Kansas City, Mo., Feb 5, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles – an order of contemplative nuns who live in a cloister yet repeatedly climb music charts – are set to release an album for Lent later this month.
Of the 23 songs found on “Lent at Ephesus,” three are original compositions by sisters of the community, whose priory is in the Diocese of Kansas City-Saint Joseph.
“We feel like we are stepping out on a limb whenever we record any original pieces,” Mother Cecilia, prioress of the community, told CNA Feb. 3.
“In a way it is difficult, because the hymns we write come directly from our hearts, and lending them to a larger audience always costs something.”
“Lent at Ephesus” will be released Feb. 11 on the De Montfort Music label, which was founded last year by Kevin and Monica Fitzgibbons; it can be pre-ordered from the sisters at http://benedictinesofmary.org/.
It is the Benedictine's third album with the label; 2012's “Advent at Ephesus” was number one on Billboard's Classical Traditional Music Chart for six weeks, and last year’s “Angels and Saints at Ephesus” spent 13 weeks in the same position.
All the music released by the Benedictines of Mary come from their life in community, of which singing is an integral part.
Their life is marked by obedience, stability, and “continually turning” towards God. They have Mass daily according to the extraordinary form, and chant the psalms eight times a day from the 1962 Monastic Office. They also support themselves by producing made-to-order vestments.
The chanting of the Divine Office so characterizes their life that the original compositions on “Lent at Ephesus” flow from it in some way.
Mother Cecilia said that the melody of “Divine Physician,” composed in 2012, “grew out of the Passiontide responsory, a very poignant piece of chant that stands out in a melancholic contrast to the ones used daily and on feast days.”
The song's lyrics come from scripture and the Rule of St. Benedict, while the lyrics of “Mother of Sorrows” are adapted from a poem authored by St. Alphonsus Liguori.
“The words by themselves are heart wrenching,” the prioress reflected, “and it is hoped that the music further brings to life the most bitter sorrow of Our Lady at the foot of the Cross, musically capturing the sword that pierced her heart.”
The final original composition, “My Mercy,” was written by a sister in the community “for our Bishop's anniversary, something he could easily call to mind and meditate upon.”
Mother Cecilia said the Divine Mercy is “a favorite theme within our community,” where they pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy daily. “We often think of ourselves as vessels in Our Lady’s hands to draw the Blood and Water from Our Lord’s pierced side, poured out for priests.”
She said the lyrics come largely from the diary of St. Faustina, “and it seems their very simplicity is what moves hearts.”
“It has been our 'most requested' piece, and we thought it a fitting and uplifting end to the Lent CD, because it is the culmination of the fruits of the Passion.”
The songs on the album are in both English and Latin, and include chant, hymns, and polyphony; music from the liturgy of Holy Week is included, as are familiar hymns such as “All Glory, Laud and Honor.”
The album's producer, Blanton Alspaugh, commented that “their singing has a very pure and yet sophisticated style … their talent is as remarkable as their sense of charity.”
Monica Fitzgibbons, cofounder of De Montfort Music, observed that “to encounter this music is to be invited and included in a very special expression of love from the depths of the human soul as they devote each breathtaking and heartfelt note to their Divine Spouse.”
Vatican City, Feb 5, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Takayama Ukon, a 16th-century samurai who faced exile rather than giving up his Catholic faith, is being considered for sainthood because of his fidelity to Christ and his Church.
The Japanese bishops’ conference submitted a 400-page application for Takayama’s beatification to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints last year.
Takayama’s life is an example of “a great fidelity to the Christian vocation, persevering despite all difficulties,” Fr. Anton Witwer, general postulator of the Society of Jesus, told CNA Jan. 30.
Takayama was born in 1552, three years after the Jesuit missionary St. Francis Xavier introduced Christianity to Japan. When he was 12, his father became Catholic, and Ukon was baptized as Justo by the Jesuit Fr. Gaspare di Lella.
The Takayama were daimyo: members of the class of ruling feudal lords who ranked second to the shogun in medieval and early modern Japan. Daimyo held vast estates and were entitled to raise armies and hire samurai.
Given their respected position, the Takayama were able to support missionary activities in Japan, serving as protectors of Japanese Christians and of the Jesuit missionaries. According to Fr. Witwer, who also chairs the Ignatian Institute for Spirituality at the Pontifical Gregorian University, they influenced the conversion of tens of thousands of Japanese.
In 1587, when Takayama was 35, Japan’s chancellor, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, began a persecution of Christians, expelling missionaries and encouraging Japanese Catholics to forsake their faith.
While many daimyo chose to leave the Catholic faith, Takayama and his father chose instead to forsake their estates and honors to maintain the faith.
Fr. Witwer recounted that Takayama “did not want to fight against other Christians, and this led him to live a poor life, because when a samurai does not obey his ‘chief,’ he loses everything he has.”
Takayama “chose poverty to be faithful to the Christian life. During subsequent years, he lived under the protection of aristocratic friends, and was able to live a more dignified life.”
“Many people tried to convince Takayama to abjure his faith,” Fr. Witwer explained, “because he was a noble, and a known person, and because they did not want to kill a Japanese; the persecutors founded easier killing Christian foreigners, while it was difficult to kill Japanese Christians.”
In 1597, Toyotomi ordered the execution of 26 Catholics, both foreigners and native Japanese; they were crucified Feb. 5.
Despite the threat of such a fate, Takayama refused to leave the Church, choosing to live a Christian until his death. When the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu definitively banned Christianity in 1614, Takayama went into exile.
He led a group of 300 Catholics to the Philippines, where they settled in Manila. Arriving in December, he died Feb. 4, having been weakened by persecution in Japan.
“Since Takayama died in exile because of the weakness caused by the maltreatments he suffered in his homeland,” Fr. Witwer explained, "the process for beatification is that of a martyr.”
If Takayama is accepted as a martyr, he will not need a miracle before being beatified.
The current efforts to canonize Takayama are the third such attempt, following one shortly after his death, and one in the 1960s.
Lincoln, Neb., Feb 5, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
A Rolling Stone piece on Pope Francis was an attempt to “hijack” the papacy for secularist causes, but Catholics should be prepared to use the Pope’s “pop culture moment” rather than become its “victim,” Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln has said.
“Pop culture is important, and powerful. The sign value of Pope Francis' pontificate is immense. And liable to misinterpretation,” he said he said in a Feb. 3 essay for the First Things website.
“But our task is to wed sign and substance. To use the new-found fascination of the world for the Holy Father for the quiet, personal conversations which lead to conversion. To use piqued curiosity to speak, from the heart of a disciple, to suffering souls.”
He criticized the February 2014 issue of Rolling Stone magazine’s cover story profile of Pope Francis by Mark Binelli.
The profile, subtitled “The Times They Are A-Changin',” claims that Pope Benedict XVI's papacy was “disastrous” and “reactionary” and insults his appearance. It depicts Pope Francis as an example of “papal celebrity” and a “change agent” who is creating a “gentle revolution.”
Bishop Conley said the piece was “an exercise on standard revisionism” that tried to show the Pope’s break from “the supposedly conservative Church of old.”
“Light on facts, heavy on implication, half-truths and hearsay, the piece remakes Pope Francis as the quiet hero of the liberal left,” he said, adding that it depicts the Pope as a leader of “a move to liberalize and desacralize the Catholic Church.”
The bishop rebuked this effort, saying that Rolling Stone and its collaborators are “working to hijack the papacy of a loyal, though often unconventional, son of the Church.”
He suggested such misrepresentation arises from “sexual and social libertines” who are not interested in discrediting Christianity, but in “refashioning” it and claiming Christ and the Pope as their supporters.
“The secularist social agenda is more palatable to impressionable young people if it complements, rather than competes with, the residual Christianity of their families. The enemy has no interest in eradicating Christianity if he can sublimate it to his own purposes.
“The greatest trick of the devil isn’t convincing the world he doesn’t exist – it's convincing the world that Jesus Christ is the champion of his causes,” Bishop Conley said.
He added that Catholics who are well-formed know that the Pope is not breaking new ground, on economics, efforts at increasing women’s participation, and charity to those with same-sex attraction.
“But the media has driven a wedge between Francis and his predecessors by focusing less on substance than method,” he said.
Rolling Stone's effort to reshape Pope Francis' public image should “spur committed Christians to work in secular and social media, in radio, film and television.”
“…if we want to prevent secular media from hijacking religious realities, we need religious people at the helm – using the ordinary avenues of media to present a compelling witness to truth,” he said, adding “our willingness to work in and with secular media will determine the extent to which we can control the telling of the story.”
He said that he suspects Pope Francis is “keenly aware” of the risky choices he is making, citing the Pope’s preference for “a bruised Church which goes out to the streets" than "a Church suffering from self-absorption.”
“Those ‘streets’ are the world where people live and where they can be reached, both effectively and affectively,” the Pope said in his Jan. 23 message for the World Day of Communications.
Bishop Conley added that Pope Benedict XVI in 2013 also noted that Catholics can introduce the world to Jesus Christ by “patiently and respectfully engaging their questions and their doubts as they advance in their search for the truth and the meaning of human existence.”
The bishop emphasized that Catholics should take “far more seriously” their mandate to live “charitably, joyfully and boldly in discipleship of Jesus Christ.”
He said the Gospel promises that “authentic commitment to the truth” that refuses to separate social justice form orthodoxy and piety will “lead to conversion.”
Vatican City, Feb 5, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
In wake of the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child criticizing Vatican policies and calling for the Church to change its doctrine, a leading archbishop countered that the committee's analysis fails to be objective.
“The concluding recommendations…point out a rather negative approach to what the Holy See has been doing and has already achieved in the area of the protection of children,” Archbishop Silvano Tomasi told Vatican Radio on Feb. 5.
Archbishop Tomasi, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in Geneva, made his comments in response to Wednesday's U.N. committee's Rights of Children report claiming that the Vatican “systematically” adopted policies allowing priests to rape and molest children. The document was issued following a Jan. 16 committee hearing in Geneva on global children's rights.
Charging the Church to open its files on previous cases of abuse and criticizing their stance on homosexuality, contraception and abortion, the report suggested the Church change its canon law to ensure that what it called children's rights, including access to health care, are guaranteed.
Archbishop Tomasi responded that the analysis first “in some ways is not up to date” because it does not take “into account some of the clear and precise explanations that were given to the committee in the encounter that the delegation of the Holy See had with the committee three or four weeks ago.”
The archbishop also pointed out an apparent “difficulty” in the committee understanding “the position of the Holy See,” which cannot compromise teachings which are “part of their deep convictions and also an expression of freedom of religion.”
The committee's call for the Church to shift her stance on abortion would be a “contradiction” of the work that they do, which is to ensure that “that children be protected before and after birth.”
Drawing attention to the rigorous efforts to protect minors that the Church has made – particularly in the formation of priests and in the decisions of various episcopal conferences – Archbishop Tomasi said it “is very difficult, I think, to find other institutions or even other states that have done so much specifically for the protection of children.”
In their report to the U.N. commission, Archbishop Tomasi explained how the Holy See emphasized that “priests are not employees of the Pope but they are responsible citizens of the countries,” and as such are “accountable to the judicial system of those countries.”
Highlighting how the Church has made great efforts to “give an objective picture of the remedies undertaken” to protect minors, as well as those yet to come with the new Vatican commission, the archbishop stressed that there is actually “a small percentage of Church personnel that have committed abuse.”
But due to the tone of the U.N.'s report earlier today, he observed that perhaps “not all the observations in the facts have been adequately taken into account in the conclusions.”
“We need time to reflect carefully on the conclusions and recommendations of the committee,” the archbishop explained, “and to prepare an adequate response, so that the objective may really be pursued.”
Noting that the Holy See is a “state party to the Convention of the Child,” Archbishop Tomasi affirmed that they intend to “faithfully” carry out the elements of the commission that they are able to for the sake of “the protection of children.”
“This is the way toward the future,” he said, “and I don’t think that there will be fundamental changes in this task ahead.”
The U.N.'s conclusions announced earlier this morning came at the end of their 65th session, in which reports were of Germany, the Holy See, Congo, Portugal, Russian Federation and Yemen were examined.
Vatican City, Feb 5, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
During his general audience, Pope Francis spoke on the significance of the Sacrament of the Eucharist, explaining that it is a banquet which reminds us of the eternal life that is yet to come.
“The Eucharist configures us in a unique and profound way with Jesus,” the Pope noted in his Feb. 5 general audience, “renewing our heart, our existence, and our relationship with Him and with our brothers, and gives us a foretaste of communion with the Father in the banquet of the King of heaven.”
Addressing the thousands gathered in a rainy St. Peter’s Square for his weekly address, the pontiff continued his catechesis on the Sacraments of Initiation, turning specifically to the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
“Dear Brothers and Sisters,” he began, “in our catechesis on the sacraments of Christian initiation, we now reflect on the Eucharist, the sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood.”
This sacrament “is the heart of Christian initiation and the Church’s fountain of life,” the Pope explained, which “accompanies every step of our pilgrimage of faith, fellowship and witness.”
Shifting attention to the familiar layout of Catholic churches, the Pope observed that in the “center…we find the altar,” which is “a table that has been prepared and that makes us think of a banquet,” and “on the table, there is a cross to indicate that Christ’s sacrifice is offered on that altar.”
“He is the food we receive under the species of bread and wine,” the Pope continued, adding that “next to the table, there is the ambo, which is where the Word of God is proclaimed, through which the Lord speaks to us.”
Recalling how Jesus gave us this sacrament at the Last Supper “when he broke bread and offered the cup,” the pontiff noted that this act was a “foreshadowing of his sacrifice on the Cross.”
“In the Eucharistic sacrifice, Jesus has thus given us the supreme prayer of thanksgiving to God our merciful Father,” he explained, highlighting that the Church “performs the memorial of the Easter of the Lord, in which Christ is made mysteriously present and we are able to participate.”
We can say that we “receive communion,” in Jesus’ “passion, death and resurrection,” the Pope stated, and “thus, the Eucharist configures us in a unique and profound way with Jesus.”
It renews “our heart, our existence, and our relationship with Him and with our brothers, and gives us a foretaste of communion with the Father in the banquet of the King of heaven.”
Concluding his reflections, Pope Francis expressed his hope that “the celebration of the Eucharist always keeps the Church alive, and makes our communities distinguished by love and communion.”
“Let us ask the Lord, present in this holy sacrament, always to shape our lives and our communities.”
Following his remarks, the Pope offered special greetings to groups of pilgrims present from various countries around the world, and imparted his Apostolic Blessing.
Edinburgh, Scotland, Feb 5, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
In a statement released on behalf of the Catholic Church in Scotland, officials lamented parliament’s decision to allow same-sex “marriages,” and affirmed that their position remains unchanged.
“While the Catholic Bishops of Scotland are disappointed in the decision of the Scottish Parliament it does not change the Church's understanding of or our commitment to the Sacrament of marriage,” a spokesperson for the Catholic Church in Scotland said on the Feb. 5.
Yesterday Scotland’s parliament voted on the pending status of same-sex “marriage” in the country, approving its legalization by an overwhelming of vote of 105 to 18.
Up to this point, same-sex couples in Scotland have been able to enter into civil partnerships; however the new legislation makes them the 17th country to open the door to the civil “marriages,” despite strong opposition from both the Catholic Church, as well as other Christian communities.
The strong approval of same-sex “marriage” in Scotland follows a similar pattern as that which was passed in the British parliament last year, allowing for same-sex “marriages” in both England and Wales, with the first weddings taking place on March 29, 2013.
Opposed by both the Scottish Catholic Church and the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, the law as of now does not require religious institutions to participate in or hold ceremonies on their premises.
However, in a Feb. 5 statement made to Vatican Radio, Archbishop Philip Tartaglia explained that although “it doesn't seem that” the law “will force the Catholic priests or the Church to celebrate marriage with people of the same sex,” it is not a guarantee.
“We cannot exclude the eventuality that, in the future, some individuals will initiate legal action against a Catholic priest or the Church because they won't accept to celebrate gay marriages.”
Washington D.C., Feb 5, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Despite claims that contraception is responsible for record-low abortion rates in the U.S., one researcher says pro-life laws and a growing ‘culture of life’ could be playing a significant role.
“It is unlikely contraceptive use has anything to do with the decline,” said Michael New, research associate for the Reproductive Research Audit.
Attributing the abortion decline to contraception, he argued, fails to take into account other statistics on birth control and unintended pregnancy, as well as changes in public opinion and the effects of pro-life legislation in recent years.
While the “data is far from perfect,” New told CNA Feb. 3, the organization behind the study does “acknowledge that some pro-life laws and clinic closures contributed” to declining abortion rates.
In addition, he said, numerous national studies on attitudes toward abortion show more clearly that pro-life “efforts to change the hearts and minds of Americans may be making a difference.”
New responded to a Feb. 3 report by the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive research organization formerly affiliated with Planned Parenthood. The report found that in 2011, there were 16.9 abortions per 1,000 U.S. women between the ages of 15 and 44.
This marks a 13 percent decrease from 2008, bringing the abortion rate to its lowest since the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion throughout the U.S. The current abortion rate reflects a drastic reduction from 1981's peak of 29.3 abortions per 1,000 women.
The Midwest experienced a 17 percent decrease in abortion from 2008 to 2011, the largest decline during that time period. The Northeast witnessed the smallest abortion decrease, with a 9 percent drop.
The study’s lead author, Rachel Jones, said that state-level abortion regulations are unlikely to be the cause of declining abortion, because many of them were implemented late in 2011.
Rather, she suggested that improvements in contraceptive use were responsible for the abortion decline, which “coincided with a steep national drop in overall pregnancy and birth rates.”
However, New contested this claim, arguing that other studies indicate little change in contraceptive use in recent years. In addition, he said, “Guttmacher's own studies show that the unintended pregnancy rate has remained about the same – and may be increasing slightly.”
The largest problem with the author's statements, New said, is that she “totally disregards changes in public opinion” in explaining the decline in abortion.
Since the early 1990s, he explained, the decline in abortion rate has been largest in regions “with the greatest increase in pro-life sentiment,” such as the South and Midwest.
Furthermore, he added, “six of the nine Gallup polls taken since May 2009 show that Americans are more likely to consider themselves 'pro-life' rather than 'pro-choice.'”
Leaders of pro-life organizations echoed New's comments and critiques.
Dr. Charmaine Yoest, president and CEO of Americans United for Life, noted in a Feb. 3 statement that it “is impossible really to know the true abortion rate” because abortion doctors are not required to report on the abortions they perform.
She criticized the suggestion that pro-life laws have not impacted abortion rates. According to Guttmacher, more than 100 pro-life laws were enacted at the state level from 2008 to 2011.
“The truth is that these common-sense limits on abortion protect women and their unborn children from abortion industry abuses,” Yoest said, adding that “no matter how many abortions there are, abortion carries serious risks for both mother and unborn child,” and therefore warrants stricter regulations.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, praised efforts aimed at “educating Americans about the reality of abortion, steadily changing hearts and minds.”
“The debates going on in the states and on the federal level to protect babies after 20 weeks, ban sex-selection, stop taxpayer funding of abortion, and more, are evidence themselves that our arguments are convincing,” Dannenfelser said.
“Guttmacher’s new report is another indication that our nation is indeed growing weary of the destruction wrought by legalized abortion on demand.”
Montreal, Canada, Feb 5, 2014 (CNA) -
As Belgium legislators move forward with a proposed law to allow euthanasia for children, a 4-year-old girl from Canada is asking the King of Belgium to refuse to sign the legislation.
“Please do not sign the Euthanasia Law, for the sake of the children,” Jessica Saba says in a video posted to YouTube Feb. 1. Within four days, the video has received more than 12,000 views.
Saba was born in Montreal in May 2009 with a severe heart deformity consisting of a completely blocked valve and an underdeveloped ventricle. She would likely have died after a few hours had she not undergone a series of heart operations at Montreal Children’s Hospital.
The surgeries were able to unblock Saba’s heart valve after six days, and her defective ventricle gradually began to develop.
The girl’s parents argue that if she had been born in a country that permitted the euthanasia of children, she could have been killed.
Legal euthanasia in Belgium began in 2002 for suffering patients of at least 18 years of age who are mentally sound and give their consent. In December 2013, the country recorded its first case of euthanasia for individuals who were not suffering from a terminal illness, but were going blind.
The Belgian Senate recently passed a bill that would extend euthanasia to terminally ill children and dementia patients.
The government of Quebec is currently considering its own law on euthanasia, similar to the original one adopted in Belgium more than a decade ago. The Quebec Human Rights Commission has recommended that euthanasia be expanded to include children.
Saba’s mother, Marisa, believes that such a euthanasia law could lead parents of sick or handicapped children to “give up too early.” What parents and their children need, she said, is to be surrounded by love and support for life, not euthanasia.
The young girl’s father, psychiatrist Doctor Paul Saba, has issued a personal appeal to the King of Belgium to reject the proposal to allow euthanasia for children in that country.
“There are millions of children born every year with congenital malformations,” he observes in the video.
Dr. Saba said that with today’s palliative treatment, there is no need for any patient to suffer, even at the end of their life.
He also noted that if the practice is normalized in Belgium, there is a greater danger that it may spread to other countries.