Monday, January 31, 2005

Digging Around at the Vatican

THE BONES OF ST. PETER: A 1st Full Account of the Search for the Apostle's Body by John Walsh
This book was a chance recommendation by an acquaintance when I was at our church's St. Jude library. I'm really grateful as I never would have picked up this page-turner otherwise.

Workmen lowering a floor led to the discovery of tombs beneath the basilica. This began an archaeological search for the fabled bones of the apostle St. Peter which tradition held lay beneath the altar. Pope Pius XII had a natural interest in "modern science" and gave the four Vatican archaeologists permission to search as long as the altar itself wasn't disturbed and they said nothing to anyone about it. Once the grave was discovered the mystery continues with the search for St. Peter's bones. The series of circumstances that occur to hide them and then uncover them are like something fictional. Sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction.

The author has a real talent for communicating archaeological information in laymen's terms. It read like a first class detective story and I often found myself staying up way too late at night to see what was discovered next. Also fascinating was the wealth of information about Christian worship in Rome during the early centuries. This book may be difficult to find as the person who recommended it told me it is no longer being published in this country. That may account for the high price of used books I saw at the Amazon listing. Nevertheless, it is well worth seeking out.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Everybody's Doing It

Interesting Dallas Morning News article (free registration required) about Protestants using beads to pray, sometimes the actual rosary and sometimes variations of it adapted to their particular beliefs. I have to say that this quote by a Presbyterian minister made me laugh, "The rosary is not just a Roman Catholic thing," Ms. Moore said. "Praying with beads has been part of our tradition since the beginning of the church. We need to claim what is ours." Ummmm, sorry, but that "church" she mentions was entirely Catholic in the beginning. Ah, well ... at least they're getting the benefit of the meditation brought by praying rosary no matter what prayers they are using.

A couple of good website resources from the article to check out:
Ecumenical Miracle Rosary - Uses traditional rosary but wih different prayers
Rosary Center - All about the Roman Catholic rosary and praying it
Christian Rosary - written about the rosary for all Christians and does a good job of explaining that Catholics do not worship Mary.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Novels of The Company

The Company's real name is Dr. Zeus. They are a 24th-century operation devoted to getting rich off the past. The Company turns orphans and refugees from the past into highly intelligent, physically invincible cyborgs and sends them on missions to save or hide precious paintings, cultural treasures, and genetic information useful to the future world.

In the first book, In the Garden of Iden, 5-year old Mendoza is rescued from the Spanish Inquisition by a company operative. After undergoing training and a series of surgeries to turn her into a cyborg, Mendoza is reunited with her rescuer, Joseph, and sent on a mission to Elizabethan England to rescue rare plants before they become extinct. Once there, she falls in love with Nicholas who has a secret of his own. He is a Protestant in Catholic England.

Sky Coyote is told from Joseph's point of view in 1699 when he is reunited with Mendoza for a mission. They must save an ancient people from encroachment by the coming white men by convincing the entire pre-Columbian village to step into the future. Most interesting in this book is our first view of people from the future who are afraid of real food, nature, the cyborgs, and insist on political correctness at all costs.

Mendoza in Hollywood finds Mendoza with a team in California during the Civil War. Everything is pretty routine except for a strange anomaly nearby when the doppelganger of Mendoza's lost love comes by. He's a British spy and that is not a good thing.

The Graveyard Game is told largely from Lewis' point of view. Mendoza has been missing for some time and he and Joseph are trying to discover what is going on. The plot thickens when they discover other cyborgs are missing and a seeming conspiracy of the future people to shut the immortals down.

Black Projects, White Knights is a collection of short stories about The Company operatives throughout time as they have encounters with famous people and try to recover "lost" treasures. It fills in a few of the blanks in The Company's history while adding to the mystery about Nicholas. The character of Alec Checkerfield is introduced here who I believe is the main character of the newest Company book, The Life of the World to Come.

Somewhat surprisingly, as I am such a fan of this series, I do not find Mendoza a very attractive character. I much prefer Joseph and Lewis and, therefore, the novels told from their viewpoints. However, no matter who is narrating, the intrigue and suspense are riveting as the "immortals" move through time closer to the date beyond which no news comes back. Baker is a master at weaving complex tales that leave you on the edge of your seat. She also has a wonderful sense of humor and talent for making the past come alive believably. I imagine she did quite a bit of research especially for the earlier books. Highly recommended.

Noah and the Flood

GENESIS 6-8
The last study looked at how the people cleansed in the flood had a clear choice between right and wrong. This brings us to the other question my girls asked when little, "What about the poor animals? It isn't fair to them." True enough and a question that always tugged at my heart strings also. When I read why the animals had to be included the light bulb really went on. This explanation ties in with things I've read in other sources (notably Peter Kreeft's work) which talks about the universe being created for man.
For animals to be included in the cleansing of the earth suggests the inseparable relationship between man and the rest of creation. The dominion God had given him has real meaning - when man goes down, so does all the rest of the earth. This helps us to see clearly how all the elements of creation led up to the creation of man. He was not just one player among many. Without man, the rest has no meaning. (Catholic Scripture Study)

The other question that comes up every time in this classic tale is just how the animals were collected in the first place.
Many have wondered how this animal kingdom roundup happened. Did Noah and his sons spend years collecting all the animals? In reality the creation, along with Noah, was doing just as God had commanded. There seemed to be no problem gathering the animals. God took care of the details of that job while Noah was doing his part by building the ark. Often we do just the opposite of Noah. We worry about details over which we have no control, while neglecting specific areas (such as attitudes, relationships, responsibilities) that are under our control. Like Noah, concentrate on what God has given you to do and leave the rest to God.(Life Application Study Bible)
I also liked reading this description of the size of the ship, which boggles the mind. It's bad enough to build a regular boat with no visible hope of water to float it but what God asked Noah to do seemed preposterous if you didn't have faith.
... Picture yourself building a boat the length of one and a half football fields and as high as a four-story building. The ark was exactly six times longer than it was wide -- the same ratio used by modern shipbuilders. This huge boat was probably built miles from any body of water by only a few faithful men who believed God's promises and obeyed his commands. (Life Application Study Bible)

Readers are strongly encouraged to go to read original study materials in their entirety for themselves. See the sidebar under "Bible Study: Genesis" for links to references used.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Are Your Prayers Answered?

We always are told that our prayers are answered but sometimes God says, "No." This is probably the best and most complete answer I have ever seen as to why that "No" might be ... it is because the fault is within ourselves.
Jesus assures us emphatically that if we seek, we shall find (not just perhaps); if we ask, it will be given to us; if we knock, it will be opened (Mt 7:7-8). Yet, you will may wonder, what are we to think of the petitions we make that do not seem answered?

Several observations are in order. First of all, the Lord is supposing that the normal situation, namely, that we are praying as we ought to pray. There are conditions to be fulfilled -- as is normal in other human relationships as well. The first one is that we seek before all else our greatest good and the genuine welfare of others. If that is lacking, what else matters? Scripture teaches us plainly that if we seek the Lord with all our heart and all our soul, we shall find him (Deut 4:29). Saints always find God, and in finding him they obtain everything else they need. the psalmist tells us to be sure that the Lord does wonders for his faithful ones (Ps 4:3, JB). So we need to ask: Am I faithful? The New Testament insists that whatever we ask for we will receive because we keep his commandments and live the kind of life God knows is best for us (1 Jn 3:22). Are you and I living that kind of life?

The second and third conditions for our prayers to be answered are included in the first one. Namely, we are to ask with full trust in the Lord (Jas 1:5-8), and we are to seek the right things, what is best for ourselves and for others (Jas 4:2-3). We are to put first things first and ask for genuine goods.

One further question: Suppose we ask for the conversion of a sinner, surely a good and holy petition, and yet he does not give up the wrongdoing or does not return to the Church? What has happened? Has God answered this prayer? Yes, indeed. He has given the transgressor all the graces he needs for a complete conversion; the Lord has responded to the prayer. Yet he leaves the sinner free to use the graces given or not to use them. God forces himself on no one. St. Monica, the mother of the tremendous Augustine, prayed for twenty years for the conversion of her son. The Holy Spirit was working on his mind and heart for two decades (thus responding to the mother's tears and petitions), and when her son finally said a complete Yes, he was mightily converted, not only to the state of grace, but eventually to the very heights of heroic holiness and the transforming union of prayer. Worthy prayers are indeed answered.
Prayer Primer, Thomas Dubay, S.M.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

This Conservative Sister Likes That Progressive Brother's Attitude

I have changed the name of what was once "Progressive Catholic Blogs" and expanded it. It is now "Catholic Blogs," and it includes thirty blogs instead of the previous fifteen. I've added a number of moderate and conservative weblogs. Why the name change, and why the addition of moderates/conservatives? Am I flip-flopping again? No, I've become quite comfortable being a progressive/orthodox Catholic. I've changed the name of this section and expanded it to include a more diverse selection because I feel that, despite our many differences, we are still one Church. We have differences on a number of things -- everything from gay marriage to female priests to life issues. Despite these differences, I do believe that what unites us is greater than what divides us, because what unites us is a common Catholic Christian belief in Jesus Christ, and a common Catholic Christian Eucharist. What division can overcome this unity? So, even though I am quite comfortable with my own progressive Catholic faith, which is at its core still orthodox despite the claims of others, I do consider my moderate and conservative brothers and sisters as just that -- my brothers and sisters. We bicker, and at times it even gets ugly, but we can never change the fact that we are one Mystical Body of Christ, one People of God, one Church.

Nathan at Fides, Spes, Caritas, as a self-declared progressive Catholic is someone who I don't agree with a lot of the time. However, I've gotta go with him on this one ... what unites us is so much greater than what divides us. It was something that I have always remembered from reading All the Pope's Men. John Allen, while writing in the finest nonjudgmental journalistic style, repeatedly reminded readers that, whether liberal or conservative, we are all passionate because we love God and His Church and want to do right by it.

I have also learned that from Talmida whose honesty and passion I find just as inspirational as I find many of her views infuriating (I can say that because I'm fairly sure she'd say the same about me ... it's that love/hate thing going on!). She is the only person I have had a debate with who has stopped and said that I probably was right but she realized she just didn't want to admit it. I can't tell you how much I admire that ability to reexamine your position and then admit it. Total honesty. Wow.

I was just bringing that point up to my girls the other day. They are just the age to have liberal- or conservative-bashing break out on either side of discussions in the cafeteria. That reminder of our common love of Christ puts a human face on all my brothers and sisters whether I agree with them or not. Good on you, Nathan!

Traits of Biblical Prayer, Part II

[continued from Traits of Biblical Prayer, Part I]
Another combination that no Aristotle, no Plato, no Socrates, no oriental master has been able to conceive is the glorious interweaving of an awesomely vivid and reverent appreciation of God's endless power, might, and majesty together with a touching and tender familiarity we may have with him. Infinitely mighty though he be, this Lord is always caring and loving -- even to the extent of the appalling scene of the crucifixion.

If you or I had composed a book of prayer with no help from revelation, we would have made it I/me-centered. We would have been its focus and center of gravity. But biblical prayer has it right: it is rightly and utterly God-centered, while at the same time it shows the Lord tenderly caring for us as the apple of his eye. What could present so beautiful a picture as that of the father running to meet his returning prodgal son with a hug and a tender kiss? Then, too, while the psalmist is filled with awe at the wonders of creation, he is struck even more with the beauty of the divine Artist. Consequently, he overflows with ecstatic delight. we have here combined supreme optimism and entire realism.

Finally, who of us would have thought of prayer becoming continual and yet at the same time leaving us free to give unhindered attention to other people and to our work? Thus it becomes when the faithful reach the summit, the transforming union.
Prayer Primer, Thomas Dubay, S.M.
Next up in the prayer series (which I really didn't intend but find myself drawn to) will be "Are Your Prayers Answered?"

Monday, January 24, 2005

Left Behind

GENESIS 6-8
Now Genesis brings us to a character who even the smallest child is familiar with, Noah and his ark of animals. When the girls were little and we would read picture books of this story they always were saddened by the animals and people left behind. Truth to tell, I was saddened by those pictures too. I never had a good reason as to why they got left behind. That's because I hadn't yet read Catholic Scripture Study who has a very thoughtful piece on this. Get ready to look into Romans for some help with this subject in a way that relates directly to life today.
When you read the account of the Flood, realizing that everyone except Noah's family died because of God's judgment, did you ever have a twinge of wondering if that was fair? After all, if some human civilizations developed away from the covenant-keepers, thus becoming intensely evil, perhaps we want to say that they didn't know any better. Maybe we think they never really had a chance to live their lives the way Noah did.

St. Paul, in his epistle to the Romans (1:19-25), helps us to understand better just exactly what was going on among men whose lives were given over to wickedness ...

Here we see that St. Paul says that anyone who lives on the planet Earth, whether he lives among covenant keeping people or not, knows enough about God to live in the right way. Why? Because God has revealed Himself in His works. Looking around at the world in which he lives, a man is capable of recognizing that (1) there is a God (2) He is powerful (3) He deserves to be honored and thanked (Rom. 1:20-21). When a man chooses not to act on what he knows to be true, he suppresses the truth. It isn't that he has been deprived of it-he simply refuses to live by it.

When that happens, things go downhill fast, as St. Paul tells us (Romans 1:28-32) ... This is a description of what happened in the early history of man and what continues to happen when men, like Cain, know what is right to do but refuse to do it. When that happens, the most merciful thing God can do is to punish man. It is often only when men are faced with suffering and death that their autonomy crumbles to ash, and they are willing to cry out to God, Whom they are finally ready to acknowledge as the only One who can help...

The people swept away in the Flood were not necessarily eternally lost. Their death was a temporal punishment until Christ preached to them the message of redemption they needed to hear. Those who were merely ignorant surely responded with great joy. But those who, like Cain, had hardened their hearts through sin, might well have had the same reaction to Christ as Cain had to God - "Thanks, but no thanks." We should never worry about the justice and fairness of God (see CCC 632-635). (Catholic Scripture Study)

When they get to why the animals had to be included the light bulb really went on. This explanation ties in with things I've read in other sources (notably Peter Kreeft's work) which talks about the universe being created for man.
For animals to be included in the cleansing of the earth suggests the inseparable relationship between man and the rest of creation. The dominion God had given him has real meaning - when man goes down, so does all the rest of the earth. This helps us to see clearly how all the elements of creation led up to the creation of man. He was not just one player among many. Without man, the rest has no meaning. (Catholic Scripture Study)

The other question that comes up every time in this classic tale is just how the animals were collected in the first place.
Many have wondered how this animal kingdom roundup happened. Did Noah and his sons spend years collecting all the animals? In reality the creation, along with Noah, was doing just as God had commanded. There seemed to be no problem gathering the animals. God took care of the details of that job while Noah was doing his part by building the ark. Often we do just the opposite of Noah. We worry about details over which we have no control, while neglecting specific areas (such as attitudes, relationships, responsibilities) that are under our control. Like Noah, concentrate on what God has given you to do and leave the rest to God. (Life Application Study Bible)

Readers are strongly encouraged to go to read original study materials in their entirety for themselves. See the sidebar under "Bible Study: Genesis" for links to references used.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Traits of Biblical Prayer, Part I

[continued from Biblical Prayer Themes, Part VI]

... no other religion, oriental or occidental, begins to compare in its account of human relating to the divine with the elegance, splendor, and richness we find in Sacred Scripture. The magnificence of this inspired description of prayer is, of course, part and parcel of the whole splendor of the trinitarian plan of salvation. We can therefore summarize some of the overall traits of the scriptural account.

Our twelve types of prayer combine characteristics that no merely human minds have come close to conceiving, let alone implementing. On the one hand, there is tremendous, even unspeakable joy, love, delight, a huge optimism, and, on the other hand, all of this is happily and confidently related to our weakness, sinfulness, suffering, pain, and failures. No other literature produced by our human race has been so real, so encouraging, so healing, so utterly satisfying to sincere and thoughtful men and women.
Prayer Primer, Thomas Dubay, S.M.
[Traits of biblical prayer to be continued...]

Thursday, January 20, 2005

My "Aha!" Moment from Yesterday

i know there are *sandpaper* people and *velvet* people in our lives - from a devotional i read many years ago that has stuck with me.

the sandpaper people are used to sand away your rough spots, as in polishing a diamond. they are irritating, annoying, there for good reason.

the velvet people (like my friends, here) are in your life because their words are soothing. make you feel better, feel loved.

while neither is more important than the other, both are extremely necessary for our growth.

martha, martha said this in her comments box yesterday and I'm putting in in my "quotes journal" ... too true ... thanks, p!

Prevailing Against Temptation

You say you cannot believe that temptations against the faith and the Church come from God. But whoever told you that they did? He can send darkness, helplessness, can keep you tied to your perch, can lead you into dereliction, and strip you of all strength, can upset your spiritual digestion and make your inner mouth taste bitter so that the sweetest wine in the world turns to gall; but suggestions of blasphemy, infidelity, unbelief -- oh, no, these can never come from our merciful God: he is too pure to conceive such ideas.

Shall I tell you what part God plays in this? He allows the evil maker of lies to come and offer us these forgeries for sale, so that by despising them we may prove our affection for divine things. And are we to get anxious about it and change our attitude? O no, never, never! It is the devil who is roaming all round our soul, spreading confusion and prying to see whether he cannot find some door open somewhere. that is what he did to Job, to Saint Anthony, Saint Catherine of Siena, and an infinite number of good sould that I know, and to my own soul which is good for nothing and which I do not know. Well now, are we to be put out by all this? Let him kick his heels outside, and keep all the doors and windows tightly shut: he will get tired of it in the end, and if he does not, God will make him raise the siege. Remember what I told you once before: it is a good sign that he should be making so much noise and raising such a tempest in this matter of your will, for it is a sign that he has not got in.
St. Francis de Sales via Magnificat

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Rebuilding Again and Again

As a house ages, it begins to show the wear and tear of years and years of use and daily life. The paint is chipped, the doors and windows perhaps dirty and a bit rough to use. This is much like our faith life as we mature and become adults, the wear and tear of daily life and maturing begin to wear on us. We become dirty with sin as we are constantly misled in life or we make the wrong decisions, decisions that do not please God. Our faith in God lags and often times disappears almost entirely. We favor the life and worldly experiences over God and our faith experience with him.

It is only at this point in a house's life that it is renovated, made new again. It must essentially be torn down, in part or in whole, and made new again. A renovated house looks new again; it might be better than the original, updated and modern, while still maintaining the best elements of the old house. This house renovation is much like our faith life; our faith life has been so destroyed or harmed, it must be torn down to its bare bones and rebuilt again, to become even stronger and more beautiful than before.

John B. at The Catholic Packer Fan reflects on the need for continual renovation of our souls. After much lecturing by our Honors Biology Student, it occurs to me that this is similar to our physical renovation. Our skin cells replace themselves every day ... yep, totally new. Our bones are constantly being rebuilt and have been totally replaced within a 7-year period. If this is necessary for my physical self, then why would it not be necessary for my soul? Just as I absolutely detest exercise but must do it for good health, so also do I detest the stripping down and rebuilding of my faith ... but God does it for my own good, just like that daily exercise.

Rose Has Chosen ... and It is Blue

ipodblue

Rose loves music and craves an iPod. She has a lot of money in her savings account and pulled out enough to combine with Grandma's Christmas money to buy herself the iPod of her dreams ... a blue mini, with free engraving on the back and free shipping (thank you student discount!). You wouldn't believe how many of Hannah's and Rose's friends have had iPods ... all given by their parents. We wonder what those kids have to look forward to later when all their wishes are fulfilled so quickly. It just makes me even prouder that Rose did not expect one to be given to her and didn't begrudge paying for it herself. She also will be the only person I know with a blue one ... that's my individualistic girl!

Adam's Descendents

GENESIS 5
Genesis 5 shows the descendents from Adam to Noah and is one of those endless seeming lists of names that make my eyes glaze over. Who would have thought that there was something for me to learn in this? Not me, but I was wrong.
The Bible contains several lists of ancestors, called genealogies. There are two basic views concerning these lists: (1) they are complete, recording the entire history of a family, tribe, or nation; or (2) they are not intended to be exhaustive and may include only famous people or the heads of families. "Became the father of" could also mean "was the ancestor of."

Why are genealogies included in the Bible? The Hebrews passed on their beliefs through oral tradition. For many years in many places, writing was primitive or nonexistent. Stories were told to children who passed them on to their children. Genealogies gave a skeletal outline that helped people remember the stories. For centuries these genealogies were added to and passed down from family to family. Even more important than preserving family tradition, genealogies were included to confirm the Bible's promise that the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ, would be born into the line of Abraham.

Genealogies point out an interesting characteristic of God. People are important to him as individuals, not just as races or nations. Therefore God refers to people by name, mentioning their life span an descendants.


(Life Application Study Bible, emphasis added)

See the sidebar under "Bible Study: Genesis" for links to references used.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Sounds Like Faith to Me

I believe, but I cannot prove, that all life, all intelligence, all creativity and all "design" anywhere in the universe, is the direct or indirect product of Darwinian natural selection.
Richard Dawkins of Oxford University, January 4, 2005 NY Times article

"I believe, but I cannot prove..."

Beg pardon? That sounds as if this famous Darwinian is taking evolution on faith. Ok, I can live with that but then stop sounding as if evolution is a proven fact with no loopholes. All we're asking for is a little consistency please.

Got it from Suspend Your Disbelief.

Huh?

Hannah was at a birthday party Saturday night and the talk turned to parents as it often does (watch out ... your teenagers are busy discussing and comparing all the time). Hannah's friends suddenly were all in agreement that Tom and I are very cool and they'd move in with us in a second. (They say that because they don't live here, believe me!) I take this as a great compliment because a bunch of 16-year-olds will cut you down to size in a second (at least to their friends because these kids are all polite).

Rose is dumbfounded by this sudden status. She keeps saying, "They have met Mom and Dad, haven't they?

Yeah, I don't get it either because they have met us. We are the usual, uncool, overweight, graying, rule enforcing, stick-in-the-mud parents. Tom is the one who suddenly sees a connection between a school story and the Russian revolution and delivers a world history lesson at dinner ... or who goes and gets the Oxford English dictionary so we can all talk about the roots of a certain word. I am the "on fire" Catholic convert mom who makes everyone pray before dinner and then tells little Padre Pio parables to the philosophy-crazy, not-sure-if-he-believes-in-God boy having dinner with us. Or the one who suddenly stops and gives a lecture on keeping your virginity to a kitchen full of girls who are just getting a snack (you can imagine the story they were telling to make me suddenly deliver that little bomb).

The only thing that we can figure is we are interested in these kids and enjoy talking to them. We treat them as people who mean something to us. It's nice that they recognize that on some level. And it's sad that they don't get it in enough other places.

Biblical Prayer Themes, Part V

[continued from Biblical Prayer Themes, Part IV]

10. Delighting and rejoicing. The community of both Testaments, Old and New alike, is remarkable in how frequently it expresses the intense joy the faithful are routinely expected to experience in the course of their daily lives. They seem to know nothing of boredom. This delight is mentioned over and over again in the psalter and in the prayer life of the Church. Our hearts and our flesh are to thrill with gladness in the living God as we sing alleluias to him as the very source of the thrilling (Ps 84:2). We exult in this Lord and in his marvels (Ps 9:1-16; 40:5; 75:1), and this we do with endless shouts of exultation and triumph (Ps 5:11, 20:5). With the exception of the Lenten season the Church through the year repeats in her daily liturgies these shouts of alleluia.

11. The sound of music. As though all this were not enough, both the inspired word and the contemporary Church elicit the resources of musical talents and instruments. As one of our recent popes remarked, echoing St. Augustine, they who sing pray twice. All this God's people did with gusto. They sang the wonders the Lord had wrought in salvation history (Ps 105:1-5). Their prayer was expressed with music sounding to their King (Ps 47:1, 5-6; 57:7-9; 59:16-17). At least on one occasion they set aside timidity in their celebrations: they praised the transcendent greatness of God with lyre and harp, strings and reeds, the beating of drums and the clashing of cymbals -- and yes, with dancing, too, in praise of his name. For example, David and the community "danced before Yahweh with all their might, singing to the accompaniment of lyres, harps, tambourines, castanets, and cymbals: (2 Sam 6:5; Ps 87:7; 149:3; 150:1-6). Nothing dreary and dull here. Perhaps they were praying three or four times!

12. Amen! In Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, "amen" meant "yes indeed, certainly, so may it be." And so our last words here are reserved to Jesus and his Mother. Both insisted on the identification of their and our wills with that of the Father: "Our Father ... Your will be done ..." and "Let it be done to me according to your word." Yes, amen: let your will be done. So be it. Identifying our will with the divine will is the veryheart of sanctity. And the more perfect the identification, the more lofty the holiness. Both the transforming union in contemplative prayer and the practice of heroic virtue (there is an intercausality between these two traits of perfect sanctity) involve complete identification with the divine will.

The single word "amen" is an affirmation of what God positively wills or of his permitting something to occur (for a still greater good). It reminds us of St. Francis de Sales remarking that if we knew all that God knows, we would will to happen exactly what does happen (see also Rom 8:28). Amen, the conclusion of many prayers in the Church's liturgy, is a proclamation of the all-knowing wisdom of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (For more on this variety of biblical prayer, see CCC 2623-49.)
Prayer Primer, Thomas Dubay, S.M.

Monday, January 17, 2005

My Conversion Story

BECOMING CHRISTIAN
My parents are atheists so there was no religion in our home. They never tried to prejudice us against religion, they just never talked of it. It was kind of like talking about sex ... it was the unspoken rule that you just didn't mention religion. As issues came up, we were taught to be good people in the morality of popular culture … work hard and do your best, be honest, don’t steal, cheat or lie. We learned that a lot of other issues were all relative. As long as you didn't hurt other people or break the law what you did was your own business. Of course, even though they never talked about it, we all knew that those boring church-goers were weak because they needed a crutch like religion to get by.

During our early married life neither Tom or I gave God much thought. We were just living our lives. And then God used what we cared about most to get our attention.

Hannah had a terrible teacher in public school and nothing we tried solved the problem so halfway through kindergarten we switched her to St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic School. Her religion teacher asked all the kids who went to Mass every Sunday. Almost all the kids raised their hands. Hannah didn't. Mrs. McDaniel told those children that they needed to go home and tell their parents that they should be going to Mass every week. Dutifully Hannah passed the message. There is no one for knowing black from white and "yes" from "no" like a kindergartener. She didn't buy our feeble excuses and started quoting her religion lessons to us. Pretty soon we were attending weekly Mass at St. Thomas.

Tom is Catholic but he hadn't attended church in a long time. I wasn't even sure if there was a God. How are you ever really sure? Most of the “proof” anyone ever offered seemed an awful lot like coincidence to me. But, I couldn't sit there week after week listening to Father B. without starting to wonder … is there a God or not?

I was so clever, I figured out a sure fire way to find out. (I'll just say here that I am thankful God protects fools because looking back I can't believe I had such nerve!) About a year before, we had tried everything to sell our house. Even though the realtor said everything was just right and there should have been no problem, no one would even make an offer. So, kneeling at Mass one day, I made God a deal. All He had to do was to get a me a new house as a sign. Then I’d know He was there … and I’d have a new house.

Of course, nothing happened. Except, that because I had made that deal I found myself listening more carefully at Mass and thinking even more. After about a year had gone by, when we were kneeling at Mass one Sunday, I told God the deal was off. I didn't need proof. It wasn't because of any dramatic feeling or discovery. I just didn't have a reason not to believe anymore so I went ahead and took His existence on faith.

That week our new accountant found major errors in the past three years' taxes that gave us a huge refund ... $11,000 ... enough for a down payment on a new house, new furniture and some remodeling. In a time when houses were being bought within days of going on the market, we found a house that had been sitting on the market for months for no apparent reason … except it was perfect for us and the price just been lowered to exactly the amount we could afford. Two weeks after that our house was sold without ever going on the market ... to a girl who was determined to have a house with our exact specifications, only within a six block area that we were right in the middle of. All the realtors and the people at the title company individually marveled at how smooth and fast things went on the sale of our old house and the purchase of our new one. They all said they had never seen anything like it.

I don't believe in coincidence any more.

BECOMING CATHOLIC
Now I had faith but I didn't see any reason to become Catholic. Hannah and Rose had their First Communions and Tom went to confession and started taking communion again. I didn't mind sitting in the pew until they got back. But, over time, whenever everyone went for communion I developed a yearning for the Eucharist that became an actual physical ache. This went on for months. A few weeks before Easter I decided I’d better find out how to become Catholic because I couldn't stand it any more. I couldn't believe it when I found out I would have to wait about a year before completing RCIA and entering the Church the next Easter. That was the longest year of my life, although I found RCIA to be an interesting spiritual journey in itself ... which I did not expect. I think it is funny that I am such a reader (and have been my whole life) but God chose to reach me in a way that was totally outside books at all.

Finally it was the Easter Vigil of 2000, the wonderful day when I was Catholic and could have the Eucharist. I love it. I love the traditions, I love the saints, I love the Eucharist … I love being Catholic. (That was about 6 years after I told God I believed in Him.)

And God blessed me that day in a way that I will never forget.

When I was kneeling after Communion I felt a tap on my shoulder and looked up to see my father-in-law smiling at me as he walked toward the altar. He had not been to communion since the 1960s when Vatican II changes made him so mad that he turned his back on the Church altogether. Tom’s devout mother and his aunts had been praying for many, many years for his return to the faith so I was thrilled to see him take communion. His sister, Tom’s aunt, was my sponsor and she hissed in my ear, “Has he been to confession?” I was so happy I just said, “That’s between him and God. Let it go.”

Later Tom’s mother said that my father-in-law told her that if I had decided to become Catholic it was because I had thought about it thoroughly and knew it was the right thing to do. That was when he decided to come back to the Church. And, yes, he had been to confession. He had carefully planned to have his return to communion be at my confirmation. He had gone before they left Houston. For my father-in-law to show such total respect of my decision to become Catholic by rethinking his faith was overwhelming. Even more overwhelming was the realization that God had used my conversion not just for my good but to reach someone close to me ... and I had been totally unaware of it.

One of the things that made my conversion so powerful to me in retrospect is that it was done without any reading or influence from outsiders at all. This was all just between God and me. No one else's opinion was even solicited as I really didn't talk about that sort of thing. (I know a bunch of people probably wish I was still that way!) One of my confirmation gifts was a book by Scott Hahn that started me down a whole new path of reading. I had no idea anyone wrote books about this stuff! I devoured Scott Hahn, Peter Kreeft, Francis Sheed, books about the saints, everything I could get my hands on ... and so on to the CRHP retreat and so on to Happy Catholic ... and here I am today, waiting to see where He's gonna take me next on this wild, but very interesting ride.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Living Psalm 23

Happy Catholic - chipper blog
Scattershot Direct sidebar listing
I read this last week at M'Lynn's (Scattershot Direct) and cracked up. I just do not think of myself as chipper.
i happen to be a big fan of the Happy Catholic. she is way too happy for me, however, because i worry so danged much about everything.
martha, martha

Then I read this in a comments box (at Scattershot Direct) and cracked up again. It also made me start thinking. For most of my life I have been a "glass is half empty" girl. Always quick to see the negatives of any situation ... oh, and even more attractive, quick to dwell on those negatives. But these two, who I respect a lot, had the impression of me as always cheerful, "chipper" if you will. Interesting. Was that just how I presented myself on the blog or was it true? If so, I would have changed a lot.

A couple of days later it was Friday and I figured out I had to work on Saturday. Driving home after picking up the kids at school, I told them. We were talking about how the day would divide up chore-wise, etc. I said that it wasn't as bad as it could be. For instance, what if I was a regular working mom? This might happen a lot, or I couldn't pick them up from school at 3:30. Hannah, knowing about my "rep" on Scattershot, looked at me and said, "Mom, you sound awfully Happy!" I stopped, looked at her and said, "Oh my gosh. I was being chipper wasn't I!" All three of us collapsed into gales of laughter.

Oops! Caught in the act. Maybe it is true. I am a Happy Catholic. Or to be more accurate, I am joyful. Like anyone else I get frustrated, overwhelmed, stressed out ... but under it all is my great joy and gratitude to God for bringing me so far. I do what I can to improve myself but I look back at my life and see God nudging me here and there ... teaching me lesson after lesson and moving me slowly (very slowly) toward grace.

I got a real reminder of just how far I have come when I was doing that Saturday work at the office, realizing that I actually was serene about spending practically all day there. Suddenly I was stabbed in the pit of my stomach with a physical feeling of bitter, angry, overwhelming resentment at having to work on the weekend, giving up my time for this. It's hard to describe but that feeling was familiar ... much as I hate to admit it. I recognized it from other times in my life. As quickly as I recognized it, I thought that I was not giving in to that and shoved it away ... and it was instantly gone. I really believe I was "allowed" to feel that so I could appreciate just how far God has brought me.

That evening I read Psalm 23 in the Compline. Though I have a bad habit of skimming over the really familiar psalms I was suddenly interested in reading this translation to see how it compared with the familiar King James version. I read every line slowly.
O Lord, you are my shepherd;
I shall not want.
You make me lie down
In green pastures.
You lead me beside still waters.
You restore my soul.
You lead me in paths of righteousness
For your name's sake.
Even though I walk
Through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
For you are with me;
Your rod and your staff --
They comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
In the presence of my enemies;
You annoint my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy
Shall follow me all the days of my life,
And I shall dwell in your house, O Lord,
My whole life long.

How can I describe that sudden illumination? One of those God-things. All I know is that I suddenly felt that psalm had been written for me ... it was describing me exactly. Every line, every word. It is exactly right ... exactly how my life is. I have been pulled out of the dark valley of jealousy, anger, gossip, pettiness ... into the light of the Lord. There are still some crevices and rocks that haven't seen light yet but He is slowly and surely changing everything. No wonder I seem happy, have joy. I am being remade into the person He knows I can be.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.

Praise Him.

Cain's Resume

We may feel that we know much more than we want to about Cain. He is the familiar character who doesn't do what he is supposed to, defies authority, and never sees the light. The Life Application Study Bible profile helps us see the key lessons from Cain's life.
Strengths and accomplishments:
  • First human child
  • First to follow in father's profession, farming
Weaknesses and mistakes:
  • When disappointed, reacted in anger
  • Took the negative option even when a positive possibility was offered
  • Was the first murderer
Lessons from his life:
  • Anger is not necessarily a sin, but actions motivated by anger can be sinful. Anger should be the energy behind good action, not evil action
  • What we offer to God must be from the heart -- the best we are and have
  • The consequences of sin may last a lifetime
Vital statistics:
  • Where: Near Eden, which was probably located in present-day Iraq or Iran
  • Occupation: Farmer, then wanderer
  • Relatives: Parents - Adam and Eve, Brother - Abel, Seth and others not mentioned by name
Key verse:
"If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it." (Genesis 4:7)

Cain's story is told in Genesis 4:1-17. He also is mentioned in Hebrews 11:4; 1 John 3:12; Jude 11.

See the sidebar under "Bible Study: Genesis" for links to all references used.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Why Do They Hate Pope Pius XII So?

First there were the error-riddled books saying that he did not stand up to the Nazis. The latest accusation is that the Vatican gave orders during WWII that Jewish children being cared for by the Church should be baptized and not returned to their families. However, as might be expected, this is far from the truth. Via Santificarnos comes this Zenit report on the errors and truth of the situation. Go read the whole thing.
In August 1946, some French bishops and, specifically, Coadjutor Archbishop Emile Guerry of Cambrai and Cardinal Pierre Gerlier of Lyon, asked nuncio Roncalli for pointers as to how to resolve the situation of Jewish children saved from Nazi persecution ...

Journalist Andrea Tornielli told ZENIT that the Church in France resolved the problem in the vast majority of cases by returning the children, whose lives it saved, to their surviving families.

During the war, priests and religious received orders from the Holy See and bishops not to baptize these children. Baptism requires the consent of the person receiving the sacrament or of the parents, if the recipient does not have the use of reason. This is revealed in documents quoted by www.vaticanfiles.net.

Work as Prayer

He chooses us where we are, and leaves us -- the majority of Christians, lay people -- just where we were: in our family, in our own job, in the cultural or sports associations that we belong to ... so that in the very environment in which we are found we should love him and make him known through family ties, through relationships at work and among friends. From the moment that we decide to make Christ the centre of our lives, everything we do is affected by that decision. We must ask ourselves whether we are consistent with what it means to turn our work into a vehicle for growing in friendship with Jesus Christ, through developing our human and supernatural virtues in it.

God calls us, having put us in our own environment and our own profession. But he wants our work to be different from now on: You are writing to me in the kitchen, by the stove. It is early afternoon. It is cold. By your side, your younger sister -- the last one to discover the divine folly of living her Christian vocation to the full -- is peeling potatoes. To all appearances -- you think -- her work is the same as before. And yet, what a difference there is! It is true: before, she only peeled potatoes -- now she is sanctifying herself peeling potatoes. (St. Escriva, Christ is passing by) ...

We must fix all our attention on the Son of God made Man as he works [in Joseph's workshop], and ask ourselves very often, what would Jesus do in my place? How would he do my work? The Gospel tells us that He has done all things well, (Mark 7:37) with human perfection without the least carelessness. All of this means working with a spirit of service towards our neighbors, with order, serenity and intensity of concentration. He would have had orders ready on time. He would have lovingly put the finishing touches to his craftsmanship, thinking of the pleasure of the customers when they would receive his simple but perfect work. He would have been tired ... Jesus also carried out his work with full supernatural effectiveness, because at the same time, through the work, He was carrying out the redemption of mankind, united to his Father by love and for love, united to men also through love for them. What we do out of love becomes a serious commitment for us, and is charged with meaning.
In Conversation with God: Ordinary Time Weeks 1-12

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Biblical Prayer Themes, Part IV

[continued from Biblical Prayer Themes, Part III]

9. Loving contemplative immersion As we shall explain farther on, our Christocentric contemplation is a divinely given growth in mental prayer, given when we are ready, not before. It is a superior way of communing with God, a way that goes beyond images, concepts, and words. When it grows normally, it becomes deep, beautiful, intimate, love-filled. It is completely given by God, and so we call it infused contemplation. More details later. For now we will explain how the biblical message charmingly speaks of this kind of communing with the Lord.

We should observe that this inspired account does not mention ideas and words, for this new communing cannot be expressed verbally. Scripture calls it the "one thing", the most important human activity, namely, gazing on the beauty and loveliness of the Lord (Ps 27:4). It is living through love in the diving presence (Ps 21:6); Eph 1;4). At dawn we hold ourselves open to receive from the Lord (Ps 5:3; 92:2). We taste how good he is, the biblical way of saying that we experience for ourselves the very goodness of God (Ps 34:8-10), and we drink from the divine river of delight. We do not have to reason and think ideas: we receive his joy in a wordless way. This can also be expressed by our being quiet and experiencing that he is the Lord of all (Ps 46:10). Sts. Paul and Peter explain that we then pray so deeply that words cannot describe the experience (Rom 8:26; 1 Pet 1;8).

Not surprisingly, in this prayer we are transformed from one glory to another (2 Cor 3:18). We rest in God, our sole ultimate fulfillment, a fulfillment that begins here in this life (Ps 62:1-2, 5-7). The psalmist speaks of pining with love for God and finding in him his sole delight, the surpassing joy of being close to his God (Ps 73:25-26, 28). As we grow toward this loving immersion we are more and more sharing in and reliving Jesus' habitual and long periods of solitude, being absorbed in the Father through their common love, the Holy Spirit (Mk 1:35; Lk 6:12; 5:16, and so on).
Prayer Primer, Thomas Dubay, S.M.

[Varieties of biblical prayer themes to be continued...]

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Abel's Resume

All we really know about Abel is that he was a shepherd and his offering pleased God. As with Adam and Eve, I like the way that the Life Application Study Bible profile makes the key lessons from Abel's life stand out.
The Bible doesn't tell us why God liked Abel's gift and disliked Cain's, but both Cain and Abel knew what God expected. Only Abel obeyed. Throughout history, Abel is remembered for his obedience and faith (Hebrews 11:4), and he is called "righteous" (Matthew 23:35).

Strengths and accomplishments:
  • First member of the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11
  • First shepherd
  • First martyr for truth (Matthew 23:35)
Lessons from his life:
  • God hears those who come to him
  • God recognizes the innocent person and sooner or later punishes the guilty
Vital statistics:
  • Where: Just outside of Eden
  • Occupation: Shepherd
  • Relatives: Parents - Adam and Eve, Brother - Cain
Key verse:
"By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead" (Hebrews 11:4)

Abel's story is told in Genesis 4:1-8. He also is mentioned in Matthew 23:35; Luke 11:51; Hebrews 11:4 and 12:24

See the sidebar under "Bible Study: Genesis" for links to all references used.

Monday, January 10, 2005

There's Something About St. Joseph

I meant to post this right after the Epiphany but life got in the way. However, no time like the present, right?

No one ever talks much about St. Joseph although I know that there have been periods of widespread devotion to him. St. Teresa of Avila was devoted to St. Joseph and said,
"I never remember having entrusted anything to him which he has failed to do. I am amazed by the great favours God has given me through this blessed Saint, the dangers from which he has freed me, both of body and soul. It seems that Our Lord gives graces to other Saints to give help in some particular need. I know from experience that this glorious Saint helps in every necessity. And Our Lord wants to make us understand that just as he was subject to him on earth -- being his guardian Joseph had the name of father and could command him -- so in heaven he does whatever Joseph asks. Other persons have also seen this from experience -- persons whom I told to entrust themselves to him and, so, many who have devotion to him have experienced this truth once more.

When we think about what life must have been like for the Holy Family immediately following the Epiphany, St. Joseph's strengths and extreme faith come shining through. With no more to go on than a dream, he uproots the little family and takes to the road. He has no idea of how he will support them, what they will encounter on the way or who will pursue them. Still St. Joseph instantly obeys God.
The journey cannot have been a comfortable one; walking for several days along unfriendly roads, with the fear of being caught in their flight, with tiredness and thirst. The Egyptian frontier, beyond which Herod could no longer pursue them, was approximately a week away at the pace at which they could travel, particularly if they followed, as is most likely, the less frequented roads. It was an exhausting journey through desert regions. God the Father did not want to spare those he most loved from this fatigue. Perhaps this is so that we would understand that we can draw great benefit from difficulties. Also, it makes us realise that being close to God does not mean being free from pain or difficulties. God has only promised us the serenity and fortitude to face up to them ...

After their long, difficult journey, Mary and Joseph came with the Child to their new country. At that time there were many Israelites living in Egypt, forming small communities. They were mostly tradespeople. Joseph probably joined one of these communities with his family, prepared to re-make his life again with what little they had brought with them from Bethlehem ... In Egypt, he began as best he could, suffering hardships, at first doing every kind of job, finding a home for Mary and Jesus, and supporting them as always by the work of his hands, with his unceasing hard work.
In Conversation with God: Advent and Christmastide

No wonder great saints like Teresa turned to him. We could certainly do no worse.

Friday, January 7, 2005

A Lesson in Contrasts

GENESIS 4:1-26
Did I ever pay attention to Lamech before? I'm sure you won't be surprised to hear the answer to that is no. He's the perfect example of how sin can increase when not fought at all by the individual.

Lamech, who is the Bible's first polygamist, appears to be a violent, arrogant man. He boasts to his wives that even though he has killed a man, anyone who tries to take his life will be avenged "seventy-sevenfold." He reckons himself to be even greater and more important to God than his forefather, Cain. Something has gone very wrong among these people. They appear to know the details of their family history (how else would Lamech know to compare his deed with that of Cain?), but they have no knowledge of what the details mean. Because Cain was cut off from his family and the presence of the Lord, his spiritual blindness was not only perpetuated among his descendants, but it intensified. The father always teaches the son, either for good or for evil. This is how it is in families. See how Cain's sin of pride has progressed in Lamech to proud presumption. He presumes upon God's mercy in saving Cain from death, having no apparent understanding of what God's mercy was meant to produce humility, repentance, reconciliation. Through the rest of Scripture we see, over and over, what traits develop among men who, for whatever reason, have shut their hearts away from the presence of the Lord. This is our first example of it.
Again, Enoch never made much impression on me either but now I can see the contrast he provides with Lamech. I don't think I realized that any prophet except Elijah was ever "taken up" either. There's a definite lesson in those contrasts. Another lesson lies in the fact that two such minor characters can have such big stories to tell about themselves and about the human condition. Not a word is wasted in Scripture. It is all there for a definite purpose.
Enoch is the first man described as a "prophet" in Scripture. Hebrews tells us that he prophesied judgment on ungodliness. We learn from Old and New Testaments that Enoch did not see death. He was such a friend of God's that he was "taken up." It is amazing to see the difference between Enoch and Lamech. By it we are meant to comprehend that although sin entered the human race through Adam and Eve, bringing with it great spiritual and physical consequences, men are still able to respond to God's grace. By no means has God given up on all humanity!

Enoch was distinguished in his family by God's remarkable favor upon him. He represents the power that acknowledging God in family life can have on family members, as they pass on their tradition from generation to generation.

All quoted material is from Catholic Exchange's "Catholic Scripture Study." Readers are strongly encouraged to go to read original study materials in their entirety for themselves. See the sidebar under "Bible Study: Genesis" for links to references used.

Thursday, January 6, 2005

Biblical Prayer Themes, Part III

[continued from Biblical Prayer Themes, Part II]
7. Marveling and wondering at the divine works. The psalmist, being vibrantly alive as a person, is alert to and therefore aware of the marvels God works both in creation and in salvation history (Ps 96; 104; 135; 107; 139:1-18). The prayerful person not only notices these astonishing things the Lord has done in his world. He ponders them, fixes them in his memory (Ps 46:48). Furthermore, he celebrates the glories of creation and finds great joy in the divine Artist and his splendors (Ps 104:1-35); 111:2-3). We should notice that to celebrate is to affirm the goodness and beauty of a thing or person or event. On Independence Day we proclaim the blessings of living in a free country. To celebrate a person's birthday is to declare in words and actions that this person's existence is a gift. Celebrating is singing to existence, a yes-ing or reality, exulting in the real -- either with words or without them. The psalter is full of examples ... and so also are they found in the minds and on the lips of the saints.

8. Meditation. It is not accidental that the first two verses of the inspired book of prayer deal with discursive meditation, that is, with thinking over and applying the word of God to one's life, and then in inwardly communing with him about it. Happy is that man who receives this word and then reflects on it in his heart day and night (Ps 1:1-2). Joshua is likewise to ponder the law of the Lord day and night (Josh 1:8). It seems to have been a common practice among the chosen people to meditate on the word in the quiet of the night (Ps 4:4, 63:6). Twice we read in Luke's Gospel that the Mother of the Lord, the perfect woman, pondered the word in her heart (Lk 2:19, 51).
Prayer Primer, Thomas Dubay, S.M.
[Varieties of biblical prayer themes to be continued...]

Wednesday, January 5, 2005

Interior Purification

That joke, that witty remark held on the tip of your tongue; the cheerful smile for those who annoy you; that silence when you're unjustly accused; your friendly conversation with people whom you find boring and tactless; the daily effort to overlook one irritating detail or another in the persons who live with you ... this, with perseverance, is indeed solid interior mortification. (St. Escrivá, The Way)

That purification of the soul through interior mortification is not something merely negative. It is not just a matter of avoiding what borders on sin; quite the opposite, it consists of knowing how to deprive oneself, for love of God, of things that it would be quite licit to have.

This mortification, which tends to purify the mind of everything that is not God, aims in the first place at freeing the memory from recollections that would oppose the way that leads to heaven. Those recollections can assault us during our work or our rest, and even whilst we are praying. Without violence, but promptly, we will apply the means to get rid of them. We will struggle to make the effort which is necessary for our mind to fill itself once more with love, and a longing for the things of God.

Something similar can happen to the imagination. It can often upset us by inventing all kinds of novels, weaving fantastic fictions which are quite useless. Get rid of those useless thoughts which, at best, are but a waste of time. (St. Escrivá, The Way) Then, as well, we have to react quickly and return serenely to our ordinary task.

In any case, interior purification does not end with emptying the understanding of useless thoughts. It goes much further; the mortification of our potencies opens up to us the way to contemplative life, in whatever circumstances God has wanted to place us. With that interior silence towards everything that goes against God's wishes and is improper to his children, the soul finds itself well disposed for a continuous and intimate dialogue with Jesus Christ. In this dialogue, our imagination helps contemplation -- for example, when we contemplate the Gospel or the mysteries of the Holy Rosary. It is then that our memory recalls the wonders God has done for us, and his abundant goodness; and this will cause our hearts to burn with gratitude and ardent love.
In Conversation with God: Advent and Christmastide

As queen of the "what if" scenarios I cannot tell you how helpful those comments by St. Escrivá about imagination have been to me over past years. Remembering to push away those "fantastic fictions" has saved me a lot of mental agony that has been totally imaginary.

Tuesday, January 4, 2005

Solemnity, Feast or Memorial?

We got our new Church calendar a week or so ago. Tom immediately started comparing it to the one he has set up for our church's web site (he's the web servant). Then the question arose as to what all those saint day celebrations actually meant ... commemoration, memorial, optional memorial ... what's the difference?

Here is a great source that answers all those questions. From most to least importance here is what all those celebrations are:

SOLEMNITY
A Solemnity of the Roman Catholic Church observes an event in the life of Jesus, Mary, and the saints, beginning on the evening prior to actual date. Solemnity is made up of Latin words solet and annus, meaning a yearly (annual) celebration. They are observed throughout the entire Church.

Solemnities observed by the Roman Church
  • January 1: Mary, Mother of God (formerly known as the Feast of the Circumcision)
  • Sunday between Jan 2 & 8: Epiphany, in United States only; elsewhere January 6
  • March 19: Joseph, Husband of Mary
  • March 25: Annunciation
  • March/April (varies): Easter Triduum
  • 40 days after Easter: Ascension of the Lord
  • 50 days after Easter: Pentecost
  • Sunday after Pentecost: Holy Trinity
  • Sunday after Holy Trinity: Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi)
  • Friday after Body & Blood: Sacred Heart
  • June 24: Birth of John the Baptist
  • June 29: Peter and Paul, Apostles
  • August 15: Assumption of Mary
  • November 1: All Saints
  • November (varies, always Sunday): Christ the King
  • December 8: Immaculate Conception
  • December 25: Christmas

FEAST
Religious feasts celebrate or commemorate certain concepts or events in the history of their respective religion with particular traditions and rituals.

MEMORIAL
In the Roman Catholic Church, a Memorial is a feast day of relatively low importance. However, all priests must recall the saint commemorated in their Masses and the Liturgy of the Hours.

OPTIONAL MEMORIAL
In the Roman Catholic Church, an optional memorial is the lowest class of the feast day. The priest is permitted to celebrate the feast day or not as he chooses. (See Memorial.) The saints or events celebrated in these feast days are considered to be of less universal importance to the Church. In addition, as long as no feast day of higher rank is foreseen for a particular day, a priest is permitted to celebrate a feast day that does not appear in his local calendar as an optional memorial, normally out of personal devotion to the saint.

Something that I thought was very interesting was that our calendar has on every month in capital red letters FRIDAY REMAINS A SPECIAL DAY OF PENITENTIAL OBSERVANCE. I have read in several places that although there is no stricture specifically against meat on Friday anymore this is merely so that people can put their own memorial penitence into place. As one source said (wish I could remember which), most people will find that the easiest one to implement is abstinence from meat ... and this is true in our household. After Rose suddenly held my feet to the fire about Friday penitence about two months ago we have done our best to just keep meat out of the diet on that day. It's amazing how difficult that can be and also amazing how it does a good job of reminding you why you are observing that penance.

Monday, January 3, 2005

Life Outside Eden

GENESIS 4:1-26
Now that we've looked ahead to see the fulfillment of God's promise, Catholic Scripture Study returns to Genesis itself where Adam and Eve have been expelled from the Garden of Eden. Here is the familiar story of Cain and Abel and the first murder.

CAIN AND ABEL
Something I always wondered was why Abel's offering was acceptable and Cain's was not. I never noticed before that Abel's is described slightly differently until I read more carefully, as this study is teaching me to do.

Cain's offering doesn't seem to be as impressive. It must have represented Cain's attitude towards God. Perhaps it was given in a perfunctory manner. Perhaps it was given grudgingly. Perhaps Cain consciously withheld the best of his harvest for himself and gave some of the less desirous or useful fruit in offering to God. It is important to recognize that God isn't arbitrarily picking one offering over another. He sees first the condition of the man's heart, then his offering. Abel worshipped God appropriately, so God had regard for him and his offering. Something was wrong in Cain, so God rejected his offering.

We see now also the same pattern of behavior that started with Adam and Eve, although at least they didn't sass God. Reading this with "new eyes" I found myself almost shocked at Cain's attitude when talking to God after murdering his brother. Also, it never occurred to me that Abel's blood "crying out" was any more than an expression. Here we see it has complexity of meaning.
God is giving Cain an opportunity to confess his sin and be accountable for it, just as He had done with Cain's parents in Eden. A Father's love always wants to hear an explanation of how things went wrong.

Cain lies to God, and then he becomes sarcastic. He disavows any responsibility for his brother's welfare, throwing off any constraints on his autonomy. In his pride, Cain has chosen separation from God and from men.

The blood cries out. It is alive. Although Abel has been murdered, somehow his life has not been completely snuffed out. Throughout the rest of Scripture, blood will have potent meaning for man's life, both natural and supernatural. It will come to represent the life of man, and, liturgically, the means of atonement for man's sin ("the life of the flesh is in the blood - it is the blood that makes atonement, by reason of the life" Lev.17:11). Finally, in the Eucharist, it will become the presence of Christ in man.
Cain doesn't show any remorse or even regret. His primary concern is that he will suffer under his punishment and that someone will kill him. In this, he reminds us of Adam and Eve, who also showed no regret in Eden.
All quoted material is from Catholic Exchange's "Catholic Scripture Study." Readers are strongly encouraged to go to read original study materials in their entirety for themselves. See the sidebar under "Bible Study: Genesis" for links to references used.

Saturday, January 1, 2005

Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

MaryandJesus

All the feasts of Our Lady are great events, because they are opportunities the church gives us to show with deeds that we love Mary. but if Ihad to choose one from among all her feasts, I would choose today's, the feast of the Divine Motherhood of the Blessed Virgin ...

When the Blessed Virgin said Yes, freely, to the plans revealed to her by the Creator, the divine Word assumed a human nature, with a rational soul and a body, formed in the most pure womb of Mary. The divine nature and the human were united in a single Person: Jesus Christ, true God and, thenceforth, true man: the only-begotten and Eternal Son of the Father and, from that moment on, as Man, the true son of Mary. This is why Our Lady is the Mother of the Incarnate Word, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, who has united our human nature to himself forever, without any confusion of the two natures. The greatest praise we can give to the Blessed Virgin is to address her loud and clear by the name that expresses her highest dignity: Mother of God.
St. Josemaria Escriva, Friends of God