Archive of September 16, 2012

Staying focused on Mass

Providence, R.I., Sep 16, 2012 (CNA) - The ring of a cell phone, cry of an infant parishioner, or medical emergency are unintended distractions that can often drive away the focus from the holy sacrifice of the Mass.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “to set about hunting down distractions would be to fall into their trap, when all that is necessary is to turn back to our heart, for a distraction reveals to us what we are attached to. Therein lies the battle, the choice of which master to serve” (2729).

During his very first Easter celebration as a priest, Father Jeremy Rodrigues, director of the Dioces of Providence Office of Worship, witnessed a parishioner suddenly collapse to the floor. Out of concern, the congregation’s focus quickly turned from the Mass to the ailing parishioner.

“I was just at the end of my homily and someone just passed out,” he recalled. “I thought, ‘maybe it was it something I said.’”

As many attended to the needs of the parishioner, Father Rodrigues felt that it was appropriate to regain their spiritual attention and continue with the celebration of the liturgy.

“We can continue as long as it’s addressed,” he said. “It doesn’t do the congregation any good to sit there and it becomes mass hysteria. The best thing we can do is pray for them and the Mass is the best prayer we can offer.”

Providence Director of Vocations Father Michael Najim said that in cases like this, the priest trusts that the people in the congregation can best respond to such situations, adding that there are often several nurses and even doctors who are present at Mass.

“My experience is that the trained professionals are very good and very competent at handling these situations when they arise during the liturgy,” he said. “It is appropriate for the Mass to continue. It's not that the priest is being insensitive. He can assess the situation to make sure it's being dealt with, but then he can continue.”

Regarding minor medical episodes such as fainting during Mass, there is no overall rule, said diocesan chancellor Father Timothy Reilly, other than the priest’s own common sense and pastoral tact, to guide his response to such emergencies.

“It's a balance between showing sensitivity and attention, and demonstrating calm for the other Mass attendees,” he said. “Generally, while the Mass should not be interrupted, most priests would want to approach the pew, to show compassion and concern for the sick person. Usually, others offer help before Father even comes down from the sanctuary anyway.”

After assuring parishioners that “help is on the way,” Father Reilly shared that most priests would then return to the altar and continue the Mass. When medical assistance does arrive in the church, the priest might quietly acknowledge and thank them.

“At that point, everyone would be a bit distracted from the Mass anyway,” he explained. “Certainly, every parish has experienced these types of temporary interruption with no disrespect shown - either to the afflicted person or to the Mass.”

Even the most natural distractions like a crying baby might demand greater focus and patience from other parishioners. Father Thomas O’Neill, pastor emeritus of St. Mary Church, West Warwick, RI, said that 90 percent of the time when a child cries loudly during Mass, they either need to be fed or have their diaper changed. Father O’Neil suggests that parents of young children sit in cry rooms. A cry room is intended to serve as a temporary option for parents to retreat to when they feel that their little ones might start to disrupt the Mass.

“It’s an opportunity for charity,” said Father O’Neill, noting that worshipers need to be tolerant and charitable when a young child becomes agitated during Mass. He added that he has never asked parents to remove or not to bring a child to Mass.

“The community can find ways to work with it,” he said.

St. Philip Church in Greenville, RI has the largest cry room in the state, fit to hold 50-70 people, said Father Rodrigues. Some parishioners feel embarrassed when their children cry at Mass, but from his perspective as a priest, it’s a sign of youth and joy.

“It’s beautiful when the babies are there,” he shared. “The cry room is more for the family than the babies. Sometimes I even see people in there with no children, they just prefer it.”

When trying to ignore distractions, most important is that the priest remember what he is there for – to offer the sacrifice of the Mass.

“At that moment that should be the most important priority,” said Father Rodrigues. “The greatest gift of the Mass is supposed to be an other worldly experience in the midst of everyday life."

Parishioners are more easily distracted because they are not as immediately involved in the Mass as the priest is so they have to concentrate even harder on the prayers of the sacrament despite distractions from the pews.

“They need to recognize what is taking place in the church and that takes practice,” he said. “It takes a trained mind and heart to understand what is taking place at Mass. It’s an act of prayer not just an event that we come to see or witness.”

Posted with permission from The Rhode Island Catholic, official newspaper for the Diocese of Providence.

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Spanish archbishop St. Thomas of Villanova honored Sept. 22

Denver, Colo., Sep 16, 2012 (CNA) - On Sept. 22, the Catholic Church remembers Saint Thomas of Villanova, a 16th century Spanish Augustinian monk and archbishop who lived a life of austerity in order to provide for the spiritual and material needs of his people.

Born during 1488 in the Spanish region of Castile, in the town of Villanova de los Infantes, Thomas Garcia was raised to take after the faith and charitable works of his parents Alphonsus and Lucia. His father, a mill worker, regularly distributed food and provisions to the poor, as did his mother.

Generous and devout from an early age, their son was also intellectually gifted, beginning his studies at the University of Alcala at age 16. Within ten years he had become a professor of philosophy at that same university, where he taught for two years before being offered a more prestigious position at the University of Salamanca.

Thomas, however, chose not to continue his academic career. After his father’s death, he had determined to leave much of his inheritance to the poor and sick rather than retaining it himself. At age 28, after much deliberation, Thomas embraced a life of chastity, poverty, and religious obedience with his entry into the monastic Order of St. Augustine.

Thomas made his first vows as an Augustinian in 1517 and was ordained a priest in 1518. He taught theology within his order and became renowned for his eloquent and effective preaching in the churches of Salamanca. This led to his appointment as a court preacher and adviser to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.

Presented with the prospect of being named an archbishop, Thomas initially declined and instead continued his work within the Order of St. Augustine, during a period that saw its expansion across the sea to Mexico. In August of 1544, however, he was ordered by his religious superiors to accept his appointment as the Archbishop of Valencia.

Thomas arrived wearing the same well-worn monastic habit that he had worn for several years and would continue wearing for years to come. Given a donation to decorate his residence, he funnelled the money to a hospital in need of repair. After his installation, he visited local prisons and ordered changes to be made in response to their inhumane conditions.

While continuing his life of monastic asceticism, the archbishop worked to improve the spiritual lives and living conditions of the faithful. He gave special attention to the needs of the poor, feeding and sheltering them in his own residence. During the same period he worked to promote education, restore religious orthodoxy, and reform the lifestyles of clergy and laypersons.

After 11 years leading the Archdiocese of Valencia, St. Thomas of Villanova succumbed to a heart condition at the end of a Mass held in his home on Sept. 8, 1555. He is said to have died on the floor rather than in his bed, which he insisted on offering to a poor man who had come to his house. Pope Alexander VII canonized him in 1658.

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Sebelius called upon to resign after violating federal law

Washington D.C., Sep 16, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - A federal investigative agency has determined that Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius has violated federal law by using her official position to advocate the re-election of President Obama, and the election of another Democratic candidate.

The announcement has prompted calls from The Catholic Association for the secretary's resignation.

“This shows yet again that her adherence to partisanship supersedes her professional integrity,” said Ashley McGuire, a senior fellow with The Catholic Association.

McGuire told CNA on Sept. 14 that Sebelius' actions show a disregard for federal law and raise serious concerns due to the authority that she wields over the process of health care reform.

On Sept. 12, the Office of Special Counsel sent a report to President Obama with the findings of an investigation which determined that Sebelius violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from using their official authority to influence election outcomes.

The incident occurred as Sebelius gave a keynote speech at a gay advocacy gala in North Carolina in February.

Acting in her official capacity as HHS Secretary, Sebelius delivered prepared remarks, which were displayed on multiple teleprompter screens and focused on the administration’s policies.

However, the report found, the secretary departed from her outline twice, at one point endorsing North Carolina lieutenant governor Walter Dalton, who she said “needs to be the next Governor of North Carolina.”

At another point, she offered a series of comments on the importance of the upcoming election, urging attendees to ensure that Obama “continues to be President for another four years because this effort has just begun.”

The report found that while these partisan remarks “would have been permissible if they had been made in her personal capacity,” they violated the Hatch Act because she was acting under her official title and speaking about agency business.

After receiving media inquiries about the incident, the department changed the classification of the event from official to political and reimbursed the U.S. Treasury for all travel-related expenses.

Sebelius said that she had made a mistake and did not mean to use her official office for political purposes.

In a letter responding to the report, the secretary expressed “regret” for the statements and said that she has since met with department ethics attorneys to ensure that she accurately understands “what types of statements are prohibited at an official event.”

She explained that “keeping the roles straight can be a difficult task, particularly on mixed trips that involve both campaign and official stops on the same day.”

However, the explanation and re-classification of the trip were not enough to satisfy McGuire.

“Even if it was a mistake, it was a mistake that she does not have leeway to make,” she said.

She explained that with Sebelius’ “key role” in implementing the Affordable Care Act, which will account for one-seventh of the U.S. economy, “there is no room for her to be making mistakes.”

“There are everyday people who have all sorts of roles that they have to fill,” McGuire added, and these people “can’t afford to mistake their different roles.”

She also noted that if public figures were excused from following federal laws every time they claimed to get confused, “we’d have a lot of legal violations.”

Now that the report on the incident has been submitted, President Obama has the authority to determine what action will be taken, if any.

McGuire is concerned that if Sebelius is not removed, she may continue to disregard federal law in other ways for political purposes.

She said that the secretary has already shown disrespect for the First Amendment through the controversial federal mandate that requires religious employers to violate their convictions by providing insurance coverage of contraception, sterilization and abortion inducing drugs.

“I think the Obama administration is trying to use this HHS mandate for political leverage,” she said, adding that Sebelius has “shown herself absolutely willing to go along with that.”

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Pope asks Christians to be servants of peace

Beirut, Lebanon, Sep 16, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI told an open-air Mass in the Lebanese capital of Beirut that the Christians of the Middle East must be peacemakers in the often troubled region.

“Dear brothers and sisters, I pray in particular that the Lord will grant to this region of the Middle East servants of peace and reconciliation, so that all people can live in peace and with dignity,” the Pope said to a congregation of over 350,000 gathered on Beirut’s waterfront Sept. 16.

“This is an essential testimony which Christians must render here, in cooperation with all people of good will. I appeal to all of you to be peacemakers, wherever you find yourselves.”

The Mass marked the final day of Pope Benedict’s 3-day Apostolic Visit to Lebanon. He used the occasion to present his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation “Ecclesia in Medio Oriente” to the Church in the Middle East. He said he hoped the document would be “a guide to follow the various and complex paths where Christ goes before you.” 

The Pope’s presence in Lebanon coincided with continued civil-war in neighboring Syria and increasing anti-United States protests across the region in part because of a film deemed insulting to Islam.

Speaking in French, the Pope said that in a world where violence “constantly leaves behind its grim trail of death and destruction” it was urgent for all people of good will in the Middle East “to serve justice and peace” which is necessary for “building a fraternal society, for building fellowship.”

The path to peace, he suggested, was provided in today’s Gospel where Jesus Christ reveals “that he must suffer and be put to death, and then rise again.” This is news which is “shocking and disturbing” to his disciplines. It also “contradicts the expectations of many” as they discover “a Messiah who suffers, a Messiah who serves and not some triumphant political savior.”

“Brothers and sisters, the path on which Jesus wishes to guide us is a path of hope for all,” said the Pope to the vast Beirut crowd.

“Jesus’ glory was revealed at the very time when, in his humanity, he seemed weakest, particularly through the incarnation and on the cross. This is how God shows his love; he becomes our servant and gives himself to us. Is this not an amazing mystery, one which is at times difficult to accept?”

At the conclusion of the Mass the Pope presented his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation to over 300 bishops gathered from all across the Middle East.

The Pope prayed that the gospel “continue to resonate” in the region where Jesus lived and spoke.

“May it be lived today and forever!” he said.

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In Lebanon, Pope calls for end to Syria conflict

Beirut, Lebanon, Sep 16, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI has placed the Middle East under the “maternal protection” of Our Lady and has asked her to help bring peace to war-torn Syria and the entire region.

“May God grant to your country, to Syria and to the Middle East the gift of peaceful hearts, the silencing of weapons and the cessation of all violence! May men understand that they are all brothers!” said the Pope in his midday Angelus address Sept. 16. 

“May we, with God’s help, be converted so as to work ardently to establish the peace that is necessary for harmonious coexistence among brothers, whatever their origins and religious convictions.”

The pontiff addressed a vast open-air congregation of over 350,000 following the conclusion of Sunday Mass on Beirut’s waterfront. Many of those in attendance were from neighboring countries, including Syria. Syria has been torn by internal conflict since an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011.

“You know all too well the tragedy of the conflicts and the violence which generates so much suffering,” said the Pope to those assembled. He lamented that in Syria “the din of weapons” is now heard alongside “the cry of the widow and the orphan.”

“Violence and hatred invade people’s lives, and the first victims are women and children. Why so much horror? Why so many dead?” he asked.

The United Nations currently puts the death toll in the Syrian conflict at over 20,000.

The Pope then appealed to the international community and “brother” Arabs to “propose workable solutions respecting the dignity, the rights and the religion of every human person!”

Continuing a key them of his three-day Apostolic Visit to Lebanon, he called for the dignity of the human person to be respected in all situations. “Those who wish to build peace”, he said, “must cease to see in the other an evil to be eliminated.”

“It is not easy to see in the other a person to be respected and loved, and yet this is necessary if peace is to be built, if fraternity is desired.”

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Pope: Lebanon can be beacon of religious co-existence

Beirut, Lebanon, Sep 16, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - At his departure from Lebanon, Pope Benedict XVI said the religious co-existence the people of Lebanon showed during his three-day apostolic visit can become an inspiration and model for the rest of the Middle East.

“In these troubled times, the Arab world and indeed the entire world will have seen Christians and Muslims united in celebrating peace,” said the Pope at Beirut’s Rafik Hariri Airport September 16.

“I thank in particular representatives of the Muslim communities. Through my stay here, I have noticed how much your presence has contributed to the success of my journey.”

Throughout Pope Benedict’s apostolic visit he has been welcomed by both Christians and Muslims at all his public events. The Lebanese population is 39 percent Christian and 60 percent Muslim.
The Pope thanked God for these occasions and thanked everyone in Lebanon and the Middle East for their prayers, “whatever their origins or religious beliefs.”

There had been worries in some quarters before Pope Benedict left for Lebanon on Friday that he was flying into an unpredictable political and religious situation. Neighboring Syria is currently embroiled in a civil-war while there are also increasing anti-U.S. protests across the region. Those worries proved to be unfounded.

Pope Benedict prayed that Lebanon would “continue to be a place where men and women can live in harmony and peace with each other” so as to witness to God’s presence in the world and also to the communion between people “whatever their political, social, or religious standpoint.”

“I hope that Lebanon will continue to permit the plurality of religious traditions and not listen to the voices of those who wish to prevent it,” said the Pope towards the close of his address. He added that the Lebanese people should continue to “resolutely reject all that could lead to disunity, and with determination choose brotherhood.”

As if to underline the point, Pope Benedict then received a warm goodbye from all the representatives of Lebanon’s religions, including the leaders of the most significant branches of the Islamic faith.

The pontiff then had a final farewell from the President of Lebanon, General Michel Sleiman, as hundreds of cheering Lebanese children waved Papal flags.

The Pope departed on his specially chartered papal plane back to Rome.

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