Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Five Most Postive Developments of 2009?

Do you agree with this analysis or would you suggest something else?

In Depth Analysis
The 5 most positive developments of 2009 Facebook Twitter by Phil Lawler, December 30, 2009



5. The Vatican investigation of American women’s religious communities.

“For many years,” Cardinal Franc Rodé disclosed in November, “this dicastery [the Congregation for Religious] had been listening to concerns expressed by American Catholics—religious, laity, clergy, and hierarchy—about the welfare of religious women and consecrated life in general.” Finally, this year the Vatican took action.

In February, the Holy See announced an apostolic visitation of American women’s religious orders. That inquiry is being conducted under the auspices of the Congregation for Religious, by Mother Clare Millea, ASCJ—who has gently made the point that she is making a serious, rigorous study.

While some unhappy leaders of women’s religious orders were protesting the Vatican’s involvement, a second shoe dropped: The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has begun a separate “doctrinal investigation” of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the umbrella group representing “mainstream” religious orders.

During the years since Vatican II, American nuns have becoming a vanishing breed. The number of women religious in the US today is less than half what it was in 1965. The average age of the remaining nuns is soaring. Yet in some orders—the contemplative communities and the ones most rigorously committed to traditional models of religious life—vocations remain plentiful. It is the “mainstream” orders—the ones that once staffed parochials schools and hospitals across the nation—that are now disappearing. And it is growing ever more evident that their wounds are self-inflicted; they are unable to attract young women because they no longer have a clear sense of their own religious purpose. As Cardinal Rodé put it, in an unusually candid talk to an American audience in 2008, some nuns “have simply acquiesced to the disappearance of religious life or at least of their community.”

If the statistical portrait of American religious life was enough to demonstrate the need for a serious inquiry, the angry reactions of prominent American nuns confirmed the nature of the problem. One influential women religious called for “non-violent resistance” to the Vatican probe, and the National Catholic Reporter confirmed in November that the mainstream orders had mounted “almost complete resistance” to the apostolic visitation, with only 1% meeting a deadline for the return of questionnaires. The leaders of the largest religious orders seem to view the Holy See as their adversary. That fact underlines the need for Rome to rein in the dissident nuns.

4. The Irish bishops “get it.”

The damaging revelations about abuse in the Irish Catholic Church were, as I noted yesterday, the most depressing story of 2009. But the agony of the Irish Church has already produced one very positive result. Unlike their brethren in the US, the Irish bishops have acknowledged their own culpability.

Within a month after the release of the Murphy Commission report, four Irish bishops had resigned. They stepped down under heavy pressure from public opinion, at the clear prompting of Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, who stated that any bishop involved in the Dublin cover-up should seriously re-assess his position. (Archbishop Martin did not openly call for resignations, but his intent was clear enough.)

One of the outgoing prelates, Bishop James Moriarty, denied that he himself had ignored complaints of sexual abuse, but conceded: “I should have challenged the prevailing culture.” Exactly. Any bishop who could tolerate sexual abuse—or even stand by while others in authorities tolerated it—thereby showed himself incapable of sound pastoral judgment. A bishop who responds to a scandal by covering up the evidence must have either a complete indifference to the welfare of the souls assigned to his care or a severely warped vision of what constitutes the good of the Church. In either case he has disgraced himself, and made it impossible to maintain confidence in his pastoral leadership. Resignation is his best option.

In the US, where literally dozens of dioceses have been dogged by sex-abuse scandals for the better part of a decade, only one bishop has resigned because of his mishandling of the crisis. In Ireland, four have taken that step in less than a month, after the problems of a single diocese were exposed. The Irish bishops are showing a pastoral sensitivity that their American counterparts lack.

There is one more positive aspect to this unhappy story. Pope Benedict has promised a pastoral letter in response to the Irish crisis. The Holy Father’s deft handling of the sex-abuse scandal in America, during his trip to this country in April 2008, encourages the hope that the Pontiff will draw important new lessons from the Irish problem.

3. The moves to reconcile the Society of St. Pius X

This story, too, can be paired with one of the year’s five ugliest developments. But whereas in one case there are a few positive aspects to a very sad story, in this case a happy story has nearly been overshadowed by one unfortunate facet. The positive signs from Ireland were only the silver lining that shone through a heavy cloud, but in this case the controversy surrounding Bishop Williamson (#3 on yesterday’s list) deflected attention from the palpable benefits of a bold papal initiative.

In January, Pope Benedict lifted the decrees of excommunication that had been imposed on four bishops of the traditionalist SSPX after they were illicitly ordained in July 1988 by the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. By doing so the Pope—who had already welcomed the wide use of the traditional Latin liturgy—eliminated the last important remaining obstacle to reconciliation of the SSPX with the Holy See.

The Pope’s bold gesture was soon submerged beneath the negative publicity aroused by Bishop Williamson. The initial impact of the papal move was vitiated; both the Vatican and the SSPX were thrown into a defensive posture. Veteran Vatican-watcher Sandro Magister of L’Espresso remarked that the episode illustrated “the isolation of Pope Benedict, the ineptitude of the Curia, and the misfires of the Secretariat of State.” All too true.

Showing remarkable humility and patience, Pope Benedict followed up with a letter clarifying the purpose of his move, and virtually pleading with the world’s bishops to support his plans for reconciliation. This second papal statement also underlined Benedict’s determination. He explained that he had seen first-hand how the reconciliation of a wayward Catholic group can serve the universal Church: “how the return to the great, wide, and common Church overcame one-sidedness and lessioned tensions, so that now they have become positive forces for the whole.”

Pope Benedict obviously sees just such a role for the SSPX. And despite the hostility that greeted his first move, the progress toward reconciliation continues. In October, representatives of the traditionalist group met with Vatican officials for the first of a projected series of discussions about disputed doctrinal questions. These discussions can only help to clarify the proper interpretation of Vatican II. In the long run, by helping to establish the limits of what Catholics must accept, and what remains open to debate, the discussions could help many thousands of traditionalists return to full and active participation in the Church.

2. The outreach to Anglicans

In October, Pope Benedict loosed another bombshell, with the announcement that he would soon release an apostolic exhortation establishing the conditions for Anglicans to enter into the Catholic Church while preserving their own communities and their own cherished liturgical traditions. Again the Pontiff explained the initiative as a means of enriching the universal Church by achieving reconciliation with those who had been separated.

But in this case the separation was a matter of centuries. And in light of the severe internal problems facing the Anglican communion, the Pope’s invitation was extremely well timed—and extremely well received.

The Pope’s plan was simple; his act was decisive. For years, tradition-minded Anglicans had been inquiring about the prospects for corporate entry into the Catholic fold. But their appeals were counterbalanced by the concerns of professional ecumenists (who feared an angry reaction from Canterbury) and English bishops (who were lukewarm at best toward the prospect of receiving thousands of theologically conservative new Catholics into their dioceses). With a single stroke the Pope sliced through these concerns; it was noteworthy that neither the Vatican’s top ecumenist nor the English bishops’ conference were intimately involved in the final preparation of the papal statement.

The apostolic constitution, when it was made public, showed a remarkable sensitivity toward the Anglican audience, a respect and deference for the Anglican tradition. Those attitudes will surely make an impression on other Christians—notably the Orthodox—who find themselves wondering about the possibility for achieving reunion with Rome.

As with the SSPX, so too the Pope’s bid for unity with Anglicans may proceed slowly; there are many details to work out. But after a wait of 400 years, the process of reconciliation has begun.

1. The American bishops find their public voice

The decision by America’s most famous Catholic university to honor President Barack Obama with an honorary degree was outrageous. Fortunately, dozens of American bishops labeled it as such.

The local ordinary, Bishop John D’Arcy, opened the criticism, complaining that the Notre Dame invitation was a “terrible breach” in what should be a united Catholic front against. When the school’s president declined to reconsider the honorary degree, Bishop D’Arcy announced that he would boycott the ceremony. This in itself was remarkable; never before had an American Catholic bishop been so direct in his criticism of a major Catholic university.

But Bishop D’Arcy did not carry the battle alone; more than 70 other American bishops joined in the criticism of Notre Dame. And the US bishops’ conference passed a resolution of support for Bishop D’Arcy’s stand.

One other story from 2009 deserves special mention. When Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, called Congressman Patrick Kennedy to “conversion and repentance”-- when he questioned whether the young lawmaker from America’s most prominent political dynasty fulfills the basic requirements of being Catholic—his unprecedented bold statements were a tonic to those Catholics who have been waiting for decades to hear such a challenge.

Bishop Tobin did not pick this fight with Kennedy; the Rhode Island Congressman began the exchange with a pre-emptive attack on the hierarchy, and escalated it later with the revelation that the bishop had asked him to abstain from Communion. But Bishop Tobin did not shrink from the confrontation, either. His courageous public witness made it evident that the American bishops are prepared to take a tougher line in their conflicts with Catholic politicians who support the “culture of death.”

[Phil Lawler] Phil Lawler - Director of the Catholic Culture Project If you found this helpful, please subscribe to newsletter and support our work.

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Is a strong Catholic identity snobbery?

First, let me offer a disclaimer. I am very much in favor of ecumenism and interfaith dialogue. The Church asks us to honor the faith of other people and not proselytize those who do not wish to have the Church's complete truth proclaimed to them.

With that said, though, I do believe there is a "true" ecumenism and a "false" ecumenism. The true ecumenism of the Catholic Church recognizes that the Church that Jesus Christ founded is the Catholic Church headed by the Christ's visible vicar on earth, the successor to St. Peter, the Pope. As such, the Catholic Church has the fullness of truth. The Catholic Church also safeguards this truth, what is called by many as the "Deposit of Faith." As such, we see all validly baptized Christians as members of the One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Depending on their status in the line of the denominations that evolved after the Protestant Reformation, they are more or less in communion with us, but not in full communion. Again their status depends on how much of the Deposit of Faith they accept and the degree to which their sacraments are either valid or invalid according to the mind of the Magisterium.

False ecumenism believes that all Christian denominations are more or less equal.Many would even refer to the Catholic Church as one among many different denominations. It really doesn't matter which one you belong to as long as you believe in Jesus and try to follow Him as your conscience directs you. This is especially tempting for Catholics who are the minority in the communities in which they live or are in "ecumenical marriages." We don't want to offend the religious sensibilities of those who are close to us, so we tend to buy into a false egalitarianism.

We must be clear, though, that the Catholic Church is precisely that the Church. Eastern Orthodoxy can also be viewed as a Church not a denomination. Protestants, though are denominational. In the technical sense they can only call themselves the "Church" only in reference to the Church they separated from, the Catholic Church.

Three areas that many Catholics today are susceptible are "the cult of the personality" of the priest or minister and the power of inspirational preaching and the strong bonds of fellowship that many Protestant denominations are quite good at developing. If a preacher has a pleasant and winning personality, knows how to speak from his heart and to touch the hearts of those who listen to him combined with a powerful sense of friendship and fellowship among fellow worshipers, Catholics may think that their needs are being fulfilled. This is especially true if their own Catholic parish lacks a charismatic priest, who is deficient in preaching and personality and the congregation is cold and unfriendly. Why not then join a denomination that satisfies?

The three main reason not to leave the full communion of the Catholic Church that are relevant here:

1. The Catholic Church was founded by Jesus Christ and He said the gates of hell would not prevail against her. Why in the world would a Christian intentionally join another denomination founded by a mere mortal, like Martin Luther, John Calvin or the vast variety of non-denominational congregations founded by individuals who turn it into a corporation in which they are the CEO and power is handed down to family members? It is a family business in other words.

2. The validity of our Sacraments. For most Protestant denominations, they have only two valid sacraments, Holy Baptism and in some cases Holy Matrimony. Since the Sacrament of Baptism is essential for Church membership and thus salvation the Catholic Church has always taught that in an emergency a lay person can baptize if they use water and the correct formula, "I baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Thus the Catholic Church recognizes the baptism of Protestants if done according the criteria above. Since marriage is a divine right if there are no impediments, the marriages of two baptized Christians who are Protestant is a valid sacramental marriage as it is not dependent on the one who witness the marriage for its sacramentality. However, with few exceptions, Protestants do not have any other valid sacraments including first of all Holy Orders (deacons, priests and bishops) the latter two necessary for the valid celebration of the other sacraments including the Mass or the Most Holy Eucharist, not to mention Confirmation, Penance, Anointing of the Sick and Holy Orders. Why would anyone give up the Sacramental system of the Church that Jesus Christ Himself instituted for a simulated sacrament or no sacraments at all? Leaving the full communion of the Church means no Holy Communion and if it is celebrated by the Protestant denomination it is only a symbol or simulated sacrament. It is not valid.

Thirdly, if one departs the practice of the Catholic Church for a denomination that is not in full communion with the Catholic Church, one must also divest themselves of many other teachings such as the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Communion of saints, Purgatory and the finer nuances concerning dogma and doctrine.

Who wants incomplete Christianity when the complete package is available in the Roman Catholic Church? Only those who do not think there is any difference amongst the various Protestant denominations and that all religions are equal.

True ecumenism does recognize that God's grace is present in these Protestant denominations and that what is lacking in them can be made up by God and His grace. Certainly good preaching, a love for the Scriptures, lives built upon the moral principals of the Bible are all signs of God's grace actively bestowed upon the well-intentioned and good of heart. As well friendly congregations, great fellowship and social activism are signs of God's grace freely given to these denominations that at times puts us Catholics to shame. So we do not disparage the gracious love that God bestows upon those denominations. While deficient in so many essentials of the Church, God nonetheless enables them to experience an abundance of good will and love.Where ever two or three are gathered in the Lord's name, Jesus is there! In terms of ecumenical dialogue, we can learn much from their fine preaching, their fellowship and working with them in serving the needs of the poor rather than competing in this arena.

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

TABLE OF GOD'S WORD AND THE TABLE OF THE HOLY EUCHARIST

I've always found it fascinating that the EF Mass has two major parts, the Mass of the Catechumens and the Mass of the Faithful. With the reforms of the OF Mass, these were changed to the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. What is fascinating about this change is that prior to the reforms, catechumens were not dismissed from Mass after the Mass of the Catechumens. But since the reforms of the Second Vatican Council and the revival of the Order of Catechumens, catechumens are dismissed prior to the Liturgy of the Eucharist. It seems we should have just kept the Mass of the Catechumens title for the Liturgy of the Word or kept both.

Also, one of the things that many liturgical theologians taught after Vatican II is that we now have two tables at Mass, "the Table of the Word" and "the Table of the Eucharist." I bought into this line of thinking, hook, line and sinker! But this really is a part of the theology of rupture that so many promoted after Vatican II concerning the Mass and it needs to be revisited.

What I have learned since I've been celebrating the EF Mass frequently is that God feeds us from one table, the altar, from which the Word of God is proclaimed and the Most Holy Eucharist celebrated. The ambo in the OF Mass becomes an extension of the altar for God's people to be nourished by His Holy Word, not a separate table, just as the altar railing in the EF form of distributing Holy Communion is an extension of the one altar, not a separate table.

The Mass is like a formal banquet in an Italian home. You don't eat appetizers apart from sitting at the main table. It is called the antipasto. Then you have the first plate and the second plate, the salad and dessert. It is all served at the one table. So it is with the Mass, both the Word of God and the Most Holy Eucharist are served from the one, undivided table, the altar, not two separate tables. I believe the EF Mass certainly makes this abundantly clear, whereas the OF Mass has made this ambiguous to the point that many think there are two separate tables.

I prefer the more holistic and unified approach to Word and Sacrament that is presented in the EF Mass, although, to be quite frank, I prefer the OF's lectionary. Catholics today are exposed to a very rich fare of Scripture which they are not in the EF lectionary. In fact in pre-Vatican II times the accurate description of Catholics was that they were Biblically illiterate. I think we as Catholics have come a long way with the revision of the NO lectionary and a hunger for Scripture and understanding it properly. We don't want to turn the clock back to just the EF's brief lectionary. Your thoughts.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Are You Keeping Any Christmas Decorations up until Candlemas, February 2nd?

There is a custom in many places in the Catholic world to keep the Creche and some of the garland up in churches and homes until February 2, the Solemnity of the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple. It is also known as Candlemas as lighted candles and all liturgical candles are blessed on this day as well. In the secular world, February 2nd is also Groundhog Day linked to the lighted candles in the dark of that morning and the groundhog seeing his shadow because of it. February 2nd is also 40 days after Christmas Day. In the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Calendar, there is an Epiphany Season which is not observed, unfortunately, in the Ordinary Form of the Calendar. In the OF form of the calendar Christmas ends and Ordinary Time begins with the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord. In any reform of the reform, I would hope to see the Epiphany season restored to the Church's calendar. In a way it has been with Summorum Pontificum. The following is a good article on Candlemas as the end of the Christmas/Epiphany season:


Candlemas

February 2. Also groundhog day / hedgehog day

Candlemas is the last festival in the Christian year that is dated by reference to Christmas; subsequent holidays are calculated with reference to Easter, so Candlemas marks the end of the Christmas and Epiphany season.

Candlemas is observed on February 2nd in the Western churches and February 15th in the Eastern churches. Its formal name is either the festival of the Purification of the Virgin (especially in the uniate rites of the Roman Catholic Church), the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple (especially in the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church). In the Orthodox Church it is known as the Feast of the Presentation of our Lord and Savior in the Temple.

The date of Candlemas is established by the date set for the Nativity of Jesus, for it comes 40 days afterwards. Under Mosaic law, a mother who had given birth to a man-child was considered unclean for seven days; moreover she was to remain for three and thirty days "in the blood of her purification." Candlemas therefore corresponds to the day on which Mary, according to Jewish law (see Leviticus 12:2 - 8), should have attended a ceremony of ritual purification. The gospel of Luke 2:22-39 relates that Mary attended such a ceremony in the Jerusalem temple, and this explains the formal names given to the festival.

In the West, the date of Christmas is now fixed at December 25, and Candlemas therefore falls the following February 2. The dating is identical among Orthodox Christians, except that the ecclesiastic December 25th of most Orthodox Christians falls on January 6th of the civil calendar, meaning that most Orthodox Christians celebrate the fest on February 14th.
History

The earliest reference to a celebration was when the intrepid pilgrim nun Egeria, travelling in the Holy Land, 381 - 384, reported that February 14th was a day solemnly kept in Jerusalem with a procession to Constantine's Basilica of the Resurrection, a homily on Luke 2:22— which makes the occasion perfectly clear— and a mass. This so-called Itinerarium Peregrinatio ("Pilgrimage Itinerary") of Egeria does not offer a name for the Feast, however. The date, February 14 proves that in Jerusalem at that time, Christ's birth was celebrated on January 6, Epiphany. Egeria writes for her beloved fellow nuns at home:

"XXVI The fortieth day after the Epiphany is undoubtedly celebrated here with the very highest honour, for on that day there is a procession, in which all take part, in the Anastasis, and all things are done in their order with the greatest joy, just as at Easter. All the priests, and after them the bishop, preach, always taking for their subject that part of the Gospel where Joseph and Mary brought the Lord into the Temple on the fortieth day, and Symeon and Anna the prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, saw Him, treating of the words which they spake when they saw the Lord, and of that offering which His parents made. And when everything that is customary has been done in order, the sacrament is celebrated, and the dismissal takes place."

In 542 the feast was established throughout the Eastern Empire by Justinian. In Rome, the feast appears in the Gelasian Sacramentary, a manuscript collection of the 7th and 8th centuries associated with Pope Gelasius I, but with many interpolations and some forgeries. There it carries for the first time the new title of the feast of Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Late in time though it may be, Candlemas is still the most ancient of all the festivals in honor of the Virgin Mary. The date of the feast in Rome was moved forward to the 2nd of February, since during the late 4th century the Roman feast of Christ's nativity been introduced as December 25th.

Though modern laypeople picture Candlemas as an important feast throughout the Middle Ages in Europe, in fact it spread slowly in the West; it is not found in the Lectionary of Silos (650) nor in the Calendar (731-741) of Sainte-Genevieve of Paris. Later, however, Candlemas did become important, and therefore found its way into the secular calendar. References to it are common in later medieval and early Modern literature; Shakespeare's Twelfth Night is recorded as having its first performance on Candlemas Day, 1602. It remains one of the Scottish quarter days, at which debts are paid and law courts are in session.

Candlemas is chiefly observed nowadays in the Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Anglican traditions. In the Roman Catholic tradition it is the day on which believers bring beeswax candles to their local church to blessed for use in the church or in the home.
Relation to non-Christian celebrations

The actual date of Candlemas depends on the date for Christmas: Candlemas follows 40 days after. Thus there is no independent meaningfulness to the date of Candlemas. It is plausible that some features of pagan observances were incorporated into Christian rites of Candlemas, when the celebration of Candlemas spread to north-west Europe.

Modern neopagans have argued that Candlemas is a Christianization of an ancient pagan festival, Imbolc, which was celebrated in pre-Christian Ireland at about the same time of year; this festival marked the mid-way point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox, and was celebrated with lights to hasten the coming of spring. This is close to the date of Candlemas in the eastern Church. There is however no evidence that this festival was widespread, and there is no reason to suppose that an Irish festival would have influenced the practice of the Jerusalem church in the late fourth century.

Secular historians have sometimes argued that the Roman church introduced Candlemas celebrations in opposition to the pagan feast of Lupercalia. The Catholic Encyclopedia is definite in its rejection of this argument: "The feast was certainly not introduced by Pope Gelasius to suppress the excesses of the Lupercalia," (referencing J.P. Migne, Missale Gothicum, 691). The Encyclopaedia Britannica 1911 agrees: the association with Gelasius "has led some to suppose that it was ordained by Pope Gelasius I in 492 as a counter-attraction to the heathen Lupercalia; but for this there is no warrant." Since the two festivals are both concerned with the ritual purification of women, not all historians are convinced that the connection is purely coincidental. Gelasius' certainly did write a treatise against Lupercalia, and this still exists (see Lupercalia.) Nevertheless it is clear that Candlemas merely follows by forty days whatever day is celebrated as Christ's Nativity.

The tradition that some modern Christians observe, of lighting a candle in each window (or in each room), does not appear to be ancient. It is not the origin of the name "Candlemas" which refers to a blessing of candles.
Superstitions

"Down with the rosemary, and so
Down with the bays and misletoe ;
Down with the holly, ivy, all,
Wherewith ye dress'd the Christmas Hall"

— Robert Herrick (1591-1674), "Ceremony upon Candlemas Eve"

As the poem by Robert Herrick records, the eve of Candlemas was the day on which Christmas decorations of greenery were removed from people's homes; for traces of berries, holly and so forth will bring death among the congregation before another year is out.

Hedgehog Day was observed by the Romans during the Festival of Februa on February 2. It is believed that when a hibernating hedgehog emerges from its den on Hedgehog Day and sees its shadow, there is a clear moon and six more weeks of winter. This is also the date bears emerge from their winter hibernation to inspect the weather; and wolves who choose to return to their lairs on this day know that the severe weather will continue for another forty days at least. In the British Isles, good weather at Candlemas is taken to indicate severe winter weather later:

If Candlemas Day is bright and clear,
there'll be two winters in the year.

In the United States, Candlemas evolved into Groundhog Day celebrated on the same date. replacing the hedgehog with a groundhog since there are no native hedgehogs in the Americas.

The earliest American reference to Groundhog Day can be found at the Pennsylvania Dutch Folklore Center at Franklin and Marshall College:

February 4, 1841 - from Morgantown, Berks County (Pennsylvania) storekeeper James Morris' diary..."Last Tuesday, the 2nd, was Candlemas day, the day on which, according to the Germans, the Groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and if he sees his shadow he pops back for another six weeks nap, but if the day be cloudy he remains out, as the weather is to be moderate."

In France, Candlemas is celebrated with pancakes, which must be eaten only after eight p.m.

Sailors are often reluctant to set sail on Candlemas Day, believing that any voyage begun then will end in disaster.



This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from Wikipedia and from ShiningRise.com

DON'T FORGET TO CELEBRATE THE 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS!

Because our secular culture and much of our religious culture celebrates Christmas with reckless abandon during the season of Advent, the actual celebration of the 12 Days of Christmas which begins December 25th is anti-climatic. More importantly, the Catholic Church celebrates the Octave of Christmas which concludes on January 1st with the Solemnity of The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God. In the Extraordinary Calendar it is the Circumcision of the Lord. These eight liturgical days form only one day but extended over eight days. In a sense time stands still for those eight days, a taste of eternity. The following article on the 12 Days of Christmas is very interesting:


The Twelve Days of Christmas



The twelve days of Christmas are not the twelve days before Christmas, but are instead the twelve days from Christmas until the beginning of Epiphany (January 6th; the 12 days count from December 25 until January 5), which is when the three Wise Men or Magi arrived on the scene.

In some families, it was and still is traditional to give Christmas gifts for each of those twelve days, much as gifts are given to children on each of the days of Hanukkah. Some have suggested that the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas" is actually a song of instruction with hidden meanings to the basic teachings of the Faith. The "true love" mentioned in the song is not an earthly suitor, but refers to God Himself. The "me" who receives the presents refers to every baptized person who is part of the Christian Faith [see note below].

On the 1st day of Christmas my true love sent to me...

Day 1, Christmas Day, December 25
A Partridge in a Pear Tree
The partridge in a pear tree is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In the song, Christ is symbolically presented as a mother partridge that feigns injury to decoy predators from her helpless nestlings, much in memory of the expression of Christ's sadness over the fate of Jerusalem: "Jerusalem! Jerusalem! How often would I have sheltered you under my wings, as a hen does her chicks, but you would not have it so . . . ." (Luke 13:34)

On the 2nd day of Christmas my true love sent to me...

Day 2, December 26
Two Turtle Doves
The Old and New Testaments, which together bear witness to God's self-revelation in history and the creation of a people to tell the Story of God to the world.

On the 3rd day of Christmas my true love sent to me...

Day 3, December 27
Three French Hens
The Three Theological Virtues: 1) Faith, 2) Hope, and 3) Love (1 Corinthians 13:13)

On the 4th day of Christmas my true love sent to me...

Day 4, December 28
Four Calling Birds
The Four Gospels: 1) Matthew, 2) Mark, 3) Luke, and 4) John, which proclaim the Good News of God's reconciliation of the world to Himself in Jesus Christ.

On the 5th day of Christmas my true love sent to me...

Day 5, December 29
Five Gold Rings
The first Five Books of the Old Testament, known as the Torah or the Pentateuch: 1) Genesis, 2) Exodus, 3) Leviticus, 4) Numbers, and 5) Deuteronomy, which gives the history of humanity's sinful failure and God's response of grace in the creation of a people to be a light to the world.

On the 6th day of Christmas my true love sent to me...

Day 6, December 30
Six Geese A-laying
The six days of creation that confesses God as Creator and Sustainer of the world (Genesis 1).

On the 7th day of Christmas my true love sent to me...

Day 7, December 31
Seven Swans A-swimming
The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: 1) prophecy, 2) ministry, 3) teaching, 4) exhortation, 5) giving, 6) leading, and 7) compassion (Romans 12:6-8; cf. 1 Corinthians 12:8-11)

On the 8th day of Christmas my true love sent to me...

Day 8, January 1
Eight Maids A-milking
The eight Beatitudes: 1) Blessed are the poor in spirit, 2) those who mourn, 3) the meek, 4) those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, 5) the merciful, 6) the pure in heart, 7) the peacemakers, 8) those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake. (Matthew 5:3-10)

On the 9th day of Christmas my true love sent to me...

Day 9, January 2
Nine Ladies Dancing
The nine Fruit of the Holy Spirit: 1) love, 2) joy, 3) peace, 4) patience, 5) kindness,
6) generosity, 7) faithfulness, 8) gentleness, and 9) self-control. (Galatians 5:22)

On the 10th day of Christmas my true love sent to me...

Day 10, January 3
Ten Lords A-leaping
The ten commandments: 1) You shall have no other gods before me; 2) Do not make an idol; 3) Do not take God's name in vain; 4) Remember the Sabbath Day; 5) Honor your father and mother; 6) Do not murder; 7) Do not commit adultery; 8) Do not steal; 9) Do not bear false witness; 10) Do not covet. (Exodus 20:1-17)

On the 11th day of Christmas my true love sent to me...

Day 11, January 4
Eleven Pipers Piping
The eleven Faithful Apostles: 1) Simon Peter, 2) Andrew, 3) James, 4) John, 5) Philip, 6) Bartholomew, 7) Matthew, 8) Thomas, 9) James bar Alphaeus, 10) Simon the Zealot, 11) Judas bar James. (Luke 6:14-16). The list does not include the twelfth disciple, Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus to the religious leaders and the Romans.

On the 12th day of Christmas my true love sent to me...

Day 12, January 5
Twelve Drummers Drumming
The Twelve points of doctrine in the Apostles' Creed: 1) I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. 2) I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. 3) He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. 4) He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell [the grave]. 5) On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. 6) He will come again to judge the living and the dead. 7) I believe in the Holy Spirit, 8) the holy catholic Church, 9) the communion of saints, 10) the forgiveness of sins, 11) the resurrection of the body, 12) and life everlasting.


[Note: The popular song "The Twelve Days of Christmas" is usually seen as simply a nonsense song for children with secular origins. However, some have suggested that it is a song of Christian instruction, perhaps dating to the 16th century religious wars in England, with hidden references to the basic teachings of the Christian Faith. They contend that it was a mnemonic device to teach the catechism to youngsters. The "true love" mentioned in the song is not an earthly suitor, but refers to God Himself. The "me" who receives the presents refers to every baptized person who is part of the Christian Faith. Each of the "days" represents some aspect of the Christian Faith that was important for children to learn.

However, many have questioned the historical accuracy of this origin of the song The Twelve Days of Christmas. While some have trying to debunk this as an "urban myth" out of personal agendas, others have tried to deal with this account of the song's origin in the name of historical accuracy (see Snopes on The 12 Days of Christmas). There is little "hard" evidence available either way. Some church historians affirm this account as basically accurate, while others point out apparent historical and logical discrepancies.

However, we need to acknowledge that the "evidence" on both sides is mostly in logical deduction and probabilities. Lack of positive evidence does not automatically provide negative evidence. One internet site devoted to debunking hoaxes and legends says that, "there is no substantive evidence to demonstrate that the song 'The Twelve Days of Christmas' was created or used as a secret means of preserving tenets of the Catholic faith, or that this claim is anything but a fanciful modern day speculation. . .." What is omitted is that there is no "substantive evidence" that will disprove it either.

It is certainly possible, in fact probable, that this view of the song is legendary or anecdotal. Without corroboration and in the absence of "substantive evidence," we probably should not take rigid positions on either side and turn the song into a crusade for personal opinions. That would do more to violate the spirit of Christmas than the song is worth. So, for the sake of historical accuracy, we need to acknowledge the likelihood that the song had secular origins.

However, on another level, this should not prevent us from using the song in celebration of Christmas. Many of the symbols of Christianity were not originally religious, including even the present date of Christmas, but were appropriated from contemporary culture by the Christian Faith as vehicles of worship and proclamation. Perhaps, when all is said and done, historical accuracy is not really the point. Perhaps more important is that Christians can celebrate their rich heritage, and God's grace, through one more avenue this Christmas. Now, when they hear what they once thought was a secular "nonsense song," they will be reminded in one more way of the grace of God working in transforming ways in their lives and in our world. After all, is that not the meaning of Christmas anyway? -Dennis R. Bratcher]

Friday, December 25, 2009

My Christmas Midnight Mass Homily

This is the homily I gave at our Solemn High Sung Midnight Mass. The entire liturgy was exceptionally beautiful and I think rivaled the great Cathedrals of our land and inched up toward St. Peter's Basilica. No brag, just fact. God bless you this Christmastide!


Recently as I was surfing through the channels on TV, I saw Oprah Winfry interviewing Charla Nash. She is that poor woman who was mauled by a chimpanzee who belonged to her good friend. The Chimpanzee destroyed her face and eyes and her hands. Her face was covered with a veil during the interview. I thought Oprah was exploiting this poor woman for shock value and when Oprah asked that the woman remove her veil, I turned the station because the sight of her face was repulsive to me. But later, I saw an interview that Meredith Vieira did with the same woman and began to realize that it was important to see this woman and hear her words and that I had misunderstood what Oprah was doing. This was a child of God who had suffered a terrible life changing tragedy. While her face was destroyed, her soul was not. As I listened to her talk about her disfigurement, her face was no longer repulsive to me. Part of the interview was with the 19 year old daughter of this woman. Meredith asked her what it was like seeing her mother the way she is now. “When I look at my mother I just see my mother.” This daughter loved her mother unconditionally and was able to look past the gross disfigurement she had experienced to see her mother and only her mother.

God does the same with us. Although sin is repulsive to God, He looks beyond the gross disfigurement that our sin does to us and offers His unconditional love to us. The celebration of Christmas makes clear to us that God does not look the other way but looks squarely at us and sees us as His child.

The Nativity of our Lord once again teaches the world that God loves each of us even in the disfigurement that our sin brings to our souls.

The comfort and joy for the sinner and saint in this church this Christmastide is that God loves you unconditionally.

We get a glimpse into God’s unconditional love through the love of our very own loved ones. When I was 16 years old, I worked at the Dairy Queen. The store would close at 11:00 PM and my father always told me to drive home immediately and not go anywhere. For some strange reason my older brother let me drive his brand new 1970 Pontiac GTO to work. It only had a 400 horse power engine. After work, I decided that I would show some of my friends what 400 horse power could do. That was a mistake, because I crashed my brother’s car and nearly totaled it. Except for my ego, I was unhurt, but I was afraid to call my parents and by the time the police investigation ended it was almost 2:00 AM. So I called my married sister and her husband to take me home to face the music with my parents and my brother. I was very fearful of my parent’s wrath at my disobedience and even more afraid of my brother’s wrath at his demolished GTO. Yet when I got home at about 2:30 AM, much to my pleasant surprise my parents were happy to see me and they were actually glad I hadn’t been injured or killed, including my brother. In other words, they loved me and show that love to me when I was most in need, the poor miserable sinner that I was (and continue to be). Christmas should remind us of that kind of loving comfort and joy even when we really don’t think we deserve it.

Those of us who really are aware of how our sin offends God and others, truly appreciate the unconditional love that God extends to us in His Son Jesus. That famous passage from John that so many flash at sporting events on TV and other live television events; it is John 3:10, God so loved the world that He sent His only Son not to condemn the world but to save it. We get it! We know the meaning of Christmas. God does not reject us, but His unconditional love compels us to repentance, to confession, to the Church and to Holy Communion. The Nativity in our church an in our homes, the beautiful Christmas music, the time for family and friends and remembering our loved ones who have gone to the other side of life in God’s loving embrace, this is what Christmas comfort and joy are all about.

The comfort and joy of the Nativity scene brings us cannot be separated from the cross, the means by which the only Son of God would prove His unconditional love for us and his desire we live with Him forever in heaven.

In addition to the manger scene, one of the other powerful visual devotions we have in the Church is the Way of the Cross. To pray the Way of the Cross on Good Friday is very powerful for many of us. I know that it is for me. When I am leading the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday, one of the most moving times is at the 12 Station:

V. We adore You, O Christ, and we bless You.
R. Because by Your holy Cross, You have redeemed the world.

Consider how your Jesus, after three hours' Agony on the Cross, consumed at length with anguish, abandons Himself to the weight of His body, bows His head, and dies.

O my dying Jesus, I kiss devoutly the Cross on which You did die for love of me. I have merited by my sins to die a miserable death; but Your death is my hope. Ah, by the merits of Your death, give me grace to die, embracing Your feet, and burning with love for You. I yield my soul into Your hands. I love You with my whole heart; I repent of ever having offended You. Never permit me to offend You again. Grant that I may love You always; and then do with me what You wilt.

Jesus dies on the Cross. We all kneel. There is a long moment of dead silence. This brings tears to many eyes in the congregation. From the manger to the cross, God’s unconditional love is made visible, powerfully so. Christmas and Easter and every Sunday throughout the year, God’s love is here, available to be received, internalized and brought to a sinful and broken world through the ministry of Catholics who know they must bring Christ to all they meet.

Only the two Gospels of Matthew and Luke present us with the “Infancy Narratives” concerning the incarnation and birth of Jesus Christ. Each has a particular “slant” with specific theological aspects. If we only had the Infancy Narratives of these gospels and no other information, we would have the Gospel of Christ in miniature. The angelic choir makes clear that Jesus is God and Man, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. The message to the shepherds makes clear that Jesus came for the outcast and rejected, for the sinner. The adoration of the Magi shows that conversion is for all people and Jesus’ message is universal. It makes clear that Jesus will suffer and eventually die, but by way of paradox, this will fulfill His mission to redeem the world from sin and death. The wood of the manger and the swaddling clothes anticipate the wood of the cross and the burial shroud. Jesus is placed into a “feeding trough” for animals, symbolizing our Lord Jesus who will become the Eucharistic Food for the world at Holy Mass.

Our reception of the Most Holy Eucharist, Holy Communion, is the clearest sign that we want to respond to God’s unconditional love, through repentant hearts, and forgiven and reconciled lives. Comfort and joy are here for the receiving. Let us receive so great a Savior worthily and with hearts on fire to do as He asks us to do.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A BLESSED CHRISTMAS NOW AND FOREVER

These are two of my favorite Christmas stories. The first is the Biblical account of the Nativity paraphrased from Matthew and Luke. Our Catholic Faith and all of Christianity is based upon the Biblical truth of the Incarnation by the power of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Birth.

The Second Story is the secular version of Christmas. It is a fable.I think Jesus would have used it as a metaphorical parable during His public preaching. It is imbued with the Catholic truth of the true meaning of Christmas. Santa Claus is the Christ figure. The flying Reindeer symbolize all of creation completely redeemed at the Second Coming of Christ and life in heaven with Him. The gifts to children and to all symbolize the gifts of faith, hope and love bestowed upon all God's children in the form of Grace. The world is a peace. This is the true meaning of Christmas too.


The Birth of Jesus Christmas Story - Paraphrased from the Bible:

This Christmas story gives a biblical account of the events surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ. The Christmas story is paraphrased from the New Testament Books of Matthew and Luke in the Bible.
References:
Matthew 1:18-25; Matthew 2:1-12; Luke 1:26-38; Luke 2:1-20.


The Conception of Jesus Foretold

Mary, a virgin, was living in Galilee of Nazareth and was engaged to be married to Joseph, a Jewish carpenter. An angel visited her and explained to her that she would conceive a son by the power of the Holy Spirit. She would carry and give birth to this child and she would name him Jesus.

At first Mary was afraid and troubled by the angel's words. Being a virgin, Mary questioned the angel, "How will this be?" The angel explained that the child would be God's own Son and, therefore, "nothing is impossible with God." Humbled and in awe, Mary believed the angel of the Lord and rejoiced in God her Savior.

Surely Mary reflected with wonder on the words found in Isaiah 7:14 foretelling this event, "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel." (NIV)

The Birth of Jesus:

While Mary was still engaged to Joseph, she miraculously became pregnant through the Holy Spirit, as foretold to her by the angel. When Mary told Joseph she was pregnant, he had every right to feel disgraced. He knew the child was not his own, and Mary's apparent unfaithfulness carried a grave social stigma. Joseph not only had the right to divorce Mary, under Jewish law she could be put to death by stoning.

Although Joseph's initial reaction was to break the engagement, the appropriate thing for a righteous man to do, he treated Mary with extreme kindness. He did not want to cause her further shame, so he decided to act quietly. But God sent an angel to Joseph in a dream to verify Mary's story and reassure him that his marriage to her was God's will. The angel explained that the child within Mary was conceived by the Holy Spirit, that his name would be Jesus and that he was the Messiah, God with us.

When Joseph woke from his dream, he willingly obeyed God and took Mary home to be his wife, in spite of the public humiliation he would face. Perhaps this noble quality is one of the reasons God chose him to be the Messiah's earthly father.

Joseph too must have wondered in awe as he remembered the words found in Isaiah 7:14, "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel." (NIV)

At that time, Caesar Augustus decreed that a census be taken, and every person in the entire Roman world had to go to his own town to register. Joseph, being of the line of David, was required to go to Bethlehem to register with Mary. While in Bethlehem, Mary gave birth to Jesus. Probably due to the census, the inn was too crowded, and Mary gave birth in a crude stable. She wrapped the baby in cloths and placed him in a manger.

The Shepherd's Worship the Savior:

Out in the fields, an angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds who were tending their flocks of sheep by night. The angel announced that the Savior had been born in the town of David. Suddenly a great host of heavenly beings appeared with the angels and began singing praises to God. As the angelic beings departed, the shepherds decided to travel to Bethlehem and see the Christ-child.

There they found Mary, Joseph and the baby, in the stable. After their visit, they began to spread the word about this amazing child and everything the angel had said about him. They went on their way still praising and glorifying God. But Mary kept quiet, treasuring their words and pondering them in her heart. It must have been beyond her ability to grasp, that sleeping in her arms—the tender child she had just borne—was the Savior of the world.

The Magi Bring Gifts:

After Jesus' birth, Herod was king of Judea. At this time wise men (Magi) from the east saw a star, they came in search, knowing the star signified the birth of the king of the Jews. The wise men came to the Jewish rulers in Jerusalem and asked where the Christ was to be born. The rulers explained, "In Bethlehem in Judea," referring to Micah 5:2. Herod secretly met with the Magi and asked them to report back after they had found the child. Herod told the Magi that he too wanted to go and worship the babe. But secretly Herod was plotting to kill the child.

So the wise men continued to follow the star in search of the new born king and found Jesus with his mother in Bethlehem. (Most likely Jesus was already two years of age by this time.) They bowed and worshipped him, offering treasures of gold, incense and myrrh. When they left, they did not return to Herod. They had been warned in a dream of his plot to destroy the child.

The second story, the parable if you will, is "The Night Before Christmas". Please note as well, that the very first word in the poem is "Twas". The T certainly is a symbol of the Cross! Did you ever catch that symbolism? Now you know!:

THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS
by Henry Livingston


'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;

And mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter's nap,

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.

Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;

"Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!

To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,

So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.

As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;

A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.

His eyes -- how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!

His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;

He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;

A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,

And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.

But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night."

Let us all treasure the holiness of this season and be childlike in our joy and anticipation of Christmas all year 'round! God bless you and to all a good night!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Should Pope Pius XII be canonized?

I just had a very irate Jewish gentleman call me to castigate Pope Benedict for elevating Pope Pius XII to the status of Venerable. He said that Pope Pius XII did not do enough to condemn Adolph Hitler and should in no way be held in high esteem by anyone. I asked him to read the New York Times articles at the time of Pope Pius XII which wrote of him in glowing terms and being a the preeminent world leader against the atrocities of the Nazis. At any rate, the controversy continues and the Vatican must now put fires out as it does in the communique below. Perhaps a German pope is not the best one to offer accolades to a Nazi era pope that many perceive as indifferent to the plight of the Jews?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Note of the Holy See Press Office
concerning the decree on the heroic virtues of Pius XII


"The Pope's signing of the decree 'on the heroic virtues' of Pius XII has elicited a certain number of reactions in the Jewish world; perhaps because the meaning of such a signature is clear in the area of the Catholic Church and of specialists in the field, but may merit certain explanation for the larger public, in particular the Jewish public who are understandably very sensitive to all things concerning the historical period of World War II and the Holocaust.

"When the Pope signs a decree 'on the heroic virtues' of a Servant of God - i.e., of a person for whom a cause for beatification has been introduced - he confirms the positive evaluation already voted by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. ... Naturally, such evaluation takes account of the circumstances in which the person lived, and hence it is necessary to examine the question from a historical standpoint, but the evaluation essentially concerns the witness of Christian life that the person showed (his intense relationship with God and continuous search for evangelical perfection) ... and not the historical impact of all his operative decisions".

"At the beatification of Pope John XXIII and of Pope Pius IX, John Paul II said: 'holiness lives in history and no saint has escaped the limits and conditioning which are part of our human nature. In beatifying one of her sons, the Church does not celebrate the specific historical decisions he may have made, but rather points to him as someone to be imitated and venerated because of his virtues, in praise of the divine grace which shines resplendently in them'.

"There is, then, no intention in any way to limit discussion concerning the concrete choices made by Pius XII in the situation in which he lived. For her part, the Church affirms that these choices were made with the pure intention of carrying out the Pontiff's service of exalted and dramatic responsibility to the best of his abilities. In any case, Pius XII's attention to and concern for the fate of the Jews - something which is certainly relevant in the evaluation of his virtues - are widely testified and recognised, also by many Jews.

"The field for research and evaluation by historians, working in their specific area, thus remains open, also for the future. In this specific case it is comprehensible that there should be a request to have open access to all possibilities of research on the documents. ... Yet for the complete opening of the archives - as has been said on a number of occasions in the past - it is necessary to organise and catalogue an enormous mass of documentation, something which still requires a number of years' work.

"As for the fact that the decree on the heroic virtues of Pope John Paul II and Pope Pius XII were promulgated on the same day, this does not mean that from now on the two causes will be 'paired'. They are completely independent of one another and each will follow its own course. There is, then, no reason to imagine that any future beatification will take place together".

"It is, then, clear that the recent signing of the decree is in no way to be read as a hostile act towards the Jewish people, and it is to be hoped that it will not be considered as an obstacle on the path of dialogue between Judaism and the Catholic Church. Rather we trust that the Pope's forthcoming visit to the Synagogue of Rome will be an opportunity for the cordial reiteration and reinforcement of ties of friendship and respect".

Let's have the Extraordinary Mass with the Ordinary Propers, lectionary and calendar

Yesterday I celebrated the EF Low Mass. It was Tuesday and I had to use the "Feria" Mass which meant using the 4th Sunday of Advent Mass. There was no special Mass for December 22 as there is for the Ordinary Mass.

In this regard the 1970 Missal is in fact much richer in prayers and options. There are different readings for each daily Mass, unlike the EF which is extremely limited for daily Mass.

I pray that one day, the Holy Father would just give permission for the Extraordinary form of the Mass be celebrated in terms of its order and unchanging parts with the Ordinary Form Mass's calendar, propers and lectionary. Allow the reading to be read at the ambo as in the OF Mass with lay lectors and responsorial psalm. Then the Mass whether it is EF or OF would be the same except for the unchanging parts. I think the only draw back is that the introit of the OF Mass would need to be modified so that it could be sung as in the EF form with the Gloria Patri, antiphon and versicle. Other than that I don't think there would be a big problem at all. And allow all the changing proper parts to be said or sung in the vernacular as in the OF anyway, like the collect, prayer over the gifts (secret) preface (preface dialogue still in Latin) prayer after communion. I think most parishes would eat this up!

VATICAN NAMES HOMER SIMPSON VENERABLE!

The full story in Italian follows the brief synopsis below. I always thought that Bart and his two sisters should be canonized because of the miracle of remaining young; they haven't grown an inch in 20 years which is truly miraculous. Homer and his wife haven't aged either, in fact no one in the show has aged. This is a living form of "incorruptibility!" I'm glad that the Vatican is finally getting with the times and acknowledging this venerable family as, well, venerable. What a Christmas present!

Vatican newspaper pays tribute to The Simpsons December 23, 2009

The December 23 edition of L’Osservatore Romano has paid tribute to The Simpsons as a “profound” television series. “Serious analysts,” writes Luca Possati on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the show's first broadcast, “praise the realism and intelligence” of the show and have discussed its philosophical and theological aspects, “even if they often attack-- with justification-- the much too crude language and violence of certain episodes.”
I Simpson compiono vent'anni
Le virtù di Aristotele
e la ciambella di Homer

di Luca M. Possati

Teneri e irriverenti, scandalosi e ironici, sgangherati e profondi, filosofici e a tratti perfino teologici, sintesi impazzita della cultura pop e della tiepida e nichilista middle class americana. Su di loro è stato detto e scritto di tutto e di più, ma di certo quella tribù di facce gialle non ce la dimenticheremo facilmente. Li si ami o li si odi, Homer J. Simpson e la sua stralunata famiglia hanno lasciato il segno, e non solo nel piccolo mondo dei cartoons. Perché, forse, senza la mitica esclamazione "D'oh!" del grasso Homer con la birra "Duff" in mano - magari seduto al bar Moe's a perdere tempo - senza le disavventure dei suoi figli, l'impenitente Bart e la saputella ecologista Lisa, senza i continui rimproveri della moglie, la casalinga disperata e azzurrocrinita Marge, e senza il leggendario "certo certosino!" dell'odiato bigotto Ned "Neddy" Flanders, forse, senza tutta la spudorata mediocrità degli abitanti di Springfield (Kentucky?), oggi molti non saprebbero ridere.
Da esattamente vent'anni (il debutto televisivo risale al dicembre 1989 sulla Fox) il fenomeno Simpson impazza sulle televisioni di tutto il mondo: dagli Stati Uniti - dove sono nati grazie alla matita del fumettista Matt Groening - all'Europa, dalla Russia alla Cina, fino al Medio Oriente. Homer & Company hanno sdoganato il cartone animato dall'essere soltanto un prodotto per bambini, aprendolo a una vastità di pubblico inattesa. Un successo suggellato da ben 23 Emmy Awards, tanto che nel 1999 "Time" la definì "la miglior serie televisiva del secolo" e, nello stesso numero del magazine, Bart fu inserito nella lista dei 100 personaggi più influenti del mondo (al 46° posto). L'anno dopo, le ciambelle di Springfield conquistavano una stella nella Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Diciannove stagioni, quasi 400 episodi, i Simpson sono la serie animata più lunga mai trasmessa. E anche quella più discussa e studiata. I rigidi censori spengono il televisore, ma gli analisti più seri lodano il realismo e l'intelligenza dei testi, anche se spesso attaccano - giustamente - il linguaggio fin troppo crudo e la violenza di certi episodi, o le scelte talvolta estreme degli sceneggiatori. Non sono poi mancate le censure in Russia, in Cina, in Giappone, in Venezuela, in Argentina, in Gran Bretagna. Rumors che hanno avuto echi anche a livelli più alti: nel 2001 tre serissimi filosofi statunitensi hanno dato alle stampe il ponderoso volume The Simpsons and Philosophy (Chicago, Open Court, 2001, pagine 256, dollari 17,95) nel quale - con l'uso di strumenti analitici presi in prestito da Kant, Marx e Barthes - Bart è associato all'ideale nietzscheano dell'uomo nichilista e Marge alla concezione aristotelica della virtù. Non mancano inoltre le letture sociologiche o "scientiste" della serie, come quella tentata dal giornalista Marco Malaspina con La scienza dei Simpson. Guida non autorizzata all'Universo di una ciambella (Milano, Sironi, 2007). E c'è addirittura chi si è spinto fino ad abbozzare le tracce di una teologia simpsoniana.
Sì, teologia. Perché tra i tanti temi che entrano in gioco nella vita della scanzonata comunità di Springfield quello di Dio, e del rapporto tra l'uomo e Dio, è uno dei più importanti (e più seri). Dalle interminabili prediche del reverendo evangelico Lovejoy - alle quali corrispondono regolarmente i sonni di Homer nei banchi in prima fila - al radicalismo ingenuo di Flanders e dei suoi figli biblisti maniacali, fino ai monologhi dei protagonisti che si rivolgono direttamente all'Altissimo. Anche se, in linea con lo stile della serie, non mancano i riferimenti pungenti alla confusione religiosa e spirituale dei nostri tempi, come quando Homer in preda al panico si chiede: "Ma Marge, e se avessimo scelto la religione sbagliata? Ogni settimana faremmo solo diventare Dio più furioso!". Specchio insieme dell'indifferenza e della necessità che l'uomo moderno prova nei confronti del sacro, Homer trova in Dio il suo ultimo rifugio, anche se a volte ne sbaglia clamorosamente il nome: "Di solito non sono un uomo religioso, ma se tu sei lassù, salvami... Superman!".
Errori di percorso, perché in realtà i due si conoscono bene. In un episodio, mentre la sua casa sta bruciando e Springfield è minacciata dai demoni, Homer decide di chiedere udienza proprio a Lui. Una scala mobile tra le nuvole lo porta al Suo ufficio, dove campeggia, in bella mostra sulla scrivania, la scritta: I believe in Me.



(©L'Osservatore Romano 23 dicembre 2009)

PORNOGRAPHY: Adult bookstores are now in the home!

This is a good article by Fr. Stephen Rossetti, a priest psychologist, who has treated priests with psychological and addictive problems for many years. As a priest, I can tell you that more and more men and some women are confessing the sin of viewing pornography on their computers and televisions. Some I believe are like "social drinkers" it is not an addiction but a form of recreation, although certainly immoral and sinful. But for others, it is a true addiction that can destroy their lives. I think we need to be careful about over-reacting to those who confess this sin and also under-reacting and not encouraging them to continue to seek help through the Sacrament of Penance and other resources to help them overcome a bad habit that can become an awful addiction. Many children and teenagers have access to this stuff and more than likely viewing it without being able to discuss it with someone who will help them can lead them to a very corrupted and unhealthy view of sexuality and those who have sex. I think we need to be less puritanical and more open about discussing these matters and helping people who need help.

Internet pornography: raising the alarm

Fr Stephen J. Rossetti



Internet pornography is big business. In 2002, Web sites that peddled pornography and sex were the largest income generators of the Internet, exceeding both computer hardware sales and software sales.

Most of this traffic, 70 percent, occurs during normal business hours. One in six employees are having difficulties with online sexual activity. Two out of three companies have disciplined employees for misuse of the Internet, and 41 percent of those were using pornography. The most common word entered into search engines is "sex."

Most pornography on the Internet is legal, although it is an immoral industry that promotes the abusive exploitation of people. On the other hand, child Internet pornography is a crime. Internet child pornography in 2003 alone generated US$3 billion. In 2002, US customs officials estimated that 100,000 Web sites peddle child pornography. Twenty percent of young people who use the Internet regularly were exposed to unwanted sexual solicitations in the last year, a significant threat to their safety.

Forty million American adults regularly visit Internet pornography sites. Internet pornography can entice a vulnerable person, quickly escalating into an addiction. The Internet encourages escapism in some users and may lead to a kind of dissociative state. Developing an Internet fantasy life may be used to substitute for one's real life, particularly if one's real life is perceived as unsatisfying.

Internet porn is doubly powerful by combining the addictive nature of the Internet with the addictive nature of sex. While most users of Internet pornography would clinically be considered to be "recreational," there are a significant percentage who are vulnerable to becoming addicted.

Internet pornography has a "Triple A Engine" which fuels its use: Anonymity, Accessibility and Affordability. It appears anonymous because one can use it in the privacy of one's office or room, and not visit an "adult" bookstore. It is accessible 24 hours a day. And it is affordable: many sites are free although there are pay sites.

But Internet use is not completely anonymous, and the FBI regularly conducts stings which result in numerous arrests, occasionally including priests. Some priests have gone to jail for using Internet child pornography.

It seems that there are no victims or any moral consequences. This is not true. Men and women pose for these pictures. There is a denigrating and abusive industry that promotes the sexual victimisation of individuals for financial profit, including children. Plus, men and women who view such materials are committing an immoral act and thus they, too, are harmed.

Sadly, many individuals have found out that Internet pornography use can lead to tragic consequences. Internet sexual behavior is now one of most frequent reasons cited for divorce. Moreover, individuals, including minors, are lured into sexual victimisation by predators. Also, people who are hooked on pornography may lose their families, their social lives and their jobs.
Confession

Parishioners are increasingly confessing the sin of Internet porn use and pastors will find it helpful to know when the problem requires psychotherapeutic attention. Some signs of an Internet sex addiction: (1) increasing use of the Internet with an inability to curtail it; (2) insisting on being left alone when using the computer and resenting intrusions; (3) not meeting one's real life relationship obligations and/or work responsibilities; (4) staying up late at night and being tired in the early morning; (5) lying about or hiding one's computer use and Internet bills; (6) living a fantasy life online and using a false identity.

Addicted persons may spend hours viewing Internet porn or engaging in sexually charged conversations on the Internet. They may use false or altered identities. They frequently find their real life relationships suffering due to a lack of attention. They become secretive about their double life and try to hide their behaviour. They resent interruptions or any attempt to curtail their addiction.

Such behaviour can escalate into masturbating while online or scheduling a real-life sexual liaison with someone met on the Internet. The destructive possibilities of such sexual encounters are obvious.

Those who are particularly vulnerable are isolated, dependent individuals suffering with low self- esteem. They may have limited social skills and use the Internet to manage stress. People with depressive symptoms may be tempted to use cybersex to medicate their depression and to bolster their self-esteem.

In short, for many addicted to cybersex, it becomes a dysfunctional search for connection and relationship. Hence, any long term successful treatment will include, not only prevention steps to limit online sexual activities, but also developing life-giving, mature, chaste relationships with "real" people.

Men tend to be sexually aroused by visual stimuli, hence the predominance of men using visual pornography. Women, on the other hand, tend to become sexually aroused through relationships, hence their use of sexually explicit chat rooms. However, these are general trends. Some women do use visual pornography and many men frequent sexual chat rooms.
Professional help

Parishioners who are engaged in Internet sexual behaviours as an addiction will likely benefit from professional care and/or attendance at self-help groups or other 12-step groups for sex addicts. There are resources available on a number of Web sites such as: recoveryzone.org, netaddiction.com, and scarecovery. org.

Individuals with Internet sex problems can take steps to minimise or prevent such problems in their own living places. They can buy software that limits access to sex sites. Similarly, some Internet service providers provide family-friendly usage and block access to objectionable sites. Do a net search for "family-oriented Internet service providers" to find an appropriate one.

Using one's own real name in an e-mail address and Internet interactions can decrease the feeling of anonymity and likelihood of developing an online fantasy persona. One of the addicting aspects of the Internet is its inherent escapism. People often use false identities, attempting to preserve their anonymity and sometimes presenting an idealised image to others.

For example, shy and inhibited individuals with negative body images may try to present themselves as outgoing and athletic. At times, adults who sexually prey on vulnerable teens may take on the persona of an adolescent.

Leaving the computer in a public space and limiting its use to daylight hours can decrease anonymity. It is particularly dangerous for those with cyberaddictions to use their computers late at night in a private space. Putting computers in hallways or common rooms and leaving the computer screen facing others can be a deterrent to illicit computer use.

Confiding in some close friends or getting an online sponsor and regularly revealing one's Internet usage in total can be a way of putting some accountability in place.

The Church is well advised to enact policies and procedures to detect, prevent and respond to Internet misuse. We are naïve in believing there are no problems with the thousands of people the Church employs in its chanceries, schools, hospitals, rectories and other institutions.

Several studies have brought to light a surprising percentage of individuals admitting to using their work computers for sexual pursuits. Typically, 12 percent of women and 20 percent of men admit using their computers at work for sexual purposes.

It is safe to say that some employees in our institutions are using their work computers for illicit sexual activities. It is important for the life and health of our institutions, and for the individuals involved, to uncover these problems and to take appropriate action, including steps toward healing and prevention.
Monitoring

Essential for any institution with a central server linked to the Internet is a monitoring program. These software programs provide printouts of which Internet sites are visited and for how long. Such monitoring is becoming standard practice in industry; 63 percent of large and medium sized companies are monitoring employees' computer usage, and the percentage is rising. However, employees should be notified up front.

Finally, whenever personnel changes occur, including our pastors, there ought to be an audit of the individuals' computers. This will reduce false allegations, should pornography be discovered. And it provides a concrete step toward providing accountability of computer usage.

The Internet is a wonderful instrument when used with prudence. It can be used to educate people in a healthy understanding of human sexuality. But Internet cybersex has already become a major threat. It is big business; it is highly addictive; it is morally wrong; and it can be dangerous. If child porn is involved, it is illegal and those caught will go to jail. It is time to publicly raise the alarm with all our Catholic people.

Father Stephen Rossetti is a licensed psychologist, president of the Saint Luke Institute, and a priest of the Diocese of Syracuse in the United States. His latest book is 'The Joy of Priesthood' (Ave Maria Press). In 2003, he was invited by the Vatican to attend a symposium on child sexual abuse sponsored by the Pontifical Academy for Life. Among those present were Archbishop Elio Sgreccia, Vice President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, Cardinal Francis Arinze and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

This article is reprinted from the February 2006 issue of 'The Priest' Magazine.

THE LAST ACCEPTABLE PREDUDICE: Anti-Catholicism

Philip Jenkins is an Episcopalian. This article by Christopher Shea is good and worth reading although dated.

The Last Prejudice?
Philip Jenkins Argues That Anti-Catholic Bigotry Is on the Rise-Even Among Catholics

By Christopher Shea
Boston Globe
July 27, 2003

GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY'S commencement ceremonies were a squirmy, uncomfortable affair this spring, and for once the sweltering D.C. weather had nothing to do with it. Picture the single mom, the gay uncle, the cohabitating field hockey player, sated from a celebratory Saturday breakfast, settling into the folding chairs on the quad to hear some heartening words from the honored speaker of the day. He was Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria, and his theme was supposed to be Muslim-Christian relations. Instead, the cardinal delivered a ferocious harangue on American sexual mores that singed his audience's ears.

"In many parts of the world, the family is under siege," Arinze railed, leaving little doubt about which part he meant. "... It is scorned and banalized by pornography, desecrated by fornication and adultery, mocked by homosexuality, sabotaged by irregular unions, and cut in two by divorce." A female theology professor got up and stalked off the stage. Previously unabashed fornicators in the crowd eyed one another uneasily.

Philip Jenkins, a professor of history and religious studies at Penn State, pretty much saw this coming. Last fall, in a much-discussed cover story in The Atlantic Monthly titled "The Next Christianity," Jenkins argued that the varieties of Christian faith thriving in the Third World were far more conservative than those in the United States. The next Christianity was on a collision course with the tolerant American creed, he wrote, and Catholic liberals in particular were demographically doomed.

"If we get an African pope, as we may before not too long, Americans may look back with nostalgia to the good old days of Pope John Paul II," Jenkins, reached at his office in State College, Pa., said recently. The Georgetown grads may have gotten a literal glimpse of the future: Cardinal Arinze has been named as a possible successor to the pontiff.

These days, Jenkins is promoting a book that will give Catholic liberals further fits. In "The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice" (Oxford), he argues that many leading Catholic critics of the church hierarchy-including the historian Garry Wills and the Globe columnist James Carroll-use such ferocious language that, in rhetoric if not in deed, they've become morally indistinguishable from Klansmen and 19th-century nativists.

"In modern American history," he writes, "no mainstream denomination has ever been treated so consistently, so publicly, with such venom." Today, he argues, an unholy alliance of feminists, homosexual activists, and radical secularists-together with a fifth column of people who call themselves Catholics but who hate the church deeply-has seized upon the sex-abuse scandal in order to drive the church out of public life once and for all.

Such arguments are not entirely fresh. The occasional church official lashing out in frustration during the abuse scandal has said as much. But what makes Jenkins unique is that he is himself a non-Catholic whose academic training lends his work an air of neutrality and makes him a favorite quoted source for church defenders. (A Welsh-born Anglican who briefly joined the Catholic Church during college and then drifted away, he has no objection to contraception, and he supports only limited restrictions on abortion.)

As a social scientist, Jenkins understands the priest-sex scandal as a classic example of a sociological phenomenon called "moral panic"-a phenomenon he's made a career out of studying. In such panics, he has long argued, conservatives as well as liberals manipulate public fears to further their own agendas.

"The only thing I don't like about the book is the title `The New Anti-Catholicism,"' says Father Richard Neuhaus, editor of the conservative Catholic journal First Things. "I'm not sure it's that new. It's an old prejudice and vice that weaves its way through American life and rears its heads in new forms."

Jenkins is certainly right that anti-Catholicism is a persistent strain in American history. (The historian Arthur Schlesinger Sr., once called it "the deepest bias in the history of the American people.") In the 19th century and into the 20th, American elites and, more broadly, white Americans of northern European descent disdained Catholics as feeble-minded servants of the pope. Many such attitudes had a "racial" component, since Catholics tended to come from southern Europe or Ireland. Some American Protestants came to believe the Catholic Church was actually the "mother of harlots" described in the New Testament's Book of Revelations-a view that still holds sway on the right-wing evangelical fringe.

In Jenkins's view, the traditional anti-Catholicism of small-town Protestants had its day in America roughly until the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960. With the sexual revolution, the main source of anti-Vatican vitriol shifted to liberals, who can't abide the church's rejection of modern sexual mores. A leading gay journalist calls the pope a "homicidal maniac." Public figures can no longer get away with slurs against gays and African-Americans, yet anti-Catholic gibes are commonplace. As the historian Peter Viereck once observed, "Catholic-baiting is the anti-Semitism of the liberals." The double standard "angers me, it distresses me," Jenkins says.

The Princeton historian Sean Wilentz argues that the convent burnings and widespread anti-Catholic lodges of the 19th century bear little comparison with the occasional church picketings and publicity stunts of activists today. "They are of different orders of magnitude," he says. But Jenkins believes that attacks on the church have reached a fever pitch during the recent abuse scandal-and it's at this point that he breaks out his One Big Sociological Idea.

Over the years, Jenkins has said that child kidnappings, recreational drug use, and serial killings have all set off "moral panics" in America and England. In the 1970s and `80s, according to his respected 1994 book "Using Murder: The Social Construction of Serial Homicide," there was a sudden, startling cultural fascination with serial killers. The fascination continues, even though such killings have never amounted to more than a fraction of a percent of all murders and have increased only slightly over the century.

Jenkins argued that the serial-killer fetish "coincided precisely" with the American public's increasing wariness about liberal explanations of crime: People were ready to believe that criminals were monsters, not simply hapless products of "social or economic dysfunction." Social conservatives played up the criminals-as-monsters talk to attract people to their lock-'em-up crime-fighting policies, and they did so brilliantly.

Like serial killers, Jenkins thinks, abusive priests do exist but also serve as convenient rhetorical weapons. A handful of clerics exposed in the sex-abuse crisis, including Paul Shanley and John Geoghan, are "all-too-genuine pedophile priest[s]" with "horrifying" records. Yet in most cases, he argues, the accused priests have been involved with teenagers. These relationships may be "inadvisable or dangerous" but they aren't examples of depraved pedophilia. (It is not unnatural, Jenkins says, for an adult male to be attracted to a sexually mature teenage boy or girl.) Editorial cartoonists, however, invariably depict priests ogling prepubescent boys. "The pedophile stereotype is so popular," Jenkins writes, "because it meshes with ancient images of Catholic perversion." Those ancient slanders always imply that beneath a cover of bogus celibacy lies a roiling cauldron of sexual deviance.

This line of argument, in particular, has inflamed Garry Wills. To say that abuse of adolescents is "not so bad since it is not `real pedophilia,"' he wrote in The New York Review of Books last summer, "is a further violation and abuse of the victims."

Whatever the definition of pedophilia-Jenkins and Wills have an ongoing semantic debate about this-Jenkins claims the public's impression of the scope of the crisis is overblown. The best data, he says, come from a 1992 study by the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago that was prompted by an earlier wave of abuse cases. Using the standard of "preponderance of evidence," Bernardin's investigators found that perhaps 1.7 percent of the 2,252 priests who had worked in the Chicago archdiocese from 1951 to 1991 committed some sort of inappropriate sexual act. Distressing, but not an epidemic. In response to last week's report by Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas Reilly that the abuse scandal was "so massive and so prolonged that it borders on the unbelievable," Jenkins claims that Reilly's count of accused priests employed "a very low level of proof." He adds, "I would very much like to see some discussion of the age of the victims, partly because that is very important for some policy makers-are we dealing with 6-year-olds or 16-year-olds?"

Jenkins's main point is that, by now, the priest sex-abuse scandal is, to use academic jargon, "constructed." As soon as a priest abuse case appears, people slip it into a preexisting story line: predator priest. They don't do that with, say, teachers in public schools, even though, according to a 1998 report in Education Week, as many as nine sex-abuse cases occur in that setting each week. And just as the social conservatives used the crime wave (real and exaggerated) to ride to power in the 1980s, so the liberals are "deploying" the church's sex scandals for their own advantage, inside and outside the church. The abuse crisis, for them, is a convenient opportunity to push for relaxing restrictions on priestly celibacy, the ordination of women and gays, birth control, and even abortion.

Lisa Sowle Cahill, a professor of theology at Boston College, replies that Jenkins's interpretation requires a peculiar set of blinders. After all, she says, liberal and conservative Catholics alike support such changes as opening up the hierarchy's decisions to wider scrutiny and improving the discussion of sexuality in seminaries. Moreover, she adds, "There are traditional-minded Catholics who are equally using the crisis to advance parts of their agenda-for example, to condemn homosexuality or to try to remove homosexual priests from the priesthood."

Carroll takes issue with something more basic: Jenkins's premise that just about anyone who strongly or angrily disagrees with the Vatican is anti-Catholic. He says: "The Roman Catholic Church has a history of powerful argument within the community. It's only a very modern impulse to stifle the voices that disagree." Jenkins, he suggests, might have called Saint Augustine anti-Catholic for flouting the pope's rules against reading the pagan philosophers.

As one talks with Jenkins's friends and colleagues, the same assertion comes up again and again: He's not a conservative, he's a "contrarian." And it does seem to be the contrarian side of the Catholic Church that he finds attractive. "One of the things that makes the Catholic Church what it is," Jenkins says, "is that it doesn't necessarily go along with what everyone else in the world thinks is right at a certain point in time."

The church, however, is changing-at least in America. A recent Globe poll showed that fully 39 percent of local Catholics would support an American Catholic Church that cut its ties to the Vatican; a majority want the church to adopt more "modern" social attitudes. (So few American Catholics support the church's ban on contraception, Wills points out, that one could say it is Jenkins who is "anti-Catholic" for defending it.)

In Boston, at least, judging from the genuinely warm acceptance of Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley, who will be installed on Wednesday, the laity and the hierarchy seem to have reached a temporary truce. But it's clear there will be broader internecine cultural clashes for years to come.

Two things seem clear. First, calling one side in those fights "anti-Catholic" and beyond the pale won't resolve them any quicker. And second, things will get a whole lot more interesting if Cardinal Arinze, or someone like him, gets to be the referee.

Christopher Shea writes the "Critical Faculties" column for Ideas.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Blessed Christmas to All

We are about to conclude the season of Advent with its violet color, except for the Third Sunday of Advent which is Gaudete Sunday with its rose (not pink) color. It is meant to be both a joyous and penitential season. However, the secularization of this season celebrates the “holidays” with full fury all the way up to the 25th of December. With all the gift buying, partying and anxious rush, we miss the true meaning of the Advent season which was meant to be more austere, contemplative and penitential in order to celebrate the joy of Christmas in a grand and feasting style.
Even as a priest, I get caught up in the secularization of Christmas. I have to buy gifts, send cards, go to some parties as well as prepare spiritually. The Advent Wreathe becomes for me the “Anxiety Wreathe” as I see the time pass so quickly and my procrastination so self evident.
Yet our procrastination, our hectic schedules and our failure to properly grasp the significance of this season due in large part to the successful secularization of our “Catholic Holyday” now reduced to the holiday season, may be the precise metaphor for our examination of conscience and confession of sins in the Sacrament of Penance during the season of Advent.
Anxiety, not about gift buying and not being ready in the secular sense, should be experienced in terms of our relationship to God, Church and one another. Am I right with God? Do I use His many gifts of Grace for conversion and true discipleship? Do I repent of my sins and make a firm purpose of amendment? Do I go to Confession regularly especially when I am in a state of mortal sin? Am I ready to meet my Lord and Savior either at my particular judgment at the hour of my death or at the General Judgment when Christ will return in glory at the end of time?
The secularization of the “holiday season” is based upon rampant consumerism. Unfortunately many of us have become not disciples of the Lord, but consumers of religion. We want the Church to provide programs and services for us so that we will have options from which to pick and choose as we strive to “improve the quality of our lives.” This even extends to the moral teachings of the church. We become cafeteria Catholics picking and choosing what makes my life better and rejecting anything that is not delightful to the palate. Joel Osteen the talented charismatic preacher and his wife have packaged a very savvy, consumerist form of Christianity based upon the power of positive thinking. It’s all about being nice, thinking positively and getting ahead in the world. Shinny white teeth and smiling faces form the façade of this religion. It is “don’t rock the boat” Christianity with the suffering and death of Christ absent, and sacrifice anathema. He is made for TV as is his worship services. But his form of Christianity is a bogus form that sells well to the consumer. It is cotton candy religion, all fluff but no real substance.
Only the two Gospels of Matthew and Luke present us with the “Infancy Narratives” concerning the incarnation and birth of Jesus Christ. Each has a particular “slant” with specific theological aspects. If we only had the Infancy Narratives of these gospels and no other information, we would have the Gospel of Christ in miniature. The angelic choir makes clear that Jesus is God and Man, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. The message to the shepherds makes clear that Jesus came for the outcast and rejected, for the sinner. The adoration of the Magi shows that conversion is for all people and Jesus’ message is universal. It makes clear that Jesus will suffer and eventually die, but by way of paradox, this will fulfill His mission to redeem the world from sin and death. The wood of the manger and the swaddling clothes anticipate the wood of the cross and the burial shroud. Jesus is placed into a “feeding trough” for animals, symbolizing that the Lord would become the Eucharistic Food for the world at Holy Mass.
Several versions of the Ave Maria sung in Latin have become associated with seasonal Christmas music. We even hear it piped over the speakers in the hectic rush of department stores. This song and prayer captures the true significance of Christmas and our life as followers of Christ throughout the year: “Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the Fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
I pray that all of you have a blessed Christmastide and that this season will be a season of holy days, not just a holiday. Let us not be consumers of religion, but true disciples. Merry Christmas.

Catholics Grapple With Divisions Over Abuse

This is an article from Sunday's New York Times. I find many aspects of this fascinating, not only the sex abuse angle, but the Extraordinary Church and Ordinary Church angle too. You've got to love the Catholic Church. It is pungent with intrigue, sin and redemption, not to mention good and bad taste, abuse and healing, the demonic and angelic. Satan really despises us and yes the demonic is real, but God's power overcomes. This confounds the world and I suspect the New York Times! It confounds the critics of the Church even in our own ranks!

It is a long article:

By PAUL VITELLO, New York Times
Published: December 20, 2009


NORWALK, Conn. — Thousands of Masses were celebrated this year in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport. But two of them, within a few weeks and a few miles of each other in this diverse commuter-line city, hinted at the tangled emotions still dividing many Catholics almost eight years after the start of a scandal that has confronted the church with its greatest crisis in the modern era.

At St. Jerome Church on Half Mile Road, priests celebrated a Holy Mass of Reconciliation in June for people anywhere who had suffered sexual abuse at the hands of a priest. Though church authorities across the country have paid billions of dollars in legal settlements, advocates for abuse victims said it was one of the few Masses for victims ever held in the United States.

The same month, at St. Mary Church on West Avenue, hundreds of people participated in a requiem Mass for the Rev. Alfred J. Bietighofer, a beloved parish priest who committed suicide in 2002 after four men accused him of molesting them when they were boys.

The diocese has been hit hard by the sex abuse scandal, paying more than $37 million to settle claims. This month, the court-ordered release of 12,000 pages of documents generated by those claims refocused attention on one of the most painful allegations: that officials of the Bridgeport Diocese, like many others, kept parishioners in the dark for years about predatory priests in their midst.

Yet, after years of public scrutiny, lawsuits and quarrels at the dinner table, parishioners here say a kind of armistice has been reached between those who are still angry about it and those who are tired of talking about it.

There are people in both camps at St. Mary’s and St. Jerome’s, parishioners said in recent interviews. They work side by side at the food pantry, on the raffle committee and at meetings of the Ladies Guild; they simply avoid the subject around others with different views.

“The most important thing we have is our community, and that’s what has to be preserved,” said Jeanne Tarrant, a longtime member of St. Jerome’s. “There are people who feel differently than I do about the abuse — and about a lot of other things — but I don’t try to change them, and they don’t try to change me.”

In that spirit, the two summer Masses — one for victims, one for an accused priest — went almost unnoticed outside the ranks of those who celebrated them. But one group that cared deeply is Voice of the Faithful, a nationwide organization of Catholic parishioners who banded together after the scandal broke to advocate for abuse victims and more transparency in church affairs.

When a longtime member of St. Jerome’s asked his pastor, the Rev. David Blanchfield, to offer a special Mass for the victims of abuse, Father Blanchfield said he did so without hesitation “because, obviously, it needed to be done.”

But John Marshall Lee, a Voice of the Faithful leader in Connecticut, said the Mass for the deceased priest at St. Mary’s raised questions for some Catholics.

“People who were upset over the Mass for Bietighofer had no objection to saying a Mass for the man,” said Mr. Lee, who belongs to neither parish. “It was that St. Mary’s didn’t also have a Mass for the victims. That seemed odd.”

He asked the pastor there, the Rev. Greg Markey, to offer a Mass for victims, but Father Markey declined. No member of his parish had asked him for such a service, the pastor said, and none had expressed objections to Father Bietighofer’s Mass, which he described as “not a celebration of the life of a predator, but a Mass to pray for a man’s soul.”

People in the parish loved Father Bietighofer, Father Markey said. No one could know for sure whether he had abused anyone. But whether he did or did not, Father Markey said, “he served this parish well for many years.”

For many Catholics, differences over the sex abuse crisis are rooted in deeper, older tensions in the church — between tradition and reform, between parishes like St. Mary’s, with its Latin Masses, and St. Jerome’s, where parishioners playing electric guitar and drums accompany the choir.

Father Markey, a self-described conservative Catholic, upset some parishioners soon after he became pastor of St. Mary’s two years ago by deciding to phase out girls from the ranks of the altar servers. Those in place could stay, the pastor decided, but he reasoned that girls cannot become priests, and altar service should be a gateway to a potential vocation in the priesthood.

The traditional Latin Mass he introduced about the same time is one of the few offered in the state, and has drawn worshipers from a 50-mile radius.

To conservatives like Father Markey, abuses committed in the 1960s and after reflect the “moral decline” of those freewheeling times, the effects of the Second Vatican Council’s liberalization of church rules and the church’s failure to weed out gay men in the priesthood.

“There is a sense that a lot of what happened — not all of it, but a lot — had to do with lapses of theological orthodoxy and the decline of moral life that went with it,” Father Markey said.

Bishop William E. Lori of the Bridgeport Diocese has adopted measures that he says will protect children from future abuse.

To more liberal-leaning Catholics like Father Blanchfield, the abuses reflect a failure to keep up with the times by bringing more diversity — women and lay people in particular — into the church’s decision-making process. People with broad life experience, he said, would more likely have spotted the “psychosexual” problems of those priests who abused.

Both Father Markey and Father Blanchfield agree on at least one point: They are weary of the unrelenting publicity about sex abuse.

Parishioners at both churches said the issue still hovered but did not cast as dark a shadow as it once did. They said common bonds trumped their differing views about it — bonds of faith, mainly, but also connections forged in the prosaic, time-consuming commitments people make to serve on the Buildings and Grounds Committee, to chaperone Teen Night, to volunteer for the bereaved-parishioners dinner squad.

Jane Reichle, a member of St. Mary’s, said another bond was the sense of mourning people felt for the intimacy — once taken for granted and now under constant watch — between priests and parishioners.

Since 2002, Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport has adopted several measures, commonly used across the country, which he says are protecting children from future abuse by priests. The diocese has conducted background checks of more than 30,000 clerics, employees and volunteers; it has introduced an abuse-prevention course that 90,000 parishioners, clergy and staff members have completed. When accusations are made against priests, the bishop has said, the matter is turned over to the police.

At a confirmation ceremony at St. Jerome’s one recent Sunday, as a standing-room-only crowd of families looked on, Bishop Lori spoke to the 42 young confirmands about the importance of practicing their faith, then anointed each one, making the sign of the cross.

As the service entered its second hour, Jack Bellairs, 87, grandfather of Jordan Michael Bellairs, 13, snapped a picture with a disposable camera, then went outside to have a cigarette. He said he had “followed all that stuff, sure” in the newspapers about sex abuse. But this was a great day — seeing his grandson become a full-fledged member of the Catholic Church.

“Why?” he was asked.

“Why?” he repeated, seeming to find the question incomprehensible.

“Because I believe in life after death,” he said, blowing cigarette smoke in the rain. “And I want my grandson to be with me when I get there.”

A version of this article appeared in print on December 21, 2009, on page A25 of the New York edition.