Lectio Divina: Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A – July 13, 2014

Jesus, the Sower That Sows the Seed of Life

Meditation for Sunday, July 13th

Rome, July 13, 2014 (Zenit.org) Monsignor Francesco Follo

1) The words of the Word that must be seeded.

The parable of today’s Roman Rite liturgy in the first place speaks of Jesus, our Savior, who wants to introduce his mission and the sense of his presence among us with the comparison of the sower.

In an earlier passage, the Evangelist St. Matthew writes: “Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom” (9:35). Jesus sees himself as the one who is sent to “preach the Gospel of the Kingdom.” When Jesus begins his public ministry, he refers himself to a text from the prophet Isaiah that says: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me … He has anointed me to proclaim glad tidings to the poor … to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord” (Lk 4:17-19). Jesus says that these prophetic words come true in Him: He was sent “to announce a beautiful and happy news” to “preach the acceptable time.” This is the deeper meaning of this “autobiographical parable” (Benedict XVI). As the sower goes out to plant the seed, so Jesus exits the house of Nazareth, to sow in all the good news that God saves humanity.

When Pope Francis speaks of a Church which goes forth (Evangelii gaudium 24), he is inspired by the Sower that without succumbing to fatigue runs through the field of the world to the places of its fragility, its worthlessness, its weaknesses and its contradictions, even up to the point of blasphemy against Him. The Sower never ceases to throw the good seed. It seems to us that he throws the seed at random. However I think that we can interpret this way to sow the seed as Jesus teaching us the way to be missionaries. Mission is not about strategy or particular activity to add to our daily existence. Mission is, above all, a matter of spreading a word full of a Presence and nourished daily by an experience of fraternity that once again, every day and to every single human being asks the questions “Who am I?”, “Where do I come from?” and, especially, “Where am I going and why?”

From these questions unavoidably it emerges that the world of planning, of the exact calculation and experiment that is the knowledge of science, though important for the human life, is not enough. We need not only material bread, but also we need love, meaning and hope, a sure foundation and a solid ground that helps us to live with an authentic sense even in crisis, in darkness and in our daily difficulties and problems. We need to believe and to look at life with the eyes of faith.

Faith is not a mere intellectual assent of man to some particular truths of God. It is an act by which I entrust myself freely in a God who is our Father and loves me. It is adherence to a “You” that gives me hope, trust and love without measure.

Faith is to believe in this love of God that never fails in front of the wickedness of man, evil or death, but is capable of transforming all forms of slavery, giving the possibility of salvation.

Have faith, then, is to meet the “You,” God, who sustains us and gives us an indestructible love which not only tends to eternity, but also gives it. It is trust in God with the attitude of a child, who knows that all his difficulties and all his problems are safely in the “you” of his mother. This possibility of salvation through faith is a gift that God gives to all men.

I think that in our daily life, characterized by problems and situations at times dramatic, we should meditate more often the Word of God sown in us, to understand that to believe in a Christian way means to surrender with confidence to the deep meaning that sustains us and the world. It is a meaning that we are not able to give ourselves, but only to receive as a gift. This is the foundation on which we can live without fear. We must be able to accommodate this liberating and reassuring certainty of faith to proclaim the Word with our words and bear witness of it with our lives as Christians.

The parable of the sower, who is the Lord sowing so abundant, helps us to grow in the awareness and commitment to accept the Word of God and using it productively. There are many risks and many situations in which the Word of God bears no fruit, not because of the action of God, who could not be more abundant, but because of our distractions, superficiality and temptations. The sower Jesus plants the seed everywhere (it seems even wasting it), not discarding any soil but considering each one worthy of trust and attention. Thus the Church, through the Bishops, the Priests and all the Faithful, should give the Word to all and should do it tirelessly.

This is the vocation of every Christian. We are all sowers of the Word, from the Pope to the last baptized person. Not all of us are sowers to the same degree and with the same responsibilities, but we are all responsible to bring the Word to the world, knowing that the Word is our life even before to be our voice.

Every morning every Christian should leave his home not just to earn a material living, but also a spiritual one “going out to sow Christ, wheat that becomes Bread”, without being discouraged if some seeds were to fall on bad ground.

2) The seed and the soil.

The figure of the sower appears at the beginning of today’s parable and then disappears. The protagonists are the seed and the soil, and the situation presented by the parable is the one where it seems that all is lost, and the failure of the Kingdom and of the Word is total or excessive. With this parable Jesus tells us that it is not so. It is true that there are many failures, but it is certain that somewhere there is success. It is a lesson in trust.

In addition, it should be noted that in this parable Christ turns his attention to the “land” of the souls of men and of human conscience and shows what happens to the Word of God according to the various types of land of which is made ​​the field of humanity. Jesus speaks of a seed that was taken away and has not grown up in the heart of man because he has succumbed to the evil and did not understand the Word. Then he talks about the seed that fell on rocky ground, on the hard ground where it was not able to put down roots and therefore, could not resist the first test. We hear him talk about the seed that fell among thistles and thorns and was choked by them (these thistles and thorns are the illusions of well-being). Finally, He talks about the seed that fell on good fertile soil and bears fruit. Who is this fertile land? The one who hears the word and understands it. He listens and understands. It is not enough just to hear the Gospel of the new and eternal Covenant, which is the word of this Word made flesh. It must be accept with the mind and the heart.

Over the course of two thousand years the earth has already been thoroughly sown with this word. Christ as the Word has made fertile this ground of human history through the redemption and the blood of his cross. And in the word of the Cross his sowing continues, beginning “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21: 1). All the sowers of the Word of Christ draw the strength of their service from the unspeakable mystery that has become – once and for all – the union of God the Word to human nature and to every man (such as the teaching of the Second Vatican Council in Gaudium et Spes, 22). The words of the Gospel fall on the soil of the souls of men, but especially the Eternal Word itself, generated by the work of the Holy Spirit from the Virgin-Mother, has become a source of life for humanity.

May the Virgin Mary help us to be like her, “good land” where the seed of the Word will bear much fruit.

The consecrated Virgins in the world are among those who have taken in a particular way to model the Virgin Mary. Following the example of Mary, their word becomes prayer, gratitude, and gift of love. With this gift of love their word becomes a proclamation of the Word of truth that unites man to the loving life of God. In the virginal gift of self they recognize that Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom, is King of Love, in whose merciful goodness is reasonable to have a complete trust. With their lives they prove the truth of the sentences of Saint Ambrose “Your word is kept not in the tomb of the dead, but in the book of the living” (see patristic reading below)

Saint Ambrose, Bishop of Milan (340 – 397): From the beginning of the treatise On the Mysteries


 (Nn 1-7: SC 25 bis, 156-158) 





We gave a daily instruction on right conduct when the readings were taken from the history of the patriarchs or the maxims of Proverbs. These readings were intended to instruct and train you, so that you might grow accustomed to the ways of our forefathers, entering into their paths and walking in their footsteps, in obedience to God’s commands.

Now the season reminds us that we must speak of the mysteries, setting forth the meaning of the sacraments. If we had thought fit to teach these things to those not yet initiated through baptism, we should be considered traitors rather than teachers. Then, too, the light of the mysteries is of itself more effective where people do not know what to expect than where some instruction has been given beforehand.

Open then your ears. Enjoy the fragrance of eternal life, breathed on you by means of the sacraments. We explained this to you as we celebrated the mystery of “the opening” when we said: Effetha, that is, be opened. Everyone who was to come for the grace of baptism had to understand what he was to be asked, and must remember what he was to answer. This mystery was celebrated by Christ when he healed the man who was deaf and dumb, in the Gospel which we proclaimed to you.

After this, the holy of holies was opened up for you; you entered into the sacred place of regeneration. Recall what you were asked; remember what you answered. You renounced the devil and his works, the world and its dissipation and sensuality. Your words are recorded, not on a monument to the dead but in the book of the living.

There you saw the Levite, you saw the priest, and you saw the high priest. Do not consider their outward form but the grace given by their ministries. You spoke in the presence of angels, as it is written: The lips of a priest guard knowledge, and men seek the law from his mouth, for he is the angel of the Lord almighty. There is no room for deception, no room for denial. He is an angel whose message is the kingdom of Christ and eternal life. You must judge him, not by his appearance but by his office. Remember what he handed on to you, weigh up his value, and so acknowledge his standing.

You entered to confront your enemy, for you intended to renounce him to his face. You turned toward the east, for one who renounces the devil turns toward Christ and fixes his gaze directly on him.


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Picture of the Mass Rock of Penal Law Ireland

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An engraving from an Irish-Latin Missal published in 1958, with the beautiful old Gaelic script. The first page is a picture of the Mass Rock of Penal Law Ireland; when Mass in Ireland was illegal it was celebrated at secret rocks known only to the locals, and frequently ambushes and massacres took place at these rocks.

(Hat tip to Brian Ó Caithnia)

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A “Silver Fish” For “Un Dios prohibido” — Catholic Film Festival Swims Against the Flow

I seldom go to the cinema these days, although like most of us, who does not enjoy a good film that either entertains, edifies, or leaves one with something to think about and muse over? There are certain films I watched years ago that still linger in my mind with something of their beauty and ‘message’ still very vivid. The trouble is that so much of the seventh art nowadays does little of any of the above, seemingly being aimed solely at man’s lower instincts, or containing scenes of such crazy special effects that are so repetitive, they become actually boring! The last film I saw in the cinema was “Philomena” – a supposedly true story about an elderly Irish woman, now living in England, who desperately wanted to find her long lost son that had been wrenched from her by some ‘wicked’ Irish nuns when she was a young single mother! The film was well acted but certainly troubling. To my disgust I discovered some weeks later that the whole story had been manipulated and distorted for the sole purpose of putting the Catholic Church in a bad light! Sound familiar?

This article on Eponymous Flower talks about a Catholic Film Festival where examples of some decent good films can be seen. 

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(Rome) The feature film “Un Dios Prohibido” (A Forbidden God) by Spanish director Pablo Moreno was honored at the 5th International Catholic Film Festival Mirabile Dictu for “Best Film” award and was awarded the “Silver Fish 2014″. The award ceremony took place on June 26 in Santo Spirito in Sassia in Rome.

The “Silver Fish” is reminiscent of one of the oldest Christian symbols. The award was presented by director and film producer Liana Marabini, president and founder of the International Catholic Film Festival. The aim of the festival is to give space and visibility to producers and directors of feature films, documentaries, docu-fiction, television series and short films, to promote the “positive models and universal moral values” which are therefore consistent with Christianity.

In 2014, 1.600 Productions From 120 Countries Were Presented

More than 1,600 Catholic productions from 120 countries took part in this year’s Festival and competed for one of the seven prizes awarded. An international jury in 2014, chaired by the Austrian producer Norbert Blecha, assessed the submitted projects and awarded prizes for Best Film, Best Documentary, Best Short Film, Best Actor and Best Director.

The “Silver Fish” for 2014’s “Best Film” which was the Spanish feature film “Un Dios prohibido” was excellent. The film tells the true story of 51 Catholic martyrs who were killed during the Spanish Civil War by Anarcho-Communists. The historical facts took place in August 1936 soon after the outbreak of the conflict in the wake of the April 14, 1931 proclamation of the so-called Second Republic of Spain, a freedom-destroying Popular Front regime, which began a brutal persecution of the Catholic Church.

“Un Dios prohibido”: Is The Story of the Murder of 51 Missionaries in Spain

In Barbastro, a small market town in the Aragonese province of Huesca, 51 peaceful and defenseless “Sons of the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary”, better known as the Heart of Mary Missionaries or Claretians 1 were killed by militia members of the ruling People’s Front out of hatred for the Catholic faith. This “beautiful film,” says Corrispondenza Romana is told in a successful and touching way, about the last few weeks and heroic moments in the lives of the missionaries before their execution.

The prize for the best short film went to the Italian Alessio Rupalti. In “I Was Looking for Something Else,” he tells a story about the importance of human and family relationships.

 Continue reading the article for news of some of the other award-winning films presented at the festival, and the trailer of “Un Dios prohibido”.

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This Insidious Bill

_73484077_0240ea9c-27e2-4025-8d77-c4156404855aIn response to Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying bill which receives its Second Reading in the House of Lords on Friday 18 July, Laurence England has written a superbly argued and moving post “Protecting the Vulnerable”:

 

Until his dying day, Lord Falconer will be campaigning for assisted suicide. Until my dying day, I will be doing what I can to campaign against it.

We all know very well that the Church’s position is firmly set against turning doctors sworn into their profession to be life-savers into state-sanctioned killers. We all understand that the morality of suicide at the hands of the State is a terrible idea that will inevitably lead to the untimely deaths of countless men, women and children, yet still a naive appeal to “compassion” cuts mustard with the UK population when this issue arises. What is hard for us to fathom is just how many people are at risk from being made to feel that suicide is the best option among a range of options that cannot bring ultimate ‘closure’ to pain and suffering in this life.

I have and continue to live a very privileged existence, but even within the context of this, there have been times in my life when I have found my life to be so mixed up and painful as to be ‘intolerable’. Were assisted suicide legal in this country, would I have contemplated seeing a doctor to be ‘put down’ in the middle of a massive depression?

I can reel off a list of people who I personally know, or am in touch with, for whom ‘assisted suicide’ would become a very real and attractive proposal. There is a elderly lady I know who is cut off from her community entirely because she cannot go out due to mobility problems. There are homeless people I know who sleep in loading bays and car parks whose living conditions lack even the basics of sanitation and hygiene.

There are mentally ill people I know who would give anything to stop the ‘voices’ from talking to them that they do not want to hear. I know a man who has just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and who, on the same day as he was diagnosed, heard that his dad had suffered a heart attack and died. I know people for whom every waking day is a search for money for heroin and crack – an existence which they themselves find embarrassing, degrading, but who feel unable to break out of the cycle of dependency. I know people who live in accommodation so appalling and rotten that they stay out on the street all day and all night until they are so tired that they know that when they go ‘home’ they will simply fall asleep. The vast majority of these people have, at one time or another, told me of their thoughts of ‘ending it all’. Making that option easy will simply make that option more attractive. It sends out all the wrong signals, unless, of course, you want loads of people to die.

Yesterday, I was talking to a friend who takes another friend out for a breath of fresh air in her wheelchair. She lives alone and he often goes round to talk to her and listen to her. She has been sectioned many times. She is bipolar and talks to him regularly about suicidal thoughts. He often stays with her, talking to her for hours. Until now we have been telling people to ‘seek help’ if you are suicidal. Lord Falconers ‘help’ will eventually mean the ‘help’ that you need to request your own execution. The very ground upon which rest the lives of millions in this country will shift, an earthquake that could swallow men and women whole.

Continue reading on Laurence’s blog…

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Summorum Pontificum has put us in touch with our history

By Father Alexander Lucie-Smith at the CatholicHerald.co.uk:

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Seven years have passed since Summorum Pontificum, the motu proprio by which Benedict XVI liberated the traditional Latin Mass from all restrictions. As we contemplate this anniversary, it is interesting to ask ourselves what exactly has changed. How has the motu proprio altered the landscape of the Church?

On a personal note, what changed for me was that in the wake of the motu proprio I learned how to celebrate the Extraordinary Form, as it became known. I had been to EF Masses as a child, when staying with family friends in Gozo: in those days there was a Tridentine Mass every day in the little church of Our Lady of Pompeii in Victoria. Moreover, I had been to a Tridentine Mass said privately at my school, and later on to a few in Oxford either at Blackfriars or at Campion Hall. But I cannot say that at any point the EF really ‘grabbed’ me. My preference then, and to some extent now, was for the Novus Ordo celebrated in Latin; because I knew Latin, I was quite often asked to serve these Masses for priests who celebrated in Latin; though my real joy was in a Sung High Mass, of the type I used to attend at the London Oratory with my godmother in school holidays.

My father was a huge admirer of the Latin Mass of his youth: he used to say that its great advantage was that wherever you went in the world, the Mass was the same, in Latin, in the universal language, and thus accessible to all. That is a point of view I have not heard expressed for many a year. But there is something in it. The EF, I discovered as I learned it, is very formal: every gesture and every word has its place, and there is no room for variation, which is a good thing. Every Mass, in theory, is exactly like every other Mass. Why is this good? It is good because it reminds us that the Church is Catholic, universal. Of course we all have our particularities, but we need to remember that the universal aspect ought to take precedence. Why? Because the revelation of Jesus Christ is something that makes sense across space and time. It is valid for all times and places. Therefore it seems to me that the Mass ought to be celebrated in a way that emphasises the unicity of revelation and the unity of the human family. We should not be celebrating diversity, but identity; not celebrating difference, but the common heritage we all share.

I think this is one thing that has changed in the last seven years, and this is one of the looked for fruits of Summorum Pontificum: the EF has ‘reminded’ the OF of the ‘catholicity’ of the Church.

If the horizontal aspect is important, so is the vertical. The EF is clearly old, indeed very old. Codified at Trent, it is much older than Trent, going back to the time of Gregory the Great; in his time it was already old. Moreover, the OF is not ‘new’, in the sense that it is clearly in continuity with the ‘old’ Mass; the ‘new’ Mass is not ex nihilo. So, whether you celebrate one Mass or the other, or both from time to time, you are standing in a millennial tradition, going right back to the time before Pope Gregory. The ancient nature of the Church’s tradition is not something you heard much about when I was growing up, when all the talk was of the importance of ‘relevance’. So it is good that we should feel the worth and weight of tradition, and antiquity. These are useful counter-cultural correctives in this culture of ours, a culture which will one day be in the dustbin of history while the Mass, ever old, ever new, will continue.

So this is the main thing that we owe to Benedict’s motu proprio: it has put us more in touch with our history and with our universality. But it goes further. In using the old Missal, one often encounters a beautiful book, more than fifty years old, yet still serviceable; this goes for both altar missals and hand missals. The bibliophile in me recognises these as beautiful survivals, things to be treasured; and like the music that accompanies a missa cantata, as well as the sheer poetry of some of the texts (one thinks in particular of the Dies Irae), these are beautiful things, and a thing of beauty is a joy forever. Modern missals are cheap and hideous: my altar missal, barely three years old, is already falling apart. Much modern liturgical music is trash, and will not survive much longer; much modern liturgical language is ugly and banal.

By contrast, the words so many great composers set to music are classics: their meaning will never be exhausted, but they bear fruit in every age. Though most of the Mass is not written in a Latin that approaches the elegance of the Golden Age, much of it is lovely. Summorum Pontificum, over the last seven years, has pointed us towards the importance of beauty. Ugliness in the ecclesial setting, is, I hope, I think, in retreat. Beauty has a theological and spiritual role to play; so does ugliness, but not in a good way; the former is essential, the latter to be resisted at all costs. Summorum Pontificum has been an important weapon in the arsenal of all those who want to resist the tyranny of ugliness and banality.

Seven years is a short time indeed. The task is barely begun, but the tide, I pray, is unstoppable.

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Fatherless churches | First Things

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Original article by Aaron Taylor can be found here on First Things. Aaron Taylor, is a Ph.D. student in ethics at Boston College and holds degrees from the University of Oxford and from Heythrop College, University of London.

Almost fifty years ago, when the Catholic Church unveiled its new rite of Mass in the Sistine Chapel, Cardinal John Heenan, then Archbishop of Westminster, remarked that if the Church used the new liturgy in ordinary parishes it would “soon be left with a congregation mostly of women and children.” In 1967, Heenan could proudly assert that in his country “not only women and children but also fathers of families and young men” regularly attended Mass.

Whether or not the liturgy played any role in subsequent patterns of church attendance, Heenan’s predictions have come true, and the drop in male church attendance has not been confined to the Catholic Church. Extensive research on English churchgoing habits, for example, shows that 65 percent of the average church congregation is made up of women and 35 percent of men, with the gap widening. In 1980, congregations were 57 percent female and 43 percent male, and since 1990, almost half of men under 30 have left the Church. If the current rate of loss continues, men will completely disappear from the Church by 2028. Continue reading

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A few words of hard-hitting truth from Fr. John A Hardon S.J.

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Lectio Divina: 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

‘Little Ones’ Are Not the Simple-Minded; They Are the Humble-Wise

Paris, July 06, 2014 (Zenit.org) Monsignor Francesco Follo

1) The gentle and humble of heart.
After the journey of Lent and the Passion (the Way of the Cross) and Easter (the Way of Light), after the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity (Communion of Love and Light) and of the Body of Christ (the gift of His life for us), the Liturgy takes us back to “ordinary time.” The Liturgy offers us the Word of God so as to continue the journey began in January, inviting us to follow Jesus and to listen to what he has to say in today’s life.
Christ’s words in today’s readings are truly comforting: “Come to me, tired and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls “(Mt 11, 29-30). To the humility of the incarnate Son of God we must respond with the humility of our faith. It is the humility to recognize that to live we need the merciful goodness of a God, who forgives every day. We become like Christ, the only One perfect to the greatest extent, possible, when we, imitating Him who is meek ​​and humble in heart, become like Him people of mercy.

Continue reading

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Are Catholics ignorant of Church teachings?

If what the document issued by the Vatican as the basic discussion paper for this coming October’s Synod on the family says is true, massive numbers of Catholics around the world are ignorant of what the Church teaches on marriage and family and why – explaining why so many reject the Church’s teaching as an unwarranted intrusion into their personal lives and decisions.

In other words, faced with the choice between the Church’s magisterial faith and whatever contemporary society regards as fashionable they will pick contemporary society every time. The situation is serious.

Continue reading

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Saint Elizabeth of Portugal

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World Youth Day 2016 logo and prayer

By on Thursday, 3 July 2014

The World Youth Day 2016 logo

The World Youth Day 2016 logo

The official logo and prayer for World Youth Day 2016 were unveiled in the event’s host city — Krakow, Poland — by the city’s archbishop, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz.

The logo and prayer focus on the theme chosen by Pope Francis from the Gospel of Matthew: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”

The logo, created by Monika Rybczynska, 28, with help from Emilia Pyza, 26, features a red and blue flame of Divine Mercy flowing from a gold cross that is surrounded by a red outline of the map of Poland. A gold dot represents the city of Krakow on the map and symbolizes the youth. The red, blue and yellow colors represent the official colors of Krakow and the city’s coat of arms.

The prayer begins with a line from St John Paul II’s homily at the dedication of the Shrine of Divine Mercy in Krakow in 2002: “God merciful father, in your son, Jesus Christ, you have revealed your love and poured it out upon us in the Holy Spirit, the comforter, we entrust to you today the destiny of the world and of every man and woman.”

The first part of the prayer entrusts to the Lord’s mercy all of humanity, especially the world’s young people. The second part asks God to grant to the faithful the grace of being merciful toward others, especially those who have doubts about faith or who are discouraged. The last part asks for the intercession of Mary and St John Paul — the patron saint of World Youth Day.

The Archdiocese of Krakow is the former see of St John Paul and is home to the Divine Mercy shrine. St John Paul had a great devotion to Divine Mercy, the recognition of God’s mercy as demonstrated in his sending his son to die for the sins of humanity.

Pope Francis has asked young people to read the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-12, not just as a way to prepare for the 2015 diocesan celebration for World Youth Day and the international gathering with the Pope in 2016, but also in order to make them a blueprint for their whole lives.

The international gathering is scheduled for July 26-31, 2016, with Pope Francis and youth from all over the world.

The last international celebration of World Youth Day, which Pope Francis celebrated in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in July 2013, concluded with a Mass attended by 3 million people.

Below please find the full text of the World Youth Day 2016 official prayer:

“God, merciful Father,
in your Son, Jesus Christ, you have revealed your love
and poured it out upon us in the Holy Spirit, the Comforter,
We entrust to you today the destiny of the world and of every man and woman”.
We entrust to you in a special way
young people of every language, people and nation:
guide and protect them as they walk the complex paths of the world today
and give them the grace to reap abundant fruits
from their experience of the Krakow World Youth Day.
Heavenly Father,
grant that we may bear witness to your mercy.
Teach us how to convey the faith to those in doubt,
hope to those who are discouraged,
love to those who feel indifferent,
forgiveness to those who have done wrong
and joy to those who are unhappy.
Allow the spark of merciful love
that you have enkindled within us
become a fire that can transform hearts
and renew the face of the earth.
Mary, Mother of Mercy, pray for us.
St. John Paul II, pray for us.

 

 

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Christianity and Islam: A Common Heritage?

Man walks past a poster  of the Swiss People's Party at the central station in Zurich

Recently two prominent American bishops joined two leading Shiite Muslim scholars in Iran in issuing a statement on weapons of mass destruction. According to the statement, “Christianity and Islam cherish a common heritage that emphasizes, above all, love and respect for the life dignity, and welfare of all members of the human community.” It went on to say that “Catholicism and Shia Islam hold a common commitment to peaceful coexistence and mutual respect,” and concluded with a commitment to “our mutual intention to engage in sustained dialogue based on our shared values.”

This emphasis on the shared heritage of Christianity and Islam is fairly representative of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ stance on Islam—namely, that Islam is a sister faith with which we have a close affinity. For example, at the Muslim-Catholic National Plenary Dialogue in October of 2012, keynote speaker Fr. Tom Michel, S.J., entitled his talk “Living Our Faith Together.” Fr. Michel explained that he was uncertain whether the plenary theme was supposed to be “Living Our Faith Together” or “Living Our Faiths Together,” but he preferred the former because “we are already united.”

Meanwhile, back in the real world, Christians are being butchered by the hundreds and thousands by their “partners in faith.” As Islamic terrorism spreads across the globe, Church leaders might want to reconsider the common-ground-with-Islam policy that has been in place since Vatican II. It’s one thing to affirm the common humanity shared by Christians and Muslims; it’s another thing altogether to assert that they share a common belief system—as in “Living Our Faith Together.”

That approach is fraught with difficulties. What’s the interfaith common ground on jihad? On the equality of men and women? On amputation for theft? On the doctrine that Islam should reign supreme over all other religions? Is it wise to emphasize our “shared values” with a religion that inspires so many to maim and murder? To use an analogy, why would you want to tout your common ground with the local bully who beats his wife and intimidates his neighbors?

To ask a more basic question, why would you want to advertise your “common heritage” with a made-up religion? Even if Islam did not have a long history of depredations, in what sense does it qualify as a revealed religion—other than the fact that it claims as much for itself? Do the Catholic participants in the Muslim-Catholic dialogue believe that Muhammad actually received a revelation from God? If they don’t, then they are in danger of being involved in a pretense. Why do the claims of Islam merit so much serious consideration—let alone respect and esteem—if its founder was the perpetrator of such a massive fraud?

Despite all the fashionable talk about our shared heritage, there is no organic connection between Islam and Christianity as there is between Christianity and Judaism. Muhammad borrowed ideas and stories from the Torah and the Gospels, but the Koran can hardly be considered an outgrowth or fulfillment of either. It’s more accurate to say that Muhammad hitched a ride on the Jewish and Christian traditions. He saw them, in other words, as a vehicle for his own aspiration. And that aspiration—which jumps out from almost every page of the Koran—was to be a prophet.

Initially, Muhammad seemed content to be accepted as a prophet within the Jewish tradition, but when he was rebuffed by the Jews of Medina, it became apparent that his motivation was simply to be a prophet at any cost. Muhammad began to accuse the Jews and Christians of having distorted and falsified the revelations that were given to them, and he presented the Koran as the pristine revelation that the Jews and Christians had been guilty of distorting.

And what was the revelation? Ali Sina, the author of Understanding Muhammad, puts it this way:

What was his message? The message was that he had become a messenger and people had to believe in him…. Beyond that there is no other message. (p. 15)

Sina exaggerates, but not by much. Although the Koran also emphasizes the oneness of God, the only really new element not to be found in existing revelations is that Muhammad is a prophet—and not only that, but the “seal of the prophets.” The odd thing is that there is no prophecy in the Koran. Other than promising unbelievers that they will end up in hell, the Koran does not foretell anything of note. The prophet’s main message, repeated over and over, is precisely that he is a prophet.

Read the Koran and test this for yourself. The most frequently repeated phrases are “Believe God and His Prophet,” “Obey God and His Prophet,” and variations thereof. Sometimes the words “Messenger” and “Apostle” are substituted for “Prophet,” but they are all just different ways of saying “Muhammad.” In short the Koran never fails to remind its readers that Muhammad is a prophet.

Moreover, this prophet is on very intimate terms with the Almighty. Almost every time that Allah is mentioned in the Koran, Muhammad (under the title the “Apostle,” the “Messenger,” or the “Prophet”) is mentioned in the same breath. This too is odd. In fact, it borders on the sacrilegious. The greatest sin in Islam is the sin of “shirk”—that is, the crime of associating anyone with Allah. In order to refute the doctrine of the Trinity, the Koran emphasizes that Allah has no partners. Yet Muhammad links himself with Allah on almost every page—sometimes to the point that Allah begins to seem like a junior partner. Sina puts the matter rather starkly:

Islam is nothing but Muhammadanism. Muslims claim that they worship no one but Allah. Since Allah was only Muhammad’s alter ego, his other alias and invisible sock-puppet, in practice, it’s Muhammad whom they worship. (p. 7)

Prince Caetani, an early twentieth-century scholar of Islam, makes the same point in a slightly more elegant way:

It is thus the person of Mohammed that stands out above all in the front rank, till to God is given a secondary position in His capacity as the auxiliary of the Prophet. He is no longer the Supreme Being, for whose service everything should be sacrificed, but rather the all-powerful Being who aids the Prophet in his political mission, who facilitates his victories, consoles him in defeat, assists him in unravelling all the mundane and worldly complications of a great Empire over men, and helps him smooth over the difficulties which rise up every day as he works out these new phases of his prophetic and political career. (Cited in Ibn Warraq, Why I Am Not a Muslim, p. 88.)

In Caetani’s view, Allah becomes little more than a “deus ex machina” who supplies Muhammad with “revelations of convenience.” These were revelations that seem tailored to get Muhammad out of a jam or to resolve a dispute in his favor. Here’s a sampling:

  • After the Battle of Badr, a dispute arose over the division of spoils. Muhammad promptly received a revelation that “the spoils belong to God and the Apostle.” (8:1)
  • He received a revelation allowing him to marry his own daughter-in-law. (33:37)
  • Another revelation allowed Muhammad to marry as many wives as he desired. (33:50)
  • In another revelation, Allah freed Muhammad from his oath to one of his wives that he would stay away from his concubine, Mary (66:1-4).

After one such revelation, his young wife, Aisha, remarked: “Truly thy Lord makes haste to do thy bidding.”

After the Swiss voted in favor of banning minarets in their country, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, chided the voters: “I wonder,” he said, “…if they have ever opened the Qur’an.” One could ask the same question of the USCCB dialoguers. Because if you do read the Koran, one thing you can’t miss is the centrality of Muhammad. In a large sense, it’s all about him. Although Muhammad was careful not to refer to himself by name (he does so only on four occasions), see how many times the “Prophet,” the “Apostle,” and the “Messenger” are mentioned. The same is true of the Sira and the Hadith—the two other main sources of Islam. They are dominated by the person of Muhammad. Or consider this directive from Reliance of the Traveller, the definitive manual of Islamic law:

Allah has favored him above all the other prophets and made him the highest of mankind, rejecting anyone’s attesting to the divine oneness by saying “There is no god but Allah,” unless they also attest to the Prophet by saying “Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.” (v 2.1)

In short, you can’t have one without the other.

Other prophets were anxious to call attention to God, Muhammad seemed more anxious to call attention to his own prophethood. The Koran seems to be constructed not so much to serve the needs of the people of God, but to serve the needs of one individual’s rather large ego. The Koran’s obsession with the status of Muhammad suggests that it is an entirely human creation devised largely for the purpose of furthering the aims and ambitions of one man. After all, if Muhammad is the true author of the Koran, the words “Obey Allah and his Prophet” can just as well be translated as “Obey Allah and Me.”

One can find many resemblances between the Koran and the Torah and a handful of similarities between the Koran and the Gospels, but one can also find compelling evidence within its pages that it is, in fact, the “invented tale” that its author takes great pains to deny. (For examples of these denials see 11:13, 12:112, 32:1-2, 34:43.)

This being the case, Catholic bishops ought to be careful that, in their eagerness to show respect for Islam, they do not go overboard on the matter of “common ground” and “shared heritage.” What is the point of affirming your unity with a belief system that largely developed out of one man’s megalomania? What does it matter if Muslims revere Jesus, if the Jesus they revere was introduced into the Koran for the purpose of denying the claims of Jesus of Nazareth while enhancing the claims of Muhammad the prophet?

Muslims refer to the Koran as the “Holy Koran.” So also do numerous Western leaders including presidents, prime ministers, and four-stars U.S. generals. Bishops, however, should be more cautious about assigning sacred status to a book of such dubious origins. If the chief purpose of dialogue is to allow clerics of different faiths to congratulate each other on their shared open-mindedness, then it helps to concentrate on the mutual heritage aspect and to avoid the obvious stumbling blocks. But “let’s pretend” is not a very sound basis on which to move both parties closer to the truth.

What currently seems like the height of enlightened sensitivity on the part of bishops may eventually look like a display of simple foolishness. And, considering how rapidly our illusions about Islam are being deflated by the march of events, “eventually” seems due to arrive well ahead of schedule.

Editor’s note: The sign in the photo above reads “Stop – Yes to ban of minarets” sponsored by the Swiss People’s Party and posted during the fall 2009 referendum over whether minarets on new mosques should be banned in Switzerland. (Photo credit: REUTERS / Arnd Wiegmann)

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Covered with the Blood of the Lamb

From: Vultus Christi

bernini_crocifissione-thumb

I am completely smitten by Bernini’s little known depiction of the Blood of Christ. The Eternal Father contemplates the outpouring of the Blood of the Son. The Angels are awestruck by what they see. Blood pours out of the hands, and feet, and open side of the Crucified.

The Mother of Jesus, she who is the perfect image of the Church, raises her hands to receive the crimson torrent gushing from the inner sanctuary of His Sacred Heart. Beneath the Cross there is an ocean of Blood: Blood to cleanse the world of every stain of sin, of every crime, of every defilement. If you would know the value of the Precious Blood, ask the Mother of the Lamb.

Priests and the Precious Blood

“My maternal heart yearns to lead all my priest sons into the presence of my Jesus, the Lamb by Whose Blood the world is saved and purified of sin. My priest sons must be the first to experience the healing power of the Blood of the Lamb of God. I ask all my priest sons to bear witness to the Precious Blood of Jesus. They are the ministers of His Blood. His Blood is in their hands to purify and refresh the living and the dead.

Apply It to Your Wounds

I desire that all priests should become aware of the infinite value and power of but a single drop of the Blood of my Son. . . . Adore His Precious Blood in the Sacrament of His Love. His Blood mixed with water flows ceaselessly from His Eucharistic Heart, His Heart pierced by the soldier’s lance to purify and vivify the whole Church, but in the first place, to purify and vivify His priests. When you come into His Eucharistic presence, be aware of His Precious Blood streaming from His Open Heart. Adore His Blood and apply it to your wounds and to the wounds of souls.

Purity Wherever It Flows

The Blood of my Son brings purity and healing and new life wherever it flows. Implore the power of the Precious Blood over yourself and over all priests. Whenever you are asked to intercede for souls, invoke the power of the Precious Blood over them, and present them to the Father covered with the Blood of the Lamb.”

(From In Sinu Iesu, The Journal of a Priest)

_____________

L3In Pope Benedict XVI’s ‘Act of Consecration and Entrustment of Priests to the Immaculate Heart of Mary’ in 2010 for the Feast of the Visitation (on 2nd July in the traditional calendar), he said to Our Lady, “Do not tire of visiting us”. There is no priest who is not in need of being visited by the Mother of God. When Mary visits a priest, she consoles him, sustains him, and delivers him from the dangers that threaten his priesthood. The Holy Father words are echoed in the hymn at Matins.

(Read the entire post here.)

Do Not Tire of Visiting Us

Full of wonder and gratitude
at your continuing presence in our midst,
in the name of all priests
I too want to cry out:
“Why is this granted me,
that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Lk 1:43).

Our Mother for all time,
do not tire of “visiting us”,
consoling us, sustaining us.
Come to our aid
and deliver us from every danger
that threatens us.

Pope Benedict XVI, 12 May 2010



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Litany of the Most Precious Blood

 

Holy Mass and CalvaryJuly is the month dedicated to the Precious Blood of Christ, shed as the price of our salvation.

In the Liturgical Calendar of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, July 1st remains the Feast of the Most Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

This Feast still exists in the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite in the form of a Votive Mass.

 

 

Litany of the Most Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ

Lord, have mercy
Christ, have mercy
Lord, have mercy
Christ, hear us
Christ, graciously hear us
God the Father in heaven,
have mercy on us
God the Son, Redeemer of the world,

have mercy on us
God, the Holy Ghost,

have mercy on us
Holy Trinity, one God,

have mercy on us
Blood of Christ, the only-begotten Son of the eternal Father,

save us
Blood of Christ, the Word of God made flesh, 

Blood of Christ, of the New and Eternal Covenant, 
Blood of Christ, which in His agony ran down upon the ground, 
Blood of Christ, which welled up under the scourging,
Blood of Christ, which flowed from beneath the crown of thorns,
Blood of Christ, which was poured out upon the cross,
Blood of Christ, which paid for our salvation,
Blood of Christ, without which there is no forgiveness of sin,
Blood of Christ, which in the Eucharist nourishes and cleanses our souls,
Blood of Christ, torrent of mercy,
Blood of Christ, which overcame the powers of darkness,
Blood of Christ, giving strength to martyrs,
Blood of Christ, giving endurance to confessors,
Blood of Christ, from which virginity flowers,
Blood of Christ, giving courage to those in danger,
Blood of Christ, giving help to those who are burdened,
Blood of Christ, giving comfort to those in sorrow,
Blood of Christ, giving hope to the repentant,
Blood of Christ, through which the dying are consoled,
Blood of Christ, through which our hearts find peace and refreshment,
Blood of Christ, through which we are assured of everlasting life,
Blood of Christ, by which the gates of Purgatory are opened wide,
Blood of Christ, worthy of all praise and glory,

Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world, spare us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world, graciously hear us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.

V. Thou hast ransomed us with Thy Blood, O Lord.
R. And made of us a kingdom for our God.

Let Us Pray: Almighty and everlasting God, Thou hast appointed Thine only-begotten Son to be the Redeemer of the world, and chosen to accept the offering of His Blood; therefore, we beg Thee, teach us to reverence that which paid for our salvation, and defend us by Its power from the evils of this earthly life, so that we may rejoice forever in the life that It has bought for us in heaven. Through the same Christ our Lord.

R. Amen

 

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Baptize but Be Discreet: On the Catholic Baptism of children presented by homosexual and other irregular parents

There has been some interesting coverage in the news recently regarding the Church’s stance on baptizing children conceived or reared in irregular situations.

In recent decades there has been an explosion in the number of children conceived and born outside of Holy Matrimony. The general approach of the Church has been to baptize these children as long as there is no evidence of an ongoing rejection of the Church teaching that sexual intimacy is reserved for marriage. While people may have fallen in weakness, the presumption was that they at least accepted the norm and were going to try to live by it.

If the “couple” in question were living together outside of marriage, the baptism was handled discreetly and the couple was counseled to cease fornication.

It is not certain that every pastor admonished couples as he should but this was (and is) the general policy.

Enter the new and ever more frequent problem of same sex “couples” presenting a child for baptism, and now the stakes get higher. Why? Because of the visibility of the sin involved. At the baptism ceremony, one can at least presume that a single mother has repented of fornication. But it is hard to presume that a homosexual “couple” living together openly, in a culture that has suddenly decided to “celebrate” their “lifestyle,” is making a similar admission of the wrongness of their past behavior. It is also difficult to presume that many who attend the baptism have clarity on the aberrance of homosexual acts.

Thus the Church finds herself in a deeper quandary regarding how to baptize children being brought up in irregular situations that are far more public, situations that bespeak acceptance and even celebration of something the Church must oppose.

Discretion is the operative word. We still have every reason try to baptize children in these irregular situations; after all, it is not the fault of the child. However we must balance the common good of avoiding scandal with the individual good of each child by seeking to handle these baptisms discreetly, giving no opportunity for public confusion regarding what we must reasonably and biblically oppose (same-sex unions).

Here are some excerpts from an article that was in the Washington Post this past Saturday along with my comments in plain red text. (The full text of the article is here: New Battleground?.)

… Catholic leaders have carefully, if quietly, avoided doing anything to block gay couples from having their children baptized … And this is for the good of the child, who is not guilty of the sins of parents, guardians, or caretakers. It is not to be seen as an affirmation of the sins of the adults involved, whether this be due to homosexual acts, fornication, or adultery.

The default position for most bishops … is that if the parents pledge to raise the child Catholic, then no girl or boy should be refused baptism.

They generally let parish priests make the final call and let them administer the sacrament, though it is usually done in a private ceremony with the biological parent—not the adoptive mother or father—listed on the baptismal certificate.

The honest truth is that most priests have been so inundated by single mothers that we no longer handle the baptism of such children discreetly (as was done decades ago), but have held such baptisms publicly, and often alongside the baptisms of properly married parents. This must likely be reexamined. We have fallen prey to the normalization of fornication in our culture. And while not every priest has done so, it must be admitted that we have not properly distinguished between what ought to be discreet (because of the behavior of the parents) and what can be publicly celebrated. However, one was still able to presume the possibility that the parents had repented of fornication and were now living properly. This is often not the case with so called homosexual “couples” who often (but not always) wish to live in very public opposition to Church teaching.

[But a] new debate was prompted by the emergence of a memo—first reported by the Wisconsin State Journal—that was sent in early May to priests of the Madison Diocese by the top aide to Bishop Robert Morlino. In the memo, the vicar general of the diocese, Monsignor James Bartylla, says there are “a plethora of difficulties, challenges, and considerations associated with these unnatural unions (including scandal) linked with the baptism of a child, and such considerations touch upon theology, canon law, pastoral approach, liturgical adaptation, and sacramental recording.

Yes, they are unnatural unions and present a host of difficulties to us. Even in the “single mother” scenarios that have recently troubled us, comes the listing of a “father” who is often absent or sometimes even unknown. I have often had to struggle with a woman who either did not want to disclose the father or did not even know who the father was.  There is always the option of writing Pater ignotus (father unknown) in the baptismal register, but it is generally desirable to indicate the biological father if he can be known. But at least the mother was known. Members of so called “gay” couples do not fit on either line. Which do we list? Who is the father? Who is the mother? It’s a mess. Further, the rites call for a blessing for mother and father. What do we do? What do we say? Its a mess, a big mess. 

Bartylla says that pastors must now coordinate any decision on baptizing the children of gay couples with his office and that “each case must be evaluated individually.” And this makes sense. When you’ve got a mess, and this is a real mess, it makes sense to adopt a uniform policy. If there are 100+ parishes in a diocese, there should not be 100+ policies in a matter as serious as this. The Bishop, who is chief legislator and liturgist, ought to set the norms.

A spokesman for the Madison Diocese, Brent King, said … “We want everyone to receive this most important sacrament, and we are dealing with this sensitive matter prudently, for the child’s sake and the integrity of this most sacred sacrament,” wrote King. Yes, we want to baptize every child we can. This mess is not their fault. But we have to do so in ways that protect  the common good by avoid scandal and confusion.

Officials at the USCCB said these decisions are left to local church leaders, and indicated there are no plans to formulate a national directive beyond the guidance offered in a 2006 statement on ministering to gay people. That document says that baptizing the children of gay parents is “a serious pastoral concern” but that the church should not refuse them access to the sacrament. OK, good, but I suspect that some national norms are going to be needed as well.

Since the bishops passed that document, however, an ongoing wave of victories for same-sex marriage advocates has continued to push the issue into the public arena. As more gay Catholics can marry, and can be open about their relationship, more gay couples may be presenting their children for baptism.

Exactly. What was once an abstract, even theoretical problem is now becoming more widespread. Further, the homosexual extremists are looking to embarrass us, to set us up. We need to consider carefully a way forward that respects our traditions, but does not give any credence to their unnatural unions.

“The question with gay couples is whether their opposition to the church’s teaching on marriage means that they do not in fact intend to raise the child in the faith,” said Rita Ferrone, the author of several books about liturgy and a consultant to U.S. dioceses on liturgical matters. “Gay parents may or may not be ideologically opposed to church teaching, but chances are they do not merely disobey but also reject the various norms they have transgressed,” Ferrone said.

Sadly, these days the presumption is that many people, even beyond the “gay” community itself, not only approve of but even brazenly celebrate what God calls sin and abomination. Thus our presumption of good will is difficult to maintain.  Our operative presumption must become that we are being set up and pressured to approve what God does not approve. 

DeBernardo said the problem with a policy that focuses specifically on gay parents is that it “stigmatizes lesbian and gay couples as being more suspect than any other parents.” Sadly, though, many if not most gay parents want to live their sin publicly. It is not fair to ask us to be silent; we cannot do so.

“It is very likely that no parents that present a child for baptism are perfectly following all church rules,” he said. “Why single out only lesbian and gay parents for further scrutiny?” OK, but again the operative point is the public nature of the sin and the scandal given by its public nature. Some sins are just more obvious and public than others.

Countering any trend to curb baptisms, however, is the long-standing presumption, in church teaching and among even conservative church leaders, that no child should be denied baptism.

And herein lies the delicate balance: the good of the child vs. the common good to avoid scandal. The key going forward is discretion. More baptisms than in the past are going to need to be celebrated privately, in the presence only of the immediate family (i.e., parents or guardians and godparents). This will need to include fornicators and other irregular parents. We have become too lax and must now apply a norm consistently that has been poorly applied in the past.

And thus the bottom line seems clear: baptize these children, but do so discreetly. Further, we ought to regain more discretion as to how we baptize children in other irregular situations. The common good and the individual good of the children can and should be balanced, but they are not mutually exclusive.

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