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Archive for February, 2010

The Priest is an Alter Christus, Bridging the Human and Divine

During this Year for Priests it is the intention of the Holy Father to educate the faithful’s understanding of what a priest is and to encourage priests to renew their own priestly identity.  On the Friday after Ash Wednesday Pope Benedict XVI addressed the priests of his diocese and referred to the priest as a bridge and mediator; his mission “unites and thus brings man to God, to His redemption, to His true light, to His true life”.

If the priest is a “bridge” bringing humankind into communion with the divinity, his soul must draw nourishment from constant daily prayer and from the Eucharist, said the Pope.  “A priest, who is above all other things a completely-fulfilled man, has a heart dedicated to “compassion”.  For St. John Vianney, patron of priests and of the Year for Priests, “the Priesthood is the love for the heart of Jesus”.

Below is a three part video produced by the Congregation of the Clergy in order to promote The Year for Priests. It is well done and pretty comprehensive.


He made us one with Him when He chose to be tempted by Satan

From a commentary on the psalms by Saint Augustine, bishop
In Christ we suffered temptation, and in him we overcame the Devil
Hear, O God, my petition, listen to my prayer.  Who is speaking? An individual, it seems.  See if it is an individual: I cried out to you from the ends of the earth while my heart was in anguish.  Now it is no longer one person; rather, it is one in the sense that Christ is one, and we are all his members.  What single individual can cry from the ends of the earth? The one who cries from the ends of the earth is none other than the Son’s inheritance.  It was said to him: Ask of me, and I shall give you the nations as your inheritance, and the ends of the earth as your possession.  This possession of Christ, this inheritance of Christ, this body of Christ, this one Church of Christ, this unity that we are, cries from the ends of the earth.  What does it cry?  What I said before: Hear, O God, my petition, listen to my prayer; I cried out to you from the ends of the earth.’  That is, I made this cry to you from the ends of the earth; that is, on all sides.
Why did I make this cry? While my heart was in anguish.  The speaker shows that he is present among all the nations of the earth in a condition, not of exalted glory but of severe trial.
Our pilgrimage on earth cannot be exempt from trial.   We progress by means of trial. No one knows himself except through trial, or receives a crown except after victory, or strives except against an enemy or temptations.
The one who cries from the ends of the earth is in anguish, but is not left on his own.  Christ chose to foreshadow us, who are his body, by means of his body, in which he has died, risen and ascended into heaven, so that the members of his body may hope to follow where their head has gone before.
He made us one with him when he chose to be tempted by Satan.  We have heard in the gospel how the Lord Jesus Christ was tempted by the devil in the wilderness.  Certainly Christ was tempted by the devil. In Christ you were tempted, for Christ received his flesh from your nature, but by his own power gained salvation for you; he suffered death in your nature, but by his own power gained glory for you; therefore, he suffered temptation in your nature, but by his own power gained victory for you.
If in Christ we have been tempted, in him we overcome the devil.  Do you think only of Christ’s temptations and fail to think of his victory?  See yourself as tempted in him, and see yourself as victorious in him.  He could have kept the devil from himself; but if he were not tempted he could not teach you how to triumph over temptation.

Concluding Prayer
Almighty God, grant that by this annual observance of Lent
  we may move forward in our understanding of the mystery of Christ
  and make it an essential part of our lives.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
  who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
  God for ever and ever.
Amen.

Ash Wednesday at Santa Sabina

At the Holy Father’s Wednesday Audience earlier today, Pope Benedict directed our attention to the formula of the imposition of ashes, “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel”–or “Convert and Believe the Gospel”:

“Conversion means changing the direction of the path of our lives. (…) It is going against the current when the “current” is a superficial, incoherent, and illusory way of life that often drag us down, making us slaves of evil or prisoners of moral mediocrity. Nevertheless, through conversion we tend to the highest measure of Christian life, we trust in the living and personal Gospel who is Jesus Christ. He is the final goal and the profound path of conversion, the path that we are all called to travel in our lives, allowing ourselves to be illuminated with his light and sustained by his strength, which moves our steps”.
“With the distribution of ashes we renew our commitment to follow Jesus, letting ourselves be transformed by his paschal mystery so that we may conquer evil and do good, so that we can let our ‘old selves’, tied to sin, die and let the ‘new person’ be born, transformed by the grace of God”.

This evening (Rome time) the Holy Father gathered in the Benedictine monastery of S. Anselmo and processed to Santa Sabina, the first Stational Church of Lent.  Santa Sabina is a pristine Roman Basilica built in 422.  Pope Honorius III entrusted the basilica to the Dominican Order in 1219, three years after its founding.  Considered “Dominican Headquarters”, it’s walls have seen the likes of St. Dominic, St. Thomas Aquinas and Pope St. Pius V.


Lent FAQ

Aggie Catholics posted some great Lenten resources and I encourage you to take a look.  If you have yet to give Lent much thought, don’t worry, there is still time to jump in.  Below is excerpted the Aggie post:

LENT FAQ

When Does Lent Start in 2010?
Lent starts on Ash Wed, Feb 17.  Easter Sunday is Apr 4.

What is Lent?
Lent is a time when the Catholic Church collectively enters into preparation for the celebration of Easter. Lent originally developed as a forty-day retreat, preparing converts to be baptized at the Easter Vigil. Lent is a season of conversion. Conversion is the process of turning away from sin and turning to God. Lent starts with Ash Wednesday (this excludes Sundays, which are not part of the 40 days) and ends on Holy Thursday, the first day of the Triduum, the three holy days before Easter.

So why aren’t Sundays part of Lent?
This is because Sundays are always a day of celebration of Christ’s passion and Resurrection, so we celebrate on these days.

Does this mean I can “cheat” on Sundays?
Since Sundays are not part of the penitential season, you do not have to practice signs of penitence on these days. But, there is no reason you can’t do them either. If you feel you are “cheating” then it isn’t helping! There are some others that believe that Sundays are a part of Lent, but I do not agree with their take. Since the Church has some conflicting information (different documents state different things) I think you should do what you feel is best regarding the Lenten season and Sundays.

Why forty days and not some other number?
Because 40 is a special number in the Bible. It signifies preparation for something special – as in the 40 day flood of Noah.
* Moses stayed on the Mount Sinai forty days (Ex 24:18),
* Jonah gives the people of Ninevah forty days to repent (Jon 3:4) – (there are many other Old Testament stories)
* We also see this with Jesus, before starting his ministry, he spent forty days in the desert in prayer and fasting (Matt 4:2).
So, as in the Bible, we spend forty days in preparing ourselves to rejoice at the Resurrection of our Lord at Easter.

So, what is Ash Wednesday all about?
Ash Wednesday is so named because this first day of Lent is where we are marked with ashes to show the repentance of our sins and mourning. This is also a Biblical sign that we live today. We can see this in several verses.
* One verse is – “I turned to the Lord God, pleading in earnest prayer, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes” (Dan 9:3)
* Other verses include: 1 Sam 4:12, Jon 3:6, Esther 4:1 and Matt 11:20-21
Today, ashes are still this same sign of repentance and mourning for our sins. They also represent our mortality. “I am nothing but dust and ashes” (Gen. 18:27). We started as nothing and our bodies will become dust and ashes after our death. Reminding ourselves that nobody escapes physical death, we look forward to eternal life.

So, why are the ashes made into a cross on the forehead?
Because it is the ancient sign of being marked by Christ in our baptism. We are no longer our own, but Jesus Christ owns us. The book of Revelation tells us that all the elect will be marked by the sign of Christ – “On Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him a hundred and forty-four thousand who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.” (Rev 14:1)

Where do we get the ashes?
They come from burning the palms from last years Palm Sunday Masses.

Who can receive ashes?
Anyone can receive ashes on Ash Wed. While we have communion only for Catholics who are in good standing with the Church, all may receive ashes.

Is Ash Wed a holy day of Obligation?
No. But all Catholics are strongly urged to attend, because it is the start of the Lenten season.

Do we have to fast and abstain from meat on Ash Wed?
Yes. This means that all Catholics from 14 and up are required to abstain from meat and Catholics 18-60 are required to eat only one average meal and two snacks without anything else. Children, the elderly and those who are sick are not obligated to do this.

Why fast?
Again, this is because we are called to by Jesus. By denying ourselves something good, we remember what the highest good of all is – GOD. We also practice self-discipline and self-mastery, which we need in order to achieve holiness. Jesus fasted in the desert and calls us to as well. * “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.” (Matt 6: 16) * “and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer.” (Luke 2:37)
Fasting also helps focus us in our prayer. *Yet when they were ill, I…humbled myself with fasting.” (Psalm 35:13)

Why abstain from meat?
Because of the spiritual discipline it provides. “In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia . . . ‘I, Daniel, mourned for three weeks. I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over.'” (Dan 10:1-3) We give up meat, which still today is a luxury in some parts of the world, as a good thing that we offer up in order to remember that Christ is better than food.

Why is fish not considered meat?
Because it was the food of the poor who could not afford meat, yet could catch fish to sustain them.

So, what are the other days of fast and abstinence?
Good Friday is a day of fasting and abstinence. All Fridays during Lent are days of abstinence – Friday was the day Christ died.

So, why do people “give up” things during Lent?
While we are not required to “give something up” we are required to do something penitential. Lent is a great time to break a bad habit and give it to the Lord. These sins and vices we should not take back after Lent. It is also a time to give something up that is good during this season. This is why people give up something they enjoy. In doing so we can draw closer to God by our temporary sacrifice. We should find an appropriate balance of giving something up and not completely cutting ourselves off of good things. We will find our need for God if we do it correctly.

What else then IS required during Lent?
The Church asks us to increase our prayer, fasting and almsgiving. It is assumed that we are already doing these things and should merely increase them.


Lent Begins

Tomorrow, Ash Wednesday, we begin the holy season of Lent.  Reflecting on the meaning of Lent and doing the usual deliberation on my “Lenten Plan”, I found the Church already gave us a clue in this past Sunday’s Gospel:

And he came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, who came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases;
And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. “Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh.
“Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, on account of the Son of man!
Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.
“But woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation.
“Woe to you that are full now, for you shall hunger. “Woe to you that laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.
“Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.
LK 6:17, 20-26

Notice how Luke’s Beatitudes are different than the ones we are accustomed to hearing in the Gospel of Matthew (blessed are the poor, blessed are the hungry).  Jesus does not refer to the poor or the hungry in generic terms here, but “He lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: ‘Blessed are YOU poor…blessed are YOU that hunger'”.  And likewise Jesus directed a stern warning to the disciples: “Woe to YOU…”.  Jesus speaks directly to His disciples, and in turn speaks directly to us.  If we are rich and full now–the terms Jesus used connote ‘absolute capacity’ or ‘completion’–we have no room for God or desire for fulfillment in Him.

Lent, therefore, is a holy season to examine ourselves and purge those things in us which leave little or no room for God, and renew our desire for holiness.  Pope Benedict in his Lenten Message instructs us:

Conversion to Christ, believing in the Gospel, ultimately means this: to exit the illusion of self-sufficiency in order to discover and accept one’s own need – the need of others and God, the need of His forgiveness and His friendship. 

During the holy season of Lent, we are called to increase our normal practice of Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving.  What are these practices and what can we do to prepare for the Solemn Feast of Easter?  More to come.


For Kids: Curb Violence on TV-Stick to the Roman Martyrology

My wife and I are very conscious of what our young children watch on television and pretty much stick to commercial-free, rated-G programming.  We don’t subscribe to the thought that adult content goes ‘over their heads’.  So what captivates their attention and thirst for action?  The Lives of the Saints.  The last several days have presented us with some greats:  St. Agatha, St. Paul Miki and companions, St. Apolonia, St. Scholastica, Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Eulalia.

After reading to my children the accounts of the early Christian Martyrs Agatha, Appolonia and Eulalia, they were enthralled and even told their friends and teachers.  Harsh interrogations, burned with hot irons and torches, flesh torn with hooks, rolled in burning coals and broken glass, teeth smashed out: all signify greater purpose, supreme love of God above all, and teach us virtue.  The Lives of the Saints are a treasure trove for all of us which captivates our attention, inspires us toward virtue and love of God.

Such graphic tales (and pleasant ones as well) elicit great questions from children and offer a unique opportunity to teach them about our Faith.  Why did these young women undergo such torture and death?  Upon hearing the account of St. Benedict’s vision of his twin sister’s (St. Scholastica) soul turning into a dove and flying heavenward: What is a soul?  Why is it invisible? Oh, that’s what lives forever with God in Heaven after our body dies!

The very reason the Church honors men and women with Sainthood is to provide us with examples of how to live a Christian life, how to love God, and ways to grow in virtue.  Who are our heroes?  Who do our children seek to emulate?  Ditch Sponge Bob and Hanna Montana and pick up Butler’s Lives of the Saints!


Fireworks for Our Lady of Lourdes

Today is the Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes.

In 1858, in the grotto of Massabielle, near Lourdes in southern France, Our Lady appeared 18 times to Bernadette Soubirous, a young peasant girl.

She revealed herself as the Immaculate Conception, asked that a chapel be built on the site of the vision, and told the girl to drink from a fountain in the grotto.  No fountain was to be seen, but when Bernadette dug at a spot designated by the apparition, a spring began to flow. The water from this still flowing spring has shown remarkable healing power, though it contains no curative property that science can identify.

Lourdes has become the most famous modern shrine of Our Lady and has as many as 6 million pilgrims every year. 67 miraculous cures have been officially recognized and confirmed and one miraculous healing is reported every week.  For more info click  here and here.  Below is a clip from the fireworks display in honor of the Memorial.