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Monday, October 10, 2016

Albania’s new cardinal: a priest who spent 28 years in labour camps

Albania’s new cardinal: a priest who spent 28 years in labour camps
by Associated Press
posted Monday, 10 Oct 2016

Pope Francis embraces Fr Ernest Simoni during 
a visit to Albania in 2014 (CNS)

The Albanian priest - who was imprisoned and tortured for 28 years - is among 17 new cardinals

When Pope Francis visited Albania in 2014, he was brought to tears by a priest’s description of the two decades of imprisonment, torture and forced labour he suffered under Albania’s brutal communist rulers for refusing to renounce his Catholic faith.

On Sunday, Pope Francis honoured Fr Ernest Troshani Simoni’s witness by naming him to the College of Cardinals.

Fr Simoni, who turns 88 later this month, was one of 17 new cardinals named by Pope Francis who will be formally elevated at a Vatican ceremony on November 19. He is among four cardinals over age 80 who can’t vote in a conclave to elect a new pope but were named to the club because of their service to the church.

For Albania’s tiny Catholic Church, the nomination was a deeply symbolic gesture acknowledging the suffering of Catholic clergy during the reign of Stalinist dictator Enver Hoxha, who banned religion in 1967.

“That is an homage to a cleric symbolising all Albania’s suffering clergy,” said the Rev Gjergj Meta, a Church spokesman.

Fr Simoni recounted his life story to Pope Francis during the Pope’s 2014 one-day visit to Tirana, a visit meant to highlight the interfaith harmony that exists among the majority Muslim nation of 3.2 million. It was the end of the day and Pope Francis was meeting with priests and seminarians at the Tirana cathedral.

Fr Simoni recalled his arrest, after celebrating Christmas Mass on December 24, 1963 and being placed in isolation. He told of being condemned to death, but the sanction was commuted to 28 years of forced labour.

During his incarceration, he became the spiritual guide to many other prisoners, who then came to his defence when he was again sentenced to death in 1973 after a revolt. He was spared because of their testimony.

Fr Simoni was freed in 1981 but had to continue preaching clandestinely until the communist regime fell in 1990.

As Fr Simoni recounted his ordeal, Pope Francis — who was reading along an Italian translation of his remarks — became visibly moved, at one point tearing up. When he finished, Fr Simoni knelt before the Pope. They embraced for nearly a minute to the applause of the priests and nuns in the audience.

“Today I touched martyrs,” Pope Francis said of the experience.

Fr Simoni will be elevated to cardinal two weeks after the Vatican honours 38 of his confreres who were persecuted or executed under Hoxha’s regime. The beatification ceremony is scheduled for November 5 in Shkoder, Albania, where the first public Mass was held after the fall of communism.

The Albanian church said Fr Simoni’s elevation was a sign of the Pope’s “honour and gratitude” on the eve of the beatification.

“Elevating the Albanian clergy persecuted during communism is a sign of how much this clergy has given to the universal Catholic Church with their martyrs,” a Church statement said.

Pope Francis opens path to sainthood for French priest killed by ISIS

Pope Francis opens path to sainthood for French priest killed by ISIS
by Cindy Wooden
posted Monday, 3 Oct 2016

Pope Francis arrives at the Aliyev congress centre 
for a meeting with the authorities in Baku (AP)

Pope Francis gave a press conference on his flight from Azerbaijan to Rome

Pope Francis has confirmed he has sped up the process for making Fr Jacques Hamel, the French priest murdered by ISIS terrorists in July as he celebrated Mass, a saint.

Francis told reporters on his flight back to Rome from Azerbaijan on October 2 that he had spoken to Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes, about setting aside the usual five-year waiting period to allow the collection of eyewitness testimony regarding the murder of Fr Hamel.

“It is very important not to lose the testimonies,” the Pope said. “With time, someone may die, another forgets something.”

Earlier on Sunday, Archbishop Dominique Lebrun said the Dioceses of Rouen, where Fr Hamel lived and worked, had begun an inquiry into the priest’s beatification thanks to the Pope’s intervention.

The archbishop was speaking at a Mass to mark the reopening of the church where Fr Hamel was killed.

During the press conference, the Pope was asked by a reporter what US Catholics should do in a presidential election where both candidates hold some positions contrary to Church teaching.

Catholics facing difficult political choices must study the issues, pray about the election and then vote according to their consciences, Pope Francis said.

Although he was in a relaxed mood and welcomed reporters’ questions for almost an hour, Pope Francis said he would never comment on a specific electoral campaign.

“The people are sovereign,” he said. “Study the proposals well, pray and choose in conscience.”

Pope Francis was also asked when he would name new members to the College of Cardinals and what criteria he would use to choose them.

He said he still had not decided precisely when to announce the names or hold the consistory to create the new cardinals, but it would likely be at the end of this year or the beginning of 2017.

As for the choices, Pope Francis said, the list of worthy candidates is long, “but there are only 13 places” to reach the limit of 120 cardinals under the age of 80.

The selection process will aim for a geographic mix, he said. “I like it when one can see in the College of Cardinals the universality of the Church, not just the European centre, shall we say.”

Although he and the reporters travelling with him had not yet returned to Rome and already were set to go to Sweden on October 31 – November 1, a journalist asked the Pope where he would be travelling in 2017.

A trip to Fatima, Portugal, is definite, he said. He intends to go May 13 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima.

Also on the calendar, the Pope said, is a trip to India and Bangladesh and another trip to Africa, although the specific nation or nations has not been decided.

Asked about his promise to visit Colombia after peace was established in the country, Pope Francis said the peace agreement signed in September between the government and rebels was important, but the people of Colombia still have to vote to ratify the agreement and begin the real work of living in peace.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

True Christian Friendship

True Friends

The How-Tos and Joys of Christian Friendship

Friday, Jun 10, 2011 5:57 PM Comments (2)

According to St. Thomas Aquinas, "There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship."

Many people say they have lots of friends. But how many are true friends? And what does St. Thomas mean by true friendship?

"True friends are an irreplaceable aid to one another in living out the Christian vocation, most of all because they encourage and inspire one another to become better," says John Cuddeback of Christendom College, who is the author of True Friendship: Where Virtue Becomes Happiness (Epic Publishing, new edition, 2010).

A true friend, he says, will encourage and inspire us to be good and lead virtuous lives.

Cuddeback explains: "To help another toward virtue, we have to be virtuous. You are only capable of true friendship to the extent you are virtuous."

This insight into the connection between friendship and virtue comes from Aristotle.

Cuddeback also notes that true friends strive "to be truly unselfish, to look for the good of the other person and work for their good."

Working for others' good ultimately leads to happiness.

"True friendship, properly practiced and understood, is a path that can lead us to true happiness — happiness not the way we use it nowadays, but in the classical sense of the word — fulfillment of one's nature," says John Millard, director of the pre-theology program at the Blessed John XXIII Seminary in Weston, Mass., who used the previous edition of Cuddeback's book in his philosophy classes at a different Catholic college.

"In true friendship, as in true love, what we care about is the other person's fulfillment as a creature of God," Millard explains. "A true friendship is one of the main benefits of living a Christian life."

Among the major benefits: True human friendship enhances our understanding of friendship with God and is the natural preparation for entering into our ultimate vocation of friendship with Christ, explains Cuddeback.

"The art of being a true friend helps us to be able to live in friendship with Christ," he says. "When in John 15:15 Our Lord says, 'Now I call you friends,' if we haven't experienced true friendship, what does that mean to us? If our notion of friendship is from Facebook, we have a problem. Or if we hang around with people for having a good time, it doesn't mean much." But if it's about living virtue together, he explains, "then Our Lord's invitation is profoundly meaningful to us."

There's a need in today's social-media world to develop relationships beyond the superficial.

Cuddeback insists the challenges in our technological world — things like Facebook and texting — "are so pervasive and often a negative influence in our relationships. They tend to replace deeper and richer forms of communication. They form habits detrimental for true friendship. "Conversation is at the absolute heart of friendship, most especially for deep, rich, higher things. Anyone can have a superficial conversation. But deeper conversation has to be cultivated. There's something irreplaceable with face-to-face conversation."

When developing a true friendship, Cuddeback says to seek opportunity for rich conversation.

"Rich conversation means the deeper, the higher, the nobler the things we share in common, the more it unites us," he observes. It's not a common interest in sports, news or hobbies — although true friends can have light conversations, too — but in sharing a love of God, of virtue.

Cuddeback stresses: "It's going into the deepest and most important things in life: the meaning, purpose and goal of life. What is our Christian vocation? What are our responsibilities as parents? As students?"

Cuddeback adds, "Where your heart is — that's where your conversations are. True friends help us keep our hearts on the most important things."

Also, true friends need to "have a deeper sense of accountability to one another."

The assumption we don't correct but just accept one another isn't correct, Cuddeback says. "In true friendship," he says, "there is correction out of love. And it's not easy to offer fraternal correction."

All these pointers about true friendship are working for Michael Schmiedicke in Front Royal, Va., in his pursuit of virtue, Christian manhood and fatherhood, and spiritual support.

Despite our busy lives, he has learned "true friendship isn't just a category of nice extras if you can fit them in. It was essential, and I had to make time in my life for that."

He now gets together with a like-minded friend one evening a week to pray and talk about the good things going on in their lives.

"It has innumerable blessings," he says, "and is a great bedrock and support for me as father and husband."

On the spiritual side, he decided to commit to praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament after his friend encouraged him of the benefits.

His better understanding of friendship has also prompted Schmiedicke to make sure "to just pray with my wife Dian and sit and talk with her."

"Marriage should be a unique instance of true friendship," Cuddeback notes. "Spousal life lived to its fullness implies living a true friendship."

Also, for parents, a primary question is: How can I encourage and cultivate true friendship in my children?

"It will make all the difference for their moral life and spiritual life," says Cuddeback.

"Parents should be true friends to their children," explains Millard. "In other words, care about the fulfillment of their child's nature as a human being and about their child's salvation because true human fulfillment only comes in union with God, who alone can satisfy all of our human urgings. If they love God and understand who God is, and who they are, they will be able to deal with anything. That's what it means to say friendship is concerned with the well-being of the other person."

The oldest of Schmiedicke's four children is 9, and he and his wife are teaching their children how to choose friends wisely.

"It's so easy to put your own faith and children's at risk associating with someone who doesn't want the same things you want," he cautions. The family associates with families they admire so their children see the same kinds of behavior patterns, ideals, virtues and faith as they see encouraged in their own home.

Cuddeback gives a reminder about our ultimate true friendship — the one with Christ.

"The heart of our relationship with Christ is our prayer life, and the heart of prayer life is knowing how to have deep conversation," he asserts. If we don't have that habit of deep conversation, how are we going to know how to pray to Our Lord? Or how to form friendships with the saints?"

Speaking on St. Gertrude in an October 2010 audience, Pope Benedict XVI said that she "shows us that the heart of a happy life, of a true life, is friendship with the Lord Jesus. And this friendship is learned in love for sacred Scripture, in love for the liturgy, in profound faith, in love for Mary, so as to be ever more truly acquainted with God himself and hence with true happiness, which is the goal of our life."

As Millard concludes: "A true friend helps you to live the right kind of life. True friends, in the words of my wife, help each other get to heaven."

Register staff writer Joseph Pronechen is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Flannery O’Connor: by RAFAEL PI ROMAN, correspondent

Flannery O’Connor
November 20, 2009

RAFAEL PI ROMAN, correspondent: Even at the end of her short life, when it became harder and harder for her to walk, Flannery O’Connor went to Mass nearly every day at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Milledgeville, in central Georgia. She lived with her mother in an old plantation house surrounded by 1500 acres of pasture and woods. In her room after church she would write all morning, facing the back of a tall chest so that she would see no distractions. Her output was not massive—two short novels, two collections of short stories, a number of essays, and a lot of letters. But today many consider her one of America’s greatest writers. Since O’Connor’s death, more than 50 books have been written about her, one of them by Ralph Wood of Baylor University.

PROFESSOR RALPH WOOD (Author of Flannery O’Connor and the Christ-Haunted South): Flannery O’Connor is the only great Christian writer this nation has produced. That is an astonishing fact. Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Melville, Twain, Emily Dickinson, Frost, Stevens: not one of them Christian, at least not orthodoxly Christian. She is a Southerner and a Catholic, she’s not at the center of American culture, and yet she is our only great Christian writer.

Prof. Ralph Wood

ROMAN: What makes her increasing popularity even more surprising in these secular times is the fact that O’Connor was a self-proclaimed orthodox Catholic whose subject, in her words, was “the action of grace in territory held largely by the devil.”

O’Connor was the only child in a respected and well-off family. She was fascinated by birds of all kinds, and when she was a little girl a newsreel cameraman came down to film a chicken Flannery claimed could walk backwards. Later on, her hobby centered on peacocks, a bird she saw as her personal symbol, according to her biographer, Brad Gooch.

BRAD GOOCH (Author of Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor): I think she liked it because it was a comic and gawky bird, like herself. It ate her mother’s flowers and kept everyone awake all night, and then at a certain transfigurative moment tails would open, and here was all this beauty which she saw as a symbol of the way her fiction worked, and also in the Middle Ages the peacock was the symbol of Christ and the church so, you know, it all lined up for her and the peacocks.

ROMAN: As a young woman, O’Connor went to the Iowa Writers Workshop, to the exclusive Yaddo artist’s colony in Saratoga Springs, and then to New York City and Connecticut, writing all the way. Then, at the age of 25, she was forced to return home because, like her father before her, she was dying of lupus. It was back in Georgia in the 1950s that she discovered the characters for her stories.

WOOD: Not the cotton belt, not the tobacco belt, but the ugly word the Bible belt, and for O’Connor that was the glory of her region. These were the emarginated people on the sidelines of southern life in small, out of the way places.

ROMAN: She wrote that her Christ-haunted characters are so cut off from orthodox Catholicism that they don’t have a guide and that they are actually involved in a do-it-yourself religion that is kind of comical, sadly comical.

WOOD: She said, look, these are my brothers and sisters. They are as unlike me as they can be when it comes to the church and its sacraments, but they are a whole of a kind of sweated gospel, a gospel that takes God and God’s world with the utmost seriousness, and therefore I’ve got to attend to them. I cannot dismiss them, saying these are people after my own heart, and I want to write about them sympathetically.

ROMAN: Father Thomas Joseph White is a Dominican priest whose conversion to Catholicism was influenced by O’Connor’s fiction.

FATHER THOMAS JOSEPH WHITE, OP (Theology Instructor, Dominican House of Studies): You don’t have baptism, confession, and the Mass, which she says are, you know, the center of her life. You have instead odd and grotesque, historically surprising events where people encounter the grace of God.

Father Thomas Joseph White

ROMAN: From these people her stories emerged. In “Wise Blood” and “The Violent Bear It Away,” and in twenty short stories, she told dark tales of murder and bigotry and madness, of a preacher of the Church without Christ who puts out his own eyes. Some have asked, is this Christian?

WOOD: She says most sins are committed by acts of immoderation, of excess, but she says there is one and only one quality that can never be sufficiently immoderate, and that is the love of God, and she saw in these backwoods, southern, I call them folk Christians more than fundamentalists, that kind of completely radical love of God in their own way.

ROMAN: Talk about the importance of grace and mystery in her work.

WOOD: Mystery does not mean for her a kind of a fuzzy, foggy, gooey something or other. It’s a very specific term for her. For her the word mystery means that which is inexhaustible in our knowledge of God, that the deeper we go in understanding who the self-declared, self-revealed God is, the more there is yet to understand, so that the greater our knowledge of God also the greater our ignorance of God, so that we know only a thumbnail of what and who God is.

ROMAN: As the civil rights movement changed attitudes and language, O’Connor was sharply criticized for using the N word in her writing.

Brad Gooch, author of Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor

GOOCH: She couldn’t change that word because that’s the way those people speak.

WOOD: For Flannery O’Connor, race was indeed the curse of the south in the sense that it was the single-most important test which we as white Christians failed. For O’Connor, the mistreatment of black people is a violation of their being creatures made in the image of God.

ROMAN: In recent years, O’Connor has become a favorite not only of writers and scholars but of artists and entertainers of all stripes, including Bruce Springsteen, Bono, the Coen brothers, and even Conan O’Brien and the creators of the hit TV series “Lost.”

Professor Bruce Gentry teaches at O’Conner’s alma mater, Georgia College and State University, and edits the Flannery O’Connor Review.

PROFESSOR BRUCE GENTRY (Editor, Flannery O’Connor Review): She always talks about waking people up to the mystery of the world, and I think that puts her in a position that is similar to a lot of people in popular culture. You know, they want to create something substantial, but they also want to do it for a popular audience.

ROMAN: In the process of writing his biography of Flannery O’Connor, Brad Gooch says he came to admire her discipline and determination, particularly during the final months of her life.

GOOCH: She was staying alive through writing, and you see it at the end of her life, where it becomes a real race with death. She’s working on stories which she keeps under her pillow in the hospital so the doctor won’t take them away from her. She’s editing one story after she’s had last rites. So all of this seems to me a very clear kind of sense that this is what’s keeping her alive, or why she’s alive.

ROMAN: O’Connor’s admirers wonder what her legacy will be in years to come. Some say that will depend on whether future readers will understand a writer who saw “the action of grace in territory held by the devil.”

I’m Rafael Pi Roman for Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

Under today’s laws, Wilde’s relationships with boys would have earned him a harsher sentence

Under today’s laws, Wilde’s relationships with boys would have earned him a harsher sentence
by Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith
posted Friday, 26 Aug 2016

Oscar Wilde (AP)

The law in Wilde's time was not overly concerned with the age of his sexual partners

Just recently several of our broadsheet newspapers carried obituaries of John Woolford, recently deceased at 96 years of age, who, in his teenage years had been the muse of Benjamin Britten, the composer. The composer’s association with the child raises certain questions. In the 1930s Britten must have run significant risks of arrest and prosecution. Today, any adult behaving in a similar way would be regarded as a paedophile.

Some forty years before Britten’s association with Woolford, Oscar Wilde was arrested, tried and sentenced for the crime of homosexual behaviour. I have just been reading an excellent book entitled Oscar Wilde’s Scandalous Summer: the 1894 Worthing Holiday and the Aftermath by Antony Edmonds. This book adds a great deal, to my mind, to our understanding of Wilde, as well as opening up to us what Victorians got up to on their summer holidays in places like Worthing, a town that has lost many of its once attractive Victorian buildings, including the house where Wilde stayed with his wife and sons. The title is a little misleading: most of Wilde’s summer was perfectly unexceptionable. The only scandalous incidents concerned a boy called Alphonse Conway: what happened to Alphonse later, after the trial of Wilde, is not known for sure, but this book has some fascinating detective work in it, that provides a few clues.

The author has this to say about Wilde’s condemnation, which is worth quoting in full:

“A common canard among those who know little about Wilde is that he was a martyr to Victorian injustice and hypocrisy. However, as we have indicated, the trials were conducted fairly; and Wilde was fortunate that the maximum sentence available to the judge was two years, which Mr Justice Wills described as ‘wholly inadequate for such a case’. Today, men who have sexual relations with boys under sixteen can be sentenced to up to fourteen years in prison, and paying for sex with a boy of sixteen or seventeen carries a sentence of up to seven years. Wilde probably committed the first of these offences, and he was certainly guilty of the second.”

But as Mr Edmonds points out elsewhere in his book, the law at the time was not overly concerned with the age of Wilde’s sexual partners. One may have been only thirteen, and one is described as looking about fourteen. Alphonse Conway was a few days past his sixteenth birthday. But, as Edmonds remarks, nowadays Wilde is described as being attracted to “young men”, rather than boys, which is misleading.

So, what we are faced with is the rather surprising realisation that in the time of Wilde the law was considerably less strict than it is now in these matters. But at the same time, public opinion has shifted dramatically with regard to homosexuality. Wilde was pilloried for being homosexual; nowadays he would perhaps have been pilloried for being a child abuser.

What does this tells us, then? I am not at all sure. But there are two certain conclusions. First, do read Mr Edmonds’ fascinating book, which contains much of interest, far more than can be expressed in a short article like this one. And secondly, let us remember that both the law, and public opinion, can frequently get it wrong, sometimes spectacularly so.

How Gabriele Kuby’s conversion led her to write about the sexual revolution

How Gabriele Kuby’s conversion led her to write about the sexual revolution
by Francis Phillips

posted Friday, 26 Aug 2016

Gabriele Kuby, 2014 (Wikipedia, Derzsi Elekes Andor)

The author explains why she believes her book has helped spark resistance to the 'gender revolution'

I blogged about Gabriele Kuby’s book The Global Sexual Revolution: Destruction of Freedom in the Name of Freedom, here. Her book explains why the traditional distinction between men and women is under such attack today in the West and why for instance in Germany today peaceful demonstrations on behalf of family values now need heavy police protection. Indeed, as Kuby points out, anyone who believes in a divine purpose for men and for women is now labelled a “religious fundamentalist” or a “biological, sexist fundamentalist.”

Kuby is a convert. I asked her what led to her own conversion. She tells me that she had been searching for God for more than 20 years down the wrong paths, within esoteric philosophies and psychology. Her marriage had broken down and her life was in crisis. Alone with three teenage children, a young woman rang her doorbell and told her to pray. She prayed a novena – in front of a Buddhist statue – and by the end she knew she would become a Catholic. Her conversion led to speaking and writing about her new-found faith and about the global sexual revolution.

How was her book received in Germany? Kuby replies, “The mainstream media tried to block it by not reviewing it. Nonetheless it has had six editions in two years and has been translated into seven languages so far.” She thinks the book has helped spark resistance to the “gender revolution”.

Could she expand on this resistance? “Wherever I go I meet Christians who are involved in this cultural battle, despite the fact that money and power are in the hands of the other side. Nobody can stop us, as Christians, from our faith, hope and love of God. The course of history is in God’s hands.”

She adds, “We will encounter fear, insecurity and risk. They can only be overcome by prayer. If we sincerely want to work for the kingdom of God, we will find a way. God needs us and will provide the grace necessary.”

Where does the Church’s future lie? Kuby mentions the former Cardinal Ratzinger’s phrase about “creative minorities” of Christians in Europe. She adds that although the West blackmails Africa to adopt the LGTBI agenda, the continent is a “great hope for Christianity and [Guinean] Cardinal Sarah a bright light for the Church.” She affirms: “We can lose our life but not our hope.”

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Hermit life: City Dweller Chooses the Life of Religious Hermit

A City Dweller Chooses the Life of Religious Hermit
Published: October 30, 2001

PHILADELPHIA, Oct. 26— Richard Withers does not fit the popular image of a hermit. His beard is neatly trimmed, and he is friendly, not taciturn. He lives here in a tiny row house, which he rehabilitated, and while the struggling neighborhood might appear daunting, it is not the desert.

And, of course, this is 2001, not the fourth century, when solitary religious life flourished within an emerging church.

The life Brother Withers has chosen -- as a canonically recognized hermit within the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia -- is possible only because the Vatican revised the church's canon law in 1983, adding a provision allowing bishops to accept hermits within their dioceses. Since then, others have chosen this path, bringing back an ancient tradition, although Catholic officials do not seem to know how many live as hermits today.

''There's this commitment,'' Brother Withers said in an interview, ''an almost unremitting desire to be alone with God.''

Put simply, he lives the life of a monk, but without the support of a monastery.

He rises at 5 a.m. for an hour of prayer and follows a monastic discipline -- praying according to an ancient schedule that follows the rhythms of the day, the offices of lauds, vespers, compline -- along with set periods for meals, work, spiritual reading and writing.

Until this month, when he made vows of poverty, chastity and obedience before Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, the Philadelphia archdiocese had never recognized a hermit. Officials were skeptical when Brother Withers, 46, proposed the idea. Twice, they turned him down. They are supportive now.

''He's as authentic as they come,'' said Monsignor Alexander J. Palmieri, the archdiocese's chancellor, or administrator. Such a life, Monsignor Palmieri said, is ''being alone with God, not just for your benefit but for the benefit of the church and the world.''

Brother Withers said he sought recognition as a hermit out of a desire for ''a greater sense of obedience'' to the church. The status carries no financial or health benefits, he said. He felt that God was urging him, despite initial rejections by the archdiocese. ''The message I was getting in prayer was, keep trying,'' he said.

The church's Canon 603 recognizes the life of the hermit, ''in which Christ's faithful withdraw from the world and devote their lives to the praise of God and the salvation of the world through the silence of solitude and through constant prayer and penance.''

The Rev. Daniel Ward, executive director of a legal resource center serving men and women who have taken religious vows, said the law was written without specifics as the church's way of saying, ''this is possible, now let it develop.''

''It's reviving the practice of the early church, where people didn't belong to a group or what we call a religious order or congregation,'' Father Ward said.

For centuries, the church has recognized hermits attached to monastic communities, men or women living separately near a monastery. One order built around this purpose is the Camadolese, founded in 1012, which has a monastery near Big Sur, Calif.

But how many dioceses now recognize solitary hermits is an open question.

''There are lots of hermits,'' Brother Withers said.

He is in touch by e-mail with at least three others. But there are more.

One man was accepted as a hermit in August in a Pacific Northwest diocese. He lives in an hermitage within a ponderosa pine forest, his days guided by a cycle of prayer centered on the Psalms and Bible readings. In an e-mail interview, he said a hermit's intention was to seek union with God in this life, not the next. He asked that he neither be named nor quoted directly, to preserve his isolation.

Brother Withers was born in Los Angeles, one of seven children, and raised, he said, ''culturally Jewish.'' His family moved to Camden, N.J., when he was 8. Eleven years later, through a series of influential acquaintances, including his supervisor in the bicycle repair department of the discount store where he worked, he was drawn toward Catholicism, was baptized and lived for years with others who shared a commitment to the church.

Early on, in prayer, he took his own vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and felt he saw signs from God that he was on the right path. For example, within a week of taking his vow of poverty, he came home one day to find that a burglar had stolen his tools, an event he regarded as helping him break a bond with material things. For years, he considered joining a religious order but did not find one that seemed right for him. In 1984, he ended up living alone -- a move he feared beforehand, but found spiritually enriching from the first day.

In 1994, he became aware of the canon law provision allowing hermits. He applied to the archdiocese for its recognition in 1995, but was turned down. As he was about to apply once more, Monsignor Palmieri asked that he wait another year. The archdiocese asked him and his spiritual director, a local priest, to send in regular reports on his life.

On Oct. 14, Brother Withers made a public profession of his vows in his parish church, placing his hand in the hands of Cardinal Bevilacqua. The event made the newspaper, The Philadelphia Inquirer. Brother Withers said he had found the attention challenging. Being in ''a public light is no consolation,'' he said.

Besides, he said, his life has much that is ordinary.''I've got to do the wash, sweep the floor, earn a living,'' he said. To make ends meet, he works one day a week at a company that makes scientific instruments.

But his purpose is distinctive. ''It's the amount of time spent in prayer, which is why I live alone,'' he said. ''It's in the solitude that I hear God best.''

Photo: Richard Withers is recognized as a hermit by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. (Tim Shaffer for The New York Times)

Monday, August 8, 2016

Catholic Japan: Abortion, Jizo, and Peace - by Columban Father Michael Molloy

The Healing of Mizuko Jizo
May 21, 2005

A ritual in Buddhist Japan has emerged to memorialize babies killed by abortion and assuage mothers’ shame and guilt.
In Japan, the spirits of the dead never seem far away. Indeed, reverence for those who have died is a distinctive characteristic of all Japanese. There is a feeling of deep gratitude to those who have gone before us and a sense of duty to keep their memory alive. Funerals, memorial rites and prayers for the dead, in addition to being a source of consolation for the bereaved, also provide assurance that the spirit of the departed will look benevolently on the living.

A Buddhist mizuko jizo statue 
in a cemetery in Kamakura, Japan. 
Photo by:

In Japanese thought, the soul or spirit departs the body at death, but it does not go far away, at least not for a considerable period of time. They inhabit their own world, but they continue to take a keen interest in their former family and in their native place.

They are believed to return home on certain occasions throughout the year: at a mid-summer festival that corresponds to our All Souls Day and at the vernal and autumnal equinoxes. Cemeteries are spruced up, and individual graves are cleaned to welcome them.

In the Catholic Church, we follow this Japanese custom by celebrating a Memorial Eucharist in cemeteries on those days. Anniversaries of death can be commemorated for as many as 33 years, even for 50 years. After that time, the deceased enter the realm of the ancestors who will now look favorably on the fortunes of the family.

In the Japanese language and Buddhist terminology, the anniversary of death day is called meinichi (“life day”). We Christians see this as a beautiful expression of our belief that the day of death is truly the day on which a new life begins.

A Tragic Form Of ‘Population Control’
In Japanese Buddhism, the spirits of human beings live on, of course, but also the spirits of animals and inanimate objects, particularly those that have contributed in a special way to human well-being. These spirits may need to be placated from time to time.

This concept was brought home to me one evening when the proprietor of a poultry farm came to visit me. He had been suffering of late from a painful shoulder and suspected that the spirits of the chickens he had killed to supply the local stores had become vindictive. Being a Catholic, he could not go to the Buddhist temple, so he brought an offering of two dozen eggs to the church by way of atonement.

While there are funerals and memorial rites for adults and children, including the stillborn, there are neither funerals nor prayer ceremonies for those killed by abortion. Over many centuries, abortion and infanticide were common in Japan as a sporadic means of population control, particularly following calamities and natural disasters such as plagues and famines.

This custom became known as mabiki, which is a word I would use to describe my work on my father’s farm when as a youngster I would thin turnips and vegetables. Many shoots are uprooted and discarded so the remaining ones will grow healthy and vigorously.

In post-World War II Japan, the cities became overcrowded. The concentration of industry attracted more and more Japanese to urban areas, and conditions grew even worse. Living space was incredibly restricted: Individual houses were small, and apartments were even smaller. There was no room for large families.

Birth control, against which there were few ethical or moral restrictions, and abortion became the means of population control. Since that time, Japan continues to have one of the highest abortion rates in the world.

A New Type Of Memorial
A baby killed by abortion is called mizuko. The Buddhists, seeing that no memorial rights for aborted babies existed, established a temple service called mizuko kuyo; literally, a memorial service for abortion victims. In time, temples began to manufacture small statues of Jizo, one of the deities in the Buddhist pantheon. These were used as part of the memorial services and then kept in the temple.

Single statues of Jizo can be seen in shrines both in towns and the countryside throughout Japan. They can be regarded as the guardian deity of the village or community and, by extension, are the protector of the children who are the community’s future. The statues used in the memorial services for those killed by abortion are known as mizuko jizo, and hundreds are displayed in Buddhist temples.

The mizuko jizo statues are a stark reminder of the high incidence of abortion in Japan. And the proliferation of temples offering such services is a reminder of the grief and sense of responsibility felt by mothers of aborted children and of their efforts to atone for the destruction of the innocent life growing within them.

The popularity of these services must mean they provide some relief from the pain, grief, guilt and shame associated with abortion. There’s also belief that the unrequited spirit of the deceased child, denied the blessing of life, could become vindictive.

An Angel In Disguise
In a surprising way, this Buddhist right solved an unusual problem for me one day when four young Filipino women arrived at my door. One of the women had given birth to a stillborn baby and didn’t know where to turn. They placed a jar of formaldehyde holding the baby on my table.

I learned that the baby could not be buried or cremated without a permit, which could be issued only when a doctor presented a death certificate. Since no doctor was present at the birth, an autopsy was needed to determine if the baby was, indeed, stillborn.

There were many other complications. The teen-age mother was in Japan on an entertainment visa and worked as a club hostess.

Her contract stipulated that she would be paid a lump sum after the contract was fulfilled and was living on her tips plus a small weekly allowance from her employer. If her pregnancy became known, she would be repatriated in disgrace and without her earnings.

Furthermore, being underage, she had come to Japan under an assumed name and falsified passport. Clearly, ordinary procedures were not an option.

Eventually, a Japanese solution was found. A Japanese member of our parish with connections contacted a medial clinic that had arrangements with a Buddhist temple to provide memorial rites for victims of abortions. For a fee, he agreed to include the stillborn baby among the remains to be cremated.

The young mother and her friends went to the temple and were given a statue of mizuko jizo for the child she had named Angel. Best of all, she herself received excellent medical attention in strictest confidence.

She returned to the temple a few times. I imagine that, among the rows of mizuko jizostatues, she saw her Angel in one quiet, secluded corner of that ancient temple.

- Columban Father Michael Molloy of Ireland serves a Columban parish in Kumamoto City. He was ordained in 1960 and has been a missionary in Japan, China and the United States.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

'Big Love' by Richard Rohr

'Big Love' by Richard Rohr
Friday, July 22, 2016

We can't seem to know the good news that we are God's beloveds on our own. It has to be mirrored to us. We're essentially social beings. Another has to tell us we are beloved and good. Within contemplative prayer, we present ourselves for the ultimate gaze, the ultimate mirroring. Before this gaze of Love, we gradually disrobe and allow ourselves to be seen, to be known in every nook and cranny, nothing hidden, nothing denied, nothing disguised. It's like lovemaking. The wonderful thing is, after a while, we feel so safe that we know we don't have to pretend or disguise any more. We don't have to put on any kind of costume.

Letting your naked self be known by God is always to recognize your need for mercy and your own utter inadequacy and littleness. You realize that even the best things you've done have often been for mixed and selfish motives, not really for love. The saints often weep in the middle of prayer because they recognize how tiny they are in the presence of such Infinity. Your need for mercy draws you close to God. It's a wonderful and humiliating experience. Within contemplation, you stand under an immense waterfall of mercy, compassion, and forgiveness.

Knowing your need for mercy opens you to receiving mercy. Knowing your intimate need for mercy is in great part what it means to know, need, or fall in love with God, because God is mercy itself and must be experienced as such! If you live like the Pharisee in Jesus' parable (Luke 18:9-14), where you do everything perfectly and you are never in need of mercy, then you will never know God! So don't be too good, even in your own eyes. Make sure you always and happily stand on the receiving end of God, just like the Three Persons of the Trinity do to one another, where self-emptying always precedes any new outpouring.

Frankly, it all comes down to this: God doesn't love you because you are good. God loves you because God is good!

Gateway to Silence
"Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts."
--Zechariah 4:6

Adapted from Richard Rohr, True Self/False Self (Franciscan Media: 2003), discs 1 and 2 (CD).

Sunday, July 24, 2016

New rules to help contemplative women be beacons for the world

Pope issues rules to help contemplative women be beacons for the world
by Carol Glatz
posted Friday, 22 Jul 2016

The Carmelite Sisters of Mount Carmel Convent 
in Nairobi, Kenya (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Every institute of contemplative women religious will have to revise its constitutions in light of the new document

In an effort to help contemplative women religious renew their life and mission in the Church and the world, Pope Francis has issued a series of new rulings dealing with formation, assets, prayer life, authority and autonomy.

The new rulings include a mandate that “initially, all monasteries are to be part of a federation” based on “an affinity of spirit and traditions” with the aim of facilitating formation and meeting needs through sharing assets and exchanging members. Monasteries voting for an exception from joining a federation will need Vatican approval.

All institutes of contemplative women religious will need to revise or update their constitutions or rules so as to implement the new norms and have those changes approved by the Holy See.

Titled Vultum Dei Quaerere (“Seeking the face of God”), the document focuses on the life of contemplative women religious. Dated June 29, the feast of Ss Peter and Paul, it was released by the Vatican on July 22, the feast of St Mary Magdalene.

The 38-page document contains 14 new articles ruling on various aspects of life within monasteries and their jurisdiction, including a regulation outlining the criteria needed for a monastery to retain juridical autonomy or else be absorbed by another entity or face closure.

The Vatican Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life is now charged with creating a new instruction to replace what had been the current – but now no longer in effect – Verbi Sponsa, the congregation’s 1999 instruction on contemplative life and cloistered nuns.

Archbishop José Rodriguez Carballo, secretary of the congregation, told reporters that the new apostolic constitution was meant to fill the legislative gaps that have become apparent since Pope Pius XII’s apostolic constitution Sponsa Christi, issued 66 years ago.

The bulk of the new document outlines 12 aspects of consecrated life that call for “discernment and renewed norms” in an effort to help contemplative women fulfil their specific vocation and “essential elements of contemplative life,” the Pope wrote.

The document also notes today’s pervasive “digital culture” and praises the potential of internet for formation and communication. However, the Pope calls for “prudent discernment” in the use of new media so that they don’t lead women to “wasting time or escaping from the demands of fraternal life in community” or become harmful to one’s vocation or an obstacle to contemplative life.

The Pope praised contemplative women and expressed the Church’s long-held esteem for men and women who chose to follow Christ “more closely” by dedicating their lives to him “with an undivided heart” and in a prophetic way.

Underlining how much the Church and humanity need their prayers, self-sacrifice and evangelising witness, the Pope said it was not easy for today’s world to understand their “particular vocation and your hidden mission; and yet it needs them immensely”.

Like beacons of light, contemplative women are “torches to guide men and women along their journey through the dark night of time,” pointing the way to the new dawn and the truth and life of Christ, the Pope said. They are “like Mary Magdalene on Easter morning, [announcing] to us: ‘I have seen the Lord!'” and Mary, the Mother of God, who contemplates the mystery of God in order to see the world “with spiritual eyes.”

However, contemplative life can “meet with subtle temptations” – the most dangerous being: listlessness, falling into mere routine, lack of enthusiasm and hope, and “paralysing lethargy”, he said.

To that end, the Pope highlighted 12 aspects of contemplative and monastic life that needed particular attention and renewed norms for women: formation; prayer; the word of God; the sacraments of the Eucharist and reconciliation; fraternal life in community; autonomy; federations; the cloister; work; silence; media; and asceticism.

The document includes clearer regulations saying that maintaining juridical autonomy will entail having “a certain, even minimal, number of sisters, provided that the majority are not elderly, the vitality needed to practise and spread the charism, a real capacity to provide for formation and governance, dignity and quality of liturgical, fraternal and spiritual life, sign value and participation in life of the local Church, self-sufficiency and a suitably appointed monastery building.”

If a monastery falls short of the criteria, then the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life “will study the possibility of establishing an ad hoc commission made up of the ordinary, the president of the federation, a representative of the federation and the abbess or prioress of the monastery.” The commission’s aim will be to find ways to revitalise the monastery “or to effect its closure.”

Pope Francis repeats warnings he has made before in speeches to consecrated men and women, against “the recruitment of candidates from other countries solely for the sake of ensuring the survival of a monastery.”

Archbishop Rodriguez explained the Church was “not closing its doors” to its universal makeup, but that more thorough and careful discernment must be made by superiors and candidates in reflecting upon their reasons for entering monastic life.

The document, the archbishop said, also clearly states that nuns charged with formation can receive continued formation for themselves even outside the monastery, in a way that is consistent with their charism. The importance of their own formation cannot be sacrificed, he said, just because they have been called to live a cloistered life.

The other major change, the archbishop said, is contained in article 10, in which each monastery is to ask the Holy See “what form of cloister it wishes to embrace, whenever a different form of cloister from the present one is called for.”

“Once one of the possible forms of cloister is chosen and approved, each monastery will take care to comply with, and live in accordance with, its demands,” the document said.

Other mandatory norms each monastery will have to adhere to: verify the centrality and place of prayer in daily life; provide for “lectio divina” and Eucharistic adoration; find ways to involve the local church more; and provide “suitable moments of silence.”

The archbishop said no document on the life of contemplative men’s orders was in the works or being considered.

He said work on the constitution began two and a half years ago when the congregation sent out a questionnaire to every monastery, about 4,000 around the world. The responses were compiled and considered in the drafting process of the new constitution, he said, and contemplative women were “greatly listened to.”

Like the number of religious men and women, the number of contemplative women religious has declined the past decade going from more than 48,000 women in 2000 to less than 39,000 in 2014, he said.

Europe remains the continent with the highest numbers of contemplative women – more than 23,000, followed by the Americas with more than 8,000.

Sunday, July 10, 2016


by Aaron Taylor

6 . 13 . 13

The crisis in family life which has convulsed the West since the 1960s has meant that a good portion of the Church’s teaching mission over recent years has been dedicated to outlining a coherent and compelling vision of Christian marriage, and rightly so. But this should not lead Christians to downplay the nobility of the celibate life, which Christian tradition has always held in the highest regard. This is particularly important to bear in mind as the Church struggles with how best to help homosexual persons to holiness.

Aside from the obvious example of Jesus himself, St. Paul was the first to promote celibacy as a form of “undivided devotion to the Lord.” St. Paul wrote at a time before the existence of monasteries, and addresses himself to both sexes. He was not talking about priestly celibacy, or about the consecrated life. He was talking about the value of a celibate vocation lived out in the midst of the world.

The idea that homosexuals are “called” to celibacy sounds odd to many Christians today. We tend to associate celibacy with a conscious choice to forgo marriage. In other words, one can only really have a celibate vocation if one is first attracted to marriage, and later decides to renounce it as a possibility. Pope Benedict XVI expressed thoughts along these lines in Light of the World :
Homosexuality is incompatible with the priestly vocation. Otherwise, celibacy itself would lose its meaning as a renunciation. It would be extremely dangerous if celibacy became a sort of pretext for bringing people into the priesthood who don’t want to get married anyway.

Leaving aside any discussion about the suitability of homosexuals for priestly ministry, it must be pointed out that the choice-based view expressed here by Benedict is not the only way the Christian tradition has of thinking about the celibate life in general. Addressing women who knew they would never be able to marry because the lives of too many of their country’s men had been claimed by the Second World War, Pope Pius XII had the following to say in 1945:
When one thinks of the women who voluntarily renounce matrimony in order to consecrate themselves to a life of contemplation, sacrifice, and charity, immediately there comes to one’s lips a luminous word: vocation!
[But] this vocation, this call of love, makes itself felt in very diverse ways . . . The young Christian woman who remains unmarried in spite of her own desires may”if she firmly believes in the providence of the heavenly Father”recognize in life’s vicissitudes the voice of the master: Magister adest et vocat te ”the Master is at hand, and is calling you . . . . In the impossibility of matrimony, she discerns her vocation.

For Pius XII, the “meaning” of celibacy lies not in our choice of a state of life, but in God’s choice of us. As a same-sex attracted Christian, the question of what I would like to choose is largely irrelevant. The important question is what God chooses for me. Celibacy, like marriage, requires consent”it cannot be enforced, but must be embraced in freedom. But the key to a right view of celibacy is not free choice , but free response : free and obedient response to the divine call.

This call may manifest itself in different ways. For many, the call will be felt as a gentle whisper in their ear as they prayerfully discern which state of life”out of a number for which they are suitable”they are called to. For others”as Pius XII points out”the divine call is discerned in and through the circumstances of one’s life, which often leave a person with little choice in the matter. But in both cases the vocation itself has the same dignity, provided only that it is embraced with the same generosity on the part of the person whom God calls.

It goes without saying, too, that the blessings attached to the celibate vocation”the opportunity to enjoy a deeper union in this life with Christ the Divine Bridegroom”are in principle open to all those who lead a chaste single life, no matter how they come to realize their vocation. This is an important point. Critics of the Church’s teaching often allege that it asks homosexuals to give up the possibility of intimate relationships in exchange for a life of misery and loneliness. However, when one considers that what is actually being offered in exchange is union with God through chastity, the deal begins to look slightly more attractive!

Sadly, churches are too often unwelcoming places for homosexuals. This should not be the case. Given the Church’s historically high regard for those who lead a chaste single life, it stands to reason that the Church ought to be the natural home of a group of people whom it calls to lead such a life on account of their sexual orientation. The Church is often quick to blame the secular media for misrepresenting its teachings and making it appear anti-gay. Though there is a kernel of truth in this, the bad news is that Catholics, in particular, largely have themselves to blame for being painted into a corner. Even tactful presentations of the Church’s teaching on homosexuality by orthodox speakers and writers often tend to bypass any positives that might be mentioned in favor of focusing solely on the wrongness of homosexual sex and gay marriage. The good news is it does not have to be this way. The Church in fact has a very special and positive message for homosexual people: “The master is here, and he is calling you.”

Aaron Taylor, a Ph.D. student in ethics at Boston College, holds degrees from the University of Oxford and from Heythrop College, University of London.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Michelangelo’s Risen Christ nude makes a powerful theological point

The nudity of Michelangelo’s Risen Christ makes a powerful theological point
by Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith
posted Friday, 1 Jul 2016

Deputy Chairman of Christie's Noel Annesley unveils a rare drawing 
by Michelangelo. 'Study for the Risen Christ' (PA)

The statue is coming to the National Gallery next year – it is a chance to correct a misperception about the Church

The National Gallery is holding what promises to be an interesting show dedicated to Michelangelo and Sebastiano del Piombo, next year. The Guardian has a report on it, with lots of useful links. One of the star attractions is the Sebastiano del Piombo Pietà, a truly magnificent painting, which will be visiting from Viterbo, and which shows the clear influence of Michelangelo. These cross-overs are always of great interest.

As the article points out, most of Michelangelo’s oeuvre is not very portable, so another star of the show will be his statue of the Risen Christ, another version of which is on permanent display in Santa Maria Sopra Minerva in Rome.

The Risen Christ is not, to my mind, a particularly great work, and if it were not by Michelangelo, it would not be very well known. As it is, it is not on the tourist trail of Rome in the same way as the Moses in Saint Peter in Chains. The version coming to London, which has only recently been recognised as by the master, may be better than the one on Santa Maria sopra Minerva, which has had a bronze loincloth added to it to cover up the nudity of the Risen Christ.

We all know the story of the Sistine Chapel, and how Michelangelo’s heroic nudes were covered up by the additions of “breeches” by other hands thanks to Catholic prudishness trumping the free artistic spirit. At least that is how the story goes.

It is undoubtedly the case that Michelangelo liked painting and sculpting the naked figure. Not only is there the David in Florence, but that city also has two Crucifixes by the artist which show us the body of Christ as that of a pale, defenceless and naked child – the more famous of these is in Santo Spirito, but there is also another, less well known, in San Nicolà. But the truth of the matter is, despite these representations (and other older ones, as in the baptisteries in Ravenna), we are not used to seeing images of Christ unclothed.

Is there any theological point to be made in unclothed images of the Saviour? Well, yes, there is.

Given that clothing is something that was only adopted by humankind after the Fall, according to the Book of Genesis, the nudity of Christ is making a statement about his unfallen nature as the second Adam. Just as Adam and Eve before the Fall did not wear clothes and did not know sin, so too Christ, being without sin, shows us a human body that has not been disfigured by sin.

So the nude representation of the Risen Christ which will be on show at the National Gallery will be making a powerful theological statement about the nature of the Resurrection and the fullness of redemption that comes with it. Just as the Risen Christ is without sin, so, one day, we pray, shall we be: and among the sins that will be purged by the Paschal Mystery, will be the sins of the flesh.

This message is one that the world needs to hear, and Michelangelo’s Risen Christ may do a great deal, if properly explained, to reverse the perception that the Church is somehow or another opposed to the flesh which Christ came to save by taking up the flesh. One wonders how the gallery will attempt to explain the nudity of the Risen Christ to the visiting public, and one hopes this great opportunity will not be missed.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Benedict XVI thanks Pope Francis for his focus on mercy at unprecedented Vatican ceremony

Benedict XVI thanks Pope Francis for his focus on mercy at unprecedented Vatican ceremony
by Associated Press
posted Tuesday, 28 Jun 2016

Benedict XVI pictured in 2010
Benedict XVI pictured in 2010

The 65th anniversary of Benedict XVI's ordination as a priest was celebrated at the Vatican with the retired pope and Pope Francis in attendance

Benedict XVI endorsed Pope Francis’s mercy-filled ministry Tuesday during an unprecedented Vatican ceremony featuring a reigning pope honouring a retired one on the 65th anniversary of his ordination as a priest.

Francis had invited the entire Roman Curia to celebrate Benedict’s anniversary, and prelates turned out in force for the rare occasion of being able to greet each man in white. The audience took place in the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace, the same marble and fresco-filled room where Benedict bid a final farewell to his cardinals on February 28, 2013, becoming the first pope in 600 years to resign.

While Pope Francis presided over the ceremony, it was Benedict XVI who stole the show with an off-the-cuff, mini-theology lesson sprinkled with Greek and Latin that showed that the mind of the German theologian is still going strong at 89.

Benedict thanked Francis for letting him live out his final years in the beauty of the Vatican gardens, where he said he felt “protected.”

“Thank you, Holy Father, for your goodness, which from the first moment of your election has struck every day of my life,” Benedict XVI said, speaking without notes. “We hope that you can go forward with all of us on this path of divine mercy, showing us the path of Jesus toward God.”

Pope Francis has recently dismissed new questions about the implications of Benedict’s resignation by insisting that there is only one pope – himself – and that Benedict pledged his obedience on the day he resigned.

He told reporters on the weekend he felt that Benedict XVI “had my back” and was continuing to help the Church through his prayers. He added he had heard that Benedict had even sent away some nostalgic faithful who had come to him complaining about the “new pope.”

During Tuesday’s ceremony, Pope Francis entered the Clementine Hall to applause from the gathered cardinals and went straight to embrace Benedict, who stood up and removed his white skullcap in a sign of deference. They embraced several more times during the ceremony.

Benedict listened intently as Francis addressed him – as “Your Holiness” – lauding his 65 years of service to the Church and saying his decision to retire to a life of quiet prayer to a small monastery in the Vatican gardens was a very “Franciscan” thing to do.

The monastery “is nothing like those forgotten corners where today’s ‘throwaway culture’ tends to put those who lose their strength with age,” Pope Francis said. “Quite the contrary!”

The monastery, the Pope said, is similar to the Porzinuncola, the small chapel in Assisi where his namesake St Francis founded his order and then spent his dying days.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Consecrated life - A revolution of tenderness

Consecrated life and mercy- A revolution of tenderness
2016-02-02 L’Osservatore Romano

What is the relationship between consecrated life and mercy? Since the foundation of consecrated life is Christ "consecrated persons profess that Jesus is the model in whom every virtue comes to perfection" (Vita Consecrata, 18). Caterina Ciriello writes that this idea becomes vital to being witnesses of the image of Jesus, the Incarnation of the Father who is mercy. Ciriello adds that in Evangelii Gaudium Pope Francis writes that "the Gospel tells us constantly to run the risk of a face-to-face encounter with others, with their physical presence which challenges us, with their pain and their pleas, with their joy which infects us in our close and continuous interaction. True faith in the incarnate Son of God is inseparable from self-giving, from membership in the community, from service, from reconciliation with others. The Son of God, by becoming flesh, summoned us to the revolution of tenderness". This is material for deep reflection.

Monday, June 6, 2016

SWEDEN / Faith: St. Mary Elizabeth Hesselblad canonised for saving Jews

Swedish nun Mary Elizabeth Hesselblad canonised for saving Jews
5 June 2016
From the section Europe
Image copyright REUTERS Image caption: Swedish Minister of 
Culture Alice Bah Kuhnke attended Mary Elizabeth Hesselblad's 
canonisation in the Vatican

A nun who saved Jewish families during World War Two has been made the first Swedish saint in more than 600 years.

Pope Francis canonised Roman Catholic convert Mary Elizabeth Hesselblad at a ceremony in St Peter's Square on Sunday.

Ms Hesselblad hid Jewish families in the convent in Rome where she was the mother superior.

The Pope also canonised Polish monk Stanislaus Papczynski for supporting the poor in the 17th Century.

He founded the first men's religious order dedicated to the Virgin Mary's immaculate conception.

How does someone become a saint?

Ms Hesselblad, a Lutheran who converted to Catholicism, is only the second Swede to become a saint, following Saint Bridget 625 years ago.
The canonisation ceremony was witnessed by a 
large crowd in St Peter's Square

A former nurse, she is credited with saving at least 12 Jews during the war, concealing families inside her Rome convent for about six months before the war ended.

She also won praise for promoting better relations between Catholics and non-Catholics and for encouraging both Christians and non-Christians towards the church.

Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust remembrance centre honoured her as one of the Righteous Among the Nations in 2004, an award given to non-Jews who helped Jews during the Holocaust.

Mary Elizabeth Hesselblad died in Rome in 1957, aged 87.

Psalm 37:1-8

Ps 37:1-8
Do not fret because of evildoers,
Be not envious toward wrongdoers.
2 For they will wither quickly like the grass
And fade like the green herb.
3 Trust in the Lord and do good;
Dwell in the land and [a]cultivate faithfulness.
4 Delight yourself in the Lord;
And He will give you the desires of your heart.
5 Commit your way to the Lord,
Trust also in Him, and He will do it.
6 He will bring forth your righteousness as the light
And your judgment as the noonday.
7 [b]Rest in the Lord and wait [c]patiently for Him;
Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way,
Because of the man who carries out wicked schemes.
8 Cease from anger and forsake wrath;
Do not fret; it leads only to evildoing.

Friday, June 3, 2016

MISSION / Mongolia: Priests on horseback build the church from scratch

How priests on horseback built the Mongolian church from scratch
by Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith
posted Thursday, 2 Jun 2016

Bishop Wenceslao Padilla confirms a boy at Good Shepherd Catholic Parish in Ulan Bator, Mongolia (CNS)

Intrepid missionaries in East Asia have something to teach Western Catholics

Good news from an unexpected and little known quarter of the Universal Church: the first native Mongolian priest is shortly to be ordained.

Congratulations to the Reverend Joseph Enkh. May he be the first of many Mongolians to be ordained, and may his ministry bring joy and consolation to God’s faithful people in Mongolia. Fides carries the story here. It also reports that there are about 1,000 faithful in Mongolia, which is remarkable, as the Church has only been functioning in the country since 1992.

There is more information on the local church in Mongolia from the ever-useful Wikipedia, which can be found here.

I have something of an interest in the Mongolian Church as one of my former students from Africa, a Consolata Missionary, was sent there on ordination. He was an Italian, and the third priest to go there, if memory serves, and thus something of a pioneer. Setting up a church from scratch is quite a task, and it was entrusted to, among others, priests trained in Africa, because they would be familiar with just how this is done.

How missions are started is quite instructive, particularly for people like us, who live in England many centuries after St Augustine first landed in Kent. In Mongolia, there were some resident foreign Catholics, working in embassies and for aid organisations, and thus at the beginning there was a congregation for the missionaries to say Mass for.

But apart from this, the first missionaries to arrive back in 1992, when the country opened up to the world, would have been regarded as very strange, almost like visitors from another world.

The most important thing for any mission is to establish a way into the culture of the country it aims to evangelise. This means in the very first place learning the language, which can be quite hard. It also means trying to understand the mindset of the people whose language you learn. Mongolia presents particular challenges. There are cities, but much of the population is very thinly spread out over the vast territory, which consists of wide grasslands.

The Mongols are of course, historically, a nomadic people, and superb horsemen. Missionaries from Africa know about pastoralist cultures, and would very soon cotton on to the necessity of learning to ride. Given that the population is in many places not sedentary, it makes little sense building churches outside the main cities. The priest and the catechist, as in the territory of the Maasai, need to be on the move, with the people they aim to evangelise, so where the people are, they can be too.

One favoured strategy of missionaries in this situation is to open not a church, but to a bore hole and water trough to which people from miles around will bring their animals to drink, and when waiting to water them, will engage with the missionaries. Once a trough is built, it will become a focal point for the pastoralists. After the trough come other useful institutions such as clinics, and sometimes schools.

No doubt these are the sorts of things that the small band of Catholic clergy in Mongolia will be familiar. And when Fr Joseph Enkh is ordained, he will, doubtless, spend many an hour on horseback riding across those vast empty spaces in search of his countrymen, eager, I am sure, to tell them the Good News. May he be granted many receptive listeners, thorough the grace of God.

Does this have any lessons for England today? Well, yes. At a time when not so many come to church, we need to move from sedentary to mobile, and, rather than waiting for people to come to us, go to where they are to be found. Water troughs will not be appropriate, but there may well be some similar strategy more fitted to contemporary Britain.

Gender Politics: Transgender toilets are a reality shock for the Left

Transgender toilets are a reality shock for the Left, and the stress is showing
by Robert Wargas
posted Friday, 3 Jun 2016

Visitors walk past a men's bathroom at the 
Statehouse in Boston (AP)

The latest skirmish has revealed the inner contradictions of identity politics

Here in the United States, the transgender toilet wars are heating up. The latest battle concerns not Christians, however, but the political Left: The director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)’s chapter in Georgia has resigned, citing the organisation’s support for allowing transwomen (i.e. those who “identify” as female) in women’s bathrooms.

For Maya Dillard Smith, the director in question, the ACLU’S stance was simply hypocritical. In a statement, she said the left-leaning organisation was guilty of serving as a “special interest organization that promotes not all, but certain progressive rights”.

Apparently Smith had taken her young children into a public toilet and had to endure the presence of “three transgender young adults over six feet with deep voices”, who entered after them.

“My children were visibly frightened”, Smith said, “concerned about their safety and left asking lots of questions for which I, like many parents, was ill-prepared to answer”.

Under decree from President Barack Obama, public schools must allow transgender people to use the toilet corresponding to the gender with which they identify. The ACLU has supported Obama’s decision, which is based on Title IX, a section of U.S. federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in educational programs receiving federal funding. The ACLU has even sued the governor of North Carolina, whose state passed a law requiring that people in government buildings use bathrooms matching the sex on their birth certificates.

As we can see, the contradictions of identity politics are finally beginning to manifest themselves in these kinds of public skirmishes. Now we have not just Christians and conservatives fighting the Left in the culture war, but the Left fighting itself. It was bound to happen.

Here’s why. The Left assigns victim status to certain groups. In practice, this means one must never oppose, question, criticise, contradict, or blame the victim group. It also means one must always support whatever protective legal measure is proposed in the name of their group rights, regardless of how strongly it goes against established culture, custom, or law.

What happens, then, when the interests of two victim groups (in this case, women and transgender people) conflict with one another? The normal solution would be to shift blame to the official oppressor, which among left-wing culture warriors is the white, heterosexual Christian male.

But in cases like this, that isn’t so easy. There’s a big difference between an abstract question – “Should transgender women be allowed in female bathrooms?’ – and a concrete scenario: that is, being a female, walking into a bathroom and having a deep-voiced person with the wrong anatomy follow you in. The first is a moral debate that costs you nothing to have; the second is a very real circumstance with which you or your children may have to contend. And when liberals finally do contend with it, even they start to question their own wisdom.

Often you’ll find that liberals act very conservative when no one is watching.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

MISSION: Sixty-one cloistered nuns visit a Prison

These 61 cloistered nuns visit a Prison

Credit: Anneka via

Santiago, Chile, May 28, 2016 / 04:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).-
A group of 61 cloistered nuns from six monasteries in Santiago, Chile made an historic visit to the local Women's Prison Center to spend time with the inmates and attend Mass with them.

“I don't know if in the 400 years of the history of Santiago, there has been another occasion when contemplative sisters from several monasteries joined together to celebrate the Eucharist with a group of women who are incarcerated, but who are sisters in the faith,” said Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, who celebrated the Mass.

The nuns made the trip to the facility on May 23 to mark the Jubilee of Consecrated Life as part of Pope Francis' Year of Mercy.

Cardinal Ezzati said that the nuns made the request to visit with the inmates “so the sisters who contemplate the face of God every day in prayer could contemplate him in the face of people who are suffering, going through a hard time in their lives.”

“The dear cloistered nuns are the city's uplifted arms to intercede before God for all of us, especially those who are suffering the most,” he said.

After the Mass, the religious sang a traditional Chilean song to honor the Virgin Mary, and to everyone's surprise, four of them got up to dance. They then went to the prison courtyard where they continued visiting with the inmates.

For Sister Maria Rosa of the Discalced Carmelites from the San José monastery, the day was “a grace to share with them, to really feel like a sister with them, to feel their sorrow, their joy and to become one with them.”

“It strikes me that this encounter would be on the feast of the Holy Trinity. That means that God dwells in every soul,” she told the archdiocesan communications office.

Railín, one of the inmates, said that “it was good that they came and prayed for us. The sisters and bishops coming helped support us, we need a lot of people to come and see us.”

Ana Chacón, another inmate, said that the religious “ give us the spirit of the Lord, it's a blessing to have them here. Seeing the dear cloistered nuns doing the traditional dance and swinging the kerchiefs was something new.”

Pope Francis' Year of Mercy runs from December 2015 to November of 2016, with the aim of encouraging Catholics to experience God's mercy – both in the Sacrament of Confession and being concrete signs of this mercy in charitable work.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Blessed Fr. Hilary Januszewski (1907 – 1945) - Feast 12 June

Hilary Januszewski

Bl. Hilary Januszewski (1907 – 1945) - Priest and Martyr
Feast Day – June 12th

Hilary Januszewski
Born June 11th, 1907 in Krajenki, Poland and was given the name of Pawel. He received a Christian education from his parents, Martin and Marianne. He attended the college in Greblin, and then continued his studies at the Institute of Suchary, but had to abandon these due to economic difficulties of the family.  He entered the Order of Carmel in 1927 and was ordained a priest on July 15th, 1934. He obtained his lectorate in theology and the prize for the best students of the Roman Academy of St. Thomas and in 1935 returned to Poland to the monastery in Cracow. On his return to Poland he was appointed professor of Dogmatic Theology and Church History at the institute of the Polish Province in Cracow.
 On November 1st, 1939 he was appointed prior of his community.  One year later, the German forces decreed the arrest of many religious and priests. On September 18th, 1940 the Gestapo deported four friars from the Carmel in Cracow. In December, when other friars were arrested, Fr. Hilary decided to present himself in exchange for an older and sick friar. In April 1941 he was sent to the concentration camp of Dachau. There he was a model of prayer life, encouraging others and giving hope for a better tomorrow. Together with the other Carmelites, among whom was Blessed Titus Brandsma, they often joined in prayer. To help the sick, 32 priests presented themselves to the authorities.  His apostolate lasted 21 days because, infected by typhus, he died on March 25th, 1945, a few days before the liberation of the concentration camp.. Hilary Januszewski was beatified by Pope John Paul II on June 13th, 1999, during his apostolic visit to Warsaw (Poland). On this occasion the Pope beatified 108 Polish martyrs of the Second World War, victims of Nazi persecution.