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, August 07, 2004
Heading north

God willing, this Monday Father Michael and I will be taking yet another journey - heading northwest to Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada. Many years ago I briefly visited this area of surpassing beauty and dreamed about returning someday. Well, now I have the opportunity and ability to do so! We will be staying 4 nights at the Tunnel Mountain Chalets and hope it will have relatively easy accessibility (it doesn't have wheelchair accessible cabins). We don't have many plans other than visiting Lake Louise and Moraine Lake; maybe some of you can offer a suggestion (whenever I have mentioned an upcoming trip on this blog I have received a number of truly helpful suggestions and pointers).

There is a shadow, however: it gets harder and harder to leave my beloved ONION behind. My neighbor will move in and take good care of him. But ONION is failing little by litte. He can still climb the 3 steps to go outside but it's harder and harder and he really has to work on it. (He strikes me as so determined and courageous). Right now he's not eating well. So I fear that ONION may pass away while I'm gone. I pray that he will survive until Friday when I get home and then we can make the best decisions.

I haven't been feeling a hundred percent (relatively speaking) for a bit and my breathing seems more labored; I think that the decison about ONION weighs upon me and the thought of being without this buddy of many years is hard for me to bear - and it manifests itself physically even. Yet I do know that God's grace will be sufficient and that life will go on (for however long God permits). Just 3 years ago I was still in the nursing home 5 months after being hospitalized; I came home on the Vigil of the Assumption. This year I hope to celebrate the third anniversary quietly - and with ONION who will be 17 and 1/2 on August 13th. Yet always, God's will - not mine - be done. Amen.

Today in Christian history

August 7, 317: Constantius II, Son of Constantine the Great and Roman emperor from 337 to 361, is born. During his lifetime, he outlawed pagan sacrifice (see "The Emperor Strikes Back" in issue 57: The Conversion of Rome). But Constantius was also a devout Arian (a heresy his father had condemned at the Council of Nicea) and strongly opposed Athanasius.

August 7, 1409: The Council of Pisa, convened by the cardinals to end the Great Schism that had divided Western Christendom since 1378, closes. The council deposed both warring popes as schismatics and heretics, and elected Alexander V. It didn't end the schism (as there were now three warring popes), but it paved the way toward a solution at the Council of Constance in 1417.

August 7, 1771: Francis Asbury answers John Wesley's call for volunteers to go to America as missionaries; he would become the father of American Methodism.

Friday, August 06, 2004
Prayer Alert!

From John Allen's weekly Word from Rome column; let's pray that the English translation will be faithful, integral, and beautiful!

"Last February and March, I referred to the "breakneck speed" at which movement towards a new English translation of the Mass was proceeding. Optimists such as Cardinal George Pell of Australia hinted that a new text could be ready as early as 2005.

In the background was a sense that the major ideological battles - debates over inclusive language, for example, and the tension between flexibility in translation versus fidelity to the Latin original - had been resolved, whether one liked it or not, by Rome. English-speaking bishops appeared to have little appetite for continuing resistance.

Those predictions now seem hasty.

The 11 bishops who govern the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, the translation body tasked with producing the text for the Mass, met in Washington, D.C., last week. After much discussion, there is still no consensus on several key issues, so there is no revised draft or "Green Book," in the argot of liturgical translation, to circulate for approval.

It now seems unlikely that the Order of Mass, or the core prayers for the celebration of the Eucharist, will be approved and published separately from the rest of the Roman Missal, the complete collection of Mass texts, as once seemed probable.

Fr. Bruce Harbert, executive secretary of ICEL, told NCR August 2 that he welcomes this development because "it gives time for the project to mature."

One outstanding issue remains the "people's parts" to the Mass, the lines spoken by the entire assembly. A controversial example: when the priest says "The Lord be with you," the assembly currently responds "And also with you." In keeping with the principle of fidelity to the Latin original, the draft had people saying instead, "And with your spirit." Some critics saw this as indicative of a push for theological rigidity at the expense of natural English expression.

"A balance needs to be found between linguistic, theological and pastoral considerations, and they will have an opportunity in the next few months to discuss this with their conferences," Harbert said.

Some bishops are also concerned about the ecumenical implications of changes in the language of worship. Ecumenical observers say one of the signal ecumenical achievements in recent decades has been the adoption of common prayer texts in English by most of the major Christian denominations, and some bishops are reluctant to compromise that.

Finally, Harbert said, the bishops also want to think more about the issues surrounding inclusive language.

As a footnote, the ICEL bishops re-elected their officers for a second two-year term. Bishop Arthur Roche of Leeds, England, thus remains president; Bishop Douglas Crosby of St George's, Newfoundland, Canada, vice-president; Bishop John McAreavey of Dromore, Ireland, secretary; and Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, treasurer."

Hiroshima and Our Lady

Takashi Nagai, doctor, convert, witness to Christ amid the horrors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Karen Marie Knapp in her excellent blog reminded me that today is the anniversary of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. This terrible event always brings to mind, for me, the beautiful witness of the Japanese Catholic convert, Takashi Nagai. Read about him and give thanks, even as the horror of this anniversary reminds us of what we are capable in this fallen world. May Our Lady intercede for us and be a guide for us into the way of peace.

The Solemnity of the Transfiguration of the LORD

Russian icon of the Transfiguration, Novgorod school

"LORD, it is good that we are here!" Good indeed to see your radiant glory! May the Light of Tabor shine on us in our darkness and give us new courage and hope for the journey towards our final transfiguration with you to the praise of God's glory.

Today's feast is celebrated with special fervor and beautiful traditions in the eastern Christian world. Today we can all join together in honoring CHRIST TRANSFIGURED, who calls us as well "to reflect as in a mirror the glory of the LORD, being transformed into his very image, going from glory to glory" (2 Cor 4:18).

Father, you have revealed your Son radiant in glory, in whom you are well pleased. May we show the obedience of faith and always LISTEN TO CHRIST, the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Today in Christian history

August 6, 1221: Dominic, founder of the Order of Preachers (or Dominicans), dies, having just confessed his darkest sin — that, though he had always been chaste, he enjoyed talking with younger women more than older ones. He left this "inheritance" to his followers: "Have charity among you, hold to humility, possess voluntary poverty." A mere five years earlier, he had six followers. At his death, he had thousands. Dominic still guides countless souls towards Christ and His Truth.

August 6, 1651: Francois Fenelon, Catholic priest and bishop and mystical theologian, is born in Perigord, France. His 1697 "Explication des Maximes des Saintes" is still in print under the title "Christian Perfection."

August 6, 1774: Ann Lee and a small band of her followers arrive in New York from Liverpool, England. Though known as the "Shaking Quakers" and later the "Shakers," the millenarian communal society preferred to call itself the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Coming. They initially did not receive a warm welcome, as they were British and advocated pacifism and celibacy.

August 6, 1978: Pope Paul VI dies. I was blessed to attend the last public Mass celebrated by Paul VI - for the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul in Saint Peter's in the Vatican. He spoke these poignant words then: "We look in a comprehensive way on what has been the period during which the Lord has entrusted us with His Church. ... Even if we consider ourselves as the least and most unworthy Successor of Peter, we feel on this threshold comforted and supported by the awareness of having tirelessly repeated, before the Church and the world: 'You are Christ, the Son of the Living God!' We too, like Paul, feel able to say: 'I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith...'."

Thursday, August 05, 2004
Many Christians Flee Iraq, With Syria the Haven of Choice

"..Although they represent less than 5 percent of Iraq's population, Iraqi Christians now make up about 20 percent of the total refugee flow into Syria from Iraq, Mr. Khybari said..."

A Decisive Turn to Paganism

Harold O. J. Brown concludes his thoughtful and challenging piece:

"Those of us who are Christians and take our commitment seriously are slow to recognize it, but ultimately it will be easier for Christians to live in a country that we know is pagan than to live in one that we think is still sufficiently Christian to listen to us and to change in accordance with Christian values."

P.S. I remember reading somewhere that Brown was at one time a Catholic. Be that as it may, he is strongly "pro-life" and very rooted in a traditional Christian faith.

The Presidents recent address to the Knights of Columbus

"..Towey's job - so Towey has got a big job, it's to change a culture, a suspicious culture, and we're making progress. A suspicious culture in Washington, a suspicious culture in the grassroots. Here's Towey's story. He goes to meet Mother Teresa for the first time. He shows up at one of her homes for the dying in India, and the sister who greeted him assumed he was there to work. (Laughter.) That's what I assume every day that Towey shows up. (Laughter.) So she gave Jim some cloth, and said, go clean the sores of a dying man. He says it changed his life, that experience. He went on to work full-time for the Missionaries of Charity. Incredibly enough, Jim Towey, Director of the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives in the White House, was Mother Teresa's lawyer. I ask you, what kind of society is it where Mother Teresa needs a lawyer? It's a society that needs tort reform.."

Today in Christian history

August 5, 642: Oswald, the king of Northumbria who first began the official establishment of Christianity in England, is "martyred" in battle against the pagan Penda of Mercia. Converted at Iona, Scotland, Oswald erected a wooden cross before one of his earliest battles and commanded his soldiers to pray. When he defeated the English king in that battle, Oswald commissioned the Irish monk Aidan to begain establishing Christianity.

August 5, 1570: Spanish Jesuits led by Fray Batista Segura arrived in the area of Chesapeake Bay in Virginia, for the purpose of converting the American Indians to Christianity. Unfortunately, six months later, the entire group was massacred by the very Indians they had come to evangelize. I believe these may be the first martyrs in North America.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004
A Steady Christian Influence

Has the nation finally abandoned its Judeo-Christian heritage, or is there still hope?

"..There are fewer R-rated films produced now than there were 10 years ago. And one of the most successful R-rated films is The Passion of the Christ..."

Summer Bounty

Photo doesn't do justice to the sheer size or magnificence of this beefsteak tomato

I am blessed to live in a house with a garden that produces rich harvests of the planted tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, squash, zucchini, lettuce, etc. I myself am a meat and potatoes man; but..... those tomatoes! Biting into slices of one of these luscious beefsteaks or big boys or eating those cherry tomatoes - well, it's like I would be content to be a vegetarian the rest of my life (well almost). But they are heavenly! I hope you enjoy some yourself, either from your own garden, from a friend's garden, or even from your favorite grocery store. I hope you enjoy some of summer's bounty!

The Curé of Ars on Prayer

Today's saint speaks so simply yet so profoundly:

My children, you have a small heart, but prayer enlarges it and renders it capable of loving God. Prayer is a foretaste of heaven, a flowing out of a touch of paradise. It never leaves us without sweetness. It is a honey, which descends in the soul and sweetens everything. The troubles melt before a well said prayer like the snow before the sun.

Prayer is a fragrant dew; but it is necessary to pray with a pure heart, to smell this dew. See my children, the treasure of a Christian is not on the earth, it is in heaven. Well! Our thought ought to go where our treasure is. Man has fine obligation, that of praying and of loving... You pray, you love: that is the happiness of man on the earth. Prayer is no other thing than a union with God.

When one has a heart, pure and is united to God, one feels in oneself a balm, a sweetness which intoxicates, a light which dazzles. In this intimate union, God and the soul are like two pieces of wax melted together; they can no longer be separated. It is a very beautiful thing, this union of God with his little creature. It is a happiness that one is not able to understand. Prayer makes time pass with great speed, and so agreeably that one doesn't notice its duration. The more one prays, the more one wishes to pray.

-Saint John Vianney

The Church of the saints

From Hans urs von Balthasar

3. Why do I remain in the Church?

Because she is the Church of the saints, both the hidden ones and those others who have been pushed into the limelight. It is they who refute the silly assertion that Christians are so engrossed in receiving their God that they can never forget themselves to engage in feats of courage and imagination.

The saints know well that God is never the stranger, never the other. When He calls He is nearer to me than I am to myself. Urged on by the gift of God Himself they go forth to achievements that are unknown to those who remain within themselves.... Though selfless, the saint remains his own self, he makes a reality of what others merely plan to do or deliberately forget: Peter Claver, Las Casas, Filippo Neri, Don Bosco.... They are the true realists, they make allowances for the hopelessness of man as he is, and do not shirk the present by taking flight into the future. They are the real Utopians; they set to work and hope against hope. Clear-sighted they may be but not calculating, they live by the love of God in the Eucharist.

And the saints are humble, that is to say, the mediocrity of the Church does not deter them from expressing once and for all their solidarity with her, knowing well that without her they could never find their way to God. To bypass Christ's Church with the idea of making their way to God on their own initiative would never occur to them. They do battle with the mediocrity of Christ's Church not by protesting but by enkindling and encouraging the better. The Church causes them pain, but they do not become embittered and stand aside to sulk. They form no dissident groups but cast their fire into the midst.

Your genuine saint never points to himself; he is no more than the reflection. It is the Master Flame that counts. This pointing away from self is an exact criterion. "He was not himself the light, but was to bear witness to the light" (Jn.1:7). But of the same saint it is written that he was "to shine on those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death" (Lk. 1:79).

When you come to think of it, is not this pointing away from self perfectly and uniquely realized in the Church herself? She is more than community, more than "a sociological phenomenon," she is "the handmaid of the Lord" (and that includes the humiliated holder of church authority) who points away from herself and is filled with all fullness, not of herself but with "the fullness of Him who is fully fulfilled in all" (Eph. 1:23)...

For the full essay by von Balthasar: Why I am a Catholic.

Today in Christian history

August 4, 1792: By order of revolutionaries, all houses of worship close in France.

August 4, 1879: Pope Leo XIII issued the encyclical Aeterni patris, which urged the study of “perennial” philosophy, especially that of Thomas Aquinas. This encyclical led to a great Thomist revival.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004
Mary Flannery O'Connor, 1925-1964

Today is the 40th anniversary of her death in 1964

Flannery O'Connor at her house in Milledgeville, Georgia, with one of her beloved peacocks. She once said that no biography could be written about her because "lives spent between the house and the chicken yard do not make exciting copy."

Flannery O'Connor is not only a gifted and acclaimed writer, but she is one of the finest voices of Catholic faith and vision in our times. Her influence has been, and is, remarkable. To read her is often enough to fall under the spell of her story telling gifts and her exquisite artistry as well as her ability to get our attention through the bizarre and grostesque and dramatic build ups. Her characters, too, are quite unforgettable.

Thomas Merton wrote of Flannery O'Connor:

"When I read Flannery O'Connor, I do not think of Hemingway, or Katharine Anne Porter, or Sartre, but rather of someone like Sophocles. What more can you say for a writer? I write her name with honor, for all the truth and all the craft with which she shows man's fall and his dishonor."

Here's just one little excerpt from her vast treasurehouse of letters. This one is rightly famous and oft quoted:

"I was once, five or six years ago, taken by some friends to have dinner with Mary McCarthy and her husband, Mr. Broadwater. (She just wrote that book, "A Charmed Life.") She departed the Church at the age of 15 and is a Big Intellectual. We went at eight and at one, I hadn't opened my mouth once, there being nothing for me in such company to say. . . . Having me there was like having a dog present who had been trained to say a few words but overcome with inadequacy had forgotten them.

"Well, toward morning the conversation turned on the Eucharist, which I, being the Catholic, was obviously supposed to defend. Mrs. Broadwater said when she was a child and received the host, she thought of it as the Holy Ghost, He being the most portable person of the Trinity; now she thought of it as a symbol and implied that it was a pretty good one. I then said, in a very shaky voice, Well, if it's a symbol, to hell with it.

"That was all the defense I was capable of but I realize now that this is all I will ever be able to say about it, outside of a story, except that it is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable."

How much she compresses in those few sentences!

Here's another letter with another famous and oft quoted saying of Flannery's:

"I write the way I do because (not though) I am a Catholic....I think that the Church is the only thing that is going to make the terrible world we are coming to endurable; the only thing that makes the Church endurable is that it is somehow the body of Christ and that on this we are fed. It seems to be a fact that you suffer as much from the Church as for it but if you believe in the divinity of Christ, you have to cherish the world at the same time that you struggle to endure it."

Flannery O'Connor's own self-effacing humor is best seen, perhaps, in the collection of her letters. They have me crying and laughing! I really love this beautiful soul who referred to herself as a "hillbilly thomist." And that about sums her up for me - even if she is not quite a "Saint Thomas for dummies!"

And I can't recommend highly enough the beautifully bound and printed edition of her collected works from the American Library of America, and if you order it (just click on Title or Image) you will know why. It includes all her novels and short stories, most of her utterly captivating letters, and some of her wonderful essays. It is a treasuretrove. Do yourself a favor and get it and read it and live with it and you will perhaps, as so many have, fall in love with "Saint Flannery of the South".


Today in Christian history

August 3, 1492: Christopher Columbus sets sail from Spain for the "Indies." Though the explorer was in part driven by a quest for gold and glory, he also saw himself as a missionary. He thought, if there were a shortcut to the East by sea, missionaries could be sent there faster, thus enabling Christians to meet the provision for world evangelization before the Lord could return.

August 3, 1667: Jeremy Taylor, English scholar, theologian, and author of "Holy Living and Holy Dying", dies at 54.

August 3, 1964: The Catholic writer, Mary Flannery O'Connor, died in Milledgeville, Georgia. O'Connor wrote short stories mostly about characters in "the Christ-haunted south" and her writings are informed by a strong faith in Christ and the mystery of redemption. She described herself, with typical lightness of spirit, as a "hillbilly thomist." One of her most famous comments was made to a lapsed Catholic who spoke of the eucharist as "symbolic". Flannery's response was simple and memorable: "If it is only a symbol, I say: the hell with it!" She suffered from lupus and spent her last years raising her beloved peacocks. Truly one of the great Catholics of our own times.

Monday, August 02, 2004
Dumb and Dumber

Mass celebrated in The Sky Chapel of the Voyager of the Sea during a July 2004 cruise

Pardon my reference to the slap-stick movie, Dumb and Dumber, with Jim Carrey. But it fits, perhaps, what follows.

On my last cruise I was delighted to find out that there was a daily Mass celebrated in the beautiful Sky Chapel at 8 AM. We decided to go on Thursday. The chapel was full to overflowing - so encouraging. The celebrating priest entered and I noticed (maybe I shouldn't have) that he wasn't wearing a chasuble. I noticed too (maybe I shouldn't have) that he skipped some of the opening prayers but for the most part followed the book (he had a copy of MAGNIFICAT with him which he used). There was reverence in the way he prayed. His sermon (the gospel was the magnificent words of Jesus: Come to me, all you who labor, etc.) was OK if somewhat bland to me.

The offertory was cut back to just the blessing over the host and the chalice. Then into the Eucharistic Prayer. I did not recognize the words being prayed and thought them quite "watered down" and, sadly, I got very upset and left the chapel and not without a bit of "noise." I missed Communion! (I did hear the entire congregation join in the "through Him, with Him, and in Him....").

But I waited to speak directly to the priest. I approached him and told him my displeasure with what I perceived to be ad libbing the Eucharistic Prayer. He replied (not warmly but that's understandable and he was a gentleman about it) that he was using one of the Eucharistic Prayers for Children which is totally approved and that he prayed it word for word (that possiblity had entered my mind when I sat outside the chapel in my upset). So I retracted my complaint and left (to his delight!).

Dumb and dumber! I don't like what I see as a "dumbing down" of the Church's Liturgy. By omitting some of the prayers and rituals, by using a Eucharistic Prayer for Children (with a congregation without a child and all adults and many older), it seems that much is lost. And, of course, there were a few elements of the Mass contrary to the GIRM and to the latest document on Liturgical Abuse. And as far as I know the Children's Prayer can only be used in special Masses for children.

But I was dumber. I should have swallowed my discomfort and upset and prayed more and deeper and taken the Body and Blood of the LORD, which was truly present in that Liturgical celebration, in that Mass. I lost a lot. And hope I learned a lesson (it seems that the older I get the more I learn that I have not learned....).

But all this might have been so easily avoided if the Missal was simply followed as it is in all its integrity - which is right of every Catholic.

Blasts rock 5 churches in Iraq, killing 11

BAGHDAD -- Assailants triggered a coordinated series of explosions outside five churches in Baghdad and Mosul during evening services yesterday, killing 11 people and wounding more than 50. It was the first major assault on Iraq's Christian minority since the 15-month-old insurgency against the US occupation began..."

Sunday, August 01, 2004
Saint Alphonsus Maria de Liguori: Artist of the Gospel

Founder of the Redemptorists, Doctor of the Universal Church

Alphonsus, reforming Bishop, prolific writer, man of suffering and prayer, and passionate in his love of Christ and the Blessed Mother

Alphonsus Liguori died today in 1787; gifted missionary, preacher, writer, pastor, poet, artist of the Gospel. Always seeking the salvation of souls and the enfleshment of the motto he chose for his congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, "Copiosa apud eum redemptio" "with Him there is plentiful redemption" - Psalm 130:7. May Saint Alphonsus pray for us and obtain for us, from the LORD and his blessed Mother, an increase of holiness and zeal in proclaiming Christ, and a special care for the most abandoned.

"Pray and you will be saved; do not pray, and you will be lost."

"O my God, make me a saint."

- St Alphonsus Mary Liguori

The Church That Forgot Christ

Ken Woodward's review of Jimmy Breslin's latest screed against the Church he left long ago.

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