CNA STAFF, Nov 28, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - Catholics will remember and celebrate the life of the great Arab Church Father St. John of Damascus on Dec. 4.
Eastern Orthodox Christians and Eastern Catholics, whose tradition has been particularly shaped by his insights, will celebrate the saint's feast on the same day as the Roman Catholic Church.
Among Eastern Christians, St. John (676-749) is best known for his defense of Christian sacred art, particularly in the form of icons. While the churches of Rome and Constantinople were still united during St. John's life, the Byzantine Emperor Leo III broke radically from the ancient tradition of the church, charging that the veneration of Christian icons was a form of idolatry.
John had grown up under Muslim rule in Damascus, as the child of strongly Christian parents. His excellent education – particularly in theology – prepared him well to defend the tradition of sacred iconography, against the heresy of the “iconoclasts,” so-called because they would enter churches and destroy the images therein.
During the 720s, the upstart theologian began publicly opposing the emperor's command against sacred images in a series of writings. The heart of his argument was twofold: first, that Christians did not actually worship images, rather through them, they worshiped God, and honored the memory of the saints. Second, he asserted that by taking an incarnate physical form, Christ had given warrant to the Church's depiction of him in images.
By 730, the young public official's persistent defense of Christian artwork had made him a permanent enemy of the emperor, who had a letter forged in John's name offering to betray the Muslim government of Damascus.
The ruling caliph of the city, taken in by the forgery, is said to have cut off John's hand. The saint's sole surviving biography states that the Virgin Mary acted to restore it miraculously. John eventually managed to convince the Muslim ruler of his innocence, before making the decision to become a monk and later a priest.
Although a number of imperially-convened synods condemned John's advocacy of Christian iconography, the Roman church always regarded his position as a defense of apostolic tradition. Years after the priest and monk died, the Seventh Ecumenical Council vindicated his orthodoxy, and ensured the permanent place of holy images in both Eastern and Western Christian piety.
St. John of Damascus' other notable achievements include the “Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith,” a work in which he systematized the earlier Greek Fathers' thinking about theological truths in light of philosophy. The work exerted a profound influence on St. Thomas Aquinas and subsequent scholastic theologians. Centuries later, St. John's sermons on the Virgin Mary's bodily assumption into heaven were cited in Pope Pius XII's dogmatic definition on the subject.
The saint also contributed as an author and editor, to some of the liturgical hymns and poetry that Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholics still use in their celebrations of the liturgy.
Vatican City, Nov 28, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI heralded the beginning of Advent this year with an unprecedented worldwide pro-life vigil. On Saturday night at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, he urged respect for human life and warned against “selfishness” by adults and the “darkening of consciences” in modern society.
On Nov. 27, St. Peter's was the center of global focus, as dioceses around the world joined the Pope's invitation to prepare for the season of Christmas by joining in a special Vespers service for the unborn.
Although it is common for the Pope to encourage prayer for particular intentions, the request for a coordinated worldwide vigil – to be held on the same date and approximately the same time, in all dioceses – is highly exceptional.
Pope Benedict began his homily saying that God became a child to experience the life of man in order to “to save it completely, fully.”
“The beginning of the liturgical year helps us to relive the expectation of God made flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary,” he said, adding that the “Incarnation reveals to us, with intense light and in an amazing way, that every human life has an incomparable, a most elevated dignity.”
Because “God loves us so deeply, totally, without distinction,” the Pope noted that belief in “Jesus Christ also means having a new outlook on man, a look of trust and hope.”
Humankind, therefore, “has the right not to be treated as an object of possession or something to manipulate at will, not to be reduced to a mere instrument for the benefit of others and their interests,” he said.
“In this vein we find the Church's concern for the unborn, the most fragile, the most threatened by the selfishness of adults and the darkening of consciences,” the Pontiff added.
He then reiterated the Church's stance against abortion, warning against “cultural tendencies that seek to anesthetize consciences with misleading motivations.”
“With regard to the embryo in the womb, science itself highlights its autonomy capable of interaction with the mother, the coordination of biological processes, the continuity of development, the growing complexity of the organism,” he said. “This is not an accumulation of biological material, but a new living being, dynamic and wonderfully ordered, a new unique human being.”
“So was Jesus in Mary's womb, so it was for all of us in our mother’s womb.”
Pope Benedict went on to say that even after birth, children around the world face abandonment, hunger, poverty, disease, abuse, violence or exploitation.
“I urge the protagonists of politics, economic and social communications to do everything in their power to promote a culture which respects human life, to provide favorable conditions and support networks for the reception and development of life,” he said.
The Pope concluded by entrusting prayers for the unborn to the Virgin Mary, “who welcomed the Son of God made man with faith, with her maternal womb, with loving care, with nurturing support and vibrant with love.”
Anchorage, Alaska, Nov 28, 2010 (CNA) - The following story was updated Dec. 1, 2010
A week after the start of Advent, in which many people are preparing to celebrate the birth of the Infant Jesus, the largest provider of abortions in Alaska plans to utilize a popular holiday bazaar in Anchorage to promote and raise funds for their organization, although funds raised during the bazaar cannot be used to pay for abortions.
Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest (PPGNW) is scheduled to be one of 35 non-profit organizations that will participate in the annual Mitzvah Mall, a Dec. 5 holiday bazaar hosted by Congregation Beth Sholom, a Reform Jewish synagogue in Anchorage.
In November, the Catholic Anchor incorrectly reported that Planned Parenthood would be accepting gift donations at the Mitzvah Mall that could be utilized for abortions. In actuality, Planned Parenthood will be accepting donations to help pay for birth control pills, educational opportunities and other services provided by the organization. While Planned Parenthood performs hundreds of abortions in Alaska each year, Director Clover Simon says that the holiday gifts purchased at the Mitzvah Mall cannot be designated to pay for abortion procedures.
In 2008, Planned Parenthood participated in the Mitzvah Mall and offered donors the option to give money towards various birth control options as well as a “one night’s stay in a hotel for out-of-town patients.”
The Mitzvah Mall, however, is not the first time Planned Parenthood has utilized the Christmas season to promote its organization.
In 2007, Planned Parenthood made national headlines when the organization used the Christmas season to promote its “Choice on Earth” holiday cards in which people could purchase holiday-themed cards with customized messages, which featured themes ranging from “Choice on Earth” (with gold snowflakes on a purple background or golden birds on a tree branch) to “Seasons Greetings” (featuring a pink background and a white silhouette of a parent and child) and “Happy Planning for the New Year” (with a parent hold a child’s hand).
One card featured two Christian doves holding an olive branch.
In Alaska, Planned Parenthood recently made headlines for its opposition to a successful ballot measure that now requires abortion practitioners to notify at least one parent of a minor girl before they perform an abortion on her.
Planned Parenthood runs five clinics in Alaska, four of which perform abortions and one that refers for abortion. On average, more than 600 abortions are performed in Alaska annually.
Printed with permission from CatholicAnchor.org, newspaper for the Archdiocese of Anchorage, Alaska.