? A Failed Tradition. This time he takes on the Catholic priesthood and while doing so hammers away at Sacred Scripture, 2,000 years of Tradition, and even the divinity of Christ. Unless at some point he undergoes a conversion -- and nothing is impossible with God -- Wills will no doubt eventually leave the Church. I suspect he's already left it, but just doesn't know it.

I was handed a copy of the book a few days ago and it was so bad, so riddled with error, I couldn't put it down. I had intended to offer my thoughts on the book here in this blog, but then I came across a video review by one of my favorite priests, Fr. Robert Barron. His comments are far more penetrating than anything I could offer. If you take 15 minutes and watch the video, you can save yourself the cost of the book.

As a brief postscript, I just noticed that this is my 1,000th post since beginning this blog back in 2008. I'm not sure if that's at all meaningful. I suspect not.

And while I'm focused on Fr. Barron, here's his first video report from Rome. Interesting stuff...

Government Death Care

Obamacare is coming! Obamacare is coming! And we're all supposed to be thrilled now that our healthcare decisions will be made as much by government bureaucrats as by our doctors. Of course we still don't know exactly how the full implementation of Obamacare will affect us as individuals since the bureaucrats have yet to complete writing all the rules that must be followed by hospitals,  medical professionals, the insurance industry, government agencies at all levels, and by you and me. As the then Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, famously said during the rushed legislative process that brought us Obamacare: “But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of controversy.”

In other words, Ms. Pelosi and the President, and all the others who actively supported this legislation, really had no idea how Obamacare would be implemented. They just wanted it passed because they inexplicably believe the government can run things better than the free market. I say "inexplicably" because government-run healthcare is certainly nothing new and we should be able to learn something about it by examining how it's been implemented elsewhere. And most of these implementations are pretty scary.

One of the goals of government healthcare is to control costs, which can lead to interesting decisions regarding the care of the chronically ill and the elderly. As the costs related to such care increase, the system develops controls and incentives to lower these costs. In the United Kingdom, for example, National Health Service (NHS) hospitals are given large monetary rewards for referring patients to facilities that treat those whom they believe to be dying. This "treatment" consists of withdrawing drugs, fluids and food, and administering powerful pain relievers. This is, of course, simply a form of euthanasia poorly disguised as healthcare. As one might expect, the program has led to lots of referrals -- Hey! The money's good -- and has even led doctors to refer patients who really aren't at all close to death.

In the UK, one of these facilities, the Liverpool Care Pathway, is at the center of a scandal relating to its treatment of the patients under its care. It seems the Pathway is really a pathway to a quick death, even for those who aren't dying. Read this article from The Telegraph to get the full story. This is just the sort of thing we can expect here as government control of healthcare expands over time.

I have an acquaintance, a senior citizen who suffers from a chronic condition, who is a strong supporter of Obamacare. His condition, although incurable, can be treated with expensive medications and occasional surgeries. I wonder how long it will take some bureaucrat to conclude that any money spent to extend the life of this "old man" could be better spent elsewhere. As I told him some time ago, "By supporting Obamacare, you just might have signed your own death warrant." He just laughed.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Persecution Update

Every so often I glance around the world and take note of the growing persecution of Christians. It's not a particularly pleasant task, and so I don't do it too often, but I consider it a necessary task. As Christians we must raise our voices in defense of our brothers and sisters who suffer because of their faith; indeed, we should defend anyone who suffers religious persecution, regardless of their beliefs. The persecution of Christians, however, should not surprise us. After all, did not our Lord, Himself, tell us to expect persecution, to consider it a blessing, and to rejoice in it?
"Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you" [Mt 5:11-12].
The persecution of Christians stems primarily from our doing as Jesus instructed us. So long as we obey the Lord's command to "Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations..." [Mt 28:19], we will be persecuted by those whose vision for the world coincides with that of the prince of the world. St. Paul didn't mince words when he told the Ephesians that our struggle is against Satan:
"Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens" [Eph 6:11-12].
As Jesus reminded us, "...the ruler of the world is coming" [Jn 14:30]. But then He added, "He has no power over me..." And if Satan has no power over Jesus, then he has no power over the Church; for Christ and His Church are one, even in the midst of persecution. Recall how Jesus confronted Saul, the persecutor of Christians, on the road to Damascus: "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" [Acts 9:4] Yes, when the Church suffers persecution, so too does our Lord.

Let's see, then, just a few of the examples of how our Lord is suffering in the world lately...

Muslim mob burning Christian homes in Lahore
Lahore, Pakistan. Imran Shahid, a Muslim barber refused to serve a young Christian, Sawan Masih, 28, and then launched into a verbal attack on Christianity. Accompanied by several others, the barber went to the police and accused the young Christian of blasphemy, saying he had insulted the prophet Muhammad. Blasphemy is a crime in Pakistan that can result in a life sentence. Even though the police arrested Sawan, a mob of local Muslims went on a rampage and attacked the local Christian community. They set homes on fire, threw acid and stones, and injured at least 35 people. Over 150 Christian homes, shops and churches were set ablaze. The authorities did nothing until the destruction was complete, and the leader of the Muslim community, the local imam, said that they would kill Sawan when they got their hands on him. Bishop Rufin Anthony, of the Diocese of Islamabad-Rawalpindi said "It is very sad to see that minorities in Pakistan are not safe and are targeted for their religion. It is vital that we work for national harmony." Read more here.

Victim of attack
Karnataka, India. A mob of Hindu nationalists raided the home of the pastor of a community of Pentecostal Christians, World of Victory Ministries, as the community gathered for a prayer vigil. Eight of the Christians, two women and six men, including one of the community's pastors, Fr. Ramesh Poojari, were hospitalized. Fortunately, in this instance the police arrived quickly and arrested 16 of the attackers. Sajan George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians, stated that this was the sixth attack on the Christians of Karnataka in 2013. He went on to say:
"Hostility and religious intolerance continue to grow and are a cause of serious concern for the vulnerable Christian minority. These believers had gathered for a night vigil, an absolutely legal act. Freedom of religion is a constitutional right, but these extremists have political protection in Karnataka's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, ultra-nationalist Hindu party) and are encouraged to persecute the Christian community, particularly the Pentecostals."
Read more here and here.
Copt protests persecution in Egypt
Egypt. For Egypt's Christian community, which represents about 10% of the country's population, the so-called "Arab Spring" has led to nothing but more persecution. During just the past two months too many Christians have been killed or injured, or had their property and churches destroyed. Many of these attacks have been instigated or encouraged by local Muslim clerics. In Alexandria, for example, a group of Salafists killed five Christians they suspected of building a church. (Salafists are among the most radical of Islamic fundamentalists and believe violent jihad against non-Muslims is a legitimate expression of Islam.) And just this week dozens of Muslims threw firebombs as they stormed a Christian church looking for a woman they believed had converted to Christianity. Several dozen policemen and Christians were injured in the attack. The woman was later located. She had not converted but had disappeared for family and social reasons. Many Christians have also been arrested for allegedly desecrating the Qur'an or converting Muslims. 

Egyptian Copt weeps over Christian killed in confrontation with police, a website reporting on worldwide religious persecution, recently reported the following on the persecution of Christians in Egypt:
A new Islamic militant group, which calls itself Jihad al-Kufr, meaning jihad (holy war) against non-believers or non-Muslims, is threatening Christians in Egypt, Fox News reports. According to an Arabic news site, several Coptic Christians were told to convert to Islam or die. Under Sharia law, leaving Islam is punishable by death, and Sharia is cited as a source of law in Egypt’s new constitution that was approved in December. Under Egypt’s new Islamist government, radicals have gained unprecedented freedoms to implement their interpretation of Sharia on Egypt’s streets, as attacks against Christians and their places of worship have increased while offenders roam free without fear of punishment. “This incident caught the attention of the news agencies, but there are worse things happening to the Christians every day in Egypt,” said Adel Guindy, president of Coptic Solidarity and a member of Egypt’s Coptic community.
The growing influence of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist groups in President Mohammed Morsi's administration makes it unlikely the persecution of Egypt's Christians will do anything but increase. Read more here.

I have no time to continue but, as Jesus predicted, the persecution of Christians will continue unabated. Pray for the Church and for those who suffer today for their faith.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Pope Benedict XVI & the Future of the Church

I couldn't help but notice some of the less than gracious comments in the media about Pope Benedict in the wake of his announcement in which he renounced the office of the papacy. As one might expect these days, the most hateful of these comments came from within the Church and appeared in their medium of choice, The New York Times.

For example, in a letter to the editor on February 11, Daniel Maguire, a professor of theology at Marquette University, wrote the following:
The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI may be the most influential act of his papacy. It opens a window of opportunity for serious reform, starting with the papacy, in a church roiled in multiple crises. If the scandal of the papacy as one of the last absolute monarchies in a democratizing world is not addressed, all other reforms will falter. Catholic scholarship is clear. There is no evidence that a papal monarchy was Jesus’ idea.
Of course, if you accept that Peter was the first pope, there would be lessons. Peter was married. A happily married pope with a strong spouse and children could think more clearly on sexual and reproductive issues and not let the church get mired in obsessions that obscure the message of justice and peace that Jesus preached.
Of course, no change will occur if the Catholic laity act like sheep awaiting word from their all-male shepherds.
This ex-priest, who thinks the best thing about Pope Benedict's reign is his resignation, also believes and teaches that abortion and same-sex marriage are morally permissible. But he's not alone in his attitude toward Pope Benedict. On February 28, Paul Elie, of Georgetown University's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, penned an op-ed piece in the Times, in which he said, among other things:
American Catholics should consider resigning too...if the pope can resign, we can, too. We should give up Catholicism en masse, if only for a time...
In traditional parlance, Benedict’s resignation leaves the Chair of St. Peter “vacant.” So I propose that American Catholics vacate the pews this weekend...
We should seize this opportunity to ask what is true in our faith, what it costs us in obfuscation and moral compromise, and what its telos, or end purpose, really is. And we should explore other religious traditions, which we understand poorly...
For the Catholic Church, it has been “all bad news, all the time” since Benedict took office in 2005: a papal insult to Muslims; a papal embrace of a Holocaust denier; molesting by priests and cover-ups by their superiors...
A temporary resignation would be a fitting Lenten observance. It would help believers to purify and deepen our faith in the light of our neighbors'... It would let us begin to figure out what in Catholicism we can take and what we can and ought to leave. It might even get the attention of the cardinals who will meet behind the locked doors of the Sistine Chapel and elect a pope in circumstances that one hopes would augur a time of change.
When I read comments like those of Maguire and Elie I always find myself wondering why such people remain in a Church they obviously despise.

Perhaps the least gracious of commentators, however, was Elizabeth Drescher, a lecturer at Santa Clara University which, like Georgetown and Marquette, is also a Jesuit university.  Writing in Religion Dispatches, a daily online magazine that apparently prides itself on its lack of reverence ("respectful but not reverent"), Drescher shares her thoughts on Pope Benedict's "painful legacy" with respect to every disaffected group residing "on the margins of the Catholic Church":
...the legacy Benedict began shaping in 1980 as Cardinal Ratzinger...and which he solidified during a mere eight years as Bishop of Rome is seen as something far more complex and troubling.
UC Riverside professor Jennifer Scheper Hughes, who has studied Benedict’s reaction to liberation theology in Latin America both before and during his papacy, suggests that he leaves a painful legacy for Roman Catholics in the region. [Quoting Hughes] "His legacy in Latin America is precisely this: the systematic dismantling of the infrastructure of liberation theology..."
"It’s hard to identify a figure who has been more oppressive to LGBT people in the religious world than Pope Benedict," says DignityUSA Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke.
From the labeling of homosexuality as "objectively disordered" and “intrinsically evil” in magisterial documents he developed as a cardinal, to condemnations of transgendered people as mentally ill, to more recent attacks on marriage equality as a deterrent to world peace, says Duddy-Burke, the current pope has actively worked to undermine the full equality of LGBT people and denigrated their human dignity...
Joelle Casteix, Western Region Director for SNAP, which advocates on behalf of some 20,000 survivors and allies of those abused by Roman Catholic priests...says Pope Benedict “offered empty promises and apologies” about the abuse scandal “as a PR move” while at the same time “portraying victims as enemies of the Church.” This, she says, has continued to “ensure the marginalization of abuse victims within the Church...”
...between the smackdown on nuns and the excommunication and silencing of priests supporting the ordination of women and opposing the Church’s position on birth control, it would be hard not to conclude that Benedict’s papacy has been difficult for women throughout the Church. LGBT advocate Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL, herself no stranger to Vatican disciplinary silencing, argues that “women in the Church have as difficult a time as lesbian and gay individuals. Both are treated as second-class citizens.” She notes that the rebuke of LCWR had much to do with the solidarity many women religious, and women in general, have felt with LGBT people who have been marginalized within the Church and are often alienated from it...
Outside the Catholic Church, Benedict managed to provoke Muslims, Jews, and Anglicans variously in the course of his papacy, sharply distinguishing “God’s Rottweiler,” as he was famously nicknamed, from his far more genial, if no less conservative predecessor, John Paul II.
After reading these and other commentaries on Pope Benedict and his impact on the Church, I couldn't help but recall something he wrote in a book published way back in 1970. I first read it in an English translation published by Franciscan Herald Press (1971). It has since been republished by Ignatius Press (2006) under the title, Faith and Future. Speaking of the Church of the future, the then-Cardinal Ratzinger wrote (p.116-118):
From the crisis of today, the Church of tomorrow will emerge. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so will she lose many of her social privileges...she will be seen more as a voluntary society, entered only by free decision...Undoubtedly she will discover new forms of ministry and will ordain to the priesthood approved Christians who pursue some profession...Alongside this, the full-time ministerial priesthood will be indispensable as formerly. But...the Church will find her essence afresh and with full conviction in that which was always at her center: faith in the triune God, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, in the presence of the Spirit until the end of the world...

The Church will be a more spiritual Church, not presuming upon a political mandate, flirting as little with the Left as with the Right. It will be hard going for the Church, for the process of crystalization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to be the Church of the meek. The process will be all the more arduous, for sectarian narrow-mindedness and well as pompous self-will will have to be shed...But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church. Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, and answer for which they have always been searching in secret.
When I first read this, perhaps 30 years ago, I wondered how this German theologian could possibly come to such a seemingly pessimistic conclusion. The intervening years have since convinced me that his vision of the Church's future is not only a likely future, but also a truly optimistic one. Yes, the Church may once again have to enter a period of suffering and cleansing. Like the people of Israel and Judah, it may have to experience an exile from the world in which it had grown all too comfortable, a world to which many of its members too easily conformed. Once released from this exile, it will present to that broken world a far smaller Church, but a purified, restored and holy Church, a Church that will present a beacon of true hope to a world in search of meaning. I believe we are privileged to be living during this time of renewal and hope.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

A Clerihew for Pope Benedict XVI

Another Clerihew...this one for our latest Pope:

Kind, holy Joseph Ratzinger,
Who is quite fond of hats and fur,
Came to Rome first as peritus,
And is now Pope Emeritus.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Hugo Chavez, R.I.P.

A little "Clerihew" I wrote for Hugo...

Hugo Chavez, dictator,
Was really a traitor.
And now that he's dead
Nothing more need be said.


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Conclave Info

Daily report. One of my favorite websites -- The Catholic Thing -- is offering a Daily Conclave Report, written by Robert Royal, which will provide what I expect to be good, solid commentary on the happenings in Rome leading up to, during, and immediately after the election of our next Holy Father. Royal, the co-founder of The Catholic Thing, is a well-known Catholic author and president of the Washington DC-based Faith and Reason Institute. His commentaries are always worth reading and I expect he'll provide us with some interesting insights on the conclave and on all those, both faithful and unfaithful, who have descended on Rome. I'm sure, too, this daily report from Rome will act as an effective antidote to the secular media's bias and the drivel to which we will be no doubt be subjected in the coming weeks.

Conclave Graphic. The US Bishops' website has posted a nicely prepared graphic that provides some interesting details on the upcoming conclave. I've included the image below. Just click on the image and you can view a larger, more readable version. You can also click here to view the image on the Bishops' website.

Click on the above image to view a larger version
Conclave History Videos. The Rector of St. John's Seminary in Boston, Monsignor James Patrick Moroney, has placed three videos (each about 10-minutes long) on his blog. The videos, with Italian audio but English subtitles, describe in detail how the Church goes about electing a new Pope. The videos were made during the most recent conclave in 2005 and, therefore, reflect the process following the death of a Pope and not his resignation. But, except for the absence of a funeral Mass and time of mourning, there's really very little difference. Here's a link to the videos: Rector's Blog.

Cardinal O'Malley and his Capuchin Habit. My favorite Cardinal (after all, he ordained me to the diaconate back in 1997) is Boston's Sean Cardinal O'Malley, O.F.M. Cap. Some have counted him among the papabili, those Cardinals who are considered more likely Papal candidates, although I can't imagine an American Pope, at least not yet. Then again, 35 years ago I never would have expected to see either a Polish or a German Pope during my lifetime. So, other than the Holy Spirit, who knows? After all, "the Spirit blows where it wills."

Anyway, during a recent press conference Cardinal O'Malley was asked if he would continue to wear his brown Capuchin habit even if he were elected Pope. Really a very silly question, but typical of what we can expect from the media today. I'm sure we'll hear many sillier things in the weeks to come. The Cardinal just laughed and said that he'd worn the habit for over 40 years and expected to wear it until he died, since he did not expect to be elected Pope. Good answer. Here's a link to the video: Cardinal O'Malley.

Homily: Wednesday, 3rd Week of Lent

Readings: Dt 4:1, 5-9; Ps 147; Mt 5:17-19

I remember the first time one of my children openly disagreed with me. Trust me, it came as a shock.

It was our elder daughter, and I think she was probably 11 or 12 at the time, perhaps even younger. I had pontificated about something at the dinner table, not expecting anything but full agreement, when she said, “No, Dad, I think you’re wrong about that.” The shock was so great I can’t even recall the subject of our disagreement. I remember thinking only, “Our family life is about to undergo a radical change. These children of ours are more than little clones. They’re actually beginning to think for themselves.”

Of course, the four of them had no doubt been thinking for themselves and disagreeing with me for years, but had wisely chosen to remain silent. I also realized that in the future I’d have to give a little thought to what I intended to say or I’d end up having to defend my every utterance.

Naturally, I didn’t change at all. I still pontificated at the dinner table, saying whatever entered my mind. In truth I expected agreement and obedience without having to teach. And as you might expect, our children grew ever bolder in challenging me. This all came to mind thanks to today’s readings.

In Deuteronomy Moses tells God’s People:
“…take care and be earnestly on your guard not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live, but teach them to your children and to your children’s children” [Dt 4:9].
Then we hear Jesus in the Gospel:
“…whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven” [Mt 5:19]
In Moses and Jesus, the Old and New Testaments come together, one pointing to the other, one fulfilling the other – and yet both offering the same Word of God.

Moses pleads with us: Don’t forget. Teach them to your children and your children’s children.

And Jesus demands of us: Obey and teach these commandments.

I’m sure you noticed one of the themes common to both: the call to teach. Yes, both call us to teach, and I wonder to myself…

How well did I teach my children? Did I simply tell them what to think, what to believe, how to act…? Or did I really teach? Did I let them question and probe? Did I help guide them to the truth? Or did I simply tell them and expect unquestioning obedience?

To teach well is hard work because it demands that we place another, the one being taught, above ourselves. It demands humility. And when it comes to teaching the Word of God, the best teacher is the one who lives the Word of God.

This leads us to the second common theme found in our two readings. Both Moses and Jesus also call us to obey. But notice they don’t tell us to extract obedience from others. They don’t tell us to force our children to obey the commandments. No, Moses and Jesus both tell us, the teachers, to do the obeying. For we teach best by how we live. We teach best by our own obedience.

To teach another well, to teach as Jesus taught, means taking the commandments to heart. It means loving our God with all that we have and are, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. Benedict XVI, preaching on the parable of the Good Samaritan, once said:
“Struck in his soul by the lightning flash of mercy, he himself now becomes a neighbor, heedless of any question or danger. The burden of the question thus shifts here. The issue is no longer which other person is a neighbor to me or not. The question is about me. I have to become the neighbor, and when I do, the other person counts for me ‘as myself.’”

Here, too, we encounter the attitude of the true Christian teacher.

Here we find the attitude of the good parent and grandparent.

Here we find the one who is able to love the other as he loves himself

Here we find the one who can lift the other, the one who can bring the other closer to God.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Who will elect the new Pope?

Who's Who in the Sistine Chapel. 115 of the Church's Cardinals are expected to take part in the conclave that will elect our next Holy Father. Over the next few weeks, these men will be at the center of the news out of Rome. As the preparations for the conclave continue, we will learn about a few of these men -- specifically, the papabili, or those whom the "experts" believe to be the most likely candidates. I suspect, however, that most Catholics can name only a few of them. But if you click on this link -- Who's Who of the New Pope's Electors -- you will find a nice overview that lists each Cardinal by name, assignment, religious order if applicable, and nationality. It also includes his year of birth and the pope who made him a Cardinal.
Cardinals gather in the Sistine Chapel
Did you know, for example, that of the 115 electors, more than half -- 60 to be exact -- are Europeans? Of the others, 11 come from the United States, 19 from Latin America, three from Canada, 11 from Africa, 10 from Asia, and one from Australia. Of the total 67 were made Cardinals by Pope Benedict XVI and 48 by Pope John Paul II. All very interesting

By the way, should you want to dig a little deeper, you can check out this in-depth website which explores the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, past and present: Catholic Hierarchy.

Cardinal Oswald Gracias (Mumbai)
Adopt a Cardinal. I would hope, however, that your interest in the upcoming proceedings in the Vatican stems less from mere curiosity and more from a desire that these 115 men will be moved by the Holy Spirit to accept God's holy will and act accordingly. And the best way for the faithful to take an active part in this process is through our prayers. To encourage this, one website calls on each of us to adopt a Cardinal to "support through your prayer and intercession during the coming weeks before and during the conclave and for three days following the election" of our next Pope. What a terrific idea! At the time I write this, 265,961 people have already chosen to adopt a Cardinal who is assigned randomly to you when you go to the website and click on the "adopt" button. Check it out here: Adopt a Cardinal.

My Cardinal (I've already become very possessive) is Oswald Gracias of Bombay (Mumbai) India. Interestingly, we are the same age (I'm actually 3 months older than His Eminence who was born on Christmas Eve.), but he's much better looking. I've included his photo above.

I hope all my readers -- all ten of you -- will go to this site and adopt a Cardinal of your own.

Pray for our One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

What Does One Call a Former Pope?

Pope St. Celestine V
There is apparently some disagreement over how many popes have left office during the 2,000-year history of the Church, but pretty much everyone agrees that there were at least two. Perhaps the most interesting was Pope St. Celestine V who resigned in December 1294 after serving only five months as pope. Indeed, the cardinals who assembled in Perugia to elect the new pope, met for over two years before deciding on this holy man who lived a life of asceticism and penitence. A monk and hermit who founded the Celestines, he at first refused the papacy. He was finally persuaded to accept by a deputation of cardinals and European royalty. His brief papacy was not without lasting value, however, since it included two long-standing decrees: that cardinal electors should be locked in conclave when choosing a pope; and that a pope should be permitted to resign. Sadly, this holy man who wanted only to return to his life of seclusion, was imprisoned after leaving office. He died in prison under more than mysterious circumstance.

Pope Gregory XII
The last pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII, who resigned in 1415 after nine years as pope. His resignation was the result of a series of rather complex negotiations aimed at ending the Western Schism. It was finally resolved by the Council of Constance at which the pope's resignation was announced, the antipope was set aside, and the papal seat declared vacant. Eventually Pope Martin V was elected as Gregory's successor.

Today the current Code of Canon Law allows for a papal resignation:
Canon 332, Paragraph 2 says: “Should it happen that the Roman Pontiff resigns from his office, it is to be required for validity that the resignation be freely made and properly manifested, but it is not necessary that it be accepted by anyone.”
I especially like the final clause of this canon. Who indeed would have the authority to accept a pope's resignation?

Until now, because this canon has never been exercised, we are left with some questions. What, for example, should a living former pope be called? The Church, of course, has an answer. And it was provided by Father Federico Lombardi of the Vatican's press office during a meeting with the press on 26 February. Speaking of Pope Benedict, Fr. Lombardi said, “He will still be called His Holiness Benedict XVI, but he will also be called Pope Emeritus or Roman Pontiff Emeritus.”

Interestingly, Fr. Lombardi also stated that, once Benedict XVI ceases being pope, the Swiss Guards will leave their stations and no longer protect him. That job will be taken on by the Vatican police.

And while all this is very interesting, I think very few people will have the opportunity to address the former pope by his new titles. Since the Pope Emeritus intends to spend his remaining days in seclusion at the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery inside the Vatican walls, I suspect we will see or hear very little of him in the future. One hopes he will, however, continue writing for publication.

The following brief video describes the Pope Emeritus' future retirement plans:

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Our Next Pope

The cardinals of the Church have gathered in Rome, and yesterday they began a series of meetings in advance of the conclave that will take place sometime later this month in the world's most spectacular and beautiful meeting room, the Vatican's Sistine Chapel. And as the world watches and the faithful pray and wait for a puff of white smoke, the self-appointed "experts" will question, and speculate, and suggest, and dare even to instruct.

The other day during a TV interview one wag suggested that, "After decades of the authoritarian rule of the last two popes, the cardinals will no doubt turn to someone more pastoral in his approach." I almost fell out of my chair! More pastoral? During the past century no popes have been more pastoral than John Paul II and Benedict XVI. None of their recent predecessors has reached out more lovingly and hopefully to men and women of good will. Yes, these two men were uncompromisingly faithful to the Church's magisterial teaching on faith and morality, but is this not what God wants from His vicar on earth and what the faithful expect? But if the Church is to carry out its overriding mission of evangelization, it must be more than a defensive bulwark against the ever-changing zeitgeist. It must also enter into a dialogue with the world, teaching and listening and learning. As Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman put it, "It is as absurd to argue men, as to torture them, into believing."
Sharing the Cross: Benedict and John Paul

These two men, then, these two intellectual and spiritual giants, whose pontificates can almost be viewed as conjoined, worked tirelessly to teach and to demonstrate to the world that faith and reason are not in conflict and, indeed, are essential companions on our life's journey. The Church and the world have been blessed by their presence and selfless leadership.

I suspect that what this "expert" really wants is a pope who will go along with whatever moral deviations or liturgical innovations the faithless place in front of him. This, of course, will not happen. Of one thing we can be certain: the next pope, whoever he may be, will continue to defend the Church's unalterable teachings on the sanctity of human life created in the very image of God. The deposit of faith will remain secure. I believe, too, that the College of Cardinals will also elect a pope who is just as committed to the Church's mission of evangelization as were his two predecessors.

We must always remember that it is the Holy Spirit, working alongside these successors to the apostles, who guides the Church through this time of uncertainty and change. He was promised by our Lord and was with the universal Church from its very beginnings on that first Pentecost. He was with the early Church, too, as it confronted its first challenges at the Council of Jerusalem. Recall the words of that encyclical letter sent by the apostles to the universal Church: "For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us..." [Acts 15:28] And because God keeps His promises, the Holy Spirit will remain with His Church, the Bark of Peter, as it navigates today's troubled waters.

Pay little or no attention to what the secular media has to say about these momentous events now unfolding in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. They inevitably get it wrong because they view the Church through worldly lenses and not through the eyes of faith. They see this selection of a new Vicar of Christ on earth as if it were simply another political event, another election to be covered and probed and dissected, and as fodder for their "insightful" commentaries. Listen instead to the Church and join together in prayer as we await the decision of the Spirit.

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Friday, March 1, 2013

Take the Pope Benedict Quiz

Joseph Ratzinger at 38
How well do you know Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI?

Here's a link to a brief ten-question quiz: Benedict Quiz.

I actually got nine out of ten correct, but (grumble, grumble...) I'll argue for the answer I supposedly got wrong.

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