A Catholic Blog for Lovers

A celebration of beauty, truth, and goodness, and, of course, love...and perhaps a little nastiness

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Saturday, December 27, 2003
Sad words in the midst of untold tragedy

"Iran has said it will accept aid from any country except Israel." (Israel offered help).

May GOD have mercy on all, the dead, the wounded, the survivors and their grieving families in Iran after the devastating earthquake in the historic city of Bam.

Leader: Terrorists Planned To Attack Vatican On Christmas

"ROME -- Terrorists planned to attack the Vatican with a hijacked plane on Christmas Day, Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi said in a newspaper interview published Saturday..."

Prayer Request

I just received a call from a relative of my father (God rest his soul), informing me of the death of one of his second cousins, Stanley, on Christmas Day. Stan was an ordained pastor of the Synod of the Lutheran Brethren (headquartered in Fergus Falls, MN). I met him many years ago and at that point he was quite anti-Catholic (as were my grandparents on my father's side at least in the beginning). But we warmed up to one another and actually he actually began to consider me a fellow Christian. I talked with him not too long ago as he was battling cancer and he was worried and down, but courageous and grateful. He was 75 years old when he died on Christmas.

The Lutheran Brethren are the most conservative, evangelical, low church of all the Lutheran bodies. For example, when I met Stan years ago - in the 60s - he told me that he wouldn't touch the books of the Missouri Synod, since they "reeked of liberalism!"

Stan was a good and faithful man with a kind spirit and abiding piety. He had a lovely family. His wife LaVerne was a companion through thick and thin.

I ask your prayers for Stan's family and for the repose of his soul. May he rest in peace.

When Catholic Catechetical Works Don't Teach the Faith

Long - but, I think, important, and so I post the entire interview (with hopes the words will be acted on!).

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana, DEC. 24, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Nearly two-thirds of high school catechetical materials used throughout the United States are not in conformity with the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Archbishop Alfred Hughes of New Orleans, chair of the U.S. bishops' ad hoc committee for the Implementation of the Catechism, reported the results of the committee's evaluation of catechetical books at the episcopate's conference last fall. He urged that bishops in their own dioceses restrict the use of catechetical texts to those that have received the judgment of conformity by the committee.

Archbishop Hughes shared with ZENIT what deficiencies the current textbooks have and what the U.S. bishops are doing to remedy the situation.

Q: What are the conclusions of the committee you presented to the bishops?

Archbishop Hughes: The United States bishops' Committee for the Implementation of the Catechism has conducted more than 25 reviews of individual high school catechetical texts during the last two-and-a-half years. Our experience in conducting these reviews has made clear to us that the high school catechetical publishers want to develop high school religion texts that are in conformity with the catechism, but as yet the fruit of this work is uneven.

There are relatively few high school texts that have received a conformity judgment by the committee. Close to two-thirds of the conformity reviews we have conducted on high school catechetical materials have ended with a judgment that the materials were not only inadequate for conformity but also could not be amended.

The greatest concern for the members of the committee prompting my report to the bishops is that many of the materials found to be inadequate are still in wide use throughout the United States.

Q: What are some examples of deficiencies found in the catechetical textbooks?

Archbishop Hughes: Some of the texts found to be inadequate are relativistic in their approach to the Church and the faith. Students, for instance, are readily led to believe that one religion or church is as good as another, and that the Catholic Church is just one church among many equals.

In many of the texts we have found that there is an effort to state clearly the doctrine and the Church teaching. Unfortunately, this doctrine and Church teaching is sometimes introduced with a formula such as: "Catholics believe this or that ..." This tentative language gives the impression that the teaching is just one legitimate opinion among others, rather than a matter of truth.

In sacramental theology, our young people are sometimes being taught that the sacraments were instituted over an extended period of time with the implication that they still can be changed. These same sacraments are often presented as a way to celebrate special moments in life and not as a privileged moment of encounter with Christ.

The distinctive role of the priest may be sidelined or even ignored. Sometimes the impression is given that the community baptizes or confects the Eucharist. The unique presence of Christ in the Eucharist is often obscured. They may be led to believe that the sacramental power to forgive sins and anoint the sick was once shared by all the faithful. In some texts, the teaching about the Church's restriction of ordination to men is ambiguous or even misleading.

Often the moral life is not adequately presented. There seems to be a reluctance to name premarital or extramarital intercourse as sinful. Virtue may be encouraged primarily in order to make personal life or the world better. The relationship between living a moral life and eternal life is often not treated.

There is in some texts a studied avoidance of the revealed proper names or personal pronouns for the persons of the Blessed Trinity. The Father may be referred to as God. Jesus may not be identified as the Son of God and the Holy Spirit may be called the Spirit of God or God's Spirit.

The interpretation of sacred Scripture tends too much to rely upon the historical-critical method without drawing upon the rich patristic and spiritual interpretation in the Church.

The approach to church often overemphasizes the role of the community. The ideal church is sometimes presented in such a way that a student would be led to believe that we should live without reference to the role of the hierarchy in the Church.

Although high school texts are generally strong in their emphasis on the social mission of the Church and the moral responsibilities of Catholics in this area, the social teaching is not always grounded in the divine initiative of the Holy Spirit or related to personal moral teaching and to eschatological realities.

Q: What are the committee's main concerns about the widespread use of these books?

Archbishop Hughes: Unfortunately, the widespread use of these books perpetuates a religious illiteracy that is all too prevalent in the Church today. It is very important that young people are given an opportunity, first of all, to learn the truths of the faith, and secondly, to grow in understanding of them.

Q: Has the committee determined the cause of this situation?

Archbishop Hughes: The committee recognizes that the causes are manifold. A particular area of concern is the way in which catechetical leaders, catechists and potential textbook writers are being taught and formed in our institutions of higher learning.

Q: What has the Committee for the Implementation of the Catechism developed as the national doctrinal guidelines for high school catechetics?

Archbishop Hughes: The bishops' committee has been using a protocol that summarizes the content of the catechism to evaluate the texts. Publishers also have a copy of this and are asked to fill out a form in relationship with the protocol when they submit their texts. The committee is also developing doctrinal guidelines for the exposition of the doctrine on a high school level. This effort is still in progress.

Q: How will the committee implement those guidelines and bring faulty catechetical texts into conformity with the Catechism of the Catholic Church?

Archbishop Hughes: The committee has urged that bishops in their own dioceses restrict the use of catechetical texts to those that have received the judgment of conformity by the committee.

The publishers already have the protocol to use as a basis for the development of texts. The committee staff has also offered its service in providing workshops for writers of texts. The publishers themselves have expressed an interest in receiving the doctrinal guidelines when they are completed and endorsed by the bishops.

Your Holiness, the Hail Marys

A small, important counter-reformation

"...Your Holiness, take one more step. Restore the three Hail Marys at the end of mass. The liturgical reform, in a desire to simplify which is in danger of producing aridity, abolished them. Nobody would criticize the Pope of the Rosary for this small, but important, counter-reformation."

A Child My Choice

Let folly praise that fancy loves, I praise and love that Child,
Whose heart no thought, whose tongue no word, whose hand no deed defiled.
I praise Him most, I love Him best, all praise and love are His;
While Him I love, in Him I live, and cannot live amiss.
Love's sweetest mark, laud's highest theme, man's most desired light,
To love Him life, to leave Him death, to live in Him delight.
He mine by gift, I His by debt, thus each to other due.
First friend He was, best friend He is, all times will try Him true.
Though young yet wise, though small yet strong; though man yet God He is;
As wise He knows, as strong He can, as God He loves to bless.
His knowledge rules, His strength defends, His love doth cherish all;
His birth our joy, His life our light, His death our end of thrall.
Alas! He weeps, He sighs, He pants, yet do His angels sing;
Out of His tears, His sighs and throbs, doth bud a joyful spring.
Almighty Babe, whose tender arms can force all foes to fly,
Correct my faults, protect my life, direct me when I die!

- Saint Robert Southwell, S.J. (1562-1595)

Today in Christian history

December 27, 1784: Francis Asbury is ordained superintendent of the Methodist Church in America. He later took the title "bishop," against the wishes of John Wesley.

December 27, 1899: American temperance leader Carry Nation wrecks her first saloon in Medicine Lodge, Kansas.

Friday, December 26, 2003
An usual scenario

John Allen in his weekly Word from Rome column writes:

"On Dec. 11, the Pontifical Liturgical Institute at the Benedictine-run College of Sant’Anselmo held a conference on the 40th anniversary of Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Vatican II document on liturgy. Among the guests was Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, who perhaps got more than he had bargained for.

The most intense liturgical controversy in the last decade has been over translation of texts. The Vatican has asserted greater control over the process, insisting on more traditional translations that hew closer to the Latin, and jettisoning personnel and structures responsible for translation since the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). Some observers see the translation issue as one of the clearest examples of how the Roman Curia has attempted to “roll back” the decentralizing thrust of Vatican II.

At the Sant’Anselmo gathering, Arinze got a rare chance to hear first-hand some of the frustration this campaign has generated. Jesuit Fr. Robert Taft, perhaps the foremost expert on Eastern-rite liturgies in the Catholic church, described the scene in his annual Christmas letter to friends:

“Most noteworthy was not my talk but the one that followed mine, by the old Catalan priest Fr. Ignacio Calabuig OSM, who spoke with great emotion about the ‘greats’ of the liturgical movement he had known. Towards the end he turned to Arinze, who was seated there, and, in a trembling voice, departed from his written text, saying (in Italian of course) something like this (I am paraphrasing what I recall, not translating literally):

“‘I feel I must tell the prefect that the devastating impression the congregation seems to be spreading throughout the church, that men of great culture in their own lands are not capable of translating liturgical texts into their own mother tongue, is causing great discontent and concern in the church.’

“At this point the entire audience, some 600 strong in the basilica, spontaneously exploded into prolonged, enthusiastic applause that thundered on for about three minutes. It was an historic moment, the message was crystal clear, and even His Eminence himself felt finally constrained to join — albeit timidly — in the applause that went on and on and just would not stop.

“I hope the reporters were there to record that one for posterity! This is my 39th year in Rome and I never saw anything like it before. I could not have been more delighted, and have told the story to anyone willing to listen.”

Thus ends Taft’s account."

I'm not exactly sure what to make of this story - nor of the ins-and-outs of what is being pointed to by Fr. Ignacio Calabuig. But one thing I know: regardless of how many disagree with me, I will never consider the ICEL's early translations of the Roman Liturgy to be adequate or faithful to the full meaning of the Latin text. I hope whatever happened at this conference was not an approval of the ICEL translations we have at this point! But there is hope that things are getting better (despite protests and defenses of the status quo).

Nun has cheese down to a science

BETHLEHEM, Conn. - When she stepped onto the floor of the French Senate on Monday to receive the 2003 French Food Spirit Award, Mother Noella Marcellino presented onlookers with a most unusual picture: an American -one in a full black-and-white nun's habit, to boot - who, rather than mocking the French for devouring pungent cheeses, has been working tirelessly to promote and preserve their 400-odd examples of gloriously spoiled milk.

It has been a big year for this cloistered nun from the Abbey of Regina Laudis, a 360-acre, 40-member spiritual community in the rolling hills just northwest of Waterbury. In August, she successfully defended her doctoral dissertation in microbiology -- "Biodiversity of Geotrichum Candidum Strains Isolate From Traditional French Cheese" -- at the University of Connecticut at Storrs. A just-completed documentary, "The Cheese Nun," will air on PBS in the spring...."

Mother Noella's Regina Laudis Abbey is remarkable! A large community with new members joining, it celebrates the Offices and Mass in Latin according to the reformed Roman Liturgy. Another well known member of this community is the former actress, Dolores Hart. I had the privilege of attending a Vespers once and the voices of the nuns truly sounded heavenly. Congratulations to Mother Noella and her monastic community. (And I don't even like cheese except on pizza!).

Enough for him.. a breastful of milk and a mangerful of hay

from the Amesbury Psalter c.1240-50

In the Bleak Mid-winter

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Enough for him, whom cherubim worship night and day,
A breastful of milk and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for him, whom angels fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel, which adore.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can give Him: give my heart.

- Christina Rossetti

Yesterday and Today in Christian history

December 25, 496: King Clovis, who united Gaul and founded France, is baptized in the Cathedral of Rheims, followed by 3,000 of his soldiers. "Worship what you once burned, and burn what you worshipped," the priest instructed him. However, Clovis and his troops showed little change after their "conversion" and apparently believed Christ was merely a war god who would grant them victory if they prayed for it.

December 25, 800: Pope Leo III crowns Charlemagne, the first ruler of the Holy Roman Empire.

December 26, 1065: The first building of Westminster Abbey is dedicated, though legend holds that the abbey was founded as early as 616.

December 26, 1948: Cardinal Josef Mindszenty is arrested by the Communists in Hungary after they had taken over "Caritas" and all the Catholic schools, universities and religious institutions the same year. The Cardinal was sentenced to life-imprisonmentin 1949. He was released in 1956 during the successful uprising in that country and took refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Budapest. He died in Vienna, Austria in 1975.

Thursday, December 25, 2003

The Christ-child lay on Mary's lap,
His hair was like a light.
(O weary, weary were the world,
But here is all aright.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary's breast,
His hair was like a star.
(O stern and cunning are the kings,
But here the true hearts are.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary's heart,
His hair was like a fire.
(O weary, weary is the world,
But here the world's desire.)

The Christ-child stood at Mary's knee,
His hair was like a crown,
And all the flowers looked up at Him,
And all the stars looked down.

- Gilbert Keith Chesterton

State of the Faith
Anno Domini, 2003

A National Review article by Michael Novak

"Some 2,000 years after the birth of the Lord, what does the Savior see when he regards the world from deep within it ("The Kingdom of God is within you")?

The population of Europe, once the cradle of the faith, is shrinking; of those who remain, an ever-growing percentage are now Muslim, and in France perhaps more Muslims than Christians actually attend services on a weekly basis.

Yet Africa is exploding with Christian faith, witness, and dynamism, and in Asia too Christian devotion is rapidly spreading.

Altogether, the number of Christians in the world now amounts to one third or better of the human race, over two billion persons. And Christianity is the fastest-growing religion in the world...."

Not sure where Michael Novak gets his stats but he goes against the oft-repeated prevailing opinion of our times that Islam is the world's fastest growing religion. But one thing he agrees with just about everyone: Europe's Christian population is in serious decline even as its population declines through lack of children (except among the Muslims and other immigrants). I wonder if the European bishops have ever seriously addressed this problem.

Europe's problem is that it's barren

An opinion piece by Mark Steyn quite apropos for the Feast of the Nativity

"...To those of us watching from afar the ructions over the European constitution - a 1970s solution to a 1940s problem - it seems amazing that no Continental politician is willing to get to grips with the real crisis facing Europe in the 21st century: the lack of Europeans. If America believes in the separation of church and state, in radically secularist Europe the state is the church, as Jacques Chirac's edict on headscarves, crucifixes and skull caps made plain. Alas, it's an insufficient faith.

By contrast, if Christianity is merely a "myth", it's a perfectly constructed one, beginning with the decision to establish Christ's divinity in the miracle of His birth. The obligation to have children may be a lot of repressive Catholic mumbo-jumbo, but it's also highly rational. What's irrational is modern EUtopia's indifference to new life."


1. Descendit de caelis Salvator mundi. Gaudeamus!

The Savior of the world has come down from heaven. Let us rejoice!
This proclamation, filled with deep rejoicing,
echoed in the night of Bethlehem.
Today the Church renews it with unchanged joy:
the Savior is born for us!
A wave of tenderness and hope fills our hearts,
together with an overpowering need for closeness and peace.
In the crib we contemplate the One
who stripped himself of divine glory
in order to become poor, driven by love for mankind.
Beside the crib the Christmas tree,
with its twinkling lights,
reminds us that with the birth of Jesus
the tree of life has blossomed anew in the desert of humanity.
The crib and the tree: precious symbols,
which hand down in time the true meaning of Christmas!

2. In the heavens there echoes the proclamation of the angels:
"To you is born in the city of David
a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (Lk 2:11).

What wonder!
By being born in Bethlehem, the Eternal Son of God
has entered into the history of each person
living on the face of the earth.
He is now present in the world
as the one Savior of humanity
For this reason we pray to him:
Savior of the world, save us!

3. Save us from the great evils which rend humanity
in these first years of the third millennium.
Save us from the wars and armed conflicts
which lay waste whole areas of the world,
from the scourge of terrorism
and from the many forms of violence
which assail the weak and the vulnerable.
Save us from discouragement
as we face the paths to peace,
difficult paths indeed, yet possible and therefore necessary;
paths which are always and everywhere urgent,
especially in the Land where You were born,
the Prince of Peace.

4. And you, Mary, the Virgin of expectation and fulfilment,
who hold the secret of Christmas,
make us able to recognize in the Child
whom you hold in your arms the heralded Saviour,
who brings hope and peace to all.
With you we worship him and trustingly say:
we need You, Redeemer of man,
You who know the hopes and fears of our hearts.
Come and stay with us, Lord!
May the joy of your Nativity reach
to the farthest ends of the universe!

Then the Pope gave Christmas greetings in 62 languages.


1. "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given" (Is 9:5).

The words of the Prophet Isaiah, proclaimed in the First Reading, contain the truth of Christmas, which together we re-live this night.

A Child is born. In appearance, just another of the world’s many children. A Child is born in a stable in Bethlehem. He is born in a condition of extreme deprivation: poor among the poor.

But the One who is born is "the Son" par excellence: Filius datus est nobis. This Child is the Son of God, of one being with the Father. Foretold by the Prophets, he was made man by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of a Virgin, Mary.

When, shortly, we shall sing in the Creed "... et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Virgine et homo factus est," we shall all kneel. We shall meditate in silence on the mystery which is accomplished: "Et homo factus est!" The Son of God comes among us, and we receive him on our knees.

2. "The Word became flesh" (Jn 1:14). On this extraordinary night the Eternal Word, the "Prince of Peace" (Is 9:5), is born in the lowly and cold cave of Bethlehem.

"Be not afraid," says the angel to the shepherds, "for to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord" (Lk 2:10-11). Like the unnamed and fortunate shepherds, let us too run to meet the One who has changed the course of history.

In the austere poverty of the crib we contemplate "a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger" (Lk 2:12). In the vulnerable and weak newborn babe who cries in the arms of Mary, "the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men" (Tit 2:11). Let us pause in silence and worship!

3. O Child, who willed to have for your crib a manger; O Creator of the universe, who stripped yourself of divine glory; O Redeemer, who offered your vulnerable body in sacrifice for the salvation of humanity!

May the radiance of your birth light up the night of the world. May the power of your message of love thwart the proud snares of the evil one. May the gift of your life make us understand ever more clearly the worth of the life of each human being.

Too much blood is still being shed on the earth! Too much violence and too many conflicts trouble the peaceful coexistence of nations!

You come to bring us peace. You are our peace! You alone can make of us "a people purified" and belonging to you for ever, a people "zealous for good deeds" (Tit 2:14).

4. For to us a Child is born, to us a son is given! What an unfathomable mystery is hidden in the humility of this Child! We would like to touch him; we would like to embrace him.

You, Mary, who keep watch over your all-powerful Son, grant us your eyes to contemplate him with faith; grant us your heart to worship him with love.

In his simplicity, the Child of Bethlehem teaches us to rediscover the real meaning of our existence; he teaches us "to live sober, upright and godly lives in this world" (Tit 2:12).

5. O Holy Night, so long awaited, which has united God and man for ever! You rekindle our hope. You fill us with ecstatic wonder. You assure us of the triumph of love over hatred, of life over death.

For this reason we remain absorbed in prayer.

In the luminous silence of your Nativity, you, Emmanuel, continue to speak to us. And we are ready to listen to you. Amen!

Wednesday, December 24, 2003
A Blessed and truly MERRY CHRISTMAS!

To my faithful readers and visitors:

A blessed Christmas season, filled with the joys and warmth of this special season. And, most of all, filled with the presence of Christ: in the mystery of His Crib and Cross. The Word made flesh joins us in every aspect of our lives and transforms even pain and heartbreak into glory and praise and gratitude. We adore Him in the manger - Venite, adoremus! - and we bless Him because by His Cross He has redeemed the world! Adoremus te, Christe!

Rejoice and be glad: born to us in Bethlehem is Christ the Savior, full of grace and truth, of whose fulness we have all received. Rejoice and be glad!



For Zion's sake I will not be silent,
for Jerusalem's sake I will not be quiet,
until her vindication shines forth like the dawn
and her victory like a burning torch.

Nations shall behold your vindication,
and all the kings your glory;
you shall be called by a new name
pronounced by the mouth of the LORD.
You shall be a glorious crown in the hand of the LORD,
a royal diadem held by your God.

No more shall people call you "Forsaken, "
or your land "Desolate, "
but you shall be called "My Delight, "
and your land "Espoused."

For the LORD delights in you
and makes your land his spouse.
As a young man marries a virgin,
your Builder shall marry you;
and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride
so shall your God rejoice in you.

- Isaiah 61: 1-5

Iraqi Christians await Christmas amid fears over future

"...Already, radical Shi'ite Muslims have begun tacking up leaflets in Christian neighborhoods warning women to cover their heads in Islamic fashion, threatening death to anyone wearing a cross in public, and boasting that Iraq, like neighboring Iran, will become a religious dictatorship with no tolerance for those who refuse to proclaim Mohammed as the true prophet..."


Truth has arisen from the earth and justice has looked down from heaven

Awake, mankind! For your sake God has become man. Awake, you who sleep, rise up from the dead, and Christ will enlighten you. I tell you again: for your sake, God became man.

You would have suffered eternal death, had he not been born in time. Never would you have been freed from sinful flesh, had he not taken on himself the likeness of sinful flesh. You would have suffered everlasting unhappiness, had it not been for this mercy. You would never have returned to life, had he not shared your death. You would have been lost if he had not hastened to your aid. You would have perished, had he not come.

Let us then joyfully celebrate the coming of our salvation and redemption. Let us celebrate the festive day on which he who is the great and eternal day came from the great and endless day of eternity into our own short day of time.

- from a sermon by Saint Augustine

Today in Christian history

1223: Francis of Assisi stages history's first living nativity scene, complete with live animals, in a cave near Greccio, Italy.

1491: Spanish ascetic and theologian Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, is born in Guipuzcoa, Spain. His order quickly became a great force in Catholicism and led the Counter-Reformation.

1818: Franz Gruber composes the melody of "Silent Night" in the St. Nicholas Church of Oberndorf, Austria, and the lyrics were composed by Father Joseph Mohr. (The first time it was used the song was accompanied by a guitar played by Gruber).

1948: For the first time ever, a Midnight Mass was broadcast on television. It was held at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003
China's Catholics must choose between the Vatican and safety

"At dawn in the Dengchi Valley, deep in the wild mountains of south-west China, local farmers have already been walking for hours through the darkness, bundled up in padded cotton jackets and woollen caps. They have come to meet at the Dengchi Valley Cathedral, an old wooden church built over 150 years ago by French Jesuit missionaries in the province of Sichuan, and home to a flock of more than 1000 Chinese Catholics.

Father Benedict Yang is the cathedral's energetic young priest. He has just graduated from a seminary in the city, where he learnt what would shock Catholics in other parts of the world - that the Dengchi Valley congregation is part of the Communist Party-controlled Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, an organisation whose head is not the Pope, but the Chinese Government.

The Communist Party is fearful of foreign influence, and jealously maintains control over all organised groups within China. So Father Benedict and his flock are not allowed to have any contact with the Vatican.

In his sermon, Father Benedict must preach the use of contraceptives, and explain to his flock that former leader Mao Zedong has gone to heaven - anathema to believers elsewhere in the Catholic world.

Father Benedict struggles to explain the contradictions of being a Catholic in China.

"Our government respects Christians. But Catholics must be united with all other Chinese, and co-operate with the government. Religion must be practised according to the law," he said.

It has not always been so for China's faithful...."

Turkish Christians Feel More Solidarity After Attacks

ISTANBUL, Turkey, DEC. 23, 2003 (Zenit.org).- In the wake of the terrorist attacks against British-linked facilities and two synagogues, a sense of closeness has characterized the religious communities as Christmas approaches.

"This Christmas we Turkish Christians feel a deeper sense of solidarity and closeness with Jewish and Muslim communities; this is undoubtedly because of the recent tragic attacks in Istanbul," Father George Marovich, spokesman of the Turkish bishops' conference, told the Vatican missionary agency Fides. Suicide bombings last month at two synagogues, the British Consulate and a London-based bank left 62 dead.

Father Marovich explained the context of Christmas in this country.

"Christmas Day is not a bank holiday in Turkey but it is kept by all Christians," he said. "The local Caritas office and aid agencies of other Christian churches are preparing gift hampers for poor families as a sign of God's love for all men and women, revealed to mankind with the coming of Christ on earth. Many Muslim citizens, attracted by Christmas songs on foreign TV channels, come to join our Christmas services."

Further east, in Antioch, on the border with Syria, Christmas is decidedly an ecumenical celebration.

"We hold a vigil service at St. Peter's Grotto in a cave in the hills overlooking Antioch," said Franciscan Friar Domenico Bertogli, an Italian missionary. "The grotto is believed to be the first church ever built in this area," he said. "Then we join the Greek Orthodox Community for a Christmas celebration of the divine mysteries. There is no tension or fear of fundamentalist attacks."

David Bentley Hart

A Hopeful and New (to me) Orthodox Voice

A reader of my blog, Thomas, has introduced me to a new thinker and writer: David Bentley Hart, an Orthodox theologian who lives in my home state of Maryland. Thomas kindly sent me three articles by Hart: and I immediately was "smitten" as I scanned through these essays (and I hope to read them soon more carefully). The titles are: "No Shadow of Turning: On Divine Impasssibility" (Pro Ecclesia, Vol. XI, no. 2), "The Mirror of the Infinite" Gregory of Nyssa on the Vestitigia Trinitatis" (Modern Theology, 18:4), "The Bright Morning of the Soul: John of the Cross on Theosis" (Pro Ecclesia, vol. XII, no.3).

David Bentley Hart writes with knowledge and passion. He seems to me in the school of von Balthasar (whom he greatly admires - see quote below): a theology on the knees. And, glory be to God, he acknowledges a phenomenon that has troubled me for a long time (and I see this reflected in popular Orthodox writers such as Frederica Mathewes-Green):

"The most damaging consequence, however, of Orthodoxy’s twentieth-century pilgrimage ad fontes — and this is no small irony, given the ecumenical possibilities that opened up all along the way — has been an increase in the intensity of Eastern theology’s anti-Western polemic. Or, rather, an increase in the confidence with which such polemic is uttered. Nor is this only a problem for ecumenism: the anti-Western passion (or, frankly, paranoia) of Lossky and his followers has on occasion led to rather severe distortions of Eastern theology.

More to the point here, though, it has made intelligent interpretations of Western Christian theology (which are so very necessary) apparently almost impossible for Orthodox thinkers. Neo-patristic Orthodox scholarship has usually gone hand in hand with some of the most excruciatingly inaccurate treatments of Western theologians that one could imagine — which, quite apart from the harm they do to the collective acuity of Orthodox Christians, can become a source of considerable embarrassment when they fall into the hands of Western scholars who actually know something of the figures that Orthodox scholars choose to calumniate. When one repairs to modern Orthodox texts, one is almost certain to encounter some wild mischaracterizatjon of one or another Western author; and four figures enjoy a special eminence in Orthodox polemics: Augustine, Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, and John of the Cross."

A comment on von Balthasar:

"In modern theology, of course, the field of theological aesthetics is overshadowed by the towering achievement of Hans Urs von Balthasar, whose immense theological trilogy . . . genuinely inaugurates a new kind of theological discourse, and abounds almost inexhaustibly in matter for theological reflection; my particular concerns in this project somewhat differ from his, but it would be quite appropriate were this essay read as a kind of extended marginalium on some page of Balthasar's work."

I am so grateful to Thomas for introducing me to David Bentley Hart (and I am wondering if he is the brother of Father Addison Hart, who was an Episcopal priest now Catholic priest, who has a brother who had become Orthodox some years back - perhaps some out there may know. Patrick?).

Questions about the Nativity

Former priest James Carroll writes for The Boston Globe for Christmas and comes across to me as a theological Scrooge. To his editorial piece I say: Humbug!

Climbing in St. Francis' Steps

A New York Times travel piece with some good information on wonderful sites associated with Saint Francis of Assisi, including Greccio, the site of the first Nativity Scene.

The O Antiphon

December 23

O EMMANUEL, Rex et legifer noster, expectatio gentium, et Salvator earum: veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster.

O EMMANUEL, God with us, Our King and Lawgiver, the expected of the nations and their Savior: COME to save us, O Lord our God. Amen.

Monday, December 22, 2003
Behind the Anglican Division—Power, Money, and Love

Christianity Today: The Guardian explores the liberal/evangelical divide without the stereotypes.

The full Guardian article, The sleek shall inherit the earth.

Egypt minister attacked at mosque

Muslims attack Muslim leader in holy mosque in Jerusalem

Not sure what to make of the BBC's article's comment:

"The BBC's Jill McGivering, in Jerusalem, says the incident is sure to cause some embarrassment for the Israelis."

(I didn't read of any Jews attacking fellow Jews in any synagogue or holy place - but then the standards the BBC use may be quite different than the ones I tend to use myself).

Rejoice with me!

Our LORD tells a wonderful tale of the woman who lost a coin and then after searching found it and in her joy contacts her neighbors and friends and says: Rejoice with me for what was lost I found!

Rejoice with me.

Last night - around 2 AM - I thought of something I had packed away during the latest room paring and realized I had not seen it for a bit (on Friday evening my most helpful neighbor came by and we really got rid of tons of stuff and even got my room back in some order).Then it dawned on me - oh no! some vital stuff I was saving, such as my official documents like Social Security card, Birth Certificate, along with official correspondence regarding my disability and benefits, etc. were all gone - by accident thrown away in a shopping bag I misconstrued as being "trash" when the boxes and bags were being cleared out of the room and put in my neighbor's jeep to be delivered and discarded.

Well, since you already know the ending, I can make this brief. I called my neighbor at his grandmother's house in Northern Virginia and, ALLELUIA, ALLELUIA, ALLELUIA, he had not yet gotten around to trashing that piece. And it is safe and sound.

I am wondering who inspired me to remember early this morning - the Holy Spirit, my guardian angel, or just "chance?"

Whatever, I am grateful to GOD and am rejoicing. Please join me!

A blessed last few hours of Advent and a most joyous Christmas to all.

An Ailing Pope Aided by Circle Of Confidants

"...In any event, reports of the pope's incapacity are premature, said George Weigel, a papal biographer. Weigel said he dined with John Paul, 83, last Monday and found him "strikingly stronger than in October," when the pope presided over the celebrations of the 25th anniversary of his papacy. "I thought then we were in the final phase. But he's fooled us again," Weigel said.

The pontiff's "mobility and animation of expression" were improved and his mind was agile, Weigel added. "I presented him with a book of T.S. Eliot's poems. The pope looked at it and cracked, 'Ah. Murder in the Cathedral,' " Weigel recalled. "Murder in the Cathedral" is Eliot's play about the death of the medieval Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, a symbol of Christian resistance to political authority. "He clearly recognized what I was giving him," Weigel said..."

As for me, I'm still hoping against hope that the Pope makes it to Cologne for the World Youth Day celebrations in 2005!

Viva il Papa!

Catholic schools seeking more help for city youth

Baltimore Archdiocese officials are searching for more scholarship sponsors for the Partners in Excellence program.

The O Antiphon

December 22

O REX GENTIUM, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum: veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti.

O KING OF THE GENTILES and their desired One, the Cornerstone that makes both one: comd, and deliver man, whom you formed out of the dust of the earth. Amen.

Today in Christian history

1216: Pope Honorius III officially approves the Dominican Order, which is dedicated "to preaching and the good of souls." Founded earlier that year by Dominic, the order has since been associated with study and scholarship, and with such luminaries as Thomas Aquinas and Albertus Magnus.

1597: Death of Saint Peter Canisius, Dutch Jesuit priest and Doctor of the Church.

1792: Father Demetrius Gallitzin was born on this day in 1770. Arriving in America in 1792, he spent his remaining years as a frontier missionary, building up the Catholic Church in parts of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia. Gallitzin became known as the “Apostle to the Alleghenies."

1899: Evangelist Dwight L. Moody, the chief spokesman for the revivalist wing of American evangelicalism, dies.

1917: Francesca Xavier Cabrini, founder of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, dies in Chicago's Columbus Hospital. In 1946 she was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church, becoming the first American citizen declared a saint, known as "Mother Cabrini."

Sunday, December 21, 2003
Austrian Emperor Charles I to Be Beatified

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 21, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Charles I, the last Hapsburg ruler of the Austro-Hungarian empire, will be beatified, after the Holy See approved a decree recognizing a miracle attributed to his intercession.

Charles was born on Aug. 17, 1887, in Persenbeug, Austria. He was proclaimed emperor of Austria and king of Hungary in 1916.

Five years earlier, he had married Princess Zita of Bourbon-Parma, to whom he said on their wedding day: "Now we have to take one another to heaven." They had eight children.

When the Austro-Hungarian empire fell on Nov. 11, 1918, Charles abdicated. He left Austria in March 1919 and was formally stripped of his office by the Austrian Parliament in April. He spent his exile on the Portuguese island of Madeira, where he died in 1922 at age 34.

"He served his people with justice and charity," the prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Sainthood Causes, Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, explained Saturday during the ceremony to promulgate the decree.

"He sought peace, helped the poor, diligently cultivated his spiritual life," the cardinal said. "Faith sustained him from his youth, especially in the period of the First World War, and during his exile on the island of Madeira, where he died a holy death."

The "O" Antiphon

December 21

O ORIENS, splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

O DAWN OF THE EAST, brightness of light eternal, and Sun of Justice: come, and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. Amen.

Today in Christian history

1117: Birth of Saint Thomas Beckett, Archbishop of Canterbury who took England's King Henry II to task for his immoral lifestyle and opposed bishops who catered to the king's whims. He was harassed by the king and the bishops, even though he had appealed to Rome, but was murdered by the monarch's command in the cathedral by four of the king's knights on December 29, 1170. Three years later Pope Alexander III elevated him to sainthood.

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