Vatican City, Jan 6, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
In his homily for the feast of the Epiphany, Pope Francis described how our lives are a continuous search to encounter “the Light” of Jesus, urging that we be “cunning” in our defense against darkness.
“The destiny of every person is symbolized in this journey of the Magi of the East,” the Pope said in his Jan. 6 homily, “our life is a journey, illuminated by the lights which brighten our way, to find the fullness of truth and of love which we Christians recognize in Jesus, the Light of the World.”
Addressing those gathered inside of St. Peter’s Basilica for the special Mass celebrating the solemnity, Pope Francis stated that in “following a light,” the three kings actually sought “the Light.”
“The star appearing in the sky kindled in their minds and in their hearts a light that moved them to seek the great Light of Christ,” he explained, highlighting how in following this light “faithfully,” the Magi were able to encounter the Lord.
In our own journey searching for this light, the Pope emphasized that like the Magi, “every person has two great ‘books’ which provide the signs to guide this pilgrimage.”
These “books,” he revealed, are “the book of creation and the book of sacred Scripture.”
What is most important, noted the Pontiff, “is that we be attentive, alert, and listen to God who speaks to us,” adding that in “listening to the Gospel, reading it, meditating on it and making it our spiritual nourishment especially enables us to encounter the living Jesus, to experience him and his love.”
Turning to the words of Isaiah in the day’s first reading, Pope Francis observed that the prophet’s declaration “Arise, shine!” is an echo of God’s call to the people of Jerusalem.
“Jerusalem,” he stated, “is called to be the city of light which reflects God’s light to the world and helps humanity to walk in his ways,” highlighting how this call is “the vocation and the mission” of the Church.
However, reflecting on how the Magi lost sight of the star while in Jerusalem, the Pontiff noted that “Jerusalem can fail to respond to this call of the Lord.”
The light, observed the Pope, was “particularly absent” in the presence of King Herod, who’s dwelling “was gloomy” and “filled with darkness, suspicion, fear.
“Herod,” continued the Pontiff, “proved himself distrustful and preoccupied with the birth of a frail Child whom he thought of as a rival” when “in realty Jesus came not to overthrow him, a wretched puppet, but to overthrow the Prince of this world!”
“The king and his counsellors sensed that the foundations of their power were crumbling,” explained the Pope, and they “feared that the rules of the game were being turned upside-down, that appearances were being unmasked.”
“A whole world built on power, on success and on possessions was being thrown into crisis by a Child!”
Pope Francis then highlighted that the Magi were able to “overcome” this “dangerous moment of darkness” with the king “because they believed the words of the prophets which indicated that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.”
So the wise men “resumed their journey towards Bethlehem and there they once more saw the star and experienced ‘a great joy’” said the Pope, quoting the Gospel of Matthew.
A unique aspect of this light which “guides us in the journey of faith,” he reflected, “is holy ‘cunning,’” which is “that spiritual shrewdness which enables us to recognize danger and to avoid it.”
Speaking of their return journey from Bethlehem, the Pope recalled that “the Magi used this light of ‘cunning’ when, on the way back, they decided not to pass by the gloomy palace of Herod, but to take another route.”
The wise men, continued the pontiff, “teach us how not to fall into the snares of darkness and how to defend ourselves from the shadows which seek to envelop our life.”
“We need to welcome the light of God into our hearts and, at the same time, to cultivate that spiritual cunning which is able to combine simplicity with astuteness.”
Pope Francis concluded his homily by reflecting that the Magi are “at our side, as wise companions on the way,” who’s example “helps us to lift our gaze towards the star and to follow the great desires of our heart.”
“They teach us not to be content with a life of mediocrity, of ‘playing it safe,’ but to let ourselves be attracted always by what is good, true and beautiful… by God, who is all of this, and so much more!”
“And they teach us not to be deceived by appearances, by what the world considers great, wise and
Powerful,” added the Pope, emphasizing that “we must not stop at that. We must not be content with appearances, with what is on the surface.”
“We must press further, towards Bethlehem,” urged the Pontiff, “where, in the simplicity of a dwelling on the outskirts, beside a mother and father full of love and of faith, there shines forth the Sun from on high, the King of the universe.”
“By the example of the Magi, with our little lights, may we seek the Light.”
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Jan 6, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The “Laudis” chamber choir based in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur is seeking to revive the tradition of sacred music in the local Church, balancing it with an appreciation of local music.
“We cannot perform new, contemporary and local music at the expense of the rich heritage that belongs to the Roman Catholic culture; nor can we simply perform the great music of our Catholic heritage at the expense of a local tradition, because we are such a multicultural country,” Shanti Michael, a co-founder of Laudis, told CNA.
“Music is considered one of the highest art forms for worship and prayer, and choral music is particularly the epitome of internal participation and prayer,” she added.
Listening to sacred choral music performed beautifully facilitates the heart and mind in prayer, Michael reflected.
“With the great tradition of chant, the sacred words of scripture come to life beautifully,” she said, reiterating that singing “often imparts a more effective theological footprint than just listening to Scripture being read. There is a reason why monks and nuns in monasteries still sing the Divine Office.”
She observed that in order for choirs to be prayerful and effective, they must perform well, and so training should be made available to the musicians who volunteer their time and efforts.
“Finances and time should always be invested in musical and liturgical training programs for church musicians and in appropriate resources for church choirs.”
Laudis specializes in polyphony, the only style of music, aside from Gregorian chant, that the Second Vatican Council identified in particular as welcome in liturgical celebrations. Laudis sings polyphony by Victoria and Palestrina, among other 16th century composers.
The group was founded in 2013 by Michael and Lisa Ho, and draws singers from several denominations.
Michael acknowledged that the main challenge for a Catholic chamber choir in Malaysia is that there are a “limited number of experienced, formed singers.” She lamented that the Catholic Church has “lost” much of its choral tradition.
She did emphasize that there is a need for inculturation in the country, and that a “balanced repertoire” is appropriate.
“I believe we are still searching for a liturgical musical identity.”
Michael holds a bachelor of music in choral conducting from Australian Catholic University, and earned a masters of sacred music from the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. She founded a youth choir in Melbourne, and was graduate assistant for the Notre Dame Folk Choir.
Vatican City, Jan 6, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Commenting on Pope Francis allegedly restricting the honorary title of “monsignor” to priests over the age of 65, one historian has suggested that the move could be a return to traditional practices.
On Jan. 4, Italian daily La Stampa reported that “henceforth, the only Pontifical Honor that will be conferred on 'secular priests' will be that of 'Chaplain to His Holiness' and this will be conferred only on 'worthy priests' who are over 65 years of age.”
Dr. James Hitchcock, professor emeritus of history at St. Louis University, told CNA/EWTN News Jan. 6 that the honorary title had been one given “almost always to senior priests, very few in number.”
“It meant, in effect, this was a man who deserved, or was qualified, to be a bishop, so we're honoring him with the title of monsignor, and he can wear some of the episcopal garments, so in a way (Pope Francis' decision) seems almost like a return to that.”
“Monsignor” is an honorary title bestowed on priests which makes them members of the Papal Household; the title is granted by the Pope on the recommendation of local bishops, and entitles priests to certain privileges of dress and precedence in choir. Prior to Paul VI, there were 14 grades of the title, but he reduced them to three in 1968.
In his motu proprio “Pontificalis Domus,” Paul VI said that “many of the attributions given to the members of the Papal Household have been deprived of their function” and are “purely honorary” and no longer “correspond to the concrete realities of the times.”
The document simplified the Papal Household, retaining what Paul VI held to be “essential and vital” while removing those positions deemed “nominal, decorative, exterior.”
“The honorary ecclesiastical titles will comprise, henceforth, only three categories of Protonotaries Apostolic (numerary and supernumerary), Prelates of Honor of His Holiness, and Chaplains of His Holiness,” wrote Paul VI. “All other categories are abolished.”
According to La Stampa, Pope Francis has further reformed the practice, such that the sole remaining grade of monsignor is “Chaplain to His Holiness.” However, the Vatican has not publicly released any document or statement confirming the modification.
Under the rules established by Paul VI, Chaplains to His Holiness could be appointed after 10 years of priesthood and 35 years of age, but Pope Francis has increased the age requirement to 65 years.
Hitchcock supposed that the new policy could lead to some standardization across the Church, saying that “full of … anomalies” with “such enormous variation: some dioceses where the bishop in effect stopped making monsignors some time ago, and others where they make large numbers.”
According to La Stampa, those priests who have already been named monsignors will not lose the title, citing a Jan. 2 letter from Archbishop Antonio Mennini, apostolic nuncio to Great Britain, to the bishops of that country notifying them of the change.
Washington D.C., Jan 6, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The US bishops' representative for international justice and peace is traveling to Palestine and Israel to support peace efforts in the region, and the Catholic Church in the Holy Land.
“As I prepare to make a solidarity visit to the Middle East in support of the local Church caught in the midst of regional conflicts, I recall in a special way our Holy Father’s Urbi et Orbi Christmas message in which he invoked the ‘Prince of Peace’ to lead people to give up their arms and ‘undertake the path of dialogue,’” Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines said in a Jan. 3 statement.
Bishop Pates is traveling to Palestine and Israel Jan. 6-17 in order to study and discuss the situations challenging peace in the Middle East.
While in the region, Bishop Pates will attend a meeting of the Coordination of Episcopal Conferences in Support of the Church in the Holy Land, an organization comprised of bishops’ representatives from Europe, North America, and South Africa.
The group will seek to “understand the social, political and ecclesial realities of the Holy Land” during their meeting, and will work together to “advocate more effectively for justice and peace,” help to aid the Church in the area, and “support the mission of the Apostolic Nuncio.”
During his trip, Bishop Pates will also be lending support for ongoing peace talks across the Middle East.
When discussing his trip, Bishop Pates referenced Pope Francis’ Urbi et Orbi message, a Christmas blessing addressed to the needs of the world.
During his message, the Pope discussed the need for peace and an end to violence around the globe, particularly in Syria, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, and the Holy Land.
“Too many lives have been shattered in recent times by the conflict in Syria, fueling hatred and vengeance,” Pope Francis said of the country’s nearly three year long civil war. “Let us never lose the courage of prayer! The courage to say: Lord, grant your peace to Syria and to the whole world. And I also invite non-believers to desire peace with that yearning that makes the heart grow: all united, either by prayer or by desire. But all of us, for peace.”
Bishop Pates echoed the Pope’s concern for these areas, stating that in “addition to a special concern for the Church and People of Syria, Egypt, Israel and Palestine, we remain deeply concerned for South Sudan, the Central African Republic and all places that do not know God’s peace.”
Pope Francis will also be traveling to the Holy Land this year, meeting May 24-26 with Patriarch Bartholomew I, the Eastern Orthodox Archbishop of Constantinople.
Washington D.C., Jan 6, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The U.S. Supreme Court has issued a temporary stay blocking “gay marriage” in Utah until the state can complete its appeal of a federal judge's order to recognize the unions.
“The decision by a single federal judge to redefine marriage in Utah is lawless, and we are pleased that the Supreme Court has put this decision on hold to allow the state to appeal it in an orderly fashion,” said Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage.
The Supreme Court's action means that Utah’s definition of marriage as a bond existing only between a man and a woman will remain in effect until the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals rules on the matter.
The stay comes after a Dec. 20 ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby of Salt Lake City overturning Utah's marriage law and ordering the recognition of “gay marriage” in the state.
Utah appealed the ruling and sought a stay of the decision to delay it from taking effect until the appeals process is finished. Both Judge Shelby and the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals denied this request, allowing same-sex “marriage” ceremonies to continue in the state. Utah then took its request to the Supreme Court, which granted the stay with no noted dissents from any justices.
The high court's order allows the state to re-institute its definition of marriage pending appeal. This blocks new “gay marriages” from taking place during the court process.
No date has yet been set for the case’s oral arguments before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
In his ruling, Judge Shelby pointed to U.S. v. Windsor, a 2013 case in which the Supreme Court decided that a federal prohibition of same-sex “marriage” was unconstitutional.
“The Supreme Court’s decision in Windsor to strike down DOMA was based on the liberty of individuals to form intimate relationships without being demeaned or degraded by the government,” he wrote.
The judge said that the Windsor decision renders state bans on “gay marriage” unconstitutional and ruled that Utah must allow the practice. The ruling led to a wave of same-sex “marriage” ceremonies in the state.
Defense of marriage advocates, however, argued that Shelby was misusing the Windsor ruling to push a redefinition of marriage on an unwilling state. They noted that the Supreme Court held in Windsor that states retain the ability to make decisions about marriage within their borders. The court simply said that the federal government must recognize same-sex unions as marriages in states that choose to do so.
“Shelby has attempted to twist what the Supreme Court ruled in the Windsor decision - that states have the right to define marriage - and turn it into the exact opposite conclusion,” said Brown in a Jan. 6 statement. He called the Supreme Court's temporary stay of the ruling “gratifying.”
FRC President Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, agreed, saying that the stay “is consistent with the Court's ruling last year in Windsor v. United States, in which they affirmed that states have the 'historic and essential authority to define the marital relation' and condemned federal efforts 'to influence or interfere with state sovereign choices about who may be married.'”
This observation was also made by Utah lawyers in their application to the Supreme Court. They noted that the practice of recognizing gay unions is a new phenomenon “not deeply rooted in the nation's history and tradition.”
“Numerous same-sex marriages are now occurring every day in Utah,” the state attorneys said.
“Each one is an affront not only to the interests of the state and its citizens in being able to define marriage through ordinary democratic channels, but also to this court's unique role as final arbiter,” their application stated, adding that states have an “indisputable” and “powerful interest in controlling the definition of marriage within their borders.”
Should the state win its appeal, addressing the status of the more than 900 same-sex “marriages” performed since the ruling could be a “thorny problem,” the state attorneys said.