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 [email protected].

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

Vacation-pilgrimage to sheer beauty

Jul 23, 2014 / 00:00 am

If you’re among those who plan ahead of time, you might want to combine a vacation and pilgrimage to Florence, Italy.  Most people visit Florence for its cultural attractions.  Strictly speaking, Florence is not a place of pilgrimage in the way Assisi is.  Yet so much of Florentine culture is embedded in Renaissance religious history that the city can serve as both a vacation and pilgrimage. In Florence, there is hardly a street or avenue that does not reveal some aspect of faith, whether in its many churches or museums, galleries, libraries, monuments, and even outside private residences.  Proud Florentines take all this for granted and in stride.  Theirs is a city of sheer beauty.  Florence’s Cultural HistoryFlorence is known as the “Athens of the Middle Ages,” the Italian city shaped by Greek culture. Another of its title, the “cradle of the Renaissance,” is well deserved since ancient culture was re- born there.  Florence is the home of the Medici’s who actively promoted and supported the arts in the Renaissance.  The city has known turbulence from the provincial wars with other Tuscan cities to the religious tirades of Savonarola and the intrigues of Machiavelli, two famous Florentines.  And Galileo lived most of his life in Florence. Santa Maria Del Fiore, the Brunelleschi Dome, and the Baptistery There are so many religious sites to take in that only a few can be highlighted in this brief essay. By the end of the fourteenth century, the Florentines were determined to outshine the other Tuscan cathedrals in size and grandeur. This is evident on arriving in Florence by air or by land.  One is totally unprepared—taken off guard—by the dome of the main cathedral, Santa Maria del Fiore.  It dominates the landscape.  No matter where you stand in the city, it towers over your shoulder.  It is the “largest masonry dome on earth, the masterpiece of Renaissance ingenuity and an unending source of mystery.” These are the opening remarks of the PBS program, “Great Cathedral of Mystery,” presented by Nova. One of the greatest architectural feats of any historical period, the dome symbolizes power and might from the outside and from within, the vault of heaven.  It was built under the supervision of Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446). According to modern architects and engineers, the early Renaissance would not have had the materials to permit its building.  Yet, Brunelleschi embarked on a feat shrouded in mystery.  He left no plans behind him. Imagine! The cupola has more than four million bricks, weighs 40,000 tons, the size of an average cruise ship, and it is taller than the Statue of Liberty, forty stories above the Cathedral’s floor.  Brunelleschi’s laborers worked without scaffolding or safety net using only the tools at hand but followed his untried and novel methods.  He was a mere goldsmith who had never built anything. Brunelleschi’s dome hastened the advent of the full Renaissance.At the site of the Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore, one can stand before Michelangelo’s Pietà, the statuary he sculpted in his eighties.  Wearing a monk’s robe and cowl, he hovers over the Mother of God who tenderly holds the body of her deceased Son.  Instead of beholding a young Mother and Divine Son, as he sculpted them in his mid-twenties, Michelangelo’s figures in this statuary reveal elderly characteristics. The statuary invites the visitor to pause before it for several minutes in prayer to contemplate the depth of meaning carved into its very stone.The cavernous octagonal-shaped Baptistery a few feet from the Cathedral proper is another marvel of architecture that invites meditation.  It is about a few hundred years older than the dome and cathedral proper.  The most impressive part of the building is its three sets of bronze doors, with biblical relief sculptures by Andrea Pisano and Lorenzo Ghiberti. The Monastery of San MarcoThe Dominican monastery of San Marco draws visitors for one special reason. Each of the monks’ cells in the monastery has on its wall a fresco painted by Fra Angelico, a fifteenth-century Dominican friar.   With their unrivalled coloring and naturalism, Fra Angelico brings out the drama of each scene whether of the Annunciation or the meeting of Jesus and Magdalene at the tomb.  Each fresco is a work of supreme beauty, a beauty that can come only when the artist is working for the glory of God.Firenze’s Streets and Avenues An observant tourist walking along the streets of Florence will notice a few externals that define the city’s identity as “the city of flowers.”  One sees not only decorated flower pots adorning the facades outside the homes but also freestanding statues of the Mother of God and Divine Child or of a favorite family saint with fresh flowers honoring them. Florence boasts of many gardens where visitors may enjoy the full array of foliage—shrubs, tall, stately cypress trees, and flowers, especially honeysuckle.  These sanctuaries of natural beauty are also places for meditation and prayer. The city streets are organized according to a definite pattern, named after distinguished Florentines. Streets adjacent to each other bear names of painters such as Masaccio, Cimabue, and Fra Angelico, while other adjacent streets bear the names of sculptors.  Likewise with other streets and avenues named after poets, philosophers, and political figures. Fiesole Fiesole is the charming village just north of Florence.  There are several churches and monasteries in this quaint mountainous setting that deserve exploring.  Villas formerly belonging to the Renaissance aristocracy have been transformed into welcoming hotels. Villa I Tatti, The Harvard Center for Italian Renaissance Studies, is located on the border between Florence and Fiesole.  In addition to its scholar’s library and art collection, the estate is set on beautiful olive groves, vineyards, and gardens.A number of years ago, I had the opportunity of studying music at Villa Schifanoia, the Pius XII Graduate School of Fine Arts located on a road between Florence proper and Fiesole.  This villa, with its beautifully manicured gardens, was purchased by Myron Taylor, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s personal envoy to the Vatican during the pontificate of Pius XII.  A visit to Florence, especially in the springtime, can satisfy cultural and religious interests. A rewarding experience for mind and spirit.

The Glenn Miller Sound

Jul 16, 2014 / 00:00 am

In 1954 when the American film, “The Glenn Miller Story” was released, it was nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Screenplay and Best Score.  The film won the Oscar for Best Sound Recording.  The figure of Glenn Miller was artfully played by James Stewart.  Glenn Miller’s story takes us to music and beyond.  In the 1940s, Glenn Miller (1904-MIA 1944) rose to critical acclaim as a trombonist, jazz musician, leader of his own band in the Big Band era, and an Army Air Force band leader.  His music topped the Hit Parade.  In dance halls, in night clubs, even on the streets, people danced to his music.  There was no mistaking the Glenn Miller sound.  Searching for That Special SoundFor Glenn Miller, success didn’t come easily. Like so many beginners seeking their niche in life, he knew failure. He was forced to hock his trombone more than once . . . even musicians had to eat. He managed to eke out a living as a freelance trombonist, an arranger, and composer but dreamed of two things:  having his own band and owning his unique sound.  With a few musicians who believed in him, Miller began trying different combinations of instrumental sounds and different rhythmic arrangements.  Month after month, the Miller sound eluded him. At first, nothing clicked.  Nothing seemed to trigger that ‘I’ve got it’ moment.  But with each new arrangement, through trial and error, he inched closer to his very own sound.Out of Adversity . . .Like so many events in life, the Miller sound emerged from a mishap.  When his lead trumpet player hurt his lip that prevented him from playing a solo part, another had to step in so that the show could go on the next night.  But he was a clarinetist. He would have to do.  So Miller stayed up through the night, re-arranged the score for one clarinet and four saxophones; they would alternate with four trombones.  With piano and percussion, four trumpets would chime in to complete the whole ensemble.  A radical combination! At rehearsal, the affinity of clarinet for saxophones, softened by the mellow trombones, began to jell.  The trumpets, toned down, allowed the other instruments to shine.  The next night, the band played “Moonlight Serenade” with its understated, nice ’n easy, gentle rhythm—cool jazz. Eureka, the Miller sound was born!  Within a short time and for years after, the jukeboxes lit up. The public couldn’t get enough of that Miller sound.  “Moonlight Serenade” sold almost one million records shortly after it was released. It seemed as though he had divined America’s musical pulse. Quite simply, his was the music needed to boost morale at home and abroad during the war years.  The Miller sound permeated “Tuxedo Junction,” “Little Brown Jug,” “In the Mood,” “A String of Pearls,” “St. Louis Blues, March,” “Chattanooga Choo-Choo,”and “Pennsylvania 6-5000.”  It was only through the painful ordeal of trial and error that he discovered what would draw and delight his audiences.  His music made them happy and automatically got them on their feet to dance together.  That’s how invigorating it was!Service in the United States Army and Air Force  Glenn Miller wanted to serve in the Armed Forces to boost the spirits of those fighting during the dark, drab days of World War II.  He wrote to Brigadier General Charles Young and persuaded the Army to accept him as the leader of a modernized Army band. First, Captain Glenn Miller, and later Major Miller, he was then transferred to the Army Air Force. In summer 1944, he formed a 50-piece Army Air Force Band and took it to England where he and his ‘boys’ gave 800 performances.  While the troops were away from home, he gave them a piece of home.  One could say that he helped win the war with music.  As he noted, “America means freedom, and there’s no expression of freedom quite as sincere as music.” During World War II, the Glenn Miller sound became the dance hall rage not just in the United States but in other allied countries as well.  His music lightened heavy hearts darkened by war. Missing in Action Glenn Miller’s sudden and untimely disappearance stunned Americans and deeply touched our Allies.  On December 15, 1944, he was air borne to Paris from England to play for the soldiers there.  The plane vanished while flying over the English Channel, and to this day, neither it, nor the aircrew, nor the passengers has been found.  To this day, Major Glenn Miller remains listed as ‘missing in action.’His music continued to be played into the 1950s and ‘60s.  When bands would open their programs with “Moonlight Serenade,” people would weep as the music carried them back to those years of World War II that coincided with happy jazz music and the Big Band era.  Today, cacophony parades as music. Glenn Miller’s Approach to Life  Glenn Miller approached life simply and straightforwardly.  He was convinced that his talent could bring happiness to others.  To find it, he went through the ‘school of hard knocks.’ Finally, his mission embraced the world.   Lessons from the Glenn Miller play book!

The First Amendment and Religious Freedom

Jul 9, 2014 / 00:00 am

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has long championed universal access to health care.  Nonetheless, it continues to voice moral concerns about the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act because it forces opponents of abortion-related services to pay for them. The mandate, advertised as ‘preventative health’ for women is a misnomer. A few years ago, President Obama assured Cardinal Dolan that religious concerns would be protected in the crafting of the ACA.According to Dr. John Brehany, executive director of the Catholic Medical Association, the Obama administration has given every indication that it is hostile to religious freedom, to conscience rights, and to any religious claims of judgment that would refuse or decline to provide reproductive services like abortifacients.   The Hobby Lobby Case and BeyondLast week’s Supreme Court’s ruling decided in favor of religious freedom.  At issue for Hobby Lobby, a for-profit organization with Christian principles, was and is in opposition to provide four contraceptives that act as abortifacients as well. The Court said that the company should not be coerced into offering them to their employees; sixteen other contraceptives are still available in their health package. The Hobby Lobby craft chain employs 13,000 workers who are paid at least $15.00 an hour, well above the minimum wage; they have Sundays off.  The company donates 10 percent of its profits to charity.A few days later, an unsigned order by the Court said that Christian Wheaton College need not comply with the ACA mandate. Moreover, it would not be forced to sign a form deputizing a third party to provide these services in its name because it refuses to be complicit in a decision which opposes its religious principles.  The fate of non-profit Catholic organizations will be decided next year. In all, there are about one hundred religious organizations opposed to governmental coercion of the contraceptive mandate.Hobby Lobby has become a public enemy for liberals who have dubbed this decision “a war on women,” limiting Americans’ right to birth control, and the beginning of the end of health benefits for women. The editorial of The Wall Street Journal states that “judging by the liberal reaction, you would think the Supreme Court majority that struck down part of the ObamaCare’s birth control mandate on Monday has suddenly imposed Shariah law.”  It may boil down to this question: Why should religious institutions, Catholic or otherwise, be forced to pay for the sexual activity of others when this activity is morally opposed by the institutions?  This is a case of religious freedom versus abortion. For the government, abortion trumps religious freedom.Religious organizations serving the common good in a pluralistic society are the very ones being vilified.  Does the government really want to punish these groups and limit religious freedom to the home or place of worship? If so, there will be fewer and fewer nation-wide charities whose outreach for the common good is limitless. The Religion Clause of the First AmendmentReligious freedom is freedom from coercion, the absence of constraints and restraints on individuals in their efforts to pursue freely the positive values of religion.  In this sense, the first colonists were united in their determination to worship freely and without constraints or restraints from the governments they left behind. Religious freedom is the recognition of the inviolability of the human person, individually and in association with others, in what concerns religious belief and action.  The political or civil freedoms of the First Amendment, unlike later freedoms or rights, were assurance against coercive action ((Francis Canavan, S.J., “Religious Freedom:  John Courtney Murray, S.J. and Vatican II”). The establishment clause of the First Amendment has two parts: the government (a) shall make no law establishing a religion, and the government (b) shall not prohibit the free exercise thereof.  This clause is an article of peace in a pluralistic society.  What can be further stated about the First Amendment?1.  America has proved by experience that political unity and stability are possible without uniformity of religious belief and practice, without the necessity of any governmental restriction on any religion.2.  In areas allotted to the government, it is easier to differ without civil strife when religious differences are excluded.3.  The Catholic Church is better off when left alone to carry out its identity and its mission.  Why so?  Because religious freedom is guaranteed not only to individual Catholics but to the Church as an organized society with its own law and jurisdiction.  “This independent authority has been the essential element of freedom in the political tradition of the Christian West” (Canavan).New York Times, July 3, 2014On July 3, following the Hobby Lobby decision, the Freedom from Religion Foundation (RFRF) took out a full-page ad in the New York Times (A13) excoriating the five members of the Supreme Court for their decision in the case.  Part of the ad reads as follows:“Dogma Should Not Trump Our Civil Liberties.All-Male, All-Roman Catholic Majority on Supreme Court Puts Religious Wrongs Over Women’s Rights”“Are you dismayed and alarmed by the Supreme Court’s June 30 Hobby Lobby ruling? The Supreme Court’s ultra-conservative, Roman Catholic majority—Justice Roberts, Scalia, Alito, Kennedy, and Thomas—has sided with zealous fundamentalist who equate contraception with abortion.  The court has granted employers with ‘sincere’ religious objections the right to deny women employees coverage for birth control. This ruling marks a turning point in the struggle to uphold civil liberties in the face of relentless attacks by the Religious Right.”  . . . Congress must repeal RFRA [Religious Freedom Restoration Act].  Employers should have no right to impose their religious beliefs upon workers.  Fight back!  Won’t you join FFRF in waking up America to the growing dangers of theocracy?”The ad seeks donations from the readership.Anti-Catholicism in the United StatesAnti-Catholicism, the last acceptable prejudice in the United States, has a long history, but a new anti-Catholicism has taken on a blatant and brazen coercion by the government in the name of freedom.  This appears as the virtuous counterpart of hatred of the Catholic Church because of its unyielding defense of human life, marriage, and the family.  “The freedom of the Church is a pregnant phrase,” writes Fr. John Courtney Murray, S.J.  His thoughts as articulated in We Hold These Truths mean, in the first place, the freedom of the Church as a spiritual authority to carry out her divine commission.  But, secondly, it means the freedom of the Church as the Christian people to live within her fold an integral supernatural life, a life with inherent super-political dignity that transcends the goals and power of the state.  The Church claims immunity from subordination to the state and its temporal ends.  The chief example of this is matters dealing with the dignity of the whole person, marriage and the family.  Coercive Power, St. Thomas More, and St. John Fisher“These are the times that try men’s souls.” It was true for Thomas Paine, and it remains true today.  It was true in 1534, when Henry VIII declared himself the supreme head of the Roman Catholic Church in England.  He demanded an oath of fealty from his subjects when his request to Rome for an annulment from his wife Catherine was refused—an annulment that would annul the first annulment to marry her.  Sir Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher would not bend to a divorce that would free Henry to marry Anne Boleyn.  For this reason, he had them beheaded.  They were neither the first Englishmen nor the last to suffer martyrdom for the faith.In Robert Bolt’s play, “A Man for All Seasons,” there is a tense encounter between Cardinal Wolsey and Thomas More.  The Cardinal asks More, the future short-lived Chancellor, to approve of the King’s divorce. More replies:  “Well, I believe, that when statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties, they lead their country by a short route to chaos.”  At his mock trial, the future saint declared, “I am the king’s good servant, but God’s first.”  These days, tension in the country runs high and moral un-freedoms threaten to bring us low.  We are still the greatest country on earth, but we need to keep a close eye on John Fisher and Thomas More in the rear-view mirror.

'The House I Live In'

Jul 2, 2014 / 00:00 am

On this Friday and the extended weekend, Americans will proudly display the American flag outside homes and buildings to celebrate America’s independence.  We celebrate the wisdom of our Founding Fathers to establish a “house” that we would live in, one based entirely on a common idea of rights—of life, liberty, and the pursuit of freedom.  It was self-evident to them as it must be for us on this our nation’s birthday—our 238th.Our Founding Fathers secured American independence and immortalized the reality in words to remember for the ages.  Many Americans gather on July 4th to read aloud, and perhaps intone, the Declaration of Independence, the profession of our nation’s beliefs.   Celebrating Independence DayColonial costumes, parades and picnics, hot dogs and hamburgers, barbecues and fireworks—these make up the fun of Independence Day. Americans celebrate Independence Day with rousing music—high-spirited, and energetic, from the music composed by “The March King,” John Philip Sousa, to George M. Cohan and Irving Berlin to our beloved patriotic hymns. One of these is “America, the Beautiful,” permeated as it is with idealism. Catherine Lee Bates wrote the lyrics in 1893, and the majestic music was composed by Samuel Ward.  America is ‘”a thoroughfare for freedom beat across the wilderness.” The hymn prays that ‘God will mend our ev’ry flaw and confirm our soul in self-control, our liberty in law.’ Religious Freedom and the Religion Clause of the First AmendmentReligious freedom is freedom from coercion; it is the absence of constraints and restraints on individuals in their efforts to pursue freely the positive values of religion.  In this sense, the first colonists were united in their determination to worship freely and without constraints or restraints from government and society.   On July 4th, our churches have special prayers and patriotic hymns for religious freedom.Religious freedom is the recognition of the inviolability of the human person, individually and in association with others in what concerns religious belief and action.  In other words, the people are united in their religious freedom to believe and practice without any governmental coercion, restraints or constraints.  The political or civil freedoms of the First Amendment, unlike later freedoms or rights, were assurance against coercive action by government and society (Francis Canavan, S.J., “Religious Freedom:  John Courtney Murray, S.J. and Vatican II”)Losing our Freedom?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 story of American independence began with the quest for political and religious freedom.  These days however, cynicism in the country runs high, and divisiveness threatens fundamental unity. But July 4th is a day of optimism, a day on which it is fitting to ask: “What is America to me? A name, a map, a flag I see; a certain word, democracy. What is America to me?” 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. In homespun words, the lyrics evoke gratitude for our God-given rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  The House I Live InThe 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 a hundred-fifty years.The town I live in, the street, the house, the roomThe pavement of the city or the garden all in bloomThe church, the school, the clubhouse, the millions light I seeBut especially the people; That’s America to me.

Sacred Ground

Jun 25, 2014 / 00:00 am

Some of the most beautiful scenery in the United States is found throughout Upstate New York and northward to the St. Lawrence Seaway into Canada.  Two pilgrimage shrines are located in this region.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. There 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, from 1642-1649, they were brutally tortured, having been accused of being witch doctors.  Most of them fell under the tomahawk.  Pilgrims to Auriesville and Midland walk on sacred ground.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 Oct. 18, 1646.  Lalande himself was killed the next day. Pilgrims to Auriesville walk on sacred ground.The second group of the Eight was 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 4, 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 not strong.  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 16; 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 16, 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. Pilgrims to Martyrs’ Shrine walk on sacred ground.In 1930, Pius XI canonized the North American Martyrs.  The American Catholic Church celebrates their feast day on October 19, and in Canada, on September 26.    The Shrines at Midland and AuriesvilleBecause the two shrines are not far from one another, they are popular places to visit around the same time during the summer months. Martyrs’ Shrine at Midland has a church and museum that feature seventeenth-century maps, songs written by Brébeuf, a history of the shrine, and the stories of the Canadian martyrs. It offers the pilgrim a walking tour to get a sense of how the Jesuits lived, worked, and prayed among the Huron Indians.  One can see the simulated rustic village that comprises a chapel, living quarters, and classroom where the Jesuits carried out their apostolates. The shrine at Auriesville has a similar layout.  One of its most popular features is the expansive outdoor Stations of the Cross.  There is a large auditorium which seats 6,000 pilgrims for Mass, lectures, and visual presentations. “The Blood of the Martyrs … the Seed of the Church”Martyrdom for the faith has always been part of the Christian psyche. When the missionaries were assigned to work in New France, martyrdom could not be ruled out, just as danger and death cannot be ruled out for policemen or firefighters.  Missionaries 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.  The way of beauty was, for them, was the savage, bloody road of martyrdom. Sacred ground.

Vacation as Pilgrimage?

Jun 18, 2014 / 00:00 am

Today, more and more people are using vacation time to go on a pilgrimage.   A pilgrimage is a journey to a sacred site or shrine.  Reasons for doing so vary.  Pilgrimages may be done for physical healing or spiritual healing thus effecting a person’s inner transformation.   A pilgrimage is not a retreat.  One does not go into solitude for a few days to pray and to reflect on one’s life in silence.  Pilgrimages are often made in groups where there is interchange and sharing about life with its aspirations, problems, and foibles. There is prayer, liturgical and communal, and of course, laughter and good cheer.  Going on pilgrimages gives one a respite from the hum-drum grind of daily life.  Pilgrimages resemble vacations that restore body, mind, heart, and one other essential, faith.   For centuries, pilgrimages have been done by virtually all faith-traditions.  Buddhists visit Lumbini, Buddha’s birthplace or Bodh Gaya, place of Enlightenment, and Hindus visit major temple cities throughout India.  Able-bodied Muslims travel to Mecca at least once in a lifetime to make the Hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam.  For Jews, the Wailing Wall is a most sacred site.  Life as a PilgrimageGoing on a pilgrimage is one way of allowing the physical journey to strengthen the inner journey. Medieval Christians had a specific vision of life:  ‘We have here no lasting city. Life is a journey, a pilgrimage to the Promised Land—to life beyond the here and now.’  Today, this image is not so prevalent or popular.  ‘Eat, sleep, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die’ is on the contemporary mind, if not on the lips.  Still, even secular men and women must acknowledge that life does move steadily and irrevocably forward on a trajectory, at least chronologically.  How each of us makes this journey is a personal question that calls for a personal response.   We may say then that we are all pilgrims—at home everywhere and at home nowhere.  We are a people on the road, moving forward toward the beyond. For Catholics, belief in the Communion of Saints becomes palpable, thereby taking on greater meaning in the here and now. What Happens on a Pilgrimage?When you go on a pilgrimage, you meet other people from every walk of life. You begin to share your thoughts and feelings.  You speak about reasons for going on pilgrimage and about what’s important in your life.  Often, you meet people who are suffering a great trial, perhaps the loss of a loved one. They need inner healing and prayer. Or, you meet people who have undergone remarkable conversions of heart, converts, who, according to human logic, were not disposed to receive remarkable graces.  You rejoice with them. You meet the most unlikely pilgrims who don’t know why they have even come.  They’re just there. They need your support and that of your fellow-pilgrims. It is said that every year, Dolores Hope, the wife of the entertainer Bob Hope, went on pilgrimage to the Jesuit Shrine at Auriesville, NY, the shrine of the North American Martyrs.Egeria, the PilgrimIn the fourth century, a wealthy Galician woman named Egeria (Etheria) made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  Had it not been for her eyewitness account about liturgical practices there during Lent and Holy Week, scholars would probably not know about the way these liturgies were celebrated.  Her book, The Pilgrimage of Etheria continues to be a valuable primary source for fourth-century liturgical practice during Lent and Holy Week.Catholic Pilgrimage Sites Most Catholics are familiar with pilgrimages to Lourdes in France, Santiago de Compostela in Spain, and Fatima in Portugal.  People visit these places, most often for a physical healing.  Once there, however, they receive other graces, thus making the pilgrimage more significant than expected.  Organized pilgrimages to these shrines are easily arranged. And Rome has numerous sacred shrines to visit, including St. Peter’s Basilica for starters.  Pilgrimages to the Holy Land need no further comment. Regional pilgrimage sites are located throughout the world.  A few miles west of Barcelona, Spain are the Benedictine Abbey of Montserrat and the Ignatian shrine at nearby Manresa.  For me, these pilgrimage sites remain unforgettable experiences.One of the oldest and most popular pilgrimage sites today is that of St. Thomas of Canterbury at the Cathedral by the same name.  In 1170, Henry II instigated Thomas Becket’s assassination in his own cathedral during the Vespers liturgy because of a clash between sacred and secular power.  The event has been immortalized several times in the play “Becket” by Alfred Lloyd Tennyson, in the verse drama, “Murder in the Cathedral” by T.S. Eliot who drew heavily on the writings of Edward Grim, a clerk and an eyewitness to the murder, and in the award-winning film, “Becket,” starring Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole. Just days after the saint’s murder, Christians returned to his cathedral and transformed it into a place of prayer and pilgrimage.ConclusionTo learn more about places of pilgrimage in this country and elsewhere, the Internet is an invaluable source of information. One link among many is  If you are planning a vacation for next year, you might think about making a pilgrimage out of your vacation or your vacation, a pilgrimage.  You’ll be glad you did!

A tribute to fathers and to the Triune God

Jun 11, 2014 / 00:00 am

This year, Father’s Day and the feast of the Most Holy Trinity fall on the same day.  First, some thoughts on Father’s Day.‘The father-child relation is irreplaceable.’ Every day of his life, President Obama lives with this reality, for he grew up without his father’s presence and without his father’s love. Recently in Chicago, he lamented that “in entire neighborhoods like Hyde Park, young boys and teenage boys don’t see an example of fathers or grandfathers who are in a position to support families.”  On several occasions, he has blurted out: ‘Any male can make a baby; being a father takes a real man.’  The Basic Understanding of FatherhoodThe most basic and universal understanding of father is that of begetting children.  But a father is much more than a begetter.  He is the creative source, and protector of life, the representative of power and authority, as well as gift, solicitude and aid. Yet not every man assumes the responsibility of fatherhood.Father is a relation and a presence, not the name of a man.  When a man becomes a new father, the externals of his person remain unchanged.  But he has become a completely different person from within because of the new relationship he assumes with his child and family.  To explain. Before becoming a father, Paul is the son of his own father.  When Paul’s son or daughter is born, Paul’s life is changed.  In addition to his marital relationship, he has entered into the new relation of fatherhood.  He is Dad, Daddy, Pop, Papa.  Fatherhood is added on to his personhood.Father RolesFathers come in all different shapes, sizes, and personalities, a fact best seen in some father-roles on the screen. In “Father of the Bride,” Stanley Banks (“Pops”) comically evokes neurotic tendencies on the eve of his daughter’s wedding.  In “Life with Father,” Clarence Day (Clare) is a stickler for rules in a family with four boys. He is a banker whose thrift and dislike of surprises make for fun when, time and again, his wife (Lavinia) Vinnie and his boys outwit him.In “The Bill Cosby Show,” Cliff Huxtable, father and obstetrician, is thoroughly engaged in the lives of his five children.  He protects, disciplines, and loves them.  As a moral guide, he teaches them values and life-principles by example.  A devoted husband, he stands firmly with his wife Clare, especially in front of the children.  The Huxtable family loves their Dad—flexible, funny, and fun.  Television commercials depict wounded veterans, mostly men, who still manage to be loving fathers to their families, despite their severe disabilities. The long and arduous rehabilitation becomes an integral part of the family unity. Yes, we have super-Dads like Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) who, in the film, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” exceeds our expectations of fatherhood.  A widower with two young children and a defense lawyer, Atticus is devoted to his children not only as father but as teacher as well. The Father MetaphorThe word father can be as a metaphor.  The universal notion of father is an essential part of mythology and religions. Zeus is the “Father of the gods,” and Abraham, “Our Father in Faith.”  In America, George Washington is the “Father of Our Country,” and John Barry, the “Father of the American Navy.”  In India, Mahatmas Gandhi is the “Father of the Nation;” Nelson Mandela is “Father of South Africa.” These ‘fathers’ are defined metaphorically as the authorities of the titles accorded to them.  We have phrases such as Father Time, Father Thames, Founding Fathers, Fathers of the Church.  In classical music, Franz Joseph Haydn is not only the “Father of the String Quartet” but also “Father of the Classical Symphony.” Collapse of the FatherIn this country, life without fathers is now established as a major social concern.  More than 27 million children, four out of ten, now live apart from their fathers, and half of them do not see them. In most TV sitcoms, if a father is present, he is portrayed as a bumbling, aloof, and unnecessary member of the family. The high cost of father-absence is reflected in school dropouts, substance abuse, teen pregnancy, nefarious behavior against teachers in public schools, and crime and violence in the streets.  Father-absence contributes to social problems, emotional dereliction, male aggression, and low academic achievement. Some have blamed the collapse of the father-figure on the Freudian Oedipus-complex.The Biblical Father-GodIn his book, The God of Jesus Christ, Walter Kasper writes that “the relation of father-child is not only an inalienable aspect of being human, but it also cannot be replaced by other relations; father is a primal word in the history of humanity and religion.  It cannot be replaced by another concept and cannot be translated into another concept” (138). The same holds true of the mother-child relationship. Father and mother are primary words incapable of being reduced or replaced.God, the mystery beyond all mysteries, transcends gender and human language.  Nonetheless, the Divine I-AM-The ONE Who IS is revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures as Adonai, (Lord), Melech (King), Avinu (Our Father).  These are figurative and not literal ways of speaking about the source and creator of the cosmos. As her point of departure, Rosemary Reuther emphasizes the biblical understanding of God as Father of all men and women; he alone is truly the Father (Mt 23:9). Jesus and His Father in the GospelsIn the Christian Scriptures, Jesus addresses his Abba, the intimate form of his very dear Father, connoting their intimate relationship.  When did Jesus pray to his Father?  He prayed before making a decision, after apostolic work, before the Lord’s Prayer, in Gethsemane, and on the cross (Lk 6; 12; 5:15-16; 11:1; Lk 2:41; 23:34, 46).  In the Johannine Gospel alone, the Father is mentioned about 110 times.  What did the Father mean to Jesus? The Gospel’s entire chapter seventeen expresses their mutual love in which men and women are invited to share. If the word Father is purged from the Gospels, then in practice, God the Father is dead, and Jesus Christ is his Only Son.  The Disappearing Father in Liturgical PrayerThe biblical belief in the Fatherhood of men and women has been revealed to us. Jesus taught his disciples to pray “The Lord’s Prayer” beginning with the verse, “Our Father, who art in heaven.” As we pray, so we believe; as we believe so we pray.   Without the Fatherhood of God, how do we begin our prayers?  “In the name of the ____?”  “Glory be to the ____  and to the Son (whose Son?) and to the Holy Spirit.” “The Father must be the addressee of praise, thanksgiving, and petition” (Kasper, 155-6). The Eucharistic sacrifice is addressed to the Father, and Christians are baptized in the name of the Father.   If this belief is purged from liturgical language, then in practice, God the Father is dead, and Jesus Christ is his Only Son.  Christianity collapses as does the Catholic faith.The Triune GodThis coming Sunday, the Church celebrates the feast of the Most Holy Trinity. When we Christians confess our belief in the Triune God, we are recapitulating the entire Christian mystery of salvation; in fact, we are summarizing the entire Christian mystery of salvation.  To confirm our belief in the Tri-personal God, Christians recite the Creed.  In the Holy Spirit, we human persons are accepted into the communion of love that exists between Father and Son” (Kasper, 244-5).  The Holy Spirit makes possible our incorporation into the love of the Triune God. Perhaps the most consoling and most beautiful truth about the Trinitarian dogma is captured by St. Paul who presses the Corinthians and the extended Christian community:  “Didn’t you realize that you were God’s temple and that the Spirit of God was living among you?  If anybody should destroy the temple of God, God will destroy him, because the temple of God is sacred, and you are that temple (1Cor 3:6-7).

The Gift of a Lifetime

Jun 4, 2014 / 00:00 am

In the court of justice, lawyers mediate, advocate, and plead for their clients.  They stand with and for them.  An advocate is one who is called to help someone in need of counsel.  They help them make wise decisions.   In Italian, the word for lawyer is avvocato.  The Greek word parakletos is a legal term signifying advocate, helper, and mediator. When Jesus told the Twelve at the Last Supper: “I shall ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever,” he was encouraging them to take heart. On his Ascension into heaven, the Father would send them the Holy Spirit, the fullness of all good gifts.  The Spirit would remain with them and counsel them through thick and thin.The Coming of the AdvocateOn that first Pentecost morning, the community had already been huddled together for ten days awaiting the Paraclete.  The Eleven were there, as were Mary, the mother of Jesus, the holy women who had been so attentive to his needs, and the various followers of the Lord.  The Acts of the Apostles records that at nine o’clock, a sound like that of a mighty wind filled the house and what seemed to be tongues of fire came down on each of them.  What was the immediate result?  “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit who enabled them to speak in foreign tongues, as the Spirit gave utterance to each” (Acts 2:3, 4).  What do we notice?  The Advocate was given to all gathered there, all one hundred and twenty and not just to the Eleven or to Mary alone. The gifts of the Spirit were poured out on the entire community. What happened to them that morning? They were transformed from venal and fearful men and women to brave and fearless apostles. As such, they would be witnesses to the Resurrection of the Lord wherever they went.  The ecstatic experience that overwhelmed them would be tested time and again.  Can the Spirit’s outpouring transform today’s Body of Christ as it did to the community at Pentecost?  Yes, but gradually. The Holy Spirit is God’s very own Self standing beside us teaching us everything—everything we need to know and remind us of all that Jesus taught.  The Paraclete is our divine solicitor on whom we can call at any time. As the soul of the Church, as its animating principle, the Spirit-Paraclete comforts and consoles, supports, prods, protects, pleads, and intercedes for us before the Father.  It is true that the Holy Spirit is described as fire and love, breath and wind, springs of water, energy and power, as fire and water, justice, art, and artistic creativity. But these are metaphors.  Our Spirit-Advocate, the outpouring of love between Father and Son, inspires us not only to do good but in many cases to do heroic things.  Which brings us to D-Day.The Case for Spiritual and Secular WitnessThis week Americans and other nations commemorate the seventieth anniversary of D-Day.  It doesn’t matter if we were not born then.  The records of history, documentaries, and films vividly tell of the heroism shown on that June 6 day. How many thousands of service men, service women, and civilians gave their lives in heroic service for our country not only at Normandy but in other battle zones as well!  We have been honored to meet some of the greatest generation who, by their very presence, teach today’s generation what it means to be an American.  The story of the five Sullivan brothers has been one of the most frequently told narratives of World War II even though they did not take part in that “longest day” on the Normandy coast. They and their sister, Genevieve, were raised in a closely-knit, Catholic family. The five boys were so committed to one another that their motto was “we stick together.”  They requested to be permitted to serve on the same ship, and in February, 1942, they were assigned to USS Juneau whose destination was the Pacific.  One was married and had an infant child. Tragically, on November 13, 1942, all five lost their lives when the newly-commissioned ship sank during the Battle of Guadalcanal.  It was only six months after their commission. The brothers ranged in age from twenty to twenty-eight.  Three died instantly, one drowned the next day, and the last died from delirium.After the war, the Sullivan parents, Thomas and Alleta, toured the country promoting war bonds.  Here is an example of one family’s witness to both secular and spiritual ideals.  In deep gratitude, we commend them and all other war heroes to the hands of Providence.

Reflections on Catholic education

May 28, 2014 / 00:00 am

In the 1986 film, “Hannah’s Sisters,” Woody Allen, its producer and director, also plays the role of Mickey who bemoans his fragmented life.  He has had his fill of breakdown. Negation, no more! Thinking that the Catholic Church will bring meaning to his life, Mickey visits a priest who asks “Why do you want to become a Catholic?”  “It’s such a beautiful religion, it’s such a strong religion, and it’s so well structured,” replies Mickey in his Brooklyn twang. Holiness Is WholenessThe Church affirms wholeness, insists on wholeness.  It proclaims one God, the whole Christ, the complete community, the Body of Christ.  It builds up the whole person, not merely pious feeling but also right reason, not just the free will but the intellect and the affections.  Jesus asks of his disciples complete commitment with nothing held back.  No half measures. No tepidity. To them is promised full and complete joy, and a full and abundant life.   Thus, a unity of beauty, truth, and goodness.Catholic Education: a Human and Divine PedagogyCatholic education is engaged primarily in forming the mind which seeks truth but is engaged in wholeness.  Catholic education, as a human and divine pedagogy, forms citizens for this life and the next. It is intimately bound up with forming the full and complete Catholic.  What of those students in our schools who follow another faith-tradition?  Or no faith? In some schools, they outnumber Catholic students. It is a well-known fact that these children are enrolled in Catholic schools to benefit from their structure and discipline as well as from their strong code of morality. What code?  In The Book of Virtues, William J. Bennett offers ten virtues that can be integrated into any core curriculum: self-discipline, compassion, responsibility, friendship, work, courage, perseverance, honesty, loyalty, faith. He uses figures from history to exemplify each virtue. When these virtues are integrated into the Catholic curriculum, Jesus Christ is their context and model.  The Catholic EducatorCare of the whole person marks the vocation of the Catholic educator whose ingenuity finds ways to inspire students to higher goals, always the more. Enthusiasm is contagious and will be caught by the students if the educator brings that vitality to teaching. The educator reminds students of their God-given talents, gifts that are to be developed to the fullest and not just for themselves. They, and all of us, cooperate with God in building a better world in business, media, the arts, and politics. The StudentThe classroom is sacred ground where children can be inspired to the love of learning. They learn by doing. An action, task, or lesson repeated about fifty times with focused attention is likely to be assimilated, whether the action, task, or lesson is good or bad. With repetition of something good comes freedom from the tyranny of the scattered, undisciplined mind.  And, as athletes tell us, self-discipline is a form of freedom, freedom to achieve their goals.Catholic education promotes structure and self-discipline.  Both affect attitude, thought, and behavior.  They free the individual to choose a disciplined and virtuous life rather than the therapeutic culture that has glorified the self.  The ‘me’ culture is beginning to crumble.  Given the state of the job market, it behooves every student to embrace not only self-discipline but humility as well. College graduates in the thousands find themselves having to work in minimum-wage jobs while paying off large loans!The School DayCatholic education is student-oriented. A typical class day leans toward about 75 percent student expression and 25 percent teacher expression. After the teacher explains the lesson, frequent questions and repetitions are conducted to ensure that it has been thoroughly learned. So too with varied systems of exercises: compositions, discussions, debates, contests. Today, social media is so dominated by texting on mobile devices that mastering the English language must be intensified with maximum effort.  This includes grammar, diagramming sentences, elocution, especially through daily recitation and oral topics, composition (writing correctly and writing creatively), practice in editing one’s written work and re-submission of it even more than once, and memorizing poetry. In Latin, these exercises are part of eloquentia perfecta.Education in the arts is important: listening to classical music, drawing, painting, and even sculpting, if children are accustomed to express themselves through oral, written, and creative media, they will more easily succeed in math and science which exact stringent analytical and precise thinking.Schools and its classrooms should be cheerful and orderly places of learning.  Copies of attractive classic painting and worthy statuary in offices and hallways are non-verbal ways of affirming the power of beauty to inspire. One month before his tragic death, President John F. Kennedy offered the following remarks at Amherst College: “I look forward to an America which will reward achievement in the arts as we reward achievement in business and statecraft.  I look forward to an America which will steadily raise the standards of artistic accomplishment and which will steadily enlarge cultural opportunities for all our citizens.  And I look forward to an America which commands respect throughout the world not only for its strength but for its civilization as well.”  The Joy of Reading Reading good and great literature is its own reward.  We read for enjoyment. Such reading is a not utilitarian activity to be validated by measurable outcomes. Reading frees our minds and spirit to go beyond ourselves and travel to places different from our own. It expands our world and awaken us to other cultures.  With good reading comes wisdom. Reading good literature improves our vocabulary as it does our writing.The Joy of Memorizing PoetryWe memorize poetry for pleasure.  Like mastering a Bach fugue, poetry imparts power like the power of owning real estate, writes Jim Bolt in “Got Poetry?” (NY Times, April 5, 2009).  It makes one rich.  First, comes struggling with the notes to get them under the fingers.  Gradually, the fingers glide over the keys eager to bring out the beauty of Bach’s creative process. One owns the piece just mastered. Children love to recite poetry aloud. Adults as well. President Kennedy and his brothers, Robert and Edward wove poetry into their speeches, including prosaic stump speeches. Recently, Maria Bartiromo, a prominent TV journalist, columnist, and a Wall Street whiz delivered a commencement address into which she incorporated Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If,” all four stanzas.   She felt it was that important for the graduates to hear.Educating the Emotions for Wonder and Contemplation One of the most pressing needs in Catholic education is educating the affections.  From infancy, children live in a state of wonder, their mouths almost always agape at external stimuli.  Their senses are in play before other faculties. Their developing sense of wonder should prepare them for the contemplation of spiritual realities, most especially, for communion with God in prayer.  If this aspect of children’s lives is neglected, why the surprise when they misuse or abuse their senses in destructive behavior? The senses are our friends and not our enemies.  Several years ago, I taught sixth-graders in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn where most families lived in squalid tenements.  Every semester, I took the children on an outing to the country. I wanted them to experience the beauty of nature in verdant fields, trees, and flowers.   Once there, child after child would exclaim, “Oh, Sister, this is so beautiful!  Can’t we stay the whole day?”   In the classroom setting, they responded similarly after they had learned to enjoy beautiful music, painting, or literature. They would pause in deep reflection, as if to linger in those experiences.  Religious Formation: Apologetics of PersonalismThe times call for a religious formation that also includes apologetics, the defense of the faith. St. John Paul II believed that “personalism is the best medicine for awakening the world from its metaphysical slumber” (Avery Dulles, Church and Society, 436). Personalism appeals to the universal aspirations of the human heart for communion with the divine. The best way to bring others to Jesus Christ is to live the good news with conviction.The power of good example as a way to edify others and to defend the faith cannot be overstated.   In fact, the beauty of a holy life is the surest and most persuasive occasion for influencing others.  When the journalist Tim Russert died suddenly in 2008, his colleague Howard Fineman publicly stated that, if he were ever to convert to Catholicism, Tim Russert would be his role model. God’s love shines out from those who of themselves are unaware of God’s working in their daily lives.  So it was with Tim Russert.   Giving good example doesn’t excuse ignorance of one’s faith. To be a Catholic in contemporary America is to be an informed and devout Catholic.  Faith needs reason; reason needs faith.  Blind faith and pure rationalism are to be rejected. Modern apologetics walks with the four “Cs” of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. These tenets should form an integral part of Catholic education, whether in formal religion class or in subliminal ways:Creed. What we believe. The tenets of the faith are summarized in the Nicene Creed.   Cult. How we celebrate in liturgical worship what we believe.Code. How we live what we believe and celebrate in liturgical worship.  Formation of conscience is essential and training of the will. Contemplation. One’s personal encounter with God in prayer vitalizes creed, cult, and code.    With these pillars of Catholicism, students can defend their faith confidently and calmly if it becomes necessary.  ConclusionCatholic education should begin the process of transforming its students into affective, effective, affable and cultivated disciples of the Lord—for life.  How will tomorrow’s Church reveal its splendor of truth, ever ancient, ever new? The soundness of tomorrow’s Church will largely depend on the quality of today’s Catholic education at all levels.

One day, two celebrations

May 21, 2014 / 00:00 am

Next Monday, Americans celebrate Memorial Day, and the Church celebrates the feast of St. Philip Neri.   One event is secular, the other Catholic.  A word about each.On Memorial Day, a civil holiday with no link to any religious sect or viewpoint, we Americans pause to remember our war heroes.  The day is marked by secular and patriotic rituals—displaying the America flag, and waving it, playing taps, gun salutes, parades, singing patriotic songs, and encomia offered by civil servants.  In churches across the country, our heroes are also remembered in prayer.  We call them heroes because they gave their lives to something bigger than themselves in defense of freedom, not simply for us Americans but for other nations as well.Originally known as “Decoration Day,” this day of remembrance was founded to honor the soldiers who lost their lives in the Civil War.  The high honors owed to our war dead extend from those who lost their lives in the name of freedom in the Revolutionary War to our latest heroes in Afghanistan.   They remain with us in spirit because they inspire us with their heroic acts.   Len Greenwood has perhaps caught the spirit of Memorial Day with the lyrics of the popular song, “God Bless the USA:” “And I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free.  And I won’t forget the men who died, who gave that right to me.”  From the very outset when we fought for those truths that are always self-evident, patriotism has been an integral part of the American psyche.  This is why the words spoken by President John F. Kennedy in his inaugural address on January 20, 1961 are so vital to hold dear:  “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”  They were meant to urge all Americans, young and older than young, to assume responsibility for their country by participating in public service, a noble task and challenge.The Gettysburg Address was intended to honor the dead from North and South who were strewn across the fields and hills of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. President Lincoln’s words are nevertheless appropriate for any Memorial Day: “That from these honored dead, we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave their last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation under God, shall have a new birth of freedom –and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”  His speech has been memorized as one of the greatest in American history.St. Philip Neri (1515-95)On May 26, the Church celebrates the feast of St. Philip Neri.  In Rome, he founded the Congregation of the Oratory (C.O.), an association of secular priests who live in community with a vow of celibacy but with no other religious vows.  They are dedicated to promote holiness of priestly life, and in particular, to foster good preaching and well-prepared liturgical worship. The core of Philip Neri’s apostolate thrust focused on an unpretentious return to simplicity, in imitation of Christ. The Oratorians, as they came to be known, were to rediscover the common touch by entering into the suffering present both in palaces as well as in the back alleys of Renaissance Rome. Philip Neri was one of St. John Paul II’s favorite saints because of his cheerful disposition and his ability to summarize his sermons in short, wise maxims.  “Be good, if you can,” was one of his shortest but wisest. Some other proverbs are given below:“The love of God makes us do great things.”“Nothing helps a man more than prayer.”“Cheerfulness strengthens the heart and makes us persevere in a good life; wherefore, the servant of God ought always to be in good spirits.” “In dealing with our neighbor, we must assume as much pleasantness of manner as we can, and by this affability win him to the way of virtue.”“The cheerful are much easier to guide in the spiritual life than the melancholy.”“When God intends to grant men and women any particular virtue, it is his way to let them be tempted to the opposite virtue.”“Let no one wear a mask, otherwise he will do ill; and if he has one, let him burn it.”“Men are generally the carpenters of their own crosses.”“We ought to abhor every kind of affectation, whether in talking, dressing, or anything else.”The Oratory Today there are about seventy Oratories and some 500 hundred Oratorian priests throughout the world.  Oratories are located in Brooklyn, NY, New Brunswick, NJ, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, PA.  In Britain, there are the Birmingham and Brompton Oratories. The latter was founded in 1849 by Frederick William Faber and John Henry Newman (now St. John Henry Newman).  The London Oratory School, located in Brompton, London has been shaped by the religious and cultural identity of the Congregation of the Oratory with strong ties to the Brompton Oratory. The school is also renowned for its schola cantorum with its fine choral music and instrumental program.  It continues to advance England’s distinguished heritage of liturgical music that began long before the Protestant Reformation when England was still Catholic. St. Philip Neri is the patron saint of the Oratory schools, and next Monday, the school will honor him with a festive Mass. The school also honors other English saints and martyrs: Sts. John Fisher and Thomas More, Sts. Philip Howard Arundel and Nicholas Owen, and the Jesuits Sts. Edmund Campion and Robert Southwell.  One day, two celebrations.

Save Our Children!

May 14, 2014 / 00:00 am

During the World War II era, it was not uncommon to hear in the movies: “life is cheap.”  Nothing much has changed with news of young women having been kidnapped in Nigeria by the extreme Islamist group, Boko Haram. The same atrocity has happened in Northern Uganda.  But, to first Nigeria.Fear of Western Education and of ChristianityRecent reports emerging from Nigeria are nothing short of chilling. They tell of some 300 hundred girls who have been abducted en masse from a boarding school in Chibok, Borno State in northeastern Nigeria by the Islamist extremists.  In mid-April the girls were there to take their exams. These ultraconservative jihadists, condemned even by Al Qaeda, are doing such hideous things that they “makes Al Qaeda look like a bunch of schoolgirls,” writes Bronwyn Bruton, an African scholar at the Atlantic Council in Washington.What does Boko Harmas want?  It is determined to destroy the Nigerian state for fear that western education will corrupt it.  Underlying this fear is fear of women, fear of educating them.  The name Bolo Haram connotes “deceptive or Western education is forbidden.”  A second and more ambitious goal of Boko Haram is turning all of Nigeria into a Muslim state.  Nigeria is a country of 170 million divided between the predominantly Muslim north and mainly Christian south. At present, Boko Haram is intent on forcing conversion of its Christian captives to profess Islam. Boko Haram models itself after Afghanistan’s Taliban which is bitterly opposed to secular and Western education and Christianity. Little progress has been made to find the girls, though some have escaped from their captors.  As of this writing, a show-down is in play that would exchange official prisoners of the government for the girls. This is an ongoing story subject to breaking news by the day and even the hour.  In late February, at a boarding school in Yobe in northeastern Nigeria, attacks were carried in the middle of the night last February that included mutilation of teenage boys.  At the time, they were asleep in their beds. Similarly, a gruesome mass killing took place in an agricultural college in Yobe.  Gunmen opened fire in the middle of the night as students slept.  Sewing HopeThe story of Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe’s mission concerns the attempt of one woman to overturn the twenty-five year atrocity in Northern Uganda headed by Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).  In the documentary and book, Sewing Hope, written by Reggie Whitten and Nancy Henderson, girls have been systematically abducted, forced to commit crimes against their own families, and have been sold into captivity as sex slaves for the lurid pleasure of Kony and his officers.  If and when the girls are released, society shuns them.  When Sister Rosemary first encounters these girls, she must rekindle that light within that has all but been snuffed out by slavery at the hands of perverted men. Their rehabilitation is largely due to Sister Rosemary who has fought to redress this horror and restore dignity to these young women.Saint Monica’s Tailoring SchoolPlaying on the words, sewing hope, Sister Rosemary opened a small orphanage some years ago.  In reality, it is a home and a shelter for these young victims of violence, rape, and sexual exploitation.  Sister’s first intention is to love these girls with unselfish love so that, in turn, they can love and respect themselves.  Having received love, they are able to love their own children and then to others.  While they are in the process of making clothes in their tailor shop, they begin to stitch their lives back together.  By learning skills, they gain self-respect and independence.  In a sense, they marry their skills.    Time Magazine has acclaimed Sister Rosemary as among the one hundred most influential people in the world.  She has already been compared to Mother Teresa of Calcutta.Patron Saint of Slave RansomAmong the thousands of saints venerated by the Church through the ages, St. Raymond Nonnatus was a thirteenth-century Mercedarian Friar whose Order was dedicated to ransoming captives, especially in Africa. He traveled across North Africa where he was able to ransom hundreds in Algiers, hundreds more in Tunis, and still larger numbers elsewhere. Because of his devotion to these most vulnerable, he himself was captured by the Moors at whose hands he suffered extreme torture. Little did we suspect that, 800 years later, ransoming slaves would again surface as an atrocity that has called forth the attention of the international community. They reveal the ugly power of the mighty assaulting the weakest of society.  And such atrocities are perpetrated with impunity. They cry out to the world—again—that human life has little or no value.  Helpless girls and boys have been treated like disposable objects existing solely to satisfy the corrupt and lustful craze of criminals.Today, about 75 percent of men, women, and children throughout the world suffer from bias, mostly religious and cultural. Persecution runs the gamut from extreme torture to harassment. Those of us not directly engaged in repairing this human rights issue pray for the courage of the persecuted.  And let Jesus’ warning remind us: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Mt 18:6; Mk 9:42; Lk 17:2).

Power, authority, and motherhood

May 7, 2014 / 00:00 am

The Natural History Museum in Vienna houses ancient statuettes of women dating from circa 15,000-10,000 BC, the Upper Paleolithic period.  Among these are figures of Venus, the Roman parallel of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty.  These miniatures have no facial features but are shown with their sexual characteristics emphasized or enlarged. As the source of birth and life, the mother is a power, a life force that supersedes the male power of the hunt.  Mystified by this miracle of birth and life, men worshiped women’s power and reverenced the mother goddess or Earth Mother.  We shall return to the topic of motherhood.The Analogy of Power In its basic meaning, power connotes dynamism, energy, or a force that effects change.  Think of the many men and women who exercised power on the stage of history! In 1940, as the war clouds hovered over Britain, the newly-elected Prime Minister Winston Churchill pledged to the nation not power, prestige and prosperity.  Instead, he intoned those chilling words that still ring with depth and power:  “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, blood and sweat.”The word power may be used in different ways, yet its core meaning remains the same: It brings about change through persuasion, vitality and energy, or through forceful means. We may speak of physical, psychological, mental, and moral power, the power of good and evil, political and military power, solar, water, air, and sea power.  There are other uses:  power structures, power plants, power plays, the power behind the throne, the power of prayer, and the power of the Holy Spirit.   Such is the richness of analogy as a linguistic tool.Negative and Creative Uses of Power    We are all too familiar with the consequences of nature’s power to destroy.  Power that abuses, represses, and persecutes others unmasks its ugly face.  The medieval adage, ‘might makes for right,’ still holds.  Because of its intent to control the inviolable freedom and dignity of human persons, it must be condemned.  Men and women seek power because it puffs them up. Raw power that lords it over others makes us cringe. Exercised at the political or academic level, in religious life, in or by the Church body, it is repugnant to the law of God and human persons. Pilate boasted of his power over Jesus’ life or death.  St. John of the Cross was imprisoned by his own Carmelite brothers for trying to reform the Order. How many others have lived under the same threatening sword!  Creative power harnesses energy for good.  It seeks to build up and not to tear down. Such is the power of the Lord’s good news:  ‘Pray for those who persecute you; do good to those who treat you badly.’  Jesus spoke with authority, and power went out from him.And consider the power of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, surely a secular gospel: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the world we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just a lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”  Equally powerful is the secular gospel of his Gettysburg address:  “That this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Here is the face of creative power, noble through and through. Lincoln used his authority in such a way that power went out from him.Power, Authority, and MotherhoodThe miracle of life is an unending source of wonder.  From the first stages of developing life in utero, mothers are endowed with power by the sheer physical and psychological union with another life within them. What is more powerful than a mother nourishing and cherishing her newborn except the powerful image of contemplating her newborn receiving that loving attention? Motherhood is God’s instrument through which the sacredness of life comes forth, and through which mothers instinctively guard that life.  From pre-historic times, men have worshiped women for this power.Mothers use their authority in the most creative and effective ways.  The mother of Glenn Gould stands out as one such example. Her son Glenn (1932-82), the famous interpreter of J.S. Bach’s keyboard music, was often asked about his early love for the composer’s music.  Gould’s parents were musical, but his mother exposed him to the music of Bach and other classical composers during her pregnancy.  From infancy to his early death at the age of fifty, Gould cherished a special love for Bach’s music that bordered on ecstasy!   In the Christian East, the Mother of God is known as the Theotokos, the one who carried God.  In her divine motherhood, Mary of Nazareth gave Jesus his humanity, nurtured him, and stood beside him to the very end. She is the model for all mothers who speak to us in the way a rose spreads its perfume.

The other poor

Apr 30, 2014 / 00:00 am

Some people write about the poor. Others speak about them.  Still others like Pope Francis have worked among the poor.  His witness of mercy and compassion speaks volumes. And the world has taken notice. Other forms of poverty are more subtle.Poverty of the MindToday, many educators worry that ‘our greatest problem is the poverty of the mind. Our whole educational system is failing in training the mind that seeks truth.  Empty minds cannot generate wisdom.  If we do not educate the mind, we perpetuate physical poverty. You cannot preach the Gospel to someone who does not believe in the capacity of the mind to know the truth,’ they say.  There is further concern that our youth lack the desire for truth and for learning that nourishes the mind; the social media has claimed their time and attention.  Recently, in Crisis Magazine Online, Father James Schall, S.J. wrote an essay, “Why Silencing Christians Will Continue.”  In it, he notes that truth is basic to virtue.  He observes that “we no longer want to hear speech if it ‘offends’ someone’s feelings or self-defined identity. We have become infinitely tolerant of anything but truth itself.  Speech is not directed to truth or falsity of an issue but to the ‘sensitivity’ and ‘compassion’ of those who hear it.”  Without truth, there is no virtue. Catholic education cares for the whole person.  It teaches the truth about the divine human dignity of every person in his or her relationship with God and with others.  In the process, it sparks in our youth a desire and love of learning not merely for the present but also for the rest of their lives.Poverty of the EmotionsAmericans suffer from the poverty of emotional maturity.  Too many of us live with the erroneous assumption that emotions are the best guide of human behavior. ‘Emotions can’t be controlled.’  ‘We can't be chaste.’  ‘We should admire people who simply let their hearts rule their heads.’  In 1936, Edward VIII abdicated the British throne and followed his heart to wed the divorced American Wallis Simpson who was awaiting her second divorce. The whole world watched as George VI accepted the responsibility thrust on him during World War II.  “Emotivism is caught up in its own needs; it makes good consumers,” observes Alasdair MacIntyre. Reason and faith drive emotional maturity. Financial Support of the Church’s ApostolateThe Church needs affluent Catholics ready and willing to help in the Church’s global ministries. The Vatican, for example, relies on the Patrons of the Arts of the Vatican Museum to help maintain the artistic treasures entrusted to the care of the Vatican.  In 2008, an anonymous donor gave $20,000,000 to save St. Brigid’s Church in Lower Manhattan from demolition thereby allowing it to continue to serve the faithful. This happened after the parishioners lost a law suit to keep the parish open. The same donor put aside some of these funds to help the parish school and to establish an endowment for the parish. Numerous scholarships have been set up by wealthy Catholic donors to educate students in need of financial support.  Regis Jesuit High School in Manhattan is one such school that offers scholarships to boys of exceptional intellect and character.  Of its many distinguished graduates are Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Health in Washington, DC and Jim Sciutto, a reporter for CNN and an expert in Asian affairs.  In these ways, the wealthy take up their role with the Church in performing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.   The Virtuous LifeTwenty years ago, Kenneth L. Woodward wrote an essay in Newsweek, entitled “What Is Virtue?”  Throughout civilization’s long, rich history, “virtue has meant a quality of character by which individuals habitually recognize and do the right thing.”  Instead of talking about values which vary from one culture to another, “everybody would be better off talking about the virtues that a decent family tries to inculcate.”  The skepticism engendered by the Enlightenment has reduced all ideas of right and wrong to matters of personal taste, emotional preference, or cultural choice.  Can faith have an impact on our culture when social media, especially the Internet, has manipulated the minds of youth?  The philosophers, Alasdair MacIntyre, Martha Nussbaum, Bernard Williams, and Charles Taylor agree that the “Enlightenment Project” as a philosophy has failed.  What they propose is the renewal of the idea of virtue—or character—as the basis for bother personal and social ethics.  We learn virtue by doing; we perfect a virtue through practice and discipline. It is now a well-established fact that there is a movement away from the Judeo-Christian tradition, from the Catholic faith, and from religion in general. Many young people have abandoned the faith of their childhood and boast that they ‘no longer believe.’  Many claim no identity with a faith-tradition.  Woefully poor are those who have lost the ability to believe in God’s love for them and those who have also lost their belief in others.  Are we living in the new dark ages of history? Or, do the words of Jesus still hold sway: “I am your way; I am your truth; I am your abundantly rich life?” 

Emmaus: Don't go. Stay with us.

Apr 23, 2014 / 00:00 am

What could Jesus have been up to walking along the road to Emmaus with Cleopas and his friend?  He heard them venting sadness, not to mention bewilderment, at all the recent events.  ‘Why are you so excited,’ Jesus injected?‘It’s the breaking news,’ they blurted out, ‘where have you been for the past few days? Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard the buzz about an empty tomb?  Everyone’s talking about it! How could you have missed the news,’ they pressed incredulously?‘What news?’ Jesus kept a straight face but must have been chuckling within.  Out came the narrative: “All about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people.  The chief priests handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he would be the one to Israel!  It’s been three days. Some women from our group astounded us.  They went to the tomb in the early morning and didn’t find the body.”[And then], “they came back to tell us they had seen a vision of angels who declared he was alive.”  [And then], “some of our friends went to the tomb and found everything as the women had reported but of him they saw nothing!”  ‘The whole story is incredible! White-robed angels, stone rolled back, empty tomb, shroud left behind?  Who ever heard of a corpse being resurrected!’ It was time for Jesus to step in and strengthen the two.  His eyes met theirs, and he said:‘. . . . How unwise on your partNot to trust God with all of your heart.The scriptural storyTo enter his gloryMeant suffering these things from the start.Let’s begin with the prophets and MosesAnd all that the Scripture supposes.I’ll make it quite plainAs I try to explainWhat’s been there right under your noses.’Mesmerized, their hearts stirred and beat faster. But as yet, no recognition! His outward appearance had changed because of his risen body.  ‘Who is this curious fellow,’ they wondered? Maybe he’s not such a country bumpkin after all.  Maybe he knows more than we think.’They pressed him not to go but to stay with them for supper.  As they reclined at table, he took the bread, said the blessing, and broke it.  Suddenly, he vanished from their sight.  Suddenly, their eyes were opened.  Now, they recognized him!  ‘That’s it!  He broke bread with us! We were so caught up in our grief that he had to give us a more vivid sign in the breaking of the bread.’Such is the knowing Lord who brings us to faith by dropping clues of his presence right in our paths.  Didn’t he use a similar approach with the Samaritan woman at the well? From one viewpoint, “Jesus’ miraculous appearance is hardly necessary when one has his presence in the Eucharist” (Jerome Biblical Commentary, 44:176).  From another, his presence screams for recognition in suffering where he is never nearer. In fact, the clues of his presence and the effects of that presence are everywhere, in the Divine Providence, in ourselves, in others, and in daily events. The Emmaus story is our story.The Emmaus Disciples - Luke 24:13-35To Emmaus, the both of them wentIn a state of acute discontent.The two of them walkedSeven miles as they talkedOf the one catastrophic event.It proved to be more heat than light,When a stranger, believing he mightShed more light than heatBy sounding upbeat,Drew near though he hid from their sight.He asked them: “What’s caused a disputeThat makes you affirm, then refute?”“Excuse if we stare,But are you unawareOf events we can hardly be mute?“The good news in action and speechThe Nazarene prophet would preach.He needed no prodAs the chosen of GodTo cure illness, pardon, or teach.“Our priests after more than one tryHad him judged and then sentenced to die.We saw, agonized,A man whom we prized-How could one life have gone so awry?“We thought him to be without failThe one to redeem Israël.In three days that passedSince seeing him last,We haven’t yet ceased to bewail“That they chose him to be crucified,That he brutally suffered and died.And to heighten our gloom,There came from the tombSome women who looked petrified.“They claim angels said he’s survived.While it’s nothing we say they contrived,We went to his tomb,We thought, to exhume,There we asked: “Could it be he’s revived?”He said, “How unwise on your partNot to trust God with all of your heart.The scriptural storyTo enter his gloryMeant suffering these things from the start.Let’s begin with the prophets and MosesAnd all that the Scripture supposes.I’ll make it quite plainAs I try to explainWhat’s been there right under your noses.”Shortly afterward, taking their leave,He was stopped by their saying: “Now we’veBeen enjoying your stay,Throughout this whole day.Don’t go, or you’ll make us both grieve.”He remained and at table reclined,And when all three had suitably dined,The blest bread he broke(A pure master stroke)And in one act was fully enshrined.Their vision, once darkened, grew bright;They knew now who slipped from their sight.As brother to brotherAffirming each other,They drew from a shared inner light.“Our hearts, were they not truly burningOn the road as he helped us with learning?”They returned to the cityReleased from self-pity,No longer the victims of yearning.They reached home and looked slightly dazed,Then found themselves jointly amazedAt receiving the word(No longer absurd)That Jesus had truly been raised.The Eleven were told how Christ ledThem to faith by the things that he’d said,And how suddenly heWas synchronously Made known in the breaking of bread.Joseph Roccasalvo

Holy Week and Resurrection Sunday

Apr 16, 2014 / 00:00 am

Who can fathom the events of Holy Week?  For observers of all things Catholic, the liturgies in Holy Week are great theater.  But for Catholics, the liturgies are grace-filled encounters with Jesus Christ as we celebrate and re-live the week of redemptive love.  It’s not a time for analysis as to how and why the events happened but sacred hours for the liturgies to wash over us in awe, silence, and prayer.Holy ThursdayIt is customary for Jews to invite intimate friends to the festive Passover banquet.  At Jesus’ last Passover, the feast was tinged with a measure of sadness; it was the hour of foreboding and farewell.  As the ritual-meal progressed, the festive tone turned dark.  The Lord confronted the Twelve with the abrupt prediction of their betrayal.  Within the hours, it would prove true. The disciples would look out for themselves and run for cover. The Washing of the FeetThe washing of the feet is a central part of the Lord’s Supper.  The meal becomes a lasting memorial of Jesus’ love and the context for a lesson the Apostles will not forget.  Why, Peter asks, does the Master insist on washing his feet?  Only slaves wash feet. He recoils, but Jesus admonishes him: “If I do not wash you, you will have no part in me” (Jn 13:8).  Peter may be free to refuse, but Jesus presses for his consent. If Peter wants to follow his Master, then he must renounce status, glory, power, and prestige.  The Lord chooses a servile but loving act to give the example.  Peter suddenly realizes that what Jesus has done for and to him, he Peter must repeat to and for others.  He must share in the Lord’s redemptive work for the sake of others. Henceforth, the mandate given to Peter will be the loving service that marks Christian discipleship.  It is so explicit that it cannot be misunderstood or misinterpreted. The Eucharist opens the door that leads to unselfish love. Why Bread and Wine?Why did Jesus give himself to us as food?   In the Supper, Christ is the priest, offering, and the Supper’s Real Presence.  Therefore the senses of tasting and eating are essential.  Jesus perpetuates himself by taking the form of food. Now eating is one of the conditions for sustaining life and energy.  It promotes growth, and is generally considered an enjoyable and satisfying experience.  In the Johannine Gospel, Jesus shows the relationship between eating and having life when he answers the Jews: "Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you” (Jn 6:22). His food is the condition for life in God, for sustaining an energy motivated by love, and for growth in the Spirit."‘I could eat you up alive’Among our phrases of endearment, we have the phrase, ‘I could eat you up alive.’ It is most often reserved for an infant when a parent wishes to express inexpressible love for his or her child.  This metaphor says more about the desire for intimate union between parent and child than the words themselves convey.  It lends vividness to the fact that, as the bread of life, Jesus wants to unite himself to us, and we to him and to one another.  Jesus has been placed at our disposal to be taken and incorporated into our very beings. We become what we eat, St. Paul notes. The phrase, ‘I could eat you up alive’ implies that life, the body, and food go together. Good FridayThe obedience of Jesus on the tree of the cross reversed the disobedience at the tree in the Garden.  If the Hebrew Scriptures confirm the messianic prophecies, what is the significance of the Christian scriptures?  What was Jesus’ attitude toward his passion and death?  He gives his followers the example of how to suffer with dignity and with love.  The human condition that Jesus freely entered into brought him to the brink of despair.  He knows and enters into our suffering. This is what it means to be human—to enter into the abyss and night of death. In 1941, the Franciscan friar, Maximilian Kolbe died at Auschwitz to save the life of a married man, also a prisoner at the concentration camp. Suffering did not befall the friar.  Rather he freely allowed suffering to touch him. Like Jesus, Kolbe did not suffer out of lack of being, but out of his fullness. The Father and the SonThe Johannine gospel reveals the reciprocal love between the Father and the Son.  Jesus reveals what his Father meant to him in the language of love: “I am in the Father, and the Father is in me” (Jn 14:10).  Jesus speaks of our participation in this divine life:  “You will understand that I am in my Father, and you in me and I in you” (Jn 14:20).  The relationship is one of love, and this outpouring of love is the Spirit, a divine person. The Father-Son relationship is the centerpiece of this gospel, and though inseparable and distinct from the Father and Son, the Spirit proceeds from both by way of love.  It was not necessary for the Father to command his Son to suffer.  Love sees the need and responds to it.Jesus’ Solidarity with humankind Doesn’t the scene of the Agony in the Garden surprise 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).   He pours himself out, “tasting death for everyone” (Heb 2:9), but his plea is made without despairing. Jesus seeks consolation from his Father, because his life has been spent pleasing his Father (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 that is absolutely opposed to God. How can this be?  The one who is God’s Word in the world seems dumb. And yet, Jesus trusts his Father to the very end.   Psalm 22 ends on a note of hope; the Lord has not hidden his face from the suffering soul.Finally, “it is finished,” and Jesus releases his Spirit (Jn 19:30).   His powerlessness is shot through with God’s power to save, and his obedience of love is raised high in final glorification. Everything has been pared down to two aspects of one reality: love as the reason for his suffering and total dependency on the Father. Suffering is Not Passive Although Jesus has fulfilled the Scriptures, his suffering is not that of a passive man but of one who actively receives and responds. The drama of Jesus’ suffering of love was undertaken pro me and pro nobis, and every man and woman is a player on the stage of this spectacular tableau. Each of us is Judas and Peter, the thieves, the crowds, and the guards, Simon, Veronica, and the beloved disciple. To the question, why suffering, we respond:  the cross is illogical and has always contradicted human logic. It is a folly, a scandal, a stumbling-block (1Cor 1: 21-22).  For the disciple of Christ, the only logic is that of love; it alone is credible. At the same time, the Psalmist has the Israelites pour out their complaints to the Lord and tell him of all their troubles.  They do so repeatedly.Human LogicMost of us boast of self-sufficiency. We repudiate Christ’s condition as foolishness, at least emotionally.  But Jesus helps his disciples to make sense out of suffering, not according to the human way of thinking, but according to his.  He brings his followers to the cross and, sooner or later, expects us to understand it as his very own logic.   Paul declares that the cross is God’s wisdom and power to save.  St. Catherine of Siena exclaims: “Oh, Loving Madman!  Was it not enough for Thee to become Incarnate that Thou must also die?” (The Dialogue, 91). God’s Foolishness: Moses and JobThe Hebrew Scriptures initiate us into God’s folly.  In the Book of Exodus, despite Yahweh’s commands that Moses seek the release of his people from the Pharaoh, Moses is forewarned.  God will make the ruler obstinate so that he will refuse the request. Is this not sheer madness? When all seems lost, God’s inscrutable logic saves the Jews in the Passover-Exodus event. God’s foolishness is wiser than Moses’ logic.The Book of Job as offers another example of God’s folly.  Job has proved himself a good and faithful servant.  A man who has everything suddenly loses all.  His loss is unmerited. Anguish afflicts body and soul.  He condemns himself and rubs in his failures.  Curse God, his friends urge, but he refrains from doing so.   The first point the Book of Job makes is that suffering is not evidence of sin.  When Job’s friends muse that he has sinned to deserve such misery, the reader knows differently.  Job’s suffering was a test of his faith. Even as he grew angry with God for being unjust–wishing he could sue him in a court of law–he never abandons his belief.  Job’s moral outrage prompts God’s response, thereby demonstrating that the sufferer who believes is never alone. God’s voice “out of the whirlwind” carries a less than satisfying response:  “Where were you when I laid the Earth’s foundations? Do you really want to reverse my judgment, and put me in the wrong to put you in the right” (Job 40:83)?  God’s designs are inscrutable.  Though God’s answer does not fully satisfy, Job has no response and falls silent.  God’s foolishness is wiser that Job’s protests.  The New Testament too is filled with examples of God’s foolishness transformed into joy. Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross On September 14th, the Church “lifts high the cross” because God’s weakness and folly prove wiser and stronger than the wisdom and strength of creatures. Suffering has no human logic.  Still, in his human nature, Jesus shows us how to suffer. Without suffering out of love, acceptance of pain is a servile act. The lesson is simple, if maddening.Like Moses and Job, we do not save ourselves in the way we want.  Each of us is saved by God’s providential power and our cooperation expressed through “the obedience of faith,” the attitude which was Christ’s. The folly of human suffering becomes our glory, but we see this only after the fact.  It is a paradox.Holy SaturdayThe Church pauses, assimilates the mystery, and anticipates Resurrection morning.Resurrection Sunday The cross is the glory of the Lord.  The cross of Jesus was his resurrection.  His life was the candled that burned itself out in order to give its light to all.  When people suffer out of love for God, it is only the fact that they have been inflamed by the most sublime of beauties–a beauty crowned with thorns–that justifies their sharing in that suffering. In Psalm 22, the faithful servant suffers before a silent God but places itself entirely in the hands of the Lord who will deliver it.  The Psalm closes with the afflicted one praising the Lord.  Jesus foretold his last hours on the cross: “If I be lifted up, I will draw all things to myself” (Jn 12:32).  The Father raised up Jesus from death into resurrection glory, as Lord of the universe. Henceforth, there is an upward movement in the whole of creation. “Resurrection” SymphonyGustav Mahler (d 1911) suffered from a difficult marital and professional life but most of all with universal questions plaguing him: ‘Why am I living, why suffering; has life been a huge, frightful joke?’  These questions found expression in his symphonies which attempt a response to these questions.  When one symphony ends with tentative hope and tinged with doubt, he repeats the same questions in the next symphony. Mahler’s “Resurrection” symphony seems to be his best attempt to answer the questions.  Despite anxiety, anguish, fear, and pain, his final movement struggles with the pursuit of love that leads to enlightenment and elevation: Believe, my heart. O believe, naught shall be lost to you . . .O believe: thou wast not born in vain!Thou has not lived and suffered in vain!. . .All that has sprung passed must rise again!Now cease to tremble!Prepare thyself to live! . . .To soar upwards to the light which no eye has penetrated!  Its wing that I won is expanded and I fly up. Die shall I in order to live. Rise again, yes, rise again.  Will you, my heart, in an instant!  That for which you suffered, To God will it lead you!The text is neither explicitly religious nor confessional.  Yet, it is man’s innate hope that reaches out to God.9/11: A Time of Doubt, a Time of FaithIn the aftermath of 9/11, the “Resurrection” symphony seemed to express the unimaginable pain that was thrust on Americans.  With 9/11, the country was plunged into unspeakable suffering which pushed reason and faith to the very edge.   Many turned to God for consolation. Others could not even touch the pain. The embittered repudiated God.On the tenth anniversary of 9/11, Allan Gilbert, music director of the New York Philharmonic orchestra, chose to perform Mahler’s “Resurrection” symphony at a “Concert for New York.”  He meditated: On 9/11, we witnessed devastation, bravery, and heroism.  We joined agony with hope. . . . When the boundaries of our reasoning are strained, what do we do?  We listen to music, we speak through music, we question through music.”  His reflections spoke to a largely secular audience, still conflicted with aspirations of hope yet tinged with doubt.  In the face of 9/11, Christian hope was possible only in the light of Christ’s redemption “in the coming of absolute love that identifies itself with suffering and with the sufferers of the world” (Walter Kasper, The God of Jesus Christ, 161-2). While Jesus brings us to the cross, the last sound of this symphony is not shrieking despair but resurrection glory.

Sounding silence

Apr 9, 2014 / 00:00 am

The March 25th issue of The Wall Street Journal printed an eye-catching article by Jen Murphy entitled, “CEO’S Secret to Decision-Making:  Total Silence.”  To reduce mounting stress and noise, internal and external, Khajak Keledjian, CEO of Intermix, went on a ten-day retreat of guided meditation in complete silence where television, reading, and even eye contact were forbidden. “I came out of that completely transformed,” he writes.  “It gave me clarity, and clarity leads to great decisions.” Keledjian meditates twenty minutes every morning and sometimes in the evening, if the day has been unusually stressful.   Silence of the UniverseFor millions of years, the cosmos has expanded in virtual silence. The seasons move in silence through the changing year.  “Spring does not come from winter; it comes from the silence from which winter comes,” writes Max Picard, the German Swiss Catholic theologian.  In silence, the spring buds approach blossoming to full form. Out of silence, beauty.Verbal NoiseContemporary speech tends to stress quantity.  Chatter is verbal noise. It is destructive of the true nature and holiness of language which is essentially rooted in quality.Gangsta Rap is verbal noise.  The texts, laced with profanity, offend the dignity of the human person, especially women’s.  In fact, the lyrics must be violent if one aspires to gangsta rap-hood.  In a stunning turn of events, some Rappers are being prosecuted as criminals because their texts have occasioned violence, including death (NY Times, Mar. 26, 2014, Lorne Manly, “Legal Debate on Using Boastful Rap Lyrics as a Smoking Gun”).  In anger and frustration, Gangsta Rappers cry out for help in their own sad lives.The Silence of Prayer If in doing yoga, CEO Keledjian finds clarity through silence, then what of the benefits that come from silent prayer? Our Catholic contemplative tradition offers far more than stress-reducing techniques, however helpful to prayer.  Silence is not the absence of noise but a phenomenon in itself, the context for prayer.  The human person is an original silence, an original solitude, oriented to prayer, as Blessed John Paul II has noted. In prayer, when we speak to God without veneer and without ceremony, we feel free to say anything because prayer is primary language and primary desire.  The Mystical Tradition:  Christian East and Latin West Mystics neither levitate nor do they despise the world. They have good appetites. In the Christian East, mysticism forms an integral part of the Church’s liturgical life. It has more to do with active receptivity to God’s innovating activity than to a Pelagian approach to life. Western contemplation perceives God at work in all things as beauty, truth, and goodness with love as their crown.  Like the mystical prayer of the Christian East, that of the Latin Church transforms those receptive to Divine Providence. St. Teresa of Avila’s mysticism did not exclude playful sarcasm:  “Lord, if this is how you treat your friends, it’s no wonder you have so few.” The Catholic mystical tradition reveals a mosaic of gemstones like Francis of Assisi, Thomas More, Ignatius Loyola, Peter Favre, and Francis Xavier, Edmund Campion, Philip Arundel and Margaret Clitherow, Matteo Ricci, John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila, Thérèse of Lisieux, Walter Ciszek, Mother Teresa, Charles de Foucauld, Catherine de Hueck Doherty, Dorothy Day, Chiara Lubich, martyrs at Nagasaki and Auschwitz, in the Mideast and elsewhere.  Is there one link unifying their outlook? “Pray as if all depends on God, and act as if all depends on you.” This is practical mysticism. Gerard Manley Hopkins describes today’s unnamed gemstones: The just man justicesKéeps gráce; that keeps all his going graces;Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is—Chríst–for Christ plays in ten thousand places,Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not hisTo the Father through the features of men’s faces.St. Paul links fragrance to holiness: “For we are the aroma of Christ . . . . (2 Cor 2:14-16).  Mahatma Gandhi too compares the fragrance of a rose with living the Gospel:“Let your life speak to us even as the rose needs no speech but simply spreads its perfume. Even the blind who do not see the rose perceive its fragrance.  That is the secret of the rose.  But the Gospel that Jesus preached is much more subtle and fragrant than the Gospel of the rose.  If the rose needs no agent, much less does the Gospel of Christ need any agent” (SK George, “Gandhi and the Church”).One positive result of the encounter with non-Christian forms of meditation, especially Buddhism and Hinduism, has been to experience their respect for silence. It is regrettable, however, that today Catholics, largely ignorant of their own mystical traditions, have abandoned Catholicism, and even Christianity itself, to join other sects. The Silence of CharityThe Christian teaching on love is all too familiar.  Reciprocated love makes life easy. At times, the silence of charity is the best response to malice. In his darkest hours, Jesus prayed for his persecutors; he said they didn’t know what they were doing.  It was their attitudes and actions he condemned.  At the very end, he remained silent.Recently, Pope Francis spoke up, and harshly so, about maligning others, rash judging and back-biting them. Gossip destroys a person’s character. We can never know what is really going on inside another person, and unless all the facts are known, the Gospel mandate is our best guide:  “Judge not, and you will not be judged,” for there go I but for the grace of God.  How will our youth learn this lesson?The Silence of SufferingHoly Week rivets the Church’s focus on the days that changed the world. There is no more fruitful way to celebrate and relive our redemption than through the liturgy.  For the homebound, Catholic television makes for a worthy substitute. The liturgies at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. are unrivaled in beauty.Pope St. Leo the Great notes that “true reverence for the Lord’s passion means fixing the eyes of our heart on Jesus crucified and recognizing in him our own humanity” (5th century).  A young Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J. penned these words during his own personal crisis:  “The Christian is not asked to swoon in the shadow, but to climb in the light of the Cross” (The Divine Milieu, 102ff).

Turning the corner

Apr 2, 2014 / 00:00 am

The apostles were ready and eager to follow the Lord as companions until he began predicting the manner of his own suffering and death.  His words repelled them.  What they wanted was Mount Tabor and not the dreaded hill of Golgotha. He told them off. At the very end, only one of them stood at the Cross.As Passiontide and Holy Week approach, the tone of the liturgy changes. The Church shifts from focusing on personal sin and asceticism to gazing on Jesus during his last days.  From here on, the liturgical readings reveal mounting hostility against him. They call us to deep prayer.  The Messiah’s sufferings and death had already been foretold in the Hebrew Scriptures. In fact, centuries before Christ, the prophecies predicted that the expected Messiah would be despised and rejected by men. (See Pss 22, 24, 60; Is, ch 53, Ez 37:1-15). This is why Jesus identified himself with the Suffering Servant.  As Passiontide and Holy Week draw near, Christians will recall, re-live, and celebrate the saving events of Christ. Through the Paschal Mystery, we are preparing for the climax of the salvation of the world during the week that changed everything. This is the week when our salvation was accomplished.However difficult it may be to stay with the Lord in his last hours, something would be wrong if we found it easy.  It may seem impossible, but it can be done. Prophecies of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of the LordOn Palm Sunday, Jesus returns to Jerusalem knowing that he will suffer and die that very week. In a few days, the fickle praise of the crowds will turn to scorn and rejection. The logic of Good Friday is illogical, the story, wild and appalling. The events of the three-day ordeal confront us as pure chaos. The most explicit and uncanny prophecies are found in Isaiah chapters 50-53, but there are many more scattered throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus’ passion and death may be considered on two levels, the human and the divine. The human context for the fulfillment of these prophecies is found in a familiar source of suffering–human malice. Over the centuries, the idea of the Suffering Servant-Messiah ran through these prophecies. Verses in the New Testament support those in the Old. The parallels present a singular and compelling case because no historical figure other than Jesus has fulfilled them. What do the prophecies ascertain about the last week in the life of Jesus?  In the passages cited below, the first citation refers to the Hebrew Scriptures, the second to their fulfillment in the Christian Scriptures. They are given below for meditation and prayer.1. Jesus entered Jerusalem as a king riding on an ass (Zech 9:9/Mt 21:5).2. He was betrayed by a friend (Ps 41:9/Jn 13:21).3. He was sold for thirty pieces of silver (Zech 11:12/Mt 26:15; Lk 22:5). These pieces of silver were given for the potter’s field and cast into the temple (Zech 11:13/Mt 27:9-10). 4. His friends deserted him (Zech 13:7/Mt 26:56), and others gave false witness about him (Ps 35:11/Mt 26:60).  5. In his last hours, he was spat upon and scourged (Is 50:6, 53:5/Mt 27:26, 30) and struck on the cheek (Micah 5:1/Mt 27:30). 6. The Messiah was called the sacrificial lamb (Is 53:5/Jn 1:29 who was given for a new covenant (Is 42:6; Jer 31:31-34/Rom 11:27; Gal 3:17, 424; Heb 8:6,8,10;10:16, 29; 12:24; 13:20). 7. He was despised, rejected by men (Is 53:3:1-6), the one who bore “our griefs” (Is 53:4,6);8. “And with his striped we are healed” (Is 53:5).   The Seven Last Words of ChristFranz Joseph Haydn (d 1809) worked as the court composer at the Esterházy palace in Austro-Hungarian Empire.  In 1785, a Spanish priest, Don José Sáenz de Santa María, canon at the Cathedral of Cádiz, commissioned an oratorio from Haydn who wrote seven string quartets entitled “The Seven Last Words of Christ.”  The rhythm of each quartet captures the rhythm of the Latin text of the word or sentence Jesus uttered on the cross. It is traditional for the Seven Last Words to be preached and then played in churches on Good Friday before the Liturgy Proper. Years later, when asked how they were performed at the Cathedral of Cádiz, Haydn narrated the following:“The walls, windows, and pillars of the church were hung with black cloth, and only one large lamp hanging from the center of the roof broke the solemn darkness. At midday, the doors were closed, and the ceremony began. After a short service, the bishop ascended the pulpit, pronounced the first of the seven words (or sentences) and delivered a discourse thereon.  When this ended, he left the pulpit and fell to his knees before the altar.  The interval was filled with music. The bishop then in like manner pronounced the second word, then the third, and so on, and the orchestra following on the conclusion of each discourse.  Each section of music lasted ten minutes.”The priest paid Haydn by sending him a cake which, the composer discovered, was filled with gold coins. The seven sonatas are preceded and concluded with introduction and Conclusion (“Earthquake” derived from Mt 27:51ff). Below, the first Latin words are given with the English immediately following:1. Pater, dimitte illis: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34).2. Amen, dico vobis: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (Lk 23:43).3. Mulier, ecce filius tuus: “Woman, here is your son; Son, here is your mother” (Jn 19:26-27). 4. Deus meus: “Eli, Eli, lama sabacthani?” “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46).5. Sitio: “I am thirsty” (Jn 19:28).6. Consummatus est: “It is finished” (Jn 19:30).7. Pater, in manus tuas: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Lk 22:46).“Let us meditate on the Gospelsamidst the confusionof so many human words.The Gospelis the only voicethat enlightens and attractsthat consoles and quenches thirst.”John XXIII

Science and the Catholic Church

Mar 26, 2014 / 00:00 am

Last week, Stephen Colbert, the satirist and prominent Catholic, playfully scolded Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, an American astrophysicist, author, director of the Hayden Planetarium and current host of the television science-documentary, “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.” Why did Colbert chide his guest? In part one of this documentary, the Church’s Roman Inquisition is scorned for its harsh treatment of Giordano Bruno, a sixteenth-century Dominican friar and his cosmological views.  In fact, he was condemned for his denial of core church doctrines such as the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, and Transubstantiation. Regrettably, in sixteenth-century Europe, refusal to retract one’s heretical tenets was punishable by being burned at the stake, a cruel and common fate.Through text and cartoon figures, this segment repudiates the Church’s “thought police” and, in a mean-spirited way, trots out the false and hackneyed refrain: "The Catholic Church is hostile to science."The Truth about Science and the ChurchWere scientists to do their homework, what would they find?  Since the eleventh century, beginning with the Cathedral School of Chartres, the Church has supported scientific pursuits.  Thirteenth-century scholars like Albert the Great, Thomas Aquinas, and Roger Bacon head the list of almost three hundred clerics who advanced scientific inquiry.  Since its founding in 1534, no other religious order has dedicated itself more to science than has the Society of Jesus.  From the seventeenth century to the present day, more than seventy Jesuits have contributed in significant ways to the field of science.  Thirty-five craters on the moon have been named after them.  Moreover, hundreds of Catholic scientists have been educated in Catholic institutions, many of them, Jesuit-run.In 1582, the Jesuit polymath, Cristoforo Clavius, headed the commission that put into effect the Gregorian calendar thus negating the Julian calendar. To synchronize the calendar with the solar year, Clavius calculated ninety-seven leap days every four hundred years. The “Father of the ‘Big Bang:’” Father George-Henri Lemaître In “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey,” Dr. deGrasseTyson describes the wonder of the Big Bang without referring to the man who discovered it, Georges-Henri Lemaître, a Belgian-born priest and theoretical physicist.  The name Lemaître is not a household name like Albert Einstein’s or Edwin Hubble’s.  Yet, in 1931, Father Lemaître, startled the world of science. By applying Einstein’s theory of general relativity, he proposed that, at a definite point in time, the expanding universe began with the explosion of a single particle, a primeval atom or, as he called it, “the exploding egg.”  The universe emerged from an extremely dense and active alpha point which has been expanding ever since, carrying galaxies with it, like raisins in a rising loaf of bread.  The French Jesuit  Pierre Teilhard de Chardin would point to Christ the Omega toward whom this cosmos is advancing.At the time, Lemaître’s theory was rejected by most astronomers and physicists, including Einstein, who deemed his finding to be untenable and preposterous. Yet, after Lemaître’s presentation, Einstein reversed his opinion, stood and applauded at the seminar, declaring: “This is the most beautiful and satisfactory explanation of creation to which I have ever listened” (“Space/Astronomy”). Eventually, Sir Fred Hoyle coined the term, “the Big Bang,” a jocular and perhaps derisive way of speaking about Lemaître’s “exploding egg.” Who was Georges-Henri Lema?tre?Born in 1894 in Charleroi, Belgium, Lema?tre, as a child, gravitated to science with an insatiable curiosity about it.  After a classical education at Collège du Sacré-Coeur, a Jesuit secondary school at Charleroi, he studied civil engineering at the University of Louvain.  He served in World War I and was awarded the Belgian War Cross with palms after which time his studies in astronomy continued at the University of Cambridge and then at Harvard.  In 1927, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology awarded him a Ph.D.  The Theological QuestionIn their book, Cosmic Horizons: Astronomy at the Cutting Edge, Stephen Soter and Neil deGrasse Tyson, write: “It is tempting to think that Lemaître’s deeply-held religious beliefs might have led him to the notion of a beginning of time.  After all, the Judeo-Christian tradition had propagated a similar idea for the millennia.”  “Yet, Lemaître insisted that there was neither a connection nor a conflict between his religion and his science.  Rather, he kept them entirely separate, treating them as different, parallel interpretations of the world, both of which he believed with personal conviction.  It was his firm belief that the scientific endeavor should stand isolated from the religious realm.”  Lemaître’s parallel careers in cosmology and theology were kept on separate tracks in the belief that one led him to a clearer comprehension of the material world, while the other led to a greater understanding of the spiritual realm. He himself commented: “As far as I can see, such a theory [exploding egg] remains entirely outside any metaphysical or religious question.”The Wonder of It AllFrom the very beginning, almost fourteen billion years ago, the cosmos was tailor-made for humankind.  This means that “if the precise details of [its] expansion and contraction had been even minutely different from its present calculation, there would be no galaxies, no stars, no life.  Men and women would not exist.” (John Haught, “God in Modern Science,” NCE 18: 179).The Galileo CaseIn the sixteenth century and against universally-accepted theory, Copernicus had speculated that the sun, rather than Earth, was at the center of the solar system.  Galileo also advanced this theory, and his work was praised by Clavius the Jesuit.  On Galileo’s visit to Rome, Pius V honored him and his discoveries.  However, the views of Copernicus and Galileo stood as hypotheses and not as yet objectively proved.  Galileo insisted that the Copernican theory was literally true.  The Church had to consider the argument of the Protestants.  They had faulted the Church with insufficient attention paid to the literal meaning of Scripture, which seemed to contradict the findings of the two astronomers.  Galileo was asked not to publish the theory until it could be objectively proven.  He refused but was eventually proven correct. The Church’s naming him a heretic can be explained but not defended. (Thomas Woods, How the Church Built Western Civilization, 70ff; New Catholic Encyclopedia 6: 250ff).  In 1979, John Paul II conceded that the Church had erred in the Galileo incident, and in 1984, all the Vatican documents about the case were made public.  There is no contradiction between science and faith, church leaders have insisted. Nor is the Bible a book of science.  Catholic faith and science, working together, can reinforce the mystery of creation while offering a reasonable grasp of how the mystery arose in the first place.Guy Consolmagno, S.J., an astronomer and planetary scientist, notes that “religion needs science to keep it away from superstition and keep it close to reality, to protect it from creationism, which at the end of the day is a kind of paganism.”In 1996, John Paul II addressed the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, reminding the conveners that “the Gospel truth can shed a higher light on the horizon of your research into the origins and unfolding of living matter.  The Bible in fact bears an extraordinary message of life.  It gives as a wise vision of life inasmuch as it describes the loftiest forms of existence.”  The Big Bang in the Arts: Two ExamplesOne visual depiction of the Big Bang takes the contemporary mind back to a thirteenth-century French Bible (Codex 2553) in which a picture of God the Father is portrayed measuring the world with a compass at the time of Creation.  In the High Middle Ages, the compass was the only standard of measurement.When Franz Joseph Haydn (d 1809) composed his oratorio, “The Creation,” his response was remarkable. At the words, “And then there was light,” he was overcome with tears.  Pointing upwards, he exclaimed, “This music came from heaven.”

Joseph’s Annunciation

Mar 19, 2014 / 00:00 am

In all likelihood, most of us would not make important decisions based on a dream we had. According to psychoanalysts, dreams tell us a truth about ourselves but in confusing ways.  The individual must decode the images so that the truth will emerge clearly.  In the psychological thriller, “Spellbound,” and in the musical, “Fiddler on the Roof,” this is what happens thanks to dream sequences.  But make a decision over a dream? Joseph’s DilemmaThe Matthean Gospel narrative is familiar (1:18-25).  The written marriage contract between the parents of Joseph and Mary has already been drawn up. Legally they are married. As soon as Joseph takes Mary into his home, the marriage ceremony will be completed.  But when he finds that she is pregnant, he is shaken to the core.  He is not the child’s father. Either Mary has committed a sin of unchastity or she has been violated.  Joseph could not have dreamed of encountering such a dilemma. Apart from a public trial, how to untie the knot!Joseph’s SensitivityJoseph’s devotion to the Law is exceeded by his sensitivity to Mary.  Though the mystery of her pregnancy is deeply disturbing, he is convinced of her virtue. Still he will not pursue a public trial. Caught in between two ends, he will choose a middle ground: Divorce Mary quietly with a minimum of embarrassment to her.  The DreamWhen people brood over problems, the problems often follow them to bed.  This intractable mystery preyed on Joseph’s mind so much so that it entered into his subconscious. For Joseph, the dilemma came alive in a dream, a dream like no other.  He was about to be thrust into the center of God’s plan to save the world.  How could he know?In Luke’s narrative (Lk1:26-45), Gabriel’s annunciation of the Messiah requires Mary’s consent to make it come about.  In the Matthean narrative, the angel who appears to Joseph in his dream seeks his cooperation in this event as well.  The message conveys urgency and calls for an immediate response: 1. “Joseph, son of David,” (Joseph belongs to the family tree of King David from whom the Messiah will be born.)2. “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.”  (Joseph’s fear is anticipated and addressed.)3. “For the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”  (This mystery is wrought by God.)4. “She will give birth to a son, and you must name him Jesus.” (Joseph, as the Child’s prospective earthly father, must legitimize his birth, as the Law requires.  Without his consent, God’s plan for the world will be thwarted.)5. “He will save his people from their sins.” (Joseph perceives that the Child born to Mary is the Messiah; the two and are one and the same.)Joseph awakes from this dramatic but comforting dream. One thing is certain:  Mary is not guilty of any sin but a woman of virtue.   He does what the angel tells him. Their joint vocation sets them apart to nurture, guide, and protect the God-Man.  Together, they will be instruments of God to bring about the plan of redemption.  The Byzantine tradition describes St. Joseph as, “Joseph, the comely,” which refers not only to his physical appearance but also to the beauty of his soul.  According to the Qu’ran, one-half of the world’s beauty was bestowed on Joseph and Mary, while the other half was given to humanity. (Robert Tottoli, Biblical Prophets in Qu’ran and Muslim Literature, 120).Two Saints on St. JosephSt. Bernardine of Siena writes that “there is a general rule concerning all special graces granted to any human being.  Whenever the divine favor chooses someone to receive a special grace, or to accept a lofty vocation, God adorns the person chosen with all the gifts of the Spirit needed to fulfill the task at hand.  This general rule is especially verified in the case of Saint Joseph.”And from St. Teresa of Avila, Doctor of the Church: “I do not remember even now that I have ever asked anything of St. Joseph which he has failed to grant.”“I wish I could persuade everyone to be devoted to this glorious saint, for I have great experience of the blessing which he can obtain from God.“Though you have recourse to many saints as your intercessors, go especially to St. Joseph, for he has great powers with God.”Finally, Emily Dickinson describes a man who could be St. Joseph:I fear a Man of frugal SpeechI fear a Silent ManHaranguer I can overtakeOr Babbler, entertain.But he who weigheth while the restExpend their furthest pound Of this Man I am waryI fear that He is Grand.

Ukraine and Religious Faith

Mar 12, 2014 / 00:00 am

During these past two weeks, the chilling conflict between Russia and Ukraine has escalated over the eastern Ukrainian province of Crimea. This volatile stand-off is changing by the day.  This is a four-hundred year conflict. Tensions between these two Slavic countries have flared up once again, this time during Vladimir Putin’s presidency. The issue is not just political and economic but religious as well, all knotted together.  Last week, Metropolitan-Archbishop Sviatoslav Schevchuk, head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Kiev, warned his people that the threat of Russian attack looming over the horizon could mean sacrificing their lives as the ultimate price to pay for protecting the country’s freedom.  In many televised pictures, Ukrainian Catholic prelates, easily recognizable by their distinctive headdress, have stood alongside their official leaders to support them. Thus far, the press has reported very little about the role of the Ukrainian Catholic Church among the Ukrainians themselves. The religious problem has its roots in medieval times.Kievan Rus’: 12th - 15th CenturiesThe Rus’ people trace their origins to Kiev. The Golden Age of Kievan Rus’ occurred during the reigns of Prince Vladimir and his son Yaroslav (980-1015; 1019-1054) where the people enjoyed a high degree of culture in literature, the arts, and military power. From the tenth century onwards, these Slavs worshiped according to the eastern Orthodox Byzantine Rite. In the thirteenth century, the Mongolian invasions decimated Kiev, and its sphere of power, both civil and ecclesiastical, was transferred northeast to a small but rapidly-growing trading post, Muscovy. In time, it grew in size and influence, politically and religiously.  With the fall of Constantinople (“the second Rome”) in 1453, Moscow became known as “the Third Rome” and the seat of the Orthodox Metropolitinate.  Ukraine was now at the southwestern hinterland of the vast Rus’ian dynasty whose center was Moscow.Ukraine: 16th CenturyBy the early sixteenth century, Poland-Lithuania, a western Slavic nation and ardently Catholic, was home to large numbers of the Kievan-Rus’, today’s Ukrainians. Church leaders felt that they were being ignored by the Orthodox Church in Moscow by reason of their geographical distance from it.  In 1595-96, the Union of Brest established the Ukrainian Catholic Church. Accordingly, several Ukrainian bishops and their people would be united with the Holy See and would follow their own Eastern rite and customs within the Catholic Church.   Other Ukrainian bishops rejected communion with Rome.  Instead they established themselves as the Ukrainian Orthodox Church with close ties to the powerful Russian Orthodox Church. The Brest Accord marks the beginning of tension between the Ukrainian Catholic- and Ukrainian Orthodox Churches in Ukraine. The Russian Orthodox Church has not acknowledged the validity of the Brest Accord claiming that it was forced on the Ukrainians.  In 1768, Russia precipitated a social revolution to disband the union and at the same time dismember Polish lands.  A purge against the union was carried out.  The partition of Poland into three parts (1772, 1794, 1795) placed under Russian rule all the parts of Ukraine and today’s Belorussia, inhabited by Ukrainian Catholics, except Galicia which went over to Austria. Ukrainian Catholic Church: 19th Century- 1946Under Austrian rule, the Ukrainian Catholic Church flourished culturally without fear of reprisal from Russia.   Galician clergy received a formal education instead of being tutored by their fathers.  For the first time, an educated social class grew among the Galician-Ukrainians living in Austrian land.  In 1914, Russian leaders imprisoned the beloved Ukrainian Catholic prelate, Archbishop Andrew Sheptysky in a Russian monastery.  With the death of Metropolitan Sheptytsky in 1944, the Bolsheviks arrested his successor Joseph Slipyj.  After eighteen years of imprisonment and persecution, he was released thanks to the intervention of Pope John XXIII.  The new Orthodoxy was imposed on Ukrainians. Economic need, political controversy or persecution saw the immigrants of the Ukrainian-Catholic Rite come to America in three periods: 1870-1914, 1919-38, 1945-54. In 1946, the Communists called a mock synod in Lviv, composed of some terrorized priests who proclaimed the union of Brest with Rome null and void.  After World War II, Ukrainian Catholics were placed under Soviet rule.  All church property was transferred to the Russian Orthodox Church under the Moscow Patriarch.  These tensions led to a rupture of relations between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Vatican.  For decades, the Ukrainian Catholics and their clergy lived underground and were subjected to vigorous attacks in the state media.  The clergy were forced to abandon functioning as priests, but secretly they engaged in their priestly ministry for their people.  Many priests assumed civilian professions and celebrated Mass in secret.  For this, they were harshly treated. The Jesuit priest, Walter Ciszek was also imprisoned in Russia for the better part of twenty-four years.  He was released in 1963.By the late 1980s, Mikhail Gorbachev liberalized reforms, and the Ukrainian Catholic Church was again permitted to function in the open.  By this time, the catacomb Church had resulted in mass emigration from Soviet lands. When, in 1991, the vast Soviet empire began to disintegrate, satellite countries like Ukraine, Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania as well as Hungary, the Czech and Slovak republics proclaimed their independence but at different times.  Russia considers Ukraine her most valuable satellite because of its rich farm land, “the breadbasket of Europe.  Moreover, Ukraine has a well-developed manufacturing sector, and an aerospace program and industrial equipment.  It boasts of the second largest military in Europe after that of Russia.  The population of Ukraine is composed of about 60 percent Orthodox, 20 percent Eastern Catholic, 15 percent Tatars, and the remainder Latin Catholics. There are three branches of Orthodox Churches, but only the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has full canonical standing in Eastern Orthodoxy.  Today the Ukrainian Catholic Church is the largest Eastern- Rite Catholic Church that is canonically in full communion with the Holy See.Happening NowAt this writing, western Ukraine desires closer ties with the European Union, but, according to Russian reports, eastern Ukraine wishes to return to the Eurasian Union of which Putin is the head.  Russia has already seized control of the Crimean peninsula, thus violating the 1994 agreement between Ukraine and Russia that recognized the territorial sovereignty of Crimea.  Ukraine’s President Victor Yanukovich was ousted on February 21 due to allegations of corruption and internal strife between himself and the Ukrainian government. In late May, Ukraine is scheduled to hold free elections for a new president. President Putin considers this move illegal.  So, ahead of May’s election, a plan has been initiated by Putin, his parliament, and the pro-Russian leaders in Crimea for a vote to take place this coming Sunday, March 16th. It will decide whether or not Crimea will secede from Ukraine and annex itself to Russia. According to the United States and its allies, this would be a violation of international law.  Crimea is part of Ukraine and is subject to the vote at the end of May. In all likelihood, Crimea will be annexed to Russia. Until 1954, Crimea was part of the Russian federation, but Nikita Krushchev returned it to Ukraine. Putin regards this decision as one of the saddest ever made by a Russian leader.  Russia needs Crimea to house its naval fleets and for access to the west.  Russia is an immense land-locked country, and in winter months, it is submerged in the subarctic temperatures that are extremely severe.  It prizes the Crimean peninsula because of its moderate temperatures and surrounding waterways through which Russia can pass to conduct trade.  The Crimea is composed of 58 percent ethnic Russians, most of whom follow Orthodox Christianity, 24 percent Ukrainians who are Eastern-Rite Catholics, and 12 percent Tatar Crimeans who follows the Islamic faith and Latin Catholics. The Crimean Tatars were forcibly expelled to Central Asia by Josef Stalin, but after the fall of the Soviet Union, they began returning to the region. If and when Crimea votes to secede from its legitimate home country, Ukraine, what will happen to the Catholics, both Eastern-Rite and Latin Catholics living there?  How will the Tatars be treated under the new status?  Any discussion about Crimea’s secession from Ukraine to become part of Russia is subject to Ukrainian law.Writes Fordham’s assistant professor, Elena Nicolayenko: “Putin will not abandon the idea of building the so-called Eurasian Union and drag most of the former Soviet republics into its sphere of influence.  Russia is likely to use a wide range of political and economic to wield power in the region.  In particular, the Kremlin might continue to instigate civic strife in the country and back up Russian candidates at the presidential elections scheduled for May 25th in another attempt to sabotage Ukraine’s aspiration for integration with the European Union.”Does the tragic history of Ukrainian Catholics affect the current situation? Metropolitan-Archbishop Schevchuk is convinced it does. So do millions of Ukrainian Catholics in this country whose large numbers are concentrated in Philadelphia, Chicago, New York City, and Stamford, CT. Despite Crimea’s troubled history, it has enjoyed independence within Ukraine.  The eyes of the world are on Crimea.