November 11, 2006

On TV Sunday night: The Abbey of Christ in the Desert, New Mexico

Five men (including a former Satanist) arrive at the Abbey of Christ in the Desert, a Benedictine monastery in northern New Mexico. They ask if living with thirty monks for forty days and nights will change their lives. They soon realize it will be surprisingly tough, and they might not all make it.

"The Learning Channel" is showing a series about those men and the monastery.

In the following photograph, you see the setting of the monastery. You can just make out the church and its tower about a quarter of the way up from the bottom of the photograph and about a half inch to the right of the center of the picture.


Click HERE to go the Abbey of Christ in the Desert website.


The series has a well-done website.
Click HERE for it.

This coming week: the bishops of the U.S.A. will speak about matters of great importance.

The Catholic bishops of the U.S.A. (“United States Conference of Catholic Bishops” or U.S.C.C.B.) will meet in Baltimore this coming Monday to Thursday. Among the items they will take up are the following.
A reorganization plan for their national conference

A revision of the Lectionary for Mass for selected days in the season of Advent

A directory for music and the liturgy for use in the dioceses of the United States

A statement on receiving the sacrament of the Eucharist worthily

Guidelines for ministry to persons with a homosexual inclination

Pastoral guidance on the Church’s teaching concerning contraception and a culture of life

Elect a new Conference Secretary and several committee chairmen

The website of Catholic News Service has an article with more details.
Click HERE for it.

An agnostic gives five stars to the Pope's "God Is Love"

Carl Olson over at "Insight Scoop" calls attention to an agnostic's enthusiastic, five-star review of the encyclical "Deus Caritas Est" by Pope Benedict XVI.
I am shocked, absolutely shocked, that no one has reviewed Pope Benedict XVI's first papal encyclical, "God Is Love". At the very least you would expect a Catholic or two to show up and say a few words about the supreme pontiff's elegant treatise on the transformative power of God's love. It's been nearly eight months since the Vatican released it! Where are the reviews? Sad, sad, sad. Well, I'll write a review for Benedict's epistle even though I'm not a Catholic. Nor am I a Jew, a Muslim, a Buddhist, or a Protestant. I'm just an agnostic, albeit one who holds sympathies for the Catholic Church, with a bachelor's degree in religious studies (degrees in history too, but that doesn't count here). I decided to read "Deus Caritas Est" (the Latin title) when I realized I have never read a papal encyclical. They serve several important purposes within the Catholic Church. One, encyclicals tend to lay the groundwork for a pope's legacy. Two, they attempt to offer answers to serious temporal problems facing Catholics around the world. Three, they explain certain policy decisions taken by the leadership. Four, and lastly, encyclicals often clarify hazy doctrinal issues that arise from time to time.

Benedict divides "God Is Love" into two parts. The first, and most difficult, section involves a theoretical discussion on the various aspects of love. According to the pontiff, there is two of major importance. The first, eros, is a grand, soaring love that has little to do with giving of oneself. Agape, the second form of love, is more contemplative and grounded, a love that is more concerned with giving than receiving. Both forms of love are healthy and good in and of themselves, but Benedict admonishes the modern tendency to embrace eros as it pertains to bodily pleasures. Love without the spiritual component found in Christianity, the pope argues, is an empty love that causes more harm than good. Only when we realize that eros and agape go together, that they are two sides of the same coin, do we understand the depth and greatness of God's love. He also contends that it is through God that both loves become united for the benefit of mankind. Benedict cites a number of sources-- Virgil's Eclogues, Nietzsche, the Old Testament, and the Gospels among them-- in his examination of the various aspects and definitions of love. It's pretty obvious the new pope is quite the theologian.

After the tough slog through the first part of the encyclical (Benedict himself admits it is a difficult trek), the second part feels like a piece of cake. This section discusses how Catholic charities must channel God's love to help ease humanity's sufferings. There's some standard stuff in here one would expect from the head of the Catholic Church-- love thy neighbor, don't puff up with pride or feel superior because you help the needy, and admonitions to stay the course in an increasingly dark and dangerous world. Good and true, such advice. Benedict goes further, however, by urging Catholic charities to retain their religious character, to avoid Marxist cant about foregoing charity in favor of a nebulous social justice down the road. He also points out that Catholic organizations should watch out lest they become part of the state and the political process (read: shun secularization). "Deus Caritas Est" concludes with a very short examination of saints and charity. He cites Martin of Tours, Francis of Assisi, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, Mary, and others as examples of how love and charity should work in the earthly realm. Also included in an appendix is an introduction Benedict wrote for the edition of the encyclical published in Famiglia Cristiana.

I remember back when Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI. The media went nuts over his selection. They blasted him for being a conservative, and there were many dark insinuations that this pope would attempt to take the Catholic Church back to the Middle Ages. His association with a certain youth association in Germany at the end of World War II hinted at something far bleaker, although anyone with half a brain understood that membership in this group was mandatory and meant nothing about this man's character. It was just another smear tactic employed by liberals angry over the Church's refusal to ordain female priests and its failure to get with the program and endorse abortion. After reading this encyclical, though, I'm starting to wonder about this pope's conservative credentials. I was hoping for a vigorous attack on the alienation inherent in modernity, or at least the very least secular liberalism and its manifold evils. No such luck. He touches on a few of the destructive behaviors in the present day, such as drugs and loose morals, but not in any substantive detail. Perhaps his next encyclical will deal with these issues in greater depth.

I usually reserve a final paragraph in my reviews for criticism of the product. How the heck can I do that here? I'm reading something written by THE POPE! Not only that, he's a pope who is a noted theologian. Who am I to criticize his use of source material or pick apart his arguments? I leave it to better men than I, ones with a Ph.D. in theology, to critique the whole agape versus eros theory proposed by the pontiff. I will offer up one slight suggestion that might have made the first part of the encyclical easier to read. It seems to me that I might understand his arguments better had he defined the terms eros and agape much earlier in the text. The epistle just launches into the theory without defining the concepts until several pages later. Who knows how this happened? Maybe translation problems are to blame. It's a small point, I know, but that's all I'm going to say in the negative. In the positive, "God Is Love" is an inspirational read even for Catholics and non-Catholics alike.


November 11 is the Memorial of St. Martin of Tours, the first non-martyr to have a yearly feast in the Western Church

He died in A.D. 397.

He was a soldier.

Sometime before his baptism, he slit his cape in half to share it with a beggar.

He became a Christian at the age of 18 years.

He became a monk.

He went on to become bishop of Tours.

The cape he split with a beggar?

The Latin word for a small cape is cappella, which gave us the word "chapel" as the name for the place where St. Martin's cape was enshrined.


The movie “The Nativity Story”

[UPDATE. It's going to have its world premiere at the Vatican's Paul VI Audience Hall on November 26.]

It is set for release on December 1, and may turn out to be a major Marian event, bringing together Catholics and Protestants.


[The following is from the movie’s website, www.thenativitystory.com]


“The Nativity Story” chronicles the arduous journey of two people, Mary and Joseph, a miraculous pregnancy, and the history-defining birth of Jesus. This dramatic and compelling story comes to life in a major motion picture starring Keisha Castle Hughes (“Whale Rider”) as Mary, Oscar Isaac (“Guerilla”) as Joseph, and Academy Award nominee Shorch Aghdashloo (“House of Sand and Fog”) as Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. “The Nativity Story” is directed by Catherine Hardwicke (“Thirteen”, “Lords of Dogtown”) from a screenplay by Mike Rich (“The Rookie”, “Finding Forrester”). It is scheduled for a December 1 release.

The filmmakers are bringing an unprecedented level of commitment to ensure the authenticity not only of the Nativity story itself, but of the film’s look as well as. Director Catherine Hardwicke, a former production designer, was adamant that every detail from the locations, to the sets, to the props, look and feel authentic. As a result, Hardwicke, writer Mike Rich, and production designer Stefano Ortolani spent countless hours researching the era.

“We got the script into the hands of as many historians and theologians as possible,” says screenwriter Mike Rich. “They have all helped elevate the authentic feel of this film, not only visually, but from a standpoint of culture and tradition.”

Because the actual locations of Bethlehem and Nazareth have become fairly modernized over the years, the production decided to shoot in the village of Matera, Italy, which has been virtually unchanged for centuries (and was previously used as a location for “The Passion of the Christ”. Additionally, the production journeyed to Ouarzazate, Morocco, where it shot scenes involving Herod’s castle and the temple of Jerusalem at the same location used in such films as “Gladiator” and “Kingdom of Heaven”.


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[The following article features Mike Rich, the screenwriter of "The Nativity Story". The article is from “The Oregonian” newspaper, www.oregonlive.com, Nancy Haught, Saturday, August 12, 2006.]


Jesus' mother gains spiritual, iconic import


For Hollywood screenwriters, it's all about character. Even when you're writing about the mother of Jesus.

"Character drives the story," says Mike Rich, the Portland screenwriter whose films include "Finding Forrester," "The Rookie" and "Radio."

"All my movies follow ordinary people doing extraordinary things." His latest, "The Nativity Story," recounts the circumstances of Jesus' birth, mostly through the eyes of his mother, Mary. Played by 16-year-old Keisha Castle-Hughes, the radiant heroine of "Whale Rider," Mary is extraordinary enough, according to the New Testament, that God chose her to bear his son. She also is ordinary enough, according to many Christians, that she is the shining example of how to live a life of faith.

As Rich worked on his screenplay, he says he thought about Mary's youth, her place in culture, her personal courage and her faith. She trusted in God, in Joseph and in the child she carried, he says.

Another Mary— Mary Magdalene— has been queen of pop culture since Dan Brown wove her into his best-selling novel, "The Da Vinci Code." But interest in the Virgin Mary is growing again, even as the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches prepare to celebrate her Assumption into heaven or Dormition ("sleeping"). Both feasts are Tuesday. Elaine Park, a professor of biblical studies at Mt. Angel Seminary in St. Benedict, sees a resurgence of interest in Mary, the mother of Jesus. In part, she says, it's because of Pope John Paul II and his habit of openly sharing his devotion to Mary and to the Rosary, a traditional set of prayers dedicated to her. His experiences appealed to a younger generation, hungry for the mystical comfort that he had found in her. Older Catholics remember hymns and devotions that honored Mary as the Queen of Heaven, Queen of Peace or Our Lady of Sorrows. They have been reluctant to let go of their devotions even as, they say, the larger church has seemed to move away from Mary. Pilgrims continue to visit Marian shrines in staggering numbers. In 1999, more than 5 million people traveled to Lourdes in France and at least that many to Fatima in Portugal, according to a 2000 study.

And Mary, who is revered in Islam as the mother of the prophet Jesus, has been finding her way into Protestant churches, too. In recent years, many non-Catholic Christians have reclaimed parts of her tradition that had once seemed too Catholic to consider. They remember her as a witness of Jesus' crucifixion, perhaps as one of the women who found the tomb empty on Easter morning. Many who saw the film "The Passion of the Christ" were touched by scenes of Mary remembering her son as a child.

Now Rich hopes that Mary will be the lens of faith through which families will see and appreciate the story of Jesus' birth.

"Over time, Mary has become an iconic figure," Rich says. "I followed a kind of reverse process: taking Mary the icon and stepping back to Mary the woman and stepping back again to Mary the child."

That is similar to what the Catholic Church has done since the Second Vatican Council, Park says. The council's decision not to devote an entire document to Mary, but to include her in a broader document on the church, meant that for many Catholics, the church "lost" Mary, she says.

Charlene Spretnak is a Catholic writer who agrees with all the decisions of Vatican II, "except the ones that radically de-emphasized the meaning and presence of the Virgin Mary."

Spretnak, who teaches at the California Institute of Integral Studies, wrote "Missing Mary: The Queen of Heaven and her Re-Emergence in the Modern Church" (Palgrave McMillan, $14.95, 280 pages). She laments the loss of Marian statues from prominent places in churches and the disappearance of hymns and prayers from many modern liturgies. The result, she says, is "a sadly reduced female presence in Catholic worship."

"Most importantly," she adds, "allowing only the historical, literal understanding of Mary, while denying the symbolic, cosmological, mystical sense of her full spiritual presence known to traditional Catholicism, reduces the range of our spiritual lives."

The loss of Mary's larger spiritual significance "has made the Catholic Church more rational and more modern but has left Catholicism less spiritually rich," she says.

Park disagrees, arguing that an emphasis on the real flesh-and-blood Mary makes her more accessible to flesh-and-blood Christians.

"In my own experience, I dropped my devotion to her for a time," she says. Mary seemed too perfect, too idealized for her to connect with. "But it has been renewed in recent years by coming to see her as a real person, a real woman who lived in concrete, historical circumstances, rather than looking at the art and glory that made her look so different and so beyond us."

The circumstances of Mary's life speak to believers, she says. "She was a young woman who lived in Nazareth— a small, insignificant, very poor village. She was a woman who had to deal with political oppression, poverty, uncertainty.

"We easily forget one of the first times we see her in Scripture, going to visit her cousin Elizabeth. She is going to be there with another woman who is pregnant, who was much older, to be with her in loving support," Park says.

"And our last image of her is in Acts of the Apostles, being there in the community before and during the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. She is present with all of us, people in need, people who are praying, people who are celebrating."

After months of research, writing and filming "The Nativity Story," Rich, from his Protestant perspective, sees Mary no longer as an icon but as an ordinary human being of extraordinary character.

"Not much anymore in our lives is black and white," he says. "But this is a young woman who made a black-and-white decision: She was willing to have the faith to follow the most remarkable of directives."


The movie's going to have its world premiere at the Vatican's Paul VI Audience Hall on November 26.
Click HERE for it.

November 10, 2006

November 10, The Memorial of Pope Saint Leo the Great

Pope St. Leo who died in the year 461 has provided all Christianity with a foundation for reflection on this mystery of Christ-God-and-Man.

Out of St. Leo’s writings, one particular letter has proven so important for the history and tradition of our faith in Christ, that it is simply known as the “Letter” or “Tome of Leo”.

He wrote that letter (to Bishop Flavian of Constantinople) in the midst of the controversies that preceded the council held at Chalcedon in the year 451.

In that letter, Pope Leo presented a masterful formulation of what has become and remained the basis of all correct teaching on the relationship between the humanity and the divinity in Christ.

All authentically Christian reflection on Christ follows the same parameters found in the “Letter of Leo” written before July of A.D. 449.

“The Letter of Pope Leo to Flavian, Bishop of Constantinople, about Eutyches”
Click HERE for it.

November 09, 2006

Shineout

Shineout was founded in 2003 to serve the cause of the New Evangelization through media and following the teachings of Pope John Paul II in his "Letter to Artists".

Shineout's main feature is Christian music videos, but also works on religious advertisements, documentaries, and Culture of Life communication.

Visit their website.
Click HERE for it.

Wal-Mart is dumping "Happy Holidays" and is going back to MERRY CHRISTMAS!

I am happy about this news.

However, it is not any store's job to sell their version of Christmas.

Selling Christmas is MY job and the CHURCH'S job.

I do not expect stores to sell Christmas. I go to stores to buy THINGS. I don't go there to buy Christmas.

I go to CHURCH for Christmas.

I don't look for Christmas in stores. Their motive is always MONEY, not GOSPEL.

Anyway, go read about the news.
Click HERE for it.

BARONIUS PRESS

This Catholic publisher offers selections from classical Catholic authors: St. Benedict, St. Francis De Sales, St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Therese of Lisieux, Cardinal John Henry Newman, G. K. Chesterton, and others.

They offer books in hardbound versions as well as in paperback.

In producing their hardbound editions they use traditional methods of handcrafting fine, solid volumes.

“At Baronius Press, we mix technology and tradition to produce books that are renowned for their crisp readable type, aesthetic beauty and longevity.”

It seems they also take great care in producing their paperback editions. Here’s what their website says.
All our papercover range are smythe sewn. No matter how much the book is used, the pages will not fall out, unlike standard paperbacks (sometimes also called "notch bound"). This means that these beautiful books will be around for a lot longer than normal paperbacks, allowing many more people to read and prosper from their content
Click HERE for it.

November 9: The Feast of the Anniversary of the Dedication of the Pope's Cathedral

It is not St. Peter's Basilica. Rather, it is the Lateran Basilica, whose full formal title is:
Archbasilica of the Most Holy Savior and Saints John the Baptist and John the Evangelist at the Lateran.

Just as a Christian may receive a saint's name, but is baptized in the NAME of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, so a church may receive a saint's name, but is dedicated to GOD.

The anniversary of the dedication of a church is liturgically a feast of the Lord. The Church is the Body of Christ, and the physical church building is an architectural sign and presence of Christ. For that reason the walls of a church are chrismated, anointed with Sacred Chrism-- "christed"-- like an altar and a priest. That is why November 9 is always observed as the Feast of the Dedication of St. John-- "day of the Lord"-- even when it falls on a Sunday.

See my homily for the occasion.
Click HERE for it.

November 07, 2006

A hospital finds that a man riddled with cancer (lung, kidney, spine) is suddenly cured. Miracle of Pope John Paul II?

Click HERE for it.

November 06, 2006

In the next few weeks Pope might call for the reform of liturgical music

Click HERE for it.

A reminder from the Pope: by unrepented grave sin a man damns himself

Infatti chi muore in peccato mortale, senza pentimento, chiuso nell’orgoglioso rifiuto dell’amore di Dio, si autoesclude dal regno della vita.

"In fact one who dies in mortal sin, without repentance, closed in the proud refusal of the love of God, shuts himself out of the kingdom of life."


Yesterday the Pope included this line during his message to the crowd that gathers on Sundays to pray the noon "Angelus" with him in St. Peter Square.

His complete message was a reflection in light of the November 2 liturgical commemoration of the departed faithful.

That's my own translation of the quote above. The Vatican website has the message only in the original Italian at this point.
Click HERE for it.