Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Mother Teresa's 100th Birthday Stamp

Mother Teresa will get a US stamp for her 100th birthday in August of 2010.

The stamp was painted by Thomas Blackshear II, a Christian artist who lives here in Colorado Springs. You can visit his Christ-centered Art here.

Here's how the US Postal Service describes her call to found the MIssionaries of Charity:

"Following a divine inspiration and deeply moved by the poverty and suffering she saw in the streets of Calcutta, Mother Teresa left her teaching post at the convent in 1948 to devote herself completely to the city’s indigent residents. Two years later, she founded her own congregation, the Missionaries of Charity. Like Mother Teresa, the nuns of the new order wore white saris with a blue border rather than traditional nuns’ habits. In addition to the traditional vows of chastity, obedience, and poverty, they took a fourth vow of wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor. “In order to understand and help those who have nothing,” Mother Teresa told the young women, “we must live like them.”

How about that? Explicit recognition that God was behind her work - from the US government! I like the picture very much. We'll have to stock up on Mother Teresa stamps at the Institute.

Choice Quotes

In doing some preparation for a retreat, I have run across some beautiful quotes that are worth sharing as we prepare for a New Year. Perhaps one of our resolutions might be to mine the depths of the thoughts and love of the saints!

St. Paul
I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me. Gal 2:19b-20

I urge you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect. For by the grace given to me I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than one ought to think, but to think soberly, each according to the measure of faith that God has apportioned. For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another. Rom 12:1-5

St. Augustine
Find out how much God has given you and from it take what you need; the remainder is needed by others.

If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don't like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself.

Men go abroad to wonder at the heights of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering.

What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.

St. Catherine of Siena
In your nature, eternal Godhead,
I shall come to know my nature.
And what is my nature, boundless love?
It is fire, because you are nothing but a fire of love.
And you have given humankind a share in this nature,
for by the fire of love you created us.
And so with all other people and every created thing;
you made them out of love.

O unfathomable depth! O Deity eternal! O deep ocean! What more could You give me than to give me Yourself? O You who are mad about Your creature! true God and true Man, You have left Yourself wholly to us, as food, so that we will not fall through weariness during our pilgrimage in this life, but will be fortified by You, celestial nourishment.

Mechtild of Magdeburg (German mystic)
I cannot dance O Lord, unless Thou lead me.
If Thou wilt that I leap joyfully
Then must Thou Thyself first dance and sing!
Then will I leap for love
From love to knowledge,
From knowledge to fruition,
From fruition to beyond all human sense
There will I remain
And circle evermore.

St. Thomas More
I think that if any good thing shall go forward, something must be adventured.

I never saw fool yet who thought himself other than wise…If a fool perceives himself a fool, that point is not folly, but a little spark of wit.

You must not abandon the ship in a storm because you cannot control the winds….What you cannot turn to good, you must at least make as little bad as you can.

Julian of Norwich (English mystic)
If there is anywhere on earth a lover of God who is always kept safe, I know nothing of it, for it was not shown to me. But this was shown: that in falling and rising again we are always kept in that same precious love.

St. Francis de Sales
A quarrel between friends, when made up, adds a new tie to friendship.

Friendships begun in this world will be taken up again, never to be broken off

Have patience with all things, But, first of all with yourself. Do not wish to be anything but what you are, and try to be that perfectly.

We must never undervalue any person. The workman loves not that his work should be despised in his presence. Now God is present everywhere, and every person is His work.

St. Theresa of Avila
It is only mercenaries who expect to be paid by the day.

How is it, Lord, that we are cowards in everything save in opposing thee?

More tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones.

From silly devotions and from sour-faced saints, good Lord, deliver us.

The feeling remains that God is on the journey, too.

St. Maximillian Kolbe, OFM, while being arrested, to his friars:
“Courage, my sons. Don’t you see that we are leaving on a mission? They pay our fare in the bargain. What a piece of good luck! The thing to do now is to pray well in order to win as many souls as possible. Let us, then, tell the Blessed Virgin that we are content, and that she can do with us anything she wishes”

St. Edith Stein
The nation... doesn't simply need what we have. It needs what we are.

Pope John Paul II
Stupidity is also a gift of God, but one mustn't misuse it.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Kids Helping Kids Fix Broken Hearts (reprise)

Among the Christmas letters and photos I received this year was a note from my friends, Phil and Katie Kladar of Coeur d'Alene, ID. I witnessed their marriage nearly fifteen years ago when Phil was in medical school and Katie finishing her Master's of Nursing degree at the University of Utah. Their kids, Sarah (sixth grade), Emily (fourth grade), Thomas (second grade), Will (preschool) and Ellie (2 years) are pretty special. It is a tradition in the Kladar family that their 5 children do not receive gifts from their friends on their birthdays. Instead, they use their own God-given gifts of ambition, intelligence, creativity, imagination, and compassion to give back to the world.

Here's a picture of two of the thirteen children who have received life-saving heart surgeries as a result of their fundraising and awareness efforts.

I have spoken with Sarah and her parents, and have a pretty strong impression that she is already displaying the charism of mercy; she has an ability to reach out to people who are suffering with practical acts of compassion that really make a difference. And for everyone (especially among us grown ups) who thinks that they can't do anything to make a difference in the world, the Kladar kids are living proof that that's just not the case - even for little ones. Here's an excerpt from their website, Kids Helping Kids Fix Broken Hearts.
In 2008, the 3 oldest kids decided to create their own charity! It first started after visiting a poor medical clinic in a rural part of Mexico where they learned of children their own ages in desperate need of life-saving heart surgery. The kids then went to work, figuring out what they could do to help. Sarah, age 10 at the time, came up with the name "Kids Helping Kids Fix Broken Hearts". Emily, age 8, used her artistic ability and creativity and designed a logo. Along the way, they decided to print the logo onto dishtowels and have been selling them for $5. Since August of 2008, approximately 4,000 dishtowels have been sold and over $34,000.00 has been raised!! There is at least one dishtowel in all 50 states and in 26 countries! So far, 13 Mexican families have been helped.

The charity has now been expanded to help families throughout the United States.

The money raised pays for travel, food and lodging expenses for the parents of children needing heart surgery away from their hometown.
$34,000! Incredible! You might say, "Yeah, but their dad's a surgeon. They have some advantages most kids don't have. That's true enough, but the point is, they're using that which God has given them to make a difference already in the world. They have been given much by God, and are giving back more. They are not a "front" for their parent's charity. They are the driving force behind the work. Of course, they have had help setting up the charity as a 501c3, and their parents drive them to different events where they appear and make their appeal. But Phil and Katie are not goading them into the work. The kids are not only been taught well by their parents, they have "caught" Jesus from them!

I invite you to visit their website, and read more about this great work. You might even consider purchasing a beautiful dishtowel or two. If you want more information about the program, contact them at

Dreaming for the New Year: I Want It All

Our basic theme around here this week is our dreams for the new year. And some of our collaborators are dreaming big! (We are privileged to know some truly amazing disciples!)

Beginning with my own interior life: I want to become docile and fully obedient to every inspiration, direction, and prompting of the Holy Spirit, that He may complete my total transformation into Christ. That I may turn away from sin, and refuse Jesus nothing – no matter what the cost.

To participate in God’s work of rising up a legion of saints to bring about the complete renewal and transformation of the whole archdiocese in which I reside.

That God may rise up a group of lay men and women who would be fully committed to seeking out and drawing in those furtherest from Christ.

That every priest of our archdiocese be given the grace of conversion and transformation to fully live out the fullness of their priesthood and truly “father” and shepherd the people of God in becoming disciples of Jesus Christ.

The complete restructuring of each parish so that the complete mission of the Church may be fully realized and fulfilled.

For each parish of our archdiocese to establish a prayer hermitage (a poustinia) where the laity can go to hear and receive a “word” from the Lord and intercede for the whole world.

The establishment of a novitiate formation in each family, where parents provide to their children the formation and discernment skills necessary for answering the Lord’s call to participate in His mission of redemption.

The more I think about it, I come to the conclusion that I want it all – The totality of the gospel…its freedom, its fire, its living breath. I want the awesome power of its simplicity, the quiet roar of its love that captivates the heart and oppresses the will. I want its sheer force that heals all of creation. I want the spirit of its towering humility. I want the poverty, the lowliness, the shivering cold the Christ-child felt.

I want the delivering power of His baptism and the battle of the desert. I want the liberating proclamation of His kingdom and the grace He gave to the woman caught in adultery. I want the joy of the parents who witnessed their child being brought back from the dead. I want the blessing the children received from His hands. I want the refreshment of His touch, the same touch He gave to the leper.

I want the light of His transfigured body to rest on me, and to stand with Him by His side in His agony. I want the role of Simon and Veronica, the standing post of John at the foot of the Cross. I want to enter the darkness of the cave with Him and to witness the first light of His Resurrection. I want to place my hand into His side. I want the ascended Christ and to witness the glory of His coming to wed heaven to earth! I want the complete and never ending love that is God.

In a word I want JESUS for every man and woman!

You may not be dreaming as large as our prophetic intercessor friend above. But what is your wildest, most beautiful dream for 2010? What would you love to see God do in and through you and your family, friends, and community in the New Year?

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Christocentric Life--Inconvenient Truth and Loss

"The Jesus who makes everything OK for everyone is a phantom, a dream, not a real figure. The Jesus of the Gospels is certainly not convenient for us. But it is precisely in this way that he answers the deepest question of our existence, which--whether we want to or not--keeps us on the lookout for God, for a gratification that is limitless, for the infinite. We must again set out on the way to this real Jesus."--Benedict XVI
The twelve days of Christmas from December 25th through Epiphany on January 6th are a time of year when many of us are celebrating the birth of Jesus with great joy. A time of families reunited, gift and gratitude.

For others of us this is a time of heightened pain and struggle. We may be among the lost, the lonely and the broken. Praying for the love of God to fill our hearts for they are dark and empty. Come Lord Jesus, warm my heart with your love.

We may be mourning the loss of loved ones. Their absence is more sharply felt in a time when we most desire to heal our souls with the comfort of their loving embrace. A gentle touch, a kiss, a kind word which cannot be shared cuts like a knife into our wounded hearts. Come Lord Jesus, heal my heart with your love.

Perhaps we are struggling with financial hardship and despair over what the new year will bring. We have responsibilities to provide for our families and to meet our obligations but we lack control over our situation. Come Lord Jesus, take away my fear.

Our Father in heaven sent his only Son to us so that we may be healed by his love. He should have been welcomed with a warm embrace, instead he was spat upon. Jesus should have been protected by those he loved, but he was betrayed and abandoned by those closest to him. He was neither wealthy or powerful in the worldly sense. The Father knew this was how his beloved Son would be treated and still he sent Him to us. Why did the Son open himself up to this much pain? Could there be a bigger burden than to take on all of the sin of world?

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life." Our Lord loves us so completely that he allowed his Son to suffer and die for us. This is an inconvenient truth. It is heart warming to think of the divine infant lying in a manger. But, we must be ever mindful that his purpose was to reconcile us with the Father. He chose to suffer for us so that we may find love eternal.

Lord Jesus, in our suffering, in our pain, in our fear give us the grace to open our hearts to you. For if we join our hearts with yours we may suffer but never will we be alone. We will be comforted and we will find hope. Father in heaven thank you for the gift of your Son. Mother Mary, help us to walk the path to the real Jesus. Amen.

cross posted at The Christocentric Life


Nothing is Impossible

An inspiring word as we contemplate what God may be calling us to in 2010.

From Blessed Marianne Cope (who worked with St. Damien of Molokai serving the lepers of Molokai):

"Nothing is impossible. There are ways which lead to everything and, if we have sufficient will, we should always have sufficient means."

Mother Marianne promised her sisters that none of them would contract leprosy - and none of them did!

H/T Bobby Vidal

New Year's Resolution

From the Ironic Catholic (live forever!)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Dreaming for 2010

Let's talk.

If you could dream your wildest, most beautiful dream, what would you love to see God do in and through you, your family and friends, and your community in 2010?

The Second Eve & The Dignity of Being Causes

From the archives, a meditation suited to this Christmas week, this last week of the decade. A week in which we traditionally think about what we want to change or achieve in the year to come.

Some years ago, a uniquely silly phrase enjoyed its fifteen minutes of fame. For one brief, tarnished moment, license plates across Seattle urged me to “Commit random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty”. I confess that I found the words “random” and senseless” to be intensely annoying.

I could not believe that someone was actually proposing that we put intentional acts of kindness in the same category as a sudden whim for a pickle and peanut butter sandwich or that we believe that the creation of beauty is a meaningless gesture that required neither sense nor skill.

I hoped that no one was expecting torrents of completely artless kindnesses and spontaneous beauty to start pouring forth from my remarkably ordinary heart and soul. If the human community was waiting for me to become an unconscious fountain of inspired creativity and warm fuzzies, it might as well make itself comfortable. We’re gonna be here awhile. I may be accident-prone but I am not prone to either completely accidental niceness or artistic brilliance.

Thank God, our hope lies in something stronger than our personal whims of the moment. It lies in our freedom to make thoughtful, deliberate choices that have real, historical consequences. As Blaise Pascal observed, God has raise us, far beyond our merits, “to the dignity of being causes.” We are not random causes or senseless causes, but graced, intentional, prayerful causes.

A priest at a recent Called & Gifted workshop asked me a most interesting question. Why, does God give certain charisms only to a few? For instance, if a few people having the gift of healing is a wonderful thing, why not give the gift to millions? Of course, we don’t know why God distributes the gifts the way that he does. Such questions are natural and intriguing but they can distract us from a far deeper mystery: why does God bother giving us any gifts at all?

Why delegate any real power to us to affect things for good or ill? Why not just heal all our wounds and forgive all our sins by divine fiat? Why does God insist on raising us to the dignity of being causes? And not just causes of trivial things but of ideas, decisions, actions, and movements whose consequences ripple through the lives of million over the centuries and right into eternity.

When we ask such questions, God does not respond with an answer. Instead, he gives us a mystery: the Incarnation. The Church has long recognized that God did not have to take on our humanity in order to save us. He freely chose to redeem us as a human being through the medium of a fully human life and death. Further more, he choose to become incarnate by means of the Holy Spirit working with the consent and cooperation of a human teenager.

In his major work, Against the Heresies, written in 190 AD, St. Irenaeus uses extraordinarily strong words to describe the consequences of a decision made over two hundred years previously by a young woman named Mary:

“Eve. . .having become disobedient, was made the cause of death for herself and for the whole human race, so also Mary, betrothed to a man but nevertheless till a virgin, being obedient, was made the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race . . . Thus, the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. What the virgin Eve had bound in unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosed through faith.”

Recently, a friend and I were talking with great energy about the need for lay Catholics to be "conscious, intentional" disciples. At the end of our conversation, he was silent for moment and finally commented, with the air of one giving into the inevitable: "Well, I guess it's ok if most Catholics are unconscious".

But it is not ok. God will not save us without us and he has chosen not to save the world without us either. There are no random saints or accidental apostles. As Christ began, so he continues to work today.

He continues to pour out the graces of his redemptive sacrifice freely through fully human ways. We could never have earned these graces but we must deliberately choose to cooperate with them. We will not be transformed ourselves or become a channel of this grace for others without our free consent and intentional cooperation.

God does insist on raising us to the dignity of being causes. If this is true, how many people's lives and salvation, how many communities, organizations, families, and cultures - history itself and its eternal significance - hang in the balance on the life choices of ordinary Catholics?

What possibilities in the year ahead are contingent upon my choices, your choices? Our listening obedience to God's voice through the Scriptures and the Tradition, the prompting of the Holy Spirit or the guidance of our guardian angel?

If you could dream your wildest, most beautiful dream, what would you love to see God do in and through you and your community in 2010?

The Catholic Church: Second Largest "Nation" on Earth

As of December 31, 2009

If the Catholic Church were a nation,

we'd be the second largest nation on earth (at approximately 1,178,000,000 members)

Just ahead of India (with 1.157 billion citizens) and behind China (1,338 million)

In this last week of the first decade of the 21st century, take a moment to contemplate what that could mean.
What it should mean.

We believe that the Church is the "sacrament of the salvation of the human race."

And here we are: 17.33% of that human race.

What will it mean to live that in 2010? What is my part? What is your part? What is the Holy Spirit asking of us?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Gaudete! For The Second Day of Christmas

The first page of this song, published in the Piae Cantiones, a collection of Finnish/Swedish sacred songs published in 1582.

Gaudete, gaudete! Christus est natus
Ex Maria virgine, gaudete!

Rejoice, rejoice! Christ is born
Of the Virgin Mary, rejoice!

Tempus adest gratiæ
Hoc quod optabamus,
Carmina lætitiæ
Devote reddamus.

The time of grace has come
That we have desired;
Let us devoutly return
Joyful verses.

Deus homo factus est
Natura mirante,
Mundus renovatus est
A Christo regnante.

God has become man,
And nature marvels;
The world has been renewed
By Christ who is King.

Ezechielis porta
Clausa pertransitur,
Unde lux est orta
Salus invenitur.

The closed gate of Ezechiel
Has been passed through;
Whence the light is born,
Salvation is found.

Ergo nostra contio
Psallat lam in lustro;
Benedicat Domino:
Salus Regi nostro.

Therefore let our gathering
Now sing in brightness
Let it give praise to the Lord:
Greeting to our King.

in an exquisite performance by the Libera, the professional British boy's group.. The first soloist with the angelic voice is Adam Harris.

Oh, the Wren, the Wren. . . the King of all Birds

There are a lot of interesting St. Stephen's Day traditions over in the British Isles. If you do a search on You tube, you can find them: fox hunting (which I thought was illegal now in the UK) or going for a swim in dark, freezing waters. There is even an eccentric group of Monte Python fans trying to combine a parade with the Ministry of Silly Walks.

But the strangest is the Wren Boy's parade in Dingle, Ireland. Complete with commentary about "mad Yanks". (Hey, I'm not the one dressed up like a 6 foot bird . . .)

And of course, followed by traditional Irish music and dancing by the "Wren boys"

Love the grass skirt. It's a good look on you . . .

St. Stephen's Day

From Morning Prayer for the Feast of St. Stephen:

Give us, Lord, the gift of practising what we worship and loving our enemies:
for we are celebrating Stephen’s birth into heaven.
He knew how to pray even for those who were killing him

Friday, December 25, 2009

Portrait of the Catholic Family, c. 2007

The Catholics Come Home TV spots showing about the country right now have different focuses. One spot is titled "Epic". That's the one that starts with Mariachi dancers and begins with the words “Our family”.

“Epic” spends it’s two minutes doing a kind of apologetics: covering the breadth of the Church, “men and women, sinners and saints”, it’s size, “over one billion in our family”, it’s accomplishments, “the largest charitable organization on the planet”, “educates more children” and it’s history, “we compiled the Bible”, “cities were named for our revered saints”, “2,000 years”, etc.

The Church is described as a “family”, a poignant word which is used 4 times in those 2 minutes as a synonym for Church. The message: we are a huge, ancient, strong, and honorable family of God, a trustworthy, compassionate shelter and refuge in painful times, and we are not going anywhere. You can be proud of bearing the name “Catholic”. We are your family. Wherever you are, wherever you have been, you are welcome home.

In light of the Catholics Come Home campaign, I thought it would be interesting to look a bit closer at our family, courtesy of Fides' downloadable 2009 Dossier on the life of the Church as of December 31, 2007.

The basics in 2007:

74.2 million new citizens were added to planet earth in 2007.
That's over 2 million new human beings on this planet every 24 hours.

Nearly 16 million new Catholics were baptized. A mind-blowing average of 43,578 new Catholics every 24 hours.

And consider that these numbers were as of two years ago. Were another 32 million added to our numbers in the past two years? Will something like 300,000 new Catholics be added during this week between Christmas and New Years? Which doesn't include the hundreds of thousands of lapsed Catholics who may come home during the next few weeks as a result of the CCH campaign.

1,146,656,000 Catholics in all by New Year's Eve, 2007. Up a scootch to 17.33% of the human race. 107 years ago on the eve of the 20th century, there were only 266.6 million Catholics. A 433% increase.

Priests and Seminarians

The global number of Catholic priests rose by 762 to 408,024. In fact, there has been slow, incremental growth since 1990 when there were only 403,173 priests in the world. A growth of 4,851 additional priests over a period of 17 years. A 1.2% growth overall. Bishops and priests together make up .036% of the body Catholic. 99.964% of all Catholics can not consecrate the Eucharist.

There has been significant growth in the number of seminarians though it is tricky figuring how exactly how much. CARA says that there were 58,960 “graduate level” seminarians in 2007 which would be up from a low of a low of 33,731 in 1980, a 75% increase over 17 years.

But Fides says that there were 115,919 “major” seminarians in 2007. In the US, “graduate level” and “major” seminarian are usually synonyms, but this cannot be universal or there wouldn’t be such wild differences between the numbers. In any case, the priestly pipeline continues to grow. Mostly in the global south: Africa and Asia, not in the west.

The reason that we haven’t noticed this growth at a practical pastoral level is that for every new priest in 2007, there were 20,784 new Catholics! The number of new priests would have to be at least ten times higher to keep pace with global Catholic population growth.

As I have said here before, it is ultimately success, not collapse, that fuels our present priest shortage. The primary culprit is not doctrine or catechesis or liturgy. "The culprit" is success: better health care, better food, better water, the elimination of certain epidemics, lower infant mortality, and longer life spans.

Priestly presence and lay leadership

There are 124,642 "Mission Stations" without a resident priest by the end of 2007, an increase of 5,159. (What exactly constitutes a "mission station" was not defined - but with the numbers involved, I presume that it must include every Catholic institution to which a priest could be assigned - including all parishes.) CARA says that there are 51,330 parishes in the world without a pastor in 2007 or 23.5% which is a slight decrease from 2005.

It is a good thing the number of lay catechists and missionaries continues to grow. The number of lay missionaries in the world increased by 33,696 in 2007 to a total of 250,464 The biggest increase was in America (which includes North, Central, and Latin America in Vatican reckoning). Lay catechists in the world increased by 6,665 to a total of nearly 3 million: 2,993,354.

Lay missionaries and catechists are 70% of the 4,494,277 Catholic “pastoral workers” in the world. Bishops and priests constitute 10%. Deacons, religious, and seminarians make up the remaining 20%.

Catholic Institutions:

As to the impact of Catholic educational and charitable organizations, the numbers are most impressive:

In 2007. nearly 58 million children and young adults were educated in well over 200,000 Catholic institutions world-wide. (To keep these numbers in perspective, consider that only 23 nations on the planet have a population larger than 58 million.)

In addition. the Church ran 105,912 hospitals, orphanages, clinics, homes for lepers, the elderly, and the disabled in 2007. Not to mention the 218,383 parishes and over 190,000 missions in the world with all the formal and informal assistance they routinely and quietly provide those who reside nearby.

Try this thought experiment for a moment. Try to imagine the consequences for the human race if these 700,000+ Catholic institutions disappeared suddenly from the planet (as some would like). What a human catastrophe that would be.

What a family! After reading this, go and watch that "Epic" Catholic Come Home spot again.

You'll see your family through new eyes.

Smuggling Christmas into North Korea

Time has a moving Christmas story about the realities of faith in North Korea:

The piece begins:

"When North Korean authorities caught Jeong Young Sil helping Christians escape to China seven years ago, they did not take her transgression lightly. First, they pulled out her teeth and fingernails to get information about her underground church in the country's northeast. Then, they threw her in prison for four years. "They demanded to know who was helping me and where they were," says Jeong, an evangelist in her 50s now living in South Korea, who uses an alias to protect her family back home. Despite their efforts, the Northern officials could not stop her. After she fled two years ago, she secretly began sending Christmas gifts to her old church. "Christmas," Jeong says, "would otherwise be meaningless."

Teeth and fingernails.

How many times have I read American Catholic bloggers waxing eloquent about how this is the darkest era the Church has ever lived through? Do we feel social pressure to say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas"? I'm going to cry me a river. By world historical standards, western Christians today are staggeringly free, powerful, and wealthy.

Here's what the real thing looks like:

"As a result, the regime routinely imprisons and executes Christian religious leaders who teach their faith without state approval, according to a U.S. State department report. Official figures put the number of practicing Christians at 13,000 in 2001, but South Korean church groups estimate about 100,000 Christians practice in secret churches across the nation now. "We always met for prayer at peoples' homes, in groups of two to keep it private," Jeong says. "When we met in bigger groups, we went far away to the mountains where no one could find us."

For more, read my blog post of a couple years ago about the new Korean Underground Railway.

Don't get me wrong. I am enjoying and am intensely grateful today for my warm, cheery home with it's 8 foot Christmas tree, refrigerator stuffed with seasonal goodies, and the beautiful satellite radio Christmas concert I am listening to as I type this words on my MAC. The leisurely, free Skype holiday conversations with friends in other western countries. We can talk about faith or pray together - no worries at all.

Then there's the little GPS device that we got on sale (the Christmas gift!) which is useful precisely because I have the freedom to travel without hindrance anywhere in this country - for nearly any purpose - including openly religious ones.

But God forbid that we lose touch with the reality of what real persecution for our Lord's sake look like.

Live video of Attack on Pope Benedict Last Night

Close up live video of the attack on the Pope last night at Christmas Mass. The man who took this video says that he thinks it was the same woman who tried to get to Pope Benedict last year as he exited the same Mass. Clearly, they will be seriously re-thinking the Pope's security after this.

What is obvious is that the woman did reach Pope Benedict and pulled him down as she went down. And that he went down hard.

While the Pope is remarkably energetic, the thought of any 82 year old man being pulled down in that fashion onto a hard marble floor makes you wince.

We must pray for any injury and pain he may have suffered. To have gone on with the long liturgy, and with no obvious signs of pain, after something like this, is the response of very tough and courageous man.

H/T American Papist.


They have identified the woman attacker and she was the same person who tried this last year. Via My Way news:

Lombardi identified the woman who toppled Benedict as Susanna Maiolo, 25, a Swiss-Italian national with psychiatric problems. He said Maiolo, who was not armed, was taken to a clinic for necessary treatment.

She was the same woman involved in a similar incident at last year's Midnight Mass, Vatican officials said. In that case, Maiolo jumped the barricade but never managed to reach the pope and was quietly tackled by security.
In both cases she wore a red sweat shirt.

The Pope gave his traditional Urbi et Orbi talk on Christmas Day and gave pilgrims Christmas greetings in 65 languages. He seemed a little unsteady but otherwise fine. Cardinal Etchegaray has a broken hip (at age 87!) and will be operated on.

Ella's Christmas Proclamation

Our of the mouth of incredibly charming 3 year olds . . .

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Grafts on a Family Tree

Here are my reflections on the readings for Christmas eve, which include the genealogy of Jesus that begins the Gospel of Matthew.

The other night Fr. James and I were having dinner and talking about Christmas and our families.
He’s a little depressed because our gathering of eight friars and sisters for Christmas dinner is much, much smaller and more quiet than the gatherings of dozens of siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, first and second cousins that he’s used to in beautiful Coalinga, CA.
He was telling me that his grandfather had talked to him about his great-great grandfather, and about how different members of his clan fought on different sides of the Civil War.
He can probably relate to the extended family represented in the genealogy of Jesus.
I am “unfamiliar” with my own family.
I can’t even remember the first name of my grandfather Fones.
Names in the Moore family are almost always drawn from names that have already been used by previous generations.
Foneses don’t pass names from generation to generation – which is a good thing, or my sister Barb might have been named Maude, or worse yet, Myrtle Minnie.

But both Fr. James and I have a sense of a history – of coming from a particular line of people, whether familiar or not.
We both have a sense of being unique individuals, with a particular destiny, and an unrepeatable role to play in the life of the world.

And this is possible because God chose to engage in a relationship with a particular man from Ur of the Chaldeans: Abram, who, in the course of this relationship, and while childless, was renamed Abraham, meaning “father of many.”
The genealogy of Jesus may seem to be just a list of names familiar and unfamiliar, but it is the product of a huge shift in human perception.
In all ancient religions and philosophies, life was seen as part of an endless cycle of birth and death; time was like a wheel, spinning ceaselessly like the ever-stable cycle of days, seasons, years, birth and death.
We hear a remnant of this worldview in the words of Qoheleth, the grumpy author of Ecclesiastes: “What has been, that will be; what has been done, that will be done. Nothing is new under the sun.” (Eccl 1:9)
Yet the ancient Jews began to see time differently because God entered their lives.
For them, time came to have a beginning and an end; it was a story, whose triumphant conclusion would come in the future.
So Isaiah the prophet – inspired by God – could look to a future different from the present he and his people knew.
“Nations shall behold your vindication,
and all the kings your glory;
you shall be called by a new name
pronounced by the mouth of the LORD….you shall be called “My Delight,”
and your land “Espoused.”

From time conceived of as a story that unfolds with unpredictable twists inserted by God, came a new conception of men and women as individuals with unique destinies, not just unimportant cogs in a cosmic wheel.
So Paul could remind his Jewish listeners of God’s intervention into their history.
[God] chose our ancestors and exalted the people during their sojourn in the
land of Egypt.
With uplifted arm he led them out of it.
Then he removed Saul and raised up David as king;
From this man’s descendants God, according to his promise,
has brought to Israel a savior, Jesus.

The genealogy of Jesus is a summary of a long-term project of God.
The names in it bear witness to ancient hopes of people who are now dust.
Jesse means “gift,” and he gave the youngest of his sons the name “Beloved,” or David.
And David was loved not only by Jesse, but, in a particular way, by God.
David, the successful soldier, gives his son by Bathsheba the hopeful name Solomon, or “peace.”
But only after political intrigue and assassination does Solomon secure his father’s throne.
Solomon handed on David’s throne to his poorly-named son, Rehoboam.
Rehoboam means “he enlarges the people,” but under him the ten northern tribes broke away from his kingdom, leaving him with only a remnant.
On and on the names come in the genealogy, which includes more than its share of scoundrels and scumbags, not to mention four women with a hint of scandal about them.

St. Matthew's list resembles those used by rulers to justify their rank and status, and by families to determine connections to a common ancestor.
But there’s more to it than that.
Matthew arranges his genealogy into three groups of 14 names each.
In the Jewish alphabet letters were also numbers, and so names have numerical value.
The three consonants for the name “David” add up to 14.
So Matthew underscores Jesus' kingly ancestry by working in groups of David, or 14.

But numbers by themselves had significance in the Jewish mind.
In the first Genesis story, it was on the sixth day of creation that God created people.
Six is clearly stamped in the bible as the number associated with human beings.

Likewise, seven was associated with God and completion and fullness, since on the seventh day of creation, God’s work was completed.
And because six is one less seven, six also represented incompletion.
The three sets of fourteen generations from Abraham through Jesus are also seven sets of six – the completion of the generations of humanity.
They end with Jesus, whose name, given by Gabriel to Mary, means “God is salvation.”
Joseph is told the child will be called, Emmanuel, “God with us.”

We don’t live as though time is circular.
And, unfortunately, we don’t act as though God is with us, in the midst of the mess that is our lives.
“God with us,” is a scandal – a scandal of particularity.
That God should not just enter into relationship with people like Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, but actually take on human flesh in a particular person is outrageous.
But it would be unimaginable had God not raised the dignity of the individual human through His ongoing interaction with our ancestors.

The beauty and scandal of the incarnation of God in human history – into a particular line of not very promising people – is that it makes our redemption possible.
Because that same scandalous birth leads, ultimately, to an even more scandalous death.
Jesus insisted on rubbing shoulders with sinners and tax collectors, and patiently taught rough-edged fishermen and peasants.
He cured the sick, expelled demons, forgave sinners, raised the dead, and revealed his Father’s will by fulfilling it in every action, every word.
The religious folks, who preferred to keep God at a manageable distance, rejected him, preferring their safe, sanitized religion to the free-wheeling trust walk with God Jesus proposed.

Likewise, we prefer to keep Jesus at a safe distance.
We prefer Jesus in a Holy of Holies, out of sight and out of mind; out of our politics, out of our entertainment choices, out of our relationships, out of our decisions.
But Jesus is insistent, and doesn’t give up easily on us, any more than his Father gave up on our ancestors.
In Revelation 3:20 he says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me.”
Once again, we can be scandalized by the particularity.
Jesus, born in time, born into a family with a past, knocks at the door of your heart, no matter what your sketchy past or how often you’ve rejected him.
He offers friendship, relationship – salvation – to you, in all your uniqueness.
He asks your unique, individual response.
You are not a Christian simply because you come from a Catholic family, or are Irish, or Italian or Vietnamese.
The God who waited for the free response of Mary and the free response of Joseph, awaits your response to His offer of friendship through his son, Jesus.
And just like any other human relationship, that friendship takes time, communication, attentiveness, forgiveness, perseverance, and has to be a priority – our first priority.
But those who do open the door to Jesus, like the shepherds and magi we sing about this season, undergo a transformation.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus calls this transformation being “born again,” or “born from above.”
His disciples become the seventh set of generations – God’s generation; Those “born from above,” are generated by God.
St. John puts it this way, “to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice, nor by a man’s decision, but of God.” John 1:12-13

God has chosen you, as he chose Abraham, Jacob, David, Bathsheba, Solomon, Ruth, Rahab, Zerubbabel.
Your past matters nothing to him; God is a God of the present moment and the unseen, unimagined future.
As we celebrate tonight the birth of God in human history, in Jesus, you and I can experience a rebirth of Jesus in us.
He stands at the door of our hearts and knocks.
May we hear that knocking with each beat of our heart – and open the door to him, that we might be born into the seventh set of generations: God’s generation.

Vatican: Woman Knocks Down Pope Benedict as He Begins Celebrating Christmas Mass

This is being reported as part of the live broadcast of the Christmas Mass at St. Peter's.

The video included pictures of Vatican security rushing toward the sacristy. Apparently a woman leaped the security barrier and knocked Pope Benedict down as well as a very aged French Cardinal, Roger Etchegaray.

Pope Benedict, Thank God, rose with the help of his master of ceremonies, and has gone on steadily to celebrate the Mass. The cardinal is in the hospital and there are no reports yet about his condition. The woman was arrested by Vatican security.

CNN says that the Vatican spokesman said that the woman never reached the Pope. If so, it is unclear why the Pope fell. Perhaps he was startled?

Last Christmas, the Pope was processing out at the end of the midnight Mass when someone tried to break through his security but never got near him and the Pope stayed firmly on his feet.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Beauty for Truth's Sake--Queen of the Sciences

Below is a post by Stratford Caldecott on Beauty for Truth's Sake. I highly recommend this site and his recent book by the same title. My comments are appended at the end.

Queen of the Sciences

Here is a passage from Fr Robert Barron's wonderful book
The Priority of Christ (pp. 155-6):

In the thirteenth century, Bonaventure maintained that all of the non-theological arts and sciences taught in the university find their proper center in theology, that science which speaks directly of Christ the Logos. As the rationality of God the creator, Christ is the physical, mathematical, and metaphysical center of the universe and hence the point of orientation for all of the sciences dealing with those dimensions.

In the nineteenth-century, at the high-water mark of modern foundationalism, John Henry Newman felt compelled to call for the re-insertion of theology within the circle of university disciplines. Following the inner logic of Christian revelation, Newman, like Bonaventure, saw that theology not only should be around the table, but must be the centering element in the conversation, precisely because it alone speaks of the creator God who is metaphysically implicit in all finite existence.
A few lines later he adds: "Newman saw that once theology is displaced, some other discipline necessarily takes its position at the center and thereby disturbs the proper harmony among the sciences, for no other discipline has the range or inclusiveness properly to hold the center."

The same argument is made powerfully in Alasdair MacIntyre's recent book,
God, Philosophy, Universities. But what is this "proper" harmony that Barron appeals to? Why is only theology capable of "holding the center"? The point is that, while theology cannot determine the methods or content of the individual sciences, it alone is concerned with that which transcends them all. It is a place-holder for that which connects everything - for what Barron terms "co-inherent relationality." Theology as a formal discipline is a quest for that relationality. Without it, rationality itself fragments and falls apart.

Icon by Solrunn Nes ( "Just as the Virgin was called to offer herself entirely as human being and as woman that God's Word might take flesh and come among us, so too philosophy is called to offer its rational and critical resources that theology, as the understanding of faith, may be fruitful and creative. And just as in giving her assent to Gabriel's word, Mary lost nothing of her true humanity and freedom, so too when philosophy heeds the summons of the Gospel's truth its autonomy is in no way impaired. Indeed, it is then that philosophy sees all its enquiries rise to their highest expression" (John Paul II,Fides et Ratio, 108).

{End Caldecott post}

"Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world"

These words of William Butler Yeats in The Second Coming may be used to describe a culture in which Christ is no longer at the center.

Thank you Mr. Caldecott for reminding us that when the study of theology loses its rightful position in higher education all learning and culture loses it unity. For without relationship with our Lord things fall apart and hope is lost.

cross posted at The Christocentric Life


White Christmas

it is snowing here. We've got 4 inches on the ground and more coming.

Anyone else going to have a white Christmas?

Growing up on the Mississippi Gulf coast, dreaming of a white Christmas was like dreaming of walking on the moon. We got intensely excited at the once-a-year-maybe mild frost because seeing bits of ice on those azealas was almost like seeing snow.

We regarded northern Mississippi as a land of enchantment because we had heard that those northerners (in our minds, you pretty much had to live south of Jackson to be truly southern) were known to actually see snow - for 15 minutes once or twice in a decade.

After 8 years of living in a place famous for its powder, I still feel pleasure at the sight. And I'm no longer dreaming.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Christocentric Life--Rendering God Credible

Above all, that of which we are in need at this moment in history are men who, through an enlightened and lived faith, render God credible in this world. The negative testimony of Christians who speak about God and live against him, has darkened God's image and opened the door to disbelief. We need men who have their gaze directed to God, to understand true humanity. We need men whose intellects are enlightened by the light of God, and whose hearts God opens, so that their intellects can speak to the intellects of others, and so that their hearts are able to open up to the hearts of others. Only through men who have been touched by God, can God come near to men.--Benedict XVI

What an amazing goal, to be a person "...who, through an enlightened and lived faith, render[s] God credible in this world." How close do we come to rendering God credible to this world? Is this even our desire? Do we believe it possible to become such a person? What is our picture of how such a person would live?

Where to begin? For many of us it may begin with a prayer: Lord immerse me in your grace so that I may joyfully accept your love. Help me, in loving gratitude, to make you the center of my life. Lord transform my faith so that I may render you credible to the world. Empower me to be your ambassador to my fellow men and strengthen me to serve you in humility. On my own I am weak, but with you Lord I believe all things are possible.

To put Christ at the center of our lives is the challenge of our age. To live our love of Christ with all our heart and all our mind and let His light shine through us for all to see. This is the call of the Christocentric life.

In his 2005 Subiaco address (quoted above) then Cardinal Ratzinger addressed the crisis of a European culture "...that, in a manner unknown before now to humanity, excludes God from the public conscience, either by denying him altogether, or by judging that his existence is not demonstrable, uncertain and, therefore, belonging to the realm of subjective choices, something, in any case, irrelevant to public life."

To heal such a diseased culture is possible. With the extraordinary love of a Father to show the true way, his children may render Him credible to the world. In the process we may bring many to know the joy of love everlasting. Please Lord, let it be so.


Hugh Laurie & Stephen Fry at Their Goofy Best

Just because it's getting close of Christmas - and you need a moment of completely pointless silliness:

Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry - before we Yanks knew who they were. Very funny!

H/T Rabbert Ruminates

Home for the Holidays

"I'll be home for Christmas. You can count on me."

Since home is Tucson, there won't be snow, and mistletoe is pretty much wasted on priests. There won't be presents under the Dominican Christmas tree. I think everyone wanted gift cards.

For the first time in three years, it appears I'll be home for Christmas without weather-related problems. Two years ago it was a blizzard in Colorado that delayed my arrival in Tucson by four days (I made it home on Christmas Eve). Last year, it was a freak snowstorm in Seattle. I made it out at on a fluke. Fr. Daniel Syverstad, OP, the pastor of our parish there, was trying to get me out on a flight when a seat opened up on a direct flight from Seattle to Tucson while he was talking to the booking agent. I was booked on a different flight with a connection that ended up being cancelled.

The Colorado Springs airport is pretty busy this morning with lots of people heading out to visit families, from the looks of it.cnChristmas carols are playing softly in the background, and I should be home by noon to be with my Dominican family and eight of my nine family members (that includes my niece and three nephews - I have a small family!)

I hope all your Christmas travels and gatherings are blessed.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Advent of the Three Miracles

This is the last Sunday in Advent and that means it is the anniversary of my entrance in the Church. Mark Shea called a few minutes ago to say "Happy Anniversary" since he entered the Church with me in Seattle on the last Sunday of Advent. I blogged the story of our reception - or rather the story within the story a couple years ago but it is a really good, hopeful Christmas story - and it has the added merit of being true - and worth repeating this far into Advent.

I think of that December as the "Advent of the Three Miracles". One was the miracle of getting in - into the Church, that is, without finishing RCIA and on 10 days notice and at Christmas time.

Another was the miracle of Anna . . .

The word going around the regional trauma center where I was working as a temp that week, that there was an eighteen month old baby girl in the burn unit, dying from third degree burns over 90% of her body. She had been immersed in scalding water from the neck on down. Since no one was clear how it had happened, Child Protective Services had been called in and her family was not allowed to have contact.

It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences. I knew that death was not God's will for this little girl - and I couldn't tell you why I knew. But Mark and I scattered around town spreading the word and because we were on the cusp between the Protestant and Catholic worlds, we soon had hundreds of people praying for her. Something about Anna's (not her real name) story moved everyone.

Because of my job, I was the only one who had access to her, so every day I would enter her room for a brief visit. I was intimidated by the nurse always at her side, so I didn't have the nerve to obviously pray for her. I would just rubbed her forehead for a couple seconds with my finger as a representative of all who were praying for her. It was as though I was the little finger of the wider Body of Christ. The Church was praying. I was the witness.

On my last day on the job and two days before I entered the Church, I went up to visit her and her bed was empty. My first thought was "She's dead". But I had to find out what had happened. So I found the nurse and asked what had happened. Her response?

"Oh, she's off her morphine and IV's and she's downstairs playing."

Wow, I thought. What do I say now? "That's great! When do her skin grafts begin? "

"Oh, she won't need any skin grafts." replied the nurse.

"Not even on her legs?" I questioned - because her legs had been really bad.

"Not even on her legs." she responded firmly.

I thought frantically. Third degree burns, by definition, do not heal. The skin has been destroyed and must be replaced by grafts. No skin grafts meant that either she had been misdiagnosed originally or her skin had somehow regenerated. I thought I put my next question with considerable delicacy under the circumstances

"Isn't this a little unusual?"

"Oh yes, we're surprised", the nurse said. "Of course, we could have misdiagnosed her, but, boy, she looked charred when she came in".

I went downstairs to the department where I had been working and told my supervisor what they had told me upstairs. She was a lapsed Catholic who knew the story of this little girl and that we had been praying for her and that I was entering the Church that weekend.

She listened carefully and then said "I think we know that more than mere medicine has been at work here." Then she added wryly "Maybe we should just hire you and let you wander the halls."

She thought - and I hoped - that this was a sign that I had been given the charism of healing. I now know (after considerable discernment) that is not the case. I do believe that I was given the immense privilege of being a witness to what God will do when his people together, offer themselves and their charisms on the behalf of God's redeeming purposes for a specific person or situation. I got to witness the power of corporate intercession.

Two days later, on the 4th Sunday of Advent, I become Catholic.

Today, Anna is 21 years old. I often think of her and pray for her. Where is she? Does she still suffer physically or psychologically from her ordeal? Who raised her? Does she know how God intervened in her life? What is his purpose for her life? I presume that I will never know the answer to those questions in this life - but it is enough that God knows.

You will understand why I felt a glowing sense of almost giddy joy and exultation that Christmas. Nothing comes closer to expressing how I felt on that Advent Sunday 20 years ago than the inspired scene from the 1951 Alastair Sims Christmas Carol when Ebenezer Scrooge wakes up on Christmas morning. "

I'm as light as a feather, I'm as happy as an angel, I'm as merry as a school boy, I'm as giddy as a drunken man."

A tiny foretaste of the happiness for we have all been created.

FYI: The whole saga is available here.

Advent IV Homily: Preparing for Christ (and Catholics Coming Home)

This is my homily for the vigil Mass at a parish in Colorado Springs, where the "Catholics Come Home" campaign just began. I started with a show of hands in response to some questions.

How many of you tend to sit in the same general space when you come to Mass?
(almost all of the 400+ folks raised their hands - there was some light laughter)
How many of you have been coming to Mass more than a year, 5 years, 10 years, 20 years?
(I was amazed to find that almost a quarter of the (generally older) congregation had been coming for 20 years)
How many of you recognize the person sitting nearest you (not your family)
(about a third raised their hands)
How many of you know their name?
(fewer hands were raised)
How many of you made eye contact with them before this moment?
(still fewer hands came up)

Why do I ask these pointed questions? Because people over the next few months will be “coming home,” as a consequence of the Catholics Come Home advertisements on TV. What will your response be to them? You can’t expect the pastor and the staff to catch them and greet them and make them feel welcome.

We know there will be extra people here next Friday for Christmas Mass. What will your response be? Will you be upset that the parking lot’s crowded, or that you need to get here an hour early for a seat? Will you hope they don't stick around after the holidays?

Those commercials are aimed at Catholics who have left the Church and are now “unchurched,” – not affiliated with any other religion. A Pew Foundation study in 2008-9 found that those who left the Catholic Church and became unaffiliated did so for different reasons.

71% “drifted away gradually.” So for them to come back requires a real decision – it may feel very risky. They may not stand up at the beginning of Mass and say, “I live in Colorado Springs, and have been away from the Church for 25 years.”

One of the Catholics Come Home videos speak of the Church as a family. And for those of us on the “inside,” who’ve been part of this parish for years, who are involved in ministries, who know people by name, that may be what it feels like. But for the person coming back, that’s not the case. Imagine if you were here for the first time and your child wanted to go to the bathroom. How would you know where they are? They’re not clearly marked! You have to be an “insider” to know. To have to ask where they are shows you are an “outsider.”

Once Sherry, my co-director and I were at a parish for a workshop, and we decided to go to a pancake breakfast the Knights of Columbus were offering the next morning after Sunday Mass. We showed up, saw a large sign in front of the Church welcoming the public to the breakfast. The only problem was, we had no idea where it was being held. The location wasn't mentioned, and after walking around awhile looking for an indication of where to go (or hoping for a whiff of pancakes and sausage), we asked a parishioner where we would find the breakfast.
"Oh, that's easy! Just go outside and follow the sidewalk about half-way down the block. In between the Church and the gradeschool, you'll see a passageway that links the two. Go through the door in the middle of that, go down the hall, take the third door on the right, go down the stairs, turn right, and follow that hallway to the second door into the school dining hall."
Need I say we would have never found it on our own?

(a few hours before Mass, the pastor had called to inform me that members of different ministries had signed up to be official "welcomers" of Catholics who might be returning. Those people will wear a blue badge with their name, and parishioners had been instructed to direct potential returnees with questions to those individuals. By the way, during the homily I asked those folks to raise their hands. Only one fellow was the designated "friendly, helpful parishioner. I mention this to explain my next paragraph)
One of my pet peeves with Church practice is we tend to delegate too much responsibility to others.
It is not enough to say to yourself, “the designated greeters with the badges will greet any returning Catholics.” It’s YOUR job.

In our first reading tonight he prophet Micah foretold the homecoming of exiles from Babylon. What he didn’t mention was that those who already lived in the Promised Land weren’t too happy about the newcomers. We can expect people to be returning from a kind of exile – and we have to try to imagine the courage it may take some of them to just go through these doors. What kind of response will you give them? Your acknowledging their existence may make all the difference in the world – the difference between them staying, and drifting away again.

Often when I give a Saturday workshop, I attend the vigil Mass at the parish. Normally I am able to get there just before Mass begins, and sometimes I don't concelebrate, particularly if the pastor hasn't met me yet. On those occasions, people almost never greet me in the pews - and I'm wearing a habit, so I kind of stick out as a "visitor."
Why don’t we acknowledge others at Mass? I think there are a variety of reasons.
1) Mass is my quiet time, my prayer time
2) I don’t want to get involved in someone else’s life and problems
3) I don’t want to be too forward – get in their space
4) The Bronco’s kickoff’s in an hour

Let's face it; the bottom line in all these reasons are the same - they’re not important enough to us.

In the Pew study on religion in America: 43% of those who left the Catholic Church and became “unaffiliated,” said they left because their “spiritual needs were not met” – I’d love to know what those needs were, but I bet at least some of them had to do with not having a community – not having Christian disciples who spoke about their relationship with Jesus and what it meant to them. What if those unmet needs had nothing to do with the style of worship or the quality of the music or preaching? What if it had to do with the fact that they felt they had to try to follow Jesus completely on their own?

That wasn’t the case with Elizabeth. She didn’t have to go through her pregnancy alone because Mary took the dangerous four-day journey to go to her side. Elizabeth and the infant in her womb are overjoyed at Mary’s arrival. Three times Mary is pronounced “blessed.” Two closely related reasons are given by Elizabeth’s for calling Mary “blessed”:
1. her faith (v. 45), which leads to her obedience, and
2. her bearing of the Christ child (v. 42).

Mary is blessed, not for what she is in herself, but in relation to the incarnation.

The same is true for us. If we are blessed, it is because we have faith in Jesus and are willing to be obedient to him, as he was obedient always to His Father. That obedience requires that we have concern for others. We are our brother and sister’s keeper. Not everyone who cries out, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom, but only those who do the will of the Father. That is, worship alone, or saying you're a Christian alone, isn't sufficient for salvation. The author of Hebrews puts these words on Jesus' lips: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
 but a body you prepared for me; 
in holocausts and sin offerings you took no delight. 
Then I said, ‘As is written of me in the scroll,
 behold, I come to do your will.”

It is one of the most important passages in Hebrews, for it defines Christ’s sacrifice as the offering of his body (that is, the instrument of his will) in obedience to his Father.

 This self-offering, says the author of Hebrews, quoting Ps. 40, is the whole reason of the incarnation.

Jesus says our final judgment will be based on how we offer ourselves to his Father's will in response to the grace offered us through His cross. Our judgment is connected to how we treated the lost and the least: the hungry, naked, thirsty, imprisoned, sick – in short, the stranger. How will you offer yourselves to the strangers who will be attempting to “come home”?

Finally, 65% of those who left the Church and became unaffiliated with organized religion “stopped believing in Church teaching” (nearly 60% took issue with the Church's teaching on abortion and homosexuality; 50% regarding birth control, and 40% over the status of women in the Church). Well, nothing has changed there.

Those who had those issues when they left may well have them when they return. So perhaps simply re-iterating the Church's teaching may not be the first place to start. Perhaps what we need to focus on first is a more personal witnessing to our faith. Specifically, witnessing to the effect that Jesus has had on our lives; why we trust him. Because if I don't trust him, why should I trust, or take seriously what the Church founded by him proposes as flowing from what he has revealed?

We need to be able to explain to those who are "coming home" why we are here, week after week? We need to be able to tell others – especially people who may be coming back after an absence, what difference Jesus makes in our lives.

For me, these are the differences.
Anytime I look at the crucifix, I am invited to remember how much He loves me, and what He went through for me. As Hebrews says, his will, expressed in the actions of his body, was conformed to the Father’s will in all things. He was obedient for me. And all this was so I could be with Him in eternity. That helps give me perspective, especially when I think my life’s not going well. It helps me acknowledge that I’m loved - even when I have sinned.

At the same time, I have been able to change! I experience Jesus’ grace helping me overcome temptation and sin – even sins I might have struggled with a long time.

His teaching and example of courage evoke in me not just admiration, but a desire to follow him; even to become more like him. He’s my hero. And I ask him for guidance in particular situations - and, as my relationship grows with him, I ask him more and more often for guidance. I am trying to cooperate with his help in being more generous than I would have otherwise – out of obedience to him.

Finally, in him I discover reasons for hopefulness when the world seems irredeemable.

The little town of Bethlehem-Ephrathah might have seemed insignificant to the ancient Jews, but from it would come a king with an everlasting reign. You might think yourself insignificant, and your genuine interest in someone “coming home,” as insignificant – but that is not the case – not to the one who otherwise would be unwelcomed, left companionless, ignored and forgotten. You are not insignificant, if you, like Mary, let the Christ dwell in you – and bring him to others.
Do that, and you are blessed, indeed.

When the "Catholics Come Home" campaign was run in the diocese of Phoenix, some 90,000 people showed up at parishes throughout the diocese. So when we discover people who are returning to church, for perhaps the first time in years, are we going to send them all to the gentleman sitting in the third pew from the back who happens to be wearing a blue badge?

For his sake, and for the sake of those attempting to return - and for our sake - I certainly hope not!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Persecuted for the Faith in England: Glimpses of the Penal Years

(An Agnus Dei of 1578 carried by St. Edmund Campion)

In light of the wonderful news about Mary Ward, I thought I'd gather together in one place all the posts I've done over the past 3 years about embattled English Catholics during the years of persecution.

We'll start with my Thomas More binge on his feast day a couple years ago:

The famous More family portrait by Holbein
Everything-you've-wanted-to-know-about St. Thomas More resources
St. Thomas' cell in the Tower of London
His beloved and brilliant eldest daughter, Margaret and her relationship with More's friend, Erasmus.
Mores' valiant adopted daughter, Margaret Giggs
A map of More's Utopia
The world he knew: Hampton Court
Erasmus's famous description of More: "framed for friendship"
Thomas More's Garden (You knew this was coming!)
More's nemesis: the appalling Richard Rich
The fidelity of the More Family through the generations

And on the general topic of recusant English Catholics:

A handy timeline of English Persecution
Shakespeare's testament - a hidden profession of Roman Catholic faith by John Shakespeare, William's father in 1580
A moving collection of relics from the penal times including some used by Edmund Campion.
The heroic martyr, Margaret Clitheroe, the Pearl of York
Nicholas Owen, the ingenious lay builder of priest hiding places
The bizarre but true: a book bound in the skin of an executed Jesuit priest sold at auction in December of 2007.
Venerable Mary Ward: "That Incomparable Woman"

Venerable Mary Ward: "That Incomparable Woman"

I am so excited to hear that Mary Ward is being declared Venerable!

The extraordinary Mary Ward is a great example of the prominent role that women played in the persecuted English Catholic community. Mary was related to most of the recusant families of England and all the women in her family - mother, grandmother, aunts - were very devout and had spent years in prison for their faith. Imagine the impact of that kind of modeling on a highly intelligent and devout young girl.

Mary was classically educated and spoke and read several languages, including Latin. Like many Englishwomen from the higher classes, Mary Ward enjoyed much greater freedom and independence than was available to women in most Catholic countries at that time - especially in Rome.

In response to a direct vision from God, Mary established the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary to educate girls. The congregation's innovative approach to the education of girls (including Latin!) quickly spread over the Europe as they were invited in by bishops. They were commonly known as the “English Ladies” by their friends.

The story of Mary's trials and adventures are endless. She walked across Europe many times to establish new congregations – including across the Alps in mid-winter. Most of her houses struggled with terrific poverty. Some of her sisters literally died of starvation. Mary herself was seriously ill a good deal of the time. But her greatest adversaries were found in the Church she strove to serve.

Mary was completely faithful to the Church and her ultimate vision was to re-establish Catholicism in England but her vision of educated, non-cloistered religious women apostles, operating under the Jesuit rule, and answering to the Pope rather than to local bishops, was extremely controversial.

When a Jesuit Minister in Rome dismissed Mary’s burgeoning group with the memorable phrase “they are but women”, Mary famously responded:

“There is no such difference between men and women that women may not do great things . . .”

Mary was known for her unfailing charity toward her enemies and her resolute cheerfulness in all circumstances. "'in our calling, a cheerful mind, a good understanding, and a great desire after virtue are necessary, but of all three a cheerful mind is the most so'.

Her community was formally suppressed by the Pope in 1631 and Mary herself was imprisoned for two months in a Poor Clare convent by the Inquisition (although released by the Pope when he realized what had happened). Her community smuggled notes to her in prison that were written in lemon juice – a trick that English Catholics had learned to avoid persecution. Mary headed one of her letters written from prison "From my palace". The truth of Mary’s innocence, courage, and heroic virtue was recognized even then by many of her contemporaries.

One of the Poor Clares, who had a reputation for sanctity and a gift of discernment, said to the Abbess, “Mother how we have been misinformed! This is a great servant of God, whom we have received, and our house is happy in her setting foot in it. Let me at least have the happiness of going to look at her in the door, although I am not allowed to speak to her.” When the door was unlocked and unchained, Mary was astonished to see a venerable Sister kneeling on the threshold with clasped hands, praying devoutly and then after a few minutes withdrawing.” (From Mary Ward, Pilgrim and Mystic)

The 1631 Papal Bull of Suppression was never been rescinded. However, it was contradicted in 1703 by the approval of the Rules and the approbation of the Institute in 1877. It was only in 1909 that Mary Ward was publicly acknowledged as foundress of the Institute and her public rehabilitation began when Pope Pius XII called Mary "that incomparable woman" in his speech to the 1951 Congress on the Apostolate of the Laity.

In 2004, Mary’s congregation was finally allowed to live by the full Jesuit constitutions and formally took the name she had intended to give it: The Congregation of Jesus. Mary’s congregation celebrated the 400th anniversary of its founding in October. The first Catholic Mass held in magnificent York Minster since the Reformation was in honor of Mary Ward (January 29, 2009).

In 1879, when John Henry Newman learned that he was to be made a cardinal after suffering decades of mistrust, he wept and exclaimed that the cloud had been lifted from him forever. It has taken four centuries for Mary Ward's faith and obedience to God to be finally vindicated. It is a profoundly joyous thing that this anniversary year ends with the Church’s public recognition of her heroic sanctity.

There is a wonderful Life of Mary Ward told in 50 - 17th century paintings that hang in the IVBM convent in Augsburg, Germany.

Some of my favorites show Mary as a young woman evangelist in England.

At Coldham Hall in England, Mary obtained the conversion of a very wealthy but obstinately heretical lady, after many learned men had vainly employed all their zeal and eloquence in trying to convert her.

And here, Mary goes undercover by dressing as a servant to reach her aunt and bring her to the Catholic faith.

And here Mary quells a mutiny on board by invoking her patron St. James. Mary afterwards declared that she had never sought any favour from God through the intercession of this great prince of heaven without it being granted to her.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Advent in a Time of Microwaves

The clock on the wall of the kitchen accuses me this morning of wasting time.

So many things to do!
Prepare retreat
Write a homily
Work on workshops
Due right away.
Long put-off projects weighing on the conscience.

So many expectations!

Made bed
Microwaved instant outmeal
Microwaved chai tea
wolf down both
finished before 5:30 (an hour before Mass)
say morning prayer
"I will look to the Lord and look forward to the coming of God my saviour." (antiphon for the third psalm)


When prayer becomes a box to be checked, it’s not longer about relationship, but about duty. Prayer becomes something I do, rather than the core of who I am.
When prayer is all about what I pray, or what I say, or what I do, then it is less and less about my being.

In a first world life that demands an end to waiting, prayer doesn’t stand a chance.
The twenty-five checkout stands at Target promise, “you won’t have to wait to pay.”

Even my oatmeal promises to be instant.

The microwave where I live is used fifty times more often than the oven.

How many ways am I reminded of the time?
My watch
this computer
My Google homepage
My phone
The car
The bank sign (which offers me the temperature, as well – how thoughtful!)
The clock on the wall, constantly tocking to me, every second of the day.

No waiting.
No waiting.
No waiting.

Watch intently, for the Lord our God is very near. (Antiphon for the Benedictus today)

But an essential part of prayer, the lifeblood of contemplation is waiting.
Waiting puts the emphasis on the other, rather than me.
In a narcissistic world waiting is an affront, an assault on the imperial “I”.
In a relationship of love, waiting is delicious anticipation – at least when one knows the beloved will arrive, eventually.

My faith tells me that waiting in prayer, watching, attentive, is one way I can offer myself to my beloved.
It’s so simple, even a child can do it.
- Come, Lord Jesus. (response to the intercessions at morning prayer today)

It’s so easy, if I just let the limelight shift from me to another.
– Come, Lord Jesus.

It’s so easy to wait in prayer.
– Come, Lord Jesus.

It’s not a waste of time.
– Come, Lord Jesus.

I just have to die to myself.
Ironic, isn’t it, that a euphemism for killing someone is to “waste” them.

Perhaps that’s what the heart of prayer is.

A “waste” of self.

John Paul II Declared Venerable on December 19?

This will be a interesting weekend:

Today, December 18, the Catholics Come Home television campaign will begin in a number of places among them: Chicago, Omaha, and here in Colorado Springs. We are involved in training diocesan and parish leaders (I'm busily working on a January seminar at this very moment) to respond to those who contact the Church as a result of Catholics Come Home. I've wanted to blog on the whole issue for a couple weeks but it was hard to find the time to do a decent job. I hope to do so this weekend.

And the wonderful news comes that Pope Benedict will sign the declaration of John Paul II's heroic sanctity on Saturday, making him venerable John Paul II.

This Rome Reports video includes some fun shots of Pope Benedict's desk (looking pretty Bavarian to me) and you gotta love the finale music. No editorializing here!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Bells of Paradise

Beautiful. And perfect listening for an Advent evening.

The song. The singer/harpist (Christina Sonnemann). The music.

Down in Yon Valley (Forest)

There are various stories about this carol's mysterious discovery. It was discovered in North Carolina or by Ralph Vaugh Williams in early 20th century Derbyshire. All agree - the song is medieval. 15th century. A Eucharistic Christmas Carol:

Down in yon forest there stands a hall:
The bells of Paradise I heard them ring:
It's covered all over with purple and pall
And I love my Lord Jesus above anything.

In that hall there stands a bed:
The bells of Paradise I heard them ring:
It's covered all over with scarlet so red:
And I love my Lord Jesus above anything.

At the bed-side there lies a stone:
The bells of Paradise I heard them ring:
Which the sweet Virgin Mary knelt upon:
And I love my Lord Jesus above anything.

Under that bed there runs a flood:
The bells of Paradise I heard them ring:
The one half runs water, the other runs blood:
And I love my Lord Jesus above anything.

At the bed's foot there grows a thorn:
The bells of Paradise I heard them ring:
Which ever blows blossom since he was born:
And I love my Lord Jesus above anything.

Over that bed the moon shines bright:
The bells of Paradise I heard them ring:
Denoting our Saviour was born this night:
And I love my Lord Jesus above anything.

A New Look for Intentional Disciples

Yes - the blog looks very different. It is still Intentional Disciples, with the same merry band of bloggers and the same basic focus.

I just got tired of having such a narrow column and having the videos be so much larger than the blog.

So Dr. Thomas Chauncey Behr very kindly and graciously volunteered to rework the blog and he has. And very elegant it looks too.

The woman's head on the right is one of my favorites: Giotto's painting of St. Mary Magdalene reaching for Jesus in Noli Me Tangere. I love the intense focus and eagerness in her face.

She sees her Lord, newly risen from the dead, and only him.

More blogging soon.

The Christocentric Life--Beauty

Our situation today shows that beauty demands for itself at least as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness, and she will not allow herself to be separated and banned from her two sisters without taking them along with herself in an act of mysterious vengeance. We can be sure that whoever sneers at her name as if she were the ornament of a bourgeois past--whether he admits it or not--can no longer pray and soon will no longer be able to love. -Hans Urs von Balthasar

We who pray for the grace to grow closer to our Lord may find an expanded relationship to him through beauty. As Balthasar points out to deemphasize beauty in our pursuit of truth and goodness is to risk losing all three of the transcendentals. Let us pray to know our Lord in his Holy Scripture and in the teachings of the Church. And also in the beauty of the liturgy and our worship. Many wonderful works of art, literature and music have the power to draw us nearer to God if we would welcome them into our lives.

In this season when the commercial nature of the Christmas season often confronts us with schlock and parodies of real beauty we can focus on the love of Christ as it is expressed in true beauty. A few suggestions: spend some time looking into Image ( This a very fine journal and website dedicated to faith and beauty found in literature, music, and art. The Beauty of Holiness and the Holiness of Beauty, by John Saward, is a fine book which explores beauty as found in the lives of the saints and in the works of Christian art.

Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that "like the rest of Christian Revelation, the liturgy is inherently linked to beauty; it is veritatis splendor (the splendor of the truth)." He goes on to say "in Jesus we contemplate beauty and splendor at their mere aestheticism, but the concrete way in which the truth of God's love in Christ encounters us, attracts us and delights us, enabling us to emerge from ourselves and drawing us towards our true vocation, which is love." --Sacramentum caritatis


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas in Perth

The 2009 Christmas light display of the season comes from Perth, Austrailia where the family raises money for charity by asking for donations from those who drive by.

The owners write:

50,000 LEDs, 6km cables, 176 channels of light all set to music. See it until Christmas Eve at 5 Bishop Riley Way, Churchlands. We raised $22k for Perth children's hospital last year, we're aiming for $30k this year - as at 15 Dec we're at $8,217.

It has a nice light touch.

Check Out the CSI Homepage!

Sherry and I and the whole gang at the Catherine of Siena Institute would like to wish you a Merry Christmas! See and hear us at the CSI homepage - just scroll down a little and click!

Gifts for your Postmodern Friends

I have been a fan of ever since someone gave me a link to their website. They are a great example of postmodern angst and cynicism - and usually very, very funny, at least from my droll Midwestern sense of humor. As Garrison Keillor has (more or less) said about us upper midwesterns, "we aren't very comfortable with excellence."

They have a whole line of posters known as "Demotivators." The image at the head of this post is an example. They are spoofs of those glossy motivational posters like the one with a man on top of a mountain in a clear blue-skied morning. Below the picture in large red letters is the word, AMBITION, and below it the motivational slogan, "Aspire to climb as high as you can dream."

Demotivators, on the other hand, are meant to "increase success by lowering expectations." I guess I'm at least somewhat influenced by postmodern cynicism because I find most of these hilarious. One of my favorites - although it doesn't apply to the Catherine of Siena Institute - is this one:

If we really cared for the customer we'd send them somewhere better.

The Christocentric life--The Holy Angels

My good friend Fr. Titus Kieninger of Opus Angelorum ( writes to remind me that the Holy Angels live the Christocentric life. As we see in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
331 Christ is the center of the angelic world. They are his angels: "When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him." They belong to him because they were created through and for him: "for in him all things were created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities - all things were created through him and for him." They belong to him still more because he has made them messengers of his saving plan: "Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation?"
As we await the celebration of the coming of our Lord let us ask his Holy Angels to intercede for us that we may live our lives dedicated to Jesus Christ. That our thoughts, our words, and our actions may reflect fully His love for us. That we may see in the world the beauty of His creation.

Angelic messengers please carry our prayers to our Lord that He may hear our eternal gratitude for a love beyond compare.


Name This Carol

Can you name this Carol?

This is fun, because you have to think of other verses, or buried deep in the song, not the usual refrain and/or first verse. I won't post the answers until later. Let's see how ID readers do first.

The cherry tree bowed low down, Bowed low down to the ground

Myrrh to be strewn about his bed, Incense in clouds about his head

In fields where they lay keeping their sheep On a cold winter’s night that was so deep

The little Lord Jesus Laid down His sweet head

Yet in thy dark streets shineth The everlasting Light

The Virgin Mary and Christ were there, On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day

In Bethlehem, in Israel, This blessed Babe was born

Bring me flesh and bring me wine Bring me pine logs hither

Round yon Virgin Mother and Child Holy Infant so tender and mild

His men of might, in his own sight, All children young, to slay

This, this is Christ the King, Whom shepherds guard and angels sing

True God of true God, Light from Light Eternal, Lo, He shuns not the Virgin’s womb

From angels bending near the earth, To touch their harps of gold

And the mountains in reply Echoing their joyous strains

Isaiah ’twas foretold it, The rose I have in mind

Said the shepherd boy to the mighty king, “Do you know what I know?

Prayer and praising, all men raising, Worship Him, God on High

Fall on your knees Oh hear the angel voices

He rules the world with truth and grace, And makes the nations prove

And ransom captive Israel, That mourns in lonely exile here

Bonus: Secular Songs

It’s Christmas time in the city. Ring-a-ling, hear them ring

In the meadow we can build a snowman, Then pretend that he is Parson Brown

O what fun it is to ride In a one-horse open sleigh

I don’t know if there’ll be snow, but have a cup of cheer

What a bright time, it’s the right time To rock the night away

The Word of God Has Chosen to Live Among Us

(The "O" Antiphons as envisioned by Ade Bethune, the great lay artist who began illustrating Dorothy Day's Catholic Worker newspaper at age 19.)

From Morning Prayer for today;

The Word of God has chosen to live among us so that we may see his glory. Let us rejoice in this hope and cry out to him:

– Be with us, Emmanuel.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Why Jesus is Better than Santa

This was sent to me by Dale Pittman of Catholic Journey of Faith in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Santa lives at the North Pole.

JESUS is everywhere.

Santa rides in a sleigh

JESUS rides on the wind and walks on the water.

Santa comes but once a year

JESUS is an ever present help.

Santa fills your stockings with goodies

JESUS supplies all your needs.

Santa comes down your chimney uninvited

JESUS stands at your door and knocks.. and then enters your heart.

You have to stand in line to see Santa

JESUS is as close as the mention of His name.

Santa lets you sit on his lap

JESUS lets you rest in His arms.

Santa doesn't know your name, all he can say is "Hi little boy or girl, What's your name?"

JESUS knew our name before we did. Not only does He know our name, He knows our address too. He knows our history and future and He even knows how many hairs are on our heads.

Santa has a belly like a bowl full of jelly

JESUS has a heart full of love.

All Santa can offer is HO HO HO

JESUS offers health, help and hope.

Santa says "You better not cry"

JESUS says "Cast all your cares on me for I care for you.

Santa's little helpers make toys

JESUS makes new life, mends wounded hearts, repairs broken homes and builds mansions.

Santa may make you chuckle but

JESUS gives you joy that is your strength.

While Santa puts gifts under your tree

JESUS became our gift and died on the tree.

It's obvious there is really no comparison.

We need to remember WHO Christmas is all about.

We need to put Christ back in Christmas.

Jesus is still the reason for the season.

Technie Help Needed

Anyone know how to widen the column of our blog so that it matches the new size of many videos?

Drop me a line at

Advent Conspiracy Goes Viral

The Advent Conspiracy has gotten the attention of Time magazine which has framed the whole approach as "A Christian Attack on Christmas Commercialism".

But of course, it is much more than that. The Advent Conspiracy is a positive Christian proposal - of giving in other ways that really make a difference to our loved ones and the world instead through gifts that many of us don't want or need.

Here's the Advent Conspiracy 2009 video:

And the Advent Conspiracy website.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Christocentric life--Love conquers all

"Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it. why Christ the Redeemer "fully reveals man to himself." --John Paul II

To put Christ at the center of my life is, I believe, the very heart of discipleship. Accepting the love of Christ and responding by loving him in return. Through Christ loving my neighbor, for he too is a beloved creation of my Lord. This is the very core of the Christocentric life.

As a new contributor to Intentional Disciples I look forward to participating in a transformational experience. For certainly to follow Christ is to be transformed and transforming. To see all that we do through the lens of Christ will, for many of us, turn upside down our view of politics, art, economics, charity and work. I pray that it may be so for the kingdom of God is among us, and I wish to see all things new in Him.

Mine has been an interesting journey from agnostic to atheist; from atheist to Christian; and eventually into the Catholic Church. I have spent most of my life seeking truth, only to find that there was a God-sized hole in the center of my being. This hole could only be filled by the love of Christ. He waited for me to say "yes." A loving embrace which is never taken away. This is my home. I pray that we may encourage one another in love so that we forever experience the beauty of his Truth.

"May the Holy Spirit make you creative in charity, persevering in your commitments, and brave in your initiatives, so that you will be able to offer your contribution to the building up of the “civilization of love”. The horizon of love is truly boundless: it is the whole world!"--Pope Benedict XVI

(Winston Elliott III is married to Barbara Elliott. They have been involved with the Catherine of Siena Institute as teachers and supporters since 2004. They reside in Houston, Texas and together have four adult children.)


Australia's Christmas Present: Saint Mary MacKillop?

Rumors are flying that an announcement approving the second miracle needed to canonize Blessed Mary MacKillop will be made before Christmas and that she will be canonized early in 2010.

The bishop who briefly deposed and excommunicated Mary MacKillop seems to have suffered from a brain tumor and repented of his action on his deathbed but excommunication was only the best known of the trials Mary experienced during her lifetime as she worked tirelessly to establish a Catholic educational system for the poor across the Australian continent.

We often speak of Mary MacKillop in our Called & Gifted workshops as a wonderful example of the charism of teaching - and of the fact that her bishop would have done well to have emulated the Archbishops of New York who, a century later, were irritated by Dorothy Day's politics. They didn't halt her Catholic Worker movement in case she turned out to be a saint.

As Cardinal Pell puts it in his homily in the Australian Broadcasting Company video above: Mary was always faithful to the bishops even when they treated her disgracefully.

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent

A stunning You Tube version of Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent. Sung by Cynthia Clawson. Visuals by Deborah Bray.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Catholic Bishops & British Government on Collision Course?

I may have missed this story because of all our website and blogging troubles this past week but an incredible story is coming out of Britain via all kinds of sources. Here is the UK's Catholic Herald:

"Equality minister Harriet Harman will ban the Catholic Church in Britain from insisting that priests remain celibate single men, the bishops have said.

Church leaders will be powerless to stop ordained priests from marrying women or entering into same-sex civil partnerships under the terms of Miss Harman’s Equality Bill.

Bishops would be unable to stop their priests from having sex change operations, living openly promiscuous lifestyles or engaging in any other activities seen as a legitimate form of sexual expression.

Richard Kornicki, a former senior Home Office civil servant who serves as parliamentary coordinator for the bishops, said the Church could also be open to prosecution for sex discrimination if it turned away women or sexually active gay men who presented themselves as candidates for the priesthood. “The Government is saying that the Church cannot maintain its own beliefs in respect of its own priests,” he said.

But if the Bill became law and the bishops defied the Government and stepped in to discipline errant clergy they could not only be sued for sexual discrimination but, in the worst-case scenario, they could also face imprisonment, unlimited fines and have Church assets sequestrated.

Miss Harman’s proposals will inevitably put the Catholic Church on a collision course with the state – particularly in the form of the powerful Equality and Human Rights Commission – over the issue of religious freedom if they become law.

Or so warned the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales when they briefed Catholic peers in the House of Lords on Tuesday.

"The Bill says that only those people who lead worship or teach doctrine can be expected to lead lives consistent with the moral teachings of the Christian faith. But a senior QC has informed the bishops that even the wording of this clause makes it “unlawful to require a Catholic priest to be male, unmarried or not in a civil partnership etc, since no priest would be able to demonstrate that their time was wholly or mainly spent either leading liturgy or promoting and explaining doctrine... the Bill fails to reflect the time priests spend in pastoral work, private prayer and study, administration, building maintenance, and so on”.

Apparently, you have to be able to prove that you spend literally 50% or more of your time leading worship or teaching Catholic doctrine to not qualify as an "employee". And very few priests would qualify because personal prayer, study, administration, pastoral counseling or visiting, etc. wouldn't count.

This is Just as stunning in its implications for the laity as it is for the clergy. Excuse me? It is unjust to expect lay Catholics to live lives consistent with the moral teachings of the Christian faith?

Apparently this bill has been kicking around for 2 years and the bishops have protested to the government to no avail. The claim is that current British law violates European law. But that is not the case. "The exemptions for religion in existing discrimination law have all been tested by the courts and are all compliant with European law."

Friday, December 11, 2009

Advent Waiting

“Waiting is essential to the spiritual life. But waiting as a disciple of Jesus is not an empty waiting. It is a waiting with a promise in our hearts that makes already present what we are waiting for. We wait during Advent for the birth of Jesus. We wait after Easter for the coming of the Spirit, and after the Ascension of Jesus we wait for his coming again in glory. We are always waiting, but it is a waiting in the conviction that we have already seen God’s footsteps.

Waiting for God is an active, alert—yes, joyful—waiting. As we wait we remember him for whom we are waiting, and as we remember him we create a community ready to welcome him when he comes.

How do we wait for God? We wait with patience. But patience does not mean passivity. Waiting patiently is not like waiting for the bus to come, the rain to stop, or the sun to rise. It is an active waiting in which we live the present moment to the full in order to find there the signs of the One we are waiting for.

The word “patience” comes from the Latin verb patior, which means “to suffer.” Waiting patiently is suffering through the present moment, tasting it to the full, and letting the seeds that are sown in the ground on which we stand grow into strong plants. Waiting patiently always means paying attention to what is happening right before our eyes and seeing there the first rays of God’s glorious coming.”

Henri J. M. Nouwen

Expressing the Good in An Age of Ideology

Fr. Michael Sweeney, co-founder of the Institute, former partner in crime, and now President of the Dominican School of Philosophy & Theology, spoke at the recent Notre Dame Center for Ethics & Culture Conference. Fr. Michael spoke on the topic of "Expressing the Good" in the context of a deeply post-modern western culture.

It is vintage Fr. Michael: Thomistic in his progression of thought, insightful, surprising, and witty. Here's an excerpt:

A very great gulf separates those of us who hold to the social teaching of the Church and most of our contemporaries. The premise of the social teaching is faith. By “faith” I do not mean supernatural faith, the theological virtue; I mean, rather a natural faith, a disposition that insists upon staying with phenomena as they present themselves to us. In its simplest expression to be faithful simply means to remain, to stay, to look and not look away. Such a faithfulness clearly implies relationship: one stays with someone or something apart from oneself. It also implies a seeing: one who remains with another, who attends watchfully, will come eventually to see the other ¬– might we say have knowledge of the other – in a manner that would otherwise be impossible.

This is a disposition that is not wholly unknown to our generation, only extremely rare. For ours is not an age of faith but rather of ideology. We do not so much stay with other people and things – or even with our own experiences that seem so much to fascinate us – as we manipulate them to an end, generally to a political end. The most egregious examples are always the easiest ones to spot, and I would like to offer just one very fine example of what I would term ideological thinking.


Perhaps we should not be surprised when we discover that Bruno Latour and others have pursued their skepticism even into the realm of experimental science. Latour holds that the objects themselves of scientific study are socially constructed within the laboratory and that no existence can be attributed to phenomena apart from the minds that interpret them. Latour follows this “social constructionist” approach to interesting conclusions. In responding to the research that suggests that Ramses II died of tuberculosis Latour responds, "How could he pass away due to a bacillus discovered by Koch in 1882? ... Before Koch, the bacillus has no real existence." He asserts that to hold that Ramses died of tuberculosis would be as anachronistic as claiming that he died of machine gun fire.


While an extreme example, Latour’s viewpoint is much closer to the majority view in our present age than is that of the bishops. Any faith – even a natural tendency to stay with things and with others – has been rendered suspect to our generation, for the reason that faithfulness of that sort tends to holding firm positions about things; my view inclines to be fixed because it has been fixed upon another. Such a view will be inflexible with respect to projects that would seek to restructure knowledge or experience.

In the place of science we have “worldviews” that are judged according to their political viability for society to the degree that even being human has become a project to be engaged rather than a good to be attended. We have even developed the pernicious habit of speaking of the Catholic faith as an “ism” –apparently unaware that Pope Pius XII condemned “Catholicism”; the Catholic faith is not a worldview, an ideology, a “belief system”, a marshaling of all human experience into a program, however benign. It is, rather a faith, a close and very careful attending to the One who, as Augustine says, is wholly other, yet closer to us than we are to ourselves. Unfortunately many of us Catholics have developed not only a habit of speaking of our faith as though it were an ideology, but of living it and understanding it ideologically; we can be concerned, not so much upon living an encounter with Christ and others –a relationship– as with getting everything right.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Technical Difficulties

Hello, everyone!
We at the Catherine of Siena Institute ask for your patience. We've had some difficulties as we switch from an old website design to a new one. We're also switching webhosts, and have experienced some problems there, too. If you go to our website, and don't find us, don't despair! We're not going out of business, and our domain name is not up for sale! We're doing our best to work out the kinks.

Fr. Mike, OP

Am I Wheat or Chaff?

I came across this lovely, yet sobering image from Origen while preparing for preaching this weekend. I would only add that the virtues of patience and fortitude of which he speaks are not in us innately, but are the fruits of God's grace at work in us, and require our cooperation.
The baptism that Jesus gives is a baptism in the Holy Spirit and in fire. Baptism is one and the same no matter who receives it, but its effect depends on the recipient’s disposition. He who is portrayed as baptizing in the Holy Spirit and in fire holds a winnowing fan in his hand which he will use to clear his threshing floor. The wheat he will gather into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with fire that can never be quenched.

I should like to discover our Lord’s reason for holding a winnowing fan and to inquire into the nature of the wind that scatters the light chaff here and there, leaving the heavier grain lying in a heap—for you must have a wind if you want to separate wheat and chaff.

 I suggest that the faithful are like a heap of unsifted grain, and that the wind represents the temptations which assail them and show up the wheat and the chaff among them.

 When your soul is overcome by some temptation, it is not the temptation that turns you into chaff. No, you were chaff already, that is to say fickle and faithless; the temptation simply discloses the stuff you are made of.

 On the other hand, when you endure temptations bravely it is not the temptation that makes you faithful and patient; temptation merely brings to light the hidden virtues of patience and fortitude that have been present in you all along.
Origen, On Luke’s Gospel 26, 3-5: SC 87, 340-342

This is a good Advent reflection. Am I wheat or chaff? What do my failures - my sin - reveal about me, and how might they direct me in my prayer? Because surely they indicate where virtue is missing or weak, and so I can learn even from my sin, as well as be humbled by it as I recognize my dependence upon Jesus for every good that I do.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Wry Christmas Decoration Goes Awry (and Away)

From my sister-in-law, Susie.
Read the post before you look at the picture...

Well, good news and bad news about my Christmas decorations this year. Good news is I truly outdid myself. Bad news is I had to take him down after 2 days. Too many screaming people came running up to my house.
Great stories. But two things made me undecorate. First, the cops advised it would cause traffic accidents (as they almost wrecked when they drove by). Second, a 55-year-old lady who grabbed the 75-pound ladder almost killed herself putting it against my house and didn't realize it was fake until she climbed to the top (she was not happy). She was one of many people who attempted that. My yard couldn't take it either. Lot of tire tracks where people literally drove up my yard.
Kind of feel like I gave in to the man by taking him down, but my neighbor did confirm two near misses on the busy street next to my house. I think I made him too real this time.
So it was fun while it lasted!

Wait. . . It's Advent.

A reader sent me word of this lovely Advent video. Watch it and feel your heart, mind, and body relax - and re-orient. From the good people over at Outside the Box.

God's Frozen Chosen This Morning

It's clear as a bell this morning - and -4F at 8 am. The state is covered with sub zero double digit temps so we're actually on the warm end of the spectrum

Thank God this is not supposed to last. By the weekend, we'll be toasty in the high 30's

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

St. Dunstan's Weather

Foggier yet, and colder! Piercing, searching, biting cold. If the good Saint Dunstan* had but nipped the Evil Spirit's nose with a touch of such weather as that, instead of using his familiar weapons, then indeed he would have roared to lusty purpose."

- Charles Dickens, The Christmas Carol.

The good St. Dunstan was born at Glastonbury, of which monastery he became abbot, and died archbishop of Canterbury in 988.*[1]

The legend of St. Dunstan relates many miracles of him, the most popular of which is to this effect; that St. Dunstan, as the fact really was, became expert in goldsmith's work; it then gives as a story, that while he was busied in making a chalice, the devil annoyed him by his personal appearance, and tempted him; whereupon St. Dunstan suddenly seized the fiend by the nose with a pair of iron tongs, burning hot, and so held him while he roared and cried till the night was far spent.

We need no iron tongs here. It's cold in them thair hills. I-25 is closed due to accidents and most of our universities have shut down for the day as well. One local parish has cancelled Masses for tonight that I know of. More will follow. Many are seeking homeless shelters - thank God! But two men were found frozen to death in our city this morning.

We're expecting wind chills of -25F tonight! One of our neighbors is out with parka and snow-blower. The sun is just breaking through but the wind is getting stronger.

To go out and sweep again - or not - at - 13 F? That is the question.

But who in their right mind would be walking down our cul de sac in this weather? This is a one day storm.
The better part of valor is to stay indoors, methinks.

Update: They have dropped our expected low tonight to -12F and our wind chill to -27F. Please pray for those who are homeless that they might find shelter and be protected.

A Dwelling Place for God in the World

From Fr. Robert Imbelli at dot.commonweal comes this wonderful thought for today:

Pope Benedict, (then Joseph Ratzinger in Credo for Today), reflecting on the gospel reading for this feast of the Immaculate Conception, writes:

"Mary is identified with daughter Zion, with the bridal people of God. Everything said about the ecclesia in the Bible is true of her, and vice versa: the Church learns concretely what she is and is meant to be by looking at Mary. Mary is her mirror, the true measure of her being, because Mary is wholly within the measure of Christ and of God, is through and through his habitation. And what other reason could the ecclesia have for existing than to become a dwelling for God in the world?

God does not deal with abstractions. God is a person and the Church is a person. The more each one of us becomes a person, person in the sense of a fit habitation for God, daughter Zion, the more we become one, the more we are the Church, and the more the Church is herself."

Monday, December 7, 2009

Christmas Shopping Made Easy

What do you purchase for the person who has everything this Christmas?

How about nothing! Or, more accurately, how about buying something for someone who has next to nothing? There are plenty of people to choose from around the world, and there are lots of organizations that are trying to help the poor and needy in developing nations, as well as in our own.

You might help with providing water for those with no reliable source of potable water through Engineers Without Borders.

Or, perhaps you might be interested in providing a poor entrepreneur with a microloan through World Vision

Heifer International has provided families and villages in developing nations with animals - and the knowledge of how to care for them - for a long time.

If you want a more personal way of helping someone, you might consider sponsoring a needy child or aging adult in a developing nation through the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging. This is an excellent Catholic organization that is known for very low overhead. They provide education, healthcare, food, and occasional gifts for the folks who are sponsored. I have sponsored two children in the Philippines over the last fifteen years. The second child has just entered a two-year associate's program, and I couldn't be happier for her.

There are a host of agencies and causes out there that provide meaningful alternatives to useless gifts - especially those "guilt gifts" we sometimes purchase.

All you need do is send a donation to a cause, and in lieu of a gift, you can offer your friend or family member a card with information about the program you're sponsoring in their name. I've done this in the past and will do it again this year. And I hope people do this in my name, rather than giving me a gift. I have everything I could possibly use, and am trying to simplify my life.

If your friends think you're incredibly cheap, like George Costanza of Seinfeld fame who once gave his co-workers a certificate saying he'd donated to the "the Human Fund" in their name, you might include the web address of the organization you're supporting.

And, by the way, The Human Fund exists now. The Human Fund effectively supports arts education programs for the under-served youth of the city of Cleveland, providing a commitment to funding several arts programs annually. So you could even support that organization!

If you know of other worthy organizations that people might support, please let us know - and include their web address and maybe a brief description of what they do.

Forgiveness in Colorado Springs: This Beautiful City

The women's group to which I belong distributed Merry Christmas buttons after Mass last weekend and they went like hotcakes. 500 buttons were gone before the first third of the congregation left the sanctuary after the 9:30 am Mass. A number asked me for several more to take home to family members who weren't able to attend Mass because of the snow.

The societal pressure to turn the traditional "Christmas season" into a "winter holiday" is clearly a hot spot with many here. Even though in Colorado Springs, the community climate is largely pro-Christmas. Anyone else seeing pro "Merry Christmas" buttons or paraphernalia being distributed in your parish?

(I've seen floats in the city's Christmas parade in the past that featured live hard core fundamentalist preaching. I wondered at the time if that didn't really cross the line even in this town where religion is famously visible in the public square. The same behavior would have sparked a riot in Seattle.)

This Advent, a national theatre production of This Beautiful City, written about Colorado Springs is playing here. It portrays CS as the "unofficial capitol of the evangelical movement" (which it is not - it is one center among several in the nation - but somehow we have become the media's poster child.)

Local reviews of the play indicate that it isn't just a slam against all things Christian but much more complex and playful than that and that it skewers anti-Christian liberalism as well. Some local evangelical leaders have attended and say that it was salutory to hear how evangelicals are perceived by outsiders.

Controversial as we are, the fruit of Christian faith in this place routinely makes it into the news in a good way. Mark Barna of the Gazette wrote this moving story:

Two years ago, on December 9, 2007, the nation heard of a terrible double tragedy in our area: a gunman had shot and killed some young missionaries in training and then opened fire on worshippers at our local mega mega-church, New Life. I blogged about the story here and here.

In the New Life parking lot, David and Marie Works and their four children were getting into their minivan after the service. The gunman shot and killed two of their teen-aged daughters, Stephanie and Rachel, and critically wounded David.

Two years later, the Works have forgiven their daughters' killer and befriended his parents who were invited to Laurie Works' wedding in August. "We are committed to being lifelong friends with them" says David Works.

Ronald Murray, father of the gunman was interviewed on a February Focus on the Family spot. He said that the relationship between the two families "shows the love of God to bring and reconcile people together."

Davie Works put simply in a way that takes my breathe away. They aren't looking for anything but friendship from the Murrays. "They don't owe us anything."

Your son kills my daughters. But you don't owe us anything. The sort of forgiveness that hits me in the gut, that touches all the inner aches of old wounds, that makes me just stop and exhale for a moment.

This town may be a media by-word but it is also a town where the Christian faith is lived. In remarkable ways.

Advent Morning

It's Talk With A Fake British Accent Day: December 17

And you thought that the recession, Advent, Christmas gifts, and winter weather was all you had on your plate.

Hah! You've forgotten Talk With A Fake British Accent Day. Coming your way on December 17 courtesy of Facebook and The Telegraph. (Blogger won't accept the article's url so just visit the Telegraph website and search for "fake British Accent".)

There's a gathering in New York but a memorably bad English accent is a thing of the spirit that transcends time and place. Even people with real British accents are welcome to participate. Follow in the footsteps of such immortal manglers of the Queens English as Austin Powers or Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins.

Or Mark Shea. Whose fake English accents have amused his family and friends for years.

Give your family and friends a truly memorable Advent gift this year. Aspire to greatness. How bad can you be?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Catholic Quote of the Day: St. John of Damascus

Arab by birth, Arab-speaking, and a high ranking administrator for an Umayyad caliph, Yuḥannā Al Demashqi, or St. John of Damascus as we know him, lived in a time and place that most western Christians find almost unthinkable.

It was the fact that St. John did not live under Byzantine Christian rule, but under Muslim rule, that made it possible for him to defend the use of icons so clearly and eloquently during the great Iconoclast struggles of the 8th century. St. John is considered to be the last of the Fathers of the Church and was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1883. His hymns are still sung in Eastern monasteries today.

Meditate on this famous passage from St. John's On Holy Images:

"Of old, God the incorporeal and uncircumscribed was never depicted. Now, however, when God is seen clothed in flesh, and conversing with men, I make an image of the God whom I see.

I do not worship matter, I worship the God of matter, who became matter for my sake, and deigned to inhabit matter, who worked out my salvation through matter. I will not cease from honouring that matter which works my salvation.

I venerate it, though not as God. How could God be born out of lifeless things? And if God's body is God by union, it is immutable. The nature of God remains the same as before, the flesh created in time is quickened by, a logical and reasoning soul.

I honour all matter besides, and venerate it. Through it, filled, as it were, with a divine power and grace, my salvation has come to me. Was not the thrice happy and thrice blessed wood of the Cross matter? Was not the sacred and holy mountain of Calvary matter? What of the life-giving rock, the Holy Sepulchre, the source of our resurrection: was it not matter? Is not the most holy book of the Gospels matter? Is not the blessed table matter which gives us the Bread of Life? Are not the gold and silver matter, out of which crosses and altar-plate and chalices are made? And before all these things, is not the body and blood of our Lord matter? Either do away with the veneration and worship due to all these things, or submit to the tradition of the Church in the worship of images, honouring God and His friends, and following in this the grace of the Holy Spirit."

Thursday, December 3, 2009

St. Francis Xavier: Body & Soul

Today is St. Francis Xavier's feastday and there is no better way to celebrate than to spend some time in St. Francis Xavier's World via this wonderful website sponsored by the Government of Navarre, Spain - Xavier's birthplace. Follow his travels around the world, see pictures of the places and people he knew. The website is designed for students and would make a wonderful resources for home schooling parents or CCD teachers.

Or read one of his letters. Xavier wrote 190 letters of which 108 have come down to us. During his lifetime his missionary letters were the talk of Catholic Europe. They were read by Pope Paul III and the cardinals of the Curia in Rome as well as the ordinary citizens of Portugal who had the letters read to them in their churches and, of course, by his brother Jesuits.

Here are some of the most fascinating excerpts from a letter Xavier wrote from India to the Society of Jesus in Rome in 1543.

"As to the numbers who become Christians, you may understand them from this, that it often happens to me to be hardly able to use my hands from the fatigue of baptizing: often in a single day I have baptized whole villages. Sometimes I have lost my voice and strength altogether with repeating again and again the Credo and the other forms. The fruit that is reaped by the baptism of infants, as well as by the instruction of children and others, is quite incredible. . .

For my part I desired to satisfy all, both the sick who came to me themselves, and those who came to beg on the part of others, lest if I did not, their confidence in, and zeal for, our holy religion should relax, and I thought it wrong not to do what I could in answer to their prayers.

But the thing grew to such a pitch that it was impossible for me myself to satisfy all, and at the same time to avoid their quarrelling among themselves, every one striving to be the first to get me to his own house; so I hit on a way of serving all at once.

As I could not go myself, I sent round children whom I could trust in my place. They went to the sick persons, assembled their families and neighbours, recited the Creed with them, and encouraged the sufferers to conceive a certain and well-founded confidence of their restoration. Then after all this, they recited the prayers of the Church. To make my tale short, God was moved by the faith and piety of these children and of the others, and restored to a great number of sick persons health both of body and soul. How good He was to them! He made the very disease of their bodies the occasion of calling them to salvation, and drew them to the Christian faith almost by force!

I have also charged these children to teach the rudiments of Christian doctrine to the ignorant in private houses, in the streets, and the crossways. As soon as I see that this has been well started in one village, I go on to another and give the same instructions and the same commission to the children, and so I go through in order the whole number of their villages. When I have done this and am going away, I leave in each place a copy of the Christian doctrine, and tell all those who know how to write to copy it out, and all the others are to learn it by heart and to recite it from memory every day.

Every feast day I bid them meet in one place and sing all together the elements of the faith. For this purpose I have appointed in each of the thirty Christian villages men of intelligence and character who are to preside over these meetings, and the Governor, Don Martin Alfonso, who is so full of love for our Society and of zeal for religion, has been good enough at our request to allot a yearly revenue of 4000 gold farlams for the salary of these catechists. He has an immense friendship for ours, and desires with all his heart that some of them should be sent hither, for which he is always asking in his letters to the King . . .

There is now in these parts a very large number of persons who have only one reason for not becoming Christian, and that is that there is no one to make them Christians. It often comes into my mind to go round all the Universities of Europe, and especially that of Paris, crying out everywhere like a madman, and saying to all the learned men there whose learning is so much greater than their charity, "Ah! what a multitude of souls is through your fault shut out of heaven and falling into hell!"

Would to God that these men who labor so much in gaining knowledge would give as much thought to the account they must one day give to God of the use they have made of their learning and of the talents entrusted to them! . . ."

Here is a picture of his body - famously incorrupt, if dry and brown- and brought out every 10 years for the faithful to venerate.

Xavier died alone on an island a few miles away from the next new country he was trying to reach: China.

His body was covered with quick lime to assist decomposition and then shipped back to Goa in India. When the casket was opened in India, his body was found to be utterly fresh and life-like.

One of the really amusing tales comes from 120 years later when the Calvinist Holland controlled Goa. A Dutch sea captain opened Xavier's casket in the middle of the night to see whatever was left of this famous man. He and his small group of conspirators were stunned to find Xavier's skin still fresh and rosy and his hair still curling. Understandably, the Calvinist sea captain converted on the spot.

The best description we have of Francis Xavier's appearance is the one written 120 years after his death - by one of the men who carefully examined his body in the middle of the night.

And the Deaf Shall Hear

From Cambodia comes the story of a level of deprivation that is hard to comprehend and one priest who is seeking to address it. (via Indian Catholic).

"Maryknoll Father Charles Dittmeier was the sole representative from Cambodia at the Nov. 19-21 conference on ministry to Catholic deaf people at the Vatican, conducted by the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care.

The American priest is director of the Maryknoll Deaf Development Program in Cambodia and has previously worked with Catholic deaf people in the United States, India and Hong Kong.

He recently wrote this commentary on Church ministry to deaf people in Cambodia:

The Church's ministry to the deaf in Cambodia faces significant challenges. For deaf Cambodians, there is no "God" and no "heaven," as we know them. Cambodian Sign Language has no signs for "God," "heaven" and related concepts.

Cambodia does not even have a Catholic deaf community.

To my knowledge, of the 20,000 Catholics in the country there is not one Catholic deaf person. So Church ministry to deaf people here means ministry to deaf people who are not Catholics and who have no vocabulary for God and Christian concepts.

In this situation, the Cambodian Church can evangelize by our work in the name of the Gospel. This is supported by the Nov. 19-21 conference in Rome on ministry to Catholic deaf people.

One of the recommendations of the Vatican conference was to encourage the Church to help remove all obstacles to the integration of deaf people into society so that they can be trained, find work, develop and use their talents, and contribute to the good of society.

The Maryknoll Deaf Development Program in Cambodia (DDP) tries to do this. It works with deaf people 16 years of age and older who have no language whatsoever -- signed, spoken or written -- and who have never been to school.

Many don't even understand what it means to be deaf.

The DDP teachers note that every time we receive a new group of students, there is some strange dynamic in the classroom in the first week or two. They couldn't figure it out. Then it dawned on them that the new students did not realize that all the other students in the classroom were deaf also. They had never met another deaf person. Throughout their lives they had only been with hearing people."

No language whatever. No word for God. Not knowing that you are not the only person in the world who is deaf. Not knowing what deafness is.

Impossible to imagine. A level of depravation that just takes your breath away. God bless Fr. Dittmeier and all who work with him.

If you can read this, give thanks today for the incredible grace of language. For all who made it possible for you to read this. Give thanks that you can give thanks. That you have the power to give thanks to God.

And pray for the deaf of Cambodia - and elsewhere - who have been deprived of such a basic part of being human.

Be Close to Us, Lord

From Morning Prayer for the Feast of St. Francis Xavier:

Christ is the wisdom and power of God and he delights to be with the sons of men. Trustingly let us call on him:
Be close to us, Lord.

Lord Jesus Christ, you called us to your kingdom of light:
make us live our lives rightly, pleasing God in all things.
– Be close to us, Lord.

You stand among us, unrecognised by the world:
show your face to mankind.
– Be close to us, Lord.

You are closer to us than we are to ourselves:
keep strong in our hearts the trusting hope of salvation.
– Be close to us, Lord.

You are the spring from which holiness flows:
let us be holy and unstained on the day when you come again.
– Be close to us, Lord.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Looking over Dickens' Shoulder

Another amazing boon of the internet:

The only hand-written manuscript of Charles Dickens' Christmas Carol is now available online in its entirety, courtesy of the Morgan Library and the New York Times.

Scribbles, strike-throughs and all. See what changes you can decipher from the manuscript and then join in the online conversation. If you are like me, and know most of the Carol's cadences by heart (Oh, but he was a squeezing, grasping, wrenching, grasping, covetous old sinner. . . Secretive and self-contained and solitary as an oyster.) it is thrilling to see how Dickens' story evolved and the changes that he made with his own hands.

There is something breath-takingly magical - at least for me - to stand before and read the original manuscript of a great, well-beloved work of literature. You can see Jane Austin's juvenile "History of the World" or the original pages of Alice in Wonderland online via the British Library. I've stood in reverent awe before them both in London but now I can visit online and never leave home.

The British Library is such a storehouse of treasures. One of which is the original autograph of George Frederich Handel's Messiah. Here is the link to the great "Amen" at the end.

Dashing Through the Snow on a 15 Dog Open ATV

14 F. cloudy, and snowing lightly this morning. Just the right sort of weather to set the mood for looking at a few Alaskan dog sledding pictures:

My sister, Becky, in Eric Roger's backyard dog enclosures. Eric has 22 dogs - a few of which are retirees but most of which are working sled dogs.

Eric and Beck coming back from their run. There wasn't quite enough snow for the sled so the dogs pull an ATV.

The view from the ATV. Those dogs just love to run! They are incredible athletes - routinely doing 100 miles a day in an Iditarod at temperatures as low as -60F.

We got to load and unload the dogs as well as hitch and unhitch them. Most are very friendly although a few are shy of strangers.

More blogging in a bit.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Chelsea Morning


What's that brilliant yellow orb in that brilliant blue sky? And at the unnatural hour of 7 am?

There's nothing like a sunny December morning in Colorado to tell you you aren't in Alaska any more.

Anchorage is very beautiful - but at this time of year, it's beauty of another kind - the sober grandeur of snow topped fir and spruce and the mountains are hidden most of the time. Daylight - when it get around to showing up about 9:40 am - comes in shades of grey.

So the literally in-your-face quality of Colorado winter sunshine is kinda stunning. And dazzling.

Makes you want to sing and dance - like Joni Mitchell's classic Chelsea Morning. Here's a blast from the past - if you can handle the truly groovy decor.

Does every generation look as goofy to the ones that follow?
Someday, people will stumble across snippets of our blogs and roll their eyes.