Archive of August 7, 2010

Couple in prison ministry carries faith behind bars

Enfield, Conn., Aug 7, 2010 (CNA) - What started as a penance after confession has blossomed into long-term labor of love for a husband and wife who hope others will join their efforts. "To whom much is given, much is expected," said Walter Seibert, by way of explaining why he and his wife Gesuina make up the Prison Ministry of Northern Connecticut.

For the past 15 years, the Seiberts, both septuagenarians, have been involved in prison ministry, which brings prisoners of different faiths together with volunteers. They travel to correctional facilities in Suffield and Enfield three times a week to share their faith with inmates.

Both products of Catholic education, Walter and Ges, as she is known, say the ministry has fortified their faith. Although they describe their sharing of the faith as "Catechism 101," they are challenged by the questions inmates ask.

"We’ve had to answer questions that we never had to look at before because we just took things on faith. But a lot of these guys say, ‘I don’t want to know based upon faith, I want an answer to that,’" Walter said. "So we go back and look up the Church’s teaching."

The Seiberts’ ministry is funded entirely by the Archbishop’s Annual Appeal.

"Last year we got a $2,500 grant from that, and thank God," said Walter, adding that the money is used primarily to buy Bibles and catechisms in English and Spanish.

"We are so blessed," said Ges. "If somebody had told me, ‘One day, you’re going to enjoy going to prison,’ I would have said, ‘You’re out of your mind.’"The Seiberts, who have been married for 55 years, live at St. Joseph’s Residence, a home for the elderly run by the Little Sisters of the Poor.

They met on a blind date in college in the 1950s, were married in New York during a hurricane and "have done everything together ever since," said Ges with an infectious laugh.

Walter said when he was in business as a certified public accountant and Ges was raising their three children, they often thought, "God wants us to do something with our faith because we had been given so much, and we kept asking, ‘Lord, what do you want us to do?’ And no matter what we put our hands to," such as teaching religious education and other volunteerism, "nothing seemed to gel."

In 1996, Deacon Rene Kieda, then the Catholic chaplain at the MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in Suffield, put a notice into the St. Martha Parish bulletin for people to help with the prison ministries program

Walter said he thanked God for not calling him to that ministry.

Two weeks later, when the Walter and Ges were at Mass, Deacon Robert Bernd talked about his involvement with the ministry.

Walter said he again thanked God for not calling him to that ministry.

Shortly after that, Walter said, when he went to confession, the priest told him to read Matthew 25 as a penance. It was the line "[For I was] in prison and you visited me" that shaped the couple’s future.

They started by visiting MacDougall-Walker and Carl Robinson Correctional Institution in Enfield every two weeks.

Now, they visit MacDougall-Walker twice a week and Carl Robinson weekly. They are there for about two hours, and their visits attract anywhere from several to 30 inmates. They show the men videos about the saints or the faith, talk about whatever topics the men raise, and are on hand for regular holy hours, eucharistic services (both are extraordinary ministers of holy Communion) and inmate-led Rosaries and Divine Mercy Chaplets.

"The basic attitude we’re going in with is that Jesus is love, and we want to be vessels of his love," said Walter. "We want to restore their God-given dignity and let them know that the Lord loves them unconditionally.

"We have found so many men who are trying to turn their lives around," said Walter. They aim to make the Catholic faith a vital part of the men’s lives.

Walter and Ges have witnessed conversions to the faith. Ges also participated in several baptisms as the godmother of several inmates.

They shared parts of notes, cards and letters they have received from inmates over the years.

"My reason for writing is … to say thank you for being such caring and loving people. You and your wife show me how love can make people live a happy life, and how Christ works through people who believe," wrote one man.

Another wrote, "The prison system can’t change who you are. You must do that for yourself, and through programs like this one, it can be possible to make a change in each of our lives."

"I am in a six-month addiction program. I have a room all to myself where I can work on myself and pray and read," wrote another. "I am so blessed, I cannot begin to tell you how grateful I am for turning my will over to the care of God."

Walter confessed that there are times that they are tempted to skip a visit. "But, it’s very fulfilling work. They come out better and we come out better. When we come out, we’re walking on air," he said.

The couple said more lay Catholics should get involved in prison ministries. Again borrowing from the Bible, Walter said, "The laborers are few and the harvest is so ripe."

Printed with permission from the Catholic Transcript, newspaper for the Archdiocese of Hartford, Conn.

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Feminine beauty created for 'spousal love,' says Catholic professor

Crestview Hills, Ky., Aug 7, 2010 (CNA) - Writing for this week's edition of the Thomas More College journal, Catholic professor Mary Shivanandan addressed the topic of feminine beauty, explaining that a woman's physical and spiritual attributes find their fullest expression in “spousal love,” whether in motherhood or consecrated celibacy.

On Aug. 5, The Thomas More College of Liberal Arts released its latest journal issue, Second Spring: an International Journal of Faith and Culture. This recent edition is dedicated to exploring the Theology of the Body from several perspectives.

In her article titled, “The Spousal Nature of Feminine Beauty in John Paul II,” Mary Shivanandan – a professor of Theology at the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family at the Catholic University of America – explores the theme of the purpose of a woman's beauty and where it finds its fullest expression.

“Feminine bodily beauty!” Shivanandan began in her article. “Is this not a topic more suitable to a fashion magazine than a serious journal? What does it have to do with theology?”

“But John Paul II takes feminine beauty very seriously,” the professor underscored.

“Towards the end of the first cycle of his Catechesis on Human Love, he writes: 'The whole exterior of woman’s body, its particular look, the qualities that stand with the power of perennial attraction ... are in strict accordance with motherhood.'”

“Right away,” she added, “we have a perspective on the feminine body that is not characteristic of our culture, which either favors the thin straight silhouette of the fashion model or the dress open and showing curves to the navel.”

In modern society, woman “is presented either without sexual attributes or as a sex object,” the professor lamented. “How is it even possible to address a culture that treats the feminine body in this way?”

However, “John Paul II does not hesitate to rise to the challenge,” she wrote.

“When John Paul II links the visible bodily aspect of a woman with its power of perennial attraction 'in strict accordance with motherhood,' he may seem to be limiting the often wondrous visible beauty
of woman to one dimension.”

Yet, “the mystery of femininity manifests and reveals itself in its full depth through motherhood,” Shivanandan said, quoting the late Pontiff.

“This mystery, as he explains in his Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem, involves 'a special openness
to the new person' on the part of woman through which she discovers her own identity precisely as woman.”

In this gift of self through the openness of bringing new life into the world, a woman not only realizes her identity as female, but reaches the fullest expression of what feminine beauty is, explained Shivanandan.

“Beauty, feminine beauty, which, as John Paul II says, is in strict accordance with motherhood, is
both a source and fruit of spousal love lived sacramentally in the family,” she noted. “From it radiates the beauty of the civilization of love.”

“It is the great challenge of our time to recover this sense of feminine beauty as intrinsically
spousal,” Shivanandon wrote.

In addition to a woman expressing her beauty as a gift of self through spousal love in marriage, the professor added, in “the consecrated virgin the spousal form is also present but expressed in a different way, as signifying the priority of personhood over bodily sexual attraction.”

“Espoused to the Lord, she points to the eschaton (heavenly reality) where there is no giving in human marriage. Thus the woman has to be affirmed in her role as person, oriented to self-gift, spouse and mother in a correct order.”

Shivinandan reflected that this “way of approaching feminine beauty is almost entirely foreign to our culture, which isolates feminine bodily beauty as a thing in itself, using it to sell products or titillate the senses.”

Pope John Paul II, however, “finds the search for what he calls 'integral beauty' or 'purity free from stain' in the bridegroom’s search in the Song of Songs,” the professor observed.

“He notes that the Song of Songs refers to the bride as 'a garden closed,' a 'fountain sealed,' because, in the Pope’s words, she is 'the master of her own mystery.'”

“The authentic gift of the woman, which is essential to her personal dignity, is revealed in the gift of self as spouse and mother.”

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Pope leaves Castel Gandolfo on unannounced pilgrimage for Transfiguration

Castel Gandolfo, Italy, Aug 7, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) -

In a symbolic gesture, the Holy Father went to the mountains to pray on the Feast of the Transfiguration. During the day trip away from his summer residence he visited a number of places, taking the time also to drop in on some old friends.

There were no public events on Pope Benedict's unannounced Aug. 6 tour, although, as Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi told Vatican Radio, despite its private nature he was able to greet some surely surprised people in the course of the day.

The Pope left the bounds of Castel Gandolfo in the morning to pay a visit to the "Madonna dei Bisognosi" Sanctuary for the Feast of the Transfiguration, according to the Holy See's Press Office.

During the Lord's Transfiguration, as recounted in the synoptic gospels, Jesus led Peter, James and John to a high mountain where he changed in appearance before them and was surrounded by a glorious light.

Marking this feast also in a mountain setting, the Pope prayed with those who accompanied him in the Marian sanctuary located in Italy's Abruzzo region at an altitude of over 3,000 ft.

Following the stop at the sanctuary, the Holy Father went to a religious community in the nearby town of Carsoli for lunch, joining the president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care Cardinal Fiorenzo Angelini who just celebrated his 94th birthday on Aug. 1.

Later, together with Msgr. Georg Ganswein, his personal secretary, Pope Benedict went to the city of Rocca di Mezzo, where he saw the Dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who is on vacation there. He also visited St. Leucio's parish where he prayed for those affected by the earthquake that rocked the region in April of last year, also damaging the Church.

After meeting with the parish priest, Rocca di Mezzo's mayor and other city administrators, he returned to Castel Gandolfo.

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Vatican paper: Raphael masterpiece is meant for the liturgy, not the museum

Vatican City, Aug 7, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - The place of Raphael's “Transfiguration” in an art museum and not in a place of worship means the “most beautiful painting in the world” has lost most of its ability to speak, an article in L'Osservatore Romano has claimed. The Vatican newspaper says that the venue rendered the artwork into little more than an object.

Raphael's final work, the "Transfiguration" was painted on a wooden surface over a period of four years up until his death in 1620. Centuries ago it hung in a church. Since then, it has been on display in the Vatican Museums' Pinacoteca, or picture gallery, for the last 200 years.

The painting draws from St. Matthew's Gospel. In its upper portion is the Transfigured Christ with Moses and Elijah. At their feet are Peter, James, and John. In the foreground are the other Apostles and onlookers, including a possessed young man recounted in the gospel.

Giorgio Vasari, Raphael's 16th century biographer and noted artist himself, described the work as "the most famous, the most beautiful and most divine."

In an Aug. 6 article, LOR's Marco Agostini described at length the feeling and meaning expressed in each stroke of Raphael's brush and the "violent" interplay of light and darkness and good and evil across the painting, whose presence is imposing both up close and from a distance.

As it hung in the Roman church of St. Peter in Montorio before it was eventually placed in the Vatican Museums, he observed, it would have had a favorable effect in the eyes of the faithful as they approached the altar.

The placement of the altarpiece behind the high altar also would have enhanced the effect. Agostini mused that in the celebration of the Mass the priest would have seen the "liberation" of the possessed youth in the lower part of the work, while the faithful would have been able to contemplate the Transfiguration above the priest.

During the consecration, the "transfiguration" of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ would have been visually supported by Raphael's painting, he explained, through the apostles who draw attention upwards in the work.

At the moment of the elevation, added Agostini, the gaze of the apostles in the painting would have centered on the Host, superimposed on the "blazing Christ" behind. This arrangement invites the faithful to a deeper contemplation of the mystery of the liturgy.

Reflecting on the difference in effect between the artwork’s former and present venue, Agostini asserted, "A work of sacred art placed in a museum, even with the best intentions and perhaps better protected, loses three-quarters of its verbal capacity just for the fact that it is placed outside of the context for which it was created.

"Today," he concluded, "in the Pinacoteca, the Transfiguration is only an object, still among the most excellent, lined up with many others, but devoid of the strength that came from it as part of the liturgical mystery, of the place of prayer."

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