Denver, Colo., Jun 3, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - On June 9, the Roman Catholic Church honors Saint Ephrem of Syria, a deacon, hermit, and Doctor of the Church who made important contributions to the spirituality and theology of the Christian East during the fourth century.
Eastern Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christian celebrate his feast on January 28.
In a 2007 General Audience on St. Ephrem’s life, Pope Benedict XVI noted that St. Ephrem became known as the “Harp of the Holy Spirit,” for the hymns and writings that sang the praises of God “in an unparalleled way” and “with rare skill.”
Ephrem was born in the city of Nisibis in approximately 306. Traditions differ on the question of his family background, with some sources attesting that his father was at one time a pagan priest. Other sources suggest that his family either was, or later became, entirely Christian.
During his youth, and prior to his baptism at age 18, Ephrem committed certain sins that continued to trouble him in later years. In one incident, he caused the death of a neighbor’s cow by chasing it into an area where it was killed by a wild animal. Another source of shame was his temporary doubt regarding God’s providential direction of events.
A sense of God’s care for him, however, was reinforced by an incident in which he was falsely accused of theft and imprisoned. An angel appeared to Ephrem, informing him that he would be shown an example of God’s providence. Through a complex series of events, Ephrem’s innocence was ultimately vindicated, in fulfillment of the angel’s words.
Soon after this ordeal, Ephrem received baptism and began to consider the salvation of his soul more seriously. He embraced an ascetic lifestyle under the direction of an elder, who gave him permission to live as a hermit. Ephrem supported himself with manual labor, making sails for ships, while living in a remarkably austere manner with few comforts and little food.
Ephrem’s spiritual director and friend, Bishop James of Nisibis, died in 338. Soon after, Ephrem left his solitude and moved to Edessa in present-day Turkey. Ordained as a deacon in Edessa, he was known for sermons which combined articulate expressions of Catholic orthodoxy with urgent and fruitful calls to repentance.
The deacon was also a voluminous author, producing commentaries on the entire Bible as well as the theological poetry for which he is best known. Ephrem used Syriac-language verse as a means to explain and popularize theological truths, a technique he appropriated from others who had used poetry to promote religious error.
An effective evangelist and opponent of heresy, Ephrem was also known as a compassionate spiritual director, who warned new converts not to attempt excessive works of penance.
Late in his life, the deacon made a pilgrimage to the city of Caesarea, where God had directed him to seek the guidance of the archbishop later canonized as Saint Basil the Great. Basil helped Ephrem to resolve some of his own spiritual troubles, giving him advice which he would follow as he spent his final years in solitary prayer and writing.
Near the end of his life, Ephrem briefly left his hermitage to serve the poor and sick during a famine. His last illness came in 373, most likely from a disease he contracted through this service.
When his own death approached, he told his friends: “Sing no funeral hymns at Ephrem’s burial … Wrap not my carcass in any costly shroud: erect no monument to my memory. Allow me only the portion and place of a pilgrim; for I am a pilgrim and a stranger as all my fathers were on earth.”
St. Ephrem of Syria died in June of 373. Soon after his death, he was remembered in a public address by his contemporary Saint Gregory of Nyssa, who closed his remarks by asking Ephrem’s intercession.
“You are now assisting at the divine altar, and before the Prince of life, with the angels, praising the most holy Trinity,” said Gregory. “Remember us all, and obtain for us the pardon of our sins.”
Sacramento, Calif., Jun 3, 2012 (CNA) - California's senate has approved a bill restricting the therapeutic treatment of homosexuality in minors. Critics say the measure fails to respect scientific standards, as well as personal and family rights.
Dr. Christopher Rosik, president of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), said the largely partisan May 30 vote represented a “triumph of political activism over objective science.”
Approved by a 23-13 margin, Senate Bill 1172 now awaits consideration by the state assembly.
“The American Psychological Association has observed that there are no studies by which to accurately estimate the effectiveness of sexual orientation change intervention or the prevalence of harm,” Rosik said in a May 31 statement, rejecting claims that sexual-orientation therapy is ineffective or harmful.
“In NARTH’s view,” he said, “a truly scientific response would call for more and better research to answer these questions, not a legislative ban that runs roughshod over professional judgment and parental choice.”
Although softened in some respects, amid criticism over issues of religious and personal freedom, the bill still contains its most controversial provision: It would ban those under 18 from receiving therapy or counseling for same-sex attraction, regardless of their wishes or the decision of their parents.
The new version of the bill does not contain earlier language applicable to the treatment of adults – which would have pressured professionals to affirm same-sex attraction and discourage treatment, under threat of legal liability.
However, the most recent version of the bill includes a new declaration of the state's “compelling interest” in “protecting its minors against exposure to serious harms caused by sexual orientation change efforts.”
The National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality intends to continue fighting the measure in collaboration with the Pacific Justice Institute. The therapeutic association has urged supporters to contact California assembly members to support the rights of children and parents.
In addition to the objections raised by NARTH and its supporters, the bill has also drawn more surprising criticism from the L.A. Times editorial board – which rejects the therapeutic treatment of homosexuality, but does not believe the practice should be restricted by law.
California's legislature “is particularly ill-suited to solving the problems of families or prescribing norms for medical and psychiatric practice,” the paper said in a May 11 editorial.
“Legislators have no special insights into psychiatry, nor are they elected for their abilities as parents,” the editorial stated. “Frankly, it's worrisome to have them stepping in to tell therapists what they may or may not say or do to treat patients.”
Columbus, Ohio, Jun 3, 2012 (CNA) - Sister Mary Thomasina John, PCJ, said that although she had wanted to enter the religious life for years, she didn’t do so until she was 25 years old.
She said that in earlier years, she was too shy to reveal her innermost feelings to anyone, even her parents. But she did pray daily to God for guidance and to the Blessed Mother and St. Anne, the grandmother of Jesus, to help answer her prayers.
“In good time, God does hear and know your longing and heart’s desire and leads you right into it,” she said.
It seems hard to believe that she ever was shy when listening to her enthusiastically talk about her nearly 60 years as a member of the Sisters of the Poor Child Jesus, the last 40 of which have been spent in Columbus, mostly at Our Lady of Bethlehem School, where she taught kindergarten from 1972 until 1995. She continued to remain connected with the school until 2007, working with children on May crownings, Mass attendance, Holy Communion preparation, praying, and singing of hymns.
“I’ve taught students in the elementary years through grade six, pre-kindergarten, and kindergarten and enjoyed them all. Second- and third-graders were some of my favorites because of first Communion preparation, but it was really delightful to teach 4- and 5-year-olds about the life and love of Christ.
Children that age take an interest in and are fascinated by everything,” said Sister Mary Thomasina, 85, who has lived since 1999 at the Columbus Motherhouse of the Dominican Sisters of Peace.
“I can’t begin to express how very much I have missed teaching and being with the children. However, you can’t be going at full speed all of your life, so I’ve slowed down quite a lot since 2007,” she said.
“I still attend occasional events at Our Lady of Bethlehem, like the open house they had in April. It was great to see that they’ve started to renovate some of the convent area for a new program for infants and toddlers.”
“Many parents of former students were at the open house, and even my former pupils themselves were there, now married with children of their own attending Our Lady of Bethlehem school.”
Sister Mary Thomasina said she always had to face a few discipline problems in her classrooms, but found an effective solution for them. “Even when my back was turned, I could usually tell where a problem was coming from, so what I would do is just turn around and stare at the student,” she said.
“Whether I was sitting down or at a chalkboard, I would just give the student a look. “Some may have tried to stare me down, but it didn’t work. After a while, I’d say ‘Are you ready to listen?’ and that was it. An alternate method I'd use would be to have someone come up and just sit next to me. That caused plenty of embarrassment, and no one wanted to come up a second time. You hear all these stories about sisters having to tap kids on the knuckles and so forth, but I never had to do that.”
Sister Mary Thomasina came to Our Lady of Bethlehem 40 years ago as a teacher and as superior of the convent that was there at the time, remaining as superior until 1978.
“Looking back now, I don’t know how I managed both jobs at the same time, but I did,” she said.
“The outside of the convent always seemed to need painting, so I’d climb up ladders and paint. You had to be a jack of all trades. People used to call me ‘the painting sister,’ but eventually I was smart enough to get aluminum siding. So much for my painting career.”
Sister Mary Thomasina and a sister of hers who lives in their hometown of Wheeling, W.Va., are the surviving members of a family of seven children who grew up practicing the Maronite rite of the Catholic Church. Sister Mary Thomasina became a Roman Catholic after she entered religious life in 1952 because at the time, that was a requirement of the Catholic Church. That rule has since been changed.
She made her first profession of vows in 1955 and her final profession in 1958. She taught in West Virginia and Illinois before coming to Columbus permanently, but also spent time in the city from 1963-65 as a teacher at St. Timothy School. She joined the Sisters of the Poor Child Jesus because members of that order had taught her in Wheeling. The order was founded in Aachen, Germany, in 1844. Seven of its sisters came to the United States in 1923 to serve in West Virginia at the request of Wheeling Bishop John Swint.
The order eventually expanded into Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Illinois, and at one time had enough sisters in the Diocese of Columbus to form Our Lady of Bethlehem Convent, which was founded on Nov. 23, 1956, at the site where the school of the same name is located.
The order, which will soon move its motherhouse from the Netherlands back to Aachen, has more than 500 members in 12 nations of Europe, South America, and southeast and central Asia, and has experienced particular growth in Indonesia, Colombia, Latvia, and Peru.
In the United States, its numbers have dwindled to the point that it has three members remaining in this country – Sister Mary Thomasina; Sister Mary Goretti Campbell, PCJ, who lives at the Mohun Health Care Center in Columbus; and Sister Anna Veronica Mooring, PCJ, of Parkersburg, W.Va.
“There aren’t many of us left here, but we haven’t been forgotten,” Sister Mary Thomasina said. “Our superior comes here nearly every year to visit the three of us. This year was an exception because of the move to Aachen.”
Sister Mary Thomasina said she had a desire to enter religious life from the time she was in grade school.
“From first grade on, I’d stay after school to be around the sisters and do things like carry their satchels and clean the chalkboards. I’d stay until the bus came to pick them up every day and take them back to their convent in Benwood,” near Wheeling, she said.
“But I was a very reticent child. My shyness kept me from opening up to people and saying I wanted to be a sister, even to my parents.They couldn’t see me doing this, especially my dad. He didn’t think I could persevere.”
Instead, she went to work in the packing, sewing, and payroll departments of a clothing factory, staying there until a trip to the University of Notre Dame changed her life.
“My cousin Alfred was at Notre Dame, and on a visit to Michigan with other cousins, they said ‘Let’s go see Alfred,’ as Notre Dame wasn’t that far,” she said.
“So I went with them and my two sisters to Notre Dame and ran into two sisters who taught me. I recognized them and we started talking and writing back and forth. Eventually, I spent a day at their convent, and that made up my mind. I was never happy anywhere else until I met those sisters, and I don’t think I would have been happy doing anything else.”
“From the time I joined the order, I have grown in my awareness of God’s presence in my life,” Sister Mary Thomasina said. “I have trusted God to guide me through all that has been, and I will continue to trust him in all that is yet to be."
Posted with permission from the Catholic Times, official newspaper for the Diocese of Columbus, Ohio.
Milan, Italy, Jun 3, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Pope Benedict XVI announced this morning at the closing Mass of the seventh World Meeting of Families that the next gathering will be held in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
"I send my warm greetings to Archbishop Charles Chaput and to the Catholics of that great city," he said as he delivered the news that the 2015 World Meeting of Families will be hosted by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
Pope Benedict, who delivered the news in a short speech after Communion, said he is looking forward to meeting "them there along with numerous families from all around the world."
Reacting to the news, Archbishop Chaput said he is "so grateful to the Holy Father that he has chosen Philadelphia and excited that we will host the 2015 World Meeting of Families.
"It's fitting that this gathering, which celebrates the cornerstone of society, will take place in America's cradle of freedom. The Holy Father's choice is a gift to the local Church in Philadelphia and to the whole nation," he said.
The international gathering takes place every three years and brings together hundreds of thousands of people to pray, celebrate, and study marriage and family life. This year, pilgrims from 150 countries have come to Milan.
The 2012 event was held in Milan, Italy and featured a Family Fair for those who work in family ministry, a Theological and Pastoral Congress, and a series of speeches delivered by Pope Benedict to families, priests and religious, and to civil authorities.
This edition of the meeting also featured Pope Benedict meeting with all of those children who have received or will receive Confirmation in the Milan archdiocese. The youth met with the Pope in San Siro soccer stadium, in keeping with a tradition that is usually attended only by the Archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Angelo Scola.
The culmination of the gathering was the Sunday, June 3 High Mass at Milan’s Bresso Park, which was attended by almost 1 million faithful.
The theme of this year’s event was “The Family: Work and Celebration.” The Pope has focused his message on how the family is “humanity’s principal patrimony,” and through Christ, it helps ensure a “true and stable culture in favor of man.”
Last updated on June 3, 2012 at 10:08 a.m. MST. Adds reaction from Archbishop Chaput in paragraphs 4 and 5.
Milan, Italy, Jun 3, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Pope Benedict XVI has told the 7th World Meeting of Families in Milan that the family based upon marriage can revolutionize modern society for the better.
“Your vocation is not easy to live, especially today, but the vocation to love is a wonderful thing, it is the only force that can truly transform the world,” he said during his homily to almost 1 million pilgrims gathered in Milan’s Bresso Park on June 3.
Pope Benedict was concluding a three-day visit to the event in northern Italy. Over the past week it has brought together families from over 150 countries to pray, celebrate and study marriage and family life. The theme for this year was “The Family: Work and Celebration.”
The Pope used his homily to provide some advice on the “elements that build up family life.”
He recommended: “maintaining a constant relationship with God and participating in the life of the Church,” “cultivating dialogue, respecting the other’s point of view, being ready for service and patient with the failings of others,” agreeing on “principles of upbringing,” “being open to other families, attentive towards the poor, and responsible within civil society.”
The Pope also stressed the importance of family life built upon a man and woman who are married to each other. This is because God “created us male and female, equal in dignity, but also with respective and complementary characteristics, so that the two might be a gift for each other, might value each other and might bring into being a community of love and life.”
He told the married couples present in the large outdoor congregation that they were “not giving each other any particular thing or activity” in marriage “but your whole lives.”
This love becomes most fruitful in its desire to “accomplish one another’s good” as well as in the “generous and responsible procreation of children,” followed by their “vigilant and wise education.”
The Pope also explained that the benefits of married families go beyond the spouses and children to include society at large, since “family life is the first and irreplaceable school of social virtues, such as respect for persons, gratuitousness, trust, responsibility, solidarity, cooperation.”
He then urged parents to transmit to their children “with serenity and trust, reasons for living, the strength of faith, pointing them towards high goals and supporting them in their fragility.”
Pope Benedict next turned his attention to the children present and encouraged them to “always maintain a relationship of deep affection and attentive care for your parents, and see that your relationships with your brothers and sisters are opportunities to grow in love.”
Towards the conclusion of his homily, the Pope addressed the damaging impact that modern economic theories based upon “a utilitarian concept of work, production and the market” can have upon the family.
Both God’s plan and experience, he said, show that this “one-sided logic of sheer utility and maximum profit” is not conducive to the good of the person, family or society.
“Indeed, the utilitarian mentality tends to take its toll on personal and family relationships, reducing them to a fragile convergence of individual interests and undermining the solidity of the social fabric.”
One of the ways in which Christian families can combat this trend is by making sure they keep Sunday as a special day for the family each week. It should be a day “of man and his values,” set aside for “conviviality, friendship, solidarity, culture, closeness to nature, play, sport,” said the Pope.
“Dear families, despite the relentless rhythms of the modern world, do not lose a sense of the Lord’s Day! It is like an oasis in which to pause, so as to taste the joy of encounter and to quench our thirst for God.”
At the conclusion of the Mass, Pope Benedict announced that the next World Meeting of Families will take place in 2015 in Philadelphia.
“I send my warm greetings to Archbishop Charles Chaput and to the Catholics of that great city, and look forward to meeting them there along with numerous families from all around the world. May God bless you all!”