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Veritatis Splendor

"Keep your eyes fixed upon Jesus, who inspires and perfects our faith" --Hebrews 12:2

Pope Benedict XVI before our Lord

And only where God is seen does life truly begin. Only when we meet the living God in Christ do we know what life is. We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution.
Each of us is the result of a thought of God.
Each of us is willed,
each of us is loved,
each of us is necessary.
There is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel, by the encounter with Christ. There is nothing more beautiful than to know Him and to speak to others of our friendship with Him.
~Pope Benedict XVI, Homily April 24th, 2005

Sunday, December 30, 2007

A Day in Pompeii

We all know the story - Mount Vesuvius blows its top, an Italian village is covered in the flow of ash and debris, and 1800 years later some archeologists uncover a perfectly preserved city including the eerie "shadows" of people who were caught in the eruption and couldn't escape, ending up covered by the ash themselves.

But there's a lot more too it than just that I've discovered. Through this upcoming Sunday, Epiphany Sunday of all days, the Science Museum here in St. Paul is hosting the A Day in Pompeii Exhibit. I put off going because, well, it is a little expensive ($24 I think for non-museum members, including the Omnitheater movie "Greece", which is also worth your time) and I thought I knew all about Pompeii anyway. But, I had an opportunity to go last weekend with a few friends and wow, it's worth your time too.

For starters, for Christians this is an intriguing exhibit, because it helps us to see the historical context and timeframe of the eruption - beginning on August 24, AD 79. That's only c.40 years from the time of Christ's death and resurrection, and within the estimated range of dates of the Gospels being written - meaning that at least John may have still been alive. Christianity has not yet "taken off" in Italy, apparently, as there didn't appear to be any trace of Christian influence. Yet, you can tell from the artifacts and frescoes that survived that there was indeed a culture that, though pagan, was at the least, striving to be "noble" pagan. You could tell that, given some time and a few good preachers like Paul, the people may very well have become Christian. Of course, they weren't given time, but a lot of other Italian towns like Pompeii were -- and we all know what happened to them! Pompeii, I would argue, gives us as modern Christians a very unique glimpse into the pagan Italian culture immediately (historically speaking) prior to the advent of Christianity, and therefore provides us with a marvelous bridge between the Roman/Greek philosophies and religions and our own understanding of the fulfillment of these "precursors" to God's fullness of Revelation.

On a more human, emotional, level this exhibit is worth our time because it is truly capable of touching us, and placing us in relationship, with more of our brothers and sisters in the Lord. They never, perhaps, were able to hear of the saving message of Christ, but they were also created in the image of God with an immortal soul, like us. In seeing the eight "bodies" that are presented to us, I found myself praying for their salvation, and for all those who perished in the eruptions. The top image of this post shows the one that I was most touched by - a young boy, huddled in what they believe to be a "gymnasium". There are others too, of a man lying next to a woman, attempting to shelter her head with his hands. A prisioner, with the shackles still on his ankles. Another man, who seemed to have fell on his face and attempted to shield his head. Even a dog, which had been chained by its master and died curled around the picket post. These were real people, and one wonders who would have prayed for them, if not us.

It was very interesting for me to note that if you track the scientists' timeline, the eruption happened at around 1pm on August 24th, AD 79. Yet, the first pyroclastic flows, at least the ones that hit Pompeii the hardest, didn't come down the mountain until the next morning, sometime before or around 8am. The exhibit said that this is when most of the deaths occurred, the earlier deaths were from the chunks of flaming debris that fell from the eruption. But the pyroclastic flows of superheated gas, ash and steam is always the greatest killer of a volcano. That is a huge span of time, far greater than I ever realized. I, like most people I think, always thought that the covering of Pompeii was a sudden, completely unexpected thing. It wasn't quite, there was at least some time to get out, and even when the ships became impossible there was even still a possibility of some people to get out on foot if they were quick enough and were able to understand the magnitude of what was happening. In a town of 20,000 people, it is believed that most of them did indeed get out. Who remained? Those who could not move themselves, and loved ones who would not leave them behind - the sick, the slave, the children, the injured. Perhaps that woman was injured by rock, and the man stayed with her to the end. Perhaps the young boy lost his family and, frightened, took shelter in the gymnasium for hours until at last the flow covered him. The slave they found in the middle of the road, as if he had gotten free at last and was trying to make his way to the water.

The exhibit is very well done, with a lot of amazing artifacts and frescoes, and the display is tastefully done of the "bodies" (They are actually plaster casts, when the covered bodies decomposed they left behind exact shapes, hollow spaces, in the hardened ashes. Some brilliant archeologist figured out what this strange hollows were that they kept finding, and poured liquid plaster into them. After it hardened, they chipped away the ashes and found... them.). The room with the "bodies" is kept very quiet and dark, and it inspires a hushed tone out of reverence for the dead.

This is a wonderful and rare opportunity for us to encounter our past, and I would encourage everyone who can go to this exhibit before it ends (last day this Sunday, Jan. 6th) to go, including families with children old enough to appreciate the experience.

An interesting online tour of Pompeii and the "relics" it contains, from a Christian's perspective, can be found at the Pompeii Virtual Tour.

As a side note, it was also interesting to note that in the museum's area dedicated to human anatomy and diseases, there was a rather large and impressive display up for the latest developments in ADULT stem cell research at the UofM. It was good to see this kind of promotion, even though they of course had older exhibits that were obviously biased towards promoting embryonic stem cell research - one was a "debate" station where you could hear "all sides" - except the only one we could fid who was against ESC research, out of five or six people, was one of our local Catholic Studies/moral theology professors, Dr. Wojda (and I hate to say it, but his argument was a little over the average person's head and didn't really answer the question directly. Dr. Degnan would be a better choice, if anyone's listening over there at CS!). Even the token Republican representative was pro-ESC -- argh. Anyway, I can only hope that this newer exhibit on adult stem cells is a sign of a trend... And if you go to the museum, be sure to pop over into that section and add your own "opnion" on ESC research to the handy-dandy "what do you think?" box.

Friday, December 21, 2007

And Season's Greetings

Just received via e-mail... had to share (slightly edited)!

To My Liberal Friends:
Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, my best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low-stress, non-addictive, gender-neutral celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasion and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all. I also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2008, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make America great. Not to imply that America is necessarily greater than any other country nor the only America in the Western Hemisphere . Also, this wish is made without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith or sexual preference of the wishee.

To My Conservative Friends:
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Who's really the enemy?

This is it, THIS is why I've become progressively more and more turned off to US politics. The Anchoress speaks for me, and for a lot of other people out there, I'm sure.

Now, don't get me wrong - I care about US politics, I care about who is president and who is in the Congress and who gets elected. But, year after year, it just seems that both sides (let's face it, there's really still only two sides) forget what's really at stake, what they are really fighting for. The venom that they spew at their fellow man, the hatred, and for what end? They don't even know anymore, all they're after is the short-term success of their attacks on each other, thinking that each attack brings them closer to the chance to be King (or Queen) of the Hill. Both sides. They try to hid their attacks under feigned unahppiness at having to resort to such tactics, but nowadays we all know better - we see the derision they have for one another, we see how much they hate their opponents, who happen to be American citizens just like the rest of us, and we wonder... perhaps subconsciously, if we really want a person like that "leading" us, speaking for us, when they seem to enjoy treating another person like dirt. Both sides.

Why do you think the young are "abandoning" their country, refusing to "care" about politics? I think that is because the young people today see that the people who want to run the country want to treat her, and her citizens, the same way that a workaholic or a socialite treats their family. They don't respect the family, they want to have it, to "own" it, in order to convince others (or themself) that they are "good", and then use it as an excuse to continue being selfish ("I work for the family..." "After all I do for this family, I have to go out SOMETIMES..."). Either way, what happens is that the family becomes the enemy to be stragetized against and worked around. Likewise, in the current American electoral process, it always seems that the candidates wind up treating the family, the American family, and their family members who happen to be disagreeing with them, as the enemy. And we young people don't like that - our family lives are hard enough these days without us seeking out, encouraging, these kinds of personal attacks by our would-be leaders. So... until a truly GOOD man steps forward and proves himself worthy of respect, by fighting cleanly, and treating those who don't agree with him with dignity, a good percentage of the roughly 110 million young adult Americans are just going to continue to tune out all the garbage. I pray that God sends us a good man!

There is only one Enemy, and when we forget that - there is no logical alternative but to see other people as our enemies. There is only One that is Good, and when we forget that - there is no logical alternative but to create ourselves as the benchmark for what is good, by which we judge others.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Dec. 20th - The Missa Aurea

From Fr. Mark at Vultus Christi:

A glowing radiance surrounds the Mass of December 20th. During the Middle Ages, the Mass of the Missus Est — the first words of the Gospel of the Annunciation — on the Ember Wednesday of Advent was celebrated very solemnly as a kind of festival of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The stational church in Rome is the Basilica of Saint Mary Major; this choice signifies that today’s Mass is equal to that of the greatest feasts of the Mother God. It was called the Missa Aurea, the “Golden Mass.” In manuscripts of the Middle Ages, the capital letters of the text of the Annunciation Gospel were written in gold. The letters of gold were but a sign of the secret grace hidden within the words of the Angel Gabriel and within the response of the Virgin Mary.

Then too there is the tradition of celebrating today’s Mass in the glow of candlelight. The “Golden Mass” was especially popular throughout Europe where the faithful hastened to their churches before dawn, bearing lanterns, confident of obtaining on this day whatever special grace they asked through the intercession of the Virgin of the Annunciation.

The Gospel is sung today to a particular melody: the same ancient melody used to sing the Gospel of Pentecost. The Annunciation is the Proto-Pentecost. The Virgin Mother, overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, is the living image of the Church overshadowed by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Wow. You know, tonight for the first time in a long time I was seriously contemplating taking the opportunity to sleep in tomorrow and miss daily Mass... Not anymore! Thanks Padre!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

"Messiah" - The Gospel wrapped with a bow!

Happy Gaudete Sunday! :)

Thanks to the generosity of some parishioners at the parish I work at (who also happen to have a daughter that I studied and lived with in Rome... unknowing that I was going to come home and get hired by her home parish!) I was blessed today to go with them on the annual Catholic Studies "pilgrimage" to experience Handel's masterpiece "Messiah"! Ah.... this is the third time I've gone to it, but the other two times were in the magnificent Cathedral in St. Paul, this time we went to Orchestra Hall. I have to say, I was a little surprised that the acoustics weren't better in the Hall - personally I think overall it sounded better in the Cathedral. In their favor this year, however, I think their soloists were much better! And, of course, I couldn't beat the company I was with to enjoy it :)

Handel's "Messiah", contrary to popular belief, wasn't meant to be a Christmas tradition. He wrote it with the idea that it was more of an Easter season piece. However, I think that "Messiah" is truly ideal as a Christmas tradition and I'm very happy that the buying public apparently thought it belonged at Christmas instead. You see, especially today when CHRISTmas is under attack by the culture, and even devout Christians are constantly in danger of losing sight of the Reason for the season under the presents of the tree, to suddenly be confronted with the beauty and awe of the entire LIFE of Christ before we celebrate His birth is a very timely thing.

Just as Dante managed to lead us on a journey to Christ, through Hell, Purgatory and Heaven, Handel too leads us on a journey to Christ - from Prophecy, to Incarnation, to Public Ministry, to Death, to Resurrection, to the Last Judgment. In doing so, both he and Dante manage to accomplish this Gospel reading without even using much of the writings of the Gospels themselves! I noticed this keenly tonight, that apart from the section of Christ's Nativity, all the rest of the movements are Scripture verses from the Old Testament (mostly Isiaih and Psalms I think), and later on, verses from St. Paul's epistles and Revelation! (I would love to find a commentary on "Messiah" that actually cites all the Scripture so I could study this further...) Basically, Handel is giving us a course in nothing less than typology, or how the Messianic promise is foreshadowed in the Old and fulfilled in the New. Now that's what I call Christian apologetics wrapped up with a bow!

And what's my favorite movement of "Messiah"? Sing it with me!...

If anyone out there is wondering, "What would Mary like for Christmas??", well....this would be nice. :)

Friday, December 14, 2007

2 Presidents, 6,852 priests, and 24 million women

This issue of HLI's e-newsletter Spirit & Life has the astonising tale of "who's missing" from society, including a statistical breakdown of just who the 1/3 of Americans who have been aborted since 1973 might have been now doing for the betterment of our nation and of our world - if they'd lived. Remember, only a tiny fraction of abortions are done on infants that are "terminal" and can't live on their own outside the womb...meaning, like in society, the majority of these people would have indeed grown up, gone to school, got a job, got married, had kids of their own, etc. (Now THERE'S something to think about - on top of the numbers of actual abortions, how do you even begin to factor in the number of descendents that were snuffed out at the same time? Let's not even go there...)

Speaking as a statistic myself, it's scary to think of who I should be dealing with at the grocery store, or who should be sitting next to me at church, or who should be graduating with me this spring... but can't, because they weren't allowed to live and I was.

THIS reality is why my generation, the post-1973 generation, looks at life a little differently from the rest of you. The rest of you don't wonder about whether or not you never met your best friend because they were aborted. Or will never get married because your life's partner was deemed to be not worth the inconvenience. So many what ifs... is it any wonder why my generation is now making movies like "Bella" or the new indie "Juno" that Barb Nicolosi blogged about.

One of Barb's comments on Juno caught my eye with regards to the Spirit & Life article I've linked to above:

Juno is also pro-life, in the way that just about every Gen-X movie about pregnancy is pro-life, and more so. (I would say Juno is a cultural message movie without being a political one. Certainly, that will be an inscrutable nuance in contemporary Christendom in which almost everything is politics. What I think is interesting is that Gen Xers and Millenials are pro-life without necessarily being Culture of Life. They don't put together all the pieces in the puzzle....not yet anyway.) The movie is also anti-divorce in the way that just about every Gen-X movie about family is anti-divorce.

Yes, that's about right. I can say with confidence that my generation is very different from previous ones, and is more conscious of human life as a valued gift. But Barb's right, unconsciously we are as a generation far more "pro-life", while consciously we are not getting the whole picture; we are not grasping the necessity for a Culture of Life that will support the need we feel to affirm life (perhaps sociologically and psychologically stemming from, as I said, the ever-present background reality that we could each have easily "not been"). Too many of my generation are living a hypocrisy - and being very judgmental to boot. You see, I hear it all the time (remember, I'm in classes with freshmen through seniors...), young adults decrying the selfishness of their elders, complaining about their parents (usually divorced one or two times over) and/or "the people in charge" who use people to get ahead etc. They rightly condemn this behavior, and say that they should be "nice" and think of other people too, not just themselves. Right. But then these same kids demand that they should be able to sleep with whatever guy they want with no consequences - to use other people for sex. And then they complain because OTHER people won't let THEM be selfish. And they don't see the disconnect! Our youth are so mixed up, they know that the extreme selfishness and "me" attitude of their parents is wrong, they see it, they see the consequences. They see the value of life that their elders have spent a lifetime trying to toss aside in favor of getting ahead. But at the same time, they've learned selfishness from those same elders, and they've also fallen to its allure. No wonder we're all so messed up - you see what we have to deal with that you haven't?

Sorry, a bit of a tangent on my part. In any case, you really should read the whole article, "How Many Heisman Winners Has Abortion Killed?"

It's a must-read story, especially during this Advent - H/T to Terry for the alert!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

To be a techie once more...

If you know what "subnet mask", "DNS", and "router" mean, this quote's for you:

"If you can handle swapping a router out at -100 degrees here then you can handle it anywhere."

-From a very cool interview at Computer World called The Big Chill: Ch-Ch-Chatting with the IT manager at the South Pole.

Loome's First (and Last?) Ad

Noooooooooooo!!! Don't do it! I'm coming!


I have GOT to get me out to Loome's! Anybody else comin' with me?

(H/T to the Ironic Catholic!)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Today, December 12th, is the feast day of the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title of "Our Lady of Guadalupe", and the anniversary of her apparition to the peasant Juan Diego 476 years ago. Up until this point in history, the Christian missionaries had made little headway in bringing the Gospel message to the native peoples of Central and South America. But within a decade of the apparition, seven million Mexicans had become Christian, the largest mass conversion in the history of Christianity! The native religions of the Aztecs and Mayans soon began to fade away, as love for the Virgin and the God that she presented to the people grew across the land. Pope Pius XII went so far as to name Mary, under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe, as the "Empress of the Americas", the patroness of all of us here in North and South America.

This morning at Mass, Fr. Wilson recounted a humorous story from another priest friend of his. I'd heard it before, but it's just a great tale to tell! His friend was raised Lutheran, and so did not grow up with any kind of Marian piety in the home. When he entered Catholic seminary and became a priest, he did so acknowledging Mary but not really feeling any affinity towards Mary or personal devotion to her. It just "was", but not a part of his life. Well, those essential elements of all parish life, the "little old church ladies", wanted to go on pilgrimage to Mexico City, for Our Lady of Guadalupe. And they wanted a priest to come with. So they persistently asked the good Fr. to come (ok, nagged him). Persistence pays off - at last, Fr., who did truly want to do what was best for his people, went to Mexico City with them. During Mass, as he was concelebrating with dozens of other priests, he heard in his ear, very distinctly: "If I choose to have My mother lead seven million people to Me - what business is it of yours?" Needless to say, his life changed forever. Of course, the deeper meaning behind all of the appearances of Mary is not only to demonstrate the love of God and His willingness to use many means to rescue the lost, but also to inspire us to allow Him to use us, following the example of Mary. We too must be "reeds of God", and following the model of Mary's discipleship and of her constant leadership to her Son, we too may be instruments of grace in the life of others. What a beautiful meditation for this Advent!

This website has a brief description of the apparition and miracles associated with Our Lady of Guadalupe, including this fascinating interpretation of the image on the tilma, Juan Diego's "apron":

The Image of Our Lady is actually an Aztec Pictograph which was read and understood quickly by the Aztec Indians.

She was greater than the dreaded Huitzilopochtli, their sun-god of war.

She had clearly crushed Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent moon-god.

She was greater than the stars of heaven which they worshipped. She was a virgin and the Queen of the heavens for Virgo rests over her womb and the northern crown upon her head. She appeared on December 12, 1531 and the stars that she wore are the constellations of the stars that appeared in the sky that day!

She was a Queen because she wears the color of royalty.

Her God was that of the Spanish Missionaries, Jesus Christ her son who died
on the cross for all mankind.

She was with child because she wore the Aztec Maternity Belt.

She was the Mother of God because the flower was a special symbol of life, movement and deity-the center of the universe.

She was not God but clearly there was one greater than Her and she pointed her finger to the cross on her brooch.

She is the Queen of the Earth because she is wearing a contour map of Mexico telling the Indians exactly where the apparition took place.

As always, Rocco has the scoop on the myriad celebrations that are taking place in honor of the "birthday" of the Patroness of the Americas - including this great video clip:

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Must-See: Merry Tossmas

Too funny - because it's too true!

You want to laugh? Watch this: Merry Tossmas! Click the graphic once to activate the control, then click it again to play the clip.

Forward this one to all your relatives and friends working for those "happy holiday" companies out there!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Online Advent Calendar

Here's a fabulous online Advent Calendar done by my friend Clayton!! Check it out!

Fra Angelico's Annunciation