Archive of August 14, 2011

Spirit moved layman’s push for sacred vows

San Francisco, Calif., Aug 14, 2011 (CNA) - St. Thomas More Parish in San Francisco is hosting a wedding for as many as 20 couples — one parish’s response to a decline of almost 50 percent in weddings among Catholics in the past two decades.

“We’ll be doing a real shebang. A real wedding,” said Joe Espinueva, a parishioner and organizer of “Operation I Do,” a totally free wedding and reception for couples who were civilly but not sacramentally married or have been in a common law marriage.

“There will be cutting of cake. There will be dancing. We will want these people to feel they are getting a real marriage from the church,” said Espinueva.

Parishioners are volunteering to cook dishes, bake cakes, and offering to donate bouquets. Many of the marrying couples’ children will serve as flower girls and ring bearers.

Marriage preparation according to church norms is under way, said Espinueva. “We are not trying to do a microwave wedding or a shortcut wedding,” said Espinueva, who said he was sacramentally married at St. Thomas More four years ago, years after entering a civil marriage. The parish will engage in follow up with the couples after the wedding to keep them engaged spiritually with the church, Espinueva said.

“We started in our church a campaign to say for those married civilly — let us help you to marry in the church,” said pastor Msgr. Labib Kobti. “All that I want to do is to bring you back to the church and make from your wedding a sacrament. This we called ‘Operation I Do.’”

The parish expects numerous priests concelebrating and at least 500 wedding guests. It will host the reception at the large church hall on St. Thomas More school grounds, said Espinueva. “Msgr. Labib said we will be putting tents outside if that’s not enough space.”Among those who will wed are couples who have been married civilly for 28, 17, 11years, Msgr. Kobti said.

Espinueva said the Holy Spirit inspired the idea after he saw an article May 27 in Catholic San Francisco describing an archdiocesan decline in Catholic weddings that mirrors national trends. In the Archdiocese of San Francisco, marriage declined 47percent from 1990 to 2010 while during the same period the number of Catholics in the archdiocese grew from 395,000 to 444,008. Archbishop George Niederauer has formed a task force to study the issue.

“There are so many couples in our local church who could benefit from this kind of outreach,” said Msgr. James Tarantino, archdiocesan vicar for administration and moderator of the curia.

Three St. Thomas More parishioners who are in their third year of training for the diaconate have been interviewing couples and helping them fill out paperwork to marry. The men are Romeo Cruz, Arthur Sanchez, and Marcos Cobillas. Those couples who may need help with a previous marriage and a divorce are getting assistance in working with the archdiocesan marriage tribunal, Espinueva said.

The owner of a music store in Serramonte Mall, Espinueva said he has been asking his customers if they know any Catholics married civilly but not in the church. He is also handing out fliers. That effort, as well as couples who want to become involved with Couples for Christ or the Filipino-couples group “Opening your heart to the Lord” or Bukas Loob SaDiyes, have been the source of most of the couples who will marry, he said. Both groups require couples to have been sacramentally married to participate.

The effort to help couples marry in the church is also an initiative of the Family Ministry in the Latino community of the archdiocese, said Father Francisco Gamez. Twenty-five couples will wed at St. Mary’s Cathedral in a ceremony presided over by Bishop William Justice on Saturday Aug 13.Several other parishes have similar events, archdiocesan officials said.

Couples have not married in the church for many reasons, Espinueva said. Obtaining baptismal certificates, or divorce certifications from other countries or jurisdictions is difficult. The marriage preparation process is unwieldy for some.“ Another reason they have been telling me, they are embarrassed because they have been living together for quite some time and have not received the sacrament of matrimony,” he said.

An actual wedding date is not yet set as the parish races to complete all the paperwork, Espinueva said. Espinueva is a co-chairman of Catholics for the Common Good which is battling efforts to legalize same-sex marriage as well as promoting sacramental marriage in the church.“I would like to put it in the context of this saint who was killed by protecting marriage, St. Thomas More,” Msgr. Kobti said. “Harry the 8thI wanted to get married and he wanted to divorce his wife and this, our saint, said, no, you cannot divorce.” St. Thomas More was beheaded July 6, 1535, and King Henry VIII defied the pope leading to the formation of the Church of England. “He died protecting marriage,” Msgr. Kobti said.

Referring to the years when he could not receive holy Communion because he was not in a blessed marriage, Espinueva said, “The feeling of being able to receive the holy Eucharist without any conscience is so beautiful. Most of these people are not receiving holy Communion because they know they cannot and they are so eager to be married so they eventually can receive Jesus Christ.”

“This is not my project, this is the Holy Spirit’s project,” said Espinueva. “I think the Holy Spirit planned everything. We just opened all our hearts. We are doing all this out of love. It’s just a four-letter word, but it takes a lot of time to practice.”

For more information, contact Joe Espinueva at [email protected].

Printed with permission from Catholic San Francisco.

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Groundbreaking series on Catholicism to air on PBS this fall

Denver, Colo., Aug 14, 2011 (CNA) - A high-definition series exploring the beauty and richness of Catholicism is set to air on over 80 public television stations across the U.S. this fall.

Fr. Robert Barron, head of Word on Fire media and the visionary behind the “Catholicism” series, told CNA his hope is that the films will be used  “as a tool of evangelization for everybody.”

“I want the series to go out beyond the walls of the Church,” he said in an Aug. 10 interview. “That's why we're so happy it's going to be on public television.”

Set in 50 locations in over 16 countries, the series examines major themes within the Church such as the person of Christ, the mystery of God, the Virgin Mary, Saints Peter and Paul, the “missionary thrust of the Church,” the liturgy and the Eucharist, prayer and spirituality and the saints, Fr. Barron said. 

In the episode on the Virgin Mary, for instance, the crew traveled to the Holy Land, France, Mexico and “around the world to see where the Marian faith shows up.”

“The approach I used,” he said, “was just to go to places around the world that visually show the themes I'm talking about.”

Fr. Barron said that the series comes at time when the U.S. is going through what he believes to be “the darkest period in the history of the American Catholic Church,” and that the “wrong” people are telling the story of what the Church actually is.

He pointed to the secular media's depiction of the Church “as the place where the sex abuse scandal happened,” a narrative that he finds “so tiresome and counterproductive.”

“I think Catholics from the inside have to tell a much richer, broader, fascinating story,” Fr. Barron said, stressing the importance of not allowing the Church to be “reduced to the sex abuse scandal.”

He noted that during challenging times in Church history, the saints “tended to come forward in the times of crisis and bring things back to their evangelical basics.”

Taking his cue from the saints, Fr. Barron said he was inspired to show Catholicism for what it really is.

“Whether its Francis, Dominic, Benedict, or Ignatius – they came forward at a time of crisis and said, 'what is the Church fundamentally about?'”

Fr. Barron also said he wanted to address the modern problem of what he called “domesticating” Jesus.

“I see that happening a lot both in high academic culture and the wider culture too—and that is turning Jesus into one more guru,” along with “sufi mystics, Hindu wisemen, Jewish rabbis or Deepak Chopra.”

“People look around to the spiritual world and then Jesus becomes one more of those figures,” he explained. “And I just think that's the way to miss him.”

“The Gospel presents him as this deeply challenging figure,” Fr. Barron noted. “Jesus is distinctive. He stands out in a sharp profile vis a vis other religious founders and I think Christians have to make that difference clear.”

The Chicago priest, who also holds the Francis Cardinal George Chair of Faith and Culture at the University of St. Mary of the Lake, said the project has taken close to four years to complete since its inception.

After getting permission to begin filming the series from the Archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal Francis George, the team began the unenviable task of fundraising.

“We had to raise about 3 million dollars to make this possible,” Fr. Barron said, “so we started in Chicago where we're based, but we ended up going all over the country.”

Fr. Barron said the project was done on a “shoe-string” budget compared to most productions of this size and that the team traveled in spurts for nearly two years – from 2008 to 2010 – whenever enough money was raised to journey to each location.

“The experience was immeasurable and I'm still unpacking it,” he added.

Noting the quality of the series, he said that top film and production experts from NBC worked with high-definition equipment to capture the lush colors and intricate details of every location. The episodes also feature an original musical score by Chicago composer Steven Mullen.

“That was from the the beginning a strong emphasis of mine. I said, 'if we're going to show off this beautiful tradition that we have, I don't want to do it in some second-rate way,'” Fr. Barron recalled.

He added that a “wonderful study program” has also been created to go along with the episodes and that it is intended for parish use such as RCIA classes.

The priest expressed his desire that people who are “not religious at all – maybe they're atheists, agnostics, fallen away Catholics – would see the series and maybe be drawn in by the beauty of it, drawn in by culture, drawn in by history.”

“That's my hope – that it would be used inside the Catholic world but also as an evangelical tool outside the Catholic world.”

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Monastic reformer St. Bernard of Clairvaux remembered August 20

Denver, Colo., Aug 14, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - On August 20 the Catholic Church will honor St. Bernard of Clairvaux, the twelfth-century monk who helped to build up the Cistercian order – some of whom are known today as the Trappists. Bernard is considered the last of the Church Fathers in the Western tradition.

Bernard was born during the year 1090, near the French town of Dijon. His father Tescelin and his mother Aleth belonged to the highest class of nobility in the region and had six other children. Bernard, their third child, received an especially good education, in response to a local man's prophecy that he was destined for great achievements.

After his mother’s death, Bernard began to consider a life of solitude and prayer. At Citeaux, near Dijon, a group of monks had gathered in 1098 with the intention of returning to St. Benedict's original rule of monasticism from the sixth century. Bernard, together with 30 other noblemen of Dijon, sought to join this monastery around the year 1113.

Three years into his life as a monk of Citeaux, Bernard received a commission from his abbot to become the head of a new monastery, practicing the same rule of life. Bernard himself dubbed the new monastery's location “Clairvaux,” or “Clear Valley.”

In his zeal to set an example for the Cistercian monastic reform, Bernard lived a life of such severe penance that his health suffered, and his superiors in the order had to persuade him to be more moderate. Meanwhile, the monastery thrived and attracted large number of men, including Bernard's five brothers and his widowed father.

In 1119, Bernard played an important role in the first General Chapter of the Cistercian Order, which drew up its constitutions and rules. The following year, he composed a treatise on the vice of pride and the virtue of humility, as well as a series of homilies in praise of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He also defended the Cistercians against charges from other monks, who claimed that their rule was too severe.

At the local Council of Troyes, in1128, Bernard assisted the Cardinal Bishop of Albano in resolving internal disputes within the Church of Paris. At this same council, Bernard outlined the rule of life for the Knights Templars, the Catholic military order charged with the defense of the Holy Land. Bernard developed the ideals of Christian knighthood in his writings addressed to the Templars.

These were not the Abbot of Clairvaux's last forays into civil and religious controversies. He also defended the Church's freedom against the intrusions of temporal rulers and he admonished bishops who had abandoned their sees. In 1130, he had the responsibility of determining which of two rival clerics, both claiming to have been elected Pope, would ultimately occupy the Chair of Peter.

Bernard became a close adviser to Pope Innocent II, who prevailed in the controversy. Further threats to the Church's peace and unity occupied him for much of the 1130s, although he continued to produce important writings, including his commentary on the Biblical “Song of Songs.” He also sent monks to established new Cistercian monasteries throughout Western Europe.

One of Bernard's own Cistercian monks became Pope Eugene III in 1145, prompting Bernard to write him a letter of instructions that subsequent Popes have also found valuable. When Eugene declared a crusade for the protection of Christians in Antioch and Jerusalem during 1146, he appointed Bernard to strengthen the faith of the crusaders with his preaching.

The “Second Crusade,” however, failed in its attempt to take the Syrian city of Damascus. This was a heavy blow to Bernard's cause, and he received undue blame for a defeat more likely due to political intrigue and military misconduct. Bernard sent a letter to the Pope, stating that the crusade failed because of the moral failings of its participants.

Pope Eugene III, Bernard's onetime disciple and close friend, died in 1153, and was eventually beatified. Bernard died the same year, at the age of 63, having spent forty years as a monk. He personally founded 163 Cistercian monasteries, a number which had more than doubled by the time of his death.

Pope Alexander III canonized St. Bernard of Clairvaux in 1174. During the 19th century, Pope Pius VIII declared him to be a Doctor of the Church.

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Learn to trust and call upon Jesus, Pope counsels

Castel Gandolfo, Italy, Aug 14, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -

Christians shouldn’t be afraid to call upon the name of Jesus Christ for help at all stages of their lives, Pope Benedict XVI said in his Sunday Angelus address on Aug. 14.

“Dear friends, we too are called to grow in faith, to reach out and to receive freely the gift of God, to trust in Jesus and cry out, ‘Give us the faith, help us find our way’,” the Pope told pilgrims gathered at his summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, 15 miles south of Rome.

Pope Benedict said that this trust in Christ was personified in today’s Gospel reading in which a pagan Canaanite woman, despite not being Jewish, beseeched Jesus to cure her daughter who was possessed by a demon.
God responds to such a faithful cry “not as some faceless and nameless abstract” but as “a person who wants to enter into a relationship of deep love with us,” with that person being Jesus Christ himself.

“Faith opens us to know and accept the true identity of Jesus, its novelty and uniqueness, his Word as a source of life, to live a personal relationship with Him,” said the Pope.

This acceptance of Jesus requires a daily “experience of conversion” where “every day we feed our faith” by “listening to the Word of God, with the celebration of the Sacraments, with personal prayer as a ‘cry’ to Him and with charity towards our neighbor.”

After praying the Angelus with pilgrims, the Pope asked all present to pray for the success of World Youth Day, which begins this Tuesday in Madrid. In particular he welcomed Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino of Havana who is leading a group of young pilgrims from Cuba to WYD for the first time ever.

Finally, the Pope reminded pilgrims that Sunday marks the 70th anniversary of the martyrdom of St. Maximilian Kolbe, the Polish priest executed in the Nazi camp at Auschwitz.

“His heroic love is a shining example of successful presence of God in the human drama of hatred, suffering and death.”

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