Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Why the Bible Needs Philosophy for Interpretive Purposes

One of my frustrations is talking to or listening to Christians who take the Bible literally or who believe in the Bible only. What they have to say often winds up making no sense to me. And, as far as I'm concerned, the Bible has to make sense. It does make sense. It's all about correct interpretation of the texts.

I just read a blog post at Domine, da mihi hanc aquam! titled, "Without philosophy all we have is story..." This post and one of the comments made in response help me see the connection between faith and reason.

Here is the complete text:
Let's say you are having marital problems. Being a good Catholic, you go to your pastor for some advice on how to improve communication. You patiently tell Fr. Bob what you see as the problem. Fr. Bob nods and reaches for his bible. He flips it open to John 2.1-11 and reads to you the story of Jesus' first miracle at the wedding in Cana.

When he finishes the story, he snaps the book closed and looks at you as if all your problems have been solved. It takes you a moment to realize that Fr. Bob believes that he has addressed your problems. You have a few questions about how the story applies to your situation. When you are done asking your questions, Fr. Bob gives a slightly annoyed look, opens his bible, and re-reads John 2.1-11.

OK, at this point you are starting to feel as though Fr. Bob is trying to teach you some sort of Kung-fu-Zen-Master-Grasshopper-Wax-on-Wax-off-lesson about listening or sitting quietly or something like this. . .who knows?! Anyway, try one more time.

You reel off several very reasonable questions about applying the Wedding at Cana story to your particular situation. There's a pleading tone in your voice and you throw in a dash of desperation to help convince Fr. Bob to help. And to your horror, all he does is re-read the Wedding at Cana story to you!

Assuming that violence is not an option, what should you do at this point? Why is Fr. Bob behaving this way? What are you expecting from Father that he is apparently unwilling or incapable of giving?

The title of this post gives a hint at the direction of my thinking here. . .

If this were me, I'd probably bid Fr. Bob farewell and move on. I'd look for someone more helpful and more capable of addressing my situation. But the author of the post uses this example to get us thinking.

One person who commented had a great response, which I will include here:
Anthony Kennedy said...

Let me try a stab at this...

Fr. Bob's approach to the story assumes that the Bible is a self-interpreting form of literature. There is no need for interpretation, no need for textual or contextual critical exegesis, in short, he assumes that the meaning itself is bound in the very text--that the text IS the meaning. Since, however, a word (with a little "w") can only point to meaning and as such cannot embody meaning, there need be some rational, intelligible means discerning that meaning and applying that meaning to a concrete situation.

The written Word of God, thus, must be interpreted through a rational and intelligible means. The meaning of Scripture is not bound in the text, it is bound in the Word (capital "W") who is the one true key to interpreting the text. And since this Word is Himself the author and source of reason and intelligibility, the narrative account of God's revelation--Scripture--can only be understood by use of solid philosophical principles and methods.

Thus the question, "What does the Wedding at Cana have to do with my marital problems?" must be answered by 1) understanding the Scriptural context of the passage in light of the entirety of Scripture (how the Gospel of John unfolds in a manner similar to the creation narrative, and how the Wedding Feast of Cana is situated in this context), 2) what the Wedding Feast of Cana says in terms of the nature of marriage, and most importantly 3) how Christ, in this episode, relates to the Scriptural context (Water becomes wine as husband and wife become a "New Creation" effected and presided over by Christ Himself).

I know there are some gaps, but I think that's the gist of it. Without a solid philosophical interpretive key, the stories of Scripture would remain, well, just that.
Amen, to those remarks!

Source is Fr. Philip Neri Powell, O.P., Ph.D.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Private Litany of Humility — People For Others

Are you thinking about New Year's resolutions? Check this out for some good ideas under the categories of Christian spirituality and virtue.

H/T
A Private Litany of Humility — People For Others

Why I Am Catholic: Because My Pope Said This

On an almost daily basis I like to read the blog started by Webster Bull and who has been joined by Frank Weathers. Both men are converts to the Catholic faith from Protestant backgrounds, and the blog is called Why I Am Catholic. Each and every post gives a reason why each has chosen the Catholic faith. Having been a Catholic since my infancy, I find it interesting to learn why others have freely chosen to become Catholic. While I am well-versed and well-educated in the Catholic faith, I learn so much from listening to the stories of those who found the faith later in life.

The post I highlight here was written by Webster, and it is about his admiration for our current pope, whom he calls, My Pope. In it he quotes from a series of interviews of the pope when he was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger by Peter Seewald. I, too, admire our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, and I love to wrap my mind around his writings.

Here is an excerpt from the post. I have color coded the three parts: green = Peter Seewald, black = Webster Bull, and red = Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI.

In the course of two thousand years of Christian history, the Church has divided time and again. In the meantime, there are around three hundred distinguishable Protestant, Orthodox, or other churches. There are way over a thousand Baptist groups in the United States. Over against these there is still the Roman Catholic Church with the pope at her head, which claims to be the only true Church. She remains at any rate, and despite every crisis, indeed the most universal, historically significant, and successful Church in the world, with more members today than at any time in her history.

This question asked by a skeptical young journalist, no Catholic at the time he asked it, might seem to be what Frank would call a “fat pitch.” Did Ratzinger, in his answer, knock Protestantism out of the park in a grand slam of triumphalism? No, the cardinal laid down a thoughtful bunt single—then stole second, third, and home:

I think that in the spirit of Vatican II we ought not to see that as a triumph for our prowess as Catholics and ought not to make much of the institutional and numerical strength we continue to enjoy. If we were to reckon that as our achievement and as our right, then we would step outside the role of a people belonging to God and set ourselves up as an association in our own right. And that can very quickly go wrong. A Church may have great institutional power in a country, but as soon as faith is no longer there to back it up, the institution will break down.

Perhaps you know the mediaeval story of a Jew who traveled to the papal court and who became a Catholic. On his return, someone who knew the papal court well asked him: “Do you realize what sort of things are going on there?” “Yes,” he said, “of course, quite scandalous things, I saw it all.” “And you still became a Catholic,” remarked the other man. “That’s completely perverse!” Then the Jew said, “It is because of all that that I have become a Catholic. For if the Church continues to exist in spite of it all, then truly there must be someone upholding her.” And there is another story, to the effect that Napoleon once declared that he would destroy the Church. Whereupon one of the cardinals replied, “Not even we have managed that!”

I believe that we see something important in these paradoxical tales. There have in fact always been plenty of human monstrosities in the Catholic Church. That she still holds together, even if she groans and creaks, that she is still in existence, that she produces great martyrs and great believers, people who put their whole lives at her service, as missionaries, as nurses, as teachers, that really does show that there is someone there upholding her.

We cannot, then, reckon the Church’s success as our own reward, but we may still say, with Vatican II—even if the Lord has given a great deal of life to other churches and communities—that the Church herself, as an active agent, has survived and is present in this agent. And that can only be explained by the fact that He grants what men cannot achieve.
H/T: Why I Am Catholic: Because My Pope Said This

Monday, December 28, 2009

Who did Adam & Eve's Children Marry?

Fr. Robert Simon blogs using the pseudonym, Reverend Know-it-all. That's a clue that he writes truth in a humorous way. Sunday he responded to a child's question concerning the marriages of the children of Adam and Eve. In answering he touches on the topic of Biblical interpretation. How are we to understand the Bible as God's Word? Especially, in this context, how are we to understand the early chapters of Genesis? The following is an excerpt of Fr. Simon's response.

The Bible isn’t a history textbook, though it has history in it. It is God’s commentary on the nature of humanity. I’ve said it before and will say it again. The Bible, especially the first chapters of the Bible, are God’s view of real events. He sees them in a fuller and more meaningful way than we can. Perhaps Adam and Eve were a couple of cave persons. God saw more. Perhaps the ark was a flat boat on a flooded Mesopotamian plain. God saw more. Perhaps the Tower of Babel was just a three-story mud hut where a family had a really bad fight. God saw more. Perhaps Abraham was just a greasy desert wanderer. God saw more. Perhaps you and I and your little students are just short-lived blips in the cosmic scheme of things. God sees more.

That’s the point. We look at things and pretend we can take in the whole reality. We can’t. That’s why God gives an interpretation of these great realities and then says, “Trust me.” He tells us just enough to get us to heaven. We want to pick apart the text in a way hides its meaning rather than reveals its meaning. I’m not saying that scholarship is a bad thing. The more we understand about the language and the context of the Scriptures, the more fully we will be able to hear what the Holy Spirit is telling us. However, a lot of so-called scholarship assumes that if you can’t see it or touch it, it isn’t real and has no meaning. That was the very sin of Adam and Eve, the original sin.

Read the text before you pull it apart. Eve looked at the fruit of the tree and saw that it was good for food and for the gaining of knowledge. In other words she believed that she would be God’s equal and not have to be His child. She would no longer have to trust Him. So it is with us old folks, and believe me I have met some very old fourth graders, real cynics. Mary, our Blessed Mother, when confronted with an impossibility, “Behold the Holy Spirit will overshadow you” said. “Okay. I’ll trust God. Whatever He wants.” The new Eve trusted. The old Eve connived. What the text says is so much more important than what the text leaves out. When the devil gets us to look at what the text doesn’t say, he manages to keep us from hearing what the text says and says so beautifully.

I am reminded of W.C. Fields, the great comedian. A friend came to visit it him as he lay dying. He found Fields reading the Bible. He said “I thought you didn’t believe any of the that stuff. Why are you reading the Bible?” Fields responded, “I’m looking for loopholes....” Sometimes, when we try to find out what the Bible doesn’t say instead of hearing what it says, we are doing exactly the same thing, looking for loopholes.

As I have said before, some people have the souls of poets, others have the souls of appliance repairmen. When a poet says “her lips were like roses, her eyes like flame,” the literalist will say, “How did she keep from burning her eyebrows? And did she have thorns to go with roses? That’s gotta hurt.”

So tell your little cynics this: God only tells us the things in the Bible that we need to know. When science describes things one way and the Bible describes them another way, God is being a little bit poetic in order to help us understand, but He’s telling us more about the story than even scientists can.
H/T
Reverend Know-it-all: Who did Adam & Eve's children marry?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Taking a Hiatus from Blogging

There are just 10 or 11 days left until Christmas, depending on how you count. I will refrain from doing any blogging for the duration. I need some solitude to stay in the Advent spirit and to prepare my mind and heart to welcome the Divine Infant.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Saint John of the Cross

The universal Church honors Saint John of the Cross tomorrow. St. John is a Catholic Carmelite Doctor of the Church, and a giant in the field of mystical theology. For a brief summary of his life go here: St. John of the Cross | Saint of the Day | AmericanCatholic.org. This quotation resonated with me:
John in his life and writings has a crucial word for us today. We tend to be rich, soft, comfortable. We shrink even from words like self-denial, mortification, purification, asceticism, discipline. We run from the cross. John’s message—like the gospel—is loud and clear: Don’t—if you really want to live!
This past week I realized what a comfortable and soft lifestyle I live when a snowstorm felled trees and left us without power for a day. We had no modern conveniences except indoor plumbing, minus hot water, and cell phones. By dusk we had to use candles. We wrapped ourselves with layers of clothes and blankets to stay warm. There was no television, radio, or Internet to keep us entertained or informed.

I stared at the burning candles and simply pondered what life was like for our ancestors of a hundred years ago or more. Their ability to survive was more challenging than ours. It certainly built character. So, as the hours passed my husband and I tried to take the inconveniences in stride. But there was much uncertainty about just when power would be restored. So, we ventured out and looked for a hotel. I think Saint John might have been more willing to embrace the cross that had been handed to us, whereas we were more willing to avoid it when we had the opportunity.

In the remaining days of Advent I will take a closer look at how the Lord invites me to carry the crosses of daily life, both large and small. Saint John would encourage that. Saint John of the Cross, pray for me, and pray for all of us.

For more details about Saint John's life and works look here, and here.

Images: top, left: Saint John of the Cross; bottom, center: St. John's drawing of Christ on the Cross

Happy Saint Lucy Day!

Image of Saint Lucy from Holy Cards for Your Inspiration

There is a good summary of what is known about St. Lucy at the Saint of the Day webpage at Americancatholic.org. Here is an excerpt:
The single fact survives that a disappointed suitor accused Lucy of being a Christian and she was executed in Syracuse (Sicily) in the year 304. But it is also true that her name is mentioned in the First Eucharistic Prayer, geographical places are named after her, a popular song has her name as its title and down through the centuries many thousands of little girls have been proud of the name Lucy.

Because her feast day falls on a Sunday, the Sunday liturgy supersedes that of this saint.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Pew Study Finds Americans Surprisingly Flexible in Faith and Religion - ABC News

Is this really so surprising? The U.S. is a land of pluralism, and we live in a "connected" society. Information about other faiths is readily available in ways never before conceived of. Furthermore, people are quite mobile. But it's not just a phenomenon of contemporary times. Anytime people of different faiths or other ideologies live together they trade their ideas and practices back and forth. Some ideas and/or practices are assimilated others rejected. At any rate, I don't see the idea that Americans are flexible in their faith so astounding. Whether or not it's a good or bad phenomenon is worthy of discussion.

Having grown up within Catholic circles, I had not explored other faiths until I left home to join the U.S Air Force. There the various religious faiths shared facilities, like the chapels. Also, I met others, both Catholics and non-Catholics whose religious practices differed from mine. I got to know them, and they me. Some invited me to experience their religious services. Although I was not necessarily eager for this, I also felt the need to be respectful of their sincerity. When I attended, for example, Catholic Charismatic prayer meetings, it was an experience that I found interesting and attractive at some level. I had many Catholic charismatic friends and I developed a better understanding and experience of the work of the Holy Spirit. I began, as well, to read Protestant Pentecostal literature. Even their writings shed light on my own faith and beliefs.

Outside of Catholic circles I went to a Protestant revival or two. They were fun because of their liveliness and the dynamic speakers. I felt I could enjoy that, but I knew my own faith well enough not to get caught up in their theological ideas, which differed from Catholic, or their altar calls, because I harbored no doubts that I knew the Lord as my Savior long before all of these events.

One of the sergeants with whom I worked as a medical lab instructor invited me to attend the Episcopalian church service with his family. I did so, but asked him, in turn to come to a Catholic Mass. At that time the Episcopalian religious services were similar to Catholic, although I saw differences such as the way they received communion and that they permitted very young preschool children to receive. As a Catholic I did not participate in the Communion service because the Catholic theological understanding of Communion is very different. I also noticed the Lutheran's had a service that looked very much like Catholic Mass.

One of my roommates decided to become a Mormon. She asked me to go with her to her baptism. I did. I had never seen a baptism by immersion. It sort of wowed me. Catholics do that nowadays, too, as one option for getting baptized. The other thing I remember is that there were individuals who stood up and gave personal testimonies about their faith. That, too, wowed me. I was simply not used to hearing people talk that way about such personal matters. I see more of this in the Catholic faith now, for example in small faith-sharing groups.

These are just a few of my memories of those years. Had I not been in the particular situation of being in that military environment I probably would not have had those experiences. While exploring other faiths in this way I never, even for a minute, considered that I was practicing those faiths. I guess I saw myself as a spectator, just checking things out, and just responding to invitations that came my way. And, I never substituted those religious services for going to a Catholic Mass.

Now, as to the question is this trend toward actually practicing other faiths good or bad, I guess one would have to speak to those who do it. I am aware of cases where a Catholic marries a non-Catholic and the couple raises the children in both faiths. I would not be able to do that. For a Catholic it would actually be wrong to do that, because when we have our children baptized we promise to raise them in the practice of the Catholic faith.

In reading the ABC News article linked below, I especially noted the comments of Glenda Somerville who is Catholic, but who attends religious services of other denominations. She does this because she says God embraces all people and she doesn't, therefore, want to ignore other denominations. My question(s) to her would be, "If you didn't go to non-Catholic religious services, would that mean you are ignoring those people? Might there be other avenues of dialogue or working on common social projects?"

She made another comment that I found more compelling. She said that in the other services women are allowed roles that they are not allowed in the Catholic faith. They can be ministers and they can preach. Here, especially in the preaching, I think she has a good point. It is also a contentious one for some Catholic women who view the absence of female clergy in the Catholic Church as oppression of women. Although I don't hold such an extreme view, I would like to see Catholic women be allowed to preach at Mass. Yes, I'd love to see that happen.

I am not at all surprised at the findings of the Pew Study.

Pew Study Finds Americans Surprisingly Flexible in Faith and Religion - ABC News

Pope Benedict's Response to Murphy Report: "Outrage, Betrayal and Shame"

Recent scandals in the Catholic Church have affected me deeply. I've alternated between feeling angry and outraged to feeling very sad. I am happy that our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI is dealing with the most recent horrifying developments in Ireland. I am referring to this report: Report by Commission of Investigation into Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin.

I happen to be of Irish descent and I treasure my Irishness, particularly do I feel indebted to the Catholic faith of the Irish as it has been handed on to me in many ways: my Irish-Catholic lineage, Catholic teachers of Irish heritage, outstanding American-Irish priests and bishops, and just growing up in Chicago with its heavily Irish-Catholic population and culture.

My faith is strong, and I believe that these scandals, once dealt with, will not bring down the Church, because Christ Himself promised to be with us until the end of time. But, the scandals do diminish the credibility of the Church when its leaders speak out on matters of faith and morals. I think it will take a long time to repair that damage.

I try to bolster my own spirits by keeping my eyes on the good elements in the Church. By far the good overwhelms the bad. I find this hopeful, and I hope anyone reading this will hold on to that hope.

H/T to: Whispers in the Loggia: "Outrage, Betrayal and Shame": B16's Murphy Response

CNS news report here.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Why I Haven't Posted Lately

Things don't always go as planned, do they? Ha-ha!

Sunday night it snowed here. Monday we had a foot of snow. That's more in one night than in the previous 10 years combined. We supposedly live below the snow line of the Sierra Nevada foothills. :-)

Trees and branches laden with snow toppled or broke. They in turn felled the power lines. So, we had no power. That, of course, meant no heat, no hot water, no cooking facilities.

To complicate matters the local public services don't know how to respond to such a catastrophe. 22,000 residences were lacking power; streets were not plowed; people couldn't get in or out of their driveways unless they had four-wheel drive vehicles.

Jim, my husband, really wanted to get to work Monday, so he decided to see if he could drive his truck out. No way. It fish-tailed badly. But, my car has front wheel drive and he was able to drive it back and forth up and down our driveway to mash the snow. Other neighbors with 4-wheel drive had made ruts on our road, but we didn't think we could make it up the steep hill. Jim grudgingly stayed home.

Jim and I toughed it out for awhile, using candles for light when the sun set, and sleeping under mounds of blankets for warmth. But, we couldn't cook. We didn't want to open the refrigerator and let out the cool air.

So we decided to pack and find a hotel on Tuesday. It wasn't easy, because the hotels were booked. We had to drive quite a distance to find a room available. One night away was sufficient because power was restored Tuesday around 3 p.m.

I'm back in our cozy home. It's such a wonderful blessing to have modern conveniences! All is well, but I have to chauffeur Jim to and from work because his truck still cannot navigate the unplowed, unsalted roads. He is determined, now, to get 4-wheel drive on his next truck.

Through all of this I haven't had a chance to go to daily Mass. Ah, well, God's will is otherwise. :-)

My friend Kathy, who lives in town had this to say:
"[I am] reminded how much we take for granted in this cozy life we live. Beautiful snow, some falling branches and a burst pipe can surely sideline us from the day-to-day that we're so accustomed to! The good news? We find ourselves closer to one another and our neighbors as we share warm food, hot beverages, information and friendship."
My story may be amusing to you living in the regions where you have much worse weather. I hope you are warm and cozy.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Saturday Evening Blog Post Time!

Go over to Elizabeth Esther's blog where bloggers gather on the first Saturday of each month to share their latest and greatest blog posts! This month she is featuring posts from November 2009!

I have participated in this before. What I like about it is that I get introduced to other wonderful, inspiring blogs.

I submitted my November 2nd post about the funeral of a wonderful woman, Mary McComb, whom I admired.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Mass on Friday, the First Week in Advent

I very much enjoy going to Mass, and I do so as often as circumstances of my life permit. Today, by God's grace, I was able to participate at Mass at the Carmelite Monastery in Georgetown. Father Tom Timmons, the Carmelite Nuns' chaplain, concelebrated the Mass with Father Adam, a discalced Carmelite priest, who was visiting the nuns. Fr. Adam was accompanied by two young men who are postulants at the Discalced Carmelite Friar's monastery in San Jose.

This morning's Mass featured the holy Gospel according to Matthew 9:27-31, where two blind men begged Jesus to heal them with these words, "Son of David, have pity on us!" Their faith moved Jesus to grant their request and "their eyes were opened." Although Jesus sternly warned them to tell no one, they did just the opposite and "spread the word through the whole area!" Personally, I don't blame them. Anyway, anyone who knew they were blind and could now see would be asking questions, so even if they wanted to keep quiet, it would be rather impossible.

According to Fr. Adam, who preached the homily, all of us need to be cured of our "blindness." Here, of course, he means the blindness caused by the way sin distorts our vision of the world, our communities, and our interior lives. Receiving Jesus in the Eucharist is our source of healing. This is why I like to participate in Mass so often. I need the healing offered by our Lord in Holy Communion---and I need it often.

I have a book of Advent meditations, Biblical Meditations for Advent and the Christmas Season by Carroll Stuhlmueller, C.P. It has fine commentaries about the daily as well as the Sunday scripture readings for both Advent and Christmas. It it helping me maintain the right spirit of hopeful expectancy.

After Mass I like to stay in the chapel for silent meditation. In our hustle bustle world there are few oases where one can experience true silence, and the monastery chapel is one of those places.

Music Industry Should Cater More to Senior Citizens

If you go to the link below to read the New York Times article you will find this statement: "For many in the music industry Ms. Boyle’s sales are a reminder of a large and often forgotten audience: older listeners...."

Yes! Some of us oldsters don't understand the new types of music and/or don't like them. When I listened to PBS's recent program on pop music of the 1950s I could understand it and it also sounded beautiful to my ears. Unfortunately for me it cost $150 donation to get the CDs, which I wasn't willing to spend. But, if they were available at reasonable prices I would get them.

Anyway, my point is the music industry is missing out on producing music that my husband and I would love to have.

I have Susan Boyle's new CD album, I Dreamed a Dream, and have listened to it a few times already. She gives an outstanding performance for the majority of the selections. My favorite is "Up to the Mountain." I couldn't believe how well she sang it! I also liked "Who I Was Born to Be" a lot.

Three selections are less stellar in my opinion. I thought "How Great Thou Art" and "Amazing Grace" could have been better. Nevertheless, I DO recommend the CD. It might make a good Christmas gift for someone you like.

Susan Boyle, Top Seller, Shakes Up CD Trends - NYTimes.com

Some Evangelicals Turn to the Church Fathers

I enjoyed reading this post from the Christian History blog of the Wheaton Center for Early Christian Studies. Wheaton College of Elmhurst, Illinois has started a center for the study of Patristics. This is a branch of Christian theology that deals with the lives, writings, and doctrines of the early Christian theologians, also known as the Fathers of the Church. (Incidentally, today just happens to be the memorial of St. John Damascene, the last of the Greek Fathers.)

Many of these earliest Christian theologians were scripture scholars and interpreters of God's Word. There are maybe 100 of these holy men (no women as far as I know), most of whom are considered saints. I'm pleasantly surprised to see Wheaton College sponsoring this center. According to an article in the November 29th issue of OSV there are just two Catholic universities that have similar centers: The Catholic University of America and Notre Dame. There are, however, many colleges that have at least one professor of Patristics.

This will certainly introduce some Evangelicals to deeper, nonliteral ways of Biblical interpretation. As I see it this may enhance relations between Catholics and Evangelical Protestants, and that's a good thing, ecumenically speaking.

Christian History Blog: Why Evangelicals Turn to the Church Fathers

Thursday, December 3, 2009

How to Avoid a Bah Humbug Attitude this Season

Recently I became a Facebook fan of the Wish Me a Merry Christmas Campaign. (Yes, I'm back on Facebook.) But today I will rescind my fanship, a new word I've coined, because I have noticed a lot of negativity in the comments on their FB page. It has become what I'd call a Bah Humbug attitude in reverse!

Lot's of Christians are upset because they perceive that Christ's name is being taken out of Christmas, that Nativity Scenes are not allowed in public places or Christmas trees are now being called Holiday trees. Even though I think it's somewhat sad I also think maybe it's not as important as some people make it out to be.

Yesterday my FB friend, Eileen, forwarded to me an email that had an imaginary letter from Jesus that addressed this whole topic. I do not know who originated the letter, but if anyone reading this knows, please tell me, so I can give credit to the real author. The sentiments expressed, although not from Jesus, sound very Gospel-like.

Letter from Jesus about Christmas --

It has come to my attention that many of you are upset that folks are taking My name out of the season.

How I personally feel about this celebration can probably be most easily understood by those of you who have been blessed with children of your own. I don't care what you call the day. If you want to celebrate My birth, just GET ALONG AND LOVE ONE ANOTHER.

Now, having said that let Me go on. If it bothers you that the town in which you live doesn't allow a scene depicting My birth, then just get rid of a couple of Santa’s and snowmen and put in a small Nativity scene on your own front lawn If all My followers did that there wouldn't be any need for such a scene on the town square because there would be many of them all around town.

Stop worrying about the fact that people are calling the tree holiday tree, instead of a Christmas tree. It was I who made all trees. You can remember Me anytime you see any tree. Decorate a grape vine if you wish: I actually spoke of that one in a teaching, explaining who I am in relation to you and what each of our tasks were. If you have forgotten that one, look up John 15: 1-8.

If you want to give Me a present in remembrance of My birth here is my wish list. Choose something from it:

1. Instead of writing protest letters objecting to the way My birthday is being celebrated, write letters of love and hope to soldiers away from home. They are terribly afraid and lonely this time of year. I know, they tell Me all the time.

2. Visit someone in a nursing home. You don't have to know them personally. They just need to know that someone cares about them.

3. Instead of writing the President complaining about the wording on the cards his staff sent out this year, why don't you write and tell him that you'll be praying for him and his family this year. Then follow up... It will be nice hearing from you again.

4. Instead of giving your children a lot of gifts you can't afford and they don't need, spend time with them. Tell them the story of My birth, and why I came to live with you down here. Hold them in your arms and remind them that I love them.

5 Pick someone that has hurt you in the past and forgive him or her.

6. Did you know that someone in your town will attempt to take their own life this season because they feel so alone and hopeless? Since you don't know who that person is, try giving everyone you meet a warm smile; it could make the difference.

7. Instead of nit picking about what the retailer in your town calls the holiday, be patient with the people who work there. Give them a warm smile and a kind word. Even if they aren't allowed to wish you a "Merry Christmas" that doesn't keep you from wishing them one. Then stop shopping there on Sunday. If the store didn't make so much money on that day they'd close and let their employees spend the day at home with their families

8. If you really want to make a difference, support a missionary—especially one who takes My love and Good News to those who have never heard My name.

9. Here's a good one. There are individuals and whole families in your town who not only will have no "Christmas" tree, but neither will they have any presents to give or receive. If you don't know them, buy some food and a few gifts and give them to the Salvation Army or some other charity which believes in Me and they will make the delivery for you.

10. Finally, if you want to make a statement about your belief in and loyalty to Me, then behave like a Christian. Don't do things in secret that you wouldn't do in My presence. Let people know by your actions that you are one of mine.

Don't forget; I am God and can take care of Myself. Just love Me and do what I have told you to do. I'll take care of all the rest. Check out the list above and get to work; time is short. I'll help you, but the ball is now in your court. And do have a most blessed Christmas with all those whom you love and remember:

I LOVE YOU,

JESUS

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Books I'm Reading (1): Redeemer in the Womb

Have you ever thought about the nine months Jesus spent in the womb of His mother? I must admit that I had not given it a great deal of thought, although I understand clearly that at the moment Mary said her Fiat to the Archangel Gabriel---ultimately to God, "The Word became flesh."

This book is pro-life. It focuses on the months before Jesus' birth in Bethlehem. I first read Redeemer in the Womb: Jesus Living in Mary by John Saward two years ago during a diocesan Advent retreat for Directors of Religious Education. During Advent this year I will reread it as one piece of my personal "spiritual makeover" in preparation for Christmas.

Here is what the back cover says that perfectly describes the book's contents:

This book is a unique and profound theological meditation on the nine months the God-man spent in His Virgin Mother's womb. Drawing on Christian philosophy, poetry, liturgy, as well as the Fathers and great theologians of the Church, Saward shows that faith in the Incarnation commits the believer inescapably to the defense of the unborn child. He invites the reader, in the light of Christ, to rediscover the beauty of his own, and every human being's, first few months of existence.
During Advent I will post some of the insights I am gleaning from this read. Admittedly it is profound, but those are the kinds of reads I like. I tend to read slowly and savor everything.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

'Tis the Advent Time of the Year

The liturgical season of Advent begins at sundown today. We light the first candle of our Advent wreaths.


The season of Advent resets the clocks and calendars of Christian worship. Annually we leap into another gospel tradition and maneuver into a familiar yet foggy cycle. [The new cycle is C, and the Gospel is Luke.] Sounds and signs of dubious direction surround us. Slipper and pajama sizes, not the quiet beauty of our noble tradition, often preoccupy us. We are easily left with the shallow, the cliche.

Advent summons us to the beginning. The lavishness of God's compassion and mercy frame yet another year for us. With the arrival of Advent's first Sunday, we attend to this mystery one more time. Clearly, we are a people who origins and destiny make us curious yet apprehensive about the day of the Lord's coming. Our tradition proclaims this as both an event already accomplished in human history and an event moving toward fulfillment in the future---our future. Our worship, fashioned of word and sacrament, insists that our encounter with the day of the Lord occurs concretely in the struggles and tension, choices and decisions of human living. Through the ages, poets, teacher, storytellers, mystics, rabbis, saints, political activists and martyrs of the justice of the gospel---all these, most of them ordinary people, have handed on to us words and images that identify and describe this encounter with the day of the Lord. ~ From An Advent Sourcebook edited by Thomas J. O'Gorman.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Keys to Theology: Contemplation and Pursuit of Understanding

The following is an excerpt from the Catholic News Service News Briefs of today's online edition. As is so often the case the Holy Father stresses the importance of both human understanding and faith.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Although there are different approaches to the study of the Scriptures, theology is rooted in contemplation based on faith and the pursuit of understanding, Pope Benedict XVI said at his weekly general audience. Illustrating the lives and teachings of two 12th-century theologians from the St. Victor monastery in Paris, the pope spoke Nov. 25 about the different ways Christian thinkers have sought truth from the Bible. Hugh of St. Victor, who was a respected teacher at the abbey until his death in 1141, emphasized the importance of the literal or historical sense of the Scriptures "as the basis of theology's effort to unite faith and reason in understanding God's saving plan," the pope said. His student, Richard of St. Victor, "stressed the allegorical sense of the Scriptures" as a means to present spiritual teachings to the faithful, the pope said. Their examples "remind us that theology is grounded in the contemplation born of faith and the pursuit of understanding," Pope Benedict said.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Today We Celebrate Three Holy Lives

Who are the three? They are Saints Clement I and Columban, and Blessed Miguel Augustin Pro.

Saint Clement I
Not very much is known of Saint Clement. In the Liturgy of the Hours it says:
Saint Clement, the third pope to rule the Roman Church after Saint Peter, reigned toward the end of the first century. He wrote the famous epistle to the Corinthians to strengthen and encourage peace and unity among them.
When I was studying in Rome back in 2006 I visited the Basilica of San Clemente, which isn't too far from the Colosseum. The guidebook, which I still have, has this to say about him:
Very little is known about the life of this early Pope, although he was not unknown to writers in the century after his death. Thus St. Irenaeus (c 130-200) describes him as a contemporary of Saints Peter and Paul, while Origen (. 185-c.254) goes further and identifies him with the Clement to whom St. Paul refers as a fellow-laborer (Phil. 4:3). According to recent research his writing betrays a Jewish background, and it has been suggested that he may have belonged, perhaps as a Jewish ex-slave, to the household of the martyr Titus Flavius Clemens, a cousin of the Emperor Domitian (81-96 A.D.).

At all events he is the undoubted author of a celebrated Letter to the Corinthians which was written c. 96 in the name of the Roman Church to deal authoritatively with disturbance in the Church at Corinth, where presbyters had been deposed. Issuing a call to repentance, Clement insisted in the name of the Apostles that the presbyters in question should be reinstated and legitimate superiors obeyed. The effect of this appeal is remarkable, and indeed is one of the earliest witnesses to the authority of the Church of Rome. For we find that the Letter was so highly regarded that it was being read publicly at Corinth with the Scriptures about 170, and still in the sixth century.
Legends have developed around this saint. You can learn about some of them here: http://subtuum.blogspot.com/2009/11/from-clement-of-rome-to-clementing.html.

Saint Columban
In the Liturgy of the Hours the following is written about Saint Columban
Saint Columban was born in Ireland before the middle of the sixth century. He was well trained in the classics and theology. After entering the monastic life, he went to France and founded many monasteries which he ruled with strict discipline. After being foced into exile, he went to Italy and founded the monastery of Bobbio. He died in 614.
At St. Peter's Basilica in Rome there is a chapel named in honor of Saint Columban. Not only did I attend Mass there, but I had the privilege of proclaiming the reading for that day to all present. So, I guess it would be true to say that I proclaimed God's Word in St. Peter's Basilica!

More details of his life can be found at this link: http://www.ewtn.com/library/MARY/COLUMBAN.htm.

Blessed Miguel Augustin Pro, S.J.
Miguel Pro is not yet a saint. One more miracle must be attributed to his intercession before he will be canonized. Here is what the Liturgy of the Hours says about him:
Miguel Pro was born near Zacatecas, Mexico on 13 January 1891. In 1911 he entered the Society of Jesus; his studies took him to the United States, Spain and Belgium, where he was ordained in 1926. On his return to Mexico he carried out his priestly ministry secretly, because of the religious persecution. Eventually his zeal attracted the unfavorable attention of the authorities; he was arrested on false charges and was condemned to death. The sentence was carried out by shooting on 23 November 1927. Blessed Miguel Agustin Pro was beatified by Pope John Paul II on 25 September 1988 at St. Peter's in Rome.

When I was studying Spanish in 2003 in Guadalajara I visited Zacatecas. There I bought a comic book style biography of Miguel Pro written in Spanish. It was very enjoyable reading and good practice for learning Spanish. Many people are unaware of the severe persecution of Catholic in Mexico in the early 20th century. It seems so ironic because Mexico is a very Catholic and Christian country. This saint's last words were "¡ Viva Cristo Rey !"

There is a lot of interesting information about this saint at this website: http://puffin.creighton.edu/jesuit/pro/.

Remembering the Holy Souls


November is the month of the Holy Souls. The holy souls in this photo are my mother and maternal grandparents who are interred at St. Joseph cemetery in River Grove, IL. Although each of them died quite awhile ago, it was just this week that the tombstone was places on their grave sites.

Until I saw this recently installed stone I didn't know my grandpa was so much younger than my grandma. Dates are interesting! Grandpa Lucas died when I was exactly 4 months old. I like the Celtic cross. It represents The Faith, theirs and mine, and my Irish roots.

My dad happens to be interred at St. Joseph's as well.

I've been trying to remember to pray more this month for the Holy Souls.

SANCTE PATER: Verses I Never Saw

Marcus Grodi, the host of The Journey Home, has written an essay that tells how new interpretations of familiar Bible verses were life-changing experiences.
One of the more commonly shared experiences of Protestant converts to the Catholic Church is the discovery of verses “we never saw.” Even after years of studying, preaching, and teaching the Bible, sometimes from cover to cover, all of a sudden a verse “we never saw” appears as if by magic and becomes an “Aha!” mind-opening, life-altering messenger of spiritual “doom”! Sometimes it’s just recognizing an alternate, clearer meaning of a familiar verse, but often, as with some of the verses mentioned below, it literally seems as if some Catholic had snuck in during the night and somehow put that verse there in the text!

The list of these surprise verses is endless, depending especially on a convert’s former religious tradition, but the following are a few key verses that turned my heart toward home. This article is a reprint from the topic I covered on the July 31, 2006 broadcast of The Journey Home on EWTN.

Go to the following link to read his selection of 10 Biblical verses, Proverbs 3:5-6; 1 Timothy 3: 14-15; Timothy 3:14-17; 2 Thessalonians 2:15; Matthew 16:13-19; Revelation 14:13; Romans 10:14-15; John 15:4 and 6:56; Colossians 1:24; Luke 1:46-49, and his commentaries on each: SANCTE PATER: Verses I Never Saw

H/T: New Advent

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Becoming a Canonized Saint

A saint is someone who has died and gone to heaven. To become any kind of a saint a person must lead a holy life. How that life looks varies from saint to saint. Many saints were terrible sinners who had a conversion experience. Some were martyrs who died professing their faith. Some were more or less holy throughout their lives, living lives of discipleship and heroic virtue.

Some saints are canonized by the Catholic Church. My friend Eileen listed the five steps necessary for canonization, and these were published in our church bulletin today. I added my own comments in brackets.

1) At least five years should have passed since the death of the candidate. [Very seldom are exceptions made to this and usually it's a lot longer.]

2) The bishop of the diocese in which the person whose beatification is being requested begins the investigation.

3) Acts and documentation are passed to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and if the cause for sainthood is advanced, the Pope makes the decision to proclaim the candidate Venerable. [That's a title.]

4) When the requested miracle is proven through canonical investigation, the cadidate is beatified and receives the title of Blessed.

5) For canonization, another miracle is needed attributed to the intercession of the Blessed and having occurred after beatification. With canonization, the Blessed acquires the title of "Saint."

Archbishop Fulton Sheen, Fr. Solanus Casey, and Dorothy Day are three U.S. citizens whose causes are currently being investigated.

Eileen recommends reading about Saint Gianna, an Italian mother, who was canonized May 16, 2004 with her husband and children in attendance. See: http://www.saintgianna.org/stgiannascannonization.htm. This is a beautiful website.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Prayer of Gratitude

Introduction
There is a narrative in Luke's Gospel about Jesus curing ten lepers when he was traveling to Jerusalem through Samaria and Galilee. The lepers pleaded for Jesus to have pity on them. Jesus didn't even ask them what they wanted from him. Rather, he told them to go and show themselves to the priest. So off they went.


But on the way to the priest one of the ten realized he had been healed. He wholeheartedly glorified God. He also returned to Jesus and fell at his feet thanking him. This healed man was a Samaritan.

Jesus asked where the other nine were, because all of them had been healed. He noted that only the foreigner had returned to give thanks. Then he told the Samaritan to go and that his faith had saved him.

Meditation
This appeared in Magnificat as the "Meditation of the Day" for November 11th.

What the Leper May Have Prayed

Lord Jesus Christ our God,
the God of boundless mercies and compassion,
whose love for mankind is indescribable and immeasurable,
I fall before your glory with fear and trembling as I offer you thanks
for all the good things you have granted me, your unworthy servant.

I glorify you, praise you, and sing to you,
the only Lord, Master and Benefactor.
Again, falling before you, I offer thanks to your unspeakable compassion
and pray that from this day forth, as before,
you continue to work you wonders for me,
that thus I may grow in love for you and for my neighbor.

Deliver me from all evil and need.
Grant me peace, and make me worthy, all the days of my life,
to offer thanks to you and to cry out and sing
to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,
now and ever and unto ages of ages.

From an Orthodox Prayer Book

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Evening Prayer Practice

It is part of all Catholic spirituality to pray in the evening. Often this is done right before going to sleep, but may be done any time after sunset. Evening prayers vary, but usually include prayers of praise and thanks, as well as an examination of conscience and a prayer expressing sorrow for sin and repentance.

Saturday I participated in an adult education opportunity about spirituality. Among the helpful handouts was one called "An Examen," which is a formal examination of the soul or conscience, made daily by Jesuits and some other Roman Catholics. I really liked it and want to share it with you. I don't think it matters whether or not you are Catholic.

An Examen

Recall you are in the presence of God. Place yourself in the presence of God. Become aware of God being resent to you, looking at you, as someone whom God loves.

Review the day with gratitude. Thank God for the gifts of the day, for the gifts and graces you received, for life itself, and the people who have graced you and touched you.

Ask for the Holy Spirit's help. As the spirit to help you appreciate and understand what has been happening in your life today. Ask for a deep appreciation of God's presence in the people, happenings, and events of your life today.

Review how you are living today. Recall the events of your day, and allow God to surface positive memories from the day. What today left you feeling content, full, excited? Can you see God loving you and laboring for you in these moments? Allow God to surface negative or unsettling memories from the day. What today left you feeling frustrated, empty, hurt? What left you feeling off balance? What person or area needs more attention? Can you see God in these moments, inviting you to grow?

Look with hope toward tomorrow. Given these memories, pay attention to any desires or hopes for the day to come. Talk to God friend-to-friend about whatever is in your heart. Round off the examen with the Lord's Prayer.

Monday, November 2, 2009

One of the Things I Love about Being Catholic: Catholic Funerals

I'll stay Catholic as long as it means I can have a Catholic funeral. Okay, that's not the only reason I'll stay Catholic, but it helps---especially if there's an Irish touch to it.

Today, All Souls Day, I attended the funeral Mass of my friend and fellow Lay Carmelite, Mary McComb. It's quite significant that her funeral Mass was held today, because this is the one day in the universal Church, when, in every parish throughout the world, a Mass is celebrated in remembrance of those who have died and gone before us to eternal life. That's a lot of prayer!


Some of the last words I heard from Mary were an intercessory prayer she said at our Lay Carmelite Day of Recollection. She prayed that her husband Bill and her 4 children, all of whom preceded her in death, would be in heaven so they could all be together. Now Mary is usually quiet during our intercessory prayer time, so the fact that she made this prayer struck me as significant. I thought to myself, "Mary knows something." When I shared this with my other fellow Lay Carmelites during today's reception meal, many of them remembered that and said they were thinking the same thing.

A half hour before the funeral Mass began, we prayed the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary for Mary. Five of us Lay Carmelites took turns for each decade of the Rosary. The theme of the Glorious Mysteries is Resurrection. It was so apropos as preparation for a Catholic funeral, because it is a celebration of immortality and the Resurrection of the dead.

Our pastor, Fr. John Cantwell, was fond of Mary. She and Bill welcomed him when he arrived as pastor by taking him around our town and the other local areas and telling him the history. Fr. C. loves history.

Here are some of the memories that were told about Mary, but I can't remember all of them.
  • Mary came to daily Mass every day. And on the weekend she came to all three parish Masses, one on Saturday evening and two on Sunday morning.

  • When Bill was living the two of them would rise very early and drive around the perimeter of Placerville praying the Rosary as the went. En route they stopped at the City Hall, the Courthouse, the local hospital, the Police and Fire Stations, and Schools as they prayed. They ended at Church where they remained for morning Mass.

  • Every Friday Mary changed the holy water fonts located at every door of our Church. She disposed of the old, soiled water; washed the container; and placed fresh holy water in each one. [Catholics bless themselves with holy water when entering Church as a reminder of their baptism, which is the entrance into the life of Christ.]
  • Mary was the lemonade lady. When the Ladies' Society had social events or funeral receptions, Mary prepared the lemonade. No one else was allowed! But today someone else prepared it.
  • Mary had the faith. Yes, she had a hard life. I can't think of anything more difficult than to bury one's own child. Can you? She buried four of her eight children, two before her husband Bill died, and two since then. There are two benches in our Church courtyard in commemoration of the first two who died.

  • Mary will be inurned in St. Patrick Cemetery Mausoleum, in our parish cemetery. She will be near her husband and children. Father said Mary sometimes lamented that the ground by their grave sites was uneven and it was hard to grow grass there. So he promised to level the ground for Mary. [The mausoleum is a recent addition, so I'm not sure Bill is in it.]

Mary was one of a kind. She wore her heart on her sleeve, yet she had a backbone and was strong.

I loved the music that was chosen for her funeral Mass. All, but one, were familiar to me. The one I didn't know did have a familiar tune. It was the words that were new. It's called, "O Loving God," and it is sung to the tune of "O, Danny Boy."
O loving God, we send you daughter home to you,
home to a place of everlasting love, to join there
with the angel choirs and blessed saints, and to be-
hold your glorious holy face.

Refrain:
Receive her soul and
let eternal light shine, eternal light forever on her
soul, so she may be forever in your dwelling place,
and be at rest in peace until we meet her there.

O loving God, have mercy and forgiveness
upon your servant's now departed soul, and may you
grace and love enfold her evermore, so she may
dwell in paradise at last.

Back to refrain.

(Copyright: 2004 by Paulette M. McCoy and published by OCP)
Yes, I definitely love a Catholic funeral! And I recommend planning out the kind of funeral you want to have before it happens. I feel motivated to start planning mine soon.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Annotated Bibligraphy of the Saints

Introduction

I compiled the following list of books about saints two years ago when I gave a workshop for religious educators for the Diocese of Sacramento called "Saints Alive!". The list has an intermingling of books that are for adults as well as those for children. They are listed alphabetically by authors and include a very brief summary of the book. I also included websites for information about saints.

This bibliography is a list of some fine books about the saints. Only those with which I am personally familiar have been listed. It is certainly not exhaustive, and I recommend that you do your own research and find books and other resources that appeal to you.

Saints Alive Annotated Bibliography

Amadeo, Diana M. Holy Friends: Thirty Saints and Blesseds of the Americas. Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 2005. [suitable for children to read]

Each entry consists of an attractive one-page illustration showing the saint in action. The biographical sketch of two to three pages gives the saint’s country of origin, the highlights of the saint’s life, and ends with information about the date of canonization or beatification, the date of the saint’s feast day, and a short intercessory prayer to that saint.

Bentley, James. A Calendar of Saints: the Lives of the Principal Saints of the Christian Year. U.K.: Little, Brown and Company, 1997.

This book contains brief biographical entries for every day of the year. These saints are from different periods of history and every walk of life. It has lavish illustrations, many in full color.

Burns, Paul. Butler’s Lives of the Saints: Supplement of New Saints and Blesseds,Volume 1. Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2005.

This volume covers all those canonized or beatified since late 1999 to the end of 2003. Some are generally well known, like Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Padre Pio, and Pope John XXIII. Others are obscure and know only in a particular locale or by their religious congregation.

Craughwell, Thomas J. Catholic Cardlinks: Patron Saints. Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., 2004 [suitable for children to read]

This is a series of cards, linked together with a screw, that profile 48 saints, some famous, others more obscure, who Catholics have called upon when they were in need; for example, struggling in school or not sleeping well because of nightmares. There are saints for boys and girls (and adults) who like to draw, write, play sports, saints for anyone who likes dogs, cats, birds even whales!

Elie, Paul, ed. Contemporary Writers on the Saints. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1994.

This book is a compilation of a series of essays about particular saints, like St. Joseph, St. Perpetua, St. Jean de Brebeuf and more, written by such contemporary writers as Martin E. Marty, Kathleen Norris, and Avery Dulles, S.J., and more.

Ellsberg, Robert. All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witness for Our Time. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1997. Study Guide copyright 2004 by Robert Ellsberg.

Excellent compendium of a variety of holy people, not limited to those who are canonized, and including Mahatmas Gandhi, Julian of Norwich, Martin de Porres, and Mary Magdalen, to name a few. It was the winner of the 1998 Christopher Award.

__________. The Saints’ Guide to Happiness. New York: North Point Press, 2003.

In our contemporary culture there are many books that try to answer the question, “What is happiness, and how might we find it?” This book attempts to answer these questions by offering a series of lessons with the saints as our guides. These lessons are about living life, work, love, suffering, and more.

Gallery, Philip D. Can You Find Saints?: Introducing Your Child to Holy Men and Women. Cincinnati, Ohio: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2003. [suitable forchildren to read]

This is a clever picture book in which children are invited to search for the saints using clues. For each search and picture there is a corresponding parent’s guide in a second part of the book. The authors emphasize the virtues of each saint.

__________. Can You Find Followers of Jesus?: Introducing Your Child to Disciples.
Cincinnati, Ohio: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2000. [suitable forchildren to read]

This book is similar to the previous one. The focus is on realizing our place in God’s plan of spreading the Gospel message to all people. Mary, the apostles, St. Paul, Lydia, the Gospel writers, St. Patrick and Pope John Paul II and many others are featured.

__________. Can You Find Bible Heroes?: Introducing Your Child to the Old Testa- ment. Cincinnati, Ohio: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 1998. [suitable forchildren to read]

This book is similar to the previous two. The emphasis is on the Jewish culture into which Jesus was immersed. The holy people are the men and women whom Jesus and his friends would have considered heroes. Noah, Joseph, Moses, Orpah, Ruth, David, and Jesus himself are included.

Ghezzi, Bert. Voices of the Saints: A Year of Readings. New York: Image Books/Doubleday, 2000.

This is a unique book because it can be used in a variety of ways. Names are in alphabetical order, but it also has a day-by-day numbering system, notations with each entry that help the reader explore the lives in historical order, an index which highlights interesting themes, and a calendar of saints’ days. Each entry also contains and excerpt of the saint’s writings and/or a prayer by or about the saint.

Glavich, S.N.D., Kathleen. Saints for Children: Stories, Activities, Prayer Services. Mystic, Connecticut: Twenty-third Publications, 1997.

This book features the lives of twelve popular saints. It has an appealing account the saint’s life and good works. The author emphasizes the saints’ virtues and tells how they may practice these virtues in their own lives. The activities and prayer services are suitable for middle graders. There is a brief and simple explanation of the canonization process in the introduction.

Gordon, Anne. A Book of Saints: True Stories of How They Touch Our Lives. New York: Bantam Books, 1994.

This author portrays the humanity of the saints through stories of their everyday lives, and attempts to show that they were just a little different from ordinary people who also act with love and kindness for others.

Martin, S.J., James. My Life with the Saints. Chicago: Loyola Press, 2006.

James Martin, a Jesuit priest, and an associate editor of America Magazine, has led, like you and I, a thoroughly modern life within the American culture of the United States. In this book he shows how at every step along the way special friends—the saints of the Catholic Church, have accompanied him. He persuasively shows how the saints can be our friends as well. This book has won the 2007 Christopher Award for books for adults and the 2007 Catholic Press Association First Place Award in Spirituality Books.

Rock, Lois. Saintly Tales and Legends. Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 2003.[suitable for children to read]

Beautifully illustrated book of folk tales and legends that inspire the imaginations of children and which explore a world of saints and angels, like St. Nicholas, St. Christopher, St. Germaine, and St. Bakhita.

Self, David. The Loyola Treasury of Saints. Chicago: Loyola Press, 2003. [suitable for children to read]

This book has a collection of engaging saint stories that demonstrate their virtuous lives of faith, courage, and compassion. Selections include saints from the time of Jesus to the present day. Many selections have sidebars with relevant factual information that illuminates our understanding. The artwork is outstanding. There is a section at the end with biographical notes and a calendar of saints.

The Sisters of Notre Dame of Chardon, Ohio. Saints and Feast Days: A Resource and Activities Book. Chicago: Loyola Press, 2004.

This book is a collection of single page biographies of saints that is organized by their feast day dates from September through August. Each biographical sketch is followed by up to five suggested activities and space for catechist notes. There are reproducible blackline masters at the end of the book.

Woodward, Kenneth L. Making Saints: How the Catholic Church Determines Who Becomes a Saint, Who Doesn’t, and Why. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996.

This book explains in detail the process of canonization, the Church’s method of declaring someone a saint.

Websites

Catholic Forum: www.catholic-forum.com/saints/indexsnt.htm.

Catholic Information Network: Saints, Martyrs and Other Holy Persons www.cin.org/saints.html.

Catholic Online: www.catholic.org/saints/.

Catholic Pages Directory: www.catholic-pages.com/dir/saints.asp.

Catholic Saints, Blesseds, Angels, Incorruptibles: www.theworkofgod.org/Saints.

Roman Catholic Saints by Name: www.americancatholic.org/Features/Saints/byname.asp.

Saints in General:
www.monksofadoration.org/savesite/saintgen.html.

St. Augustine Blog: www.myspace.com.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Sainthood Is not Ours to Gain; It is Ours to Lose.

Saints, Fra Angelico, 15th Century

The Cloud of Witness Interceding for Us
Do you recognize any of them?


The title of this post is taken from a sentence that my pastor, Fr. John Cantwell, wrote in this Sunday's parish bulletin. Every week he writes something relevant to the Scripture readings for that day. So this time, since we are celebrating the Solemnity of All Saints, he wrote about the goal of all Christians: sainthood. I liked what he wrote so much, that I have quoted it below. I did, however, place his first paragraph last just because I like it that way. I also added the italics and bolded parts for emphasis.
Our Christian goal is to live in such a way that one day we might live like the saints. We look to attain something beyond the obvious---to live with God here on earth so that we will not be strangers in heaven. Sainthood is not ours to gain; it is our to lose.

When we were baptized, we were sealed and claimed by Christ by his sign---the cross. We are God's. We live now as other Christs. We have learned of the wisdom of his ways. We are happy to follow them [his ways] as they will lead us to become saints. We are marked by God and we share in this great gift.

Today we honor all the saints---now in glory. They were like us once on earth---very ordinary people. Now they can show us how to accept the gift of salvation. We have this gift now. So let us not lose it.

Let us rejoice in all the men and women, blest in the eyes of the Lord (Mt. 5:1-12a) who celebrate the heavenly liturgy (Rev. 7:2-4, 9-14). They stand in God's holy place (Ps. 24) and sing of the love the Father has bestowed upon them (1John 3:1-3) through the blood of the Lamb.

What do you think he means when he says: Sainthood is not ours to gain; it is our to lose?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Another Vocabulary and Concept Builder

Have you ever wondered about the following terms? Fr. Philip Neri has a straight forward and good explanation of these eight Catholic, religious life concepts. Go to the link below for a fine interpretation.

1). What is the difference between a sister and a nun?
2). Monastery vs. convent?
3). Friar vs. monk?
4). Secular priest vs. religious priest?
5). Vow of poverty?
6). Vow of celibacy/chastity?
7). Vow of obedience?
8). Habits: yea or nay?

Domine, da mihi hanc aquam!: The terms of religious life explained

Just What IS Eternal Life?

I've been nurturing an eschatological spirit lately. This morning I found one of the BEST explanations of what we Christians mean by eternal life. In our Creed we say: "I believe...in life everlasting." Since my childhood I have thought about this notion of immortality. I learned about it a home, from my dad, and at school as well. Almost everyone I knew held this same belief. But when I read this essay I realized that people have different interpretations of what eternal life means.

Here are a few quotations from the essay, and there is a link at the end where you can read the whole thing. The italicized ones are the author's excerpts from Benedict XVI.
[The idea of eternal life] is reduced to a rather egocentric notion of a place where I will be happy. I’ll have a mansion, I’ll see my mother again, I won’t suffer….

If God is mentioned at all he’s down on the list somewhere, not at the top where he belongs.

“Eternal”, in fact, suggests to us the idea of something interminable, and this frightens us; “life” makes us think of the life that we know and love and do not want to lose, even though very often it brings more toil than satisfaction, so that while on the one hand we desire it, on the other hand we do not want it.

My own pondering and experience of the concept of eternal life is that ultimately eternal life is not about the length of life, it is about the fullness of life. To enter eternal life mean to become fully alive.

As I get older I become more alive. What I am saying is that eternal life doesn’t just begin after we die. It begins now and should grow in us more and more. It’s fulfillment will only be heaven but I am witness (and hope you are too) that eternal life has already set deep roots in me.

To enter eternal life is to become fully alive with God forever, to experience untold joy, serenity and peace in an eternal embrace with God forever. And having our communion with God perfected we will also have our communion with one another perfected.

To imagine ourselves outside the temporality that imprisons us and in some way to sense that eternity is not an unending succession of days in the calendar, but something more like the supreme moment of satisfaction, in which totality embraces us and we embrace totality—this we can only attempt. It would be like plunging into the ocean of infinite love, a moment in which time—the before and after—no longer exists.

I love the ideas expressed in this essay. My favorite part is: "eternity [is]...more like the supreme moment of satisfaction.... It would be like plunging into the ocean of infinite love, a moment in which time—the before and after—no longer exists."

You can read the entire essay here: http://blog.adw.org/2009/10/what-is-eternal-life/.

I would love to hear your thoughts about eternal life.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Just Look in a Dictionary!

This bishop keeps whining about the forthcoming new translation of the Roman Missal. (See below.) Didn't he ever hear of a dictionary? I don't think dictionaries are elitist. Anyone who cares can look up words and find out their meaning. It doesn't hurt any of us to get a little smarter. When we worship God at Mass, we are addressing God, who understands every word we utter, even if we don't.
Bishop criticizes 'slavishly literal' English translation of missal

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Bishop Donald W. Trautman of Erie, Pa., former chairman of the U.S. bishops' liturgy committee, sharply criticized what he called the "slavishly literal" translation into English of the new Roman Missal from the original Latin. He said the "sacred language" used by translators "tends to be elitist and remote from everyday speech and frequently not understandable" and could lead to a "pastoral disaster." "The vast majority of God's people in the assembly are not familiar with words of the new missal like 'ineffable,' 'consubstantial,' 'incarnate,' 'inviolate,' 'oblation,' 'ignominy,' 'precursor,' 'suffused' and 'unvanquished.' The vocabulary is not readily understandable by the average Catholic," Bishop Trautman said. "The (Second Vatican Council's) Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy stipulated vernacular language, not sacred language," he added. "Did Jesus ever speak to the people of his day in words beyond their comprehension? Did Jesus ever use terms or expressions beyond his hearer's understanding?" Bishop Trautman made his remarks in an Oct. 22 lecture at The Catholic University of America in Washington, as part of the Msgr. Frederick R. McManus Lecture Series. Msgr. McManus, a liturgist, served as a peritus, or expert, during Vatican II.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Autumn Haiku


Autumn Haiku

Crisp, cool, colorful:

The changing autumn days give

brown, red, orange
, gold gifts.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Eschatological Thoughts

"I believe in life everlasting." This is the final phrase of The Apostles' Creed, which is one of the Catholic professions of faith. Its meaning refers to the last things: death and judgment, heaven and hell, the end of the world, the recapitulation of all in God, and more. The theological terms for these things is eschatology. For Catholic teaching on these matters, go to the Catechism of the Catholic Church 1020-1060.

Here in the Northern Hemisphere nature reminds me of these last things at a personal and spiritual level. Signs of dying surround us. Leaves change color and drop from trees. Insects and reptiles slow down or die. Bears begin to hibernate. Daylight diminishes. Darkness increases. Frost and fog blanket the meadows and valleys. Mystery and melancholy permeate both nature and moods.

It's time for my annual rereading of chapter VIII of my 1929 copy of Bambi by Felix Salten. While most Americans are familiar with the Disney version of the Bambi story, Disney was inspired by the original story. I love this chapter, which I've quoted below, because of the dialogue between the two leaves. Their words reveal the wonder and mystery of earthly life and life hereafter.
The leaves were falling from the great oak at the meadow's edge. They were falling from all the trees.

One branch of the oak reached high above the others and stretched far out over the meadow. Two leaves clung to its very tip.

"It isn't the way it used to be," said one leaf to the other.

"No," the other leaf answered. "So many of us have fallen off to-night we're almost the only ones left on our branch."

"You never know who's going to go next," said the first leaf. "Even when it was warm and the sun shone, a storm or a cloudburst would come sometimes, and many leaves were torn off, though they were still young. You never know who's going to go next."

"The sun seldom shines now," sighed the second leaf, "and when it does it gives no warmth. We must have warmth again."

"Can it be true," said the first leaf, "can it really be true, that others come to take our places when we're gone and after them still others, and more and more?"

"It is really true," whispered the second leaf. "We can't even begin to imagine it, it's beyond our powers."

"It makes me very sad," added the first leaf.

They were silent a while. Then the first leaf said quietly to herself, "Why must we fall?..."

The second leaf asked, "What happens to us when we have fallen?"

"We sink down...."

"What is under us?"

The first leaf answered, "I don't know, some say one thing, some another, but nobody knows."

The second leaf asked, "Do we feel anything, do we know anything about ourselves when we're down there?"

The first leaf answered, "Who knows? Not one of all those down there has ever come back to tell us about it."

They were silent again. Then the first leaf said tenderly to the other, "Don't worry so much about it, you're trembling."

"That's nothing," the second leaf answered, "I tremble at the least thing now. I don't feel so sure of my hold as I used to."

"Let's not talk any more about such things," said the first leaf.

The other replied, "No, we'll let be. But---what else shall we talk about?" She was silent, but went on after a little while, "Which of us will go first?"

"There's still plenty of time to worry about that," the other leaf assured her. "Let's remember how beautiful it was, how wonderful, when the sun came out and shone so warmly that we thought we'd burst with life. Do you remember? And the morning dew, and the mild and splendid nights...."

"Now the nights are dreadful," the second leaf complained, "and there is no end to them."

"We shouldn't complain," said the first leaf gently. "We've outlived many, many others."

"Have I changed much?" asked the second leaf shyly but determinedly.

"Not in the least," the first leaf assured her. "You only think so because I've got to be so yellow and ugly. But it's different in your case."

"You're fooling me," the second leaf said.

"No, really," the first leaf exclaimed eagerly, "believe me, you're as lovely as the day you were born. Here and there may be a little yellow spot but it's hardly noticeable and only makes you handsomer, believe me."

"Thanks," whispered the second leaf, quite touched. "I don't believe you, not altogether, but I thank you because you're so kind, you've always been so kind to me. I'm just beginning to understand how kind you are."

"Hush," said the other leaf, and kept silent herself for she was too troubled to talk any more.

Then they were both silent. Hours passed.

A moist wind blew, cold and hostile, through the tree-tops.

"Ah, now," said the second leaf, "I...." Then her voice broke off. She was torn from her place and spun down.

Winter had come.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

St. Teresa of Avila

I became acquainted with the formidable Saint Teresa when, at the age of 13, I took it upon myself to read her autobiography. As a young Catholic I always enjoyed learning about the saints, but I usually confined my reading of their lives to short works. But her autobiography was substantial, what I considered a "thick" book. As it turned out it was both thick with pages and with content. The translation I read at the time can be accessed here. However, there is a newer and better translation that I recommend here.

As a young adolescent of 13 I was easily able to relate to Teresa's fun-loving, adventuresome spirit. I could even identify with her early religious enthusiasm for God and the things of God. But when I ventured further into her adult life as a Carmelite nun, it was clear to me that much of what she told was beyond my ken. Yet, I didn't give up. I felt compelled to read every word she wrote, realizing that I didn't understand everything. Yet I understood one thing. Here was a woman who loved God above all things, a woman who had a close relationship with Our Lord, a woman who did great things for God. A part of me wanted to be like her.

One thing that scared me about her life was that she made it perfectly clear that for a soul who follows such a path of total love for God, there will be suffering. As a child of 13 I couldn't imagine what this might be like, and I had great doubts that I could endure such a path.

One of my favorite images of Saint Teresa is that of the sculptor Bernini. I had a chance to see this impressive work of art in the Church of Santa Maria della Vittorio in 2006 in Rome. There is also a painting of this in one of the local parishes, St. Teresa of Avila, in the Sacramento diocese. Even it is impressive.

Photo of Bernini's sculpture of the Ecstasy of St. Teresa of Avila

This sculpture is based on this description in the words of St. Teresa herself:
Beside me on the left appeared an angel in bodily form . . . He was not tall but short, and very beautiful; and his face was so aflame that he appeared to be one of the highest ranks of angels, who seem to be all on fire . . . In his hands I saw a great golden spear, and at the iron tip there appeared to be a point of fire. This he plunged into my heart several times so that it penetrated my entrails. When he pulled it out I felt that he took them with it, and left me utterly consumed by the great love of God. The pain was so severe that it made me utter several moans. The sweetness caused by this intense pain is so extreme that one can not possibly wish it to cease, nor is one's soul content with anything but God. This is not a physical but a spiritual pain, though the body has some share in it -- even a considerable share.
The link below is a good place to find a very nice summary of Saint Teresa's life.

St. Teresa of Avila - Saints & Angels - Catholic Online

Image at upper right: This shows Teresa with pen in hand. She wrote quite a few books and letters, almost all of which are available to the public. This also shows the Carmelite nuns habit, which many still wear today. This is from Holy Cards for Your Inspiration.