December 28, 2007

For the Feast of the Holy Innocents

I have posted a homily for the occasion.
Click HERE for it.

December 26, 2007

”How Dads Can Help Raise Strong Daughters” (Interview With Meg Meeker)

By Carrie Gress
December 25, 2007


The way a father treats his daughter is a strong indicator of how she will relate to men for the rest of her life, says author and teen-health expert Doctor Meg Meeker.Meeker, who has practiced pediatric and adolescent medicine, as well as teen counseling, is the author of "Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters: 10 Secrets Every Father Should Know," by Regnery Publishing. The book highlights how the fundamental relationship of a girl with her father can affect all areas of her life.

In this interview with ZENIT, Meeker, who also wrote "Epidemic: How Teen Sex Is Killing Our Kids," talks about the profound role a father plays in his daughter's life, whether he knows it or not.

Q: A father is a daughter's best ally seems to be the consensus of your book. While studies say that it is parents who are the key to their children's happiness, what is the unique offering of a father to a daughter that a mother cannot offer, especially in her relationship to God?

Meeker: I think that one of the reasons I wanted to address this issue head-on, is that a father is a daughter's great ally, which today is not only overlooked, but is directly attacked. If you look at the typical sitcom, the father is portrayed as someone who is comical, humorous and just plain dumb, and as though he has something to learn from his daughter.

Research shows that a father's influence builds up self-esteem, helps his daughter to avoid sex, drugs, alcohol, and stay in college. What it is that a father offers is that he carries an authority in his daughter's eyes. This authority is not ascribed to the mother, not that she is not important, but a father's influence is different.

When a girl is little, her dad is her primary male love relationship. When he gives her something as a man, she learns lessons about men, setting a template in those early years on her heart about what to expect, to think, to feel, and know about men from there on out, affecting even her relationship to God, because Christ is a man.

Q: What are the specific characteristics of a dad that help daughters in their development?

Meeker: One of the big ones is a sense of protectiveness. It is intuitive in a dad's heart to protect and guard a daughter. Our culture, however, has been training men not to do that because gender neutrality has become such a big deal.

The reason this is very important is because, particularly in the area of sexuality, dad has an enormous role. Girls are under sexual siege, with aggressive marketing, especially in clothing, from the age of 6 on. If a father, feeling protective, says, "I don't want my daughter going to school in a jog bra," and mom says, "No, this is the way girls dress," a father needs to trust his judgment. Sometimes his intuition is better on this one.

Another is that dads in general tend to be very pragmatic and solution-oriented, discovering first what the problem is, and then how to get to the solution. Sometimes women are insulted, because we think differently, but this difference is wonderful. A man says, "Now, what's the problem? What can we do?" This pragmatism can serve a daughter well in teen years.

For example, perhaps a boyfriend has broken up with her. A girl will feel sad, think she is too fat, too stupid -- all kinds of things get added to the situation in her own mind. But dad compartmentalizes, "What's the problem? What can we do to solve it? Just because he broke up with you, doesn't mean all these other things are true."

However, the most important thing a father can do is live a life of integrity -- living truthfully. A daughter, within 15 seconds, can tell if her father is in a bad mood, good mood, telling the truth or not, etc. Those fathers who don't live truthfully do a great disservice because a daughter doesn't believe in him, doesn't trust him. Dads think they need to earn heroism, but they really don't. The role of a hero is just given to him until proven otherwise. Most dads don't know this.

One thing I try to do is help fathers get behind their daughter's eyes, see you as she sees you. If you compared your vision of yourself to how she sees you, your life would never be the same.

Q: You say that there is a clear connection between depression in girls and young women and sexual activity. How can a father's love help protect against this in our sexually saturated culture?

Meeker: Depression in girls is all about ungrieved losses accumulated in the heart. This connection can be backed up with medical data, although no one has studied it extensively. But what I have found is that as a culture, we are bombarded with sexual saturation. Sexual activity is through the roof and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are at an all-time high.

When girls approach sexuality, a huge emotional component is involved. When a girl is sexually active once, and it doesn't matter if it is oral sex or intercourse, she incurs a loss. In the physical act, she has lost something in her heart, her virginity, her respect for herself. When girls feel this, if they don't acknowledge that they are hurt and that something that happened to them, then they will live with unresolved grief, which leads to depression.

Another interesting phenomenon is that if a young person has a bad sexual experience that didn't meet their expectations, both boys and girls, they will immediately think they did something wrong -- not, "Maybe I shouldn't be doing this." In order to correct this "wrong," they will try to make up for it in some other experience, which leads to a downward spiral of messy relationships, physical risk and emotional damage.

Ironically, while our culture is now immunizing girls against STDs, we endlessly market sex to them, paying little attention to all the layers of risk. This, incidentally, would never happen with cigarettes or alcohol, where we would give kids an immunization against lung cancer yet promote smoking. This problem is missed by many because sexual freedom has come to be seen as a right.

Q: You suggest the importance of raising a daughter with humility, emphasizing that she should see the world like a pioneer, asking, "What can I do for others," instead of like a princess who lives with a sense of entitlement. How can this contribute to her long-term happiness?

Meeker: One of the greatest mistakes that parents make in their kids is a misunderstanding of what happiness and joy is in their kids. Parents just want their kids to be happy, but they perceive incorrectly that it comes from receiving pleasure, so when children receive, receive, receive, happiness does not come, resulting in a lot of unhappy kids.

Despite our material wealth, depression rates have never been so high. Clearly we are missing something. Parents have been duped. What works is when we teach kids to serve, to look beyond themselves. Real joy and happiness comes when kids understand that they have a purpose in life, and a mission to fulfill. The only way to get them to understand this is to look beyond self and doing good for others.

This is the source of real transformation, but this can't happen without humility, the opposite of which is pride. When parents instill humility, a kid understands that he or she is important, and lovable, but not separate from others in their humanity. If a kid really wants to feel good about himself, humility brings people closer, whereas pride separates.

A kid raised without humility will always strive to be better than others, smarter than others, but can only bring a frustrated "happiness" because no one can always be the best at everything. True happiness for kids, then, is to give them a purpose to fulfill through working, striving, giving to and for others.

Q: There is repeated mention in the book that a father should do all he can to keep a family together. Why is this so important, and what can men do to care for their daughters if they find themselves divorced or widowed?

Meeker: First, we as a culture have failed to teach boys to live courageously, which means to live with profound discomfort. In not being taught how to live, men have been failed.

All the psychology, pediatric, and medical literature says divorce is at the top of the list for of putting kids at risk for all high-risk behaviors. It is an enormous factor in kids' emotional, mental and physical health. My job is to try to help fathers stick it out with difficult wives until their daughters are older. The longer they can wait, the better it is for kids. Kids need full cognitive skills to cope with the trauma of divorce, and men need to call upon courage to gut it out.

A father who is separated from his daughter must maintain as strong a connection as possible, which means big phone bills, letters, pressing his way into her life in a gentle but firm manner. Stick with her over the long haul. Even when the daughter pulls back, the father has to be the grown-up. If you get your feelings hurt, forget it, it's not about you. Don't take it personally, maintain your integrity and rely on God to give you the strength to persevere.

And angry mothers need to know that you can divorce your daughter's father, but she can't. She has emotional needs, no matter what damage has been done. Give her the right to have a relationship with her dad.

If a father refuses to stop loving, a daughter will respond eventually. A daughter will follow where a dad leads when she knows she is loved.

FODDER. [noun] food, especially dried hay or feed, for cattle and other livestock.

The fodder of ox and ass was Christ’s first earthly bed.

He is now fodder for sinners.

St. Stephen, knew it.

“Stephen” comes from the Greek word for “crown”, stéphanos.

Today is the feast of St. Stephen the First Martyr.

I have posted a homily for the occasion.
Click HERE for it.

December 25, 2007

Christmas Midnight Mass Homily of Pope Benedict XVI

[Vatican translation]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

"The time came for Mary to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn" (Lk 2:6f.). These words touch our hearts every time we hear them. This was the moment that the angel had foretold at Nazareth: "you will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High" (Lk 1:31). This was the moment that Israel had been awaiting for centuries, through many dark hours - the moment that all mankind was somehow awaiting, in terms as yet ill-defined: when God would take care of us, when he would step outside his concealment, when the world would be saved and God would renew all things. We can imagine the kind of interior preparation, the kind of love with which Mary approached that hour. The brief phrase: "She wrapped him in swaddling clothes" allows us to glimpse something of the holy joy and the silent zeal of that preparation. The swaddling clothes were ready, so that the child could be given a fitting welcome. Yet there is no room at the inn. In some way, mankind is awaiting God, waiting for him to draw near. But when the moment comes, there is no room for him. Man is so preoccupied with himself, he has such urgent need of all the space and all the time for his own things, that nothing remains for others - for his neighbour, for the poor, for God. And the richer men become, the more they fill up all the space by themselves. And the less room there is for others.

Saint John, in his Gospel, went to the heart of the matter, giving added depth to Saint Luke's brief account of the situation in Bethlehem: "He came to his own home, and his own people received him not" (Jn 1:11). This refers first and foremost to Bethlehem: the Son of David comes to his own city, but has to be born in a stable, because there is no room for him at the inn. Then it refers to Israel: the one who is sent comes among his own, but they do not want him. And truly, it refers to all mankind: he through whom the world was made, the primordial Creator-Word, enters into the world, but he is not listened to, he is not received.

These words refer ultimately to us, to each individual and to society as a whole. Do we have time for our neighbour who is in need of a word from us, from me, or in need of my affection? For the sufferer who is in need of help? For the fugitive or the refugee who is seeking asylum? Do we have time and space for God? Can he enter into our lives? Does he find room in us, or have we occupied all the available space in our thoughts, our actions, our lives for ourselves?

Thank God, this negative detail is not the only one, nor the last one that we find in the Gospel. Just as in Luke we encounter the maternal love of Mary and the fidelity of Saint Joseph, the vigilance of the shepherds and their great joy, just as in Matthew we encounter the visit of the wise men, come from afar, so too John says to us: "To all who received him, he gave power to become children of God" (Jn 1:12). There are those who receive him, and thus, beginning with the stable, with the outside, there grows silently the new house, the new city, the new world. The message of Christmas makes us recognize the darkness of a closed world, and thereby no doubt illustrates a reality that we see daily. Yet it also tells us that God does not allow himself to be shut out. He finds a space, even if it means entering through the stable; there are people who see his light and pass it on. Through the word of the Gospel, the angel also speaks to us, and in the sacred liturgy the light of the Redeemer enters our lives. Whether we are shepherds or "wise men" - the light and its message call us to set out, to leave the narrow circle of our desires and interests, to go out to meet the Lord and worship him. We worship him by opening the world to truth, to good, to Christ, to the service of those who are marginalized and in whom he awaits us.

In some Christmas scenes from the late Middle Ages and the early modern period, the stable is depicted as a crumbling palace. It is still possible to recognize its former splendour, but now it has become a ruin, the walls are falling down - in fact, it has become a stable. Although it lacks any historical basis, this metaphorical interpretation nevertheless expresses something of the truth that is hidden in the mystery of Christmas. David's throne, which had been promised to last for ever, stands empty. Others rule over the Holy Land. Joseph, the descendant of David, is a simple artisan; the palace, in fact, has become a hovel. David himself had begun life as a shepherd. When Samuel sought him out in order to anoint him, it seemed impossible and absurd that a shepherd-boy such as he could become the bearer of the promise of Israel. In the stable of Bethlehem, the very town where it had all begun, the Davidic kingship started again in a new way - in that child wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. The new throne from which this David will draw the world to himself is the Cross. The new throne - the Cross - corresponds to the new beginning in the stable. Yet this is exactly how the true Davidic palace, the true kingship is being built. This new palace is so different from what people imagine a palace and royal power ought to be like. It is the community of those who allow themselves to be drawn by Christ's love and so become one body with him, a new humanity. The power that comes from the Cross, the power of self-giving goodness - this is the true kingship. The stable becomes a palace - and setting out from this starting-point, Jesus builds the great new community, whose key-word the angels sing at the hour of his birth: "Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to those whom he loves" - those who place their will in his, in this way becoming men of God, new men, a new world.

Gregory of Nyssa, in his Christmas homilies, developed the same vision setting out from the Christmas message in the Gospel of John: "He pitched his tent among us" (Jn 1:14). Gregory applies this passage about the tent to the tent of our body, which has become worn out and weak, exposed everywhere to pain and suffering. And he applies it to the whole universe, torn and disfigured by sin. What would he say if he could see the state of the world today, through the abuse of energy and its selfish and reckless exploitation? Anselm of Canterbury, in an almost prophetic way, once described a vision of what we witness today in a polluted world whose future is at risk: "Everything was as if dead, and had lost its dignity, having been made for the service of those who praise God. The elements of the world were oppressed, they had lost their splendour because of the abuse of those who enslaved them for their idols, for whom they had not been created" (PL 158, 955f.). Thus, according to Gregory's vision, the stable in the Christmas message represents the ill-treated world. What Christ rebuilds is no ordinary palace. He came to restore beauty and dignity to creation, to the universe: this is what began at Christmas and makes the angels rejoice. The Earth is restored to good order by virtue of the fact that it is opened up to God, it obtains its true light anew, and in the harmony between human will and divine will, in the unification of height and depth, it regains its beauty and dignity. Thus Christmas is a feast of restored creation. It is in this context that the Fathers interpret the song of the angels on that holy night: it is an expression of joy over the fact that the height and the depth, Heaven and Earth, are once more united; that man is again united to God. According to the Fathers, part of the angels' Christmas song is the fact that now angels and men can sing together and in this way the beauty of the universe is expressed in the beauty of the song of praise. Liturgical song - still according to the Fathers - possesses its own peculiar dignity through the fact that it is sung together with the celestial choirs. It is the encounter with Jesus Christ that makes us capable of hearing the song of the angels, thus creating the real music that fades away when we lose this singing-with and hearing-with.

In the stable at Bethlehem, Heaven and Earth meet. Heaven has come down to Earth. For this reason, a light shines from the stable for all times; for this reason joy is enkindled there; for this reason song is born there. At the end of our Christmas meditation I should like to quote a remarkable passage from Saint Augustine. Interpreting the invocation in the Lord's Prayer: "Our Father who art in Heaven", he asks: what is this - Heaven? And where is Heaven? Then comes a surprising response: "... who art in Heaven - that means: in the saints and in the just. Yes, the heavens are the highest bodies in the universe, but they are still bodies, which cannot exist except in a given location. Yet if we believe that God is located in the heavens, meaning in the highest parts of the world, then the birds would be more fortunate than we, since they would live closer to God. Yet it is not written: 'The Lord is close to those who dwell on the heights or on the mountains', but rather: 'the Lord is close to the brokenhearted' (Ps 34:18[33:19]), an expression which refers to humility. Just as the sinner is called 'Earth', so by contrast the just man can be called 'Heaven'" (Sermo in monte II 5, 17). Heaven does not belong to the geography of space, but to the geography of the heart. And the heart of God, during the Holy Night, stooped down to the stable: the humility of God is Heaven. And if we approach this humility, then we touch Heaven. Then the Earth too is made new. With the humility of the shepherds, let us set out, during this Holy Night, towards the Child in the stable! Let us touch God's humility, God's heart! Then his joy will touch us and will make the world more radiant. Amen.

December 24, 2007

Song of the Angelic Army

The Solemnity of Christmas begins at sundown on December 24 with the celebration of Vespers (Evening Prayer)

Here are the ancient refrains for the evening’s Psalms and Gospel Canticle.

Christmas is the titular solemnity of my monastery, Prince of Peace Abbey.

The Roman Calendar of Saints on the Twenty-Fourth Day of December

“The commemoration of all the holy ancestors of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham, son of Adam, namely his forefathers ... from whom Christ was born according to the flesh, he who is God blessed and forever.”

December 23, 2007

A day of Emmanuel coincidences

Today is the Fourth Sunday of Advent, and we are in Year A of the Church’s three-year cycle of readings for Sunday Mass. The first reading at Mass today (Isaiah 7:10-14) is the prophecy of the name “Emmanuel,” which means, “God-with-Us.” The Gospel reading at Mass today (Matthew 1:18-24) has an angel repeating the Emmanuel prophecy to St. Joseph.

By coincidence, today is December 23, the date on which the Church invokes Christ under the title “Emmanuel” in her Evening Prayer (“Vespers”) and in the Alleluia Verse at Mass.

I've posted my homily for today's Mass.
Click HERE for it.