Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J.

Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J.

Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph, Brentwood, NY, holds degrees in philosophy (Ph.L), musicology (Ph.D.), theology (M.A.), and liturgical studies (Ph.D). She has taught at all levels of Catholic education and writes with a particular focus on a theology of beauty and the sacred arts. Her e-mail address is

Articles by Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J.

A Hymn of Thanksgiving

Nov 26, 2014 / 00:00 am

The thirteenth-century German mystic, Meister Eckhart once noted that “if the only prayer you say in your life is ‘thank-you,’ that would suffice.” William Shakespeare echoes these words: “O Lord, that lends me life, lend me a heart replete with thanksgiving” (“Henry V”).This Thanksgiving, Marine Sargent Andrew Tahmoorressi will prolong his ‘thank-you’ for his release from a jail in Mexico and his return to American soil.  The recently-released prisoners of war must be thrilled to have their feet firmly planted on American soil. More thanksgiving! One need not be imprisoned by a foreign power to know the feeling of being an American.  When it comes to liberty, there is no country in the world quite like America.The Pilgrims of ‘Massachusetts’The Pilgrims laid the ground plan for the great American enterprise when they settled in Plymouth in 1620.  The one hundred plus men, women, and children had endured miserable conditions during the sixty-five days’ journey on the Mayflower.  The trip was so perilous that thirty of them did not survive it.  They had left England in search of religious freedom. They had gone to Holland for the same reason.  After a short sojourn there, they ventured out to an unknown land far from their European domiciles.  Determined to realize their dream, they found a new home in the northeastern part of our country. Three-Day Feast of HarvestThe following year in 1621, the Pilgrims feasted for three days with the peace-loving Patuxet Native Americans.  During that first winter, Chief Massasoit had looked kindly on the settlers donating food stuffs to the fledgling colony when supplies from England were delayed or insufficient.  Squanto, a Patuxet, taught the Pilgrims how to catch eel, grow corn and other crops.  He also served as an interpreter for them.  The Patuxets were a gift outright!And so, the fifty Pilgrims, survivors all, and the Native Americans celebrated the harvest.  Cooking the feast were four Pilgrim women:  Eleanor Billington, Elizabeth Hopkins, Mary Brewster, and Susanna Winslow.  Younger members helped as well. The community thanked the Power of the Most High for blessings too numerous to count. By 1789, “a national day of prayer, humiliation, and thanksgiving” was declared, and in the middle of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln, prompted by a series of editorials written by Sarah Josepha Hale, proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day.  It was celebrated on the final Thursday in November 1863. The Patuxets and the Pilgrims, President Lincoln, and a great many others have made our American Thanksgiving possible. And we thank them all.The abundant smorgasbord of food we enjoy on this day reminds us, as it did the Patuxets and the Pilgrims, that we are creatures and receivers of the fruits of the earth.  Therefore, a meal prompts us to acknowledge our own limitation by means of a prayer of thanks which is bound up with the meal. Thanksgiving:  An Ancient Practice The notion of setting aside time to thank God for blessings received is an ancient practice. Gratitude is the fruit of a cultivated person or persons.  A heart filled with gratitude is disposed to all the other virtues.‘You can never say thank-you enough,’ the Jews learned from their Exodus experience. Their Passover meal turned out to be a hurried but heartfelt thanksgiving for the wonders God did in rescuing them from slavery in Egypt.  This is the prayer of every Sabbath, and these psalms of blessing and thanksgiving were prayed daily.  In the Passover banquet, they held a special significance.  Thanksgiving for the EucharistWe Catholics are double receivers, blessed beyond measure. God gives us his Son as nourishment in the Eucharist. The prayer of thanks strikes the right tone as we respond to God's wondrous benefits to us.  Thanksgiving to God should be the very basis of Christian conduct; it has been the prayer, the Eucharistic prayer, since the early Church.  When it is combined with giving thanks for the fruits of the earth, we are participating in the highest of God’s gifts.  The Preface for Thanksgiving Day reads in part: “Through your Word, you called all things into being, that you might bestow on us your lovereflected in the vastness of the universeand the bounty of this earth.You placed creation in our care,Yet you alone sustain all life with the gentle dew of your WordAnd the life-giving breath of the Spirit.Your gifts of nature have not exhausted your goodness,For the fullness of your love is revealed in the sending of your Son.Our hearts are moved to thankful praise . . . .”

The Q&A for All Seasons

Nov 19, 2014 / 00:00 am

“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (Jn 67-68) This was St. Peter’s burning question and answer.   Peter’s Q&A has to be put on the back burner, comes a response. We are immersed in ninety-nine pressing issues. We resolve one, and others appear. When an unemployed family member is looking for work, when bills are piling up, when the one and only family car needs replacing, when an older relative needs home care—these worries, and those unnamed, occupy, weary and burden us. Perhaps we want to scream at our inability to cope with these difficulties. The Q&A persists, nonetheless. The Futility of NothingnessThe Norwegian Expressionist painter, Edvard Munch, captures the pulse of contemporary man and woman in his famous work, “The Scream, painted in different versions between1883-1910.  It shows an agonized figure in front of a bloody red sky and painfully expresses man’s futility, alienation, and fear. The pop culture mesmerizes our young people and echoes a similar morbidity. Without God, modern man and woman scream for meaning, for hope. A nihilism of dread plagues them.  Feast of Christ the KingWith the feast of Christ the King, the Church marks the end of this year of grace and inclines toward Advent, the first season of the new year of grace. Next Sunday, November 30th.The feast of Christ the King has assumed a new urgency. Why so? In 1925, Pope Pius XI proclaimed this feast to overcome the prevailing errors of the time—materialism, secularism, and relativism. Today, unbelief, religious indifference, and a neo-paganism have been added to the list. Taken all together, they pose an assault on a moral and Christian way of living. These false teachings target everyone and exclude no one.Ours is a Christophobic culture. Except perhaps for blasphemy, the name of Jesus Christ has been banished from polite company and from the public square. Mention the name Jesus Christ more than once, and you are branded a “Christ-er.” Most social conversations barely tolerate the name of God, let alone the name of Jesus Christ.  Temporal MonarchsAnd what of kings, queens, and monarchies? Americans have little or no experience of them.  Still, Royalty on display captures our attention. The British, including the Anglican Communion, are unrivaled for their ritual, pomp, and pageantry. They stand to sing “God Save the Queen” with awe and hymn-like reverence. Such is their love for the world’s most recognized national anthem, so beautiful is its text and melody. Americans see Royalty from afar, but temporal monarchies can externally point to the meaning of Christ the King. If the British see in their Queen the embodiment of all that is good, how much more so is the person embodied in the one name, “Jesus?” Or, as the refrain in one old English litany puts it: “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, be unto me a Jesus,” the most comforting name for all seasons, but especially in times of difficulty.“Behold, I Stand at the Door and Knock”In 1853, the artist William Holman Hunt painted a series entitled, “Christ at Heart’s Door.” The most famous of these depictions is “The Light of the World,” based on Revelations 3:20, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” This painting shows a gentle face of Christ as he knocks on a door that can be opened only from within; it has no outside knob. He holds a lighted lantern. The entire message refers back to Peter’s Q&A: “Lord, to whom shall we go; you have the words of eternal life (Jn 67-68). Implicit in both question and answer is that of free will; it is open or closed to the divine initiative.Ambassadors for ChristSt. Paul calls us “ambassadors for Christ” (2 Cor 5:20). We are people who, through the witness of their lives in Christ, hold lighted lanterns to help others find their way. It’s a more persuasive approach to build his kingdom than direct proselytizing.  Hollywood ‘Comes Out of the Closet’ in a New WayAccording to a recent interview with Kirk Cameron, actor, former atheist-turned-Christian evangelist, Hollywood Elites are starting ‘to come out of the closet’ with their Christian identity.  We hear promises of movies with a wholesome message. We shall see. We anticipate quality films which, through the Christian lens, offer the film-goer’s palette a feast of good taste and permeated with the mystery of God’s grace.  “To Jesus Christ Our Sovereign King”Finally, the feast of Christ the King boldly affirms the providential care of Christ over persons, families, the culture, the state, and the entire universe. Great figures in history have built a better world, but there is none other than “Jesus Christ, our sovereign King who is the world’s salvation.” Here is the Q&A for all seasons: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

God at the Ritz: A Tribute to Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete

Nov 12, 2014 / 00:00 am

Last week, the American Catholic Church lost one of its leading priest-theologians. Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete, a physicist, friend of liberals, skeptics, and atheists, and confidant of popes, died at the age of seventy-three from complications of Parkinson’s disease.  A short, rotund man with a towering mind and a deep bass voice, he became a regular guest of Charlie Rose, CNN, and National Public Radio.  This urbane priest made the faith attractive to his audiences beguiling them with his warmth, wit, charm, and common sense. Who Was Lorenzo Albacete?Lorenzo Albacete was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1941.  His father was fiercely anticlerical and opposed his son’s serving as an altar boy. At the Catholic University of America, the young man majored in physics and aerospace science and then, for seven years, worked at the Naval Ordinance Laboratory in Maryland. Planning to marry, he changed course and entered the seminary at CUA.  He earned a doctorate in sacred theology at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. After priestly ordination, he served in the archbishopric of Washington. His resume is long and varied.When the young priest was assigned to be a guide for the visit of Karol Wojtyla, then the Archbishop of Krakow, Poland, the two became fast friends through their mutual interest in philosophy and the arts.  Years later, when Karol Wojtyla returned to Washington as Pope John Paul II, known, among other things, as a prolific letter writer, he fixed his twinkling eyes on the priest, notoriously delinquent as a correspondent, and remarked: “Lorenzo, maybe now you will answer my letters” (Paul Vitiello, “Lorenzo Albacete, Theologian and Confidant of Popes,” NY Times, Nov 4, 2014). In 2008, he sparred with the late Christopher Hitchins, the staunch, acerbic atheist.  The topic was whether science makes belief in God obsolete. Monsignor Albacete raised Hitchens’ book and remarked: “I read your book.  You are an English wit. It’s great that they produce people like this,” adding, “and I love it.  I’m a Puerto Rican monsignor, for God’s sake.  My ancestors worshiped coconuts!” (Vitiello).  The overflowing crowd delighted in the repartee in which the priest diffused the anticipated tension and relaxed the atmosphere with his jovial and self-deprecating humor.“At an event in New York, Hitchens remarked that Christianity, with its tenets about the afterlife, was worse than the North Korean dictatorship because ‘you can’t get out of it by dying.’ Monsignor Albacete, … compared the discovery of faith with another type of life-altering encounter.  ‘You can’t help it,’ he said.  ‘You’ve fallen in love.’” (Emily Langer, “Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete, Catholic theologian, dies at 73,” The Washington Post, Nov 6, 2014).  To the religious skeptic, he posed questions such as: ‘Can one be truly worldly today and still adhere to something of belief in the transcendent?  Or must one hang on to faith privately and not in a public way? Must religion prove itself?  What kind of proof does modern man and woman need to believe?’  Dogmas are signs, signposts of the reality of God; they are not the reality itself.  We are all on a path to this reality, to this great mystery.  And, and every day we wake up and decide to walk along that path living out the reality of the mystery of God.  Mystery here means not a problem to be solved but a truth to be lived anew each day’‘When I find traces of truth, beauty, and love in human experience, I want more.  I want beauty and truth and love that never end.  These traces push us along the path to perfect beauty, truth, and love to the source of beauty, truth, and love. The most outrageous human experience in the world is love, and the moment you understand love, you’ve lost it.’ There is the ‘I’ that is brain function, the mind that can explain, analyze, and elucidate.  Then there is the ‘I’ in which brain function is inadequate.  The brain that can formulate things in an equation cannot come up with an equation that amounts to love. Love cannot be explained in terms of an equation’ (Robert Wright. Interview at Columbia University, 2011).God at the Ritz: Attraction to InfinityMonsignor Albacete’s response to the ‘why’ of religion was given in his popular book, God at the Ritz: Attraction to Infinity. It presents what he himself had searched for as a layman and scientist: an answer to the link between faith and reason.Some years ago, Hendrick Hertzberg wrote in The New Yorker:  “Lorenso Albacete is one of a kind, and so is God at the Ritz. The book, like the monsignor, crackles with humor, warmth, and intellectual excitement.  Reading it is like having a stay-up-all-night, jump-out-of-your-chair, have-another-double-expresso marathon conversation with one of the world’s most swashbuckling talkers. Conversation, hell-this is a Papal bull session!” The book mentions figures, living and dead, from Bill Cosby to Freud, to Thomas Aquinas.  It talks about science, sex, politics, religion, and most of all, suffering.God at the Ritz will probably please those who travel the road that seemingly leads to nowhere.  It addresses questions posed by men and women who, though rational, live without the benefit (or the crutch) of religious faith. Monsignor consoles those who question the why of things, especially of suffering.  ‘Suffering is the great mystery of life.  It spares no man, woman, or child.  Human suffering points to the great mystery of Christ’s suffering.  And we ask why.  There can be only one answer to suffering, and Jesus gives it to humankind in the act of total self-giving.  He suffers for us.  He stands with us in our suffering.’  Monsignor suggests that the only human response to suffering is co-suffering where we ask ‘why’ together and we pray together:  “To co-suffer is to be willing … to risk our own faith by identifying with those who suffer in their question of God.”  We must “make a human connection with the one who suffers, and then cry out to God together” (101).   “Religion,” he notes, “is either the reasonable quest for the satisfaction of all the original desires of the heart, or it is a dangerous, divisive, harmful waste of time” (154).God at the Ritz may irritate some for its worldly approach to faith.  But this is the language most people understand. It is what they are willing to accept when nothing else makes sense to them. Monsignor John Tracy Ellis (d 1992) In 1955, Monsignor John Tracy Ellis, the dean of American church historians, made an urgent plea for the cultivation of intellectual excellence in our Catholic schools.  In a lengthy article in Thought, “American Catholics and the Intellectual Life,” he insisted that “the inculcation of moral virtue never be permitted to overshadow the fact that the school at whatever level … must maintain a strong emphasis on the cultivation of intellectual excellence.” Faith, reason and the intellectual excellence fortify our students to withstand today’s challenge to religious faith.  Monsignor Albacete’s faith shone with a distinct iridescence, sparkling with sophistication and savoir-faire as well as with firmness and tenacity. Through the years, his pastoral sense had developed a regard for human frailty approaching others in a non-judgmental way. Is it any wonder that he was a favorite of liberals, skeptics, and atheists?   Requiescat in pace. Amen.

The Beauty of Catholic Education II: November Feasts

Nov 7, 2014 / 00:00 am

The arrival of November signals the waning of 2014. This month brings us three important days, each with its own meaning.  This year, the feast of Christ the King falls on November 23rd. On Thursday, November 27th, Americans celebrate Thanksgiving, and on Sunday, November 30th, the Church begins the new liturgical year beginning with the first Sunday of Advent.Christ the King; Christ Our King or “Lord, To Whom Shall We Go” (Jn 6:67)?We Americans have little or no direct experience with kings, queen, or monarchies.  We see them only from afar.  Temporal monarchs can point to Christ the King, the feast we celebrate on November 23rd. Unlike temporal monarchs, he is the world’s salvation. He is the shepherd-king who lays down His life for His sheep (Jn 10:1-30). Catholic educators must propose to our students the enormity of St Peter’s question and answer: “Lord, to whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:68).  The response must be left to the students’ freedom.Why has the Church’s celebration of Christ the King assumed a new urgency?  In 1925, Pope Pius XI proclaimed this feast to overcome the prevailing errors of the time—materialism, secularism, and relativism.  Today, unbelief, religious indifference, and a neo-paganism have been added to the list.  Taken all together, they pose a direct assault on a moral and a Christian way of living.  Millions of disaffected and non-practicing Catholics have exited the Church only to ally themselves with some of these tendencies.  Our youth are targets of these false teachings.Reverence for the Name of JesusOurs is a Christophobic culture.  Except perhaps for purposes of swearing, the name of Jesus Christ has been banished from polite company and from the public square.  Mention the name Jesus Christ more than once, and you are branded a “Christ-er.” Whether in science, dialogue among religious groups in pursuit of peace and mutual respect, most conversations barely tolerate the name of God, let alone the name of Jesus Christ.  One of the most enduring lessons Catholic teachers can impart to their students is to reverence the name of Jesus.  Jesus is the name that saves.  Jesus is the one who saves.  Young people should be taught that the most powerful prayer contained in one word:  “Jesus.”  Or, as one English litany has it: “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, be unto me a Jesus.”   When all other prayers are forgotten, this one endures.  It is most comforting in times of difficulty.Jesus Christ Calls Each and All to Discipleship When Jesus called his disciples, both men and women, to share in his life and mission, they followed him without hesitation. He was an exceedingly attractive, human, and charismatic person.  The call to follow him continues to goes out to all of us and to each of us. In the Broadway musical Godspell, the song asks of Jesus:  Lord, “day by day [may we] “see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, and follow thee more nearly, day by day.”    Ambassadors for Christ  Against the attack on Christianity, the feast of Christ the King boldly affirms the sovereignty and rule of Christ over persons, families, human society, the state, and the entire universe.  Great figures in history have built a better world, but there is none other than Jesus Christ who saved the world. Each of us is called to be an “ambassador for Christ” (2 Cor 5:20). While it is unacceptable to impose Catholicism on others of different faith-traditions, the Church proposes the faith to others by word and example. The response to this call is nothing less than the witness of one’s life lived in Christ—a far more persuasive way to build his kingdom than direct proselytizing.  Thanksgiving Day‘You can never say thank-you enough,’ the Jews learned from their Exodus experience. Their Passover meal, celebrated in a hurry, was filled with praise and thanksgiving for the wonders God did in rescuing them from slavery in Egypt.  On every Sabbath, Jewish prayer blesses and gives thanks to God.  These psalms of blessing and thanksgiving were prayed daily, but in the Passover banquet, they held a special significance.  On Thanksgiving Day, Americans bless and thank God for the American dream and the American way of life. We can never take for granted the food placed before us in great abundance on this day. It is a reminder that we are receivers when we take nourishment to keep us healthy. Therefore, a meal prompts us to acknowledge our own creatureliness by means of a prayer of thanks which is bound up with the meal. In Catholicism, men and women are double receivers.  For we are blessed beyond measure; God gives us his Son as nourishment in the Eucharist. The prayer of thanks strikes the right tone as we respond to God's wondrous benefits to us.  Thanksgiving to God should be the very basis of Christian conduct, that thanksgiving which has been the prayer—the Eucharistic prayer since the early Church.  When it is combined with giving thanks for the fruits of the earth, we are participating in the highest of God’s gifts. Advent BeautyBeginning on November 30th, the Church enters a new season, a new anticipation, and a new beauty.  Advent is the one season of the Church that luxuriates in soaring imagery, replete with the rich imagination of the prophets, especially that of Isaiah. The many art forms that flower during this season awaken the soul to God and the things of God.  In the Eucharistic liturgy, the senses are awakened to praise God.  Whether in word, sound, color, or stone, the liturgical arts reflect and mediate the saving mysteries if Jesus in symbolic ways.  Together we live out the anticipation of the Messiah and his actual coming in the flesh—the Creator of matter became matter for us, and through matter, redeemed us.The new liturgical years begins with Advent, the Latin word which means coming. Advent is filled with expectation beginning with the ritual of the Advent wreath, lighting of the candles, and accompanying prayers at Sunday Mass. Advent is not just an anticipation of the Lord’s Nativity; it is the time when the Church eagerly awaits with hope the coming of our Emmanuel, God-with-us,  expressed in the prayer, “Maranatha, Come, Lord Jesus” (1Cor 16:22).   The Christmas season has its proper liturgical place, beginning at midnight on Christmas Eve and concludes in January on the feast of Epiphany.  December 1st to December 16th recalls Christ’s historic coming at the Incarnation and at the Parousia to fulfill the divine plan.  December 17th to December 24th celebrates the prophecies of his coming and his birth of the Virgin-Mother.  During the Advent season, at Mass, purple and rose vestments are worn, the latter on the Third Sunday (Gaudete [Rejoice] Sunday).  The key phrase is “Come, O Emmanuel, God-with-us.”Seeking Light in the Darkness; Hope in the Midst of DespairIn part two of the Book of Isaiah, this “the fifth evangelist,” imagines and even predicts the advent of the Messiah in soaring poetry, captured so beautifully in George Friedrich Händel’s oratorio, “Messiah.” Isaiah expresses the profound longings of the heart which erupt within the spirit regardless of age, but especially during this Advent-Christmas season.  Sometimes the heart wants something but doesn’t know what it wants; it can’t put its finger on it. Advent is an attitude of mind and a way of living.  The season is lovely with expectation that the Lord will make his consoling voice heard on Christmas Day if we enter into Advent prayer.  As the fall comes to a close and the darkness of winter begins to set in, Advent affords the individual the inner space to think about the meaning of life, what is important, and what one is doing with one’s life to leave it more beautiful than when we entered it. It takes quiet time to wonder and to contemplate the beautiful mystery of this season as we wait and hope with great expectation the great mystery of the Lord’s coming again in our midst.  Living the exuberant season of Advent is all about transformation into Christ who takes possession of the heart.  Then, to be this transforming catalyst wherever we live and work. The whole meaning of being a Christian is to become transformed, bit by bit, into Jesus Christ and “to put on Christ.”  Family Celebration of AdventThe family can celebrate the Advent season in many ways.  The Advent calendar gives children a way of sanctifying each day with an Advent scripture passage. The Advent wreath, with accompanying ceremony, symbolizes eternity; the evergreens, eternal life; the purple candles and ribbon, preparation; the rose candle; and the four candles, the four weeks and four thousand years of waiting.  The Jesse Tree gives the lineage of Jesus: “The shoot shall grow from the root of Jesse” (Is 11:1).  In the custom of Kris Kindl, a person’s name is picked out of a hat as one’s “little Christ Child.”  Throughout Advent, one prays for his or her Kris and may send Kris a note to say so. Just before Christmas, the pray-er gives his or her Kris Kindl a gift of prayer offerings and a small gift as a remembrance of that Advent.  The Catholic Church’s vocation is to bring to the world beauty, truth, and goodness—all of which are crowned with unselfish love.  And, the season of Advent again sets in motion the wonder of the Church’s year of grace.This is part of the author's series on Catholic education. To read more on this topic by Sr. Joan, click here.

Oscar de la Renta and Beauty

Nov 5, 2014 / 00:00 am

Everyone has a theory about style—in fashion and hairdos, in the arts, in one’s manner with others and in one’s approach to life. In fashion, style connotes a particular way of dressing.  Originally, stylus was an instrument for writing.  Styles in fashion come and go and change with the season: the unisex, the gothic, the hippie and the preppie, the androgynous “non-obvious girl,” the “anything goes” style.  Oscar de la Renta, the couturier who died on October 20th, was famous not just for his style but for the beauty of his style.  He designed dresses for Presidents’ wives, socialites, and celebrities—all well-connected women.  With other couturiers like Hubert de Givenchy and Oleg Cassini, Oscar de la Renta designed elegant fashions not simply for elegant women but also for women who wished to look elegant.  He made them glow from within and feel beautiful. His signature fabric was tulle netting made from silk or satin, his colors, vibrant.  In 1980, The New York Times Magazine offered a possible motto for the couturier: ‘living well is still the best revenge.’  In the October 23rd issue of the New York Times, the following was written of Mr. de la Renta:  “He believed in hard work and the importance of appearance.  He believed in beauty, not for beauty’s sake, but because he understood that elevating the outside could help elevate the inside; that confidence could be donned with a garment” (Vanessa Friedman, “The Rewards of Patience”).  Two observations may be made:  First, Mr. de la Renta saw his beautiful designs as a metaphor.  They were meant as external signs of one’s inner beauty. He understood that beauty, though external in one sense, penetrated to the innermost part of a woman so that she would feel interiorly beautiful.  The second, related to the first: The dress he designed for a particular woman was intended as a confidence-builder.Building Confidence in Others through PraiseMr. de la Renta is himself a metaphor.  He made women happy by lifting up their spirits and exalting them with beautiful garments, garments which awakened the beauty from within.  His gift is ours when we praise others for a fine meal, for a job well done, for a fine grade on a test.  It’s not difficult to find reasons to praise others.  Doing so boosts their confidence and makes them feel greater than they are. Confidence-building challenges anti-social behavior. It is a mark of largesse when we seek to praise others for work well done.  Many adults have received little praise and encouragement from their own youth.  Most young people grow into adulthood without having developed a strong self-image.  One of America’s most gifted American entertainers, Judy Garland, grew up with a poor self-image, first at home and then at MGM.  She lacked the glamour of Lana Turner or Elizabeth Taylor.  They were stars; she was only a singer.   Psychologically, she was battered, bruised, and humiliated because she lacked sex appeal.  Fred Astaire and others considered her the best entertainer of the century.  Her audience agreed.  Cicero, Lincoln, HemingwayConfidence and self-esteem are closely related. “Confidence,” Cicero once wrote, “is the feeling by which the mind embarks in great and honorable courses with a sure hope and trust in itself.”  “It is difficult to make a man miserable while he feels worthy of himself,” wrote Abraham Lincoln. More often than not, both of these qualities are linked to poise.  Perhaps Earnest Hemingway said it most succinctly:  Poise is grace under pressure.” How does a person acquire confidence, self-esteem, and poise?  We give these qualities to others, especially when they are children.  Usually, they grow up to feel beautiful on the inside.  And beauty produces loving men and women, each with his or her own style.  Oscar de la Renta believed in the importance of appearance and of lifting up the outside to elevate the inside.  If confidence could be donned with a garment, how much more so with sincere praise.

The House We Live In: Some Reflections for Election Day

Oct 29, 2014 / 00:00 am

As Election Day approaches, once again we see democracy take center stage.  These days, anger with elected leaders runs high at the state of our country. Is the American dream slipping away?  This question overrides all other issues.  In 1947, Winston Churchill made famous a remark about democracy from another source: “Many forms of government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe.  No one pretends that democracy is prefect or all-wise.  Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried and from time to time.”A more pedestrian strain of comparison has described the democratic process as rather like ‘making sausage.’  Despite these observations about “this worst form of government,” millions of immigrants have come to the United States ‘to make sausage.’  Children of these immigrants have risen to prominent leadership posts in government: Leon Panetta and Mario Cuomo, Joe Lieberman, Luis Gutiérrez, Nikki Haley and Susana Martinez are a few of them.  What we have defined as ‘the American dream’ comes to life and fruition when they offer themselves as public servants. Because Election Day occurs only once a year, it is fitting to set high our ideals about the country we call America, our homeland, our representational democracy.  As a nation of immigrants, we are linked together by a common language, a common belief in democracy, in the freedoms set forth in our founding documents.  On the one hand, we the Electorate have the responsibility to elect capable, honest, and effective leaders who will carry out the mandates of our Founding Fathers.  On the other hand, those men and women who are slated to be elected next week have a solemn duty to protect freedoms in this country and where possible, in those countries where freedoms are denied.Freedom to VoteIf we don’t vote, we abdicate our prized freedom.  Is it not a cause for concern—even worry, about an inactive, disinterested, and disaffected Electorate unconcerned about exercising its right?  What if it were taken away? In an address given on April 4th, 1943, the Venerable Fulton J. Sheen made an observation about freedom:  “A proof that we are in danger of losing our freedom,” he said, “is that everyone is talking about it. Picture a group of men on a roof-top proclaiming in song and story the glories of architecture, while below saboteurs have already knocked out half the foundations of the house–and you have the picture of modern freedom.”  “The House I Live In”  In 1945, Frank Sinatra made famous the song, “The House I Live In.”  Intended to oppose anti-Semitism and racial prejudice at the end of World War II, the song pays tribute to America’s treasure, its people. Earl Robinson, the composer of the words and music, compares America to a house, the house we all live in.“The House I Live In”“What is America to me?A name, a map, a flag I see; a certain word, democracy.What is America to me?” The house that I live in: a plot of earth, a street, the grocer and the butcher, or the people that I meet, the children in the playground, the air of breathing free, all races and religions, That’s America to me.  The town I live in, the street, the house, the room, the pavement of the city and the garden all in bloom, the church, the school, the clubhouse, the million lights I see, but especially the people, That’s America to me.”The place I work in, the worker at my side, the little house or city where my people lived and died, the howdy and the hand-shake, the air and feeling free, and the right to speak my mind out, That’s America to me.  The things I see about me, the big things and the small, the little corner newsstand and the house a mile tall.  The wedding and the churchyard, the laughter and the tears, and the dream that’s been a-growing for about two hundred years.The town I live in, the street, the house, the room, the pavement of the city and the garden all in bloom, the church, the school, the clubhouse, the million lights I see, but especially the people, That’s America to me.”On Election Day, patriotism bids us to put to one side the dark outlook, rise above dark events, however difficult, and renew our faith in America, ‘the house we all live in.’ There is a  popular aphorism that serves us well:  ‘Act as if all depends on you; pray as if all depends on God.’  The more contemporary version of this was intoned by John F. Kennedy at the close of his inauguration address in January, 1961: “With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth, God’s work must truly be our own.” 

'Blue Bloods' and its writers

Oct 22, 2014 / 00:00 am

David Letterman never ceases to be amazed at Tom Selleck’s enduring popularity: ‘No matter where he goes, people love him! People love him even when he’s counting his money!”  The success of “Blue Bloods,” the CBS Friday night drama, is largely due to Mr. Selleck’s role as Frank Reagan, the current New York City police commissioner.  With his affable temperament and his strong leadership, he is the mortar holding the program together. The External Context“Blue Bloods” is set within the context of a closely-knit, Irish-Catholic family, committed to law enforcement.  It includes Frank’s son Danny, a zealous, perhaps overzealous, detective on the NYPD. Two other children are also part of the NYPD, Jamie, a police officer, and his sister Erin, assistant district attorney.  To round out the family cast of characters are Frank’s father, police commissioner emeritus, Danny’s wife, two young boys, and Erin’s teen-age daughter. Erin is divorced from her wayward husband Jack. “Blue Bloods” is not a Catholic-sponsored program by CBS.  Still, at Sunday dinners, there is the ritual grace before meals including Sign of the Cross, discussions about moral and religious issues, Catholic and otherwise. Clearly, Mr. Selleck enjoys playing the Catholic patriarch, though, in real life, he is neither a Catholic nor a very religious person, he says.The WritersOne of the program’s script writers is Siobhan Byrne O’Connor, a Catholic, and has married into a family of police officers.  The program credits her, Mitchell Burgess, and Robin Green as responsible for the script.  The program usually shows respect, even deference, toward religiously-affiliated people and religious issues.  A refreshing change from the biting sarcasm that faith-traditions typically receive on television programs, most of which are skeptical of religion!  “You Can’t Tell a Book by Its Cover”While the external context of “Blue Bloods” professes to be Catholic, a closer look can occasionally pose a conflicting view. Most of us would agree that a faith-tradition, Catholic or otherwise, is made credible and convincing by seeing its beliefs lived rather than in listening to its protestations, that is, praying grace before meals.  Actions speak louder . . . . Jamie Reagan and Erin Reagan:  Actions Speak Louder . . . .Late last season, one of the scenes showed Jamie, who is unmarried, in a sexual encounter with his former girlfriend.  What of Jamie’s Catholic belief?  Shouldn’t he have known better? Though the scene lasted only a few seconds, the impact was jarring. Who of the writers decided to include it?  Was it necessary to the plot?Similarly, last season, Erin’s daughter Nicki asked her mother what advice Erin’s mother gave about pre-marital sex on the eve of her daughter’s wedding.  Smiling, Erin replied: “By that time it was too late.” Though she forbade Nicki from pre-marital sexual activity carried on under her own roof, Erin refused to give her daughter clear advice that comported with Church teaching.  In a recent episode, a male lawyer in Erin’s office and potential supervisor expressed his attraction for her.  Fast forward. On a given morning, she was making breakfast for him as he exited from her bedroom.  He was worried about having compromised her official position as assistant district attorney.  Yet he had no qualms whatever about having compromised her personal morality. Neither did Erin. Both coyly smiled over his remark. Hypocrisy and Bad ExampleIn these instances, we have writing in which the context is Catholic, but the content is contrary to Catholic teaching peddled as sophisticated and acceptable behavior. On a non-sectarian program, these scenes wouldn’t raise an eyebrow. Audiences are accustomed to viewing sexual encounters as the usual fare on television.  In this context, the deception is glaring.Ms. O’Connor, who graduated from St. Agnes High School, College Point, NY, has publicly stated that she wants to show Catholicism in a positive light.  Given these examples, how would she portray the faith in a negative light?  Who made the decision to include these scenes in the programs? Were they essential to the integrity of the show? Was she coerced into spicing up the episodes against her better judgment?October 10th: “Burning Bridges”The October 10th episode both misrepresented and caricatured the Church’s teaching on homosexuality. When Commissioner Reagan attempts to protect one of his gay officers from possible harm, a reporter asks him, “How do you line up your anti-gay faith with your role as an equal-opportunity employer?”  To which Commissioner Reagan demurs without correcting the reporter’s error:  “What my men and women do in private is their own business.”  “So you only condemn homosexuality on Sunday?” the reporter illogically queries.  Again, the Commissioner fails to set the record straight on Catholic teaching and feebly responds: “Well, I do believe the Church is a little behind the times on this. But then, I still miss the Latin Mass. Next question.”  Even Cardinal Brennan, the prelate debuting in Season 5, can’t seem to articulate the Church’s teaching.  The scene closes without resolution.  Frank will not rescind his public statement, and the entire dialogue casts the Catholic Church in an unattractive light.  The content of the script is erroneous.  Cardinal Brennan, presumably the prelate of New York, is depicted as a haughty clergyman who, in a private meeting with Frank, his former classmate, extends his hand so that Frank may kiss his ring. This portrayal of the Cardinal, though fictional, is historically inaccurate.  The Cardinals of New York do not fit this description.  For many years, they have enjoyed warm relations with New York City officials.  The depiction in this episode, intended to cast the Church in a negative light, is odious. The writers seem determined to paint Cardinal Brennan as an overbearing prelate—at least up to the present.Sister MaryLast but not least, we come to Sister Mary.  In “Burning Bridges,” Frank must tell her as the principal of St. Dominic’s, the school he attended as a boy that he could not help her cause.  He has failed in convincing the Cardinal to keep the school open.  He perceives this as retaliation for not rescinding his remarks on homosexuality. And Sister Mary’s response? She implies that she lived in a lesbian lifestyle before her entrance into religion—she kissed her girlfriend goodbye the day before entering the convent.  Why this non-sequitur from this glib, garrulous woman?  Is her brazenness aimed at shocking an official who is not easily shocked?  Cui bono! Sister Mary feels compelled to add: “There’s not a day I regret answering Our Lord’s call or a day when I’m ashamed of who I was before. So thank you.”  We are relieved to have this assurance! For the Writers of “Blue Bloods”In all these instances, the writers of “Blue Bloods” have tried to be savvy and sophisticated in matters of Catholic faith.  They are neither.  Their goal has been to embarrass the Church, their means, puerile and pedestrian.  The Catholic faith proposes a rich hierarchy of teaching rooted in the dignity of the human person and the family, and the sanctity of life.  Reason supports faith. The Church seeks to speak meaningfully to today’s men and women but in a way that never loses sight of their dignity and respect for each other and for their final destiny.  Would the scenes in question have taken away from the enjoyment of the programs presented? The writers of “Blue Bloods” owe viewers of the program the truth when depicting all matters Catholic—simply Catholic.  They have an ethical obligation to avoid cute, slippery deception and instead present the unvarnished truth about Catholicism. If Mr. Selleck is the mortar holding the structure of “Blue Bloods” together, then the program also needs a Catholic theologian to hold together a Catholic script to prevent it from falling into the gutter.

A Week of Saint-Watching

Oct 15, 2014 / 00:00 am

Saints are not born; they are made, made from the crucible of their unique personal history. Their stories are the raw material inscribed in a book of their lives. This week the Church celebrates an array of saints, the Church’s super-heroes. Each of their stories differs from the other as night, the day.  But, Phyllis McGinley believes that they all share one thing in common:  “Saints were geniuses who brought to their works of virtue all the splendor, eccentricity, effort, and dedication that lesser talents bring to music or poetry or painting” (Saint-Watching, 17).  Only a thumbnail sketch of each saint appears below.  Perhaps readers will probe more deeply into their lives and derive benefit from them.October 6th Bruno and the Carthusian OrderA few days ago, the Church celebrated the feast of St. Bruno and the Carthusian Order which he founded in the eleventh century.  The most ascetic of the Church’s religious institutes, its some 800 worldwide monks and nuns choose to remove themselves from the world which you and I traffic.  Theirs is a life of almost total silence, prayer, and fasting. Their silence is filled with joy, rooted in prayer.  Their prayer is filled with praise and supplication, and their fasting, an antidote to excess.  Each night, they rise at 11:30.  The new day’s activities begin at midnight with the chanting of the Night Office for two to three hours; this is Matins and Lauds. The Night Office is the high point of the day. The Church at prayer, symbolized by the Carthusians, is prior before all else, for prayer is the power that sends us forth to serve others. The origin of Chartreuse, their famous liqueur, is captured in the spiritual thriller entitled, Chartreuse, by Joseph Roccasalvo.  In 2006, a profile of the Carthusian life at La Grande Chartreuse in France was produced as a DVD entitled, “Into Great Silence.” It has won numerous awards including the special jury prize in 2006 for the World Cinema Special Documentary. October 15th Teresa of Avila ( d 1582)This worldly Carmelite nun with a lively, affectionate temperament was excessively attracted to worldly pursuits, chivalrous adventure, and to romantic literature.  Yet, she was chosen to reform the lax convent. Such is the divine irony! The Mansions of the Interior Castle is Teresa’s famous treatise on prayer in which she describes the soul living in the center of a castle of many rooms and where the Blessed Trinity dwells. Each room represents the soul’s progress in prayer.Though Teresa experienced the heights of prayer, her practical side showed a keen sense of humor.  In adversity, she was not shy in giving God a piece of her mind: ‘Well, if this is how you treat your friends, it’s no wonder you have so few.’ Some aphorisms or a more serious nature are: “Prayer doesn’t consist of thinking a great deal but of loving a great deal” (Mansions, IV.i.7), “Never, for any reason whatever, neglect to pray” (Counsels, 184, 188).  Let nothing disturb you,Let nothing frighten you,All things are passing away:God never changes.Patience obtains all things.Whoever has God lacks nothing;God alone suffices.The humorous poem below further ingratiates us to a thoroughly attractive saint:At AvilaThrough all the agitation at the Convent of IncarnationWhere the spirit of the world was raising riot,Knelt Teresa in her cell, contemplating rather well,For she found herself beyond the Prayer of Quiet.She loved her sister, Earth, with a gay Castilian mirth,Which made her gifted nature sane and sound,Yet Teresa de Ahumada was a devotée of nada,And this raised her quite a distance from the ground.One day, while she was kneeling, and began her prayer appealing,“Lord, why must you treat me sternly as you do?”This voice was heard append: “This is how I treat a friend,”She replied, “Perhaps that’s why you have so few.”When she met Juan de la Cruz, (five feet tall, to tell the truth),First she turned away to stifle a loud laugh;Then drew near him with another, while her quip she failed to smother,“Now it’s time to meet my friar-and-a-half.”So the smile upon her face for Teresa was a grace,And to find a better kind’s a hopeless search;Now there’s nothing left to vex or to minimize her sex,For she’s ranked among the Doctors of the Church.   (Joseph Roccasalvo)                        October 16th Margaret Mary Alacoque (d 1690)Margaret Mary Alacoque entered the Visitandine Order at Paray-le-Monial in France where she experienced the special grace to make the love of Christ known through devotion to his Sacred Heart. From this grace came devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the First Friday of every month.  She is known as “the beloved disciple of the Sacred  Heart."                                                                            October 16th Hedwig (d 1243)In the thirteenth century, Hedwig became the consort of Henry I of Silesia.  Upon her husband’s death, she entered a Cistercian monastery, founded by a daughter. Hedwig did not take religious vows however.  While living there, she used her influence to do good, especially among the poor.  She died having donated her fortune to the Church. October 17th Ignatius of Antioch (d ca 115-117)Ignatius is one of the five Apostolic Fathers and Antioch's impassioned martyr-bishop. On his way from Antioch to be martyred in Rome, he wrote seven letters to the local churches he had visited.  In these letters, he tells the Christian community not to get in the way of his martyrdom. He consistently taught that the greatest human being spends his life in the service of others regardless of personal cost and person gain.  October 18th Luke, the EvangelistAs a physician himself, Luke is the patron of physicians and surgeons.  His gospel has been called the most beautiful book ever written, for its warmth and joy, its kindness and gentle compassion that stress Jesus’ love for sinners.  This is the gospel of ‘going-out-to-dinner’ where Jesus acts decisively during the meal.  It is the gospel of prayer, the gospel that shows reverence for the Mother of God and deference to women, where the Holy Spirit permeates everything and is given prominence.  Salvation is for everyone—it’s the gospel of ‘everyone come in and everyone come home.’  Finally, Luke’s attractive personality shines through his writing, for he is a man of elegant sensibility. October 19th North American Martyrs (d 1740s)                              The bucolic hamlets of Auriesville, New York and Midland, Ontario celebrate the lives of the North American Martyrs, six French Jesuit priests and two assistants or donnés.  In the seventeenth century, they ministered to the Iroquois confederacy of five nation-tribes. With the growing number of Indian converts, came a wave of persecution in the 1840s against the missionaries.  At various times, between 1642-1649, they were brutally tortured, having been accused of being witch doctors.  Most of them fell under the tomahawk.  Who Were These French Jesuit Missionaries?The first group of missionaries included Father Isaac Jogues, and two donnés, René Goupil and John Lalande.  Due to deafness, Goupil could not be ordained a Jesuit but was trained as a doctor and surgeon.  After years of ministering to the Indians along the St. Lawrence River, Jogues and Goupil were captured.  Goupil was the first of the eight to be martyred—tomahawked.  For thirteen months, Jogues was brutally tortured and enslaved, his fingers mangled. His escape to France brought on a desire to return to his mission.  John de Lalande, the nineteen-year old donné, accompanied Jogues back to the Mohawk Mission in New York. With papal approval, Jogues celebrated Mass even with stubs as fingers.  When he was again tortured, this time he succumbed.  The date was October 18th, 1646.  Lalande himself was killed the next day. Auriesville is sacred ground.The second group of the Eight were martyred within the confines of Midland at Ste. Marie, Martyrs’ Shrine. In 1635, Father Anthony Daniel founded the first Huron boys’ College in Quebec and labored among the Hurons for twelve years until, on July 4th, 1648, still wearing Mass vestments, he was attacked as he ended celebrating Mass.  His martyred body was thrown into the flames of the burning church.  The thirty-three year old, Father Jean de Brébeuf was a gifted linguist and mastered the Huron language. Massive in body, gentle in manner, it is said that he had the heart of a giant.  Like Brébeuf, Father Gabriel Lalemant was a gifted scholar, professor and college administrator, but unlike Brébeuf, his body was frail.  Eventually both were captured, tied to stakes and underwent one of the worst martyrdoms ever recorded in history. Brébeuf suffered for three hours before dying on March 16th; Lalemant died the next morning.  The year was 1649.  The Jesuit Relations describes in detail how grisly their tortures were: ‘The Indians dismembered their hearts and limbs while they were still alive, and feasted on their flesh and blood’ (L. Poulot, “North American Martyrs,” New Catholic Encyclopedia, 507). Brébeuf died on March 16th, 1649, and Lalemant, on the next day.  Father Charles Garnier was assigned to the Huron mission at Ste. Marie for thirteen years and then to the mission at St. Jean.  He was beloved by his congregants, but in 1649, he was bludgeoned to death about thirty miles from Ste. Marie. Perhaps the saddest and most poignant story is reserved for twenty-eight year old Father Noël Chabanel.  Though he was a brilliant professor of rhetoric and humanist at home in southern France, he had absolutely no ear for the Huron language. Plagued by a sense of uselessness, he was convinced that his ministry had failed. Yet to the end, he persevered in his missionary activity. In 1930, Pius XI canonized the North American Martyrs.  The Canadian Catholic Church celebrates their feast day on September 26th.     “The Blood of the Martyrs … the Seed of the Church”Martyrdom for the faith has always been part of the Christian psyche. When these missionaries were assigned to work in New France, martyrdom could not be ruled out. They expected to die for the sake of Christ, though they did not seek it out. It is a stark reality that remains a constant for missionaries today. The North American Martyrs were high-minded, cultured and refined men.  For them, the way of beauty was the bloody road of martyrdom. October 20th St. Paul of the Cross (d 1775)Born Paul Francis Danei, Paul of the Cross founded a religious institute of men and women, the Congregation of the Passion or Passionists.  They are dedicated to the preaching of the Passion of Christ.  An excerpt from a letter reveals the saint’s devotion:  “It is an excellent and holy practice to call to mind and meditate on our Lord’s Passion since it is by this path that we shall arrive at union with God.  In this, the holiest of all schools, true wisdom is learned, for it was there that all the saints became wise.”Conclusion    Phyllis McGinley concludes: “Like musicians, painters, and poets, the saints were human beings but obsessed ones as Michelangelo was obsessed by line and form, as Shakespeare was bewitched by language, and Beethoven by sound.  And like other geniuses, they used mortal means to contrive masterpieces” (17).  The saints were totally overcome by God’s goodness and beauty.  It was this vision that prompted them to share it with others.  

October, the Beautiful

Oct 8, 2014 / 00:00 am

October invites us to her fall fashion show. Throughout the United States, Canada, and other parts of the world, she primps before us decked out in a litany of spectacular colors.  Her wardrobe appears in hues and tints like vivid greens and subtle chartreuse, in scarlet, cranberry and Indian reds, burnt sienna, pumpkin orange, coral, and peach, goldenrod, canary and pale yellows, and finally golden amber. Then toward the end of the month, her leaves gracefully descend to form a carpet beneath our feet. Here is a feast for the eye, a feast for the entire person that prompts exclamations of wonder. Decked out for ContemplationDuring October, we see before our very eyes nature’s order, logic, harmony, and beauty.  Where all this comes from is expressed in the poem, “God’s World,” by Edna St. Vincent Millay, the first stanza appearing below and the final, later on:O world! I cannot hold thee close enough!Thy winds, they wide grey skies!Thy mist, their roll and rise!Thy woods, this autumnal day, that ache and sagAnd all but cry with colour! That gaunt cragTo crush! To lift the lean of that black bluff!World, World, I cannot get thee close enough!Natural Contemplation, a Stepping Stone to PrayerA thing of beauty is so powerful to behold that it draws us to its self.  In the process, we forget ourselves; we are taken out of ourselves.  This is contemplation in its simplest description.  It happens in observing a sunset and a ballet as well as when we solve a mathematical problem. We have an ‘aha’ moment. Then we experience deep enjoyment, satisfaction, and oneness with the thing contemplated.  Finally, we are elevated and lifted up by the experience of beauty; we are made better persons than before the experience occurs.   To see well is to go out of oneself in order to discover the beautiful.October is the perfect month to contemplate the logic, order, harmony, and beauty of God’s world.  Not only are autumnal foliage given to us for delight, but autumn also begins the season of harvesting as well. Whether we live on a farm or in the city, putting our hands into the soil connects us to nature’s bounty and nature’s beauty.  Freshly-harvested hay bales, fall vegetables like corn, squash and pumpkins still recall grateful harvesting by our first colonists in Massachusetts.  Garlands and wreaths of fall colors are still proudly displayed on many a doorpost.  It’s a glorious time of the year—October, when men and women seek communion with the earth and give thanks for its good things.  Appropriately, Edna St. Vincent Millay’s last stanza follows:Long have I known a glory in it all,But never knew this;Here such a passion isAs stretcheth me apart, --Lord, I do fearThou’st made the world too beautiful this year;My soul is all but out of me, --let fallNo burning leaf, prithee, let no bird call.During October, we quite naturally turn to the source of all beauty in a posture of gratitude for the beauty of the earth.   Nowhere is it more plainly and visibly seen that men and women are receivers of all good things.   Therefore, the month of October prompts us to give thanks for those things that are bound up with eating and drinking.  Americans can also anticipate the bounty of Thanksgiving, yet to come.In our Catholic faith, men and women are double receivers.  Not only are we fitted out with goods of the natural order; we are also gifted beyond measure.  It is God who gives his Son, who nourishes us on his Body and Blood under the appearance of bread and wine, fruits of the earth. The poem by Joseph Thomas Nolan on the beauty of the fall season sums up the theme of this essay, October, the beautiful:For autumn and the leaves of deathWe give you thanks, O Lord, and seek to praiseThose northern lands that can be a glory,And men and women at peace find rest from empty fieldsAnd spilling barns.  We thank you for abundant days,For all the richer life your Son has promised,More than eye, taste, and even autumn can provide.And present things:  books, faces, friends return,The fire’s dance, the shouts of play,The scarlet maple and the distant hills.Your gift is like a wine,Pressed down and running over,Good manners for October days.We give you thanks for banquets and for bread,But more, that you are he who savesThe very leaf that fallsAnd seeks communion with the earth.And we are never dead,Although we sleep and winter will return.Gather us, O Lord: we are the sons and daughters of your desire.Lord of the harvest,God of the beautiful world,We are your glory, and we give you praise. 

The Church’s Year of Grace in Catholic Education

Oct 3, 2014 / 00:00 am

(On the first Friday of every month, a special column dedicated to Catholic education will be posted on CNA’s website. Today’s essay is the first in the series entitled, “The Beauty of Catholic Education.”)October is the perfect month to begin discussing the liturgical year and the importance of celebrating it in our schools and classrooms.  Like most cultures, our Judeo-Christian tradition is guided by cycles of time.  Though distinct from civil time, sacred time is not separated from it but gives it meaning and makes it sacred. God, the author of history, is present and at work in history, and it is through the two concentric circles of civil and sacred time, that we live and work out our salvation. The Jewish liturgical year is highlighted by the holydays of Passover, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Hanukkah.What Is the Church’s Year of Grace?The Catholic Church’s liturgical year of grace is so called because, through her liturgy, the Church makes present the saving events of the Lord, his passion, death, and Resurrection.  This graced-filled year is an infallible teacher educating us in reverence for the time we have to live out our lives with meaning in Christ. Over the course of a year, through signs, symbols, and the sacred arts, the Lord’s mysteries unfold.  In some European countries, the feasts of Epiphany on January 6th, Corpus Christi, and the feasts of Saints Peter and Paul are not only religious feast days but also civil holidays. The whole mystery of Christ unfolds from Advent to Pentecost, and finally to the feast of Christ the King. Then the cycle begins anew.  As the liturgical year is repeated, it becomes the primary way in which the Catholic can sacralize the year, the week, and the day. “The liturgical year, devotedly fostered and accompanied by the Church, is not a cold and lifeless representation of the events of the past, or a simple and bare record of a former age,” writes Pius XII; “it is rather Christ Himself who is ever living in His Church” (Pius XII, Mediator Dei, #165).The Liturgical Year, Week, and Day Living the Church’s year of grace calls for an understanding and devotion towards the year, the week, and the day. The year has been developed according to two cycles: the temporal and the sanctoral. The temporal cycle includes: (1) the Advent-Christmas cycle, or, in the Byzantine Churches, Philip’s Fast-Christmas, (between November 10th -14th), and (2) the Easter cycle, Lent, Passiontide, Easter and its extended celebration, Ascension, Pentecost. The Sundays after Pentecost to the Christ the King belong to Ordinary time. The sanctoral cycle celebrates feasts of the Mother of God and the saints according to the calendar year.  If Easter is the center of the liturgical year, then Sunday is the weekly celebration of Easter. Sunday, the Lord’s Day symbolizes the eternal rest and joy of heaven. It points to a state of peace between man and nature and a faint resemblance of that messianic kingdom where lion and lamb lie down together and swords are turned into ploughshares (Is 11).  The day, every day, brings with it its own ups and downs when we unite with Christ in his Paschal Mystery.Liturgical Life in the Middle AgesIn medieval times, the Church year guided the lives of the faithful and united them in a spiritual bond.  From Baptism to the Eucharist to the Last Anointing, from processions and pious devotions to blessings of crops, animals, and boats, the church year “shaped their perception of the world and their place in it,” and these “central moments gave Catholics the key to the meaning and purpose of their lives” (Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars, 11-46). As a way of making sacred the French countryside, churches and cathedrals dedicated to the Mother of God were built in strategic locations to resemble the constellation Virga. The French cities that formed the constellation of Virga are: Amiens, Evreux, Rouen, Bayeux, Spica, Chartres, Paris, Reims.Liturgical Life in Nineteenth-Century American ParishesWith the arrival of immigrants to the United States in the nineteenth century, the prospective Americans sought a familiar religious atmosphere in their parish churches which became part of family life. Parish activities lightened their encounters with anti-Catholicism and cultural bias. They comforted the faithful living and working in wretched conditions, and served as magnets that drew families together for liturgical feasts.  Their beauty lifted people whose lives were otherwise marked by squalor.  Anticipating one feast after the other, families lived with a liturgical frame of reference.  Receiving the sacraments was a joyful occasion for the neighborhood, as were feast days of the Mother of God, St. Joseph, and the saints. In living the year of grace, their faith was handed down to be lived and cherished by the next generation.The Parish Church TodayToday, the American Church faces new challenges to universalize the Church in the particular, the local parish.  The parish supports not just a program of religious education; it has also become the nerve center for the religious education of the family.  In John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation, “Catechesi Tradendae,” catechesis is intimately bound up with the whole of the Church’s life.  Nothing in life escapes the Church’s concern. In all that is human, it has a pastoral concern: from global affairs to social justice, from science to the arts, to sports and care of the environment, to the media.  Moral questions about human sexuality and that of marriage and the family call for concentrated attention. The Church is committed to strengthening the family, and where public morality has broken down, the parish assumes virtually all aspects of Christian formation. Comprehensive religious education begins with externals, from clean and well-cared churches to attractive bulletins to the care with which the sacraments are celebrated to concern for our children and the most vulnerable.The Catholic SchoolCatholic schools, and not just in grades 1-8, afford a splendid opportunity to celebrate the liturgical year.  Both the temporal and sanctoral cycles bring with them many ways in which our students can joyfully celebrate the liturgical feasts. These will remain as unforgettable memories as children mature. From school, they can bring the practices into their homes where perhaps their parents are not familiar with liturgical customs.October, the Beautiful The quiet month of October is resplendent with its welcome of fall iridescent colors.  For years, October claimed center stage from which to primp her changing foliage before our very eyes.  Freshly-harvested hay bales, fall vegetables like corn, squash and pumpkins still recall grateful harvesting by our first colonists in Massachusetts.  Garlands and wreaths of fall colors are still proudly displayed on many a doorpost.  It’s a glorious time of the year—October, when man and woman seek communion with the earth and give thanks for its good things. Halloween, the Creepy; Hallowe’en, the ChristianSadly, over the years, the culture has steadily pushed aside the pageantry of spectacular fall colors for black and orange worn by witches, devils, dry bones, and oversized cats. More about this below.  October 31st: the Christian Celebration of All Hallows’ EveThe story of All Hallows’ Eve is filled with twists and turns. Hundreds of years before Christ, the pagan Druids of Celtic lands, prompted by the long nights and early dark of winter months, made mischief by heckling others with mean tricks and scaring them into offering fruits and sweets.  In contrast, Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruits and gardens, was celebrated on November 1st.  In the Roman Empire, the custom of eating or giving away fruits, and especially apples, became popular.From the seventh or eighth century, October 31st was marked on the Church calendar as a Christian feast, All Hallows’ Eve, the eve of All Saints’ Day, the feast of all those unnamed men and women who had joined the heavenly Blessed. It resembled other “Eves,” Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. By the eleventh century, the day after All Saints was dedicated to the commemoration of all the departed faithful, All Souls Day.  All Hallows’ Eve was then linked to the two feast days. In Ireland and Great Britain, the end of October marked the end of the fall harvest and the beginning of the barren winter; the faithful were reminded of the call to sainthood as well as the reality of death and Purgatory. Depending on where one lived, All Hallows Eve was celebrated by praying that one would attain sainthood like all the saints and, at the same time, by praying for the dead whose prayers they sought.  In her book, The Year and Our Children, 270-78, Mary Reed Newland writes: “Late in the evening in the country parishes, after supper was over, the housewives would spread a clean cloth on the table, set out pancakes and curds, and cider.  And after the fire was banked and chairs set round the table for the returning loved ones, the family would recite Psalm 129, the De Profundis, ‘Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord” and then go to bed.’”The DoughnutIf hot cross buns are traditionally associated with Lent, and pretzels with prayer, the soul cake gave rise to a new development and ingenious variation: the doughnut.  To remind people that life on earth was but a transitory reality, a hole was carved out of the middle of the cake so that those who ate the cake were reminded of eternity. Later on, charades, pantomime, and mini-dramas were developed on the reality of life after death and the means of attaining salvation.  With the remembrance of a saintly life came images of evil, ancient symbols of the devil, goblins, witches, and cats.  Still, the familiar and seasonal harvest fruits such as apples, cornstalks and pumpkins were given out to beggars. Pagan and Christian symbols existed side by side. Wouldn’t Dunkin’ Doughnuts love to have this piece of trivia!Knocking on DoorsThe English custom of knocking on doors began by begging for a “soul cake” in return for which the beggars promised to pray for the dead of the household.  The refrain sung at the door varied.  It could be as short as: “A soul cake, have mercy on all Christian souls for a soul cake” to a later version: “Soul, soul, an apple or two, If you haven’t an apple, a pear will do, One for Peter, two for Paul, Three for the Man Who made us all.”  In 1955, All Hallows’ Eve was stricken from the Church calendar, and the pagan celebration stood alone on central stage. Today, Halloween, with its element of vandalism and violence, is fast losing its innocent fun. All Hallows’ Eve and Contemporary ChristianityAlthough the pagan cult of witches, devils, dry bones, oversized cats, or other images continue to dominate the environment, the Church has a splendid opening to engage the culture as it did centuries ago. All Hallows’ Eve can be restored to its religious meaning as a better alternative to what we have today. Children of grade school age in many Catholic schools can be encouraged to combine a celebration of All Saints’ Eve and All Souls’ Day. With the help of parents, teachers, and/or catechists, they can find success stories of the Judeo-Christian heritage to imitate.  Their stories include: kings and queens, biblical heroes, Indian and American saints, teen-aged saints, founders of religious orders, and modern-day martyrs and other role models worthy of imitation. Children can dress up like the saint of their choice.  The list is endless.  It could be King David, Queen Esther, or Ruth of the Hebrew Scriptures.  Others might include sainted men and women: Joan of Arc, Kateri Tekawitha, Frances Xavier Cabrini, Martin de Porres, Maria Goretti, Thérèse of Lisieux, John Bosco, Dorothy Day, and Pierre Toussant.  Children should also be encouraged to dress up like their own sainted grandparents or other deceased family members. Praying to them gives the children them a strong sense of the other part of the Church, the heavenly Blessed. If our youth look to the social and sports super-stars as role models, if they wear shirts with stars’ photos on the front, the Church has her own saints to boast of.  By studying their lives and by imitating them, we have our own spiritual super-stars and the ultimate success stories who have a message to all of us, a message that is of life in Christ. We close this reflection with a poem by Joseph Thomas Nolan on the beauty of the fall season:For autumn and the leaves of deathWe give you thanks, O Lord, and seek to praiseThose northern lands that can be a glory,And men and women at peace find rest from empty fieldsAnd spilling barns.  We thank you for abundant days,For all the richer life your Son has promised,More than eye, taste, and even autumn can provide.And present things:  books, faces, friends return,The fires dance, the shouts of play,The scarlet maple and the distant hills.Your gift is like a wine,Pressed down and running over,Good manners for October days.We give you thanks for banquets and for bread,But more, that you are he who savesThe very leaf that fallsAnd seeks communion with the earth.And we are never dead,Although we sleep and winter will return.Gather us, O Lord: we are the sons and daughters of your desire.Lord of the harvest,God of the beautiful world,We are your glory, and we give you praise.

Thérèse’s 'Little Way,' Little No More

Oct 1, 2014 / 00:00 am

What could have prompted Pius XI in 1925 to canonize her and her “little way?  What could have prompted John Paul II in 1997 to declare her the thirty-third Doctor of the Church, the third woman, and the youngest woman of them all?  What was so remarkable, so cosmic about picking up pins and not flinching when water was splashed in her face by another nun? On October 1st, questions like these come to mind when the liturgical calendar registers the feast of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. The Daily GrindAs a Carmelite, Thérèse grasped the Pauline verse that whatever you do,  ‘whether you eat or drink’ can be sanctified not only for God’s glory and praise but to build up the Church in the world (1 Cor 10:31).  Perhaps she heard of the sacrament of the present moment, so simply preached by her fellow Frenchman, Jean-Pierre Caussade, S.J. (d 1791).  Wasn’t she anticipating what Teilhard de Chardin, S.J. wrote The Divine Milieu?  All human activity is steadily and irrevocably moving from Christ, the Alpha, to Christ, the Omega.  Thérèse understood the importance of sanctifying everything in one’s day through one’s intentions. Variety of Gifts and the Mission of Love Thérèse came to understand that the Church is an organically-structured unity of the baptized.  Catholics believe in the same creed, worship, and governance. Each member has a ministerial function that builds up the Body and contributes to its well-being.  No two people receive the same spiritual gifts, but all are to be used for the building up of the Church.According to 1 Corinthians 12-13, this ministry has to be done through the duties inherent in one’s vocation and the manner in which one’s lives out that vocation. Thérèse may have expressed this ministry in a way that is off putting.  Still, the fact remains:  the only ‘stuff’ we have to sanctify is the raw material of one’s very own life.  Some people work at toll booths, while others work as guards in prisons. Some attend to infant children while others educate them. A bishop builds up his local Church differently from a mother and father building up their family as the Domestic Church.In chapter 12, she could find no explicit ministry that was possible for her to practice within the Carmelite cloister, for she embraced the entire world.  It is not generally known that Thérèse wrote in her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, that she had an intense desire to become a priest. To her sister Marie, she writes: “I feel in me the vocation of the priest.”  As priesthood was not possible, Thérèse searched elsewhere and went to the heart of 1 Corinthians: “I knew that the Church had a heart and that such a heart appeared to be aflame with love.  I knew that one love drove the members of the Church to action, that if this love were extinguished, the apostles would have proclaimed the Gospel no longer.  I saw and realized that love sets off the bounds of all vocations, that love is everything, that this same love embraces every time and every place” (Quoted in the Liturgy of the Hours for October 1, 1450-51).As she read the Ode to Love in chapter 13, her heart was filled with joy: “Then, nearly ecstatic with the supreme joy in my soul, I proclaimed: O Jesus, my love, at last I have found my calling: my calling is love. . . . In the heart of the Church, my mother, I will be love, and thus I will be all things, as my desire finds its direction” (Ibid). A Doctor of the Church?Thérèse became convinced that the power of the love of one person could build up the Body of Christ, anywhere and at any time.  Unselfish love is the heart of the Church’s mission superseding all other gifts.  This is holiness, pure and simple, but “the manner is ordinary.” This is the title of a book written by John LaFarge, S.J. (d 1963), which received critical and popular acclaim for its common-sense approach to the daily grind of Jesuits and others.Why has the Church ranked Thérèse among the Doctors of the Church?  First, she grasped the heart of the Church’s mission as love. There is no separation or opposition between love of God and love of neighbor regardless of where one lives. Second, her ‘little way’ is simple, direct, and universally accessible, especially to the homebound, the infirm, and the forgotten.  “The manner is ordinary.”Finally, Thérèse shows contemporary man and woman how to deal with the spiritual desert and about doubting the existence of God. Yes, a cloistered nun experienced spiritual desolation. For the last two years of her religious life, she experienced what St. John of the Cross calls “the dark night of the soul.” This last point calls for some explanation."The Dark Night of the Soul: Spiritual Consolation and Desolation"It is not uncommon for the devout to experience dryness, aridity, and doubts about God’s existence.  It can happen to lay men and women as well as those in clerical and consecrated life. One feels cut off from God, as though God is far off, distant, disinterested, and even dead.  One lives by sheer conviction and not with feeling.  We all experience this:  some days it’s so difficult to face life that we would rather stay in bed. In consolation, prayer is easy, everything is easy, and all obstacles are removed to help the soul to continue in virtue.  It feels so good to practice one’s Catholic faith even though daily struggles are always there to deal with.  Spiritual distress is “darkness of soul, disquiet of mind, an attraction to what is coarse and earthly, all restlessness proceeding from different temptations and disturbances that challenge one’s faith.  The soul finds itself listless, apathetic, like one cut off from God.” Thus writes Thomas Corbishley, S.J. in his translation of St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises, #315). Spiritual distress differs from external concerns.  It affects the soul deep down, separate and distinct from material struggles.There are three reasons why we experience desolation: (a) It is our fault because we’re careless in our own spiritual exercises; (b) To test the resolve of our faith; (c) To show us that, of ourselves, we are powerless to bring about spiritual comfort, but that this is all a gratuitous gift of God. (The Spiritual Exercises, #322)Surely Thérèse was not lax in her spiritual duties. In prayer however, instead of a garden, she found herself in a desert. Yet, she went to prayer, even though God seemed far away. Pray she did—through long periods of spiritual emptiness without feeling. Years later, Mother Teresa of Calcutta would reveal that she too had lived in this ‘dark night of the soul’ for some fifty years.  Let us not forget that Jesus was tempted in the desert for forty days. There he encountered physical stripping and a naked landscape. He encountered psychological struggle against the devil, plus fatigue, discomfort, thirst, loneliness, and hunger.What to Do in the Spiritual Desert?When you encounter a spiritual desert, find some scripture verses or psalms that you can pray again and again. Make them your own. Remain convinced that you are in God’s presence. God is at work in your soul despite your negative feelings. Stay the course, and try to be patient with yourself. God sees the heart and its intentions and will not be outdone in generosity. Eventually distress and doubt about God’s existence will be transformed into a place of wonder.  Out of the desert will come something beautiful:  a new attitude, a new vision, a new mandate, a new mission, and new service.    Thérèse’s ‘Little Way,’ Little No MoreThérèse saw in Carmel an apostolically-fruitful life, a life lived in the heart of the Church. She abandoned the notion of priesthood and embraced the vocation of a missionary like that of St. Francis Xavier. He had spent his life as the itinerant apostle to the Indies, but she spent hers as a cloistered missionary.  With him, she has been named “Co-Patron of the Missions.”“Thérèse’s ‘little way’ is little no more. She knew what was at the heart of everything. More love” (Stephanie Paulsell, “Reading St. Thérèse,” Harvard Divinity Bulletin, Summer/Autumn, 2010, 74). Perhaps this is what prompted Pius X to call her the greatest saint of our time.  

Two powerful Psalms

Sep 24, 2014 / 00:00 am

Last week’s essay, “Complaining to God with the Psalms,” elicited a number of responses from readers, one from mainland China.   Many are devoted to the psalms.  They read them and reflect on them every day.  Their enthusiasm for the Psalter, which Jesus himself prayed, has prompted another essay on the power of the psalms to humanize our prayer and sanctify our activity.  Metaphors for GodThe psalms, which anticipate the coming of the Messiah, describe God in metaphors, strong, vivid, and consoling.  God is my refuge, my strength, my fortress, my rock, my place of safety; God is my song.  These metaphors permeate the Psalter and are not situated in one psalm alone.  Even one image can rivet the attention for long periods.  It did for Jesus on the cross.Out of the Depths I Have Cried to You, O Lord (Ps 130)One of the most frequently prayed psalms of the entire Psalter, Psalm 130, is a Penitential Psalm.  Here the Psalmist cries out to God asking for mercy because he feels like those who are going down into to the pit.  His is a universal feeling which all of us occasionally share.  It is here that the metaphors come to our lips.  My refuge, strength, my rock, my fortress, my place of safety, my song!  God’s mercy leads to a greater sense of the divine presence in our lives. God will forgive our sins even when we are reluctant to forgive ourselves. This deeply emotional psalm is prayed during the Jewish High Holidays from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur.Psalm 130, in Latin, the De profundis clamavi ad te Domine, has inspired composers of every age to set it to music, a fact that underscores the power of its content. The list of composers is long—Johann Sebastian Bach, Josquin des Prez (two settings), Andrea Gabrieli, G.F. Händel, W.A. Mozart, Giovanni Palestrina, Arvo Pärt, to name a few.“My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?” (Ps 22) During Holy Week, the scene of the Agony in the Garden surprises us.  On the verge of crisis, Jesus prays not for strength, courage, and acceptance of his Father’s will.  Instead we witness the human repugnance, the horror, the revolt, and the effort to escape. With the arrival of the final hour, Jesus becomes Everyman when he cries out with the Psalmist, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Ps 22:1).   Here Jesus solidifies his feelings with those of all men and women. He pours himself out, “tasting death for everyone” (Heb 2:9), but his plea is made without despairing (Raymond A. Brown, A Crucified Christ in Holy Week, 44).Jesus seeks consolation from his Father, because his life has been spent living in union with his Father and pleasing him (Jn 8:29).  But now, he feels abandoned by the one he most loves.  “It is as if the Father loads on him the full burden of sin, [sin] that is absolutely opposed to God.  And the one who is God’s Word remains dumb.” (Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord, VII: 208). How can this be?  Jesus trusts his Father to the very bitter end as have so many canonized saints and sainted men and women. Great thinkers and writers like Fathers Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Yves Congar, Henri De Lubac, and Jacquie Dupuis, to name only a few, remained in a posture of trust and hope despite the narrowness of their censors when their works were shelved instead of published. Psalm 22 ends on a note of hope; the Lord has not hidden his face from the suffering soul.  This psalm is part of the Seven Last Words of Jesus recorded in the Gospels.  They have been set to music—seven string quartets with introduction, by Franz Joseph Haydn but without the Latin text.  In listening to the music, it is assumed that the listener is already familiar with the Latin words. Praying the Psalms in Transit or at Home  The Psalter can be easily downloaded from the Internet onto smartphones for easy access.  Hard-copies of pocket-size versions of the psalms are also available for easy access.  To name only two of them:  1. The Psalms (NIV = The New International Catholic Edition)2. The Psalms (NCV = The New Catholic Version, St. Joseph Edition).  This translation is virtually the same version as the NIV.  Other editions are also pocket-size.  This information may be found on the Internet.3. Still others who wish to pray to the full Liturgy of the Hours may purchase the four volumes online.  Daria Sockey has written a very readable booklet entitled, The Everyday Catholic’s Guide to the Liturgy of the Hours.  It is available from Amazon for $12.99.

Complaining to God with the Psalms

Sep 17, 2014 / 00:00 am

‘More bad news in the world?  How much can we assimilate? What of our own personal difficulties? What next?’ We hear these sentiments from neighbors and from chance conversations. Although at the close of their nightly programs, news anchors try to report one nugget of good news, should we turn off and tune out the bad news that daily enters our homes?  Well, there is no escaping our world, for it’s the only one we have to save.    We live in a world of uncertainty, of dependency, of contingency.  If is really a very large and consequential word, linked to contingency. If this happens, then this will or will not happen.  The incontrovertible fact is that we are born into contingency without our having willed it.  Today, a person, who claims to be in touch with reality, cannot escape occasional bouts of feeling uncertain, unsafe, and unnerved. We have to deal with the real.Complaining to GodIn their long, tragic, and friendless history, the Jews have lived in danger with contingency. It’s is a large part of their identity. In the Broadway musical, “Fiddler on the Roof,” Tevye, is a poor Jew eking out a living in czarist Russia.  Toiling in the drudgery of daily annoyances, his eyes turn heavenward and with dripping sarcasm, he questions God’s decision: “I know we’re your Chosen People, but once in a while, can’t you choose someone else?”  Aren’t his sentiments also ours?  The Psalms of Lament and ComplaintThe theology of the Psalms is one of trust and reliance on God because of the memory of his saving deeds, not merely in Israel’s history, but also in the personal experience of the individual Israelite—and by extension of you and me.The 150 psalms are lyric poetry, analyzed according to situations in life.  A few points should be made about the psalms.1. They are prayers to God, not prayers about God2. The 150 psalms are also referred to as the Psalter (from Gr: psalterio = string instrument used for accompanying these songs)3. The psalms constitute the masterwork of prayer in the Old Testament.  They are personal and communal, extending to all dimensions of life.   4. The psalms are fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  They are an essential element of the prayer of the Church.  5. The psalms are relevant in every condition and time.The psalms use the structure of parallelism, that is, the second part of a verse rephrases what the first part has expressed:Psalm 17: “I call upon you; answer me, O GodTurn your ear to me; hear my prayer”Psalm 47: “All you peoples, clap your hands;Shout to God with cries of gladness.”Parallelism is the key to appreciating the conviction of the Psalmist in creative repetition.There are more psalms of lament and complaint than of any other psalm-type.  The life-setting or the human condition is betrayed by the complaint itself. The prayer acknowledges what the Johannine verse declares outright:  “Lord, to whom shall we go; you have the words of eternal life” (6:67).  First, the community laments, and the individual laments.  Second, the appeal to God is for help, to win God’s sympathy by describing the nature of the complaint—sickness, danger of death, sin, old age, and especially enemies. Descriptions may be interrupted by repeated requests, pleading for God’s intervention–his justice and fidelity.  Psalms about being unjustly accused of false charges or of being unjustly treated are part of the complaint psalms.  The collective psalm finds its life-setting in a national calamity, such as defeat in battle.  The structure is similar to that of an individual lament: cry for help, description of distress and request, and the motifs for God’s intervention.  Some of these psalms are:  Psalms 3, 4, 7, 10, 13, 69 and many others—46, 73, 78, 79, 82, 88, 105, 136.  Psalm 32 How many are my foes, LORD! How many rise against me! 3 How many say of me, “God will not save that one.”  4 But you, LORD, are a shield around me; my glory, you keep my head high. 5 Whenever I cried out to the LORD, I was answered from the holy mountain.  Psalm 5  2 Hear my words, O LORD; listen to my sighing. 3 Hear my cry for help, my king, my God! To you I pray, O LORD; 4 At dawn you will hear my cry; at dawn I will plead before you and wait. 5 You are not a god who delights in evil; no wicked person finds refuge with you;           Psalm 7  2 LORD my God, in you I take refuge; rescue me; save me from all who pursue me, 3 Lest they maul me like lions, tear me to pieces with none to save.           Psalm 10  1 Why, LORD, do you stand at a distance and pay no heed to these troubled times? 2 Arrogant scoundrels pursue the poor; they trap them by their cunning schemes. 12 Rise up, LORD God! Raise your arm! Do not forget the poor! 13 Why should the wicked scorn God, say in their hearts, “God doesn't care?” Psalm 13  2 How long, LORD? Will you utterly forget me? How long will you hide your face from me? 3 How long must I carry sorrow in my soul, grief in my heart day after day? How long will my enemy triumph over me? 4 Look upon me, answer me, LORD, my God! Give light to my eyes lest I sleep in death, 5 Lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed,” lest my foes rejoice at my downfall. 6 I trust in your faithfulness. Grant my heart joy in your help, that I may sing of the LORD, 7 “How good our God has been to me!” Psalm 69    2 Save me, God, for the waters have reached my neck. 3 I have sunk into the mire of the deep, where there is no foothold. I have gone down to the water depths; the flood overwhelms me. 4 I am weary with crying out; my throat is parched. 5 My eyes have failed, looking for my God. Psalm 1021 O Lord, listen to my prayer2 and let my cry for help reach you.3 Do not hide from me4 in the day of my distress.5 Turn your ear towards me6 and answer me quickly when I call.To Whom Shall We Go?In times of trouble, the psalms of complaint bring a consolation unique in all religious poetry.  Of course, the other psalms contain sentiments of soaring praise and thanksgiving, a treasury to be sure.  It must be said however, that we humans are prone to complain. Thus, praying these psalms will put us in our place where we belong—in the strong and protective arms of God. There, without airs and without contingency, we can weep and whine, kick and scream to our hearts’ content.

Variations on the Selfie

Sep 10, 2014 / 00:00 am

The rise of a therapeutic culture in America emphasizes self-importance, self-awareness, and self-expression—Me. If you want the social media to know who you are, the Internet will do nicely. Just take a Selfie.  What does it say?  “Look, here I am!” Trivial pursuit!The Search for SelfThere is a more certain way to solidify your identity, although this less-traveled road is steep; the climb asks for self-discipline. Nothing is more exhilarating or more fulfilling than to discover your very own self so that you no longer crave or cling to outside approval.  Consider two little words:  “Know thyself,” surely the pithiest axiom spoken by the Ancient Greeks.  It still follows the human spirit.  “I Gotta Be Me” according to Haydn, Mozart, and BeethovenJust an aside to glimpse what three famous composers wrote about themselves. In a few words, they captured the essence of who they were.Once Mozart was asked what differentiated his music from all others. Without  artifice, he replied:  “Why my productions take from my hand that particular form and style that makes them Mozartish, and different from the works of other composers, is probably owing to the same cause which renders my nose so large and aquiline, or, in short, makes it Mozart’s, and different from those of other people.  For I really do not study or aim at any originality.”Once Joseph Haydn noted:  “Often when I was struggling against obstacles of all kinds, often when strength of mind and body failed me and it was difficult to persevere in the course on which I had set out, an inner voice whispered to me, ‘There are so few happy and contented people here below.  Everywhere men and women are burdened with sorrow.  Perhaps your work may be a source from which those oppressed by care may draw a moment of relief and relaxation.’  Here was a powerful reason for going on.”A rude prince was talking during Beethoven’s piano performance.  The composer stopped playing, glared at him, declaring:  “For such pigs, I do not play! Prince!  What you are, you are by accident of birth; what I am, I am by my own efforts.  There have been many princes, and there will be thousands more, but there is only one Beethoven!”Modesty of Chinese Wisdom Then we have wisdom from China.“Truth sometimes like stab of cruel knife.”“Favorite pastime of man is fooling himself.”“Silence big sister to wisdom.”“Silence best answer when uncertain.”“Sharp wit sometimes much better than deadly weapon.”“Patience lead to knowledge.”“Politeness golden key that open many doors.”One of the many Chinese proverbs ensconced within fortune cookies reads:  “There is nothing that costs so little nor goes so far as courtesy.”   And then there is: "You can never never say thank you enough.’ Courtesy will get you everywhere, and so will 'thank you.'"Wisdom from the Judeo-Christian TreasuryFinally, here are only a few words of wisdom capable of inspiring a person’s entire life. They can set one’s thoughts in motion for a lifetime.  Consider the following:1.  “I have called you by your name; you are mine.”  --Is 43:12. “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”  --Jn 6:673. “I do not understand my own actions.  For I do not know what I want, but I do the very things I hate.” –Rom 7:154. “Without me, you can do nothing.”  –Jn 15:55.  “I can do all things in him who strengthens me.  –Phil 4:146.  “I do always the things that please my Father.”   –Jn  8:297. “You have made and woman a little less than God             With glory and honor you praised them.”  --Ps  8: 58. “I praise and thank you, for I am wonderfully made.” –Ps 139:14Who needs a Selfie?

Catholic Education: 'Charged with the Grandeur of God'

Sep 3, 2014 / 00:00 am

In the late second century, Cyril of Alexandria established a catechetical school in Egypt, the first of its kind.  In addition to theology and philosophy, its curriculum included science, mathematics, logic, Greek and Roman literature, and the arts. The best and brightest pedagogues were invited to teach there. The so-called dark Middle Ages were not as dark as skeptics would have us believe. The facts report that the Church established universities and centers of learning and of attracting prominent scholars to lecture there. Early in this country’s history, the Franciscan and Dominican friars sought to evangelize those whom they found in native America.  In colonial days when the anti-Catholic bias was actively in play, there were no schools to serve Catholics who had transplanted themselves to a new country.  Today, the Church teaches 3 million students a day in its more than 250 colleges and universities, in its more than 1,200 high schools, and its more than 5,000 elementary school.  Despite the rising costs of Catholic education, studies consistently find that Catholic-school students do better than their public-school counterparts in reading, writing, verbal skills, and mathematics.  However, education in art and music remains a pressing need that must be addressed. The drop-out rates are lower than those in public schools.  This success is due in large measure to the cooperation among educators, administrators, and families of students.At the beginning of this new school year, every student, whether in a school overtly Catholic or in a public or charter school, must again grapple with perennial questions of life.  Why am I here? How shall I live? What gives meaning to my life?  What is the purpose of my studies—to get a degree, earn a fine name, a fine position?  Then, what?  What does God expect of me?  In non-sectarian schools, these questions are only implied lest they be interpreted as religiously-motivated. Additional questions confront teachers:  Why have I chosen the profession of teaching? Is it a job?  Or, is it a vocation with the splendid responsibility of forming human beings in the best way I know? Aren’t our students temples of God, unfinished symphonies, gardens of budding flowers?  Aren’t they God’s works of art in-the-making even when they misbehave?Education:  Quality and Non-QualityAmerica has some superb schools, public and private, but the dominant tendency leans toward non-quality, applying to intent and effort.  We settle for less when we should be aiming for more. Too many students cannot and do not read. They cannot spell, speak, or write correctly much less do them well, a fact that lends credibility to Henry Higgins’ remark about the use of English in this country:  “In America, they haven’t used it in years!”According to Barbara Tuchman, the cultural historian, “quality is the investment of the best skill and effort possible to produce the finest and most admirable result possible.  Its presence or absence in some degree characterizes every man-made object, service, skilled or unskilled labor–laying bricks, painting a picture, ironing shirts, practicing medicine, shoemaking, scholarship, writing a book. You do it well or you do it half-well. Materials are sound and durable or they are sleazy; . . . .  Quality is achieving or reaching for the highest standard as against the sloppy or fraudulent.  It is honesty of purpose as against catering to cheap or sensational sentiment. It does not allow compromise with the second rate. . . . Quality can be attained without genius.”  Quality is that attribute “inherent in a given work,” and not in the eye of the beholder.  Most people know the difference between what is quality and what is slipshod. We experience it in morals and politics, in labor and culture, in manual, clerical, and bureaucratic work. General MalaiseA prevailing attitude has seeped in to both teaching and learning.  Learning must be fun; students must be allowed to study what they like.    Young children and high school students fail to value disciplined study.  Homework is frivolous or absent.  Today, the watchword is “Why knock yourself out?”  Though quality is not elitism, fewer are opting for more quality. Overview of Catholic EducationThere is such a thing as a Catholic sensibility, a Catholic way of thinking, a Catholic way of doing things, a Catholic ‘brand.’  While sharing many insights and methods with other educational systems, Catholic education rejects any ideology that sacrifices eternal values to temporal or harmful realities.  Day in and day out, Catholic educators form affective and effective disciples of the Lord.  Having internalized Catholic principles, our Catholic students are expected to defend the faith, if necessary.  Not just satisfied with their own professional life, they will take an active part in shaping the important issues of life, whether intellectual, social, political, literary, philosophical, or religious. To fail in this vision is to offer an incomplete Catholic education. Today as in the past, our students who belong to other faith-traditions greatly respect the Catholic vision, or they would not come to be educated there.Jesus the Model TeacherJesus was most often seen as a teacher who gave his disciples the mandate to go out to teach (Mt 28:19-20).  In the film, “Son of God,” produced by Mark and Roma Downey, Jesus and his disciples are discussing the future and their mission.  Peter asks, “What are we going to do?” Jesus quips, “We’re going to change the world.” That is, ‘we can and must do it—right now. There is no other time to do it because the present is all we have.’  With our cooperation, the Holy Spirit makes this possible.The Catholic Educator The Catholic educator is catholic and Catholic to the core.  This assertion calls for some explanation.  First, God gives to the world beauty of life and the ability to wonder at created things.  Second, all of us can find and contemplate God “in ten thousand places” emerging from the heart of a suffering world.  Our providential God is not only present in our lives but at work there; good can emerge from life’s harsh realities. Last week, the world witnessed the remarkable example of the Foley family in their sorrow. If we look back on the tragic life of Judy Garland, for example, it reminds us of Hollywood’s abuse of talent for the sake of the dollar sign writ large.  Arguably the greatest entertainer of our time, she made her fans happy because she bonded with them. She sang directly to them; her gift was theirs. She had no home except the stage, and her fans were her family.  Without Judy Garland’s vocal gifts and open heart, the world of entertainment would be much the poorer. The anchoress, Sr. Wendy continues to amaze her audiences by eliciting Christian themes from art works deemed controversial, or worse, pornographic.  Here the Catholic educator can draw lessons from the culture and see it in the light of the Gospel.  Nothing is finally secular. Such is the finding of God in all things—catholic to the core. Here is a theocentric view of life.  Third, through creation and the Incarnation, all matter comes from God.  Jesus Christ, as the bridge between God and man, embraced all that is human so that it might be returned to God:  Catholic education is Christocentric.  The personal encounter with Christ in prayer is fostered among our students through sacramental and other spiritual activities.  They come to see that the human is intrinsically sacred and Catholic to the core. Finally, our faith-tradition calls us to “walk in beauty” and “to keep all our goings graces” making “the future all ablaze with God springing up everywhere.”  There is nothing more exhilarating than to delight in a creative, witty, and enthusiastic educator who is consistently well prepared for the sacred mission of education. There is nothing more wonderful than to delight in a Catholic educator who consistently inspires his or her students with the highest ideals by which to live, often quoting Classics of literature and poetry to reinforce a lesson.  For the child or youth, this wonderful person is a thesaurus of knowledge and a treasury of wisdom. This educator stands in the place of Christ who knew all about bringing light to others. This inspiration comes from within the educator who has learned the art of self-discipline, the art of refinement, and the art of communicating the love of learning to his or her charges. Prayer inspires such inspiration.   Most of us know the pain of sitting in a class led by teachers who were unprepared, disinterested, lethargic, bored and/or boring.  Nemo dat quod non habet, and students are quick to spot those “who can’t give what they haven’t got.”“I Gotta Be Me”In the late Sixties, Sammy Davis Jr. popularized the song, “I Gotta Be Me.”  The title reinforced what had already become a rallying cry for, and defense of, liberal individuality, especially among college-age students.  In the fourth century, St. Gregory of Nyssa anticipated these lyrics with unapologetic wisdom in his Life of Moses:  “I have to become me, and that me has to become God.  When I am not like God, I am not me.  I have to let the real me shine through.”  Catholic education is “charged with the grandeur of God.It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;it gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil.” (Gerard Manley Hopkins)

Bringing Up Baby

Aug 27, 2014 / 00:00 am

With the opening of another school year, the spotlight shines on the education of America’s children and young adults.  At the same time, the nation grieves in utter shock at the murder of James Foley who worked as a photojournalist for GlobalPost.  He died for being an American and for professing Christianity.Whether educators teach in schools overtly Catholic or in public schools, they know that children are our most valued treasures.  Or, they should know. The gifts of children await discovery and development.  From the Latin infinitive, educere, education is a journey intended to lead students out from darkness into the light of truth, goodness, and beauty, all crowned with love. There are no apologies for this exalted vision.  James Foley lived it to the last moment of his life.Bringing Up BabyCatholic education begins in earnest in the crib and advances to playpen and pre-school, to grade school, high school, college, and beyond. Lifelong learning is the purpose of Catholic education.Expectant mothers can begin the educational process for the baby in utero by reading poetry aloud, by singing songs or by playing classical music. Glenn Gould’s mother did just that.  He became a great interpreter of Bach’s keyboard music.In the arms of loving parents and caregivers, infants are affirmed as love-worthy.  Study their eyes, fixed, unwavering, and probing.  They’re sizing up the adults. It’s as if each is saying: ‘Here I am. I’m entrusting myself to you—completely—to help me become a wonderful human person.’ (In Pauline language, this would translate into becoming “God’s work of art created in Christ Jesus” Eph 2:10).  What virtues do good parents instill as they raise their sons and daughters to become the very best possible human persons?  We see this before our very eyes in the Foley family.  When in 2011, Jim was released after forty-four days in jail by forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi, he returned to Marquette University, his alma mater, to thank the community for praying for his return.  A touching article in Marquette Magazine reveals that he relied on praying the rosary, his knuckles serving to count out the Hail Mary’s.  During his infancy some forty years ago, Jim’s parents began in earnest his Catholic education. Yet, they could not have imagined the central role his faith would play this past week.  Yes, bringing up baby requires a long, demanding commitment.  It’s a full-time vocation.  In the face of suffering, Jim’s mother and father spoke words of high praise for the son they brought into the world and raised to build a better world. Reading to Our Children as a Preparation for ReadingParents have a responsibility to make time to read to their pre-school children.  It is often the working parent(s) who are most faithful in this regard despite the constraints of time.  These childhood moments can never be retrieved.  These precious hours between mother or father and child are an essential component of parental bonding. This is one place where the child’s vocabulary grows and is enlarged. This is one place where the child’s world grows larger and larger.Moral Literacy: Even Playtime Is Not Values-Free There is no education that is values-free, not even playtime.  From infancy, children learn moral literacy: self-discipline, compassion, courage, friendship, honesty, loyalty, the value of work, perseverance, responsibility, and faith.  Or, they do not.  Children learn from example, good or bad.  And their first teachers are their parents.The Mystery of How Children Develop: Some Examples How children grow to adulthood is one of life’s great mysteries. Can we foresee the adult in the child? Can we see the child in the adult? As a child in Lower Bavaria, Adolf Hitler took singing lessons, sang in the choir, and even considered the priesthood. With promising talent for painting with watercolors, he wanted to become a professional artist. Twice failing the entrance exam, he was told that his talent was better suited to architecture.  In fact, a strong architectural streak runs through his many works which were influenced by classicism—Greco-Roman, Italian Renaissance, and Neo-classicism.  When conflicts persisted between him and his father who viewed his artistic gift as frivolous, Hitler rebelled and turned elsewhere for inspiration.  By his own admission, he was an artist and not a politician.At the age of seven, Maya Angelou was raped by a dubious relative, who was let out of jail and found dead that same night.  Angelou thought that she had caused the man’s death because she had reported his name.  She stopped talking for five years.  But good came out of evil.  In those years, she read every book in the black school library and then from the white school library.  She memorized poems of the black poets, James Weldon Johnson and Langston Hughes.  She memorized whole plays of Shakespeare and fifty sonnets, all the poetry of Edgar Allen Poe, Longfellow, de Maupassant, Balzac, and Kipling.  When she decided to speak, her vocabulary was vast and vastly beautiful.  Maya Angelou rose to become a revered author and poet.Dr. Ben Carson, Sr., the world-renowned neurosurgeon, grew up without the presence of his father, a Baptist minister who had divorced his wife when his son was ten. The boy got into trouble, almost succumbed to killing with knives, and earned bad grades.  But his mother’s motivation and her insistence on academics, and reading in particular, changed his destructive behavior to a life spent in doing good. He is the first successful surgeon to separate twins who were conjoined at the head.Why do most Asian children score well in education beginning in pre-school?  Confucian culture places a high value on education because it is viewed as the way of succeeding in life. From infancy, this is drummed into the children.  Today, children from Asian homes excel in virtually every discipline, including the arts.  Some educators observe that the demands are excessive.The Judeo-Christianity greatly exalts the human person: all human persons are created in the image and likeness of God.  The Psalmist reinforces this truth: “You have made them a little lower than God, with glory and honor you crowned them” (Ps 5:8).  Not just their hearts and souls but their whole persons as well are to be educated, for we are forming tomorrow’s citizens and future saints.From infancy, children learn discipleship in the Lord, or they do not.  James Foley’s Catholicism was not a minimal, external Christianity, and in observing the Foley family, we sense that Catholic faith unites that family, especially in this hour of sorrow.

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci: A Man for Others, a Universal Treasure

Aug 20, 2014 / 00:00 am

As the Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) since 1984, Dr. Anthony Fauci, an immunologist, is regularly invited on television for his expert information about infectious diseases.  Among the most visible and distinguished physicians in the world, he has spent his professional life in research, care of patients, and in public health policy.The current national anxiety regards the deadly Ebola virus. Emotions run high. Dr. Fauci has been praised for his measured, rational voice of clarity, without the coloration of modifiers or personal judgment.  More about this below.A Leader in the MakingDr. Fauci was born and educated to help others. By profession, his mother was an educator and his father, a pharmacist. Both placed before him high academic ideals and rigorous work habits. As a youth, he was often seen on his bike delivering medicine to various sectors of the Bensonhurst community in Brooklyn, New York. He and his sister Denise were educated first by the Sisters of St. Dominic at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic School. Denise then attended high school at Fontbonne Hall Academy conducted by the Sisters of St. Joseph.  He attended Regis, an all-scholarship, all-boys’ Jesuit high school in Manhattan and then Holy Cross College in Worcester, MA, also Jesuit-run, where he was a pre-med student. At Regis, he studied four years of Latin, three of Greek, and two of French. Dr. Fauci recalls that “the Jesuits and lay teachers taught us how to formulate our thoughts. The phrase I still use is ‘precision of thought and economy of expression.’  Get your thoughts in order and express them succinctly so people know what you’re talking about . . . absolutely critical to my formative years,” he adds.   “There was a certain spirit of scholarship at Holy Cross,” he recalls, “that was not matched in anything I’d experienced.  The idea of seriousness of purpose—I don’t mean nerdish seriousness—I mean the importance of personal development, scholarly development, and the high standards of integrity and principles that became part of everyday life at Holy Cross.  And that, I think, was passed down from the Jesuits and from the lay faculty to the students.” During the summer months, he worked in construction. Fauci graduated first in his class at Cornell Medical College.  He has only praise for the Jesuit liberal arts education he received prior to attending Cornell. He credits a large part of his professional success to the inculcation of Jesuit intellectual rigor, the core of Jesuit education, an emphasis on organization and logic, on succinctness and clarity of expression.  The integration of science and the humanities has proved useful in his dual role as physician and researcher, blending compassion with medical expertise (Donald N.S. Unger, “I saw people in pain,” Holy Cross Magazine, 2002).  Dealing with Controversy: Anthrax and AIDSDr. Fauci began his medical career at the NIH in 1968. Shortly after his appointment as its director in 1984, he encountered the raging controversy over the HIV-AIDS virus. No position was fraught with more difficulty. The AIDS community—those who were infected with the virus and their support groups—lashed out their anger.  The new director became the target of their rage.But even before this, he was one of the most visible government officials who publicly discussed the threats posed by anthrax and other possible bio-terror weapons.  “His is the timbre of voice that one wants to hear in that sort of atmosphere:  calm, reassuring, but not falsely so.  He spoke the facts and had a credible record of speaking the truth under difficult circumstances” (Unger).   The HIV epidemic erupted in virulent activism.  From San Francisco to Greenwich Village to Hollywood, those infected with the deadly disease for which there was no treatment demanded participation in decision-making with the physicians and scientists.  People screamed, yelled, cursed at authorities.  “I saw people who were in pain, and I was very moved by the pain,” he recalls.  Boy, they must really be hurting for them to do this.  And I think I conveyed that to them, and they saw that that’s how I was feeling toward them.  That began a relationship over many years that allowed me to walk amongst them.  It was really interesting; they let me into their camp.  I went to gay baths houses and spoke to them . . . and I discussed the problems they were having, the degree of suffering that was going on in the community, the need for them to get involved in clinical trials, since there were no other possibilities for them to get access to drugs.  And I earned their confidence.”  Over the course of those years, Dr. Fauci connected with the HIV community.  He was responsible for having the FDA reverse its position on banning certain protocols for the virus.  Much has been written about Dr. Fauci’s long and successful tenure at the NIH. “And what he has accomplished over the course of his war on AIDS is nothing short of amazing:  he has managed to build a bridge between deeply antagonistic constituencies, working all the while under the relentless glare of media scrutiny. And he has built that bridge using the tools he spent a lifetime cultivating—a tireless work ethic, a scrupulous honesty, and an abiding sense of compassion” (Unger).Dr. Fauci’s Winning TemperamentDr. Fauci is blessed with a first-class temperament crowning his other achievements.  This, despite his own admission of being a perfectionist.   Some years ago at the height of the AIDS controversy, I listened to him delivering a lecture. In the Q&A, one person after the other lashed out at him. Quick to size up, deliberate to respond, this preppy-looking physician answered calmly and without condescension. His style: cool. Later he observed that the audience was lashing out at everyone and not at him in particular.  He had walked with them in their pain.  He absorbed their pain. Wasn’t this Christ’s way?  And what of St. Luke, the physician, whose gospel is permeated with compassion for the most vulnerable?A First-Class Temperament Who has a first-class temperament, and what is it?  In politics, Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Ronald Reagan, and Nelson Mandela are said to head that short list.  How does one realize a first-class temperament, particularly in dealing with others? First, value silence, reflection, academics, and good reading to build the basic principles that will guide your life. Second, in encountering the other, listen well.  Be open.  This individual may have something worthwhile to share with you. Third, as you listen, don’t calculate or formulate a pre-conceived response or reaction.  Avoid gamesmanship. Fourth, respond as honestly as you can—without rancor, even if the other individual irritates you.  Nothing repels more than a nasty disposition which engages in ridicule, sarcasm, and barbed attacks.  Fifth, if you have greater knowledge of a discipline, be modest when sharing it; after all, it’s a gift. Finally, if you’re a perfectionist, be aware that you probably don’t suffer fools very well. Contributing Factors to a Winning Temperament: FamilyFamily is the basic building block of temperament.  Family shapes how one is raised.  By definition, Italian families are closely-knit communities.  Fathers may be demanding figures, even domineering ones, but we Italians know that mother is the mother who rules the roost!   In Sicilian, the word fauci means sickle, a short-handled farming tool with a semi-circular blade used to cut grain for harvesting, and to lop or trim where necessary. Doctor Fauci is well named.Education in the HumanitiesThe right kind of education builds character.  In Anthony Fauci’s education, reading and studying Greek and Roman culture, philosophy, literature and other humanities have been the best preparation for his service in medicine. Why is this?  In the classics, one learns vicariously what it means to be a human person. The humanities are associated with depth, richness, character and moral development; they deal with thoughts, emotions, actions, and accountability.  Philosophy debates the most important issues before humankind and is always consciously related to ethical and religious values.  The humanities are not for the elite but for everyone.    This is why more and more charter schools are reading, studying, and performing classic masterworks.Wise ChoicesIn an interview with NPR in 2005, Dr. Fauci revealed his overall goal of choosing a life of public service; it encompassed a few non-negotiable basics.  “My job is a gift which allows me to try and help alleviate the suffering of humankind.”  As steps leading up to this purpose, he continues, “First, I have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge—something I learned with a bit of tough love from my Jesuit education first at Regis High School and then at Holy Cross College.  I consider myself a perpetual student. Second, I believe in striving for excellence.  I sweat the big and the small stuff!  I do not apologize for this. Third, as a physician, my goal is to serve mankind.”  Dr. Fauci’s devotion to his mission of helping others deserves as much respect as for his grasp of learning. Perhaps, even more so.Needed:  More Winning Temperaments‘The Church grows through the beauty of its members and not by proselytizing.’  If what our Pontiffs say is true, and it is, then Dr. Fauci’s inspiration cannot be measured.   In fact, the beauty of such a life is the surest and most persuasive occasion to form disciples of the Lord and build a better world.  God’s love shines out from those who, of themselves, are unaware of God’s limitless power working in their lives for good.  So it is with Anthony Fauci, a man for others, a universal treasure.

The danger of being a Christian

Aug 13, 2014 / 00:00 am

In 2013, about 100 million Christians were persecuted and/or martyred around the world simply because of their faith; this number has escalated from the previous year. The persecution of Coptic Christians in Egypt has lasted longer than many others. The word E-gypt derives its name from the ancient Copts (Gypts), Eastern Coptic Christians, who have lived there since Early Christianity and long before the Muslims.  Egypt is one of the 111 countries where Christian persecution has become rampant, and most of the countries doing the persecuting are dominated by fanatical Muslims.    Genocide of Iraqi ChristiansOver the past weekend, Pope Francis appointed Cardinal Ferna Filoni as his personal envoy to Iraq as a way of expressing his affection and solidarity for the people.  Cardinal Filoni is the current Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of peoples.Like Coptic Christians and Syrian Christians, Iraqi Christians number among the most ancient of Mideast Christian groups.  Both Catholic and Orthodox, they are more familiarly known as Chaldeans from the venerable Assyrian Church. Iraq has been home to them for 2,000 years. Eleven years ago, there were 1.5 million Christians living in Iraq.  Since then, the numbers have plummeted to 400,000.With horror, the world’s eye is riveted on the genocide of these people by ISIS, the terrorist army of ten-thousand strong, organized with the intent on establishing a caliphate in the northern part of the country, and even beyond. The Iraqi Christians have been given three alternatives:  (1) convert to Islam, (2) pay a tax if you wish to remain in your country as Christians, or (3) death by beheading.  It’s as simple as that.  Last week, some 30,000 Iraqi Christian families fled Mosul when their city was seized by the Islamic military. For the first time in two centuries, Mosul has no Christian population.  Churches and monasteries have been looted and destroyed, and throughout the city, there is only devastation of ancestral homes.  It’s a city of rocks and rubble.Mission of ISISISIS is a tightly-knit, tightly-structured army, more barbaric than its relative, Al-Queda, who it is also reported, fears ISIS.  The goal of ISIS is to establish a caliphate, world-wide Islamic state, the central headquarters of which will be located in territories they are seizing every day in Iraq.  By its own admission, it has resolved to destroy the United States. Unofficial Statement by Bishop of IraqThe bishops of Iraq, representing the Chaldean Catholic Church, the Syrian Orthodox, Syrian Catholic, and Armenian Churches, have appealed to the Iraqi government for full protection of the rights of Christian and other minorities.  On July 22, 2014, they wrote to Ban Ki-moon, U.N. Secretary General, entreating him to insure the following:1.  Full protection of our rights and those of other minorities.2. Financial support for the displaced families who have lost everything, in addition to paying and sustaining civil servant salaries, as soon as possible.3. Compensate for damages and losses suffered by Christians . . .  to provide shelter and educational facilities so that displaced students can continue their studies.Response of the USCCBRecently, American Bishops George Murray, S.J. and Gerarld Kicanas returned from the area after having studied the situation there. On July 25th, 2014, Bishop Richard E. Pates, Chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace, sent a letter to Ambassador Susan E. Rice, the second in two months, to plead for US humanitarian aid for these beleaguered people and that it be directly sent to the minority communities through trusted NGOs.  At this writing, two large convoys of food have been air-dropped to sustain these people. August 17th has been designated for American Catholic parishes to pray for peace in Iraq and for Christians and other minority groups suffering there.  We must believe that our prayers can and will help in this war against Christians.As the Mideast Turns Much of the world, including the Mideast, lives in violence and/or war.  We worry about the children, their emotional and religious development; for the time being, they are condemned to their fate.  What of their future to mature into young men and women devoted to the faith of the venerable faith of their ancestors?Pre-Christian TimesThe genocide of Iraqi Christians brings to mind the persecution of the Early Christians when faced with the same threats by civil emperors.  Daily do we see pictures of Iraqis as they trudge and trek away from their homeland, expelled from it.  Here we see examples of the ‘holy family,’ mothers, fathers, babes in arms. All they own they are wearing. In their wretched faces, we see the face of the suffering Christ. Psalm 107 describes the scene:“Then they cried to the Lord in their needAnd he rescued them from their distress;And he led them along the right way,To reach a city in which to dwell.”Why not offer the Iraqi Christians and other minorities refugee status and bring them to the United States under the sponsorship of agencies, faith-groups, and families?  Despite obvious objections, such a humanitarian gesture could be transformed into a graced event. 

A treasury of blessing and gift for the world, concluded

Aug 6, 2014 / 00:00 am

Despite the distress and unrest in the world, nothing can dispel the truth that we live in a universe of God’s grace.  The human and the holy need each other.  The Judeo-Christian ethos believes in Divine Providence, and God is at work prompting us to press on toward the good. We’re on the wrong side of faith if we thwart God’s Providence by doing nothing. It is not Judeo-Christian, it is not Catholic, and it is not Ignatian to do nothing. The armed conflicts in the Mideast and Ukraine need our prayers.Three more themes of the Spiritual Exercises are proposed by Avery Cardinal Dulles: immediacy to God, the Christological theme, and the ecclesial aspect.Immediacy to GodEven a cursory glance at the Psalms, reveals how familiar the Jews were in speaking to God; and God communicated with them. In these 150 poems, they voiced their fears, anger, sorrows, joys, gratitude, and finally praise to the God who had guided them out of the slavery of Egypt to the freedom of the Promised Land.  Through it all, they knew deep in their hearts, they were God’s Chosen People.St. Ignatius holds that God communicates directly with every creature, and that creature can deal directly with its Creator and Lord” (No 15).  St. Paul’s conversion is one of the more dramatic examples of God’s communication with his creatures.  How does God communicate with us? Some years ago, when I asked this of a lay woman, she responded by saying that she ‘heard’ God in the nudges she felt within her.  When we think of the word nudge, we think of being prodded or poked.  This was what she meant—that God moved her by prodding her to do or not to do some action.  The saints followed these promptings but discerned beforehand if they came from the Spirit or from unholy sources.   Second, Jesus taught his disciples to pray.  Today, when people are racing from one activity to another, a Catholic may use the excuse: ‘My work is my prayer.’  Work will be prayer only if there is also prayer which is not work.  We cannot expect our whole life to become a continuous act of worship unless there are regular times when we lay aside our worldly occupations and raise our hearts/minds to God in prayer.”  If we do not find God in prayer,  most assuredly we will not find God in others or in our work.What was Jesus’ teaching on prayer?– pray in secret (Mt 6:5-6);– not many words the Lord’s prayer  (Mt 6:7-13);– the Father deals with us a his children (Mt 7:7-11, Lk 11:9-13);When did Jesus pray?–  he prayed in solitude to his Father (Jn 14, 15);– before making a decision (Lk 6;12);– after apostolic work (Lk 5:15-16);– before the Lord Prayer (Lk 11:1);– in suffering  at Gethsemane and on the cross (Lk 22:41; Lk 23:34,46).In the ordinary course of the day however, how does God speak to us?  First, he communicates his will through the events that happen each day.  This is an important notion to grasp. Fr. Walter Ciszek asked this question, of God’s will, when he was imprisoned in Russia as a Vatican spy. God communicates with us in the way things happen, a statement that needs clarification.  God communicates with each of us through a combination of two corresponding realities: my initiative—what I choose to do or not do, and what happens to me—how those persons and events affect me.  The ordinary way God speaks to me is through what happens to me; whatever happens is God’s will.  If I place myself in harm’s way and then become incapacitated, the blame cannot be placed on God.  The Christological Theme and the Magis, the MoreIn the Exercises following the Gospels, the individual is called to become a faithful disciple of the Lord Jesus, who is presented as the most attractive leader of all, to imitate and follow.  It is true that Catholics fulfill their obligations by doing the minimum required of them. They may believe and observe the tenets of the faith but nothing more.  In this category, there are many. In the meditation, “The Call of the King” however, something more asked of the disciple intensely desirous of coming closer to Christ and of imitating him in all things, including his passion and death. Here Ignatius deepens the meaning of the word more, known in Latin as the Magis.  For those want to be more devoted to the service of Christ, there is always more to do.  Doing more however is not limited to the Ignatian spirit.  We must distinguish further.  If two goods are presented to the individual, which will he or she choose?  He or she will choose the good that will give more pleasure to the other. Ignatius offers the example of the saint who was offered a crown of gold or a crown of thorns and was told that either one would please Christ. She took the crown of thorns because it was more in imitation of the Lord. Or, take the example of a wife on her way for medical tests.  She tells her husband that she’s fine whether or not he accompanies her.  To go or not to go—both are good in her eyes.  But, because he wishes to please her more, he chooses to accompany her.  He chooses the more, the Magis.  Here the numbers of disciples dwindle.The Ecclesial Theme and Ecclesial FamiliesIn the Exercises, Ignatius speaks of serving Christ in the hierarchical Church, which he sees as the church militant, the Body of Christ.  It is composed of two groups: the Ordained (Orders) and the Non-Ordained of laity and consecrated religious. These are known as ecclesial families. The Spirit of God breathes in each of one as the Body of Christ, and both groups must respect this fact. St. Peter symbolizes the Church’s structure of Orders, permanence, stability and law, while St. Paul represents the paradigm of the Non-Ordained in which membership is creative, dynamic, and idiosyncratic. Within the universal communion, the Body of Christ functions in smaller ecclesial bodies:  unity among the ordained persons, bishops, priests, and deacons, and unity among the bishops themselves.  The Ordained, the bishop with his presbyters and deacons, resemble the string section of the orchestra.  Like the violins, violas, cellos, and basses, they too are hierarchically constituted. They speak and act in unison. The Non-Ordained ecclesial groups are represented by the laity, Christian families, as well as consecrated religious men and women. The Non-Ordained, like the individual and colorful sounds of the other orchestral sections like the woodwinds, brass, and percussion, which correspond to the various charisms in the Church.  Such charisms function within the spontaneous promptings of the Spirit, and every age has endowed men and women with graces given for the apostolic unity and holiness of the entire Body of Christ. In our own day, the Church is blessed with new life and vision such as the Focolare and Sant’ Egidio Movements, the Sisters of Life, the Daughters of St. Paul, the many secular institutes, and those institutes of consecrated women who have rediscovered their original spirit.  Third, “Office holders in the Church are obliged not to stifle the Holy Spirit but to recognize and foster the free movements of the Spirit in the Church” (Avery Dulles, America Magazine, February 4, 2013).  This fact prompts Karl Rahner to plead for doctrinal diversity in the church favoring a pluriform Church with structures that are adaptable to local and transitory needs” (Dulles).  This fact places before the Church what is known as charism and structure. In the sixteenth- and seventeenth centuries, the Jesuit-priest, Matteo Ricci (d 1610) spent his entire adult life as a missionary in China. At first, he brought the Catholic Church to China, but later he adapted the Catholic faith to the Chinese culture instead of the other way round.  Later, he served the Chinese Catholic Church in China.  Similarly, Mother Angelica responded to the inspiration of the Spirit to promote and advance the Catholic faith through modern social media.The Church fosters the sense of Catholic solidarity by accepting the teaching of the Magisterium of the Church.  All of us are affected by the Magisterium which guides our creed, our code of morals, and cult, our worship. We all must obey the Magisterium; it’s not easy. Often, this has meant the obedience of faith on the part of theologians who were silenced for their avant-garde views.  It was only years later, that their views were vindicated. Nevertheless, there is no Catholic faith without the Church’s hierarchical structure.  The other alternative is hold that ‘to everyone his/her own pope,’ essentially the Protestant position: private and subjective interpretation of the Bible and of faith itself.Summing Up the Ignatian CharismIn the Ignatian charism, the mission is the focus, the all-important goal.  It is a practical, disciplined, and structured charism that embraces the world.  Nothing is finally secular.  Ignatian spirituality forms disciples who seek always the Magis, the more.  It is a restless spirituality, never at home except on the mission, even if that mission is done at one’s desk or at home. The Ignatian charism forms affective and effective disciples of the Lord, trained in spiritual detachment and discernment. The Daily Examen is that essential prayer which daily helps to realize the goal—to find God in all things.  The times in which we live are testing this resolve.

A treasury of blessing and gift for the world

Jul 30, 2014 / 00:00 am

“The only known way to physical fitness is through physical exercise; wishing is not good enough,” writes W.A. Orr, Chief of the Air Staff in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). In 1961, an exercise plan was published for the RCAF, one for men and a corresponding plan for women. This old school, no-frills, no-nonsense program is intense, tightly structured, and personalized; it contains directives, cautions, and progress charts. The idea is to work all the muscle groups through calisthenics and aerobic every day in a short amount of time. The booklet explains what physical fitness means, why you should be fit, how the program works, and what your fitness goals should be. Every exercise begins with a directive: “Stand erect,” “Bend to the left and to the right,” “Lie on your back.” It is said that George Burns did the RCAF exercises every morning.    Spiritual Fitness For those keen on spiritual fitness, the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola are here briefly considered. Written between 1522 and 1534, they were finally approved by Paul III in 1548. It is a little-known fact that wealthy lay women, who had looked after Ignatius’ needs in his pilgrimage days, were the first to do the Exercises under his direction. They sought to intensify their relationship with God and serve others as the Lord’s disciples without being confined to the cloister as nuns. After the Society of Jesus was formed in 1540, the Exercises became the heartbeat of Jesuit training and of many religious institutes, who in the next century, could conduct their ministry outside the cloister. To follow the Ignatian way was to find God by serving others; it was a way of seeing the divine at work everywhere.  Structure and Contemporary Forms of the Ignatian Exercises Like the RCAF exercises, the Ignatian Exercises immerse individuals in prayer, that interior activity in which they are engaged in their own salvation history. The broad sweep of the meditations extends from creation to the present and very much looks to the future, to a cosmic view of salvation history. The purpose of the retreat is to form disciples of the Lord, discern one’s mission in life, or to strengthen the vocation already chosen. The Exercises hold abundant graces personally suited to those who engage them.  Finding God in All ThingsAvery Cardinal Dulles identifies four themes from the Spiritual Exercises, the cosmic, the theistic, the ecclesial, and the Christological.  The cosmic is referred to as “finding God in all things.” In the Exercises, Ignatius reflects on how God dwells in all creatures and in human beings, who are created “in the likeness and image of the Divine Majesty; God works and labors not only in  human persons, but also in the elements, the plants, and the animals” (Nos. 235, 236).  This is seeing all creation as an epiphany of the divine. The Jews help us to understand, for their story is ours as well. In Egypt, in the Exodus, and afterward, the Jews learned to find God in the ups and downs of their lives.  They learned to believe that nothing happened by chance; God acted in each event to show them what he was like, to heal them, and to challenge them to grow. This belief made their lives, sometimes exciting, sometimes painful, sometimes joyful, sometimes dull, but it was always meaningful. Their story is universal.The key word is learn. In order to find God in all things apart from one’s retreat, Ignatius has individuals do the daily examen, that is, praying over our thoughts, our speech, opinions, aspirations, desires, decisions, . . . over our physical, spiritual, material and mental needs, and over our state of calling so that we may better find God right there in the details of our lives.  One can see the divine present and at work in all things . . . “in ten thousand places,” as Gerard Manley Hopkins writes.  The hand of God is behind all that is.  Nothing happens by accident.  Even in adversity, God desires that good might come from life’s “passivities,” a word used by Teilhard de Chardin.  He means those persons and events which act upon us causing us pain.  Doing the daily examen gives me God’s viewpoint; I see that there is never a moment when God is not at work saving me and the world. Everything forms a single whole, and I become the living extension of God’s hands and eyes for others. “He awaits me in every sense; he is at the tip of my pen, my spade, my brush, my needle” (The Divine Milieu, 28). Thus, the value of good intentions to sanctify human activity and to humanize Christian endeavor—building up the kingdom.CorollaryIt is from immersion in the Exercises that the individual is opened up to a God-centered humanism which asserts with the playwright Terence: “I am a human being; I consider nothing human as alien to me.”  Put another way: Because everything human is an epiphany of the divine, “by reason of creation, and more so by the Incarnation, nothing is profane for those who know how to see” (Teilhard de Chardin, The Divine Milieu, 30). Sister Wendy, a hermit and mystic, does art commentary on PBS. She sees God at work in the most controversial paintings, denounced by many as obscene. And genuine science does not belong to atheists or egotists, writes the Jesuit astronomer, Guy Consolmagno, S.J., winner of this year’s “Carl Sagan medal for outstanding communication by an active planetary scientist.” Nothing comes from nothing; every result has its corresponding cause, including “the Big Bang.” It did not generate itself. It had a first initiator.Ignatian Retreats for Engaged and Married CouplesIn prayer, the individual grasps God’s plan for one’s self over a one-month period at a retreat house or over several months at home in the midst of daily activities. Engaged and married couples who do the Exercises either before marriage or early in their marriage enter into their vocation steeped in the graces of their vocation. Today, these retreats known as “Finding Our Way Together with the Ignatian Exercises” are attracting greater numbers and are receiving much praise for renewing the sacrament of matrimony. Those laymen and women in the Christian Life Communities, for example, who make annual Ignatian retreats contribute mightily to building up the world.  Today many lay people have done the Spiritual Exercises and have themselves become directors of the Exercises for engaged or married couples. A great grace for the Church: married couples directing other engaged and married couples in building the Catholic family, the domestic church.Robust Skeptics of the Ignatian ExercisesCritics of the Exercises abound. On examining the text, what does one find?  The hackneyed, dated, and inelegant texts and directives can be overlooked, but what of the naïve imagery and unsubtle psychology?  They’re certain to repel today’s sophisticated man or woman. Moreover, the structure seems too tightly wound, hemming in one’s freedom. There’s more.On encountering the “finished product” emerging from the retreat, one sees a “new creation.”  Has this person been tricked by the mechanics of a book that wields a mysteriously clever and crafty formula? Surely its purpose is to dupe the retreatant, self-absorbed and unconcerned for a suffering world. Not so.The experience of the Exercises is the signature brand of the Society of Jesus and of those persons or religious institutes formed or influenced by the Exercises. The mere mention of figures such as Teilhard de Chardin, Henri De Lubac, Karl Rahner, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Walter Ciszek, Ladislas Orsy, and Avery Cardinal Dulles should dispel further criticism. Moreover, Mother Teresa’s Missionary Sisters, the Religious Sisters of the Sacred Heart, the Religious Sisters of Jesus and Mary, the Sisters of St. Joseph, the Presentation Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and others have been founded on the Ignatian charism.  The Exercises have also become popular among those in faith-traditions other than the Catholic. Have these men and women succumbed to trickery or mind control?Mystics-in-the-MakingIgnatius’s mysticism was unlike that of the Carthusian, Trappist, or Benedictine.  His was a discerning mysticism in the bustling market place. The mission was contemplative—part of prayer.  Prayer was apostolic—part of the mission. The one became the raw material of the other. The one was done for the sake of the other. Ignatius allowed God to touch him everywhere, and there was nowhere that he couldn’t touch God.  The experience of the Spiritual Exercises seeks to form mystics. It takes a lifetime. But mystics don’t levitate, aren’t absentminded, have good appetites. Mystics go about their lives in towns and cities, quietly and undistinguished. Yet, like yeast, they penetrate the dough.In 1922, Pius XI proclaimed St. Ignatius patron of retreats, and in 1929, Pius XII declared the Exercises to be the standard of all retreats.  They are a gift and a treasury of blessing for the entire Church and for the world.  On July 31, the church celebrates the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola.  (To be continued.)