Friday, March 27, 2009

Yes, it does, Scott

This was posted by Deacon Scott Dodge over on his blog, Καθολικός διάκονος:

It overwhelms me, too. Thank you.

Sophie as Odette in Swan Lake

Simone is a mermaid in "Curtains!"

Pas de deux

Serena is the princess in yellow...

Thursday, March 26, 2009

I'm doing this one

Impossible Novena

Nine month Novena - March 25th to December 25th

There's a beautiful nine month novena that starts on the feast of the Annunciation, and ends on Christmas; commemorating the nine months that our saviour was in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It's fairly simple and easy to memorize. You pick three "impossible" intentions to pray for and I've heard (and experienced) many amazing stories of prayers answered.

Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope! To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve; to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy towards us; and after this our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.

Pray for us, most holy mother of God.
That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

All Virgin of the Incarnation, a thousand times we greet you, a thousand times we praise you for thy joy you had when God was incarnated in you. Because you are so powerful O Virgin and Mother of God, grant what we ask of you for the love of God.

[state your first intention]

Repeat all of the above for your second and third intentions

Remember, O most Gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help or sought thy intercession was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of Virgins, my mother. To thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me. Amen.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among 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.

Blessed and praised be the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, in Heaven, on earth and everywhere. Amen.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Impossible Novena Begins Soon...

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Deeply grateful for friends...

...such as Deacon Scott Dodge, who (in his post over at Καθολικός διάκονος, titled Martyria: On bearing credible witness), pointed me toward the following article:

Casting the First Stone

By Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl

At a recent clergy gathering, the principal celebrant at our Eucharistic Liturgy addressed the Gospel of the day. It was St. Matthew's account of the Last Judgment where the Son of Man comes in his glory and, as a shepherd, separates the sheep from the goats. The homilist walked into the middle of the congregation and began by saying, "I think you on my right must be the sheep and you on my left must be the goats." There was an uneasy chuckle, particularly from those on the left. Then, the bishop turned around and, facing the other direction, said, "Now, you must be the goats and you must be the sheep," pointing to the same congregation but now having a different relationship to his right and left hand. Then he turned around again and said, "Perhaps the message of this Gospel is that we should not be judging. It is the Lord who judges. We are the ones who are judged."

The New Testament is filled with references to Jesus' mercy, forgiveness, kindness, compassion and of his challenge to his followers - to us - not to judge. We should not strain to see the speck in our brother's eye when we have a beam in our own (cf Matthew 7:3). And, of course, there is Jesus' admonition to those so eager to condemn others: "Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone..." (John 8:7).

As the editorial in this week's paper points out, "hardly a day goes by that there are not magazine articles, newspaper ads, letters to the editor, blogs or other public declarations in which some people are denounced for being less Catholic, less orthodox, less open, less progressive, less faithful, less whatever, than the person pointing the finger." Incrimination of others has become a hallmark among some groups and individuals in the Catholic Church in our country today.

When our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, visited the United States in April 2008 he provided us an example not only of what needs to be said - the proclamation of the Gospel - but how it is to be said - with clarity, conviction and charity. One felt the presence of the Good Shepherd leading, encouraging, challenging his flock. Yet even our Holy Father was not immune from personal attacks when he failed to live up to the standards for his behavior set by others. The Catholic Standard editorial noted this verbal abuse of the Pope: "In a heartfelt appeal to the world's bishops, our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, has recently written a letter concerning the remission of the excommunication of the four bishops consecrated by Archbishop Lefebvre in which he laments the confusion and misinterpretation surrounding the letter and points to the pain that personal attacks on him and his integrity have caused. He notes that he 'was saddened by the fact that even Catholics...thought they had to attack me with open hostility.'"

If we think something is wrong we should address it. But we are required to do so in a way that reflects who we are. Christians must not only speak the truth but must also do so in love (Ephesians 4:15). It is not enough that we know or believe something to be true. We must express truth in charity, with respect for others so that the bonds between us can be strengthened in building up the Church of Christ.

We are called to a higher level of respect for the truth and for each other than often is witnessed in some radio and television talk shows. The intensity of one's opinion is not the same as the truth. Speaking out of anger does not justify falsehood.

Even those who describe themselves as polemists or are complicit in the adulation of being so named are bound by both the commandment, "You shall not bear false witness" (Deuteronomy 5:20), and Jesus' instruction, "love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another" (John 13:34).

The more I reflect on our current level of Christian discourse, particularly in some of the highly opinionated publications, I sense the wisdom in the homily by my brother bishop when he reminded all of us that the division of the house into sheep and goats is really the task of the Lord in his role as Judge. In the meantime, unless we can truly say we are without sin, we should not cast the first or any stone.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Warning signs

Very useful information: an article by Peter Vere, JCL, "Sifting the Wheat from the Tares: 20 Signs of Trouble in a New Religious Group":

Since the closing of the Second Vatican Council, a number of new groups have arisen within the Church. Whereas many new groups start off on the right foot and maintain solid footing, others fall by the wayside. This may be due to poor doctrine or questionable practices.

Red Flags and Warning Signs

As a canon lawyer, I am often asked what the Church looks for when assessing new groups forming within the Church. While the following is by no means exhaustive, it presents a pretty good list of red flags and warning signs that would give any canonist pause when examining a new association.

Fr. Francis G. Morrisey, OMI is well-known to every student of religious law. As a lifelong member of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Fr. Morrisey possesses much experience living in religious community. He is also a professor of canon law at Saint Paul University and a former consultor to the Congregation for Religious — the curial dicastery in Rome that oversees various forms of consecrated life within the Church. This has given him much experience examining and assessing numerous religious orders and new groups within the Church.

Several years ago, Fr. Morrisey proposed 15 criteria, or warning signs, when evaluating new associations within the Church. While these warning signs are not law per se — that is, law in the sense of legislation — most canonists accept these criteria as a solid guide when examining and assessing new associations within the Church. For those with access to a good ecclesiastical library, Fr. Morrisey presents and explains these fifteen criteria in his article “Canonical Associations...” published in Informationes, vol. 26, (2000), pp 88-109.

For those without access to an ecclesiastical library, or for those looking for an explanation more accessible to the average layperson, here are Fr. Morrisey’s 15 criteria along with my personal explanation of what they mean:

Fr. Morrisey’s 15 Warning Signs

1. “Total” obedience to the pope

Many will find this first warning sign surprising. As Catholics, are we not all called to obey the Holy Father? Indeed, we are. When a new association sincerely seeks to obey and follow the teachings of the Holy Father, canonists are for the most part satisfied the group is doing what Catholic groups ought to do.

Nevertheless, some new associations abuse Catholic sensibility in this regard. These groups cite “total obedience to the Holy Father” when what they really mean is partial obedience to selected teachings of the Holy Father, without embracing the entire papal message. Additionally, when challenged over their partial obedience, these groups will appeal to their “total” reliance upon the Holy Father in an attempt to bypass the authority of the diocesan bishop. This brings us to Fr. Morrisey’s second warning sign.

2. No sense of belonging to the local church

As Catholics, we belong to the universal Church. Yet we also belong to the local church community, meaning a local parish and a local diocese. Even the Holy Father is not exempt in this regard; he is, after all, the Bishop of Rome and thus belongs to local Roman Church. Thus the ministry and apostolate of any association should focus on the local church. If a new association or religious order has no sense of belonging to the local church, then this becomes cause for concern.

3. Lack of true cooperation with diocesan authorities

To belong to the local church, one must cooperate with local diocesan authorities. After all, Christ instituted His Church as a hierarchy. Within this hierarchy, our Lord instituted the office of bishop to oversee a portion of Christ’s faithful. Thus the local bishop, and not a particular religious group or association, bears ultimate responsibility for the care of souls within a particular geographical location. If a new association refuses or impedes cooperation between itself and the local diocesan authorities, then its fidelity to the Church is questionable.

4. Making use of lies and falsehoods to obtain approval

As Catholics, we concern ourselves with speaking the truth. After all, our Lord denounces Satan as the “Father of Lies.” So any new association should be truthful in how it presents itself to its members, Church authorities, and the outside world. This is not just a matter of basic honesty; any group or association that resorts to falsehoods to gain approval is likely concealing a deeper problem.

The Church understands that every association, particularly when the association is new, makes mistakes when engaging in ministry or apostolate. When an association is honest, however, these problems are easily identified and quickly corrected. This in turn increases the likelihood of the new association succeeding within the Church.

5. Too soon an insistence on placing all goods in common

While the Church has a history of associations and religious orders in which members place all their goods in common, the decision to do so should come after a reasonable period of careful discernment. Placing one’s goods in common in not for everyone, and the consequences of such a decision are lifelong. Additionally, the potential for abuse by those who administer the common goods is great. Therefore, canonists frown upon any insistence by an association that its new or potential members place their goods in common.

Due to the fact that modern times see less stability in common life, with members sometimes opting to leave after a number of years, the most prudent handling of goods in common is to place them in trust until a member dies. That way, if the member leaves, the goods are available to meet his or her needs outside of the community.

6. Claiming special revelations or messages leading to the founding of the group

Although this represents a warning sign, it is not absolute. The Church recognizes the presence of many legitimate apparitions and private revelations throughout her history. Yet not all alleged apparitions or special revelations turn out to be true. Therefore, the Church must further investigate any claims of special revelations or messages — particularly when they become the catalyst for founding a new association. If, however, a new association refuses to divulge or submit its alleged revelations or special messages to the Church, then this immediately calls into question the authenticity of both the association and the alleged apparition.

7. Special status of the founder, or foundress

Of course, the founder or foundress will always enjoy a special role in the founding of a new association or community. Nevertheless, in all other respects he or she should be a member just like everyone else. This means that he or she is similarly bound to the customs, disciplines and constitutions of the community. If the founder or foundress demands special meals, special living quarters, special dispensations from the rules imposed upon other members of the community, or any other special treatment, then this is a clear warning sign. It is of special concern if the founder or foundress claims exemption from the requirements of Christian morality due to his or her status (see point 15 below).

8. Special and severe penances imposed

As St. Thomas Aquinas teaches, virtue is found in the middle, between two extremes. Therefore, any penances imposed upon members of the community should be both moderate and reasonable. Special and severe penances are not signs of virtue — rather, they are signs of extremism.

9. Multiplicity of devotions, without any doctrinal unity among them

The purpose of sacramentals and other devotions is to bring us closer to Christ and the sacraments. Hence sacramentals are not superstitions. A new association or community should insure that any special devotions or sacramentals unite its members to Christ, the sacraments and the mission of the association. For example, praying three Hail Marys in front of the statue of St. Joseph while the Blessed Sacrament is exposed does not offer such unity. Eucharistic Adoration, Marian devotion and devotion to St. Joseph are all good in themselves, however, they should be offered either individually or collectively as devotion to the Holy Family. They should not be offered simultaneously.

10. Promotion of “fringe” elements in the life of the Church

As previously mentioned, every association or organization within the Church should exist to serve the needs of Christ’s faithful. Therefore, canonists view any association that exists solely to serve fringe elements — whether these elements be special apparitions, private revelations, or extreme social or political agendas, etc. — with suspicion.

This is not to deny that extraordinary events may sometimes become the catalyst for a new association or religious order. For example, St. Francis of Assisi founded the Franciscans after receiving a locution from our Lord to “Rebuild My Church.” Nevertheless, St. Francis did not found the Franciscans with the intention of promoting his internal locution. Rather, the internal locution inspired St. Francis to found an order that would serve the Church.

Within the Church, one finds the three traditional vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Additional or special vows present numerous problems. Often, special vows are reduced to means through which superiors unduly control members of the community or association. The danger is particularly pointed where a special vow cannot be externally verified. Take “joy” for example; one can usually appeal to objective evidence that someone is not living a life of poverty, chastity and/or obedience, but as a feeling, “joy” is too subjective to be judged in an objective manner.

12. Absolute secrecy imposed on members

While some discretion and privacy is necessary within any Church community or association, secrecy should never be absolute unless one is a confessor preserving the seal of confession. Therefore, any association or organization that imposes absolute secrecy upon its members should be approached with the utmost caution. Members should always be free to approach diocesan officials and the Holy See if certain problems arise within the community that are not dealt with in an adequate fashion. Similarly, since these associations exist to serve the Church, all members should be allowed to converse freely and honestly with members of the Church hierarchy when requested.

13. Control over the choice of confessors and spiritual directors

Confession and spiritual direction concern the internal forum — that is, those things that are private to a person’s conscience. Within reasonable limits, a person should be free to choose his or her confessor and spiritual director. On the other hand, obedience to one’s superiors in carrying out an association’s apostolate or ministry concerns the external forum. In other words, the latter are public actions that can be externally verified.

The roles of confessor and spiritual director should never be confused with the role of superior. Nor should there even be the appearance of confusion. Of particular concern to canonists is when a superior imposes himself as confessor and/or spiritual director of a member under his charge. After all, a superior will have to make decisions about a member’s future — and in so doing there exists a strong temptation to make use of information gathered under the seal of confession.

14. Serious discontent with the previous institute of which certain members were part

Like some of the other red flags presented, this warning sign is not absolute. Sometimes, a very good reason exists for a member’s discontent with his or her previous institute. Nevertheless, serious discontent with a previous institute should be carefully examined. In most cases, such discontent points to some deeper problems with the individual, particularly if he or she has a history of “conflict of personalities.”

15. Any form of sexual misconduct as a basis

This warning sign is fairly self-explanatory. The Church’s teaching is clear when it comes to sexual morality. If sexual immorality is the basis for a new group or association, then the association ought to be avoided. Additionally, one should immediately report this to the competent Church authority.

Five Additional Warning Signs from the International Cultic Studies Association

In addition to the fifteen warning signs presented by Fr. Morrisey, Dr. Michael Langone has assembled a list of thirteen criteria by which many cult experts judge a group to be a cult. Dr. Langone is a counseling psychologist and the Executive Director of the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA). He has spent nearly 30 years researching and writing about cults, and for 20 years has been the editor of the Cultic Studies Journal. The following five criteria have been adapted from Dr. Langone’s thirteen criteria and applied to the context of Catholic associations. Some canon lawyers find them useful when evaluating the legitimacy of a new association within the Church.

1. The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members

Of course every new association, if it wishes to grow, will seek to increase its membership. Such growth, however, should come because potential members identify with the mission or apostolate of the association. Additionally, members should only join after a reasonable period of discernment. Thus any association whose main focus is to bring in new members, to the exclusion of other acts of apostolate or ministry, should be carefully examined.

2. The group is preoccupied with making money

Like the previous criterion, there is nothing wrong per se with raising money for one’s association or apostolate. After all, even Christ and the Apostles used money. Nevertheless, money should be a means of carrying out legitimate ministry and apostolic work. Raising money should never be an end in itself. Additionally, the means employed in raising money should be honest and transparent.

3. Elitism

The Catholic Church recognizes that by virtue of their baptism, a certain equality exists among Christ’s faithful, regardless of whether one belongs to the lay, religious or clerical state. Additionally, among religious orders and newer forms of consecrated life, the Church recognizes different types of charisms. Some are active, in that they tend heavily toward active ministry and apostolic work. Others are contemplative, in that they tend more toward prayer and contemplation. Of course, you find everything in between. Therefore, any Church association that only recognizes vocations to its association is not thinking with the mind of the Church. Nor are those associations with a polarized mentality that divide their vocations from those of the rest of the Church.

4. The leadership induces feeling of guilt in members to control them

One’s vocation within the Church should be freely chosen. Similarly, obedience is something a superior should inspire among those under his or her charge. While it sometimes happens that a superior must impose his or her will upon a particular member, obedience should never be coerced through illicit or improper means. Additionally, if a superior must constantly impose his will upon the majority of the membership through coercive means, then this proves problematical to the long-term health of the specific association or religious group.

5. The group completely severs its members from the outside world

Granted, one must be careful here. After all, the Church has a long and honored tradition of cloistered and contemplative orders that sever themselves from the day-to-day activities of the outside world. Nevertheless, even those orders of the most strict observance encourage some forms of outside communication with friends, family and the world. Therefore, it is cause for concern when an association, particularly if the association is lay-based, encourages its members to completely sever ties with friends, family, and the outside world. Additionally, one should beware those associations that encourage or require their members to live and/or socialize only with other members of the same group or association. One should also beware if association or friendships with people outside of the group are encouraged only when they are used to further the goals of the group.

Concluding Thoughts

Each new association within the Church has its own unique charism. Nevertheless, the goal of every new association should be to fulfill a particular need within the Church. An association becomes dangerous if allowed to place its own interests, or those of its founder and/or leader, before the common good of the Church — both local and universal.

If more than a couple of the above warning signs are found to be present while assessing a particular association, then Catholics ought to be wary about becoming involved with the group in question. Such an association is likely to encounter several difficulties with legitimate Church authorities and possibly even degenerate into a cult — a destructive group that does psychological harm and poses a spiritual danger to its members.

© Copyright 2005 Catholic Exchange

reprinted from

To the heart of the problem

Fr. Julian Carron

14 March 2009

The first striking fact is that the Pope should have felt the need to write such a letter, full of pain at the incomprehension – not so much of outsiders, but of Catholics. It is something extraordinary in recent history, as far as I remember, and a sign of the fact that we haven’t understood an action that, as the letter shows, was totally reasonable.

In its simplicity, it was an act of mercy for a part of the faithful entrusted to the Pope’s fatherly care as universal shepherd of the Church, which acquires its importance in the face of the stiffening of those who criticize it, including those to whom it was addressed. This act places the Christian scandal before the world. When you read the letter, it is difficult for the words of Jesus not to come to mind: “Blessed is he who does not take scandal at me,” addressed to those who were angered because he ate with tax-collectors and sinners. Mercy, the unequivocal act of God, continues to scandalize as it did in the beginning. It is a pity that this should happen even amongst those who belong to the people of the redeemed, in other words, amongst those who were the first to be the object of unlimited mercy.

Those who think Benedict XVI has confirmed his addressees in their position are quite mistaken. His action constitutes the greatest challenge they have ever faced. Only mercy challenges our hard-headedness like no other reprimand. Jesus said that he who is forgiven much, loves much. Man is sensitive to no other gesture as he is to mercy. After all, it was the method Jesus used, as St. Paul recalls, “When we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” The Pope’s letter affirms that “the overriding priority is to make God present in this world,” an incarnate God whose name is “mercy,” who shows himself by means of the “unity of the believers.”

This letter has a “breath” for which we cannot but thank the Pope, all the more as we see increasing the rigidity of those who reduce Christian life to a stifling moralism. Nothing, more than a letter like this, makes me proud of belonging to the Church, full of confidence that should I myself go wrong I will be treated with the same mercy.

Julián Carrón

Monday, March 9, 2009

What does "correspondence to one's heart" mean?

Singing together in my living room: from the Advent retreat in 2007

An Example:

On Saturday, after the talk and Mass and assembly during this weekend's Lent retreat we sang together at the convivenza (as we always do). In that moment, I felt such satisfaction, as if I couldn't feel happier. And then, when one of my friends who was there (who had never come to any CL event or meeting before in her life) told me "This is heaven," I was really blown away because I knew in that moment that I wasn't alone in my joy -- that it wasn't a matter of "well, I like this and you like that" but of something objective, a fact -- Christ is present here with us, in our unity, and it's a taste of eternal life -- the hundredfold. Singing together is an especially powerful sign because it is impossible to feel the same joy when I sing alone -- there is something about the voices all joined together that creates something that I cannot give to myself, and it makes me tremble with gratitude that Christ gives me these others. Thus I know that it corresponds to my deepest need that Christ makes this beauty happen for me (for me!). I feel the opposite of alone. And the knowledge that this can and will happen to me again and again gives me great hope -- that Christ has joined me to a people who share life on its deepest level is a miracle, one for which I am not worthy! So, it was my friend's judgment and my judgment that singing together, being together like that is indeed heaven. I compare this singing together with the needs of my heart -- the need for justice (in physics, when something is justified it is lined up and there is a correspondence between the thing and the point of reference -- so I was, in this sense, justified with the ultimate point of reference: the Infinite), harmony (obviously!), beauty (yes!), and charity (it is a great charity to me and that I also give at the same moment to lend one's voice to a choir).

Here and now

Christ at the Home of Martha and Mary, by Jan Vermeer

We had our Fraternity (of Communion and Liberation) Lent Retreat this weekend, and we were so blessed to have Fr. Roberto come, yet again, to do it for us. Here is a transcript of the homily he gave at Mass Saturday evening (thanks to Jeff and Chandra for taping, transcribing, and editing):

Readings: Gn 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18 (sacrifice of Issac), Ps 116:10, 15, 16-17, 18-19, Rom 8:31b-34, Mk 9:2-10 (Transfiguration):

We might all be in circumstances like the one of Abraham, where God is asking of us something that is—we would say—incredible, absurd. We are in front of something that surpasses our imagination, thoughts, words, comprehension.

He is in front of a promise. He is in front of his son, and the son is the fruit of a promise… and God is asking him not to trust the fruit, but to trust the source of the fruit, to trust Himself, God Himself. And we might be in these circumstances, where God is asking something, he's asking for a “yes,” given directly to Him.

We are at the beginning of Lent, where this “yes” has to become flesh in our lives. And that's why the Church invites us to, to say a “yes” that… that is not just said with our lips, but it's said with everything – words, thoughts, actions, charity. It is the beginning of seeing our death and resurrection. It is the beginning of seeing something greater in our lives, in our daily lives. It is the beginning of seeing Him in our daily lives. It is the beginning of reality.

Now, I learned a few months ago what a “reality check” is. It was not a very good experience, and they said, “OK, that is a reality check.” Thank you. But, what Peter, James, and John had is the real reality check. That is, there is something in front of us that we are asked to recognize. We are asked to see. We are asked to see. And there are circumstances where we are in front of the law and the prophets, and we are understanding, in the sense that we are embracing them. There are circumstances that the Lord wants us to go through where we can say exactly the same words, "It's good for us to be here." It is an experience.

This experience started at a certain point. It’s the Baptism. And, inasmuch as we say “yes” to Christ—“yes” to anything that He proposes—we will also be able to recognize. And St. Paul is also expressing this in a wonderful way in the Gospel; no, sorry, in the Romans... where he says, "What can separate us from the love of Christ?" I am in front of you. Is this a separation between you and Christ, or between me and Christ? Or, I may be in front of a terrible thing. Is this a separation? No, it is not. It is His embrace.

Two months ago, a friend in our community said, "I went to the doctor because I had a problem, and the doctor said that (she's 28-years-old) and the doctor said that I might have multiple sclerosis." And everybody was silent. And she said, "I don’t know why the Lord is proposing this, but I know it is Him, and so I am happy because He is proposing something to me. Something nobody wants. I don't want it. But I know He is the one proposing something great in my life. I want to understand it better, and I need you. I need the Church, in order to understand it better. In order to understand my life. In order to understand how to love. In order to say ‘yes’ in this circumstance. I need you. I need you saying ‘yes,’ so that I can say ‘yes’."

That's why Peter, and James, and John were there, full of wonder, in front of what was happening. This is the experience of being in front of a man who says “yes”. Every time that each of us says, sincerely, “yes” to Christ, it is a new Transfiguration. There is a reality that we were not seeing before, but it is actually there. And we thought they were dead. We thought that Moses, or the prophets, was something of the past. We thought that Christ's love was something of the past, when ... maybe when I was young, or maybe when, when something good happened… but now, now it's dead, now it's passed. But every time that we say “yes” to Christ, the Transfiguration happens again. Because the Lord makes us to see, makes us to be here, and to be in front of the Eucharist in a new way. With a new “yes”, and a “yes” that is made of flesh and blood – that is His flesh and blood and our flesh and blood.

He is asking us to say a new “yes,” in the beginning and during this journey of Lent. We might go through very different circumstances. The first one is a very tragic one. The one in the Gospel is an incredible one. Christ that shows His risen face – even before the Resurrection. Peter would say this is… this is our destiny. This is what we are created for. And Christ, at a certain point, says, "This will be for everybody, but you will need the experience of the cross first. My cross."

So, the Lord might propose a cross for us, so that the Church can experience the Resurrection again. Maybe the Lord is asking you to carry a cross. Maybe the Lord is asking you to renounce all the fruits that you have seen, and maybe you are taking it. And He's asking a new start, a new “yes,” a new relationship with Him, directly with Him – in the Church, through the sacraments. Asking ourselves what is the meaning of being baptized, and so this change of nature, this “evolution,” as the Pope calls it, entered into human history—the greatest evolution—when a person becomes a new person. And it is not even through the “yes” of the person, but it is because of the “yes” of the Church. And we might have so many things, and Christ is asking us to say a new “yes” to Him, a new love.

But, this is the land of the living. These are the ones that are alive. Those who are alive have no fear. And maybe the Lord is asking something like that lady. (The name is Paige; you can say a prayer for her.) She is saying “yes,” through the Church, and offering it for the Church. We might ask to be like Abraham in front of something terrible. We might be like St. Paul that sees this community and says, "Do you understand that everything is embraced by Christ?" Do you understand that it's all one embrace? All that is happening to you is Christ that is saying, "I love you. With all my heart, with all my life, I give my life for you." Every time we come at Mass.

And so we are asked to answer; we are here in order to help the Church say “yes” again, anew, in whatever circumstances we might be through. The Transfiguration is part of our being Christians, because He is here.

The priest says words. He gives voice to Christ at a certain point during the celebration and performs a miracle. Every priest performs a miracle, saying Mass. And we are here because we want—we need—that miracle. We need a God who gives His life again – for me, for you. And when we say "amen” – and "amen" means “I am totally with you,” completely, 100%, it is a communion. I will receive the communion. I will receive You, and I … I am with you, 100%. I am with the Church, 100%. Like a baby who is 100% with the mother, even if he or she doesn’t understand completely what the mother and the father are saying. But I am with you.

This is what we are asked to do. To say a new “yes”. To be here in front of the sacraments, in front of the Eucharist, saying, “yes,” again. Following the Church, with all of our gifts that the Lord is giving. So that this Communion can become a witness for the whole world.

If twelve men made the greatest revolution in history, how much this parish can do. If everybody says “yes” with his or her heart, there will be another revolution in the world. Saints that are witnessing a presence. This is the path of Lent. This is what is proposed to us. To say “yes” to holiness. To say “yes” to Christ who is here, here and now.

* Fr. Roberto's homily

Friday, March 6, 2009

In case anyone thinks Fr. Giussani was making it up

CL Easter Poster 2002

Man never stops seeking: both when he is marked by the drama of violence, loneliness, and insignificance, and when he lives in serenity and joy, he continues to seek. The only answer which can satisfy him and appease this search of his comes from the encounter with the One who is at the source of his being and his action. The road is Christ. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, who reaches the person in his day-to-day existence. The discovery of this road normally comes about through the mediation of other human beings.
Christianity, even before being a sum of doctrines or a rule for salvation, is thus the "event" of an encounter.

- John Paul II

Since everything is given by Christ and since Christ is the origin of everything that we can do to respond to the openings that present themselves to us, let us love Jesus Christ. Let us not love our woman, let us not love our children if not because of Christ.

- Fr. Giussani

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


"'The real drama of the Church that likes to call itself modern [the real drama of Christians who want to be modern] is the attempt to correct the wonder of the event of Christ by means of rules.' This was an admirable comment of John Paul I (his month-long pontificate would have been providential because of this observation alone; nothing like it can be found elsewhere). Christ is a happening, an event, a fact that before all else fills us with wonder. The breaking in of something unpredictable and unforeseen-an event, a "happening"-gives rise first to wonder. And wonder is the beginning of a reverentia, of a respect, of humble attention. Like a child before a new situation: he feels instinctively a sense of wonder and humble, slightly timorous respect. He who withdraws himself from the wonder of the event and from the attention, the veneration, the respectful, humble curiosity the event instinctively arouses, becomes a slave to rules. Those who try to withdraw themselves from the event inevitably become slaves to rules.
"This explains well the characteristic of the human subject that modern attitudes have created: clotted as we have said with segments, particles, and pieces. Each one of these pieces subsists and lives on, because it follows particular rules: office rules, family rules, even the rules of going to Church or to the parish. When we withdraw ourselves from the wonder-from the light and warmth the event of Christ sparks, and in which alone the face or the unity of the "I" in all its various aspects emerges (so that they enrich unity instead of depressing it into a temporarily reconciled division)-we will inevitably subject our lives, segmented as they are, to slavery to rules.
"This observation calls us to Christ who gave His life to save man from the rules of the Pharisees, from pharisaism. Since Christ came, no epoch in the two Christian millennia has been more pharisaical than ours; there has never been a pharisaism that determined all of society as much as this one. It is into this pharisaism that puritanism, puritan Calvinism always decays; and since today it is 'in government' in the most economically powerful State, it also has cultural influence on the whole world" (From On the Way, by Fr. Giussani).

Psalm 139
O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it.

Where can I go from you spirit?
Or where can I flee from you presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there you hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night,”
Even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
When I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.
Ho weighty to me are you thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them?
I try to count them – they are more than the sand;
I come to the end – I am still with you…

“The nature of wonder is not a force that pushes us passively from behind; it is situated ahead of us and attracts us with irresistible force toward the object of our astonishment; it makes us advance toward it, filled with enchantment.”

– Sofia Cavallett RPOC page 138

• “When wonder becomes a fundamental attitude of our spirit it will confer a religious character to our whole life, because it makes us live with the consciousness of being plunged into an unfathomable and incommensurable reality.” (Cavalletti)

• Wonder “can only arise from an attentive observation of reality.” (Cavalletti)

• “If we skim over things, we will never be surprised by them.” (Cavalletti)

• “Attention, taken to its highest degree, is the same thing as prayer.” (Simone Weil)

• “Awe is an intuition for the dignity of all things, a realization that things not only are what they are but also stand, however remotely, for something supreme. Awe is a sense for the transcendence, for the reference everywhere to mystery beyond all things. It enables us to perceive in the world intimations of the divine,… to sense the ultimate in the common and the simple; to feel in the rush of passing the stillness of the eternal. What we cannot comprehend by analysis, we become aware of in awe.” (Abraham Heschel)

• “God’s beauty is his love, all the greater because it was prior. The more [the soul] understands that she was loved before being a lover, the more and amply she cries out in her heart’s core and with the voice of her deepest affections that she must love him. Thus, the Word’s speaking is the giving of the gift; the soul’s response is wonder and thanksgiving. The more she grasps that she is overcome in loving, the more she loves. The more she admits that he has gone before her, the more awestruck she is.” (in Sermons on the Song of Songs, by Bernard of Clairvaux)

• “The horizon of knowledge is lost in the mist produced by fads and phrases. We refuse to take notice of what is beyond our sight, content with converting realities into opinions, mysteries into dogmas and ideas into a multitude of words. What is extraordinary appears to us as habit, the dawn a daily routine of nature…In the confinement of our study rooms our knowledge seems to us a pillar of light. But when we stand at the door which opens out to the infinite, we realize that all concepts are but glittering motes that populate a sunbeam.” (Abraham Heschel)

Faith Is a Blush by Abraham Heschel

is unwilling to be alone,
and man cannot forever remain impervious
to what He longs to show.
Those of us who cannot keep their striving back
find themselves at times
within the sight of the unseen
and become aglow with its rays.
Some of us blush,
others wear a mask.
Faith is a blush
in the presence of God.

• “Truth fills all things; it encircles all things. Therefore, our minds can never be expanded to comprehend the unbounded encircling, because it is hemmed in by the imperfection of its own bounded existence.” (in Moralia, by St. Gregory the Great)

• God “creates our minds to participate in him” (St. Bernard of Clairvaux)

• “I entered into my inmost parts with You leading me on. I was able to do this because You had become my helper. I entered and saw with my soul’s eye (such as it was) an unchanging light above that same soul’s eye, above my mind…He who knows truth knows that light. Love knows it. O Eternal Truth and True Love and Beloved Eternity.” (in Confessions, by St. Augustine of Hippo)

• “We, indeed, still like little children, are being formed into the divine likeness within us by symbols and holy images, so that we may now be deified by this likeness through faith…” (from Commentary on Celestial Hierarchy, by John the Scot)

• “To the pious, God is as real as life, and as nobody would be satisfied with mere knowing or reading about life, so he is not content to suppose or to prove logically that there is a God; he wants to feel and to give himself to Him; not only to obey but to approach Him. His desire is to taste the whole wheat of spirit before it is ground by the millstone of reason. He would rather be overwhelmed by the symbols of the inconceivable than wield the definitions of the superficial.” (Abraham Heschel)

Monday, March 2, 2009


Yesterday I had a really interesting encounter.

In December, I experienced some garden variety social exclusion when I volunteered to help wrap Christmas gifts at my daughter Sylvie's new school. I wrote about it on this blog and also got up and spoke about it during January's National Diakonia (If you follow this link, you will see a photo of Chris and Fr. Julian -- I can't be sure, but I think that the photo was taken while I was speaking -- at least I know they were both cracking up while I told about my adventure).

Well, yesterday Sylvie was invited to a birthday party for one of her classmates, and I was determined to stay with her because the party was at the pool, and Sylvie doesn't know how to swim yet. All the other mothers were there as well, and while they are not the same women who were at the gift-wrapping event, they are from the same tight community of people who were born and grew up in this town and who have known each other since they were small. As I approached the women all sitting together poolside, I wondered what adventure I would have this time! But what a different experience!

One woman hailed me immediately, while I was still several steps away, introduced herself (her name is Amy), and asked my name. Amy teaches preschool at the same school where her daughter is in the first grade with Sylvie. As soon as she determined my name, she began introducing me around. All the other women chatted easily with me. Amy and another woman named Tricia were the most open, and even when they spoke about their high school experiences or people I didn't know, they made a point of giving me enough information so that I could follow the conversation. I sat between them and they never talked over or past me. It is interesting to me and does not seem a coincidence that these two particular women spoke, at a certain point, about how their daughters are in CCD together (and are thus Catholic). It was so simple and ordinary and almost impossible to detect how these women so smoothly made me feel I was one of them. They were honestly interested to know whether I was happy in their town, whether I felt at home there. Even when I revealed the reason we moved here (my husband got a job at the University -- a good reason to be suspicious of me since there is quite a sharp division between town and gown here), they didn't bat an eye. When they learned that I have a daughter in the Catholic school, they didn't look at me askance (another source of sharp division here); and even when I revealed that I have four children (after they had discussed how impossible it was to parent well with more than two children), they only looked at me with admiration tinged with awe.

This experience only hit me with more wonder and gratitude as I compared it to my last attempt to make friends with other parents of kids at Sylvie's school. Perhaps I would not have been so touched or so open to this kindness if I hadn't had that prior experience? Also, the fact that Amy was a teacher at the school might have been an obstacle for her -- teachers often feel that they can't get too close to parents -- but there was no formalism or distance in her manner at all.

At a certain point, another woman joined us. She told us this was the first birthday party she had let her daughter come to because she knew she would have to go, too and she was nervous that she wouldn't know the other mothers at the parties -- she had been likewise nervous about coming to this party but had come anyway, for her daughter's sake. She said this with delight in her voice, and I understood she meant to communicate her relief and delight at having been able to fit right in, just as I had. Her arms were covered in tattoos all the way up until the skin met the sleeves of her t-shirt. I admired the artistry, especially evident in the tattoos on her left forearm, and she gave me a beautiful smile and said that she had taught herself to make tattoos, practicing on her own skin. I looked closer and saw that the tattoos really were intricately well-made. Then she told me that she had planned to go to art school and thought that doing tattoos for others could help her to finance it. I asked her if she ever did go to art school, and she told me no, with a wistful look in her eyes. She said instead that while visiting a carnival, as she was admiring the horses, their owner offered her a job helping to care for them, so she joined the carnival and traveled all over the country, including up through Canada. I wanted to know what had brought her back to our town? She said she returned when she got pregnant with her daughter.

Then I showed her my own tattoo (see the picture above -- it's on my shoulder), and told her that I only had one but that one day I will get another. I explained that getting the first tattoo was so thrilling at the time, that I realized at once that if I weren't careful, I would be covered from head to foot in tattoos! So I had made a promise to myself that day that I would only get one more tattoo, but I haven't done it yet because once I did that, it would be over for me and tattoos, and besides, knowing I can only get one more has made it almost impossible to decide what the second one will be -- so many good choices! Then she told me that she had taken a break from tattooing after her daughter was born, but that she is almost ready to start doing it again and that she is really excited about the new tattoo gun she just bought. The old one kept breaking and she would have to solder it back together constantly. At this I was very astonished! She knew how to solder?! It was easy to solder, she assured me.

Now why is all this tattooing talk so important? I used to wear sleeveless shirts all the time, so that I could show off my tattoo. I got it in the summer of 1989, and I never regretted it until I went to art school, in 1999 (where everyone had them and it was a rotten cliché -- but I got over that pretty easily). In fact, shortly after I got the tattoo, I was invited to go swimming with the family of one of my greatest mentors. She frowned when she saw my pretty little iris and asked me what I would do if I were invited to a formal affair and wanted to wear a sleeveless gown? Smart-alec that I was, I told her I wouldn't have to buy a corsage.

Then I began as a catechist with the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, and I loved it so much that I didn't want anything about my person to be reason to scandalize the parents or other adults in the Church who might be attracted to this beautiful method. I began to wear sleeves to hide the tattoo, for the sake of something greater than my vanity.

The truth is, though, that even with the tattoo hidden, I don't make a very convincing "Church lady." And besides, having a tattoo isn't a sin! And it doesn't detract one iota from the proclamation of the Gospel to the children. So, I am rethinking my dress code.

The bigger point is that the fact that I was so comfortable sharing this "secret" with my new acquaintances by the pool was a beautiful taste of freedom for me. I will treasure it always.

Dumbstruck by the Mystery

...our temptation is always to impose our prejudices or our measure on reality -- except when we are faced with a fact that leaves us dumbstruck, and instead of dominating the fact ourselves, we are dominated, overcome by it. If there were no moments of this kind, the Mystery could do anything, but in the end, we would reduce everything to the usual explanation. But not even a Nobel Prize winner can stop himself from being dumbstruck before an absolutely gratuitous gesture. If there were not these moments, we would find answers, explanations, and interpretations to avoid being struck by anything. It is good that some things happen that we cannot dominate, then we have to take them seriously, and this is the great question of philosophy. If the conditions for the possibility of knowledge (see Kant) impose themselves on reality or if there is something that is so powerfully disproportionate that it does not let itself be "grasped" by the conditions of possibility, then the horizon opens. If this were not the case, then we could dominate everything and be in peace, or at least without drama. Instead, not even the intelligence of a Nobel Prize winner could prevent him from coming face-to-face with a fact that made him dumbstruck -- instead of dominating, it was he who was dominated. Here begins the drama, because I am called to answer. It is the drama that unfolds between us and the Mystery, through certain facts, certain moments, in which the Mystery imposes itself with this evidence. These are facts that we cannot put in our pocket, which we cannot reduce to antecedent factors.
-- Julian Carron in "Friends, that is, Witnesses."