Thursday, December 27, 2007

Adeste Fidelis

Listening to a Vatican Radio podcast on carols, I just learned that Adeste Fidelis is a Christmas Carol from the English Catholic community in exile in France during the Reformation in England. One of the professors teaching priests for the mission in England, John Francis Wade, wrote it in Latin.

Interesting as I have always loved this hymn and never knew that it was originally "English."

"Oh Come let us adore him!"

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Day After

That's it. Wrap it up. Show's over folks. Nothing more to see here. Get ready for New Year's. Think about the past year and about making resolutions for the one to come. Do anything else but remember that Christmas is not just one day in the year but a time of year, or even better, that Christmas might be more than just a time of year, that it might be something deeper and more profound than a day upon which all the mall walking, employee harassing, gift hunting (it is almost a full contact sport these days), jingle hearing, and tinsel totting find their culmination.

Yes, the old carol The Twelve Days of Christmas might still be sung, and some people might recall that these 12 days refer to Christmas and the eleven days that follow, but not very many people realize why this carol mentions twelve days of Christmas. In fact, today, one would hardly hear anyone suggest that we sing this song the day after Christmas because, silly, it's a Christmas carol and Christmas is only the 25th of December. One would not hear Christmas carols in public after December 25th, at least not in an America that was originally opposed to the celebration of Christmas (think Puritans - yeah the same ones from whom we supposedly get the pseudo-religious feast of Thanksgiving), didn't like public feasts (think Presbyterians), and, when Christmas did come into its own, became known as the day when children would find gifts left by a mysterious Santa Claus (whom few realize is really Saint Nickolaus devoid of his religious garb - that of a bishop - and moved from his feast, December 6th, to fill the spiritual void in America's soul) and, later, the day around which businesses hoped to make money (which is a logical progression since free market capitalism - that is, at least the consumerism brand of capitalism - is pretty much the unofficial religion of America where "supporting the economy," ie buying junk one doesn't need, is one of the ten commandments).

Despite the urban legend, the carol The Twelve Days of Christmas was not a secret catechetical tool used by English Catholics when the Church of England and Anglicanism threatened the continuance of the Catholic faith in England. Instead it recalls the fact that the traditional Anglican rendering of the Christmas Season included Christmas Day and the following days until the day before Epiphany (Epiphany is January 6th, so if you count Christmas Day and each day before Epiphany, you get 12 days [25 - 31 is 7 plus 1- 5 makes 12]). Yet, this religious significance to the 12 days of Christmas has almost been forgotten, especially as businesses hope to profit off of the idea that the 12 days of Christmas are the 12 shopping days before the 25th of December.

Yet even us Catholics can forget that we have an Octave of Christmas (from December 25 - January 1st, eight days inclusive, hence the term "octave"), or even that the Christmas season lasts until the Feast Baptism of the Lord and permeates the first few weeks of Ordinary Time (the Nativity Scene at the Vatican won't be taken down until February 2nd, the Feast of the Presentation). Instead, like the rest of our society, we tend to forget Christmas after the 25th of December and begin to focus on New Year's Eve, not remembering that the first Christmas (whenever it was) is the reason we call this year 2007 and the next one 2008. Yes, our time (which is money, right?) is measured in years from the birth of Christ and yet we think of Christmas as only being one day a year.

And doesn't even the secular world acknowledge the importance of having Christmas be something that is year round and not just a single day. Do not the poets and other romantics of our age recommend we keep the childlike wonder and "magic" of Christmas year round. Then how much more important is it for us Christians to keep the wonder of the child-of-God-making grace that was given to us in Word Made Flesh, the baby Jesus?

Christmas, my dear friends, is not just once a year. It is not just a liturgical season. Christmas is everyday since everyday we celebrate the incarnation. Merry Christmas. May the feast never end!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Reflection for Gaudete Sunday - Part 2

Okay, so I didn't catch this yesterday as I tuned in late to catch only the reference to individual happiness, but you can imagine my surprise when I saw that I wasn't the only one to be talking about joy in suffering because of God's presence. The Holy Father at the Angelus also had a few words to say about it, as reported by

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 16, 2007 ( Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today before reciting the midday Angelus with several thousand people gathered in St. Peter's Square.
* * *
Dear Brothers and Sisters!

"Gaudete in Domino semper" -- "Rejoice in the Lord always" (Philippians 4:4). With these words of St. Paul, the holy Mass of the Third Sunday of Advent opens, and for this reason it is called "Gaudete." The apostle exhorts Christians to rejoice because the coming of the Lord, that is, his glorious return, is certain and he will not delay. The Church makes precisely this invitation while she prepares to celebrate Christmas and her gaze is turned always more toward Bethlehem. In fact, we await his second coming with certain hope because we have known his first coming.

The mystery of Bethlehem reveals to us God-with-us, God near to us, not simply in a spatial and temporal sense; he is near to us because he has wedded, so to speak, our humanity; he has taken our condition upon himself, choosing to be completely like us, except in sin, to make us like him. Christian joy thus flows from this certainty: God is near, he is with me, he is with us, in joy and suffering, in health and sickness, as friend and faithful husband. And this joy remains even in trials, in suffering itself, and remains not on the surface but rather in the depths of the person who gives himself to God and confides in him.

Some ask themselves: But is this joy still possible today? The answer is given by the life of men and women of every age and social condition, happy to consecrate their existence to others! Was not Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta perhaps, in our times, an unforgettable witness of evangelical joy? She lived in daily contact with misery, human degradation, death. Her soul knew the trial of the dark night of faith, and yet she bestowed the smile of God upon all.

We read in one of her writings: "With impatience we await paradise, where God is, but it is in our power to be in paradise beginning here below and from this moment. Being happy with God means: loving like him, helping like him, giving like him, serving like him" ("La gioia di darsi agli altri," Ed. Paoline, 1987, 43).

Yes, joy enters into the heart of those who place themselves at the service of the least and the poor. In those who love in this way God takes up his abode and the soul is in joy. If, however, happiness is made an idol, the wrong road is taken and it is truly difficult to find Jesus. This, unfortunately, is the proposal of the cultures that put individual happiness in the place of God; it is a mentality that finds its emblematic effect in the pursuit of pleasure at all costs, in the spread of drug use as an escape, like a refuge in artificial paradises, which subsequently show themselves to be completely illusory. [Similar to the false gods and the promise to never suffer]

Dear brothers and sisters, even at Christmastime it is possible to take the wrong road, to exchange the true feast for that one that does not open the heart to Christ. May the Virgin Mary help all Christians, and men in search of God, to reach Bethlehem, to meet the Child who is born for us, for the salvation and happiness of all men.

I can't say "great minds think alike" because I know Benedict is much more intelligent than I am. Instead I think I'll just take this as part of the rule of repeated themes... in other words, as a sign that the inspiration of this topic of reflection is from God.

Thanks big guy, as you have been teaching me a lot in the last few weeks!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Reflection for Gaudete Sunday

Rejoice in the Lord always. I say it again, rejoice!

Yesterday I heard a homily on the prophet Elijah which really got me thinking. In it the priest mentioned that Elijah's call was to unmask the false gods of Israel (Baal and the like). These gods promise prosperity in the form of rain, but when confronted with Elijah, the prophet representing the true God, Israel experiences a drought, showing that it is not Baal who controls the rain but God. In exchange for his service to God, Elijah is persecuted, experiences dislusionment to the point of wanting to die, and yet is comforted by God in a way he never expected, the stillness of the presence of God.

This homily, when combined with the themes of accepting the cross (from the second reading of the office for St. John of the Cross) and the story of Job, which I have been studying in class, made me realize something which has kind of been forming within me ever since my time in Central America... The false gods that we follow at times promise one a life of ease and of no suffering. To serve them means to buy into the illusion that one can be above suffering and pain, that one can be unaffected by the evil of limits. In other words, the false gods promise to make us gods. They promise to make sure that we are always happy and never in pain.

Thinking about pagan cults, magical practices and the like, one sees that this is often the aim. One performs a rite to ensure a blessing of sorts. One then, by doing such, places oneself in charge. One controls the elements (supposedly) by doing a particular action. Obviously one uses this then to try to gain pleasure and avoid pain.

The true God does not promise us pain and suffering. God does not inflict upon us the various trials that we encounter, but rather simply informs us in the gospel that we will encounter pain and suffering. In fact, we are admonished that he or she who does not pick his or her cross can not be a disciple of Jesus.

Instead we are promised that God will be with us even to the end of the world, which means he is with us even in our suffering. Just as God reveal his presence to Elijah, encouraging him to then be able to face the trials ahead of him, likewise God gives us the strength to be able to face the trials we are going through. Just as God reveals himself to Job, who, though reduced to nothing sees God with his own eyes, knowing in a more experiential way that his redeemer lives, likewise, to the downcast and downtrodden faithful, God shows himself tobe in their midst, giving them the hope that they need in order to endure their trials.

God does not promise a life free of suffering, but does promise to redeem us in our lowliness and to glorfiy man in his frailty. This is the opposite of what the sham gods promise. They want us to think that we can be gods free from suffering, but in the end we suffer more because the sham gods, like Baal during the time of Elijah, really can not deliver on their "promise" to make man into something he isn't. The one true God, on the other hand, can make do on the promise, but his promise does not ask the humman to reject what his very nature, frail, limited and prone to suffering, but rather to embrace it. It is here, in the poverty and the meekness of the beatitudes that God promises His enduring and encouraging presence to help us face the trials and difficulties of our lives, and it is in the very weakness of our human nature that God manifests His glory! Think of the baby Jesus, prone to experience not only the difficulites of our human nature, but even more exposed by being born into poverty, without even a proper bed. Think also of the glorified Christ after the resurrection. The marks of the passion, signs of human humiliation and shame, become the life giving fountains of grace and healing, glorified specifically in so much as Christ chose to keep these signs in his body, in His glorified state. The true God, can and does divinize man. He glorifies his saints, but only if they accept who and what they are. Only if they accept and embrace their limited human nature and offer it to Him as Christ did, putting faith in being maintained and sustained by the best of consolers, God Himself.

When one suffers, the difficult thing about it is the feeling of being alone. But with God by one's side, and even better, with Jesus who has already experienced what we go through and much more, we have the best of consolers. He might not take away the pain, but He gives the interior peace one needs to face even death itself.

Since God is for us who can be against us. And since God is with us in all our trials, we have every reason to rejoice in the cross, our one hope! Because in the cross is redemption. After the cross comes Easter.

So therefore, let us rejoice in the Lord always, even in the midst of sadness and trials, I say it again, rejoice!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Reflection for Monday of the 2nd Week of Advent

In today's readings we hear the theme of God's salvation. From the book of Isaiah we hear the kind of salvation we can expect from God. To a people who had strayed from God's ways and had just suffered the exile, the author of Isaiah proclaims God's saving action, specifically called God's recompense. There then follows a series of dramatic changes, the desert, symbol of the unfruitfulness of the people as a whole, blooming, and the illnesses of the people, symbol of the consequences of sin, being healed, both of which indicate that God's recompense is a complete and total restoration of the individual and of the people as a community. What's more, this restoration opens up for the people a holy way upon which they can walk without going astray or falling into impurity.

If the first reading were not enough to make the point evident, the Gospel portrays an event in the life of Jesus where we see this prophecy being fulfilled. A man who was paralyzed is presented to Jesus. Jesus forgives his sins, heals him of his physical ailment, and commands him to get up and walk. A connection is also made between the Holy Way mentioned in Isaiah, Jesus, who called himself the way, and the faith-life of the church, which as we know from the Acts of the Apostles was simply called “the way” by the early church.
We see, then, that God's salvation is first and foremost the forgiveness of sins, but not a simple forgiveness that leaves the sinner as he or she is, but rather that restores the person, that gives the person back his dignity and allows him to walk in holiness, giving him a way to follow, and that way is Jesus.

Reflecting on how God saves us can lead us to consider our own response to this salvation, both in how we relate to God and how we relate to our brothers. Advent, looking at the final coming of Christ, focuses on repentance. In our examination of our lives we find not only sins but also areas where we are paralyzed or suffering the consequences of sin (be it our own or that of others), areas which can frustrate us in our attempts to walk in holiness. Seeing as Jesus not only forgives sins but also heals the consequences of sins, our areas of paralysis should not cause us to be afraid to encounter the Lord. Rather, like the friends of the man in today's gospel, we should bring these areas specifically to the Lord's attention, praying for healing and continuing to be aware of how these areas affect us. As Jesuit Father Marko Rupnik puts it, simply by frequently making these areas the subject of prayer one already allows them to be transformed from weaknesses to areas where one encounters the Lord, and thus by inviting the Lord into these areas one will see the Lord provide the growth and the healing we need.

Being faced with a salvation that restores our dignity when our sins have been forgiven prompts us to examine the way in which we forgive our brothers. There are basically two ways to forgive others, a pompous way and a compassionate way. An example of the pompous way of forgiveness can be seen in Ralph Fiennes' character Amon Goeth in the movie Schindler's List. The head of the labor camp, Goeth takes Oskar Schindler's suggestion to pardon people as a way to glorify himself and further demean the worth of the person. After pardoning a man, he shoots him as he's walking away. Likewise for us, at times our forgiveness is masked malevolence. We forgive the offense but pay the person back by lowering our esteem for them. We don't hold the offense against them exteriorly, but cut down their dignity in our minds and in our hearts. On the contrary, we have the example of Jesus who is compassionate, who restores the dignity of the person he forgives by raising them up. Likewise we too are called to be compassionate with our brothers and sisters, forgiving them just as we too have been in need of forgiveness by completely setting aside the offense and our desire for revenge.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Myth About Constantine and the Church

I've heard it said many times that orthodox Christianity was an invention of Constantine, and that had he not imposed his vision of Christianity upon the Roman Empire, then Christianity as we know it today would not exist, but rather other forms of Christianity would have taken its place.

Reading "The Christian Centuries: Volume One, the First Six Hundred Years" by Jean Danielou and Henri Marrou, I came across some interesting tidbits that blast that idea out of the water.

First, less than three years after the Council of Nicea had defined the Son "homoousios" with the Father and condemned Arius and his supports, Constantine has Arius and some Arian bishops reinstated. So, one can not really say that Constantine imposed his view of Christianity on the Empire since his point of view was not a single point of view, but changed, and his change of heart was hardly toward what emerged as orthodoxy.

Neither can one say that the emperors following Constantine were the ones who settled the issue clearly with the orthodox position. Constans II, who ruled the eastern empire after Constantine's death, was constantly shifting position and always was under the influence of "Arianising theologians."

Under Constantine, Constans, and Constantius who followed him, bishops who supported the doctrine of Nicea (considered the orthodox position) were sent into exile (ex. Athanasius, Lucifer of Cagliari, Hilary of Poitiers, Pope Liberius, and Hosius of Cordova.). Emperor Julian wanted to reinstate paganism. Valentinian, in the West, though a Nicaean, was not interested in theological debates. Valens, in the East, like Constantius his predecessor, adopted a modified Arianism and persecuted those who were not of his line of thought.

It wasn't until Theodosius in 380 that the orthodox Nicaean line was imposed on subjects of the empire.

So, for those who say that the Church is an invention of Constantine, and that its faith was the personal faith of the emperor, take a look at this book for some insight into what really happened.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


As the bells at St. Peter's ring to announce the first vespers of the Solemnity of All Saints', I'm thinking about Halloween and its origins. I bet that, more than any other day, Halloween is one of the most misunderstood days of the year. I say "misunderstood" because our culture has taken it apart so many times and given it different meanings, that it is not even funny. Most people, for instance, associate Halloween with evil, with Michael Myers from the famous "Halloween" movies, of Jamie Lee Curtis fame. Others associate Halloween with dressing up in costumes and going around trick or treating.

Yet, with all the commercialism and misunderstanding surrounding Halloween, the question comes up, how should the Christian celebrate Halloween? I think to answer this question it is important to come to understand what Halloween is about and where it came from. Only then can the question of how to celebrate it be answered.

Not to bore people to death, but in order to understand what something is, sometimes we need to break up the word we use to describe it or trace the etymology of the word back to its original significance. "Halloween" actually stems from "Hallowe'en" which is a shortened form of "All Hallows Even," which in today's English might be better put as "All Saints Eve."

So, the name Halloween itself is religious. In which case, the question arises, where did all the candy and tricker-treating come from, the dressing up in costumes and the association of Halloween with evil? To answer this, we have to do a bit of history.

The Feast of All Saints' was not always celebrated Novemeber 1st with a vigil on October 31st. Rather, back in the 800's this pre-existing feast was moved to Novemeber 1st to coincide with the Celtic holiday of Samhain. Samhain was the Celtic new year, a day upon which the viel between the spirit world and the physical world was at its thinnest, and, as such, it was believed that the spirits of deceased loved ones would come back and visit their families. Because of the possibility of meeting an evil spirit, people in Ireland did not go out on Samhain night, at least not without something to ward off evil (either a bonfire or a costume... it said of the Irish lengendary figure Cuchalain that he wore a costume when dared to go outside on Samhain night). Besides lighting candles so that the souls of their loved ones would find their way home, pagan families would make cakes for the souls of their loved ones to eat. What a treat! Later, these cakes were given to the poor to pray for the dead or even given to children who dressed up in costumes. According to ancient Celtic custom, Samhain was not celebrated on a fixed date. Instead it was always considered to be on the full moon in the astrological sign of Scorpio (late Oct, early Nov).

All Saints' was moved to November 1st and All Souls set on November 2nd specifically to be associated with the beliefs about the dead still prevalent from Celtic religion. This was done not necessarily to baptize pagan beliefs - the belief in the communion of saints and of praying for the dead preexists Christianity's contact with the Celtic peoples who celebrated Samhain, so no one can claim that these elements in Christianity are pagan - but rather to instruct the Christian teaching to a people who were no longer celebrating the customs associated with Samhain for religious purposes, but rather for cultural or superstitious purposes. That is, the places where the traditions behind Samhain were still being practiced were already largely "Christian" for several centuries by the time the commemoration of All the Saints on November 1st was extended to the whole Church during the pontificate of Gregory IV (827-844). For example, most people do not put up holly in winter because of a belief in the pagan celebration of Yule, but rather because it was simply something handed down. Likewise, the celebrations surrounding Samhain were still present, and the church looked to give these a proper Christian orientation. Since man of these customs were not necessarily "wrong," but simply in need of fulfillment with the message of the gospel, there was no need to do away with the commemoration of the dead, just simply need to catechize the people by means of a feast.

It is interesting to note, that in the face of the question from the Celtic cultures of the relationship between the spiritual realm and the physical realm, the church emphasized, first and foremost, the saints! This affirmed what the Celtic religion had believed, that there is an interaction between the dead and the living, although for the Christian it is an interaction not limited to one day of the year, but a continuous interaction in the communion of saints. Not only this, but the Church emphasized that the faithful in Christ who die are not necessarily dead, but alive, alive in Christ and in heaven interceeding for us. Only later did the Church also add the Commemoration of All Souls Faithfully Departed, to underline also the teaching that he Christian is called to pray for those souls still in need of purification before entering heaven.

So, how should one celebrate Halloween. Well, first off, one should not associate it with the devil. Neither All Hallows' Eve or the Celtic Samhain had anything to do with Satan. Though the Celtic peoples tended to believe that the chances of encountering evil spirits was greater on Samhain night, the Christian knows that one is not more susceptable to evil on one over another. In other words, the battle against evil is the same everyday and God's protection and provedence is also the same everyday. Neither should one necessarily have a problem with trick or treating. By now, the dressing up in costume is not associated with scaring away evil. If anything, children can even be taught the original meaning of Halloween by dressing up as a favorite saint. When people ask what they are, their reply can even help others come to know the original meaning of Halloween. One should not, however, out of a sense of righteousness, refrain from participation in the secular celebrations of Halloween. If Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have emphasized anything, it is the need to engage the culture around us and be bold in proclaiming the Christian message in the midst of the concrete reality of today. Nor would emphasizing the saints on Halloween be the "Christian response" to Halloween, since the message of the Saints was always being proclaimed. If anything, it would only be the faithful of today joining once more the continued message of the Church throughout the centuries in proclaiming the salvific love of Christ who is wonderful in his saints and who calls us also to be holy.

Peace and Goodness, and may you have a happy and safe All Hallows' Eve!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Relics of John Paul II

I heard from the Office of the Postulation for the Cause of John Paul II today that some people are sending back the holy cards of Pope John Paul II with the relic "ex indumentis," saying, "This is just a holy card. Where is the relic I asked for?"

Some have even sent the Catholic News Service article on the relics along with their complaint, underlining the fact that it clearly says one will receive "a small piece of one of the white cassocks worn by Pope John Paul [II]."

So, in case anyone out there feels that the Office of the Postulation for the Cause of John Paul II has hoodwinked you, let's take a closer look at the holy cards that they send out

To the left, one will see the front of the holy card.

Notice in the lower right hand corner a small circle where something white is visible. To the right, one will see the back of the holy card with a paper seal corresponding to the small circle on the front of the holy card.

Here is a closeup for a better look.

Notice that the small circle on the front of the holy card (see above left) clearly contains a piece of white fabric. Also notice that on the back, the seal (see right) clearly has the papal crest of John Paul II with the words "EX INDUMENTIS S.D. IOANNIS PAULI PP. II" circling the crest. These words mean "From the clothing of the Servant of God, Pope John Paul II." ("S.D." is an abbreviation for "Servant of God" in Latin and "PP." is a Latin abbreviation for "Pope."). This is the "piece of one of the white cassocks worn by Pope John Paul" that everyone has been requesting. I guess some people were expecting a reliquary or a full blown "relic" like they see in Church.

Which brings up another point, the Office of the Postulation has on a number of occasions asked that people keep in mind that these "relics" are simply momentos for private devotion and not fully "relics" that one could use in public devotion (which can only be for those already proclaimed "Blessed" or "Saint" by the Holy See). Prudence and patience are needed, and one must not presume the judgement of the Holy See.


Thanks to all who have left comments recently. Sorry I've been away. I've been studying for exams. I have one more to go and a paper to write, so I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Thanks to all who have been praying for me.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Reflection for the Novena for Pentecost

The days between the Feasts of the Ascension and of Pentecost have traditionally been days of prayer focused on receiving anew the gift of the Holy Spirit, to strengthen one’s relationship with Him. Despite our busy schedules, this is a good time to remember who the Holy Spirit is and what sort of disposition we need in order to receive Him more fully and be more docile to His inspirations.

In John, we hear Jesus call the Holy Spirit the Advocate and the Spirit of Truth. He is our Advocate because He intercedes for the faithful before God with inexpressible groanings. Being the Spirit of Truth, He reminds us of all that Jesus has told us, He enlightens us and illumines our consciences to sin so as to lead us to repentance, forgiveness and greater holiness. As Fr. Cantalamessa mentions, the Holy Spirit’s role as Advocate counters Satan, literally “the accuser,” who “accuses humanity before God and accuses God before humanity.” The lies of the accuser are countered by the Holy Spirit who makes the words of Jesus resound in our hearts. He also reminds us that we are children of God.

The more we are in union with the Holy Spirit, the more the Father and the Son take up their home in the our hearts. This happens through the Holy Spirit precisely because He is the gift of God Most High, and, where there is one person of the Trinity, the other two are also present. And if His gift of intimate union with God were not enough, the Holy Spirit also provides us with His gifts and forms in us His fruits to counter our weaknesses and vices. The Holy Spirit is, in effect, the salve of the Good Samaritan that heals our wounds and gives us what we need in our poverty and weakness.

How do we regard the reception of the Holy Spirit? Do we think the Holy Spirit is something we can gain by our prayers or our own virtue? Or do we recognize the Holy Spirit as a free gift from the Father we? Do we truly desire that Holy Spirit come into our lives with His action and presence, or do we fear that we will no longer be in control or that we will be asked to give up the sins and ingrained vices that we have become attached to and familiar with?

During this week, let us ask the Holy Spirit to come into our lives and renew us we may be more authentic witnesses to the Gospel.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Interview with the Doctor of John Paul II

Here is an interview with John Paul II's physician, Dr. Renato Buzzonetti, which I translated for the May edition of "Totus Tuus."

A Little Cyrenean in the Footsteps of the Great Cyrenean John Paul II

Dr. Renato Buzzonetti, Chief Pontifical Physician, Director of the Directory of Health and Hygiene of the Vatican City State for almost 40 years, personal physician of John Paul II, tells of his nearly 27 year professional and spiritual adventure, which began December 29, 1978, in this exclusive interview with “Totus Tuus”.

Dr. Buzzonetti, this past April 2nd, the diocesan phase of the Cause for Beatification and Canonization of the Servant of God John Paul II, to whom you were tied personally and professionally, was closed. As we await his beatification, what can you share about your personal experience of the holiness of Pope Wojtyła?

Leafing through the pages of the book of the life of John Paul II, in which I was allowed to participate, I consider those of his prayer to be the most important pages. Anyone who was near him learned first and foremost how to pray. He was a man of immense charity, had a versatile personality anchored by faith “of steel,” who lived out an intimate union with the Lord. He prayed even in the most unthinkable moments, like when he entered for the first time in the [General Assembly] Hall of the United Nations, holding a rosary in his hand: like me when I went for a few exams. He lived abandoning himself totally to the will of God. A truly heroic moment was the one following the tracheotomy in March 2005. Waking up from the anesthesia, John Paul II could no longer speak. He wrote in an unsteady hand and in Polish “What have you done to me! ... But totus tuus.”

In your opinion, which is the best “page” of the public testimony of John Paul II’s love for life?

The pilgrimage to Lourdes, August 14th and 15th, 2004. It was his last international voyage. He was suffering, severely impaired in his movements and in his gestures, constrained to interrupt the reading of his invocation to Mary in front of the grotto of Massabielle... but he did not withdraw; he did not back out of his duty as a Son and as a Pastor. Infirmed among the infirmed, he wanted to participate in the traditional acts of the great Marian pilgrimage. He did not hide his powerlessness in being ill, without conventional modesty, with the simplicity of a just man he declared his faithfulness to life, a gift from God, which was to be lived to the very end, without escapes and without compromises. He completed a grand catechesis that celebrated illness accepted in the footsteps of the Crucified, not as a humiliation and a condemnation, but as a gift of grace and a supreme hymn to human life, becoming a sign of contradiction and of hope.

Could you read us an unpublished page from the book of the life of Pope Wojtyła?

The first years of his pontificate, when he would receive a compliment in private, he would often respond, “I don’t deserve it.” It was something he heard a child from a Roman parish, to whom he had paid a complement, reply. I remember a funny incident in connection to this phrase. At the end of his apostolic voyage to Goa, where the glorious tomb of Saint Francis Xavier is, during dinner with the local bishops, the Patriarch gave a speech in praise of the Pope. To the series of compliments addressed to his person John Paul II responded with immediate naturalness “I don’t deserve it,” up until the point in which he heard a compliment addressed to him in as much as successor of Peter. Then he replied “I deserve it.”

On occasion in the papers or on television there was emphasis on the news of “quick escapes” from the Vatican...

During the first years of his Pontificate this meant trips that comprised of long treks or many hours of skiing. As the Holy Father got older, the walks on foot became shorter and the excursions, after a quick ride in the car, finished with a long rest in the shade of a tent erected in front of uplifting panoramas, at the foot of mountain peaks still covered with snow. A bagged lunch marked serene moments of conviviality with those who had accompanied us. Toward sunset and before taking the road for Rome, the Pope liked to hear songs from the mountains, sung by his small following, joined by the Vatican guards and the police escorts. The task of directing the improvised choir, with a delighted Pope looking on, fell to me.

Which of these “quick escapes” do you remember in particular?

A trip to the mountains near Arcinazzo in May of 2003. It was the time when John Paul II was having problems with his right knee. The Pope, after having asked me for some explanations on the state of his health, told me that I must “always” remain his physician. Obviously I have not forgotten that day.

Was there ever a time when managing the health of Pope Wojtyła was risky?

The day of the attempt on his life, Wednesday May 13, 1981. The greatest risk was run in deciding to bring him to [Polyclinic] Gemelli. Before getting in the ambulance, while in the foyer of the Directory of Health Services of the Vatican City State, I determined that the Pope could endure the twenty minutes needed to reach “Gemelli.” In fact, he was conscious and obeyed elementary commands. Furthermore, given the gunshot wound to the abdomen and knowing that, at that time, Santo Spirito Hospital, the one closest to the Vatican, was not sufficiently equipped, I gave the order to head for Polyclinic Gemelli, in agreement with the Secretary [of State].

Speaking of the attempt on his life, what was it that John Paul II said to you about it?

He spoke to me about it several times, almost smiling, saying, “That man wanted to know the third secret of Fatima by force,” alluding to Alì Agca.

After the Angelus of Sunday January 30, 2005, recited with difficulty by John Paul II, you had to make another important decision...

The precarious condition of the Holy Father’s health was being complicated by an acute laringotracheitis with the complication of laringospasm, which had dangerously reduced his respiratory space. The evening of February 1st the condition of the patient worsened in only a few hours. The hospitalization was inevitable. “Now or never,” I said, while the others beat round the bush. The Pope quickly grasped the crux of the problem and said “Yes, let’s go.”

Could you explain the significance of John Paul II’s “Let me go to the Lord...”?

These words are the immediate translation of the ones John Paul II pronounced in Polish with an almost imperceptible voice around 3:30 PM on Saturday, April 2nd. They were his “consummatum est” (Jn 19:30). They were not a passive surrender to the illness or an escape from the suffering; rather they expressed the awareness of a profound via crucis that was by now approaching its final goal: the encounter with the Lord. They were, then, words of expectation and hope, of renewed and definitive abandonment in the hands of the Father. At the same time we doctors had to admit that the illness was inexorably progressing toward the final phase of its course. Ours had been a battle waged with patience, humility, and prudence, extremely difficult because we were intimately convinced that it would conclude with a defeat, but it was oriented by the total and merciful respect for the man who was suffering. There was not the so-called use of excessive measures.

In the dedication of the book “Let Me Go,” of which you are the author of the chapter “The Days of Suffering and Hope,” you wrote, “My chapter also tells, in filigree, the story of a little Cyrenean following in the footsteps of a great Cyrenean...”

For the Christian doctor, often times an unknown, strained, and silent Cyrenean, the agony of a person is an icon of the agony of the Lord. Every person has his wounds, has his crown of thorns, stutters his last words, and abandons him or herself in he hands of someone who unknowingly renews the gesture of Mary, of the pious women, or of Joseph of Arimathea. The death of John Paul II was the death of a man by then stripped of everything, who had undergone the hours of battle and of glory and who had arrived in his interior nakedness at the encounter with his Lord, to Whom he was returning the keys of the Kingdom. In that moment of pain and of stupor, I had the sensation of finding myself on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias. All of history seemed to be at a standstill while Christ set about to call the new Peter. The [flat] isoelectric line of the electrocardiogram registered the end of the great earthly adventure of a man already considered a saint by the people of God, but it seemed to delineate a new horizon open to a future which had already begun...

Domitia Caramazza

photo courtesy of

The You God Wants

I like the way God works.

They say if you hear something come up three times in a very short amount of time, it could be God trying to tell you something.

I was recently thinking about humility as being accepting oneself as one is and looking for God to provide the growth, instead of trying so hard to change, but based on one's own pride. Humility would then mean thanking God for one's faults and defects and trusting that he will work through them and lead one to perfection.

Friday I went to one of the "Study Days" (Giorno di Studio) at my university, which normally is an occasion to do other work while some professor rattles on about some topic that I am not studying and which I can't follow since the discourses are normally in an Italian that perhaps Roberto Benini would use... i.e. quick and sometimes slurred. Anyway, this day was different as I had decided to try to pay attention.

What I heard was a reminder about how the life of virtue is not a means of winning God's love or gaining God's grace, but rather is a response to His love and grace. The professor said something like, one must learn to stop trying to construct a self based on one's own dream of the self and rather let God bring one to the self he has in mind. The life of virtue and asceticism would then consist in being open to God's grace and love (disponibile).

I came home that afternoon and wrote this reminder on the bulletin board on the inside of my door. "Stop trying to reach the dream of yourself - the you you think you should be. Ask God to help you to be the you He would like you to be and leave the rest in His hands."

I find that the me I think I should be is mostly based on assumptions of what I think others would want me to be, or it is based on my idea of what I think others are expecting of me so that I may win their favor and not be excluded. The me God thinks I should be starts with a simple premise: "I love you for who you are." This can be difficult to accept because most of the time we hear from other people... "I love you. Now change! Or I won't love you unless you change!" And even sometimes we are the one's assuming that others are saying "I love you. Now change," even if they are not.

With God it is "I love you as you are. My love for you will change you."

Sometimes I find myself saying, "No God, you ought to love a Br. Chris that is more humble or more patient or more polite or more affable," and this is a sin. I'm telling God what He can and can't do. Yet He comes around again with His patience and faithfulness and whispers once again: "I love you as you are. You are a treasure to me. I have made you for a life to be lived in my service. Instead of taking away your pain, I will give you compassion to be my messenger to those others who are in pain. Instead of taking away your faults, I will teach you patience with yourself so that you can be patient with others. Instead of taking away the storm that you see in your life, I will give you peace in the midst of the storm so that you may be my light for others. I love you as you are. Do not look for me to love you only if you are better or more perfect. You'll only miss my desire to love you for who you are and use you in building up my Kingdom. Let me love you as you are. For when I enter the heart of one who lets me in I establish my Kingdom within it because I begin to dwell there. So let me love you as you are so that I may start to spread my Kingdom in you."

A friend of mine just e-mailed me and told me a story that had to do with thanking God for creating her as she is. It reminded me of this same theme. That's number three! Thank you, my friend, for sharing, and thank You God for making us as we are.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Easter Greetings

Okay, so it's the fourth week of Easter, and I'm finally talking about Easter. Better late than never, right? So, Happy Easter to all!

Something I was thinking about during the Easter Vigil especially with the reading from Ezekiel about the new fleshy heart and a new spirit, which he promises us:

A bit of good news for those who find that their hearts are stoney: Jesus did not disdain to be born in the cave of Bethlehem, nor did he disdain to be placed in a cave after his death on the cross. It was from a cave that the Lord rose to new life, and in the Eucharist, he makes his dwelling stone and metal tabernacles. So be of good cheer if you find your heart to be stoney. Jesus can make it the place in which he is born, the place in which his body sacrificed for us makes it home. He can make it the place where he rises to new life (and us with him), and he can make it into a tabernacle to bring his presence to others!

So, if your heart is stoney, receive the infant child, the Word incarnate! Bring into your heart the dead Christ who gave his life for our redemption, if you find your heart to be a white washed tomb. Do not be afraid to let the Lord rise again in your heart, if it be made of stone, because he can still use it and make of it a tabernacle of his presence... and in so doing, transform that which was stoney and hard into a fleshy heart filled with his spirit. What matters is that we give him our hearts, even if they be stoney. He knows what to do with them.

Peace be with you. May we not be afraid to offer our Lord our hearts as they are, so that He may make them how he wills them to be... hearts in union with his.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Visit to Subiaco

I went to Subiaco on Sunday the 22nd of April and saw there an interesting fresco. A monk was arguing with the devil and in the next pannel was being punished by Saint Benedict.

Thinking about this, I wondered what it could mean, and the answer that came to me was that it was a reminder that the devil is much more intelligent than we are, so arguing with him would be a waste of time. Besides this, one would not be relying on God's help, but being lured into the trick of relying on one's own strength.

Later I picked up a book by William Ullathorne, OSB called Patience and Humilty (Sophia Institute Press, 1998) and was surprised to read in the first few pages something which illumines that fresco and makes clear the Benedictine wisdom common to the artist and the author. It was this reflection:

"It is the fostering of minor troubles until they swell to a flood of sadness and discouragement that gives the devil a turbid pool in which to cast his nets. If those minor troubles befall you, let them drop. Be not disturbed; turn your heart to God. Do not look at them; do not dispute with them; answer them not a word. Only turn your mind from them and let them drop."

I found this to be such a simple and wise insight. How often I do try to solve my minor problems or troubled thoughts instead of simply trusting God. How often I run about trying to find peace. Just the other day, too, this became so evident. I wanted very desparately to be at peace... I was anxious to calm down, running to stand still (to steal the title of the U2 song). And yet isn't that so silly. What I was doing was shooting myself in the foot. I had a good laugh over that.

Just like the fresco at Subiaco and the wisdom of Don Ullathorne were saying, one can not overcome one's troubles by becoming troubled over them, but rather by turning one's gaze to God, trusting that He is a Father Who loves and will give the grace needed for us to trust and wait in patience for His Peace.

That Threshold

There is a threshold in life...
A crossing from death and sadness
To life and joy.

Leaving behind trust in self
Entering into trust in God
Taking that leap of faith

The pride of life and sense of self
The lies, the illusion, the false treasures
Are left behind in the repeated "yes."

A "yes" to the True Treasure,
The True Desire of the heart
To the One Who is constant and sure.

As self-sufficiency dies
The soul is set free
It rejoices in the light of the One Who Loves.

A threshold, a passage, a journey,
a Pascha of faith and of trust
That liberates the soul to love...

The Threshold of Hope.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Remembering Virginia Tech

Please keep in your prayers the souls of those killed in the masacre at Virginia Tech, their families and friends, those injured, and all those affected by it.

If you haven't heard of the story of Professor Liviu Librescu, please read it. It is very inspiring.

May the souls of the departed by the mercy of God rest in Peace. May their friends and families know healing and be consoled as they grieve.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Mass in the Clementine Chapel 2/12/2007

It has been more than a month since a priest friend of mine celebrated mass in the Clementine Chapel in St. Peter's Basilica, but his mother just sent me the pictures today. The Clementine Chapel is a chapel that was part of the original basilica and was renovated by Clement VIII. It is just behind the confessio and backs right up to the tomb of St. Peter. That means it is underneath where the Pope would stand at the main altar inside St. Peter's. Behind the altar in the picture you can see a marble slab through the grill. That marbel goes back to the Emperor Constantine when he decided to encase the tomb of St. Peter to protect it and make it ideal for visitors. The relics of St. Peter are stored on the right hand side of the tomb if one is looking at the tomb from this point of view.

Oh, and a silly franciscan friar was also there.

Here's a better view of the chapel without me or Fr. Jamie.

Beautiful huh? If you want to visit this chapel, you either have to arrive at St. Peter's at 7:00 in the morning and ask to attend mass (it might not be possible if a group has reserved the chapel and if it is full), or you can go on the Scavi Tour underneath St. Peter's, which will also allow you to see the where the relics of St. Peter are kept. The tour is only 10 Euro but one has to make reservations well in advance, at least a few months. It is well worth the effort.

A New Name 2

Continuing the reflection on not doing things for the glory of my own name...

Every Friday we read a section from the Rule of the Order of Friars Minor (written by St. Francis in 1223). Today we heard chapter one, which begins, "In the name of the Lord begins the Life of Friars Minor." That means that this life I look to live has to be in the name of Jesus, the name above all names, the only name given to man in which there is salvation. Jesus.

"In the name of the Lord..." (it almost reminded me of the opening of the Koran) but I couldn't help but think about what it would mean if I went around making sure that everything I do is in the name of the Lord, that is, if I were to realize that I live for someone else, as a messenger for someone else. That is a pretty big responsibility, and it means that everything I do would reflect back on the one in whose name I am supposed to be acting. It also reminded me of being an ambassador, for whom to is the normal course of a day's work to represent another, to do something in the name of another (in the case of an ambassador, in the name of the government whom he or she represents).

And yet, it is not only my life as a friar that is to be lived int he name of another. Every prayer I pray as a Christian begins "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." This also makes me an ambassador of the Holy Trinity (who has saved us!).

Each and every single one of us as baptized Christians are emissaries of the Holy Trinity. Not to mention that it is in this name that we are baptized and sent to proclaim the good news by living holy lives and using words to testify to the truth about God and His love for humankind when necessary. This means we are called to live lives that give glory to God's name.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

A New Name

Last Saturday I heard a reflection on the Philippians hymn given by a friar about how it is God who gives Jesus his name, a name greater than any other name. This name has to do with Jesus not holding on to his prerogative and humiliating himself until death on a cross. Just by chance, the other day, we were talking about Abram in Genesis, and I it again: the mention of God being the one who gives a man a great name as he promised Abram, and we know he gets a new name, Abraham. Again, the promise of this new name came with an image of stripping oneself. In the case of Abram, he had to leave the land of his father and his kindred behind on a journey of radical trust in God.

This has made me think a lot about my own search for a name and how I go about it. I notice that I am the one who tries to present myself in such a way that others will hold me in good light and think well of me when they hear my name, and I get downtrodden when I think others, at the sound of my name, are disgusted or think ill of me.

And yet God promises to those who are faithful to him no matter the cost a new name. Revelation has two instances of this: "Whoever has ears ought to hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the victor I shall give some of the hidden manna; I shall also give a white amulet upon which is inscribed a new name, which no one knows except the one who receives it." (2:17) and "The victor I will make into a pillar in the temple of my God, and he will never leave it again. On him I will inscribe the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from my God, as well as my new name." (3:12)

Did I hear that right? Jesus offers us his new name? How so? Could it be that he shares with us his glory and his lordship since he draws us to himself?

And like Abram in Genesis, and Jesus in Philippians, the new name for the churches in Revelation is given after a process of tribulation or of stripping of oneself.

So, this leads me to want to stop searching for other people to recognize me and rather to wait in patience for what the Lord wants of me and to wait for Him not only to show me His will, but also to help me to strip myself so that I can be faithful to Him and also be worthy of a new name, given by the One whose opinion is the only one that should count.

Papal Pentitential Service for Youth of Rome

At 6:00 PM this evening in St. Peter's Basilica, Pope Benedict XVI held a pentitential service for the youth of the Diocese of Rome in preparation for Holy Week and centered on the theme of the 22nd World Youth Day - to be held this Sunday, April 1st, 2007 - “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (Jn 13:34).

Youth from all over Rome and various parts of Italy as well as religious, teachers and parents came together with over 120 confessors from the various pentientiaries of Rome, various cardinals and bishops, and the Holy Father for a liturgy of the word, a homily by His Holiness, an examination of conscience, individual confession and absolution, and hymns and readings to accompany the prayerful atmosphere and help the youth prepare for the sacrament of reconciliation.

Benedict's homily focused on the reading from John's Gospel and highlighted the need not only of the human person to be loved, but also on the need to love. He spoke of how in order for the human person to grow, he or she needs to encounter love, most of all, the love of God, which is not only agape or donational love, but also eros, a love that waits for a response from the beloved just as a young lover waits for the "yes" of the object of his affection. Likewise, he stressed the need of the person not to close in on his or herself, but to open up to the love of Christ, to say "yes."

The Pope also encouraged the youth to let love be expressed in their daily lives, be it their studies or work, be they called to marriage or to the consecrated life.

Benedict himself heard the confessions of six young people while the many priests from the Roman pentitentiaries heard the confessions of all who availed themselves of the sacrament.

Here's the press's take. They paid more attention to what the Pope actually said. :)


VATICAN CITY, MAR 30, 2007 (VIS) - Yesterday evening in the Vatican Basilica, the Pope presided at a penitential celebration with thousands of young people from the diocese of Rome in preparation for the forthcoming World Youth Day. The Day is due to be held on Palm Sunday, April 1, on the theme: "Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another."

"The heart of all mankind ... thirsts for love," said the Holy Father in his homily. "Christians, even more so, cannot live without love. Indeed, if they do not find true love they cannot even call themselves fully Christian because, ... 'being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.'

"God's love for us," he added, "which began with the creation, became visible in the mystery of the Cross. ... A crucified love that does not stop at the outrage of Good Friday but culminates in the joy of the Resurrection ... and the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of love by which, this evening too, sins will be remitted and forgiveness and peace granted."

This divine love "may be described with the term 'agape,' in other words 'the self-giving love of one who looks exclusively for the good of the other,' but also with the term 'eros'" because "it is also a love in which the heart of the Almighty awaits the 'yes' of His creatures." And "in the sacrifice of the Cross, God continues to present His love ... coming 'to beg' the love of His creatures."

"With Baptism you were born to new life by virtue of the grace of God. However, since this new life has not suppressed the weakness of human nature, ... you are given the opportunity to use the Sacrament of Confession. ... And thus you experience the forgiveness of sins; reconciliation with the Church; the recovery, if lost, of the state of grace; ... peace and serenity of conscience and the consolation of the spirit; and an increase of spiritual strength for the Christian struggle."

Christ "hopes we will allow ourselves to be attracted by His love and feel all its greatness and beauty, but this is not enough. Christ attracts us to Him in order to unite Himself to each one of us, so that, in our turn, we learn to love our brothers and sisters with His same love."

"As you leave this celebration, with your hearts full of the experience of God's love, be prepared 'to dare' to love in your families, in your dealings with your friends and even with those who have offended you. Be prepared to bear a truly Christian witness" in all environments.

Benedict XVI called upon newly-engaged couples to experience the period of their engagement "in the true love which always involves mutual, chaste and responsible respect. And should the Lord call some of you, dear young people of Rome, to a life of special consecration, be ready to answer with a generous and uncompromising 'yes'."

"Dear young people, the world awaits your contribution for the building of the 'civilization of love.' ... Do not become discouraged and always have faith in Christ and in the Church."

Following the liturgy the Pope put on a purple stole and entered the confessional to administer the Sacrament of Penance to six young people. Fifty-five priests joined him in administering the Sacrament to others present in the Vatican Basilica.
HML/PENANCE/... VIS 070330 (600)

The Genius of the Female Gender According to John Paul II

Here is the translation I did of an article that will appear in the April issue of "Tutus Tuus," the magazine of the Postulation of the Cause of John Paul II.

One of the most innovative marks of the pontificate of Karol Wojtyła was, without a doubt, his relationship with women. In the first place, what amazed many of us was his lack of fear in having physical contact with the opposite sex. We saw him embrace his old female classmates with evident affection, and he let Mother Teresa hold his hand, both without showing that diffidence that has characterized and continues to characterize the attitude of the clergy with regard to women. In addition to this innovation in behavior – of greater significance than many theoretic affirmations – there was an attention to women’s issues that no Pope before had ever had. One can affirm without hesitation, in fact, that John Paul II was the only man with a high institutional office to develop a response to that which has been the greatest socio-cultural revolution of modern times, women’s emancipation.

In his apostolic letter “Mulieris Dignitatem” (1988), his most important text on this topic, he accepted with never-before-seen openness the interpretation of the biblical account of creation developed by a group of feminist theologians that contrasts with the masculine primacy in being created, from which male-superiority derived its justification. Despite this openness, he responded negatively to many of the requests put forward by feminists, including many within the Church, confirming the exclusion of women from priesthood and the condemnation of abortion and artificial means of birth control. In fact, for Wojtyła the “genius” of the female gender is connected to the primary reason for its difference, which is, to motherhood, be it concrete or metaphoric, and he saw and clearly denounced the dangers inherent in the position of those who would set women’s emancipation – of which he was always a loyal supporter – against motherhood.

In his “Letter to Women” – written in 1995, on the occasion of the conference in Beijing organized by the UN on the condition of women – John Paul II made it perfectly clear that a renewed and “universal recognition of the dignity of women,” (6) keeping in mind, however, that the “female genius” fulfills herself in giving herself to others in her everyday life (cf. 12). This is a strong and coherent position, which reclaims for Christianity the defense of the dignity of women, which “goes back to the attitude of Jesus Christ himself,” (3) while respecting the difference that consists in motherhood. Exactly for this reason in every text addressed to women Wojtyła reconfirmed the condemnation of abortion, a theme that became central in what will probably remain his most important and most prophetic encyclical, “Evangelium Vitae.” In it the Pope reveals the relationship that connects abortion to research on embryos and euthanasia; constituting “a particularly grave moral disorder” (61) in as much as it is a negation of “an objective moral law,” (70) abortion is the bearer of new and serious ethical transgressions.

John Paul II supplied proof of his attention to the feminine not only beatifying and canonizing many women (among whom, one such as Edith Stein, who theorized a Christian feminism), but also proclaiming three female saints – Bridget of Sweden, Catherine of Siena, and Stein herself – co-patronesses of Europe, in spiritual coupling with Benedict, Cyril, and Methodius. This was to reaffirm, once more, the need for the two different identities in Christian tradition and in the Christian community.

Karol Wojtyła was therefore capable of giving greater value to women’s emancipation, inscribing it in the path of cultural progress started by Christian tradition while distancing it from its negative tendencies, such as the negation of motherhood as a value and tendency to make feminine identity uniform to the masculine model. His is a defense of women inasmuch as different because, he writes, “It is only through the duality of the ‘masculine’ and the ‘feminine’ that the ‘human’ finds full realization” (Letter to Women, 7).

Lucetta Scaraffia

Professor of Contemporary History
Department of History Studies
University of Rome La Sapienza

Monday, March 19, 2007

St. Joseph, Pure of Heart

In Saint Joseph, we have a perfect model of a true Christian. He was pure of heart, chaste, humble, patient, and possessed fortitude, gentleness and manliness of character. He is also an example of holy work, dedicating himself to his work with his whole being. He also looked to do God’s will, received the messages revealed to him by the Lord and, with faith and trust, he was obedient.

Of all his virtues, St. Joseph is most well known for his purity of heart. This can be seen in many different ways.

Certainly Joseph was pure of heart because he was chaste. By being chaste, Joseph was able to love with an upright and undivided heart.

Yet purity of heart is more than just chastity. It also involves charity and a love of the truth. Joseph also had purity of intention, seeking to do God’s will in everything, which means he avoided doing good deeds to be seen by others and did them for the love of God.

Joseph also was pure of heart because he had purity of vision. He disciplined his internal and external sight, his feelings and imagination, so as in no way to agree to impure thoughts, be they sexual or against charity or humility.

Most importantly St. Joseph was pure of heart because he was a man of prayer. Not only did he understand as St. Augustine wrote, that one can not be chaste without the help of God, but he understood as Saint Francis did, that purity of heart means despising the things of the earth and seeking heavenly things so that one might continually see and adore the Lord God living and true.

Let us look to the example of St. Joseph as a model of purity of heart and let us ask his intercession that we too may strive to be pleasing to God in all we do.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Servant of God John Paul II

I've been quite busy recently helping out with the Postulation that I haven't had time to blog. Just for your information, the office has been inundated not only with requests for the holy cards with the "ex indumentis" (piece of clothing of John Paul II), but after sending out an SOS to the world (where's Sting when you need him), it has been inundated also with a generous response from so many people who want to help out the Cause to cover the costs of postage in sending out the holy cards with the "ex indumentis."

An exciting thing is that the web page has been updated. Take a look:

If you want, subscribe to "Totus Tuus" magazine or make a donation to help out the cause.

In case you haven't heard the news, it was announced a few days ago that the closing of the diocesan phase of the cause has been finished and will be officially closed in a ceremony on April 2nd, 2007 at 12:00 PM at the Basilica of St. John Lateran.

Now hold on to your horses and don't start calling the travel agent... the cause will now go to the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints. There is a whole process that the cause will have to go through, then B16 will have to approve the cult, declaring JPII venerable, accept the judgement of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints on the reported miracle, etc, and as things here in Rome tend to go slow, we won't see a beatification of JPII this year.

Receiving Pope John Paul II's blessing after serving the Mass for the 150th Anniversary of the Proclamation of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception (December 8th, 2004). I've got the beard and glasses - the last friar in the line before Msgr. James Harvey.


Update: For information on the process involved in a cause for beatification and canonization, see "Making Saints," a document put out by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Just so you know, in regard to JPII, April 2nd will be the end of phase 1 and the beginning of phase 2.

Mercy, Mercy, Me.

Did anyone else almost cry listening to the reading from Hosea yesterday?

Thus says the LORD: Return, O Israel, to the LORD, your God; you have collapsed through your guilt. Take with you words,and return to the LORD; Say to him, “Forgive all iniquity, and receive what is good, that we may renderas offerings the bullocks from our stalls. Assyria will not save us,nor shall we have horses to mount; We shall say no more, ‘Our god,’to the work of our hands; for in you the orphan finds compassion.” I will heal their defection, says the LORD, I will love them freely; for my wrath is turned away from them. I will be like the dew for Israel: he shall blossom like the lily; He shall strike root like the Lebanon cedar, and put forth his shoots. His splendor shall be like the olive treeand his fragrance like the Lebanon cedar. Again they shall dwell in his shade and raise grain; They shall blossom like the vine,and his fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon.Ephraim! What more has he to do with idols? I have humbled him, but I will prosper him. “I am like a verdant cypress tree”— Because of me you bear fruit! Let him who is wise understand these things; let him who is prudent know them. Straight are the paths of the LORD, in them the just walk, but sinners stumble in them.
This is just such a testiment of the faithful mercy of God. Not a mercy that stands in judgement and indignation looking to crush, but a mercy that feels compassion and looks to restore after purifying the sinner.

It made me think: If I really had God's mercy present in my mind all day long, I wouldn't stop crying... not tears of sadness, but tears of joy. Lord give me such tears of joy.

Monday, February 26, 2007

A Call to Holiness

In today’s readings God calls us to a life of holiness. It is a call that comes not as a condition of God’s love, but rather as a response to God’s action in our lives. We see this especially in the reading from the book of Leviticus. As the Lord instructs the people of Israel in his ways, giving them his commandments, he reminds them “I am the Lord,” each time using the same divine name he revealed to Moses. Each time this refrain is used, it is a reminder to the Israelites of all that God has done for them in freeing them from slavery. It reminds us to be holy because the one who asks this of us is the one who decided to intervene in our lives, the one who calls himself Yahweh - “I am he who am in your midst.”

In the gospel reading, the ones who are invited to enter the kingdom responded to God with active charity toward their neighbors in need. So God’s call to Holiness is not about only making sure we don’t offend others, but also doing good unto others in imitation of what God has done unto us. When we fail to do good, we sin by omission, which is why we confess before mass that we have sinned in what we have failed to do.

It is all too easily at times for us to get caught up in focusing on the wrongs others have done to us and on the ways others have failed to do good to us. Yet time and again the Lord calls us to forgive as he forgives and to love as he loves, not looking for a return as the condition for our giving (cf Lk 14:12-14). In short God calls us to perfect charity. God calls us to be like him, and in doing so, he calls us to something which is impossible for us to attain on our own.

But in our journey God also calls us to remember that nothing is impossible with God (Lk 1:37), that to those who have faith everything is possible (Mk 9:23). Just as God did not expect Moses to lead the Israelites from slavery on his own, but rather intervened with mighty deeds, likewise God has told us that our sanctification is his will for us and so we know that God will faithfully help us to become holy, to love as he loves, to forgive as he forgives. Since we are at the beginning of Lent, this is a perfect opportunity for us to recommit ourselves to striving to love others with an active charity. We can try more to do good for others, like practicing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. We can ask God for his help, especially praying that the Holy Spirit give us the fortitude to continue to try and to keep trying.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Back to Blogging

Just a word of thanks to all of you who me messages of encouragement during the time of exams. I thank you for your prayers as well. Exams did go well despite the stress. Now that the second semester has started, I would like to get back into the habit of blogging.

God bless.


Today's gospel is one fo those hard teachings for us to follow: loving one's enemies, forgiving offenses, giving to those who do not give back, and yet it is so fundamental to who we are as Christians. Jesus reminds us today that we are called to love, really to charity, which isn't aout making a donation to a group that helps the poor, but a self-giving love that as Paul tells us in 1 Cor 13 is patient and kind, slow to anger. If we take a look at what we are called to and what we hear about, slow to anger, rich in steadfast and loving kindness, and if we listen to what Jesus is saying to us in the gospel, ie if we are one of those who "hear", then what we see is that we are being called to imitate God's love.

This is why Christ is placed as our true model and when we imitate the saints it is in respect to their imitation of Christ. We are to love as Christ loves us first. We are to forgive as we our forgiven by God so that we can truly say we believe in God's forgiveness and expect it in the future.

Something we must note... Jesus is not telling us that we must forgive to receive God's forgiveness. God's forgiveness is first and foremost a free gift. We can not buy this forgiveness or make deals with God in order to get Him to forgive us. He has already offered us His forgiveness when none of us we righteous (Romans 5) and nothing we do can make us worth to receive this forgiveness. This shouldn't make us feel depressed though (even if our pride which wants to prove itself and show how good we are is hurt), but rather we should remember that this gratuitous gift was because of God's love for us and will to restore us in His image and likeness. The fact that we need God and our dependent on Him does not mean that His love is pity (as if God needs to feel superior to us and put us down by helping us), but rather His aid is an expression of a Father who not only cares for us, but knows how to respect our freedom and invites us to join Him in the gift He is freely offering. Our sanctification, then becomes our cooperation with God's will for us, and of course "unless the Lord build the house in vain do the labors build" our ability to respond to God (even to ask for His help when we need it) is itself a gift from God.

Likewise in regard to forgiveness of others and love of our enemies, we are told to imitate God. This means that if we wish to forgive other more, it is not just a matter of will power to forgive others, but rather something that flows from our own encounter with God. The movie Pay It Forward comes to mind when I think about the reaction of what happens with God. The characters in the movie go about helping other people in dire straights in response to the way someone else helped them. Likewise, we experience God's love and mercy and kindness and immediately we want to share this with others. Literally, the love of Christ impells us to love. Naturally we can still say no, but the very experience of knowing God's forgiveness provokes us to be forgiving. Just like when we see someone do something good and we too want to share in that goodness and do soemthing good too, when we experience gracious love and forgiveness we tend to want to emulate that. In this way, and as a good preparation for lent, it is truly and only in as much as we enter into the mystery of Jesus's forgiveness of us on the cross that we can then grow in the virtue of forgiving others. Fr. Cantalamessa in his book Life in Christ put it this way (and I'm paraphrasing): some people think the process of the spiritual life is conversion, virtue, salvation when it is really salvation, conversion, virtue. The free gift of salvation is offered by God first. Then we come to believe and then we grow in virtue. Salvation is never something we earn.

We can think of this in another way too. Christ died for us in order to free us from sin and make a convenant with us (ratified at Pentecost as the ultimate expression of the Paschal mystery). We are given salvation so that we can be free from sin (conversion) and live in union with God (by acting virtuously in imitation of God).

As we approach the beginning of lent, let us remember the centrality of the the great gift of salvation worked for us by Christ on the cross. From this gift lets us respond with God's help to God's invitation to imitate the love he has shown us. If we find we do not fully accept God's love, let us pray for the healing we need to allow ourselves to be forgiven and to forgive those who have wounded us in the past. Most of all, let us remember this up-coming time of lent as a joyful invitation to penance... not penance to gain God's love and mercy, but penance as a response to that greatest gift of all. May God help us to forgive others as He forgives us, and may he help us to know His love even more profoundly.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Exam Time

Exam time is coming up next week, which means I won't have much time to post as I'll be cramming... I mean... studying. Please say a prayer for all of us as the tension and stress rise. Thanks. I promise to have some good posts when there is more free time. Until then, peace.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Holy Spirit and the Wedding of Cana

Today's readings speak about God and His marriage covenant toward His people. This is ever so evident not only in the first reading where we hear the prophet say specifically that our God will marry us, but also in Gospel of the Wedding of Cana. Jesus, the Bridegroom of the Church, announces the new covenant by providing choice wines, a prophetic annunciation of Messianic victory (if you look at the link, check out verse nine especially!). The water made wine is also a figure of the wine of the new and everlasting covenant, the blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ on Calvary (the mountain spoken of in Isaiah 25). The wine provided for this wedding feast was an immense quantity, symbolizing the overabundance of God's love (or so says the priest who gave the homily at mass today). Also, it symbolizes the feast of the wedding banquet... the feast mentioned by Jesus in reference to the Kingdom of God in Mt 22.

Our friend St. Bonaventure (at least I think it was him, please correct me if I'm wrong) adds another aspect to this miracle at Cana. He looks at the wine in reference to Psalm 104 "wine to gladden our hearts." In this respect, Mary asks Jesus to give them "wine", of which they have run out. So, instead of just being an issue of beverages and Jesus coming to the aid of an embarrassed couple who did not have enough wine for their wedding feast, the wine at Cana is a deeper issue of Jesus giving joy to humanity.

There is another aspect I want to bring into this, in light of my recent reflections on the Holy Spirit (also in case we think the second reading from 1 Cor 12 is completely out of place... it's not). When we speak of the wine of the new covenant, of course we think of the blood of Christ poured out on the cross, and of course we think about Holy Thursday and the institution of the Eucharist. But we must not forget, that the new covenant is initiated on the cross, but ratified on the day of Pentecost. They are connected. They cannot be separated. Just as the passover of the old covenant does not make sense without the ratification of the covenant with the receiving of the law on Mount Sinai, so too does the liberation of the new passover, the paschal mystery of Christ, not make sense without the ratification of that new covenant in the upper room on the day of Pentecost. And should we not recall what it was that people said about the apostles, albeit scoffing, when they were rejoicing in the Holy Spirit and proclaiming Jesus as Lord and praising God? "They have had too much new wine" (Acts 2:13). And the Holy Spirit, is He not called the "oil of gladness"?

So, let us not forget the Holy Spirit's role in this wedding feast. Is He not the one who actuates our union with Christ? For without Him, we are not in union with the Body of Christ. And what does Saint Seraphim of Sarov tells us about the virgins waiting for the Bridegroom? Is it not that those who "had oil" and were allowed into the wedding banquet were the ones who had acquired the Holy Spirit? (See The Aim of the Christian Life).

So, let us remember that this wedding feast we celebrate is the wedding of God and man, the Holy Trinity and sinners made saints! It is a Trinitarian mystery!

I just feel like singing right now! During the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom after receiving the Eucharist, our brothers and sisters in the east sing this refrain:

We have seen the true light. We have received the heavenly spirit. We have found
the true faith, worshiping the Holy Trinity, for the Trinity has saved us!
Indeed the Trinity has saved us. Let us rejoice and be glad!

Hodie est dies quam fecit Dominus exultemus et laetemur in ea!

(See also Father Cantalamessa's homily (2007 01 12) for the meaning of the Wedding of Cana and Christian marriages today.)

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Parable of Mac vs PC

We were talking today at lunch about computers and how Macs and PCs first came out on the market. One of the brothers said that Mac got "beta-maxed," ie that a superior product (like Beta Max was over VHS) "lost out" in the overall market competition to a product that was not as good but which was able to proliferate itself in the market faster.

As I understand, Mac computers are better than PCs (of course I'm no expert... I just listen to what my computer friends tell me). Yet, PCs were able to spread a lot quicker as the rights to make products for PCs was also sold more readily and because PC wasn't as costly as a Mac. So, whereas Macs were very exclusive, PCs were all over the place and so were things to go with PCs. Mac came out with the mouse and PCs copied it. Windows, they say, was a way to copy the Mac operating system (despite the fact that windows was many times more unreliable and susceptable to failure and errors). One brother, who is an ardent Mac user, was talking about the review of Microsoft Vista he had read. According to him the author sarcastically pointed out that Vista is in "no way" trying to imitate Mac's operating system (when in fact it is).

The guardian commented on how surprised he was that despite the almost total dominance of PCs on the market today, Mac has managed to hold on. He said that he thought this was due to the fact that Mac has such a better product, that when someone switches to Mac, they don't just become a Mac user, but a Mac lover. They even, he said, become missionaries for Mac.

I couldn't help but be surprised at how much this conversation reminded me of the difference between the good and conterfeit goods in the spiritual life. You see, we are often tempted by ourselves, by the world, and by the enemy to settle for good enough... to do that which is easier, more convenient... that which seems to be good, but in the final analysis just doesn't cut the mustard in comparison to the real thing.

Just one example of what I mean can be seen in how today's culture tries to sell sex. It presents it as the end all and be all of life, as something utterly pleasurable which should be sought for its own sake and that should seek it for one's own gratification. In the "comercial" that gets played either in movies or on TV shows or in books, "liberated" sexual intercourse is marketed as being the ultimate expression of freedom and the pleasure it produces as something higher than heaven itself. In trying to eliminate the competition, this "comercial" puts down marriage either painting it as a slavery or claiming that monogamy is something that people are not capable of, or, even worse, marriage is degraded from being holy and a sacrament to being another exercise of freedom in a business-like contract, which anyone and everyone should be given the right to engage in no matter if the union of two certain persons would be an affront to the natural moral law.

In front of the message of the competition, this comericial tries every which way to discredit, distort, or disdain those who promote the other, better product. Oh, and since any other way would be difficult and mean restraint or moral responsibility, the easier more widely available "product" of sex is promoted as being the truly better product.

Yet, like Mac vs PC, the better product is always the better product and will remain the better product no matter what the competition says. In the example above, true human sexuality, oriented toward the good of the human person and with the true love kept in mind will always result in greater overall happiness than a fling here and there ever will. Not only is sex good, it is holy. It is not something base, but something sublime. The pleasure itself does not bring one to heaven, but the sacrament it is, the union of a man a woman in Christ and committed to growing in love, reveals the glory of God. It has two extremely valuable goods... the union of spouses in intimate sharing, giving and receiving, and procreation! And if anyone thinks that the idea that sex is holy is just the ramblings of liberal priests or nuns or something not really taught by the "institution" of the Catholic Church, all that has to be said is that Pope John Paul II dedicated a huge chunk of his Wednesday audiences to the so called Theology fo the Body. In a talk he gave, he told men that they should deny themselves immediate gratification during sexual intercourse for the purpose of ensuring that both they and their wives climax together.

No only this, but the vision of marriage in comparison to the counterfeit takes into consideration that when two people have sexual intercourse there is a bond that is formed, that it has definite reprocussions on the psychological aspect of the person... that in giving oneself to another one finds greater fulfillment and greater ability to give when one is free from the fear of being abandoned should one get in a fight over the toothpaste. The giving in sexual intercourse in marraige, therefore becomes much more than just the mutual using for physical gratification in the counterfeit, but it becomes a giving of the whole self to the other, yes, physically, but also mentally and spiritually.

One could go on. But the point is this, that no matter what example is being used, whether it be holy matrimony vs sex alla Hollywood, or promotion of life vs life as a consumer product (to be disposed of when inconvenient), or you name it, the true good is always better than the conterfeit lesser good. Just like Mac is better than PC. Sure it's costlier (just like the real good is always more difficult, requiring more sacrifice and effort), it's not as widely available (the choices for counterfeits always outnumber the choices for the real good), but it's better (just ask the saints and all those who have found true joy).

So remember, always go for the better product. No offense Bill Gates.