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Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Russians who found faith in a materialist world

Books blog: The Russians who found faith in a materialist world
by Francis Phillips

posted Tuesday, 22 Dec 2015

An Eastern Orthodox Church in Antartica (AP)

Everyday Saints and Other Stories recounts how a student and his friends turned to religion

In my Catholic Books of the Year blog last week I forgot to mention Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea's long interview in the form of a book: God or Nothing, published by Ignatius. If any reader feels the Church has wandered off course in recent decades, this is the book to read: wise, authoritative, confidently Catholic.

As we are now in the Year of Mercy, it is worth pointing out that, for Cardinal Sarah, the mercy of God cannot be separated from conversion; to receive divine mercy is to be changed. Reading his book made me think that this is what it was like in the early Church and why Christianity spread so quickly: to be released from bondage to the false gods of pagan Rome was an extraordinary life-changing event for those who experienced it. It gave them the unbelievable (to our minds) courage to face the lions and the jeering crowds in the arena.

There is, of course, a modern form of bondage – to ideology. This was conveyed so clearly by Dr Anca-Maria Cernea in the blog interview I did with her. Growing up under an atheist Communist regime in Romania, it was obvious to a discerning young person that the people who had genuine intellectual and moral integrity were religious believers, not the Party apparatchiks.

Dr Cernea's experience is also born out in Russia itself. For my birthday I was sent a book I hadn't heard about: Everyday Saints and Other Stories, by Archimandrite Tikhon (Shevkunov), from Pokrov Publications. More than one million copies have been sold so far and it was voted the most popular book in Russia in 2012. This fact alone reminds one that underneath the long years of atheism Russia had never lost its religious soul.

I have only read the first few chapters so far but they are worth sharing. The author, a typical young film student from a secular background (he was converted and baptised as a young adult in 1982) relates that it was only in studying Russian literature that he and his friends found any serious discussion of the meaning and purpose of life. He writes of their growing realisation that "All the great figures of world and Russian history…all those whom we trusted and loved and respected, all of them had thought about God in a completely different way than we did. Simply put, they were people of faith…" He continues: "By contrast, all the people in our histories with whom we had the most repulsive associations, those with a plainly horrible influence on Russia – Marx, Lenin, Trotsky – all those destructive revolutionaries – all were atheists."

In their search for the truth, the author and his friends began to dabble in spiritualism as a way of countering the wholly materialist world around them. This brought its own dangers of a different sort: they made contact with evil spirits who gradually goaded them to thoughts of suicide. Archimandrite Tikhon writes that "an inexplicable melancholy and profound depression would come over us, accompanied by a feeling of inexplicable gloom and pointlessness." He confesses, "We didn't realise how defenceless we were against their onslaught."

The students guessed rightly that these feelings were connected with their occult practices and by the grace of God they all went into an Orthodox church: "We didn't know where else we could turn for help" he writes. Under the guidance of a wise priest he discovered that reading the Scriptures every day "seemed to be the only medicine to save me from the gloom and despair that from time to time came back to me". The upshot was that he asked for baptism – and eventually became an Orthodox monk at the Pskov Monastery in Pechory. I will write more about this book when I have read more of it!

Mother Teresa was a saint on a revolutionary mission

Mother Teresa was a saint on a revolutionary mission
by Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith
posted Monday, 21 Dec 2015

Members of the Missionaries of Charity attend a service 
marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of 
Blessed Teresa of Kolkata in 2010 (CNS)

Her canonisation will be the Year of Mercy's crowning moment

That Mother Teresa is to be canonised soon is truly joyous news for the whole Church.

Moreover, given that the canonisation is likely to happen this coming September, the Year of Mercy has just received what promises to be its crowning moment. Some three hundred thousand turned up to see Mother beatified by St John Paul II in 2003; the coming canonisation is likely to be huge, and not just in the number of people it will attract, but also the attention it will draw to the Church and to the new Saint.

Mother Teresa was, in her lifetime, and is, since her birthday into heaven, one of the best advertisements for Catholicism. While we can expect in the months leading up to her canonisation a renewal of the criticisms made by Christopher Hitchens and others, this should not bother us overmuch; indeed it is to be welcomed. Hitchens and others disliked Mother Teresa for the simple reason that she was a Catholic. Any renewal of criticism will only serve to remind people of this important point. Consider this, for example, as reported by the Crux website
Two years ago, researchers at the University of Montreal and the University of Ottawa combed through the literature on Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity religious order, concluding, basically, that she was a fraud. Among other bones of contention, the authors cited ‘her rather dubious way of caring for the sick, her questionable political contacts, her suspicious management of the enormous sums of money she received, and her overly dogmatic views regarding, in particular, abortion, contraception, and divorce.’
Yes, you heard that right: Mother Teresa was against contraception, abortion and divorce. She did not shun sinners, either. If the world is to be reminded of that, so much the better.

I only ever saw Mother Teresa once. It was at the Gregorian University, where Mother Teresa had called in for ten minutes or so, to see myself and two or three thousand other people. She was tiny, and there was a very tall cardinal accompanying her, beaming benignly. She soon wiped the smile off his face. “When you get to heaven,” she said, “You will find it is full of the street people of Calcutta. And all the people you expected to find there, won’t be there.” I watched the Cardinal’s face as she said this, and read the shock in his bland features. Hers was a subversive, even revolutionary message, but delivered in a way that was accessible and clear to all.

That meeting with Mother Teresa has stayed with me ever since. She was, along with one or two others, the most impressive religious figure I have ever encountered. The reason for this is because she was utterly genuine. It wasn’t an act. She spoke from the heart. Her character and her faith were in complete harmony. The grace of God filled her entirely. In other words, she was a saint.

On a different occasion, in the company of the late Fr Jean-Marie Charles-Roux, I visited the convent of her sisters on the Celio in Rome. Both of us were invited in to see the chapel. It had a concrete floor and no benches. The sisters were in rapt contemplation of the exposed Blessed Sacrament. The silence was annihilating. The convent was Spartan in the extreme, very much like the sort of buildings I was to see later in the slums of Nairobi.

Long before everyone started chattering about it, Mother Teresa and her sisters had gone to the margins and lived with the poor. In this she was a trailblazer for our own age, though of course she was merely carrying on an important tradition in the Catholic Church, and following in the footsteps of, among others, St Francis. And all without fuss: others made a fuss of her, but she never made a fuss of herself.

Iran : Rohani appelle les musulmans à "corriger l'image de l'islam"

Iran : Rohani appelle les musulmans à "corriger l'image de l'islam"

Publié à 15h05, le 27 décembre 2015, Modifié à 15h05, le 27 décembre 2015


Dans son discours, le président iranien a appelé à "corriger l'image de l'islam dans l'opinion publique mondiale.

Le président iranien Hassan Rohani a exhorté dimanche les musulmans à améliorer l'image de leur religion, ternie par la violence de groupes extrémistes comme l'Etat islamique sunnite. "Il est de notre plus grand devoir aujourd'hui de corriger l'image de l'islam dans l'opinion publique mondiale", a déclaré le chef de l'Etat iranien lors d'une conférence sur l'unité islamique à Téhéran.

Des propos inhabituels. Ces propos sont inhabituels dans la bouche d'un dirigeant iranien, alors que la République islamique chiite se considère comme une autorité au sein du monde musulman et désigne souvent les "ennemis" de la religion comme les responsables des problèmes du Moyen-Orient. "Aurions-nous pu imaginer qu'au lieu d'ennemis, un petit groupe venu du monde islamique et utilisant le langage de l'islam, présente l'islam comme la religion du meurtre, de la violence, du fouet, de l'extorsion et l'injustice ?" a déclaré Hassan Rohani. Le président iranien a ajouté que les principes de l'islam allaient à l'encontre de la violence et de l'extrémisme de groupes tels que Daech.

Dans son discours, retransmis à la télévision publique, Hassan Rohani a également critiqué le silence des pays musulmans "face aux massacres et au bain de sang" en Syrie, en Irak et au Yémen, des conflits dans lesquels l'Iran est impliqué à des degrés divers.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Friday, December 18, 2015

Mother Teresa of Calcutta to be made a saint

Mother Teresa of Calcutta to be made a saint

Last updated Friday, Dec. 18, 2015 7:11AM EST

Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the Nobel laureate known for dedicating her life to helping the poorest of the poor, will be made a saint of the Roman Catholic Church, the Vatican said on Friday.

Pope Francis has cleared the way for sainthood by approving a decree recognizing a second miracle attributed to her intercession with God – a necessary event for such a move in the Church.

Mother Teresa, who died in 1997 at the age of 87, become an international icon of charity in the 20th century but has also been criticized for trying to convert people to Christianity.

She was beatified in 2003 by the late Pope John Paul II. Beatification, which requires one miracle, is the last step before sainthood, which requires two.

The Church believes saints are holy men and women who lived extraordinary lives of virtue and are believed to be in Heaven with God.

Francis, who has made concern for the poor a major plank of his papacy, was keen to make Mother Teresa a saint during the Church’s current Holy Year, or Jubilee, in which Catholics are called on to emphasize the need for mercy and compassion in the world.

Mother Teresa second miracle involved the inexplicable healing of a Brazilian man who was suffering from a viral brain infection that resulted in multiple abscesses with hydrocephalus, according to Church officials.

Relatives prayed to Mother Teresa and he recovered, leaving his doctors at a loss to explain how. A Vatican medical commission deemed the sudden recovery “inexplicable in the light of present-day medical knowledge,” according to Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, the chief promoter of the sainthood cause.

In Calcutta, Sunita Kumar, spokeswoman for Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity religious order said the nuns were “over the moon” when they got the news.

“We thought her whole life was a miracle. Her whole life was dedicated to the poor and there was nothing else in her mind than service. Everyone was accepted and there was no obstruction in her work,” she told Reuters.

Archbishop Thomas D’Souza of Calcutta told Reuters the news from Rome was “the best Christmas gift,” adding, “Her entire life and work was for the poor. Now it is in a way officially recognized. We are grateful to God.”

In the years since her death, some critics accused her and the order of having ulterior motives, saying their real aim was to convert people to Christianity.

The order has denied the allegations, saying, for example, that most of those helped in the Kalighat Home for Dying Destitutes in Calcutta were non-Christians with just a few days left to live and noting that conversion is a lengthy process.

The order has also denied allegations of financial mismanagement of the huge sums it received from donors.

Known as the “saint of the gutters,” the diminutive nun is expected to be canonized – formally made a saint – in early September. It was not clear if the ceremony would take place in Rome or if the pope would travel to India to preside over it.

Mother Teresa was born Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu of Albanian parents in Macedonia in 1910 in what was then part of the Ottoman Empire.

She founded the Missionaries of Charity to help the poor on the streets of Calcutta and the religious order later spread throughout the world. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Árstíðir - Heyr himna smiður (Icelandic hymn) in train station

Heyr himna smiður

Heyr, himna smiður,
hvers skáldið biður.
Komi mjúk til mín
miskunnin þín.
Því heit eg á þig,
þú hefur skaptan mig.
Eg er þrællinn þinn,
þú ert drottinn minn.
Guð, heit eg á þig,
að þú græðir mig.
Minnst þú, mildingur, mín,
mest þurfum þín.
Ryð þú, röðla gramur,
ríklyndur og framur,
hölds hverri sorg
úr hjartaborg.
Gæt þú, mildingur, mín,
mest þurfum þín,
helzt hverja stund
á hölda grund.
Send þú, meyjar mögur,
málsefnin fögur,
öll er hjálp af þér,
í hjarta mér.
Submitted by  carnivorous_lamb on Mon, 13/01/2014 - 04:55
Try to align
English translation

Hear, Heavenly Creator*

Listen, smith of the heavens,
what the poet asks.
May softly come unto me
your mercy.
So I call on thee,
for you have created me.
I am thy slave,
you are my Lord.
God, I call on thee to heal me.
Remember me, mild one1,
Most we need thee.
Drive out, O king of suns,
generous and great,
every human sorrow
from the city of the heart.
Watch over me, mild one,
Most we need thee,
truly every moment
in the world of men.
send us, son of the virgin,
good causes,
all aid is from thee,
in my heart.

'Why T.S. Eliot Loved St. John of the Cross' by Fr. Dwight Longenecker

Why T.S. Eliot Loved St. John of the Cross

by Fr. Dwight Longenecker 12/14/2015 Comments (6)

Biographer Lyndall Gordon has discovered that the poet T.S. Eliot was interested in the writings of mystics from his undergraduate days at Harvard. Brought up in a puritanical Unitarian household in St. Louis, the young American was drawn to the lives and writings of Catholic mystics.

In 1927 he was baptized and received into the Anglican Church and for the rest of his life, until his death in 1965 he practiced his Christian faith within the Anglo-Catholic tradition. He said once about his beliefs, “In politics I am a royalist, in religion a Catholic.”

Although he was never received into the fullness of the faith in the Catholic Church, his life and spirituality were deeply contemplative, deeply Catholic and deeply mystical. Once Eliot’s Portuguese cleaning lady was asked what he was like. She didn’t know he was a world famous poet and Nobel laureate. She said, “Oh, him! He’s the holy one!”

After his disastrous marriage to Vivienne Haigh Wood broke down in 1933, Eliot lived a solitary and celibate life until his happy marriage to Valerie Fletcher. Despite his fame, during those years, he lived an austere life of penance, and was much influenced by St. John of the Cross.

Through his personal sufferings Eliot embraced his cross and never complained. Here is a tribute and allusion to John of the Cross from Eliot’s East Coker:

You say I am repeating
Something I have said before. I shall say it again.
Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.

Vatican: The importance of religious brothers

Vatican releases document underlining importance of religious brothers
by Carol Glatz
posted Tuesday, 15 Dec 2015

Franciscan Brother Juan Turios of Action Network prays in 
2013 with immigration reform advocates in Washington (CNS)

In the past 50 years, the number of religious brothers has decreased drastically

To help appreciate and better promote the vocation of religious brothers, the Vatican has released a 50-page reflection on the importance of their life and mission of evangelisation, fraternity and sacrifice.

The Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life released “Identity and Mission of the Religious Brother in the Church” in five languages on Monday as a guide for the whole Church.

Benedict XVI asked the congregation in 2008 to draft an instruction in order to underline the importance of the vocation of lay brothers, especially given “the challenges they must face” in today’s world, said Archbishop Jose Rodriguez Carballo, secretary of the congregation. He spoke at a Vatican news conference presenting the document on Monday.

At the time, the former prefect of the congregation, Cardinal Franc Rode, had said the steep decline in the numbers of religious brothers was a clear sign “something must be done.”

“We think one of the reasons for the decline in these vocations is due to a certain lack of attention on the part of the Church” to brothers, who are mentioned only in passing in the documents of the Second Vatican Council and Vatican documents published later, he told Vatican Radio in 2010.

While the numbers of religious in every category have dropped in the past 50 years, the number of religious brothers decreased most drastically. For example, the Christian Brothers had 16,000 members in 1965 and have fewer than 5,000 today.

The number of religious brothers around the world totalled more than 55,250 at the end of 2013, according to recent Vatican statistics. However, the total number of priests — diocesan and religious order — around the world was nearly 415,350, with a steady increase in diocesan priests in Africa, Asia and the Americas, and a continued decline in Europe.

Archbishop Rodriguez said the document is meant to highlight “the richness and necessity of all the vocations in the Church, especially the vocation of lay religious life for men and women.”

He said it was hoped the reflection would help all members of the Church become more aware and better appreciate the service and gifts of religious brothers, and help encourage and guide them in living their vocation “with authenticity and joy.”

The instruction underlines the importance of serving like the Good Shepherd in order to make Christ present in the world and to enlighten, bless, raise up, heal and free humanity.

So many people are experiencing a “thirst for spirituality,” it said, and religious brothers, especially those living in monastic or contemplative communities, should offer themselves as guides for those seeking deeper meaning, inviting people to prayer, reading Scripture and bridging faith and culture.

The text urged religious brothers to see no human situation as “alien” to their presence. Whether they engage in manual labor, defend human rights, teach, work in health care or serve in other ways, religious brothers must accept God’s invitation to go to the world’s peripheries and lead people to salvation.

“Today more than ever, the world needs consecrated persons who, from the heart of secular realities and of human life itself, bear witness to knowing and loving the God of life.”

The document said religious brothers can be the “prophets for our time” which is witnessing “great social change.”

What is needed, it said, is “the prophesy of hospitality,” in which all people are welcomed; a “prophesy of the meaning of life” that helps people discover the essential; a “prophesy of the affirmation of feminine values,” which supports and appreciates the presence and vision of women; “the prophesy of the care and protection of life” and creation; and “the prophesy of the wise use of new technologies,” which is attentive to letting information and communication benefit those who are disadvantaged.

The document called for improving relationships and a sense of “equal dignity” in so-called “mixed” religious institutes whose members include lay brothers and religious priests. It said priests and the Church hierarchy should promote and better appreciate the vocation of lay brothers and sisters, ensuring they can “participate actively in the organs of consultation, decision-making and implementation within the local Church.”

Archbishop Rodriguez said his congregation will ask Pope Francis to establish an ad hoc commission to look into the role of religious brothers in mixed or clerical institutes and their “participation in local, provincial and general governance” and administration.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Lomu's generosity had left him with virtually no money at the time of his death: RUGBY News

Jonah Lomu: Trust fund set up for New Zealander's children
From the sectionRugby Union
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Jonah Lomu scored 37 tries in 63 matches for New Zealand
A trust fund has been set up for Jonah Lomu's children after it was revealed the New Zealand rugby union great had almost no savings when he died.

Lomu died at the age of 40 in November having been diagnosed with a rare and serious kidney condition in 1995.

The chief executive of the New Zealand Rugby Players' Association said Lomu's generosity had left him with virtually no money at the time of his death.

"Jonah's family have not asked for this assistance," said Rob Nichol.

Lomu scored 37 tries in 63 matches for New Zealand between 1994 and 2002. His health problems forced him to quit the game and he had a kidney transplant in 2004, but the organ stopped functioning in 2011.

Nichol added: "He was a humble and private person who chose not to seek help or be a burden on others in sharing his immediate challenges.

"Despite his debilitating illness, he was unwaveringly optimistic and clearly had faith he would be able to continue working to meet these obligations and to provide for his family.

"Due to his untimely death, we all know this is sadly not to be and Jonah is now unable to provide for his boys - for their development, welfare and education."

Monday, December 14, 2015

St John of the Cross - 14 December :)

Remembering St John of the Cross - 14 December  :) 

O God, the judge of all,
who gave your servant John of the Cross
a warmth of nature, a strength of purpose
       and a mystical faith
that sustained him even in the darkness:
shed your light on all who love you
and grant them union of body and soul
in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Discernment:"Discretio" according to Benedict of Nursia - by Anselm Grun, OSB

"The gift of discernment does not simply assume a good assessment of the situation or much in the way of knowledge and experience, but above all a distance from oneself.  The judgement should not be clouded by one's own desires and needs.  It must be free of what psychology nowadays calls 'projection': of unresolved problems, emotions, and drives that one does not clearly discern within oneself and therefore projects into the world outside.  Discretio therefore presupposes that one has come, through careful self-observation, to know one's self and one's own needs, and has seen through one's own emotions and aggressions."

 From: "Benedict of Nursia: His Message for Today", by Anselm Grun, OSB., Linda M. Maloney, trans.  Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN. 2006. P. 38.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Imam and Dominican Friar Against Persecution in Pakistan

Imam Syed Muhammad  Abdul Khabir Azad and Father James Channan, OP

Decry together the country's blasphemy laws

This report is contributed by Harold Fickett of Aid to the Church in Need.
* * *
In taking interreligious dialogue to the next level, they make a unique pair: Imam Syed Muhammad Abdul Khabir Azad, who heads the second largest mosque in Pakistan, with room for 100,000 worshippers—the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore—and Father James Channan, OP, the director of Lahore’s Peace Center. Side-by-side, they are actively fighting the discrimination and persecution of Christians in Pakistan.
Example: when suicide bombers attacked the Youhanabad Christian neighborhood in Lahore—one of the largest Christian communities in South East Asia—and killed 22 people, the imam visited the neighborhood to declare his solidarity, before organizing a massive rally in front of the Badshahi mosque to signal opposition to terrorism, while calling for peace and harmony among different faiths. 
As Father Channan is active organizing Christian-Muslim dialogue throughout the country, the imam focuses on rural Islamic clerics, who are often the instigators of religious violence. In 2004, Imam Abdul Khabir Azad even organized an interfaith conference inside the Badshahi mosque—it was the first time Christians had been invited to speak in the mosque in its 350-year history. 
One of the biggest issues facing Christians in Pakistan is the country’s blasphemy law. The imam and the friar are jointly pushing for reform of the law, so that abuse of the law—to settle personal scores or gain business advantages, with more Muslims than Christians ending up as victims—will be vigorously prosecuted. 
All too often, alleged Christian offenses against the Quran or the Prophet Mohammed trigger mob violence. In one of the worst recent incidents a couple was burned alive in a brick kiln, after the wife was accused of desecrating the Muslim holy book. Both Father Channan and the imam condemned the murders as “barbaric.”

'My misson'

It is dangerous to speak out against such abuses, but Imam Khabir Azad does so regularly.  “I have received threats for the work that I am doing, but I am not going to give up. It is the need of the hour, and it is my mission,” he told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need. The imam takes inspiration from Jesus as the “Prince of Peace,” which he referred to as his favorite image of Christ. 
Father Channan calls evangelization and interreligious dialogue the “two tracks on which the train of Catholicism runs.” Unlike the goal of evangelization, the aim of interreligious dialogue, the friar explained, is not to convert non-Christians, but to work with those of other faiths for the common good and for the promotion of peaceful co-existence and respect for all faiths. Father Channan, the former Vice-Provinicial for the Dominican order in Pakistan, believes that this process can bring about a “conversion of heart” so that Muslims come to recognize Christians as worthy fellow citizens. 
Father Channan has served as Consultor for both the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (1985-1995) and the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with Muslims (1999-2004). Father Channan, whom the Pakistani government calls on regularly for advice in religious maters, travels widely as a lecturer on interreligious dialogue. 
The friar has seen many Islamic leaders in Pakistan from a stance of refusing to even share a meal with Christians to one of real friendship—the kind of bond exemplified by the unique relationship of Imam Abdul Khabir Azad and Father Channan. 
Aid to the Church in Need is an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. (USA); (UK); (AUS); (IRL); (CAN) (Malta)

Pope visits St Mary Major Basilica on return from Africa

Pope visits St Mary Major Basilica on return from Africa

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Monday visited Rome’s Basilica of St Mary Major to pray at the ancient icon of Our Lady known as Salus Populi Romani and offer thanks for the happy outcome of his first pastoral visit to Africa.

In what is now an established tradition, the Pope stopped off at the Basilica after landing at Rome’s Ciampino airport and prayed in silence for several minutes before the Salus Populi Romani icon in the chapel where the image is displayed.

It marked the 28th time that Pope Francis has visited St. Mary Major since his election.