Archive for the ‘Pope John Paul the Great’ Category

Frequently Asked Questions About Religious Liberty

June 28, 2017

Excerpted from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

What do we mean by religious liberty?

In Catholic teaching, the Second Vatican Council “declare[d] that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.” Religious liberty is protected in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and in federal and state laws. Religious liberty includes more than our ability to go to Mass on Sunday or pray the Rosary at home; it also encompasses our ability to contribute freely to the common good of all Americans.

What is the First Amendment?

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states the following: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

What does “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” mean?

This phrase, known as the “Establishment Clause,” began as a ban on Congress’ either establishing a national religion or interfering with the established religions of the states. It has since been interpreted to forbid state establishments of religion, governmental preference (at any level) of one religion over another, and direct government funding of religion.

What does “prohibiting the free exercise thereof” mean?

This phrase, known as the “Free Exercise Clause,” generally protects citizens and institutions from government interference with the exercise of their religious beliefs. It sometimes mandates the accommodation of religious practices when such practices conflict with federal, state, or local laws.

What did our early American leaders say about religious freedom?

George Washington, 1789: “The conscientious scruples of all men should be treated with great delicacy and tenderness; and it is my wish and desire, that the laws may always be extensively accommodated to them…

Thomas Jefferson, 1809: “No provision in our Constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of the civil authority.”

James Madison, 1785: “[W]e hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth that religion, or the duty which we owe our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence. The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate.”

 What have recent popes said about religious liberty?

Pope St. John Paul the Great, 1996: “[T]he most fundamental human freedom [is] that of practicing one’s faith openly, which for human beings is their reason for living.”

Pope Benedict XVI, 2011: “[Religious freedom] is indeed the first of human rights, not only because it was historically the first to be recognized but also because it touches the constitutive dimension of man, his relation with his Creator.”

Pope Francis, 2015: “American Catholics are committed to building a society which is truly tolerant and inclusive, to safeguarding the rights of individuals and communities, and to rejecting every form of unjust discrimination. With countless other people of good will, they are likewise concerned that efforts to build a just and wisely ordered society respect their deepest concerns and their right to religious liberty. That freedom remains one of America’s most precious possessions. And, as my brothers, the United States Bishops, have reminded us, all are called to be vigilant, precisely as good citizens, to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it.

 Where are the roots of religious liberty?

Religious liberty is inherent in our very humanity, hard-wired into each and every one of us by our Creator. Religious liberty is also prior to the state itself. It is not merely a privilege that the government grants us and that can be taken away at will.

How are marriage and religious liberty connected?

Marriage (the union of one man and one woman as husband and wife) and religious liberty are two distinct goods that are also related to each other. The protection of each good follows from the duty to protect the inviolable dignity of the human person. But even more directly, the legal protection of marriage as the union of one man and one woman also protects the religious freedom of those who adhere to that vision of marriage.

How does changing the legal definition of marriage have any effect on religious liberty?

Changing the legal term “marriage” is not one change in the law but amounts to thousands of changes at once. The term “marriage” can be found in family law, employment law, trusts and estates, healthcare law, tax law, property law, and many others. These laws affect and pervasively regulate religious institutions, such as churches, religiously-affiliated schools, hospitals, and families. When Church and State agree on what the legal term “marriage” means (the union of one man and one woman), there is harmony between the law and religious institutions. When Church and State disagree on what the term “marriage” means (e.g., when the State redefines marriage to include so-called same-sex “marriage”), conflict results on a massive scale between the law and religious institutions and families. Religious liberty is then threatened.

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Catholics Who Moved Mountains

September 29, 2016

        Jesus said his apostles, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” On another occasion, he told his disciples, “Amen, I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

        Though I have yet to come across any historical accounts of saints transplanting foliage or excavating stones by faith-powered miracles, there are many historically-documented incidents of Catholics achieving the seemingly-impossible on earth through their faith.

St. John Paul II and the Soviet Union’s Fall

        Karol Wojtyła barely survived the Nazi’s occupation of Poland, but once that evil was defeated the Soviet Union replaced them. As parish priest and later as an archbishop, Wojtyła championed the Catholic Faith against the atheistic communists’ religious persecution. Upon his election as pope in 1978, John Paul II’s first papal journey abroad was to go back to his homeland.

        While there, he celebrated an outdoor Mass before millions, proclaiming Jesus’ words, “Be not afraid!” The crowd shouted in reply, “We want God! We want God! We want God!” Speaking in defense of human dignity, he encouraged all people to peacefully pursue true freedom. The threat posed by this Polish pope (armed merely with his words, example, and prayers) was so potent that the Soviets may have ordered his nearly successful assassination in 1981.

        On the 1984 Feast of the Annunciation, Pope John Paul consecrated Russia (along with the whole world) to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, just as she had requested in her appearances at Fatima, Portugal in 1917. On Christmas Day, seven years later, a miracle was realized. Mikhail Gorbachev peacefully resigned as the President of the Soviet Union and from atop the Kremlin, the Soviet flag was lowered forever. The ‘Evil Empire‘ ended not by a thousand Sun-bright nuclear blasts, but through the peaceful power of God and the faithfulness of his holy, humble servant.

St. Joan of Arc’s Liberation of France

 joan-of-arc-at-the-coronation-of-charles-vii       In the 15th century, France was delivered from English domination by history’s most-unlikely military commander; a teenage peasant girl. Joan had no military training, but she was compelled by visions and the voices of Sts. Michael, Catherine, and Margaret to lead the French forces, drive out the English, and see prince Charles VII crowned king at Reims. With divine help, she achieved all these feats before her martyrdom at the hand of the English at the age of nineteen. Mark Twain (though not generally a fan of historic Christianity) wrote of her:

Whatever thing men call great, look for it in Joan of Arc, and there you will find it. …It took six thousand years to produce her; her like will not be seen in the earth again in fifty thousand. …  She is easily and by far the most extraordinary person the human race has ever produced.

        St. Joan of Arc was indeed great, but her glory was but the mere reflection of God’s infinite splendor.

Fleming’s Discovery of Penicillin

        History has seen many great Catholic scientists, including Copernicus (Sun-centrism), Bacon (the scientific method), Descartes (modern geometry), Mendel (genetics), Pasteur (microbiology), and Lemaître (the Big Bang Theory) just to name a handful. But one Catholic scientist’s search for effective antibiotics in the early 20th century saved an estimated two hundred million lives. Through insights occasioned by providential occurrences, Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin. In this, he saw himself employed as an instrument by God:

I can only suppose that God wanted penicillin, and that this was his reason for creating Alexander Fleming.”

St. Patrick’s Conversion of Ireland

        In the 5th century, a 16-year-old boy was kidnapped from Britain and sold into slavery on a distant, pagan isle. There he experienced a spiritual awakening. He tells us:

I used to stay out in the forests and on the mountain and I would wake up before daylight to pray in the snow, in icy coldness, in rain, and I used to feel neither ill nor any slothfulness, because, as I now see, the Spirit was burning in me at that time. And it was there of course that one night in my sleep I heard a voice saying to me: ‘You do well to fast: soon you will depart for your home country.’ And again, a very short time later, there was a voice prophesying: ‘Behold, your ship is ready.’ And it was not close by, but, as it happened, two hundred miles away, where I had never been nor knew any person. And shortly thereafter I turned about and fled from the man with whom I had been for six years, and I came, by the power of God who directed my route to advantage (and I was afraid of nothing), until I reached that ship.”

        Lead on by this faith, he went on to become a priest, a bishop, and a missionary to the land of his former bondage. Today we think of Ireland as a very Catholic country, but it only became so through the courageous faith of St. Patrick.

Our Lord’s Redemption of the World

        In the 1st century, by his short three-year ministry in a backwater of the Roman Empire, this poor man from Nazareth transformed the world forever. Jesus Christ is the pattern for all fruitful disciples who have followed him since, achieving the impossible through faith and the power of God. One anonymous author describes Christ in these words:

Greatest man in history, named Jesus.
Had no servants, yet they called Him Master.
Had no degree, yet they called Him Teacher.
Had no medicines, yet they called Him Healer.
He had no army, yet kings feared Him.
He won no military battles, yet He conquered the world.
He committed no crime, yet they crucified Him.
He was buried in a tomb, yet He lives today.


Jesus on the Cross

Hollywood’s Pope: Little Faith on the Small Screen

June 29, 2016

This fall, HBO will begin airing an eight-episode miniseries imagining the first American to be elected pope. While this drama may or may not attract viewers, I predict “The Young Pope” will fail to truly capture the Catholic Faith and Church. I had similar doubts when Showtime floated a similar premise in 2013. (“The Vatican” was to star the actor who played Adolf Hitler in the movie “Downfall” but none of its episodes ever aired.) The creator and director of “The Young Pope,” Paolo Sorrentino, describes what his new series will be about:

Jude Law stars as “the complex and conflicted” Pope Pius XIII in “The Young Pope

The clear signs of God’s existence. The clear signs of God’s absence. How faith can be searched for and lost. The greatness of holiness, so great as to be unbearable when you are fighting temptations and when all you can do is to yield to them. The inner struggle between the huge responsibility of the Head of the Catholic Church and the miseries of the simple man that fate (or the Holy Spirit) chose as Pontiff. Finally, how to handle and manipulate power in a state whose dogma and moral imperative is the renunciation of power and selfless love towards one’s neighbor.”

Though some are more optimistic, I have low hopes for this series. The Catholic Church has beautiful stories to tell, but “The Young Pope’s” trailer and the quote above telegraph brooding agnosticism free of Christian joy. “The Young Pope’s” Pius XIII is reportedlya conflicted man who must find a way to balance his ultra-conservative views with his immense compassion for the sick and the poor.” In other words, Catholic teachings will be falsely pitted against Christian love. Which one do you imagine will prevail in our hero?

A Vatican TV drama could be made with either the cynicism of “House of Cards” or the hopeful idealism of “The West Wing.” Which set of plot-lines below (“A” or “B”) do you think we could expect to see these days in a major miniseries about the papacy?

The Dinner Guest

A:  The pope invites to dinner a priest-friend from seminary. At table, the priest asks the pope to lift the “impossible burden” of celibacy. The pope sympathizes but he explains (citing solely pragmatic reasons) that there is nothing he can do. By the meal’s end, the priest is asking to be released from the priesthood so that he might marry a former nun with whom he has fallen in love (and sin.) The pope, sadly subdued, grants his second request.

B:  The pope invites to dinner a Roman beggar who once served as a priest. At dessert, the pope asks him to hear his confession. “I cannot do that,” the man replies, “I have renounced the priesthood. My priestly faculties have been taken away from me. I am no longer a priest.” The pope answers, “Once a priest, always a priest…  As Bishop of Rome and head of the Catholic Church I can restore your priestly faculties to you…” The man’s priesthood is restored and he hears the pope’s confession. The priest is then assigned to the church where he had previously begged with a special responsibility for the poor who seek alms at the church door.

The Persecuted Refugees

A:  As the cause advances to beatify Pius XII (the pope who reigned during the Second World War) the current pope personally investigates his predecessor’s record in the Vatican’s Secret Archives. When the pope concludes that Pius XII should have done more to save persecuted Jews from the Nazis, he places the entire beatification project on (permanent) hold.

B:  The pope intervenes to help when a religious minority is threatened by an evil state. He facilitates the safe escape of thousands, even housing refugees within Rome’s convents and monasteries and at the Vatican itself. When peace returns, a world-famous agnostic scientist declares, “Only the Catholic Church protested against this onslaught on liberty. Up till then I had not been interested in the Church, but today I feel a great admiration for the Church, which alone has had the courage to struggle for spiritual truth and moral liberty.”

A Target of Controversy

A:  After the pope describes the theory of evolution as being “more than just a hypothesis,” right-wing Catholic extremists plot to kill him for teaching heresy. After the nearly-successful bomb plot is thwarted, the pope laments the need to ‘lead our Church out of the Dark Ages.’

B:  A Muslim gunman critically-wounds the pope as he greets crowds of pilgrims in St. Peter’s square. After the pope’s recovery from four gunshot wounds, he visits his would-be assassin in prison, enters his cell, and forgives him.

Which of these plot-lines could more believably appear on television? While the “A” stories above are my own works of fiction, each “B” story relates a true incident. The episode of the dinner guest who heard Pope John Paul II’s confession is told in an article by K. D’Encer entitled “The Priest, the Beggar and the Pope.” It was Pope Pius XII who hid and helped thousands of Jews during WWII, and the agnostic scientist who praised the Catholic Church for defending his people was Albert Einstein. St. John Paul II did call evolution “more than just a hypothesis” but no reactionary Catholic extremists tried to kill him for expressing this non-heretical view. In 1983, Pope John Paul visited Mehmet Ali Ağca, the man who had tried to kill him two years prior, and forgave him face-to-face.

This is not to say that a truly great drama about the papacy would or should ignore the realities of darkness, sin, and division. But secular treatments of the Catholic Church in this world trace her shadows without acknowledging her light. As the Latin adage says,  “No one gives what he does not have.” (Nemo dat quod non habet.) Lacking a well-formed faith, no screenwriter can be expected to do justice to Jesus’ Church in its complex but saving reality.

The Heights of Holiness

April 12, 2016
Tall G.K. Chesterton shakes a girl's hand

Servant of God G.K. Chesterton

How tall have the famous Catholic men and women of past and present been? Precise figures can be hard to find, but here is a sampling:

6’ 4” — Servant of God G.K. Chesterton

6’ 0” — Venerable Pope Pius XII

5’ 10” — Our Lord Jesus Christ (based upon the Shroud of Turin) , Pope St. John Paul II

5’ 9” — Pope Francis

5’ 8½” — Servant of God Bishop Fulton Sheen  (or 5’ 7” according to his niece )

5’ 8” — Blessed Pope Paul VI

5’ 7” — St. Peter the Apostle (based on the bones found beneath St. Peter’s Basilica’s high altar) , Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

5’ 6” — Pope St. John XXIII

5’ 5” — Servant of God Pope John Paul I

5’ 4” — St. Therese of Lisieux

5’ 2½”— St. John Neumann

5’ 2” — St. Joan of Arc , St. Junipero Serra

5’ 1½”— St. Ignatius Loyola

5’ 0” — Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta

The Biggest Catholic News Stories of 2014

December 17, 2014

January:
Tens of thousands of pro-lifers, mostly young people, ‘March for Life’ in Washington, D.C.

February:
A report by a U.N. committee on children criticizes the Church’s teachings on homosexuality, contraception, and abortion.

March:
Nearly 200 associated Catholic groups file a class-action lawsuit against the HHS contraceptive-abortifacient-sterilization insurance coverage mandate.

Canonization_2014-_The_Canonization_of_Saint_John_XXIII_and_Saint_John_Paul_IIApril:
Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul the Great are canonized by Pope Francis, with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in attendance.


May
:
A planned satanic ‘Black Mass’ at Harvard University is canceled following a strong public outcry.

June:
Vatican theologians approve a miracle for the beatification of Bishop Fulton Sheen (however, the process is indefinitely suspended in September due to an inter-diocesan impasse.)

July:
The U.S. Supreme Court rules 6 to 3 in favor of Hobby Lobby’s religious liberty (boding well for Catholic religious conscience cases.)

August:
After atrocities against Christians and Muslims, the U.S. begins airstrikes on ISIS.

September:
Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane, WA is named the new archbishop of Chicago, replacing the ailing Cardinal Francis George.
Extraordinary Synod on the Family at the Vatican, October, 2014
October
:
The Extraordinary Synod on the Family meets at the Vatican and reaffirms Catholic teachings.

November:
Cardinal Raymond Burke is appointed the new patron of the Knights of Malta.

December:
Pope Francis announces a consistory to name new cardinals in February of 2015.

The Dying Words of Jesus & His Saints

November 14, 2014

Each November, when the dark nights lengthen and trees become bare skeletons, we especially pray for the souls of those who have gone before us in death. This is also a fitting time of year to remember and consider the certainty of our own mortality. How did Jesus and his holy ones face the end of their lives? Their dying words can both instruct and inspire us:

“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

—Our Lord Jesus Christ, c. 33 AD

“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

—St. Stephen, martyr, c. 34 AD

“Glory to God for all things!”

—St. John Chrysostom, 407 AD

“Your will be done. Come, Lord Jesus!”

—St. Augustine, 430 AD

“May God forgive you, brother.”

—St. Wenceslaus, martyr, 935 AD

“I have loved justice and hated iniquity. Therefore I die in exile.”

—Pope St. Gregory VII, 1085 AD

“If all the swords in England were pointed against my head, your threats would not move me. I am ready to die for my Lord, that in my blood the Church may obtain liberty and peace.”

—St. Thomas Becket, martyr, 1170 AD

“When you see that I am brought to my last moments, place me naked upon the ground just as you saw me the day before yesterday; and let me lie there after I am dead for the length of time it takes one to walk a mile unhurriedly.”

—St. Francis of Assisi, 1226 AD

“Be assured that he who shall always walk faithfully in God’s presence, always ready to give him an account of all his actions, shall never be separated from him by consenting to sin.”

—St. Thomas Aquinas, 1274 AD

“Leave the doors open, so that everyone may enter and see how a pope dies.”

—Bl. Pope Urban V, 1370 AD

“Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.”

—St. Bridget of Sweden, 1373 AD

“Blood! Blood! Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

—St. Catherine of Siena, 1380 AD

“Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!”

—St. Joan of Arc, martyr, 1431 AD

“I die the king’s good servant, but God’s first.”

—St. Thomas More, martyr, 1535 AD

“O, my God!”

—St. Ignatius of Loyola, 1556 AD

“After all I die as a child of the Church. My Lord, it is time to move on. Well then, may your will be done. O my Lord and my spouse, the hour that I have longed for has come. It is time for us to meet one another.”

—St. Teresa of Avila, 1582 AD

“Jesus, I love you.”

—St. Kateri Tekakwitha, 1680 AD

“In all things I adore the will of God in my regard.”

—St. Jean Baptiste de la Salle, 1719 AD

“Be children of the Church.”

—St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, 1821 AD

“My immortal life is on the point of beginning. Become Christians if you wish to be happy after death, because God has eternal chastisements in store for those who have refused to know Him.”

—St. Andrew Kim Taegon, martyr, 1846 AD

“Holy Mary, pray for me, a poor sinner.”

—St. Bernadette Soubirous, 1879 AD

“I have reached the point of not being able to suffer any more, because all suffering is sweet to me. My God, I love you.”

—St. Therese of Lisieux, 1897 AD

“To restore all things in Christ.”

—Pope St. Pius X, 1914 AD

“Long live Christ the King!”

—Bl. Miguel Pro, S.J., martyr, 1927 AD

“Jesus. Maria.”

—St. Pio of Pietrelcina, 1968 AD

“Jesus, I love you. Jesus, I love you.”

—Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, 1997 AD

“Let me go to the house of the Father.”

—St. John Paul the Great, 2005 AD

What do you want to be your dying words?

How God The Father Loves His Son

June 16, 2014

How does the Eternal Father love Jesus Christ his Son?
The Scriptures provide us insights into their relationship.


The Father gives his Son instruction and example

God the Father BlessingAs Jesus once said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, a son cannot do anything on his own, but only what he sees his father doing; for what he does, his son will also do,” adding, “I cannot do anything on my own.” The Father loves his Son and shows him everything that he does. Sometimes believers find it harder to relate to God the Father than Christ the Son. But what is the Father really like? He is just like his Son. Jesus “is the image of the invisible God.” As Jesus said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”  The Father offers his Son the perfect example, and his Son perfectly follows him.

The Father listens to his Son

Outside the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus said, “Father, I thank you for hearing me. I know that you always hear me…” Jesus shares his own attitude toward prayer when he tells us, “In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him. This is how you are to pray: Our Father…” Jesus knows that wordy, poetic prayers are not necessary because his Father is always listening.

The Father encourages his Son

At Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River, the Father declared from heaven, “You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” And on the summit of Mt. Tabor, at Jesus’ Transfiguration, the Father spoke from the cloud, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.” The Father encourages his Son with reminders of his love.

The Father provides for his Son

Jesus said, “Everything that the Father has is mine.” Jesus’ Father is like the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son who told his first-born, “My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.” Confident in his Father’s providence, Jesus tells us to be likewise unafraid concerning our basic needs, what we are to eat and drink, or what we are to wear: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.” The Father also provides his Son with gifts greater than material things. At the Last Supper, Jesus said of disciples, “Father, they are your gift to me.”

The Father welcomes closeness with his Son

It was a big deal when Jesus prayed, “Abba, Father.” As St. John Paul the Great observed, “An Israelite would not have used [“Abba” to address God] even in prayer. Only one who regarded himself as Son of God in the proper sense of the word could have spoken thus of him and to him as Father–Abba, or my Father, Daddy, Papa!” Because the Father welcomes intimate closeness with his Son, Jesus can say, “I and the Father are one.”

The Father loves his Son’s mother

At the Visitation, filled with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth declared to Mary, “Most blessed are you among women,” and Mary rejoiced, “From this day all generations will call me blessed. The Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” By pouring his love and blessings into Mary, God the Father gave his Son a loving mother full of grace.

The Father fosters growth in his Son and sends him on mission

The Letter to the Hebrews says, “Son though he was, [Jesus] learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, declared by God high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.” But this raises a question: how can the divine Son grow in any way? Though perfect in heaven, the Son of God had no firsthand experience of weakness, suffering, or the trials of obedience, until his Incarnation. Through these things he was made complete so that he could be the savior of humanity. The Father prepares his Son and sends him on a mission to transform the world. “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”

The Father as our model for Fatherhood

Whether we are biological or spiritual fathers, Jesus’ heavenly Father gives men a model for our fatherhood. We are to give our children instruction and good example. We should listen to them and encourage them, letting them know that they are well-beloved. We should provide for our children, according to our abilities, supplying their basic needs without neglecting the greater gifts. We are to welcome closeness with our children. We are to love our children by loving their mother, whether she be our spouse or the Church. We are to foster maturity and virtue in them so that they may go forth in mission to transform the world.  Which aspect of your fatherhood are you resolved to grow in with God the Father?

God the Father in the Creation of Man by Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel Ceiling, Vatican.Our Perfect Father

Some of us have had very good fathers, while some of our fathers were very far from perfect. But regardless of the quality of our earthly fathers, we all have a heavenly Father who loves us perfectly. As Jesus tells us, “the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me…” Our Father instructs us and shows us his example through his Word. He always listens, and we should not be surprised when he encourages us, speaking to us, in prayer. Our Father provides for our material needs and gives us the greater gifts. “For everyone who asks, receives…” Our Father welcomes intimacy with us, giving his children the spirit of his Son so that we too may cry, “Abba, Father!”  And he gives us Mary, the same perfectly loving mother he provided for his Son. Our Father would grow and mature us into greatness, into saints, into the likeness of his Son, and send us on mission for the transformation of the world.

Quiz: A Pair of Saintly Popes

April 19, 2014

Two modern popes, John XXIII and John Paul II, will be canonized saints on Sunday, April 27th, by Pope Francis at the Vatican. How well do you know these blessed men?

Which Pope, John XXIII or John Paul II…

1. Was the first pope to be named as Time’s “Person of the Year.”  Highlight to reveal answer:  Pope John XXIII

2. Offered to mediate the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Pope John XXIII

3. Was the first pope to visit the White House.  Pope John Paul II

4. Was called “the Good Pope.”  Pope John XXIII

5. Was shot by an assassin and forgave him.  Pope John Paul II

6. Established “Divine Mercy Sunday.”  Pope John Paul II

7. Called and opened the Second Vatican Council.  Pope John XXIII

8. Established the first “World Youth Day.”  Pope John Paul II

9. Taught “Theology of the Body” about human love, marriage, and sexuality.  Pope John Paul II

10. Served in World War I as a chaplain and stretcher-bearer.  Pope John XXIII

11. Is proposed as “Righteous Among the Nations” for saving Jews during the Holocaust.  Pope John XXIII

12. Was the first non-Italian pope in 455 years.  Pope John Paul II

13. Once said, “Anybody can be Pope; the proof of this is that I have become one.”  Pope John XXIII

14. When asked how many people worked at the Vatican, he quipped, “About half.”  Pope John XXIII

15. Is known for urging, “Be not afraid.”  Pope John Paul II

16. Said, “Christianity is not that complex system of oppressive rules which the unbeliever describes; it is peace, joy, love, and a life which is continually renewed, like the mysterious pulse of nature at the beginning of Spring.”  Pope John XXIII

17. Said, “True holiness does not mean a flight from the world; rather, it lies in the effort to incarnate the Gospel in everyday life, in the family, at school and at work, and in social and political involvement.”  Pope John Paul II

18. Said, “What really maters in life is that we are loved by Christ and that we love Him in return. In comparison to the love of Jesus, everything else is secondary. And, without the love of Jesus, everything is useless.”  Pope John Paul II

John Paul II & 153 Fish

October 22, 2013

After the Great Robot Wars, I imagine pretty much everything we know about John Paul the Great will be dismissed as pious legend.

Blessed Pope John Paul the Great Quotes

October 21, 2013

 “Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.”

“A person’s rightful due is to be treated as an object of love, not as an object for use.”

“War is a defeat for humanity.”

“As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.”

“Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and ‘hallelujah’ [“Praise the Lord”] is our song.”

“Science can purify religion from error and superstition. Religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes.”

“Faith and Reason are like two wings of the human spirit by which is soars to the truth.”

“Do not be afraid. Do not be satisfied with mediocrity. Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” “

The future starts today, not tomorrow.”

Our Lady of Good Help Pilgrimage Homily

June 14, 2011

In the Garden of Eden, there were many fruit-bearing trees but Genesis mentions two by name: the Tree of Life, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. By partaking of the Tree of Life, the human race could keep living forever, but the Lord warned that to eat from the other tree would mean our certain death.

On October 9th, 1859, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared here, to 28 year-old Belgian emigrant, named Adele Brise, as she was walking 11 miles home from Sunday Mass. Interestingly, Our Lady chose to appear to Adele not in a church setting such as this, but between two trees: a Maple tree and a Hemlock tree.

You’re all familiar with the beauty and goodness of the Maple. In the fall, its leaves turn the most striking colors; and in the spring, its sap yields sweet syrup. But do you know what distinguishes the Hemlock tree? The poison that Socrates was condemned to drink came from this plant. Ingesting just six or eight fresh Hemlock leaves can kill a healthy adult. The Maple is a tree of life, while the Hemlock is a tree of death. Mary, the New Eve, stands between the two.

She tells Adele, “I am the Queen of Heaven, who prays for the conversion of sinners, and I wish you to do the same. You received Holy Communion this morning, and that is well. But you must do more. Make a general confession, and offer Communion for the conversion of sinners. If they do not convert and do penance, my Son will be obliged to punish them.”

Our Lady’s message by the trees recalls the counsel of Moses, who told the Israelites: “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the Lord, your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him. For that will mean life for you, a long life for you to live on the land….”

Apparently, Our Lady’s warnings were not sufficiently heeded. In October of 1871, The Great Peshtigo Fire erupted. In terms of both size and loss of human life, The Great Peshtigo Fire remains the worst recorded forest fire in North American history. Between 1,200 and 2,400 lives ended in that firestorm which saw, according to an eyewitness, “large wooden houses torn from their foundations and caught up like straws by two opposing currents of air which raised them till they came in contact with the stream of fire.” This seems to be the punishment due to sin that Mary spoke of, but this does not mean that everyone who perished in that fire was condemned. We should remember that at harvest time, the good wheat and the bad weeds are pulled up together in a moment, but their future fates are not the same. Once uprooted from the earth, the good are gathered and kept in the barn, while the bad are thrown away forever.

The Peshtigo firestorm came and surrounded this shrine, where hundreds had come with their families and herds, to beseech the intercession of Mary before God. As many as fled to her were saved. The morning of October 9th, 1871, twelve years to the day after Our Lady’s appearance, saw them delivered.  This consecrated earth was an emerald-green island in an ocean of smoldering ashes as far as eyes could see.

After witnessing this miraculous deliverance, and seeing the lifelong dedication and fruitfulness in Adele Brise’s efforts, many began to believe that she had indeed seen and heard Our Lady. Just last year, the Church formally agreed, approving the apparitions and locutions given to Adele Brise in October of 1859 as worthy of belief by the Christian faithful. Some people will think that this official recognition closes the book on the story of Our Lady of Champion. Some will come here like tourists, excited see where Mary once appeared and go home contented. They won’t think to imagine that Mary’s message was not only meant for Adele in the past, but directed toward us today

In 1859, Mary prayed for and sought the conversion of sinners. Have we gotten less sinful since then? In 1859, Mary lamented how the young did not know the faith. How much better do we live it now? In 1859, Mary warned that if people did not convert and do penance, her Son will be obliged to punish them.” Do we need to convert and do penance? Would you be surprised if a great natural or man-made disaster befell us? How spiritually well prepared do you think people would be to face that?

I don’t think it is a coincidence that the message of Our Lady of Champion is arising to new prominence in our day. Today we heard talks about Our Lady’s Fatima apparitions, which date from 1917. At that time, Mary asked for Russia to be consecrated to her Immaculate Heart to bring about its conversion and a period of peace in the world. On March 25th, 1984, Blessed John Paul the Great consecrated Russia and the whole world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. It was on the feast of the Annunciation. On Christmas, seven years later, the miracle arrived. On the evening of December 25th, 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev peacefully resigned as the President of the Soviet Union and from atop the Kremlin, the Soviet flag was lowered forever. This was not a coincidence. Politics, economics, and the threat of nuclear war did no bring the Soviet Union to a stunning and peaceful end; it was the work of Jesus and Mary.

What moved Blessed John Paul the Great to consecrate Russia, so many years later after the apparitions, precisely when he did? What moved Bishop David Ricken to approve this apparition, so many years later, as our country’s first Marian apparition site, here and now in our day? In both cases, I suspect that there is more behind these events than the personal whims of men. I suspect that both acts are orchestrated for their role in God’s plan.

I don’t think that Mary’s message was meant for Adele alone, such that their relevance passed away with her death. I think Mary is asking similar things from us. But what exactly? Mary’s message focused upon interceding for sinners and teaching the faith.

Mary the Queen of Heaven, prays for the conversion of sinners, and she wishes you to do the same. You receive Holy Communion, and that is well. But you must do more. First, regularly receive the sacrament of reconciliation, for the sinner whose conversion you are most responsible for is you. I suggest going once a month, for it is effective for growing in holiness.

Next, in this state of grace, offer holy Communions for the conversion of sinners. At every Mass, the priest has an intention for which he is offering the sacrifice. This is a person or group that he asks to be graced, or a problem or need he asks to be helped, by this offering of Jesus’ sacrifice. At every Mass that you attend, you can also offer an intention of your own. Offer some of your holy Communions for the conversion of sinners. And, like the children of Fatima, you can offer your daily sacrifices, burdens borne or pleasures foregone to help those far from God. In doing this, you follow Jesus, who suffered what He endured in order to save others.

Mary also told Adele: “Gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation.” Anyone who faith is immature is still a child in the faith. You can help teach them. Mary told Adele to ‘teach children their catechism, how to sign themselves with the sign of the Cross, and how to approach the sacraments.’ For children you will do one way, for adults, another, but you have something to offer them all; your children and relatives, your coworkers and acquaintances. As Mary said, “Go and fear nothing. I will help you.”

And finally, if and when a new firestorm afflicts our land, or when personal firestorms erupt in the lives of those we love, lead them to take refuge in Jesus through Mary. Confession and holiness of life, holy offerings and penances for sinners, teaching the faith to all, and leading them all to Jesus with Mary—this was Adele’s mission, and it is our mission too.

A Man In Jesus’ Image — Divine Mercy Sunday—Year A

May 1, 2011

This Divine Mercy Sunday, our Catholic Church throughout the world celebrates and glorifies two men together in a special way. The first is our Savior, our Lord and our God, Jesus Christ; and the second is the great pope John Paul the Second, who is being beatified today in Rome. John Paul the Great, born Karol Wojtyla, is a man who lived in the image and likeness of Jesus Christ.

Both chose the Blessed Virgin Mary to be their mother. One chose her after the loss of his earthly mother as a boy. The other chose her from all eternity. Growing up, both of their beloved homelands were occupied and oppressed by foreign empires. For one it was the Romans. For the other it was the Nazis and then the Soviet Union. As young men, they both worked as manual laborers, in lives hidden from the world. When people encountered their ministries for the first time, many said, “Who is this man, and where does he come from?”

Both men transformed this world, not by leading violent revolutions, not by amassing incredible fortunes, but by speaking the truth, and living the truth, and leading others in doing the same for God. They preached God’s message, and their words gave hope and courage to many, but their words were not accepted by all. Both men had enemies who sought to destroy them, but they forgave, face to face, those who sought their lives.

At the end of their lives, both men were afflicted with great physical sufferings, but neither laid down their crosses. Some onlookers mocked or dismissed them in their afflictions, but those with spiritual insight beheld them to be offering a sacrifice to the Father for the salvation of the world.

St. John tells us that Jesus has done many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in his Gospel. As St. John writes elsewhere, “There are many other things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written.”

Among these signs are the lives of the saints throughout the centuries, saints like Pope John Paul the Great. His life was a sign worked by Jesus Christ in our midst so that we would come to believe more deeply that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief we may have life in his name.

Why did people love Pope John Paul II so much? Catholics of every country and of all ages loved and flocked to him. Even non-Catholics and non-Christians were drawn to him. What explains this phenomenon? I think the answer is simple. People saw in him a reflection of Jesus Christ’s love for them. John Paul the Second was an icon of Christ and his love.

Every time you saw Pope John Paul, he was smiling. He traveled the nations, and embraced everyone warmly. When you encountered him, you felt loved, even if you were one person in a crowd of thousands. This was the Holy Spirit at work. Although you did not see Jesus you loved him in Pope John Paul; even though you did not see Jesus you believed in him all the more because of him, and rejoiced with an indescribable and glorious joy.

This morning we celebrate a feast day which Pope John Paul II established, Divine Mercy Sunday. What is divine mercy like? What does Jesus’ unfathomable love, which enfolds every one of us here and every person God has made, look like? Through the life of Pope John the Great we saw a partial glimpse of the divine mercy and love of Jesus Christ.

Be Not Afraid — 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year A

February 28, 2011

This morning, I would like to recall events from the life of a great man. When he is eight years old his mother dies. When he is twelve years old, his older brother (a physician) also dies, having contracted scarlet fever from a patient. At nineteen years old, the Nazis invade his homeland and inflict much suffering on those he loves. With his father’s death, he becomes the last survivor of his immediate family, at only twenty years of age. After five years of war and occupation, the Nazis are driven out, but the Soviet communists replace them. They will later try to murder him, but they will (just barely) not succeed. At age seventy-three, he is diagnosed with an incurable disease that will slowly weaken him and kill him, and eleven difficult years later, he dies.

These are events from the life of a great man, a man the Church will declare “blessed” this May 1st. He is Karol Wojtyla, better known as Pope John Paul II. Throughout his papacy, over and over again, he repeated this message: “Do not be afraid.” He is well-known for saying this, but these words were not originally his. They come from another man, also a man of suffering—accustomed to infirmity, who knew both poverty and exile, one who experienced the deaths of loved ones, a man who was also targeted for death himself. This man is Jesus Christ, who first said, “Do not be afraid. Be not afraid.” In fact, in the Gospels, Jesus says this more than just about anything else.

I recall the trials of John Paul the Great and the sufferings of Jesus Christ lest anyone think their words come from naivety about life and the world, or that their Gospel is not grounded in reality. Jesus knows what he is talking about when teaches us, when He commands us, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. …Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.” Jesus never denies that evils exist in this world, but tells us that none of them should make us fear. This is why the Church asks God the Father at every Mass, “Deliver us Lord from every evil and grant us peace in our day, in your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety….” We really mean it when we pray this, that we may be free from all anxiety. Christians should care about many things, but not one of these things should make us anxious.

Of what should we be afraid? Poverty? Jesus lived it. Suffering? He experienced that, too. Sin? Jesus has conquered it, and He offers us restoration. Death? Jesus has defeated it, and He promises us resurrection. With Jesus Christ, we can have the peace that, in the end, everything will be ok. Yet, many people feel crushed by their worries, about matters large and small. How are we to overcome these anxieties and experience the peace Christ wants for our lives? We conquer anxiety with these two things: prayer, and confidence in God’s love for us.

As Saint Paul wrote the Philippians, “The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Jesus will never forsake us, and He will never forget us. Even if a mother should forget her infant, or be without tenderness for the child of her womb, Jesus will never forget you. So, “Do not be afraid.” The next time you feel worry, the fruit of fear, remove it from your mind and place it on an altar before the Lord. Make a sacrifice of it, a burnt-offering before God, and say, “Jesus, I trust in you. I’ll show up and do my part, but I’m relying on you to take care of this. I sacrifice my fears to you.” It is a high compliment to Him when we trust in Him to be our God, and opens us up to receive His peace.

Always be confident in Jesus Christ’s love for you. The next time you feel worry coming on, this is your cue to pray. Do not be afraid. With Jesus Christ, we can have the peace that everything will be ok.

Checkout Catholic Movies

July 14, 2010

Did you know the St. Vincent DePaul Society just two blocks from St. John’s (location) has a library of Christian movies, books, and CD’s free for checkout? Pick up the films below for a spiritually edifying and entertaining evening:

The Ten Commandments (1956, VHS, 219 min)
Moses faces Pharoah demanding “Let my people go!”
+ Charleton Heston, Yul Brynner, and a cast of thousands
+ Regarded as the greatest Biblical epic of all-time
+ In *Technicolor*!

For another film about a great shepherd of God’s people, I recommend…

John Paul II (2005, DVD, 180 min)
A dramatic biography about Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II
+ Regarded as the best drama about the Great Pope
+ Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride) plays the young Wojtyla
+ Jon Voight stars as Pope John Paul II
— The latter half is better; I suggest skipping to the conclave

For another film about a character who becomes a new man midway into the film, I recommend…

Becket (1964, VHS,  150 min)
St. Thomas Becket’s conversion makes him King Henry II’s enemy
+ Good dialogue, verbal sparring
+ A great excommunication scene
+ Teaches that personal conversion is possible

For another film with another English Thomas crossing with another King Henry, I most highly recommend…

A Man for All Seasons (1966, DVD, 120 min)
St. Thomas More’s conviction makes him King Henry VIII’s enemy
+ Won Best Picture, Actor, Director, Cinematography
— This title can be mistaken for another starring Charlton Heston
+ Brilliant dialogue, drawn from More’s own words
+ My all-time favorite film, it’s almost perfect…
— Gives More a pride at heart inconsistent with his character
+ Teaches the awesomeness and the attractiveness of virtue

For another film about religious conviction not bowing to the politics of the age, I recommend…

Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (2005, DVD, 117 min)
A German girl is arrested for writing against the Nazis during WWII
— Subtitled
+ The lead actress is captivating
+ Great verbal combat throughout the interrogation and trial
— Ends sadly, like A Man for All Seasons
+ Shows times can cloud truth, but that conscience still speaks

For another film about another Christian who heroically resisted the Nazis, I suggest…

Maximilian: Saint of Auschwitz (1995, VHS, 76 min)
St. Maximilian Kolbe is a knight for Mary in a darkened age
+ All roles are interestingly played by one man, Leonardo Defilippis
— The recurring theme music is not bad, but overplayed
+ Satan’s speeches are enjoyable in a Screwtape Letters way
— A tad too preachy by way of the masonic, communist, Nazi foes
+ Presents the value and power of Marian devotion

For another film by Defilippis about a saint whose faith was a spiritual romance, I suggest…

John of the Cross (1997, VHS, 60 min)
A Spanish mystic seeks God and reform with St. Teresa of Avila
+ Leonardo and Patti Defilippis play all of the major roles
+ Gives a taste of John’s spirituality, quoting his Spiritual Canticle

For another film by Defilippis about a Carmalite Doctor of the Church, I suggest…

Therese (2004, DVD 96 min)
Thérèse of Lisieux’s story, the most popular saint of modern times.
+ Anyone with a fondness for her will gain from this movie
+ The lead actress, whom Providence led to this production, shines
— Criticized for not being as good as it should have been
— One gets no clear sense of her simple, “Little Way” spirituality
+ This film increases one’s love for this great, little saint

For another film about a holy nun’s experiences in the convent, I recommend…

Faustina (1994, DVD, 75 min)
Jesus tells a Polish nun, St. Faustina, to proclaim Divine Mercy
— Subtitled
+ A work of art of profound depth
+ Her love for Jesus and message of mercy are communicated well
+ Teaches that Jesus’ Mercy embraces all willing to receive it

For another film about supernatural phenomena and the value of suffering, I recommend…

Padre Pio: Miracle Man (2000, DVD, 214 min)
St. Padre Pio bears Christ’s wounds, reads souls, & battles Satan
— Subtitled; English is optional but its voices and dialogue are poor
— Long, 3 hours and 34 minutes, presented in two halfs.
+ Great scenes, like the actresses’ confession and His spiritual battles
+ Teaches, among other lessons, that holiness is manly

For another film about a Franciscan priest with amazing spiritual gifts, I recommend…

The Reluctant Saint: The Story of St. Joseph of Cupertino (1962, VHS, 104 min)
An unintelligent man rises to the heights of sanctity
— Black and white
+ Joseph is played handsomely and enduringly
+ Rather funny, if you are in a fun mood
— Runs about fifteen minutes longer than it needs to
+ Shows a little of the old ritual for exorcism, which is interesting
+ Teaches that God takes the weak and makes them strong

For another film about a simple mystic who was doubted in their day, I recommend…

The Song of Bernadette (1943, DVD or VHS 158 min)
St. Bernadette Soubirous’ sees Mary appear in Lourdes, France
— Black and white
+ Jennifer Jones, at her most innocent, in a Best Actress role
+ Vincent Price (Thriller) plays the skeptic
+ Teaches that God is still real and found among the small

For another film about the life of the Visionary of Lourdes, I recommend…

The Passion of Bernadette (1989, VHS, 106 min)
St. Bernadette Soubirous’ life after entering the convent
+ Sydney Penny reprises her role as Bernadette
+ Shows that humility is beautiful

For another film about a great French saint, I recommend…

Monsieur Vincent (1947, DVD, 114 min)
St. Vincent DePaul grows in his understanding and care of the poor
— Subtitled
— Black and white
+ Gritty, yet beautiful
+ Well crafted characters
+ Teaches us to love our neighbor as ourself

For another film about charity and our resposibility to the poor, I highly recommend…

Entertaining Angels: The Dorthy Day Story (1996, VHS, 112 min)
Dorthy Day’s journey from communist to Catholic humanitarian
+ Stars Moira Kelly (The Cutting Edge) and Martin Sheen
+ Heather Graham (Austin Powers 2) does surprisingly good acting
— Contains an historical, non-graphic nor explicit abortion subplot
+ Teaches that life’s meaning is in committed personal life

For another film with an American, pro-life message, I highly recommend…

Bella (2006, DVD, 91 min)
A man with emotional scars helps a friend through a crisis
— Not a true story
+ Rich characters
+ Shows that life is beautiful, in every sense of the word

For another film about escaping prisons of the heart, I recommend…

The Count of Monte Cristo (2002, VHS, 131 min)
A falsely-condemned Frenchmen escapes prison and plots revenge
— Not a true story
+ Stars Jim Caviezel (The Passion of the Christ) charmingly
+ Richard Harris (Harry Potter) portrays a good Christian
+ In a great scene, a fight to the death has a surprising end
+ Explores the Problem of Evil vs. Providence in a powerful way

For another film about an imposter who gradually becomes a real hero, I recommend……

Meet John Doe (1941, DVD, 122 min)
A feel good movie about American values and the little guy
+ This film is in the public domain; click above to watch it now
— Black and white
— Not a true story
+ Directed by Frank Capra (It’s A Wonderful Life)
+ Teaches about the enduring strength of the little guy

Staying Until Leaving — Thursday, 4th Week in Ordinary Time—Year II

February 4, 2010

Jesus provided the Twelve with their message to preach, their authority to cast out demons, and their power to cure the sick. However, Jesus withheld from the Twelve some basic provisions: no food, no bags, no spending cash, no second tunics for warmth in the cold night. On the other hand, Jesus instructs them carry walking sticks and wear sandals. What is Jesus thinking?

Jesus wants His disciples to be mobile, so that they can quickly travel to distant towns, but Jesus doesn’t want His disciples to be self-sufficient once they get there. Their lack of food, of money and of a place to sleep, forces them to become fully present to others. It necessitates the personal encounter.

Jesus told the Twelve to enter the lives of others, to enter their homes and to stay there until they leave. But what does it mean for them to stay until they leave? (How could someone leave before they’ve left?) Jesus is commanding them not trade up from house to house, as better accommodations are offered, thereby alienating and dishonoring their first hosts.

What does this gospel mean for us today? First of all, that our most important work, whatever our state in life, is our personal ministry to the people to whom Christ is sending us. We’re all busy, but we must not be too busy for what’s most important. Our professional careers will end, but our personal relationships will last, literally, forever.

Sometimes when we encounter other people we neglect Jesus’ advice to stay until we leave. Someone is speaking to us and we mentally check-out to green pastures. Sometime we fail to encounter the other person at all, brushing them off like dust on our feet.

I’ve heard it said that something which often struck people who met Pope John Paul the Great was how totally present He was to them, with his eyes and his mind, as if they were for him—in that moment—the most important person in the entire world. Can we imagine a personal encounter with Jesus Christ being any different? John Paul was a very busy man with a world of concerns on his shoulders, just like Jesus Christ, but they both had the time for what was most important.

I want to live more like that.  Don’t you?