Thursday, December 30, 2010

Pick a Patron Saint for 2011

Jen at the Conversion Diary has created a program that let's you pick a patron saint for 2011.  It's a great thing for a family to do together.  And it's a great way to learn about the communion of saints, our friends in heaven.  The link is here.  Thanks, Jen!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Ecclesia de Mysterio

Father Zuhlsdorf has a very thought provoking article on his blog concerning a document issued by the Holy See in 1997 that was signed by eight dicasteries (departments) of the Roman Curia.  The document entitled "Ecclesia de Mysterio" in Latin, or the rather cumbersome "Instruction on Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-ordained Faithful in the Ministry of Priests," in English.  (It can be found here on the Vatican's website).

This document says some interesting things about the use of lay people to distribute Holy Communion.

Here is a section from the document to ponder:
§ 2. Extraordinary ministers may distribute Holy Communion at eucharistic celebrations only when there are no ordained ministers present or when those ordained ministers present at a liturgical celebration are truly unable to distribute Holy Communion.(99) They may also exercise this function at eucharistic celebrations where there are particularly large numbers of the faithful and which would be excessively prolonged because of an insufficient number of ordained ministers to distribute Holy Communion. (100)
This function is supplementary and extraordinary (101) and must be exercised in accordance with the norm of law. It is thus useful for the diocesan bishop to issue particular norms concerning extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion which, in complete harmony with the universal law of the Church, should regulate the exercise of this function in his diocese. Such norms should provide, amongst other things, for matters such as the instruction in eucharistic doctrine of those chosen to be extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, the meaning of the service they provide, the rubrics to be observed, the reverence to be shown for such an august Sacrament and instruction concerning the discipline on admission to Holy Communion.
To avoid creating confusion, certain practices are to be avoided and eliminated where such have emerged in particular Churches:
— extraordinary ministers receiving Holy Communion apart from the other faithful as though concelebrants;
— the habitual use of extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion at Mass thus arbitrarily extending the concept of “a great number of the faithful”.
I don't know about you, but in my experience there are breaches of these rules on a daily basis at parishes where I attend Mass.   Time and the Holy Spirit will correct these abuses, but it has been a long strange trip through the post-Vatican II Church.  I was an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion at one point in my life and, don't get me wrong, the vast majority of people engaged in this "ministry" are good people who are participating in what they are told is a valid and necessary function in the Church.  However, I can't tell you the number of times I've seen priests remain seated while lay people come forward to give out Communion.  I've also seen priests intentionally call extraordinary ministers to the altar to assist when it is clear that the priest could adequately handle the job by himself.  And when it comes to distributing the patens and the chalices among the ministers and having them communicate first, the priest could have given Communion to half the Church already.  In addition to which, it is a great distraction watching the choreography of so many people in the sanctuary, hoping that nobody trips while coming down the stairs, or waiting to see who gets the chalice, who gets the paten, who goes to which aisle, etc., etc.  On top of which, there is usually another priest in the rectory who opts out of assisting with Holy Communion since there are so many ministers already scheduled.

OK, end of rant.  Well, actually, it's not really a rant, but a genuine concern about the preservation of the Sacred Mystery that we are to be drawn into at Mass.  And a need for renewed belief in the Real Presence and the "otherness" of the priest.

May our bishops and priests read this document, accept this document, and implement its provisions.

Christmas 1914 - The Christmas Truce

This is the amazing story of a moment of grace during a blood soaked, senseless war.  The war was World War I.  By Christmas of 1914, over 1 million soldiers had already been killed on the western front.

When December 24th arrived, the German and British soldiers were settled into their trenches across from each other in what was known as "no man's land" anticipating a Christmas of loneliness and bloodshed.  However, it did not turn out that way.   At first, the voices of German soldiers were heard coming from their trenches as they began to sing one of their most beloved carols, Stille Nacht (Silent Night).  Then the British responded with a carol of their own.  This went back and forth until one soldier poked his head out of the trench and, seeing that all was peaceful, came out altogether.  This soldier was followed by another, then another, until both sides had left their trenches.  The moment of peace provided an opportunity for them to share their common faith and their common humanity, as well as give them a chance to bury their dead.  Both sides even joined together in praying the 23rd psalm for the fallen.  Then, they returned to their respective trenches.

On December 26th, a British officer fired three shots into the air and hoisted a banner saying "Merry Christmas."  A German officer responded by hoisting a banner saying, "Thank you" and  fired two shots into the air.  Christmas was over and the war was back on.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Tu Scendi Dalle Stelle - Italy's Favorite Christmas Carol

Rosa, our co-blogger at the Academy, tells me that this carol is traditionally sung in her family on Christmas Eve, before leaving for Midnight Mass.  Its popularity is confirmed by John Sonnen over at Orbis Catholicus Secundus, who informs us that it was written by St. Alphonsus Liguori in 1754.  Here is Andrea Boccelli with a beautiful rendition:

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Of Priests, Chalices and the Holy Family

Merry Christmas to all.  This morning I went to Mass near my parents' house since I stayed overnight with them after Christmas.  It was the morning after a day full of being with family, sharing memories, catching up on news, singing carols and eating my mother's delicious home made meal.  All in all, a perfect morning to reflect on and honor the Holy Family.

When I arrived early at the parish, there were a number of people already in attendance.  It was nice to see so many on a day when it was definitely tempting to stay in bed and ask God for credit for attendance the day before!

The priest was a Maryknoll missionary who had returned to the States after many years in  countries where the Church was under attack.  Toward the end of Mass as he was purifying his chalice and paten, the priest reflected on the connection between his chalice and his family.  He remarked that the sacristan inquired as to whether this was a new chalice.  No, the priest told him, this was the chalice his mother had given him for his ordination.  The chalice was inscribed with a dedication to his father who had died before he was ordained.

The priest told us that he had recently had the chalice cleaned and restored, which is why it looked new.  However, the chalice had seen some rough times.  It had been with him in his missionary travels.  It was thrown to the ground by a gunman who barged into a church in Russia while the priest was saying Mass.  It had been flung to the ground by a robber who broke into a parish.  It had dents and dings that reflected the priest's history of ministering in persecuted lands.  All through his priesthood, however, the chalice continued to remind him of the protection, prayers and comfort of his family and their connection to him and to his vocation. 

Just a few days ago CNS reported that an older priest in Colorado had his chalice returned to him after it had been stolen from a church where he served.  The priest was ordained in 1949 and, the chalice, as customary, was given to him by his parents.  After the robbery, the thief discarded the chalice in the dirt in the backwoods and there it lay until a hiker discovered it some years later.  Through a series of circumstances the chalice wound up in a second hand shop whose owner knew a Catholic man who had an interest in Catholic articles.  The man paid $12 for the chalice and after reading its inscription decided to try and find its rightful owner.  The inscription read,  "O Lord bless my father and mother and all who have donated this chalice for sacrifice. Rev. Gerald Bruggeman, ordained May 26, 1949."  The man, a former Protestant minister and a Catholic convert, looked up Father Bruggeman on the internet and tracked him down to his current parish in order to return the chalice.

 After hearing the news of the return of the chalice, Colorado Springs Bishop Michael J. Sheridan reflected on his own family connection to his vocation and his chalice, "For most priests, their ordination chalice is a very precious thing. I still have my chalice, given to me by my parents," he said. "It is a daily reminder of their love for me and their encouragement of my priestly vocation."

On this feast of the Holy Family may God bless all families, especially those which have fostered vocations.

Friday, December 24, 2010

"God Is Always Faithful"

Pope Benedict gave the "thought for the day" on BBC Radio this Christmas Eve day.  As usual, his thoughts were both simple and profound.

God is always faithful to his promises, but he often surprises us in the way he fulfills them.

The child that was born in Bethlehem did indeed bring liberation, but not only for the people of that time and place - he was to be the Saviour of all people throughout the world and throughout history.

And it was not a political liberation that he brought, achieved through military means; rather, Christ destroyed death forever and restored life by means of his shameful death on the Cross.

And while he was born in poverty and obscurity, far from the centres of earthly power, he was none other than the Son of God.

Out of love for us, he took upon himself our human condition, our fragility, our vulnerability and he opened up for us the path that leads to the fullness of life to a share in the life of God himself.

As we ponder this great mystery in our hearts this Christmas, let us give thanks to God for his goodness to us and let us joyfully proclaim to those around us the good news that God offers us freedom from whatever weighs us down: he gives us hope, he brings us life.
 Wishing all of you a beautiful feast of the Nativity of the Lord.  May God bless you all, especially those who are sick, who are suffering, and who are alone.  And may God bless and keep our Holy Father, Pope Benedict.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

"While Dreams of Beautiful Chasubles Danced in Their Heads"

When we were in Rome last month, we accompanied Father Tim to Barbiconi's, one of the shops that outfits the clergy.  All I could think of while I watched the priests from around the world browsing and shopping was, "this is like a clerical candy store".  Beautiful vestments, sacred vessels, fabrics and more.  Father Tim purchased an exquisite chasuble to wear on Christmas from donations he was given in memory of his father who passed away this year.  I am sure that the beauty of the vestments will assist his parishioners in being drawn into the transcendent mystery that is taking place on the altar.  God bless all the priests and bishops we met while in Rome.  May they wear their purchases well!

Merry Christmas, Father Tim!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Bread Like the Baby Jesus

In Germany one of the traditional Christmas sweets is a fruit bread known as stollen.  Stollen is baked in the form of a swaddled baby Jesus and was originally made in the Naumberg Abbey using only those ingredients acceptable for the Advent fast:  flour, oil, yeast and water.  We sure don't restrict ourselves the way they did back then. In those days it took the permission of Pope Innocent VIII in 1493 to even permit butter to be used in the bread.

Here's what Stollen looks like now:
                                       Photo:  The

Sunday, December 12, 2010

He Counteth the Number of the Stars

  He healeth the broken in heart, And bindeth up their wounds.
  He counteth the number of the stars; He calleth them all by their names.
  Great is our Lord, and mighty in power; His understanding is infinite.
              Psalm 147 3:5
           Messier Star Cluster:  Hubble Space Telescope, NASA via

Friday, December 10, 2010

Green Bay, Wisconsin Marian Apparitions Approved as Worthy Of Belief

Academicians from the United States Of America, here's some wonderful news:

Bishop David Ricken of the Diocese of Breen Bay, Wisconsin, on the Feast Of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 2010, announced that he officially approved the Marian apparitions at the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help at Champion.

The announcement was made during a special Mass for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception at the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help at Champion.

Reading from his decree, the Bishop stated, "I declare with moral certainty and in accord with the norms of the Church that the events, apparitions and locutions given to Adele Brise in October of 1859 do exhibit the substance of supernatural character, and I do hereby approve these apparitions as worthy of belief (although not obligatory) by the Christian faithful."

The December 8th declaration makes Our Lady of Good Help at Champion the first and only site in the United States of an approved apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

In October 1859, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared on three occasions to Adele Brise, a young Belgian immigrant. Brise stated that a lady dressed in dazzling white appeared to her and claimed to be the "Queen of Heaven who prays for the conversion of sinners."
The Lady asked Brise to pray for sinners, as well as to gather the children and teach them what they should know for salvation. The Blessed Virgin followed the commands with these words of assurance to Adele Brise, "Go and fear nothing, I will help you."
Since 1859, countless faithful have made the pilgrimage to Champion, Wisconsin to offer prayers of thanksgiving and petition to Jesus and to ask for intercession from Our Lady of Good Help.
Fulfilling obligations
After receiving the apparitions, Adele Brise immediately began to fulfill the obligations the Blessed Virgin entrusted to her.
She gathered local children and taught them how to pray, make the sign of the cross, and to give love, thanks, and praise to the Lord.

As part of her commitment to the Blessed Virgin, Brise set up a Catholic school and began a community of Third Order Franciscan women. Eventually, a school and convent were built on the grounds to further the mission entrusted to Brise.

The 151-year history of the Shrine is rich with written and oral accounts of prayers that have been answered at the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help. The sources document physical healings and conversions that have taken place as a result of pilgrimages to the Shrine.
In addition, as the Peshtigo fire of 1871 engulfed the surrounding area, the entire five acres of land consecrated to the Blessed Virgin remained unscathed after Brise organized a prayer vigil that circled the area.

For more information, here's a link to an excellent report from Zenit: ZE10120808 - 2010-12-08

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Video: Austrian MP Puts The Smackdown On The Turkish Ambassador

Finally, a European politician who rejects the anti-Catholic/pro-Muslim "political correctness" which denies and even buries the truth about Catholics and other Christians in Turkey being persecuted by Muslim fanatics.  A special tip of the hat to Father John Zuhlsdorf at What Does The Prayer Really Say? for reporting this.

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception as Celebrated in Rome

Here is a well done video showing the celebration of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception in Rome.  It is a holiday there and crowds line the street to await the Pope's arrival at the Piazza di Spagna.  There he lays a wreath at the foot of the column holding the statue of the Blessed Mother.  Earlier in the day, the fire department raised a long ladder to crown the statue.

While this video was filmed in 2008, in his remarks today the Pope told the faithful that sin in the world can be traced to disobedience, and that evil has wounded the human heart.  But Mary's life shows us that God's mercy is more powerful than evil and that His grace is greater than sin.   He concluded:  “By her prayers, may our hearts and minds be kept free from sin, so that like Mary we may be spiritually prepared to welcome Christ,”


Immaculata - Conceived Without Sin

    Holy Mary Mother of God, Pray for Us Sinners, Now and at the Hour of Our Death.  Amen.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Fool Says: "There is no God"

Father Reynolds posted the 1st Sunday of Advent homily by Father Cantalamessa, preacher to the papal household, below.  In his homily, Father Cantalamessa takes apart some of the most recent atheist assertions about science and God.  This one jumped out at me:
There are nocturnal birds, such as the owl and the little owl, whose eye is made to see in the dark of night, not in the day. The light of the sun would blind them. These birds know everything and move at ease in the nocturnal world, but know nothing of the daytime world. Let us adopt for the moment the genre of the fable, where the animals speak among themselves. Lets suppose that an eagle makes friends with a family of little owls and speaks to them of the sun: of how it illuminates everything, of how, without it, everything would fall into darkness and cold, of how their nocturnal world itself would not exist without the sun. What would the little owl answer other than: "What you say is nonsense! I've never seen your sun. We move very well and get our food without it; your sun is a useless theory and therefore it doesn't exist."

It is exactly what the atheist scientist does when he says: "God doesn't exist." He judges a world he does not know, applies his laws to an object that is beyond their scope. To see God one must open a different eye, one must venture outside the night. In this connection, still valid is the ancient affirmation of the Psalmist "The fool says: there is no God."
How I wish that everyone had that gift of faith.  Why can't they see?  Why don't they see?

Why does something like this not make the atheist shake his head in awe at the wonder of God's creation?
                                          (photo:  Hubble Space Telescope, via
Is it because they have been living in the dark for so long, that they cannot recognize the light?

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Christian Answer to Atheist Scientism

Here's a challenging homily from Pope Benedict's Preacher of the Papal Household.

[Translation by ZENIT]
ZE10120401 - 2010-12-04


"The Christian Answer to Atheist Scientism"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 4, 2010 ( Here is the Advent reflection delivered Friday by Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher of the Pontifical Household, for Benedict XVI and members of the Roman Curia. The talk was titled: "The Christian Answer to Atheist Scientistism."
* * *
"When I look at thy heavens, the moon and the stars, what is man?" (Psalm 8:4-5)

The Christian Answer to Atheist Scientism

The three meditations of this 2010 Advent are a small contribution to the need of the Church which led the Holy Father, Benedict XVI, to institute the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization and to choose as the theme of the next ordinary general assembly of the Synod of Bishops the topic "Nova evangelizatio ad cristianam fidem tradendam" -- the new evangelization for the transmission of the Christian faith.

The intention is to single out some background nodes or obstacles which make many countries of ancient Christian tradition "immune" to the evangelical message, as the Holy Father says in the motu proprio with which he instituted the new Council.[1] The nodes and challenges that I intend to take into consideration and to which I will seek to give an answer of faith are scientism, secularism and rationalism. The Apostle Paul would call them "the bulwarks and fortresses that rise against the knowledge of God" (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:4).

In this first meditation we will examine scientism. To understand what is meant by this term we can begin with the description made of it by John Paul II: "Another danger is scientism; this philosophic conception refuses in fact to admit as valid ways of knowing different from those that are proper to the positive sciences, relegating to the confines of mere imagination either religious conscience and theology, or ethical and aesthetic learning."[2] We can summarize the main texts of this current of thought thus:

First thesis. Science, and in particular cosmology, physics and biology, are the only objective and serious ways of knowing reality. "Modern societies are built upon science. They owe it their wealth, their power, and the certitude that tomorrow far greater wealth and power still will be ours if we so wish .... Armed with all the powers, enjoying all the riches they owe to science, our societies are still trying to live by and to teach systems of values already blasted at the roots by science itself."[3]

Second thesis. This way of knowing is incompatible with faith that is based on assumptions which are neither demonstrable or falsifiable. In this line the militant atheist R. Dawkins goes so far as to define as "illiterate" those scientists who profess themselves believers, forgetting how many scientists, much more famous than he, have declared themselves and continue to declare themselves believers.

Third thesis. Science has demonstrated the falsehood, or at least the lack of necessity of the theory of God. It is the affirmation which has been greatly highlighted by the world's media in past months, because of an affirmation of English astro-physicist Stephen Hawking. The latter, as opposed to what he had written previously in his last book "The Grand Design," maintains that the knowledge attained by physics now renders useless belief in a creative divinity of the universe: "Spontaneous creation is the reason why something exists."
Fourth thesis. Almost the totality, or at least the great majority of scientists are atheists. This is the affirmation of militant scientific atheism which has in Richard Dawkins, the author of the book "The God Delusion," its most active propagator.
All these thesis reveal themselves to be false, not on the basis of a priori reasoning or of theological arguments or arguments of faith, but from the analysis itself of the results of science and of the opinions of many among the most illustrious scientists of the past and present. A scientists of the caliber of Max Planck, founder of the quantum theory, says of science, what Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Pascal, Kierkegaard and others affirmed of reason: "Science leads to a point beyond which it can no longer guide."[4]

I do not insist on the refutation of the theses enunciated that has been done, with far greater competence, by scientists and philosophers of science. I mention, for example, the specific criticism of Roberto Timossi, in the book "The Illusion of Atheism: Why Science Does Not Deny God," which includes the presentation of Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco (Saint Paul Publishers, 2009). I limit myself to an elementary observation. In the week that the media published the mentioned affirmation, according to which science has rendered useless the theory of a creator, I found myself in the need, in the Sunday homily, to explain to very simple Christians, in a town of the Reatino, where the background error of the atheist scientists rests and why they should not allow themselves be impressed by the outburst sparked by that affirmation. I did so with an example that perhaps it would be useful to repeat also here, in such a different context.

There are nocturnal birds, such as the owl and the little owl, whose eye is made to see in the dark of night, not in the day. The light of the sun would blind them. These birds know everything and move at ease in the nocturnal world, but know nothing of the daytime world. Let us adopt for the moment the genre of the fable, where the animals speak among themselves. Lets suppose that an eagle makes friends with a family of little owls and speaks to them of the sun: of how it illuminates everything, of how, without it, everything would fall into darkness and cold, of how their nocturnal world itself would not exist without the sun. What would the little owl answer other than: "What you say is nonsense! I've never seen your sun. We move very well and get our food without it; your sun is a useless theory and therefore it doesn't exist."

It is exactly what the atheist scientist does when he says: "God doesn't exist." He judges a world he does not know, applies his laws to an object that is beyond their scope. To see God one must open a different eye, one must venture outside the night. In this connection, still valid is the ancient affirmation of the Psalmist "The fool says: there is no God."

2. No to the scientism, yes to science

The refusal of scientism must not of course induce to the refusal of science or to diffidence in confrontations of it, as the refusal of rationalism does not lead to the refusal of reason. To do otherwise would be to wrong faith, even before wronging science. History has painfully taught us where such an attitude leads.

The new Blessed John Henry Newman has given us a luminous example of an open and constructive attitude to science. Nine years after the publication of Darwin's work on the evolution of species, when not a few spirits around him were disturbed and perplexed, he reassured them, expressing a judgment that anticipated the Church's present one on the compatibility of such a theory with biblical faith. It is worthwhile to listen again to key passages of his letter to canon J. Walker, which still retain much of their validity: "I do not fear the theory [of Darwin] […] It does not seem to me to follow that creation is denied because the Creator, millions of years ago, gave laws to matter. He first created matter and then he created laws for it –laws which should construct it into its present wonderful beauty, and accurate adjustment and harmony of parts gradually. We do not deny or circumscribe the Creator, because we hold he has created the self acting originating human mind, which has almost a creative gift; much less then do we deny or circumscribe His power, if we hold that He gave matter such laws as by their blind instrumentality moulded and constructed through innumerable ages the world as we see it […]. Mr Darwin’s theory need not then be atheistical, be it true or not; it may simply be suggesting a larger idea of Divine Prescience and Skill […]. At first sight I do not see that ‘the accidental evolution or organic beings’ is inconsistent with divine design –It is accidental to us, not to God.”[5]

Newman's great faith allowed him to look with great serenity at present and future scientific discoveries. "When a deluge of facts, ascertained or presumed, are showered on us, while an infinite number of others already begin to be delineated, all believers, whether or not Catholics, feel called to examine the meaning that such facts have."[6] He saw in such discoveries "an indirect relation with religious opinions." An example of this relation, I think, is precisely the fact that in the same years in which Darwin elaborated the theory of evolution of the species, he enunciated, independently, his doctrine of the "development of Christian doctrine." Referring to the analogy, on this point, between the natural and physical order and the moral order, he wrote: "As the Creator rested on the seventh day after completed his work, and yet he still operates,' so he communicated once and for all the Creed at the origin, yet still favors its development and provides for its development."[7]

Concrete expression of the new and positive attitude on the part of the Catholic Church in confrontations with science is the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, in which eminent scientists of the whole world, believers and non-believers, meet to express and debate freely their ideas on problems of common interest for science and faith.

3. Man for the cosmos or the cosmos for man?

However, I repeat, it is not my intention to involve myself in general criticism of scientism. What I am urged to bring into the light is a particular aspect of it which has a direct and decisive influence on evangelization: it is the position that man occupies in the vision of atheist scientism.

It is at this point a competition between non-believing scientists, above all between biologists and cosmologists, to the point of affirming the total marginality and insignificance of man in the universe and in the great sea of life itself. Monod wrote: "The ancient covenant is in pieces; man knows at last that he is alone in the universe's unfeeling immensity, out of which he emerged only by chance. His destiny is nowhere spelled out, nor is his duty."[8] "I have always thought" says another, "of being insignificant. Knowing the dimensions of the universe, I do but realize how much this is indeed so ... We are only a bit of mud on a planet that belongs to the sun."[9]

Blaise Pascal refuted this thesis ahead of time with an argument which still keeps its force: "Man is only a reed, the most frail of nature, but a reed that thinks. It is not the case that the whole universe is armed to annihilate him; a vapor, a drop of water is enough to kill him. However, even when the universe would crush him, man would be, nevertheless, ever more noble than that which kills him, because he knows about death, and the superiority that the universe has over him, while the universe knows nothing."[10]

The scientific vision of reality, together with man, even takes Christ away from the center of the universe with one blow. He is reduced, to used the words of M. Blondel, to "a historical incident, isolated from the cosmos as a false episode, an intruder or a lost soul in the crushing and hostile immensity of the Universe."[11]

This vision of man also has practical reflections at the level of culture and mentality. Thus are explained certain excesses of ecologism which tend to equate the rights of animals and even of plants with those of man. It is well-known that there are animals that are looked after and fed much better than millions of children. The influence is perceived also in the religious field. There are widespread forms of religiosity in which contact and syntony with the energies of the cosmos has taken the place of contact with God as way of salvation. What Paul said of God: "In Him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28), is said of the material cosmos.

In certain aspects, it is a return to the pre-Christian vision which had as its scheme: God -- cosmos -- man, and to which the Bible and Christianity opposed the scheme: God -- man -- cosmos. The cosmos is for man, not man for the cosmos. One of the most violent accusations that the pagan Celsus addressed to Jews and Christians was that of affirming that "[t]here is God and, immediately after him, us, from the moment that we were created by Him to his complete likeness; all is subordinated to us: the earth, the water, the air, the stars; everything exists for us and is ordered to our service."[12]

There is, however, a profound difference: in ancient thought, above all Greek thought, man, though subordinated to the cosmos, has a very lofty dignity, as the masterful work of Max Pohlenz, "Greek Man," brought to light [13], today instead they seem to take pleasure in lowering man and stripping him of every pretext of superiority over the rest of nature. Beyond an "atheist humanism," at least from this point of view, it seems to me that one should speak of an atheistic anti-humanism.

We now come to the Christian vision. Celsus is not mistaken in making it stem from the great affirmation of Genesis 2:26 about man created "in the image and likeness" of God.[14] The biblical vision has its most splendid expression in Psalm 8:

"When I see your heavens, the work of your fingers,
The moon and stars that you set in place,
What are humans that you are mindful of them,
Mere mortals that you care for them?

"Yet you have made them little less than a god,
Crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them rule over the work of your hands,
Put all things at their feet."

The creation of man in the image of God has implications on the concept of man that the present debate drives us to bring to light. All is based on the revelation of the Trinity brought by Christ. Man is created in the image of God, which means that he participates in the intimate essence of God which is a relationship of love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is obvious that there is an ontological gap between God and the creature. However, through grace (never forget this specification!) this gap is filled, so much so that it is less profound than the one that exists between man and the rest of creation.

Only man, in fact, in as much as person capable of relations, participates in the personal and relational dimension of God, he is His image. Which means that he, in his essence, even though at a creaturely level, is that which, at the uncreated level, are the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, in their essence. The created person is "person" precisely because of this rational nucleus that renders it capable to receive the relationship that God wishes to establish with it and at the same time becomes generator of relations towards others and towards the world.

4. The Force of Truth

Let us try to see how one could translate this Christian vision of the man-cosmos relationship on the plane of evangelization. Taking up the thought of his teacher, a disciple of Dionysius the Areopagite enunciated this great truth: “One must not refute the opinion of others, nor must one write against an opinion or a religion which does not seem to be good. One should write only in favor of the truth and not against others." [15]

This principle cannot be absolutized (sometimes it can be useful and necessary to refute false doctrines), but it is true that the positive exposition of the truth is often more effective than the refutation of the contrary error. I believe it is important to keep this criterion in mind in evangelization and, in particular, in confronting three mentioned obstacles: scientism, secularism and rationalism. In evangelization, more effective than controversy against them is the positive exposition of the Christian vision, relying upon the intrinsic force of it when it is accompanied by profound conviction and is done, as Saint Peter inculcated, "with gentleness and reverence" (1 Peter 3:16).

The highest expression of the dignity and vocation of man, according to the Christian vision, is crystallized in the doctrine of the divinization of man. This doctrine did not have the same prominence in the Orthodox Church and in the Latin Church. The Greek Fathers, surmounting all the encumbrances that the pagan use had accumulated on the concept of deification (theosis), made it the fulcrum of their spirituality. Latin theology has insisted less on it. "The aim of life for Greek Christians -- one reads in the Dictionary of Spirituality -- is divinization, that of the Western Christians is the attainment of sanctity ... The Word became flesh, according to the Greeks, to restore to man the likeness with God lost in Adam and to divinize him. According to the Latins, he became man to redeem humanity ... and to pay the debt owed to God's justice."[16] Simplifying it to the utmost, we could say that Latin theology, after Augustine, insists more on what Christ came to take away -- sin --, the Greek insists more on what He came to give to men: the image of God, the Holy Spirit and divine life.

This comparison should not be forced too much, as is sometimes done by Orthodox authors. Latin spirituality expresses sometimes the same ideal even if it avoids the term divinization that, it is worth recalling, is foreign to biblical language. In the Liturgy of the Hours of Christmas Eve we will hear again the vibrant exhortation of Saint Leo the Great who expresses the same vision of the Christian vocation: "O Christian, recognize your dignity and, made participant of the divine nature, do not desire to return to the abjection of yore with unworthy conduct. Remember of what Head and of what Body you are a member."[17]

However, certain Orthodox authors remained firm in the controversy of the 14th century between Gregory of Palamas and Barlaam and seem to ignore the rich Latin mystical tradition. The doctrine of Saint John of the Cross, for example, according to which the Christian, redeemed by Christ and made son in the Son, is immersed in the flow of Trinitarian operations and participates in the intimate life of God, is no less lofty than that of divinization, though it is expressed in different terms. Also the doctrine on the gifts of the intellect and of wisdom of the Holy Spirit, so dear to Saint Bonaventure and to Medieval authors, was animated by the same mystical inspiration.

However, one cannot but recognize that Orthodox spirituality has something to teach to the rest of Christianity on this point, to Protestant theology even more than to Catholic theology. If there is, in fact, something that is really opposed to the Orthodox vision of the Christian deified by grace, it is the Protestant concept and, in particular, the Lutheran, of the extrinsic and juridical justification, according to which redeemed man is "at the same time just and sinner," sinner in himself, just before God.

Above all we can learn from the Eastern tradition not to reserve this sublime ideal of Christian life to a spiritual elite called to follow the way of mysticism, but to propose it to all the baptized, to make it the object of catechesis to the people, of religious formation in seminaries and novitiates. If I think of the years of my formation I perceive an almost exclusive insistence on an asceticism that pointed everything to the correction of vices and the acquisition of virtues. To the disciple's question on the ultimate aim of the Christian life a holy Russian, Saint Seraphim of Sarov, answered without hesitation: "the real end of Christian life, is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God. As regards prayer, fasting, vigils, almsgiving and every other good action made in the name of Christ, they are only means to acquire the Holy Spirit."[18]

5. "Everything was made through Him"

Christmas is the ideal occasion to propose again to ourselves and to others this ideal common patrimony of Christianity. It is from the incarnation of the Word that the Greek Fathers derived the very possibility of divinization. Saint Athanasius did not tire of repeating: "[t]he Word was made man so that we could be deified."[19] "He became incarnate and man became God, because he is united to God," wrote in his turn Saint Gregory Nazianzus.[20] Restored or brought back to the light with Christ is that being "in the image of God" which founds man's superiority over the rest of creation.

I noted above how the marginalization of man brings with it automatically the marginalization of Christ from the cosmos and history. Also from this point of view Christmas is the most radical antithesis to the vision of scientism. In it we will hear proclaimed solemnly: "[e]verything was made through Him and without Him nothing was made that exists" (John 1:3); "All things were created through Him and in view of Him" (Colossians 1:16). The Church has taken up this revelation in the Creed which makes us repeat: "Per quem omnia facta sunt": Through him everything was created.

To hear these words again while around us there is nothing but the repetition: "[t]he world explains itself, without the need for the theory of a creator," or "we are the fruit of chance and of necessity," undoubtedly causes a shock, more than a long apologetic argumentation. The crucial question is: will we be capable, we who aspire to re-evangelize the world, of dilating our faith to these dimensions of dizziness? Do we really believe, with our whole heart, "that everything was made through Christ and in view of Christ"?

In your book Introduction to Christianity of many years ago, you, Holy Father, wrote: "'It is only in the second section of the Creed that we come up against the real difficulty -- already considered briefly in the introduction -- about Christianity: the profession of faith that the man Jesus, an individual executed in Palestine round about the year 30, the Christus (anointed, chosen) of God, indeed God's own son, is the central and decisive point of all human history. It seems both presumptuous and foolish to assert that one single figure who is bound to disappear farther and farther into the mists of the past is the authoritative center of all history."[21]

To this question, Holy Father, we respond without hesitation as you do in the book and as you do not tire of repeating today, in the dress of Supreme Pontiff: Yes, it is possible, it is liberating and it is joyful, not by our efforts, but by the inestimable gift of faith that we received and for which we render infinite thanks to God.

Calling All Cars: This Is An All-Points-Bulletin For Missing Savior...

Academicians, here's an excellent post from our neighboring Catholic Blog, The Curt Jester, presented by Jeff Miller.

St. Nicholas in Chains

Happy feast day of St. Nicholas, bishop of Myra, Turkey.  On this day, I like to send readers over to the St. Nicholas Center website to learn more about the real St. Nicholas, and not the modern commercial shadow of the good bishop, Santa Claus.

As did most early Christians, St. Nicholas suffered for his faith.  He was imprisoned and exiled by the emperor Diocletian.  In those days (the early 300's) the prisons were full of Christians, including bishops and priests, who were seen as a threat to the emperor's complete domination.  St. Nicholas was also one of the bishops who attended the first ecumenical council of the Catholic Church at Nicea in 325 where doctrine was clarified and the heresy of Arianism was condemned.   It is from this council that we received the Nicene Creed.

St. Nicholas is known for his kindness and charity, especially to children and the poor.

St. Nicholas, pray for us!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Hubble Space Telescope - Advent Calendar Day 5

                                                                     Red Rectangle Star

Second Sunday of Advent - Stational Church: Santa Croce in Gerusalemme

The readings from the Second Sunday of Advent hearken to our real home in the New Jerusalem (see Father Z's blog post for today).  As such, the stational church in Rome for today is Santa Croce in Gerusalemme (the Holy Cross in Jerusalem).  It is the Church that was built on the site of St. Helen's home in Rome.  It houses the relics of the true cross, thorns from the crown of thorns, the INRI plaque from the cross, and St. Thomas' finger which he put into the side of the Lord.

John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea
and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said:
A voice of one crying out in the desert,
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.
(Matthew 3:1) 
                                            Church of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, Rome

Friday, December 3, 2010

Feast of St. Francis Xavier

                                 Altar and Reliquary of St. Francis Xavier, Church of Il Gesu, Rome

First Friday Pictures

Wood of the Cradle, Wood of the Cross.

                    Wood from the crib of the Nativity, enshrined below the main altar.
                     Basilica of St. Mary Major, Rome.

                             Crucifix, Church of the Gesu, Rome

                                Pillar of the scourging of the Lord, Church of Santa Prassede, Rome

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Hubble Telescope Advent Calendar

Over at, they are hosting their third annual "Hubble Space Imagery Advent Calendar."  Each day reveals a new picture taken by the Hubble telescope in outer space.  Here's today's image of the Carina Nebula:
The Heavens Declare the Glory of God
The Skies Proclaim the Work of His Hands
Psalm 19

There will be a picture a day leading up to Christmas.  Thank you to Alan Taylor for providing this beautiful Advent meditation.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

"Mental Retardation" To "Intellectual Disability" - A Hollow Victory?

Academicians, I'd like to direct your attention to our sister-in-Christ and Catholic Blogosphere neighbor, Leticia Velasquez,  who produces the wonderful Causa Nostre Laetitia blog.

Leticia  is a remarkably strong and faith-filled person, and a dedicated defender of human life.  She is the mother three daughters, Gabriela,16, Isabella,12, and Christina, 7, with Down Syndrome (that's Christina, above, picking apples).

Leticia is also one of the founders of  KIDS: Keep Infants With Down Syndrome.  KIDS was formed for the purpose of gathering families who have children with Down syndrome and proclaim the joys their special children bring to them, and to raise awareness about the tragically high 90% abortion rate of babies prenatally diagnosed with Down Syndrome. 

Leticia questions the Obama administration's motive in the recent Federal re-labeling of "retarded" to "intellectually disabled."  Says Leticia, "I would prefer my daughter to be called a 'retard' and know that abortion of babies with Down syndrome had ceased."

Please take some time and read Leticia's enlightening and inspiring posts:
No More "Mental Retardation." So?   and   Count Me In.

God bless you, Leticia, Christina, and Family -- 
and thank you for your efforts in protecting the lives of infants with Down Syndrome!

The "Assistant Headmaster"

Rome, continued

Here are a few more shots from my recent trip to Rome.  On one particularly ambitious day, we started out at St. Peter in Chains (San Pietro in Vincoli) where we saw the chains that held St. Peter in prison.  Michelangelo's Moses is also in this church.

                                                                St. Peter's Chains

Then, we continued on to the Coliseum and next, my traveling companions went to the Mamertine Prison where St. Peter and St. Paul were held, and where they continued to evangelize fellow prisoners.  I, however, wanted to stop at the Basilica of Ss. Cosmas and Damian to pray for various intentions, but especially for Rosa who has a devotion to St. Damian.

Here's the basilica  of Ss. Cosmas and Damian (as you can see, it's in need of some upkeep):

Then, while I was waiting for the others at the Mamertine Prison, I noticed that the church above the prison was open.  It seems like they were doing a tour guide training and I was fortunate enough to be able to peek inside.  It is the church of St. Joseph the Carpenter:

I was happy to come across a church dedicated to St. Joseph, who does not feature prominently in Roman churches, as far as I could see, and to ask for the saint's intercession for my father, brothers, and other male friends and family who go to work each day, put food on the table, and care for their household.

Then we were off to the Pantheon:

At this point, I was dragging a bit and, unfortunately, Roman churches do not necessarily have pews.  For that matter, there aren't too many benches along the streets in Rome, either. 

After  the Pantheon, it was over to S. Maria sopra Minerva.  What a gem!  I had been looking forward to praying at the tomb of St. Catherine of Siena, but had no idea that the church would be so beautiful:

St. Catherine's tomb under the main altar:
A beautiful statue of Our Lady:
Believe it or not, we continued on to another church, the Church of St. Augustine, where we spent some time in prayer at the tomb of his mother, St. Monica (sorry about the dark picture):

Then it was time to crash!  We had a nice dinner ( I believe at la Sagrestia?) and probably had Carbonara which was a staple on this trip.  And I also got to use my new favorite Italian phrase "vino di casa bianco."

While I don't recommend cramming this many sites into one day,  I wouldn't be able to decide which one to leave out, either.

Then it was back to the Domus Sancta Marthae to drift off to sleep to the chiming of the bells of St. Peter's!

Cardinal Bertone Brings Relics of St. Andrew to Catholics and Orthodox of Kazakhstan

If there's one thing I know about being Catholic, it's that the depths of our faith can never be completely plumbed.  I am always learning something new.  The recent feast of St. Andrew the Apostle has brought a wave of new learning about the eastern and western churches (new to me, anyway). Although, this may be basic information to many others.

St. Andrew, who is known as the first apostle to follow the Lord, is listed as the first Patriarch of Constantinople and is venerated in the east as "protoklitos" or "first called."  As I mentioned in yesterday's post, relics of St. John Chrysostom and St. Gregory Nazianzen were returned to Constantinople in 2004 by Pope John Paul II.  Yesterday, in Kazakhstan, Cardinal Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State, gave relics of St. Andrew to the Catholic and Orthodox churches.  The blog, Byzantine, TX, has a post on this event.  In it, Cardinal Bertone is quoted as saying:
"This assignment, which I am honored to effect in the hands of His Eminence Metropolitan Alexander, comes in response to the devout request that his predecessor, Metropolitan Mefodji, and Archbishop Tomasz Peta, Catholic Metropolitan, jointly addressed to Pope Benedict XVI. The Pontiff, gladly desiring to meet the ardent request, decided to send to the two respective Churches two fragments of the precious relics. This choice has a profound significance, in as much as is underlines the common veneration of the apostles."
                                               Photo:  Byzantine, TX Blog

The importance of relics, the physical remains of holy men and women, is an interesting aspect of spiritual life for the Catholic and Orthodox church.  God willing, the "dialogue of love" and the "dialogue of truth" between the two churches will continue to build on the faith held in common and culminate in eventual reunion.

Men of The Catholic Jedi Academy are also Men Of Saint Joseph!

Men of The Catholic Jedi Academy are also Men Of Saint Joseph!
Take a moment and visit the MOSJ website.