Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Ascesis: the True Sign of Jonas

Ascesis.... an unusual word, perhaps only a little more recognizable to us Westerners in its "-ism" form, asceticism. Ascesis can be defined as "rigorous self-denial and active self-restraint."

Lent is all about ascesis.... it's about realizing who we are and where we've come from and starting off to be new creatures journeying to a new place. We give up things for Lent and make changes, but its not just another New Year's resolution or an attempt at self reformation. It's about something much bigger.

In today's Mass readings we hear about the Ninevites who repent at Jonah's preaching.... and the followers of Jesus are summoned to deal with something "much greater," the living incarnation of God in the sign of Jonas, the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus.

The forces which shape our lives are our mind, will and emotions. The way we use these tools to live our lives stamps us indelibly with a sign, the sign of Jonas, as we turn away from ourselves, die to self and rise to journey toward the God who created us.

Permit me one final quote (I'm moving on to some other texts for the remainder of Lent) from Michael Casey's Sacred Reading: The Ancient Art of Lectio Divina (p. 123). No, I do not get a commission from promoting his books.

"Thus, there is a role for negative elements of discipleship: abstinence and asceticism. This means subjecting our emotions or passions to discernment and compelling those that are unruly (the vices) to accept the governance of the will under grace.

Consistent practice gradually cleanses our system of its poisons and leads to that purity of heart which, according to the beatitudes, sees God. When the Fathers spoke about apatheia (or victory over the passions) they were more interested in the single-heartedness that was its effect than in mere denial or suppression of instinctual impulses.

As Peter Brown has noted, the ascetical movement was not a denial of the body but an affirmation of its importance; instead of dismissing bodily impulses as insignificant to the state of the soul, it affirmed the interdependence of the state of the passions and the operation of the spirit. Katharsis or purification was a necessary process in realizing the potential inherent in the spiritual nature of human beings."

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Contra TV and All Such Vain Imaginings

True Confessions time.... My Lenten discipline includes cutting back on the amount of time I spend watching TV, that "vain amusement" which often helps clear my head after a very church-filled day.

Unlike some more of my more seriously counter-cultural friends I cannot find it in my heart to give up cable or TV entirely. However, during Lent I AM limiting myself to no more than 1 hour per day, except Saturday evening/ Sunday when I buy into the good theology/ wimpy excuse that "every Sunday is an Easter" and thus Lenten disciplines are not in force. So much for the monastic injunction, "let your life be a continual Lent." At least observing the Sabbath enables me to watch an entire movie at one sitting.

One big plus of this particular Lenten discipline is that the extra time can spent in more profitable pursuits, like praying ..... and reading.

One should always read the footnotes, which I did last night as I was finishing Michael Casey's book Sacred Reading: The Ancient Art of Lectio Divina, (pp. 136-37). Another confession..... I usually read any book's copious chapter endnotes after I finish the body of the text because I am just too lazy to keep flipping back and forth.

The treasure contained in Casey's endnotes is comprised of two quotes, one from Thomas Merton, specifically about TV and the other from John Henry Cardinal Newman, who, if he were alive today, would likely be saying about TV what he said in the 19th century about "works of fiction."

Thomas Merton....
"The life of the television-watcher is a kind of caricature of contemplation. Passivity, uncriticial absorption, receptivity, inertia. Not only that, but a gradual, progressive yielding to the mystic attraction until one is spellbound in a state of complete union. The trouble with this caricature is that it is really the exact opposite of contemplation... [Contemplation] is the summit of a life of spiritual freedom. The other, the ersatz, is the nadir of intellectual and emotional slavery."

"Inner Experience: Problems of the Contemplative Life (VII)," CSQ 19 (1984), pp. 269-270.

and Cardinal Newman on overstimulation of the emotions.....
"God has made us feel in order that we may go on to act in consquence of feeling; if then we allow our feelings to be excited without acting upon them, we do mischief to the moral system within us, just as we might spoil a watch or other piece of mechanism, by playing with the wheels of it. We weaken its springs, and they cease to act truly. Accordingly, when we have got into the habit of amusing ourselves with these works of fiction, we come at length to feel the excitement without the slightest thought or tendency to act upon it."
Parochial and Plain Sermons, Vol. II, Longmans, Green & Co. , London, 1891, pp. 371-372.

Thank you, Michael Casey, for your insight and thank you, God, for giving me this Lenten breathing space to love and enjoy You.

About Prayer: What's Really Important

From Blessed Teresa of Calcutta (1910-1997), Foundress of the Missionary Sisters of Charity

"In order for prayer to be fruitful, it must come from the heart and be able to touch God’s heart. See how Jesus taught his disciples to pray. Every time we say the “Our Father”, I believe that God looks at his hands, at the place where he has engraved us: “Upon the palms of my hands I have written your name.” (Isa 49:16) God contemplates his hands, and he sees us there, nestling in them.

How marvelous is God’s tenderness! Let us pray, let us say the “Our Father”. Let us live it and then we will be saints. Everything is there: God, myself, my neighbor. If I forgive, I can be holy, I can pray. Everything comes from a humble heart; when we have such a heart, we will know how to love God, how to love ourselves, and how to love our neighbor (Mt 22:37f.). That is nothing complicated, and yet we complicate our lives so much and make them heavy with so many extra loads.

Only one thing counts: to be humble and to pray. The more you pray, the better you will pray. A child encounters no difficulty in expressing its ingenuous understanding in simple words that say a lot. Didn’t Jesus give Nicodemus to understand that we must become like a small child (Jn 3:3)? If we pray according to the Gospel, we will allow Christ to grow in us. So pray with love, the way children do, with the ardent desire to love much and to make beloved the person who is not loved. "

Monday, February 26, 2007

Almsgiving: Christ is coming in the least of these

From Saint Cesarius of Arles (470-543), Monk and Bishop Sermon 26,5

"Christ, that is to say, heavenly mercy, comes to the door of your house every day, not only spiritually to the door of your soul, but also materially to the door of your house.

For every time a poor person approaches your house, it is without any doubt Christ who is coming, he who said: “As often as you did it for one of these little ones, you did it for me.” So don’t harden you heart; give a little money to Christ, from whom you want to receive the Kingdom.

Give a piece of bread to him, from whom you hope to receive life. Welcome him into your home, so that he might welcome you into his paradise. Give him alms, so that in return he might give you eternal life. What audacity to want to reign in heaven with him to whom you refuse to give alms in this world!

If you receive him during this earthly journey, he will welcome you into his heavenly happiness; if you despise him here in your homeland, he will turn his eyes away from you in his glory. A Psalm says: “In your city, Lord, you despise their image.” (Ps 72:20 Vulg.) If we despise those who are made in the image of God (Gen 1:26) in our city, that is to say, in this life, we must fear being rejected in his eternal city. So be merciful here below…

Thanks to your generosity, you will hear that wonderful word said to you: “Come. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you”

Common Grave, Common Penance, Extraordinary Love

In my home parish we have a crucifix which is used every year during the Lenten season. It is quite graphic in its portrayal of the death of our Lord, and one salient feature is the human skull at its base. It is sometimes described in art as "Adam's skull." The Blood of Christ, the New Adam, redeems man, as symbolized by the skull of the First Adam. I Corinthians 15:22, 45: "And as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive...The first man Adam was made into a living soul; the last Adam into a quickening spirit."

The skull is a stark reminder of our common humanity, with its legacy of common punishment and common grace. I was reminded of how difficult this common humanity is to accept by a passage from Hans Urs von Balthasar, in his book, The Christian State of Life (p. 127).

"The hardest lesson to be learned there [in the fires of purification], the lesson that those who have preoccupied with right and justice in this world will have to struggle to accept, is that there is no distinction of mine and thine even in matters of guilt; that they must see in every sin, by whomsoever it has been commited an offense against the eternal love of God; that they must be disposed, therfore, to do penance, as long as may be deemed necessary by God, for every sin no matter who its perpetrator.

For it is impossible to enter heaven with a love less perfect than that of St. Paul, who, for the sake of his kinsmen, would gladly have borne their lot of being anathema from Christ (Rom. 7:3), thus imitating the disposition of the Lord, who redeemed the world and established Christian love by a suffering that asked, not about the justice of the punishment, but about the grace that allowed him to suffer."

Wow. That is real penance, real love. Can we aspire to that?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Desert: Where the Bodies are Buried

About every other episode, it seems, on the TV show CSI: Las Vegas the investigators discover a body in the desert outside the all-too-well-known "Sin City." My Lenten reflections on the desert have included a realization that the desert is where our spiritual "dead bodies" are buried also. No wonder we're afraid to go there!

This past week I've been going through quite a few old boxes in my garage, stored up over the years and moved from place to place unlooked at. In this most recent clean up I finally dealt with a number of boxes left over from my years in post-graduate study (1994-97). Turning all this over again and looking at it was a terrible heart-ache. I thought about all those years in grad school, my life during my separation and eventual divorce, my struggles around entering the Catholic Church and establishing my self in a new "non-church worker" identity.

I knew as soon as I opened the boxes why I had carried them around unopened for lo these many years. These boxes were full of pain. But I found that once I opened it all up and confronted it, the pain melted away. The pain and fear were in NOT dealing with my emotions and experiences, not the experiences themselves.

I think this Lent we owe it to ourselves to visit the desert... at least often enough to begin uncovering some of the dead bodies buried there.... dead bodies of unacknowledged fear, unfulfilled desires, unrealized promises and dreams.

Go to the Desert

We've come around to the First Sunday in Lent again.... and its always a fresh lesson to hear about Christ's temptations in the desert.
The desert.... place of dryness and seeming death,place of escape and flight from ourselves and society.The desert... a place to meet God.
One of the sayings from the Desert Fathers I've absorbed over the years has been "Look, Weep, Live..." I first read it in Alan Jones book, Soul Making, The Desert Way of Spirituality. He advocates a spiritual pathway through the wilderness guided by the sign posts LOOK! WEEP! LIVE! Dr. Jones says that "the wilderness is the place where nothing grows and where our very existence is threatened. Yet it is also the arena...especially chosen by God as the focus of his revelation." (p. 6) God revealed the Law to Moses in the wilderness. God spoke to Elijah in the wilderness. Jesus continually went to the wilderness for struggle, inspiration, and renewal.
It's reflective of the inevitable self examination and revelation which comes with the desert territory. Alone with ourselves and our God, we realize how truly hapless and hopeless the human situation is and how, after all, we are all.... well.... like or not... human.
Once we live through those revelations we can get beyond them to the business of being about God's business. But it's not pretty and it's not easy.
Venerable Louis of Granada, Spanish Dominican and friend of St Charles Borromeo, wrote
"Let us therefore love that solitude which the Lord sancitfied by his example, for he who is not engaged in conversation with men is almost necessitated to converse with God.

O wretchedness of the present world

Men have abandoned the deserts and have given themsevles over to a life filled with worldy care and anxiety. And since the roads to the desert are now overgrown with weeds, at least make yourself a spiritual desert by recollecting your senses and entering within yourself, because in that way you will find God."

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Big Three

Works of charity, prayer and fasting are spiritual weapons to combat evil, Benedict XVI said during Mass on Ash Wednesday. In his homily, delivered in the Basilica of St. Sabina on Rome's Aventine Hill, the Holy Father presented these "useful instruments" as the condition "to live authentic community renewal."

"They are the three fundamental practices, also appreciated by the Jewish tradition, because they contribute to purify man before God," the Pope said. "These external gestures, which should be done to please God and not to win the approval and praise of people, are pleasing to him if they express the heartfelt determination to serve him alone, with simplicity and generosity."

Fasting, to which the Church invites us during this time, is not born from motivations of a physical or aesthetic order, but springs from the need the person feels for interior purification, to be detoxified from the contamination of sin and evil."

Benedict XVI said that fasting educates in "those healthy self-denials that free the believer from his 'I,' and make him more attentive and ready to listen to God and to serve his brothers."

"For this reason, fasting and the Lenten practices" of prayer and works of charity, in particular almsgiving, "are considered by the Christian tradition spiritual 'weapons' to combat evil, evil passions and vices," the Pope said.

from Zenit News Service

Food, Sex, Money and Power: On Voluntary Renunciation

One of the more radical aspects of Christian discipleship, especially as expressed in the monastic tradition, is the voluntary renunciation of food and drink, sex, money and power. All these basic elements of human life are the markers by which we find our way into the greater death to self which marks our life as Christian disciples. Specifically, When we refuse to eat something we normally do (as in Lenten fast/ abstinence), we are entering voluntarily into that death.

Today the Church celebrates St Polycarp of Smyrna, Bishop and Martyr. He gave up his own life around A.D. 155 for the Faith. He has a special place in my heart because of his ancient testimony (some of the earliest outside the Bible) to the power of Christ who shapes our human existence. As He did with Polycarp, so Christ bends us from self-focus to focus on God and others.

This is the essence of renunciation. to give up some thing, or all things, that we might better know Christ who gave up all things for us. You can't get more counter cultural than that. And the ancient world understood it.

For Polycarp stood before the Roman magistrate and declared his unwillingness to deny his faith by sacrificing to the gods. "Fourscore and six years have I served Him " declared the Bishop, "and no harm has ever touched me. How could I now curse my King, who saved me?" He was then burned at the stake.

We offer our small voluntary sacrifices today at the same high altar where Polycarp's greater sacrifice was accepted. We offer our Lenten sacrifice to the same One who offered himself on our behalf. Polycarp's prayer at the stake says it all:
"I bless you for counting me worth today to join the martyrs and drink the chalice of your Anointed One,...therefore I praise and bless you through our heavenly High Priest, Jesus Christ, your beloved Son."

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Eagan apartment-home for rent

My home has a separate mother-in-law apartment which I rent out. The current tenants are purchasing a home of their own, so I am seeking someone else to take their place.

The basics:

* 2 bedrooms (one larger, one small)

* 1 bath (large with tub/ shower)

* private entrance- off street access

* 1 car heated garage with its own driveway access

* eat in kitchen and small living room

* central air and heat (thermostat is upstairs ,but owners will adjust to meet your needs)

* lower level, walk-out entrance to front of house, 4 windows give good light to all areas

* All bills paid- this includes heat, electricity, as well as basic cable TV, wireless internet access,
and free access to upstairs laundry facilities (oversized washer and dryer in separate utilityroom)

* Labyrinth/ Prayer Garden dedicated to Mary is on property

* located in very quiet neighborhood in far southeast Eagan, near Rosemount, Inver Grove
Heights borders

* 1/2 block from city park featuring natural prairie area, playground and walk down access to
dock on Hay Lake

* 10 minute walk or 5 minute bike-car ride from Lebanon Hills Regional Park (sand beach, trail
access, camping)

* 15 minutes to downtown St Paul via Highway 52, 25 minutes to Downtown Minneapolis via
Highway 55

* All this for $750 a month, available March 15th.

E mail Phil at if you are interested or know someone who might be.

Here are some pictures... first the house in total, then a close up of the lower level apartment entrance and also the Labyrinth/ Prayer Garden. Please excuse the snow and drear- we have 25 trees on the property and it looks great and green in summer!

We are seeking someone who is like-minded with owners who are quiet, practicing Roman Catholics with a strong moral and social conscience, committed to regular prayer and Mass attendance. We would also consider sharing regular (weekly?) meals and communal prayer if appropriate.

We would prefer a single man or woman or possibly a couple. Pets considered, if they get along with our mixed breed dog.

Bawk, bawk, bawk, baaaaawk

Asking the tough philosophical and theological questions…

Which came first, the chicken or the monk?


How many activists can dance on the head of a monk?

Published on National Catholic Reporter Conversation Cafe (
Trappist monks’ egg factory under fire as cruel to chickens
By Daily News Feed

Created Feb 21 2007 - 13:39
Armed with the words of Pope Benedict XVI, an animal rights group is calling on a South Carolina Trappist monastery to shut down its egg production facility because, the group claims, the monks mistreat the monastery’s 38,000 hens. In a press release, the Norfolk, Va.-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) said the group’s undercover investigation of Mepkin Abbey’s egg production facility “revealed shocking cruelty to chickens.”

Calling the abbey’s facility “hell on earth” for chickens, PETA wrote: “Tens of thousands of hens at the monastery are painfully debeaked, crammed into tiny cages, and periodically starved.”
In a letter to Mepkin’s abbot, Fr. Stanislaus Gumula, PETA vice president Bruce Friedrich wrote: “As a fellow Catholic, I was saddened to learn that Mepkin Abbey is operating an egg factory farm.”

In a telephone interview with NCR, Gumula rebuffed PETA’s charges, denying any inhumane treatment of the chickens, and saying he sees no way to enter into a dialogue with Friedrich.
“[Friedrich] wants to throw his position down my throat,” Gumula said. “We treat our animals very humanely.” Friedrich’s letter said the debeaking method, common to the vast majority of the nation’s egg producers, is painful and “enormously stressful” to the birds.

Debeaking, said Friedrich, is an industry term, and it does not involve chopping the entire beak off. It involves chopping the ends of their beaks off, which is why the debeaking may not be apparent in the photographs taken by the PETA source at Mepkin. According to poultry experts, he said, the pain is acute and chronic, lasting for more than a month.
Friedrich also said that Mepkin’s practice of placing up to four hens in cages that “are roughly 12 inches by 18 inches” is unnatural to the animals. “This means that the animals never breathe fresh air, feel the sun on their backs, build nests, raise their young, or do anything else that God designed them to do,” he wrote.

Friedrich bolstered his protest of Mepkin practices with a quote from then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to a German reporter: “Animals, too, are God’s creatures. … Certainly, a sort of industrial use of creatures, so that geese are fed in such a way as to produce as large a liver as possible, or hens live so packed together that they become just caricatures of birds, this degrading of living creatures to a commodity seems to me in fact to contradict the relationship of mutuality that comes across in the Bible.”

Friedrich said PETA confirmed its allegations after they followed up a complaint by sending an undercover staff member to Mepkin, ostensibly as a retreatant, who secretly recorded the egg operations as well as conversations he had with monks involved with the abbey’s egg production.

Gumula said Feb. 20 that he was unaware of the undercover investigation, which Friedrich said was slated to be announced at a Feb. 22 press conference near Mepkin. Photos and video from PETA’s undercover investigation are on the group’s Web site at [1].

Friedrich defended PETA’s undercover tactics: “Documenting a crime sometimes requires undercover police officers, and documenting this horrible and nonstop cruelty to 38,000 animals required our undercover investigation. There’s nothing unethical about using undercover cameras to expose hypocrisy and cruelty to animals. The treatment of these hens is grotesquely unethical; using a camera to expose it is our moral obligation.”

In his letter, copied to Trappist Abbot Generals Dom Bernardo Olivera and Dom Mauro Esteva, Friedrich wrote, “Your cruel treatment of these poor animals, by the tens of thousands, would warrant felony cruelty-to-animals charges if dogs or cats were the victims. But chickens are intelligent animals who suffer and feel pain, just like dogs and cats do.”

Friedrich said, “Chickens understand sophisticated intellectual concepts, learn from watching each other, demonstrate self-control, worry about the future, and even have cultural knowledge that is passed from generation to generation.” He asked that the abby “please shut down this operation forever” once the current population of hens dies. “It is an ugly stain on your otherwise blessed community. Instead of raising funds for your abbey by abusing animals, please consider solely making foodstuffs that don’t involve animals.”

Gumula said the abbey about 30 years ago gave up on its “free-range” practice, which allowed the hens to move about on the floor, saying the hens are “in much better conditions now.”
Under the free-range system, the hens “were susceptible to rodents, to snakes and all kinds of disease and bacteria,” Gumula said. “The situation they are in now is not that way.”
Gumula said Mepkin’s hens are “not on top of each other. The droppings go into a pit that we flush out daily. We’re following all the guidelines of the United Egg Producers for the humane treatment of chicken that’s based on a group of scientists that were not beholden to the egg industry.” Gumula said the egg production operation accounts for about 60 percent of the abbey’s annual earned income. The facility produces approximately 9 million eggs annually, which are delivered to local customers in the Charleston, S.C., area, bringing in about $140,000 a year to Mepkin.

Consumers “are getting a much cleaner, wholesome product than what we were able to do when we had floor chickens,” Gumula said. Gumula said PETA has an inflexible position.
“It’s a one way street,” he said. Gumula said Mepkin’s egg operation is “not a blight, and we’re not treating them inhumanely, and for [Friedrich] to say that, I’m sorry, it’s not based on reality.

“I’m not saying that he has to agree to the exact way that we do it, but for him to accuse us of doing things inhumanely; well we’re not. That’s all I can say. We’re going to differ, and I can understand certain sensitivities. But we’re doing what we feel is best for the chickens themselves and for the consumer that’s going to be eating the eggs.” North Carolina State University philosophy professor emeritus Tom Regan, an animal rights author and activist, compared the egg producers’ definition of humane to a famous exchange in Lewis Carroll’s classic, Alice in Wonderland, between Alice and Humpty Dumpty. “Words mean what I decide they mean, neither more nor less,” Regan said, quoting Humpty Dumpty.

“Humane is a word that actually has an established meaning, and if you look it up, you’ll find that it means to treat with kindness, mercy, consideration, compassion -- very positive ways of treating another being,” Regan said. “You debeak an animal; you put an animal in a cage, it can’t turn around, it can’t dust bath, it has no access to fresh air, every natural instinct is frustrated except they’re being fed 24 hours a day, and you call that humane. That is merciful, kind, considerate, compassionate? I don’t think so. … They’re making up the meanings of words. What they’re saying is not what they’re doing.”

[Patrick O’Neill is a freelance writer living in Raleigh, N.C.]

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Not-So-Comfy Chair

“[Y]ou are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” ---Gospel of St. Matthew 16:18-19

Today the Roman Church celebrates the Feast of the Chair of St Peter. The Bernini examplar of such is illustrated here in all its golden glory.

My own meditations focus on the nature of Christ's bestowal of authority to Peter, and its implications for our own spiritual lives.

I call this Chair of Peter "not-so-comfy." I do so for several reasons. Many of us modern folk are less than comfortable with the concept of a settled "buck stops here" type authority in the Church, be it keys or chair or whatever. I understand that discomfort.

For me, however, the Chair of Peter and the authority it represents are a concomitant expression and continuation of Jesus' presence on earth. The same Jesus who sat down to teach his disciples on the Mount assured them that they would not be teacherless after His departure. That authority stems from and is of a piece with several other components of our spiritual lives.

Without this larger context the Chair of Peter may look for all the world like a bit of political posturing or a heavily authoritarian "City in Space" suspended far above our heads, a place where the real "decisionmakers" reside and from which they pontificate. One result of such a perception is that our own spiritual lives might appear to be disconnected from those lines of authority extending from Christ and His apostles down to us. But they are not.

Let's place the Chair in a larger context.

In Matthew 16 Jesus elicits a confession of faith from Peter. Wrapped in that confession and issuing from it are at least four basic and functional areas of spiritual life and thought. To me they are like concentric circles which emanate from this basic truth: "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God."

1. the Mysteries of Jesus Incarnation and Man's Redemption
2. the Grace of forgiveness for sin
3. the Sacramental life of the Church
4. the various teachings of the Magesterium

Personally, each one of us may or may not "buy in" to the structure of authority out of which those four elements proceed. But we have all experienced one or more of these four elements.

Who among us has not experienced the grace of knowing that we are forgiven sinners?
Who has not wetted her head with baptismal water or tasted our God at the Table?
Who has not wondered at the deep mysteries of God made human, God dying for us?
Some of us have even discovered the joys of logical catechetics.

In fact, however, I believe that many of us are probably not fully or consciously aware of the connections between the Church's teaching/ authority/ structure and the great mysteries of the Faith, the forgiveness we receive, the on-going sacramental life of the Church and the various discrete teachings which the Church espouses.

But the connections are there.

I cannot make them all here. But I can pray about them and ask my fellow Christians of all varieties to do the same.

To be clear, here follows a summary of the external structure of the Catholic Church's teaching regarding authority in the Church. It's not comfy. So, I will probably "lose" many of you at this point. Those who are not fans of Catholic Dogmatic Theology or are otherwise allergic to such may want to read no further.

However, I feel duty bound to offer the following as a summary of the structure as I have come to view it, even if it makes this the longest of my many posts to date.

You might want, however, to skip to the last paragraphs for a helpful quote from Benedict XVI on the role of Peter in the Church.

Here goes....

As the bishops declared at Vatican II:

When Christ instituted the Twelve, “he constituted [them] in the form of a college or permanent assembly, at the head of which he placed Peter, chosen from among them” (
Lumen gentium, n. 19; cf. Luke 6:13; John 21:15-17). Just as “by the Lord’s institution, St. Peter and the rest of the apostles constitute a single apostolic college, so in like fashion the Roman Pontiff, Peter’s successor, and the bishops, the successors of the apostles, are related with and united to one another” (Lumen gentium, n. 22; cf. CIC, can. 330).

The Lord made Simon alone, whom he named Peter, the “rock” of His Church. He gave him the keys of His Church and instituted him shepherd of the whole flock (cf.
Matthew 16:18-19; John 21:15-17). “The office of binding and loosing which was given to Peter was also assigned to the college of apostles united to its head” (Lumen gentium, n. 22.2). This pastoral office of Peter and the other apostles belongs to the Church’s very foundation and is continued by the bishops under the primacy of the Pope.

The Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter’s successor, “is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful” (
Lumen gentium, n. 23). “For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered” (Lumen gentium, n. 22; cf. Christus Dominus, nn. 2, 9).

The teaching office of Christ through the Church has historically been a part of this authority.

This time from Vatican I:

The Petrine office of binding and loosing includes the
teaching office (Magisterium), which the Pope can exercise in a supreme manner when he speaks ex cathedra (from the chair), in which case his teaching is infallible (incapable of error). The First Vatican Council defined papal infallibility as follows:

when the Roman Pontiff speaks ex cathedra, that is, when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church, he possesses, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed His Church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals. Therefore, such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are of themselves, and not by the consent of the Church, irreformable. (Vatican Council I,
First Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ, chap. 4, n. 9 [1870])

If you are still with me after all of THAT, then I close with a statement from our Holy Father, Benedict XVI. He, in his usual winsome and warm way, summarizes the place of Peter in the Church:

From Pope Benedict XVI's General audience, 7 June 2006 -

"You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church.... I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven".

In themselves, the three metaphors that Jesus uses are crystal clear: Peter will be the rocky foundation on which he will build the edifice of the Church; he will have the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven to open or close it to people as he sees fit; lastly, he will be able to bind or to loose, in the sense of establishing or prohibiting whatever he deems necessary for the life of the Church.

It is always Christ's Church…This pre-eminent position that Jesus wanted to bestow upon Peter is also encountered after the Resurrection (Mk 16:7; Jn 20:2.4-6)… Then, Peter was to be the first witness of an appearance of the Risen One (cf. Lk 24: 34; I Cor 15: 5). His role, decisively emphasized (cf. Jn 20: 3-10), marks the continuity between the pre-eminence he had in the group of the Apostles and the pre-eminence he would continue to have in the community born with the paschal events…

Moreover, the fact that several of the key texts that refer to Peter can be traced back to the context of the Last Supper, during which Christ conferred upon Peter the ministry of strengthening his brethren (cf. Lk 22: 31ff.)…

This contextualization of the Primacy of Peter at the Last Supper, at the moment of the Institution of the Eucharist, the Lord's Pasch, also points to the ultimate meaning of this Primacy: Peter must be the custodian of communion with Christ for all time. He must guide people to communion with Christ; he must ensure that the net does not break (Jn 21:11), and consequently that universal communion endures. Only together can we be with Christ, who is Lord of all.

Thus, Peter is responsible for guaranteeing communion with Christ with the love of Christ, guiding people to fulfil this love in everyday life. Let us pray that the Primacy of Peter, entrusted to poor human beings, will always be exercised in this original sense as the Lord desired, and that its true meaning will therefore always be recognized by the brethren who are not yet in full communion with us."

Lent: A Symphony in Two Movements

He is no perfect preacher, who either, from devotion to contemplation, neglects works that ought to be done, or, from urgency in business, puts aside the duties of contemplation.

Gregory the Great,
Moralia Book VI, 56.

As I approach this Ash Wednesday I ask myself, how will I observe this Lent? Part of me wants to add something to my daily regimen, ... some devotion, practice of mercy, or activity. My Archbishop Harry Flynn recently recommended this in his column in the local diocesan newspaper, The Catholic Spirit. Very good advice.

But there is another part of me, the contemplative part, which struggles in another direction, toward simplification, ....quiet, .... stillness. That part of me cringes at adding yet another activity to the day. In fact, the overall tendenz of my life recently indicates that taking an activity away would probably be more in order. This is not "giving up something for Lent," although that could be a part of it. The core issue is creating a space in life for God to be active and present to and through me.

The interim solution (a Type A one!) is to recognize that a true Lent involves both an addition and a subtraction, ....a descent into the earthiness of existence and also an ascent to heavenly contemplation. And this action parallels the great kenotic, down and up and dizzying "swoop" of Christology, hymned so well in Philippians 2:5-11 (NAB):

Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus,
Who, though he was in the form of God,

did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave,

coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name

that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend,

of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.

As so often happens in Catholic faith, the true way is not "either/or," it's "both/and." It's about quiet and activity, humble service and lofty contemplation, descending and being raised with our Lord.

I also like what St Leo the Great wrote about Lent ( Sermo 6,1-2):

"During these days which remind us more vividly of the mystery of humanity's salvation and of the paschal celebration soon to come, we are bidden to purify ourselves more carefully by way of preparation.

In the paschal celebration the whole Church experiences the forgiveness of sins. For, though baptism is the chief instrument in humanity's renewal, there is also a daily renewal from the corruption inherent in mortality, and everyone, however advanced, is called to be a better person.

All of us must strive for ever greater purity against the day of our salvation. To this end we follow with care and devotion the apostolic custom of a forty-day fast in which we abstain not simply from bodily food but primarily from all evildoing.

For such a holy fast there can be no better companion than almsgiving. But we must note that "almsgiving" or "mercy" here includes the many pious actions which make possible a familial equality among the faithful, whatever be the disparities between them in worldly wealth. For in the love of God and humanity one is always free to will the good."

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Women priests?

I received a link to this blog today in an e mail from a friend. I have heard Shiela Liaugminas' commentaries on Relevant Radio so I am not surprised at her stance on the possibility of womens' ordination in the Roman Catholic Church. I will be interested to read the book she refers to for myself.

However, coming as it does from Sister Sara Butler MSBT The Catholic Priesthood and Women sounds as though it will be substantial in argument as well as controversial to some.

the Mommas and the Poppas

Not the 60's singing group... the writers and thinkers who, as a body, have most influenced Catholic thought, ...AKA "the Church Fathers" and "Doctors of the Church."

Examples: Polycarp of Smyrna, Augustine of Hippo , Teresa of Avila. Many of them were instrumental in my own conversion to Christ and to Catholicism. What can I say? I read Augustine's Confessions while working as a motel night auditor during college. Yes, I know its geeky, but God chooses differing treatments based on the needs of the patient. Guilty as charged. I cried when I read about Polycarp's Martyrdom as part of my Classical languages curriculum.

So, when I ran across this quote toward the end of Michael Casey's excellent book, Sacred Reading:The Ancient Art of Lectio Divina I knew I had to post it. The whole book is very helpful, full of practical advice on how to begin and continue a practice of meditative reading of sacred texts. This section in particular has made me think long and hard about the function of sacred texts, indeed, of theology in general, within the life of the Church and in my own life.

"Another reason for their importance is that nearly all of the Church Fathers had pastoral responsibilities. They wrote to help people come to grips with the teachings of Christ. As far as I know, theology was not seen as profession or occupation in the first millenium. It was considered more as a concomitant of pastoral care, an essential component of the office of the bishop and his helpers.

Saint Benedict, likewise, demanded that abbots and other officials be chosen not only for their exemplary lives, but for their abilities to communicate to others the values by which they lived. Texts written from such a perspective tend to be existential, experiental, and practical.

Theory is not allowed to run loose. So much heresy was simply a matter of one aspect of the truth being taken to extremes, whereas pastoral concern restrains theory within the bounds of moderation."

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Songbird and Cell Phone: Liturgy Today

I am not in the habit of posting links to articles by modern "churchly" writers who are otherwise disconnected with the teaching office of the Roman Catholic Church. However, I am making an exception in this case.

Russell Shaw has written eloquently regarding what ails Roman Catholic liturgy today and outlined some directions for helping to cure it. I don't agree with everything he wrote, nor do I agree with some of the directions he wants to take us as a worshipping people. However, his basic premises and analysis are sound.
It will be up to the next generation of liturgical leaders how this "reform of the reform" progresses. However, I don't think anyone who is interested in the Source and Summit of our Faith can afford to ignore the dialogue. We do so to our own spiritual peril.

Lent: Change without noise

Benedict XVI spoke this past week concerning the power of love to change this violent world. This power is akin to the power of Lenten observance itself: quiet, unobserved change in our own practice which bring our lives into closer alignment with God's love. It's a quiet, but radical revolution.

The "Christian revolution" of love is able to uproot evil and sow goodness in the world, says Benedict XVI. The Pope made that statement when addressing the thousands of people in St. Peter's Square who defied the inclement weather to attend the recitation of the Angelus.

In his address, the Holy Father reflected on Jesus' mandate: "Love your enemies," read in this Sunday's liturgy. "Christ's proposal is realistic, because it takes into account that in the world there is too much violence, too much injustice, and that this situation cannot be overcome without positing more love, more kindness," Benedict XVI said.

"This 'more' comes from God. It is the mercy of God "that has become flesh in Jesus and that alone can redress the balance of the world from evil to good, beginning from that small and decisive 'world' which is man's heart," the Pontiff added.

The Pope clarified that Christian nonviolence is not equivalent to surrendering to evil, which is a false interpretation of "turning the other cheek." "Christian nonviolence" is about "responding to evil with good, thus breaking the chain of injustice," he explained.

This is the novel "Christian revolution," a love that is not supported by "human resources but that is a gift of God," the Holy Father said. "[It] is obtained by trusting unconditionally in his merciful goodness alone."Love of one's enemy, the "core of the 'Christian revolution,'" is not based "on strategies of economic, political or media power," the Pope explained.

For Christians, nonviolence "is not mere tactical behavior but a person's way of being, the attitude of one who is convinced of God's love and power, who is not afraid to confront evil with the weapons of love and truth alone."

Benedict XVI continued: "Herein lies the novelty of the Gospel, which changes the world without making noise. Herein lies the heroism of the 'little ones,' who believe in the love of God and spread it even at the cost of life."

The Holy Father concluded his address by calling for an ever more profound conversion "to the love of Christ" and allowing oneself "to be conquered without reservations by that love, to learn to love as he loved us, to be merciful as our heavenly Father is merciful." He said: "I hope that Lent, which begins next Wednesday, will be a propitious period to witness to the Gospel of love."

as reported on Zenit.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Embellished with Melody

In the Catacomb of St Callistus in Rome, there is an image of Christ as a musician, following the theme of Christ as Orpheus. Clement of Alexandria, in his description of this icon, said this:

"Truly, Jesus has embellished the universe with melody and drawn the dissonance of the elements into the unity of order, so that the whole world might become harmony in his presence."

Music has been a big part of my life, as has daily prayer. I like to think of my reciting the Daily Office as a part of that larger harmony-making prayer offered to God the Father through Christ by Christians around the world. Daily prayer, my own and others', suffuses my own life with God's presence, just as the prayer of Christians the world over permeates our world and, hopefully, makes it a better place.

Recently, I have been using the one volume Benedictine Daily Prayer: A Short Breviary, with its one week cycle of psalms (versus the Roman Liturgy of the Hours four week cycle). It also includes wonderful new English translations of the Latin Office hymns. I had been exposed to these hymns in the Latin original while visiting Our Lady of Spring Bank Abbey near Sparta Wisconsin.

Most of the hymn translations feature Common Meter and I've been working on funding tunes which work for these translations. On the off chance that somemone else might use them, here is a list of the tunes I've discovered through the resource Gather Comprehensive. You can use your own imagination as to which tunes would be appropriate at which season: i.e. Advent = The King Shall Come. However, I've just found that having a variety of tunes to use with my guitar makes the Daily Office experience much more enjoyable.

Gather Hymn # Tune Name Song Title

625 Christian Love Where Charity and Love Prevail
738 McKee In Christ There Is No East or West
320 Morning Song The King Shall Come
612 New Britain Amazing Grace
614 St Anne O God Our Help in Ages Past
392 St Flavian Lord Who Throughout These Forty Days

What I am still seeking are some resources which translate chant melodies (any chant melodies!) into guitar chords I could use with the Grail psalmody. My musical skills does not include transposing the notes into chords, especially given all the odd chord progressions inherent in any scale that uses frequent sharps or flats.

Help! In the meantime I'll just keep using guitar for the introductory hymns and speaking the psalms rather than chanting them.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Out of Death into Life

I have always loved the image of the grain of wheat falling into the earth, dying, and then rising and bearing much fruit. This is the pattern of cold winter nature, of snowfalls and of hidden tulip bulbs and bare tree branches.

It's also the pattern of our life with God. Death to self is the pathway by which the fruit of God's love and mercy are borne in our cold, hard, dead lives. This is also the only pathway God's love takes in order to bring Himself into being in the world.

"Like the Church itself, the sacraments of the Church are the fruit of the dying grain of wheat (Jn 12:24). In order to receive them, we must enter into the movement from which they themselves come. That movement consists in losing oneself, without which it is impossible to find oneself: “Whoever would preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will preserve it.”

This word of the Lord is the fundamental formula for a Christian life. When all is said and done, to believe is to say “yes” to this holy adventure of “losing oneself”. In its quintessence, faith is nothing other than true love. Thus, Christian life receives its characteristic form from the cross.

The Christian opening to the world, which today is so extolled, can find its true model only in the Lord’s open side (Jn 19:34), the expression of that radical love, which alone is able to save."

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) Lenten Message, 1969.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

How to Enter into the Thicket of God's Wisdom

Anyone who has ever suffered greatly can recoginze himself or herself in these wise words, and take comfort therein.

From Saint John of the Cross (1542-1591), Carmelite, Doctor of the Church The Spiritual Canticle, Stanza 36, 10.13

"(The) thicket of God’s wisdom and knowledge is so deep and immense that no matter how much the soul knows, she can always enter it further; it is vast and its riches incomprehensible, as St. Paul exclaims: O height of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God, how incomprehensible are His judgments and unsearchable His ways. (Rom 11:33)

Yet the soul wants to enter this thicket and incomprehensibility of judgments and ways because she is dying with the desire to penetrate them deeply. Knowledge of them is an inestimable delight surpassing all understanding…

Oh! If we could but now fully understand how a soul cannot reach the thicket and wisdom of the riches of God … without entering the thicket of many kinds of suffering, finding in this her delight and consolation; and how a soul with an authentic desire for divine wisdom, wants suffering first in order to enter this wisdom by the thicket of the cross!… The gate entering into these riches of His wisdom is the cross, which is narrow, and few desire to enter by it, but many desire the delights obtained from entering there."

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Ups and Downs of Love in the 21st Century

Happy Valentine's Day!

How can we who are Catholic properly celebrate the bodily dimension of love, so obviously given to us from a God who loves us?

For this special day, the following item comes from a weekly Catholic e-newsletter sent out in the Twin Cities, called "Got Culture?"

It's a really great summary of B-16's thoughts on the relationship between divine and human love as expressed in December 2005 in his first letter to the faithful, entitled "God is Love."

The ups and downs of love

And [Jacob] dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it!---Genesis 28:12

Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical, Deus caritas est, is on Christian love. In this excerpt, he illustrates the difference between ascending love (eros) and descending love (agape) as well as their connection.

Questioning the essence of love:

Are ascending loving and descending love connected?
Are Christian love and mere human love connected?

7. …We began by asking whether the different, or even opposed, meanings of the word “love” point to some profound underlying unity, or whether on the contrary they must remain unconnected, one alongside the other. More significantly, though, we questioned whether the message of love proclaimed to us by the Bible and the Church’s Tradition has some points of contact with the common human experience of love, or whether it is opposed to that experience.

Describing the two dimensions of love:

1) Eros—ascending, worldly, receiving, possessive, concupiscent, covetous, for self
2) Agape—descending, faith-based, giving, oblative, benevolent, charitable, for others

This in turn led us to consider two fundamental words: eros, as a term to indicate “worldly” love and agape, referring to love grounded in and shaped by faith. The two notions are often contrasted as “ascending” love and “descending” love. There are other, similar classifications, such as the distinction between possessive love and oblative [self-giving] love (amor concupiscentiae — amor benevolentiae), to which is sometimes also added love that seeks its own advantage.

Ascending and descending love cannot be separated:

In philosophical and theological debate, these distinctions have often been radicalized to the point of establishing a clear antithesis between them: descending, oblative love—agape—would be typically Christian, while on the other hand ascending, possessive or covetous love —eros—would be typical of non-Christian, and particularly Greek culture. Were this antithesis to be taken to extremes, the essence of Christianity would be detached from the vital relations fundamental to human existence, and would become a world apart, admirable perhaps, but decisively cut off from the complex fabric of human life. Yet eros and agape—ascending love and descending love—can never be completely separated. The more the two, in their different aspects, find a proper unity in the one reality of love, the more the true nature of love in general is realized.

Ascending love, upon approaching the beloved, turns into descending love, or it ceases to be love. Even if eros [ascending love] is at first mainly covetous and ascending, a fascination for the great promise of happiness, in drawing near to the other, it is less and less concerned with itself, increasingly seeks the happiness of the other, is concerned more and more with the beloved, bestows itself and wants to “be there for” the other. The element of agape [descending love] thus enters into this love, for otherwise eros is impoverished and even loses its own nature.

Man cannot live by descending love alone:

On the other hand, man cannot live by oblative [giving], descending love alone. He cannot always give, he must also receive. Anyone who wishes to give love must also receive love as a gift. Certainly, as the Lord tells us, one can become a source from which rivers of living water flow (cf. John 7:37-38). Yet to become such a source, one must constantly drink anew from the original source, which is Jesus Christ, from whose pierced heart flows the love of God (cf. John 19:34).

Jacob’s ladder, ascending and descending angelsIn the account of Jacob’s ladder, the Fathers of the Church saw this inseparable connection between ascending and descending love, between eros [ascending love] which seeks God and agape [descending love] which passes on the gift received, symbolized in various ways. In that biblical passage we read how the Patriarch Jacob saw in a dream, above the stone which was his pillow, a ladder reaching up to heaven, on which the angels of God were ascending and descending (cf. Genesis 28:12; John 1:51).

St. Paul:

The heights of contemplation (ascending love)joined to the depths of compassion (descending love)A particularly striking interpretation of this vision is presented by Pope Gregory the Great in his Pastoral Rule. He tells us that the good pastor must be rooted in contemplation. Only in this way will he be able to take upon himself the needs of others and make them his own: “per pietatis viscera in se infirmitatem caeterorum transferat” ([by the depths of compassion he takes upon himself the weaknesses of others (my translation)] Book of Pastoral Rule, part 2, chap. 5 [audio files]). Saint Gregory speaks in this context of Saint Paul, who was borne aloft to the most exalted mysteries of God, and hence, having descended once more, he was able to become all things to all men (cf. 2 Cor 12:2-4; 1 Cor 9:22).


Rapt in contemplation inside, set on service outsideHe also points to the example of Moses, who entered the tabernacle time and again, remaining in dialogue with God, so that when he emerged he could be at the service of his people. “Within [the tent] he is borne aloft through contemplation, while without he is completely engaged in helping those who suffer: intus in contemplationem rapitur, foris infirmantium negotiis urgetur” (Book of Pastoral Rule, part 2, chap. 5).

Love-one reality, two necessary dimensions:

8. We have thus come to an initial, albeit still somewhat generic response to the two questions raised earlier. Fundamentally, “love” is a single reality, but with different dimensions; at different times, one or other dimension may emerge more clearly. Yet when the two dimensions are totally cut off from one another, the result is a caricature or at least an impoverished form of love.

Grace builds on nature:

The Christian faith accepts human love, purifies it, and reveals new dimensions of itAnd we have also seen, synthetically, that biblical faith does not set up a parallel universe, or one opposed to that primordial human phenomenon which is love, but rather accepts the whole man; it intervenes in his search for love in order to purify it and to reveal new dimensions of it. This newness of biblical faith is shown chiefly in two elements which deserve to be highlighted: the image of God and the image of man.

---Pope Benedict XVI, Encyclical letter Deus caritas est on Christian love, December 25, 2005 (also PDF and FlashPaper formats).

Saturday, February 10, 2007

A Quiet Time, with Tools

What a marvelous day.... I went to Mass this morning at Visitation Convent, had coffee with a priest friend, then came home and read, prayed quietly and put up the last three of nine outdoor lights on our house (a bone chilling 10 degrees out.... but warmer than it has been or shall be soon here in MN) I also had the chance to sit by the fire and read and just think.... a luxury indulged in all too infrequently.

I am striving to finish up Meg Funk's book Tools Matter... for Practicing the Spiritual Life. The entire book has deepened my hunger for alone time with God. She has a fine sense about her writing, not really a "how to" manual, but very practical, and steeped in Benedictine/ Monastic/ Spiritual Practice Wisdom.

Here is a little slice which I hope will encourage you to pick it up and read more.....
"How can we tend the garden of our souls? Are there any tools? How do
these tools work? This book is a brief presentation of tools foundin the
Christian tradition and how they worked for the early monks and nuns.
These monastics were people like you and me, They felt the same
impulse we do-- they needed help.

To find that help they went to visit the early hermits, quiet dwellers in the
desert, and asked them, " and asked them "How do you do it?"
"How do I do it?"

These wise persons taught them to guard their hearts, to watch
their thoughts, to spend time in vigils, to fast, to confess, to practice
ceaseless prayer, to practice prayer of the heart, and to do manual labor,
to name a few of the recommended practices."

The Twin Sister Who Cried, and God listened

Today is the Feast of St Scholastica, twin sister of our Holy Father Saint Benedict, and Virgin, as well the first Benedictine Abbess. I especially love the tale told by Pope St Gregory the Great of the last hours brother and sister spent together.

This pious legend speaks more eloquently than many theological volumes about the power of Love and Prayer. The story shows once again how God's Love works in the midst of and (dare we say it?) sometimes even against the religious institutions proposed by us humans.

"Scholastica, the sister of Saint Benedict, had been consecrated to God from her earliest years. She was accustomed to visiting her brother once a year. He would come down to meet her at a place on the monastery property, not far outside the gate.

One day she came as usual and her saintly brother went with some of his disciples; they spent the whole day praising God and talking of sacred things. As night fell they had supper together. Their spiritual conversation went on and the hour grew late. The holy nun said to her brother, "Please do not leave me tonight; let us go on until morning talking about the delights of the spiritual life." "Sister," he replied, "What are you saying? I simply cannot stay outside my cell."

When she heard her brother refuse her request, the holy woman joined her hands on the table, laid her head on them and began to pray. As she raised her head from the table, there were such brilliant flashes of lightning, such great peals of thunder and such a heavy downpour of rain that neither Benedict nor his brethren could stir across the threshold of the place where they had been seated. Sadly, he began to complain. "May God forgive you, sister. What have you done?"

"Well, she answered, "I asked you and you would not listen; so I asked my God and he did listen. So now go off, if you can, leave me and return to your monastery." So it came about that they stayed awake the whole night, engrossed in their conversation about the spiritual life.

Three days later, Benedict was in his cell. Looking up to the sky, he saw his sister's soul leave her body in the form of a dove, and fly up to the secret places of heaven. Rejoicing in her great glory, he thanked almighty God with hymns and words of praise. He then sent his brethren to bring her body to the monastery and lay it in the tomb he had prepared for himself. "

from Dialogues by Pope Saint Gregory the Great

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Humility gathers the heart together

A few good words from a country against whom we have perpetrated a great harm.....

Saint Isaac the Syrian (7th century), Monk at Nineveh, near Mosul in present-day Iraq
from his Spiritual Discourses, 1st series, no. 21

"It is said that only God’s help saves. When a person knows that there is no other help, he prays a lot. And the more he prays, the more his heart becomes humble, for it is not possible to pray and to request without being humble. “A heart contrite and humble, O God, you will not spurn.” (Ps 51:19) So long as the heart has not become humble, it is impossible for it to escape being scattered; humility gathers the heart together.

When a person has become humble, compassion immediately surrounds him and his heart then feels God’s help. He discovers a strength rising up within him, the strength of trust. When a person thus feels God’s help, when he feels that God is there and that he comes to his aid, immediately his heart is filled with faith and he then understands that prayer is the refuge of help, the source of salvation, trust’s treasure, the port that has been freed of the storm, the light of those who are in darkness, the support of the weak, the shelter in times of trial, help at the height of illness, the shield that saves in combat, the arrow sent out against the enemy.

In one word, a multitude of good enters into him by means of prayer. So from then on, he finds his delight in the prayer of faith. His heart is radiant with trust."

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

An approach to Living the Life

From the testament of Charles de Foucauld:

"Jesus came to Nazareth, the place of the hidden life, of ordinary life, of family life, of prayer, work, obscurity, silent virtues, practiced with no witnesses other than God, his friends, and neighbors.

Nazareth, the place where most people lead their lives. We must infinitely respect the least of our brothers,...let us mingle with them. Let us be one of them to the extent that God wishes... and treat them fraternally in order to have the honor and joy of being accepted as one of them."

Monday, February 05, 2007

More on Love...

.... from Hans Urs Von Balthasar, The Christian State of Life

"All beings are, in the last analysis, interpreted according to their goal and calling, which, in man's case, is always love. All else is but means to an end; love alone is the goal. But because man himself is not love, because the calling to love is a grace given to him by God to draw his whole nature, like a magnet, above itself to its final goal, for this reason the calling to love has for man the form of service.

He has the privilege of serving, and there is no service that enobles the servant as this one does. He is free to serve, for nothing frees so deeply as love. But he can never regard himself in his human nature as identical with his calling; therefore, his love will always be a service."

A Message to Young People on Love

I ran across this today on Zenit- it is B-16's message to youth in preparation for World Youth Day local celebrations. I was struck once again by the clarity of thought concerning our vocation, which, as Therese of the Child Jesus said, is love!

I am far too old to attend a Youth Day, but this message fills me with hope for all those who will hear and follow the call of Love, whatever our ages.

My dear young friends,

On the occasion of the 22nd World Youth Day that will be celebrated in the dioceses on Palm Sunday, I would like to propose for your meditation the words of Jesus: "Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another" (Jn 13:34).Is it possible to love?Everybody feels the longing to love and to be loved. Yet, how difficult it is to love, and how many mistakes and failures have to be reckoned with in love! There are those who even come to doubt that love is possible. But if emotional delusions or lack of affection can cause us to think that love is utopian, an impossible dream, should we then become resigned? No! Love is possible, and the purpose of my message is to help reawaken in each one of you -- you who are the future and hope of humanity --, trust in a love that is true, faithful and strong; a love that generates peace and joy; a love that binds people together and allows them to feel free in respect for one another. Let us now go on a journey together in three stages, as we embark on a "discovery" of love.

God, the source of love

The first stage concerns the source of true love. There is only one source, and that is God. Saint John makes this clear when he declares that "God is love" (1 Jn 4:8,16). He was not simply saying that God loves us, but that the very being of God is love. Here we find ourselves before the most dazzling revelation of the source of love, the mystery of the Trinity: in God, one and triune, there is an everlasting exchange of love between the persons of the Father and the Son, and this love is not an energy or a sentiment, but it is a person; it is the Holy Spirit.The Cross of Christ fully reveals the love of GodHow is God-Love revealed to us? We have now reached the second stage of our journey. Even though the signs of divine love are already clearly present in creation, the full revelation of the intimate mystery of God came to us through the Incarnation when God himself became man. In Christ, true God and true Man, we have come to know love in all its magnitude. In fact, as I wrote in the Encyclical Deus caritas est, "the real novelty of the New Testament lies not so much in new ideas as in the figure of Christ himself, who gives flesh and blood to those concepts -- an unprecedented realism" (n. 12). The manifestation of divine love is total and perfect in the Cross where, we are told by Saint Paul, "God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us" (Rm 5:8). Therefore, each one of us can truly say: "Christ loved me and gave himself up for me" (cf Eph 5:2). Redeemed by his blood, no human life is useless or of little value, because each of us is loved personally by Him with a passionate and faithful love, a love without limits. The Cross, -- for the world a folly, for many believers a scandal --, is in fact the "wisdom of God" for those who allow themselves to be touched right to the innermost depths of their being, "for God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength" (1 Cor 1:25). Moreover, the Crucifix, which after the Resurrection would carry forever the marks of his passion, exposes the "distortions" and lies about God that underlie violence, vengeance and exclusion. Christ is the Lamb of God who takes upon himself the sins of the world and eradicates hatred from the heart of humankind. This is the true "revolution" that He brings about: love.

Loving our neighbor as Christ loves us

Now we have arrived at the third stage of our reflection. Christ cried out from the Cross: "I am thirsty" (Jn 19:28). This shows us his burning thirst to love and to be loved by each one of us. It is only by coming to perceive the depth and intensity of such a mystery that we can realize the need and urgency to love him as He has loved us. This also entails the commitment to even give our lives, if necessary, for our brothers and sisters sustained by love for Him. God had already said in the Old Testament: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Lev 19:18), but the innovation introduced by Christ is the fact that to love as he loves us means loving everyone without distinction, even our enemies, "to the end" (cf Jn 13:1).Witnesses to the love of ChristI would like to linger for a moment on three areas of daily life where you, my dear young friends, are particularly called to demonstrate the love of God.

The first area is the Church, our spiritual family, made up of all the disciples of Christ. Mindful of his words: "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (Jn 13:35), you should stimulate, with your enthusiasm and charity, the activities of the parishes, the communities, the ecclesial movements and the youth groups to which you belong. Be attentive in your concern for the welfare of others, faithful to the commitments you have made. Do not hesitate to joyfully abstain from some of your entertainments; cheerfully accept the necessary sacrifices; testify to your faithful love for Jesus by proclaiming his Gospel, especially among young people of your age.

Preparing for the future

The second area, where you are called to express your love and grow in it, is your preparation for the future that awaits you. If you are engaged to be married, God has a project of love for your future as a couple and as a family. Therefore, it is essential that you discover it with the help of the Church, free from the common prejudice that says that Christianity with its commandments and prohibitions places obstacles to the joy of love and impedes you from fully enjoying the happiness that a man and woman seek in their reciprocal love. The love of a man and woman is at the origin of the human family and the couple formed by a man and a woman has its foundation in God's original plan (cf Gen 2:18-25). Learning to love each other as a couple is a wonderful journey, yet it requires a demanding "apprenticeship". The period of engagement, very necessary in order to form a couple, is a time of expectation and preparation that needs to be lived in purity of gesture and words. It allows you to mature in love, in concern and in attention for each other; it helps you to practice self-control and to develop your respect for each other. These are the characteristics of true love that does not place emphasis on seeking its own satisfaction or its own welfare. In your prayer together, ask the Lord to watch over and increase your love and to purify it of all selfishness. Do not hesitate to respond generously to the Lord's call, for Christian matrimony is truly and wholly a vocation in the Church. Likewise, dear young men and women, be ready to say "yes" if God should call you to follow the path of ministerial priesthood or the consecrated life. Your example will be one of encouragement for many of your peers who are seeking true happiness.Growing in love each day

The third area of commitment that comes with love is that of daily life with its multiple relationships. I am particularly referring to family, studies, work and free time. Dear young friends, cultivate your talents, not only to obtain a social position, but also to help others to "grow". Develop your capacities, not only in order to become more "competitive" and "productive", but to be "witnesses of charity". In addition to your professional training, also make an effort to acquire religious knowledge that will help you to carry out your mission in a responsible way. In particular, I invite you to carefully study the social doctrine of the Church so that its principles may inspire and guide your action in the world. May the Holy Spirit make you creative in charity, persevering in your commitments, and brave in your initiatives, so that you will be able to offer your contribution to the building up of the "civilization of love". The horizon of love is truly boundless: it is the whole world!"Dare to love" by following the example of the saintsMy dear young friends, I want to invite you to "dare to love".

Do not desire anything less for your life than a love that is strong and beautiful and that is capable of making the whole of your existence a joyful undertaking of giving yourselves as a gift to God and your brothers and sisters, in imitation of the One who vanquished hatred and death forever through love (cf Rev 5:13). Love is the only force capable of changing the heart of the human person and of all humanity, by making fruitful the relations between men and women, between rich and poor, between cultures and civilizations. This is shown to us in the lives of the saints. They are true friends of God who channel and reflect this very first love. Try to know them better, entrust yourselves to their intercession, and strive to live as they did.

I shall just mention Mother Teresa. In order to respond instantly to the cry of Jesus, "I thirst", a cry that had touched her deeply, she began to take in the people who were dying on the streets of Calcutta in India. From that time onward, the only desire of her life was to quench the thirst of love felt by Jesus, not with words, but with concrete action by recognizing his disfigured countenance thirsting for love in the faces of the poorest of the poor. Blessed Teresa put the teachings of the Lord into practice: "Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me" (Mt 25:40). The message of this humble witness of divine love has spread around the whole world.

The secret of love

Each one of us, my dear friends, has been given the possibility of reaching this same level of love, but only by having recourse to the indispensable support of divine Grace. Only the Lord's help will allow us to keep away from resignation when faced with the enormity of the task to be undertaken. It instills in us the courage to accomplish that which is humanly inconceivable. Contact with the Lord in prayer grounds us in humility and reminds us that we are "unworthy servants" (cf Lk 17:10). Above all, the Eucharist is the great school of love. When we participate regularly and with devotion in Holy Mass, when we spend a sustained time of adoration in the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, it is easier to understand the length, breadth, height and depth of his love that goes beyond all knowledge (cf Eph 3:17-18). By sharing the Eucharistic Bread with our brothers and sisters of the Church community, we feel compelled, like Our Lady with Elizabeth, to render "in haste" the love of Christ into generous service towards our brothers and sisters.

Towards the encounter in Sydney

On this subject, the recommendation of the apostle John is illuminating: "Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth" (1 Jn 3:18-19). Dear young people, it is in this spirit that I invite you to experience the next World Youth Day together with your bishops in your respective dioceses. This will be an important stage on the way to the meeting in Sydney where the theme will be: "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses" (Acts 1:8). May Mary, the Mother of Christ and of the Church, help you to let that cry ring out everywhere, the cry that has changed the world: "God is love!" I am together with you all in prayer and extend to you my heartfelt blessing.

From the Vatican, 27 January 2007