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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

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Today's Chesterton Thought

When Christ at a symbolic moment was establishing His great society, He chose for its corner-stone neither the brilliant Paul nor the mystic John, but a shuffler, a snob, a coward--in a word, a man. And upon this rock He built His Church, and the gates of Hell have not prevailed against it. All the empires and the kingdoms have failed, because of this inherent and continual weakness, that they were founded by strong men and upon strong men. But this one thing, the historic Christian Church, was founded on a weak man, and for that reason it is indestructible. For no chain is stronger than its weakest link.
~ G.K. Chesterton, "Heretics" pg 32

Monday, January 14, 2008

Photos: North Shore Youth Trip

This past weekend I was once again on the beautiful shoreline of Lake Superior, as a chaperone on the annual St. Charles Youth Group "Winter Adventure Weekend" (aka, ski retreat!). 5 parishes were represented, and I must say it was about the most stellar group of youth and chaperones you could ask for - thanks guys!

Click for Photos from the North Shore Youth Trip 2008!

Destination: Heaven

What really IS heaven, and even though we say we want to go there, why don't we really want to? Here, DeStefano makes an attempt to tackle this most fundamental question - why do we keep saying "rest in peace" to be consoling when we don't really think we want to be "resting" or at "peace" for eternity? What's really boring - heaven, or our understanding (or lack thereof) of heaven?

When I first saw this book, A Travel Guide to Heaven" by Anthony DeStefano, I thought that this would be merely happy "fluff" reading with maybe even some questionable theology thrown in for kicks. Well, it is definitely happy reading, but I wouldn't call it "fluff", and while there is some imaginative speculation (ok, a lot), it is really in the realm of good, solid, "mere Christianity" - with respect for our Jewish and Muslim brethern as well. I highly recommend this book to everyone, absolutely everyone! You too!

Whenever we are on a long journey, it always helps to get a reminder about the destination that we are heading for - and that it really is worth the time of our life. This book makes perfect "cheer up" reading for all of us struggling on the way to heaven, while not overlooking the fact that heaven is not for just "anyone" no matter what, while not making the mistake of making life itself and our choices (sins or sacrifices) pointless wastes of time. Life itself is a life or death matter - but the rewards of heaven are not something to be made into vague platitudes and things that we "think" we want while really simply desperately trying to ignore for the time being so we can "eat, drink and be merry". The reward of heaven is that we will be able to eat, drink and be merry like never before in the presence of our loving God and creator forever!

DeStefano is a humorous and gentle author that is able to be both witty and simple, much like G.K. Chesterton or C.S. Lewis in a way. In fact, the whole thing reminded me a lot of Lewis' "The Great Divorce" in it's style and handling of this most delicate topic, where our gift of free will and God's tremendous omnipotent goodness can cause us much confusion. Indeed, I suppose I do quibble a bit with a few statements the author makes, especially concerning his conviction that "nothing good will ever be lost, nothing good can be lost to us in heaven" - I am a student both of Chesteron's "doctrine of conditional joy" (that we don't really love anything, or have any joy about it, unless there is a risk of losing it), and of Aquinas' teaching on how, somehow, the justice of hell will also bring us joy, even thought it is an eternal "loss" for heaven of something that was fundamentally created good. But then again... the author might be more right than I realize.

Give this book to ANYONE you know who needs some serious reason to hope for joy.

Now I guess I'm going to have to go get DeStefano's other book, "Ten Prayers God Always Says Yes To". I suspect that, while that one also sounds at first like a "fluff" book, it's probably not!

Catholic readers - note that DeStefano seems to be a solid Catholic (he is CEO of Priests for Life after all!), and claims in the endnotes to have an imprimatur for the book from the bishop of Rockville Center, however this imprimatur is not printed in the front of the book itself. Not sure what's going on with that, however, I still confidently recommend the book. It might especially be a great book to give to teenagers or young adults, as it deals a lot with the questions that they have about heaven (and how "boring" the traditional images of heaven make it out to be!).

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Prayers requested

Death of St. Joseph

I just got a call from my parents to tell me that my mom's brother Jeff passed away last night, after a long struggle with cancer.

Over a year ago, through the prayers of the family and others of you, we believe a miracle happened that allowed him to improve without reason, and to be able to be at his daughter's wedding, and, perhaps most important, return to his Catholic faith. I have every reason to hope for his soul, but I ask for your prayers for him, and for his family. A Mass or two would be wonderful, if you can.

I do not think it a coincidence that last night, for no particular reason, I pulled Newman's "Dream of Gerontius" off the shelf and stayed up way past my bedtime reading it.

R. Subveníte, Sancti Dei, occúrrite, Angeli Dómini, Suscipiéntes ániman ejus, Offeréntes eam in conspéctu Altíssimi. Suscípiat te Christus, qui vocávit te, et in sinum Abrahae Angeli dedúcant te. Suscipiéntes ánimam ejus, Offeréntes eam in conspéctu Altíssimi.

V. Réquiem aetérnam dona ei, Dómine, et lux perpétua lúceat ei. Offeréntes eam in conspéctu Altìssimi.

R. Come to his assistance, all you Saints of God: meet him, all you Angels of God: receiving his soul, offering it in the sight of the Most High. May Christ receive you, who hath called you, and may the Angels conduct you to Abraham's bosom. Receiving his soul and offering it in the sight of the Most High.

V. Eternal rest give to him, Lord: and let perpetual light shine upon him. Offering it in the sight of the Most High.

Grant, O God, that while we lament the departure of this Thy servant, we may always remember that we are most certainly to follow him. And give us grace to prepare for that last hour by a good life, that we may not be surprised by a sudden and unprovided death, but be ever watching, that, when Thou callest, we may, with the Bridegroom, enter into eternal glory: through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Our Boomerang Culture

The Anchoress once again gives us the best in cultural dissection:

The worst thing about the Baby Boom generation - besides their delusional belief that everything that came before them needed changing because it was all wrong or lacking in sufficient meaning, is that they keep wanting to re-create those “seminal” moments of their adolescence and young adulthood. That’s why in the late 80’s our entertainment was stuck on “The Wonder Years,” “Thirtysomething” and “The Big Chill,” and it’s why the war in Iraq was never going to be narrated as anything but “The Vietnam Quagmire.”

...The baby boomers have been a generation all-too-comfortable living their lives and working out their issues in public, and public “events” from The Kennedy Assassination/Funeral to the Chicago Convention to the Challenger Explosion to 9/11 have served as cathartic catalysts or backdrops to their never-ending, frolicking subterranean explorations of themselves and their psyches. First they wanted to dismantle “the establishment” and the dominant culture. Then they wanted to re-create moments of deep impact. I don’t know what it means. A few years ago, in a late-night ramble, I wrote:

I think of these baby boomers - in truth I am one of them, on the tail end: The children of The Greatest Generation – “the children of their sacrifice,” as Bill Clinton called them. A generation so in love with itself that it was able to turn to the generation before, the one that saved the world from Fascism and Communism, and sneer at them, rejecting their traditions as vapid, their faith as naive and their sense of honor and duty as mere mechanisms triggered by guilt.

I think with their kids, The Greatest Generation dropped the ball. They came out of a depression and a war so eager to give their children everything – to rebuild the world around their children - that they threw things out of balance. The children who had never suffered or “done without” retorted with a wiseass, “Oh yeah? Don’t tell us we cannot have what we want; don’t tell us there must be consequences for our actions; don’t dare to define the truth to us. Everything that came before us is suspect and probably wrong.”

Not everything that came out of the boomer generation was bad, of course, but - as Bill Kristol has noted, the civil rights advances of the 1950’s were mostly accomplished by the tail-enders of The Greatest Generation.

Maybe that’s it. Maybe the boomers look to re-creation because they deconstructed everything that came before. Their parents had those old bourgeois “illusions” of family, faith and community to guide their lives and give them meaning, security and a clear sense of themselves. Having cast all of that aside, all the boomers have to cling to are themselves, their media, and the “greatests hits” of the soundtracks of their lives.

Not being a Boomer myself, but being in the unique situation of being a late-to-the-party Gen X/Millenial myself, with older siblings who hail from the 60s, and parents who are on the tail end of The Greatest Generation, all I can say is... yes. My family experience is very different, with nary a trace of Boomer Disease - but in a sense, that proves the point.

My parents didn't "give their children everything", because they didn't have "everything" to give; of all of us children I am the one who got the highest amount of "freebies", coming later in my father's professional life as I did. But with all of us, our parents expected a lot, they had high standards of both accomplishment and morality. At the same time, there was an openness to their parental approach that allowed us the breathing room to "screw up" if we had to in order to learn something. My older siblings, unlike the Boomers that the Anchoress referred to above, are not today clinging to themselves and "the 'greatest hits' of the soundtracks of their lives." And, neither, I hope, am I.

Because of this perspective, as I have grown up and entered into adult life and work, I have been able to see with fresh eyes the truth that the Anchoress observes about the Boomers - in essence, all of us are trapped in their Boomerang Culture. I say "Boomerang" because with the Boomers, they just won't let anything go! Every time society tries to move away from some "moment" that "changed us forever" and get over it, the Boomers just pick it up again and fling it back into our faces, our TV sets and our movie theaters. My family doesn't live like that, and so none of us children or grandchildren cling to these moments either. Tragedies happen to us, "moments" happen to us, but... we live through it, we learn from it and we keep going. The Boomerang Culture refuses to do this, because to learn from something means to change your life in some way. They don't want to give up the benefits of being victims, therefore let's keep dredging up the "reasons" why we are the way we are, the excuses for our free love behavior. It's like the kid who is sitting down with dad, and dad's trying to tell him something he doesn't want to hear - but something that he needs to know if he will ever be happy in his adult life, but the kid isn't listening, instead he's looking around in every direction, ready to shout, "hey, look, a distraction!"

It's a good thing boomerangs don't last forever.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

A supreme virtue: Obedience

Do you ever wonder why God values obedience more than sacrifice? ... Because obedience is someone else’s idea of what you should sacrifice.
~David Manuel (H/T to the Happy Catholic's quote book)

It's very interesting that the two issues where I often diverge from the average committed and orthodox Catholic today have always been LifeTeen and Medjugorje. In both cases, later examination has shown me a red flag in the "discernment of spirits" that is present in their central figures and proponents - disobedience.

Medj has for years been a source of controversy, but this rampant disobedience by the so-called shrine's leaders is usually overlooked or ignored by many good, solid Catholics. LifeTeen's charismatic founder is now proven to have similar obedience problems, which must now be taken into account in any discussion of the program he created and marketed:

The Diocese of Phoenix is urging Catholics not to attend a suspended priest's non-denominational services, but Dale Fushek's magnetism keeps filling the Mesa Convention Center while he awaits trial on misdemeanor sex charges.

The former longtime pastor of St. Timothy's Catholic Church in Mesa, Fushek's latest service at the Praise and Worship Center is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Sunday at the Mesa Convention Center. His last service on Dec. 23 drew an estimated 700 people and his first service on Thanksgiving drew about 500.

“We're actually encouraging Catholics to refrain from attending. We would hope that they don't,'' said Jim Dwyer, a spokesman for the diocese. “I think most leaders in the church would say your devotion should be to Christ, not an individual leader.”

In my experience, orthodox Catholics who are very attached to either Medj or LifeTeen have a very knee-jerk reaction of defensiveness at the slightest questioning about them. Often by saying that such things don't matter, as they have had a great personal conversion there, or their friends have, or their family has, or their co-worker's neighbor's nephew's cousin has. "By their fruits you shall know them" they quote at you, quick as a whip. True. But simply because there is conversion that is taking place doesn't mean that the origin and existence of Medj, or of LifeTeen, is authentic. In logic the rule goes something like this - "if P, then Q. P, therefore Q." It doesn't work the other way around - you can't say that "if P, then Q. Q, therefore P." It's possible that if there is Q there might also be P, but the fact of Q being present does not mean that P must also be present. This is why we've been given the Church by God, to give us a living interpreter of the signs - and the number one clue the Church uses is obedience, to God and to His Church. And our Lord has already told us that He prizes obedience even beyond sacrifice - in that sense, even Christ's sacrifice on the Cross was only worthy of our redemption because of His obedience to the Father first.

Look, conversion takes place anywhere that there is a strong witness of people who are going to Mass, going to Confession, telling others about their faith and the wonders of God, praying the Rosary -- that's the power of prayer and sociologically the way that seekers often become open to having a relationship with Christ. Individual parishes, whether they use LifeTeen or not, are places where God wants to work conversion. I'm not talking here against any individual conversion experiences - God works where He wills. I'm not talking against you or your Aunt who went to Medj and had an amazing experience and now go to daily Mass, etc. I'm not talking against your parish's particular program which uses elements of LifeTeen and has been a source for revival and vocations across the diocese.

What I'm talking about is the central foundation and motivations from which the phenomena of LifeTeen and Medj and other things like them flow. If the foundation is on sand, it is still a problem, even if other builders come and build the house itself out of rock.

Obedience can be possible without love, but love cannot exist without obedience. Obedience is the foundation from which all other virtues are built."
~ Br. Ignatius Mary

In any case, it seems that in every instance where God's faithful have obeyed their bishop and Pope, to the point of allowing their devotions, ministries, or apostolates to be suppressed or suspended, great fruit has been later seen, at a time that the Lord wills. Look to the story of St. Faustina and the devotion to the Divine Mercy for one stunning example of this.

The minute you disobey, you are saying that you don't trust God, and that you don't trust that what you are doing is really His work and His will. And if that's the case, then what is it that you are really doing? What was it's true inspiration? What (or who) are you really serving? In too many of the "LifeTeen" parishes I've experienced, things like this story make me wonder how much of this fruit is really going to stay on the Tree long enough to be added to the Picker's bushel basket. And who's really going to be happy about that?

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Saving baby Mariam

Sheila just reminded me about this story from last year, perhaps the most fitting story I can think of for this feast of our Lady, our Blessed Mother - a child is saved in Iraq, with the help of a heroic Navy medic, some incredibly dedicated Marines who continued his fight for life, and the power of God manifested by prayer through the intercession of Our Lady, Mother of God.

An excerpt:

...The last week of September, with Mariam's case still bogged down in bureaucracy, Captain [Dr. Sean] Donovan stopped by Father Bishop's office. The battalion was "ripping," as Marines call the process of packing up to leave Iraq. Donovan was despairing, feeling they had let Walsh and the others down by failing to get the baby out.

"Have you prayed about it?" the priest asked Donovan.

"What?" Donovan asked.

"Have you prayed?" Father Bishop said.

Donovan sheepishly admitted he had not. Bishop suggested Donovan go to the small chapel next door and say the Memorare, a prayer to Mary, the mother of Jesus, which in part reads, "Never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help or sought your intercession, was left unaided."

Sean Donovan knelt down and said a Christian prayer for a Muslim girl whose Anglicized name is Mary.

The next day, Donovan opened an e-mail notifying him that Mariam had been cleared for medical evacuation to Boston.

Read the whole thing at "Saving baby Mariam" - The Boston Globe, December 4, 2006 and a follow-up story Honoring their fallen" - The Boston Globe, September 3, 2007. Reader's Digest also did a full story on The Baby and the Battalion last May that adds some additional details.

Hail Mary, Theotokos

Today, January 1st, 2008, is the eighth and final day of the octave celebration of Christmas, and it is fitting that today the Church celebrates the reality that Mary was honored to be Theotokos, which is translated into English usually as "Mother of God", but literally meaning "God-Bearer"! We too, are thus reminded that while we cannot bear Christ physically as Mary did, we are indeed called to imitate Mary in bearing Him to others spiritually. Most profoundly, when we receive Him in His Body and Blood at Holy Communion, and thus strengthened, bring Him to those who need to learn of His presence. As Mary points the way for us, so are we to point the way for others, and to bring Christ to His people throughout our daily lives. Now there's a New Year's resolution for you!

What's special about the eighth day? In the Jewish/Christian tradition, everyone is familiar with the words of Genesis, that God worked for six days and on the seventh He rested. Even today we (hey, wow!) still mark our calendars into weeks of seven days - typically using Sunday, the day of rest, as the last day of the week. Where does the eighth day come in? There are, as always, a few layers of meaning here. First, the idea of an octave celebration (which we do for Easter too, so stay tuned!) comes from the understanding that Christ's resurrection, our redemption, is the "eighth day" of Creation, the fulfillment of all promises. Secondly, historically Jesus would have been circumcised and given His name on the eighth day after His birth, as part of the Jews' religious and societial traditions - the "completion" if you will of His birth. Even so - for Christmas we don't just stop at eight days of celebration, we've still got four more to go before we complete the twelfth and final day of Christmas (so don't you dare go taking down that tree yet!).

As it happens, today's solemnity of Mary, Mother of God is also the first calendar day of the civil year - fitting, for as the birth of the Savior is how all peoples now mark the passing of years (whether you admit to it or not, I don't care if you use AD or CE, you're still using Christ's birth as your starting point!) so to does the world now continue to see each year renewed as the birth of Christ is completed on the eighth day of Christmas.

In honor of the occasion, I give you one of my favorite poems, which highlights our Blessed Mother as the Mother of God, and uses many of the traditional titles of our Lady found in the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The perspective of the poem is of an onlooker, seeing Mother and Child together: first with Him in her womb, then upon her lap gazing at His reflection in her eyes, then being raised up in her arms, then playing at her feet, then climbing up to give His mother a kiss.

A Little Litany

"When God turned back eternity and was young,
Ancient of Days, grown little for your mirth
(As under the low arch the land is bright)
Peered through you, gate of heaven--and saw the earth.

Or shutting out his shining skies awhile
Built you about him for a house of gold
To see in pictured walls his storied world
Return upon him as a tale is told.

Or found his mirror there; the only glass
That would not break with that unbearable light
Till in a corner of the high dark house
God looked on God, as ghosts meet in the night.

Star of his morning; that unfallen star
In that strange starry overturn of space
When earth and sky changed places for an hour
And heaven looked upwards in a human face.

Or young on your strong knees and lifted up
Wisdom cried out, whose voice is in the street,
And more than twilight of twiformed cherubim
Made of his throne indeed a mercy-seat.

Or risen from play at your pale raiment's hem
God, grown adventurous from all time's repose,
Or your tall body climed the ivory tower
And kissed upon your mouth the mystic rose."

~ G.K. Chesterton

(H/T to The Poor Blogger for posting the poem)

The Emperor Has No Clothes

Sing with me! "One of these things is not like the other, one of these things just isn't the same..."

Exhibit A:


Exhibit B:


Now, head over toThe Recovering Dissident Catholic and read Kathy's latest post to add to the "groovy dude" pile!

Fra Angelico's Annunciation