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Smuggling Christmas into North Korea PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 25 December 2009 15:10
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 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 25 December 2009 09:33
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.

Update:

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 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 25 December 2009 09:19
Our of the mouth of incredibly charming 3 year olds . . .


 
Grafts on a Family Tree PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Thursday, 24 December 2009 16:43

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 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 24 December 2009 15:37
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.
 
Beauty for Truth's Sake--Queen of the Sciences PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 23 December 2009 10:53

Written by Winston Elliott III

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 (www.icon-painting.com). "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 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Wednesday, 23 December 2009 10:00
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.


 
The Christocentric Life--Rendering God Credible PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 21 December 2009 12:32

Written by Winston Elliott III

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 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 21 December 2009 09:00
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 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Monday, 21 December 2009 06:47

"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.
 
The Advent of the Three Miracles PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Sunday, 20 December 2009 18:56
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) PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Sunday, 20 December 2009 11:56
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!
 
Persecuted for the Faith in England: Glimpses of the Penal Years PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Saturday, 19 December 2009 10:36

(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" PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Saturday, 19 December 2009 08:17


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.


 
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