February 16, 2008

Russian Orthodox bishop Hilarion Alfeyev says liberal Christianity is dying out.

[From CatholicNewsAgency.com, 15 February 2008, Geneva]

Russian Orthodox bishop Hilarion Alfeyev, the Moscow Patriarchate’s delegate for international relationships, said on February 15 that liberal Christianity is on its way to extinction.

"Liberal Christianity will not survive long and political correctness within the Christian environment is destined to die," said during a conference addressing the Ecumenical Council of Churches at Geneva, Switzerland.

The Orthodox bishop also criticized the words of the Anglican primate, Rowan Williams, regarding the "inevitability" of introducing the "sharia" (Muslim Law) in England.

"I would like to warn you about the perils of liberal Christianity," a trend, he said, that has sharply divided the Christian community in the last decades.

"Today we can't talk about Christian morality because the standards of 'traditional' and 'liberal' Christians are dramatically different and the abyss between these two branches of Christianity is growing," he added.

"We are hearing from some Christian leaders that marriage between a woman and a man is not the only possible option for the creation of a Christian family, that there can be other type of couples and that the Church should be 'inclusive' by recognizing such lifestyles and grant them a solemn blessing," Hilarion also said.

The Orthodox bishop also said that "we have heard that the human life is a negotiable value, to the point that it can be aborted in the mother's womb." "What has happened with Christianity? In a confused and disoriented world, “Where is the prophetic voice of Christians?" he asked.

Finally in a veiled criticism to the Anglican primate, Hilarion said that "it is not our duty to defend sharia, promote alternative lifestyles or secularized values. Our mission is to announce what Christ himself announced".

February 15, 2008

Falling in Love With Christ

Gospel Commentary for 2nd Sunday of Lent

By Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap

[From Zenit.org, Rome, 15 February 2008]

Why are faith and religious practice in decline and why do they not seem to constitute, at least not for most people, the point of reference in life?

Why the boredom, the weariness, the struggle for believers in performing their duties? Why do young people not feel attracted to the faith? In sum, why this dullness and this lack of joy among the believers in Christ? The event of Christ's transfiguration helps us to answer these questions.

What did the transfiguration mean for the three disciples who were present? Up until now they knew Jesus only in his external appearance: He was not a man different from others; they knew where he came from, his habits, the timber of his voice. Now they know another Jesus, the true Jesus, the one who cannot be seen with the eyes of ordinary life, in the normal light of the sun; what they now know of him is the fruit of a sudden revelation, of a change, of a gift.

Because things change for us too, as they changed for the three disciples on Tabor; something needs to happen in our lives similar to what happens when a young man and woman fall in love. In falling in love with someone, the beloved, who before was one of many, or perhaps unknown, suddenly becomes the only one, the sole person in the world who interests us. Everything else is left behind and becomes a kind of neutral background. One is not able to think of anything else. A very real transfiguration takes place. The person loved comes to be seen as a luminous aura. Everything about her is beautiful, even the defects. One feels unworthy of her. True love generates humility.

Something concrete also changes in one's own habits. I have known young people whose parents could not get them out of bed in the morning to go to school; or they neglected their studies and did no graduate. Then, once they fall in love with someone and enter a serious relationship, they jump out of bed in the morning, they are impatient to finish school, if they have a job, they hold onto it. What has happened? Nothing, it is just that what they were forced to do before they now do because of an attraction. And attraction allows one to do things that force cannot make one do; it puts wings on one's feet. "Everyone," the poet Ovid said, "is attracted by the object of his pleasure."

Something of the kind must happen once in our lives for us to be true, convinced Christians, and overjoyed to be so. Some say, "But the young man or young woman is seen and touched!"

I answer: We see and touch Jesus too, but with different eyes and different hands -- those of the heart, of faith. He is risen and is alive. He is a concrete being, not an abstraction, for those who experience and know him.

Indeed, with Jesus things go even better. In human love we deceive ourselves, we attribute gifts to the beloved that she does not have and with time we are often forced to change our mind about her. In the case of Jesus, the more one knows him and is together with him, the more one discovers new reasons to be in love with him and is confirmed in one's choice.

This does not mean that with Christ too we must wait for the classic "lightning bolt" of love. If a young man or woman stayed at home all the time without seeing anyone, nothing would ever happen in his or her life. To fall in love you have to spend time with people!

If one is convinced, or simply begins to think that it is good and worthwhile to know Jesus Christ in this other, transfigured, way, then one must spend time with him, to read his writings. The Gospel is his love letter! It is there that he reveals himself, where he "transfigures" himself. His house is the Church: It is there that one meets him.

[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]

* * *

Father Raniero Cantalamessa is the Pontifical Household preacher. The readings for this Sunday are Genesis 12:1-4a; 2 Timothy 1:8b-10; Matthew 17:1-9.

Friday of the First Week of Lent

I've finally gotten back to posting a homily.
Click HERE for it.

February 13, 2008

Garden of Innocence

Providing dignified burials for abandoned children.

You can attend a burial service.
You can volunteer for a role in the service.
You can volunteer to build a handmade casket, or make another item for the burial.
You can donate.

The first "Garden of Innocence" is in San Diego. Click HERE for its website.

The San Diego "Garden of Innocence" has helped others open a "Garden of Innocence" in other states. Click HERE for the national website.

February 12, 2008

The cloistered Benedictine nuns of the Abbey of Regina Laudis, in Bethlehem, Connecticut

Over time I've put up several blogposts about Mother Dolores Hart, O.S.B., a famous former Hollywood star who became a nun of the Abbey Regina Laudis. She wrote a foreword for the book, Mother Benedict: Foundress of the Abbey of Regina Laudis.

At my monastery, as in others, we eat silently while a lector reads aloud. Presently we are reading the book about Mother Benedict. The book’s description on Amazon.com:
This is the dramatic and inspiring story of Mother Benedict Duss and the famous Benedictine monastery she founded in Bethlehem, Connecticut in the late 1940's-early 1950's. Today that monastery, Regina Laudis Abbey, is a large flourishing community of contemplative Benedictine nuns who fully live the ideal community life of their founder, St. Benedict.

The abbey is home to many accomplished women from all walks of life and fields of study, some who were well-known actresses, scientists, lawyers, doctors, musicians, teachers, and artists. Perhaps the most famous member of this renowned abbey is former Hollywood film star, Dolores Hart, who shocked the film world when she left a very successful and growing movie career at the age of 25 to become a contemplative Benedictine at Regina Laudis Abbey. This year Mother Dolores celebrated her 40th anniversary as professed Benedictine.

But the heart of this book is the amazing story of Mother Benedict Duss, who was born in America but went to France with her family as a child and became a medical doctor in Paris, left that profession, to became a Benedictine contemplative at the famous Jouarre Abbey, and through the liberating efforts from the terrors of Hitler's Nazi regime by General George Patton's army in France, she felt an overwhelming interior call to return to America to found the first-ever community of contemplative Benedictine nuns in America. At the young age of 35, with incredible faith, courage and the help of Popes, politicians, famous writers, and many others, she persevered in her call, and today Regina Laudis Abbey is a 400 acre community that includes a farm, dairy, pottery shop, large outdoor theater, and a glorious church where the nuns chant the office in Latin and sing Gregorian Masses that have been recorded and become best-selling CDs across the country.
Hollywood produced “Come to the Stable,” a movie about the founding of the abbey, and the movie has become one of the hugely popular classics of Catholic-themed films. It’s available from Amazon.com in VHS tape format. The website also has a page about the DVD version indicating that the studio has not yet made one available, but that those who wish to receive an e-mail when the DVD becomes available can sign up.

The Abbey of Regina Laudis has its own website.

February 11, 2008

An “art and environment” fad for Lent: trashing up the inside of the church

The tradition and the directive of the Church has always been that we remove seasonal decorations and flowers from the church during Lent, stripping things down to the furniture, and the few linens required to cover the altar for Mass. Everything necessary for the liturgical rites is retained.

However, some years ago, some bright soul, with some helpers, it seems, decided to “make a decorative statement” during Lent. They brought in broken pottery, dead branches, sometimes rocks, and sand. A fad was born! Copycats are everywhere! Now there are more “items” in Catholic sanctuaries during Lent than for the Sundays of Ordinary Time.

I'd guess that many of these wannabe faddists waste church funds by buying unglazed clays pots and breaking them to get the look they want.

Last year, during Lent, I visited the cathedral of Los Angeles. In the entry hall of the cathedral, someone had put together an arrangement of very large broken clay pots and dead branches.

As I passed the arrangement, I noticed a small group of tourists examining the arrangement, and I heard one of them say:

“I wonder what might be the statement behind this display of garden trash.”

I don't know.
It definitely isn't letting the liturgical rite speak for itself.
it's superimposing someone's ideology,
someone's "trash talk."

February 10, 2008

February 10: Saint Scholastica, the Blood Sister of Saint Benedict

From Pope Saint Gregory the Great (circa 540-604), “Dialogues,” Book II (Life and Miracles of Saint Benedict).

CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE: Of a Miracle Wrought by his Sister, Scholastica.

GREGORY: What man is there, Peter, in this world, that is in greater favor with God than St. Paul was: who yet three times desired our Lord to be delivered from the prick of the flesh, and obtained not his petition? Concerning which point also I must needs tell you, how there was one thing which the venerable father Benedict would have done, and yet he could not. For his sister called Scholastica, dedicated from her infancy to our Lord, used once a year to come and visit her brother. To whom the man of God went not far from the gate, to a place that did belong to the Abbey, there to give her entertainment.

And she coming thither on a time according to her custom, her venerable brother with his monks went to meet her, where they spent the whole day in the praises of God and spiritual talk: and when it was almost night they supped together, and as they were yet sitting at the table, talking of devout matters, and darkness came on, the holy Nun his sister entreated him to stay there all night, that they might spend it in discoursing of the joys of heaven. But by no persuasion would he agree unto that, saying that he might not by any means tarry all night out of his Abbey.

At that time, the sky was so clear that no cloud was to be seen. The Nun, receiving this denial of her brother, joining her hands together, laid them upon the table: and so, bowing down her head upon them, she made her prayers to almighty God: and lifting her head from the table, there fell suddenly such a tempest of lightning and thundering, and such abundance of rain, that neither venerable Benedict, nor his monks that were with him, could put their head out of door: for the holy Nun, resting her head upon her hands, poured forth such a flood of tears upon the table, that she drew the clear air to a watery sky, so that after the end of her devotions, that storm of rain followed: and her prayer and the rain did so meet together, that as she lifted up her head from the table, the thunder, so that in one and the very same instant, she lifted up her head and brought down the rain.

The man of God, seeing that he could not by reason of such thunder and lightning and great abundance of rain return back to his Abbey, he began to be heavy and to complain of his sister, saying: "God forgive you, what have you done?" to whom she answered: "I desired you to stay, and you would not hear me, I have desired our good Lord, and he hath vouchsafed to grant my petition: wherefore if you can now depart, in God's name return to your monastery, and leave me here alone."

But the good father, being not able to go forth, tarried there against his will, where willingly he would not stay. And so by that means they watched all night, and with spiritual and heavenly talk did mutually comfort one another: and therefore by this we see, as I said before. that he would have had that thing, which yet he could not: for if we respect the venerable man's mind, no question but he would have had the same fair weather to have continued as it was, when he set forth, but he found that a miracle did prevents desire, which, by the power of almighty God, a woman's prayers had wrought.

And it is not a thing to be marveled at, that a woman which of long time had not seen her brother, might at that time than he could, seeing, according to the saying of St. John, "God is charity" [1 John 4:8] and therefore of right she did more which loved more.

PETER: I confess that I am wonderfully pleased with that which you tell me.

CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR: How Benedict Saw the Soul of His Sister Ascend into Heavenly Glory.

The next day the venerable woman returned to her Nunnery, and the man of God to his Abbey: who three days after, standing in his cell, raising up his eyes to heaven, beheld the soul of his sister (which was departed from her body), in the likeness of a dove to ascend into heaven: who rejoicing much to see her great glory, with hymns and lauds gave the almighty God, and did impart the news of this her death to his monks, whom also he sent presently to bring her corpse to his Abbey, and had it buried in that grave which he had provided for himself; by means whereof it fell out that, as their souls were always one in God whiles they lived, so their bodies continued together after their death.

What do I do?

Yesterday a relative expressed to me some mistaken notions of my "jobs" in the monastery.

Here's a list.

Things All Monks Do
1. We join together in church several times a day to worship God by offering the Liturgy of the Hours (the Divine Office) and the Mass.
2. We each pray privately, especially by way of the prayer discipline called "Lectio divina," prayerful, reflective reading of Sacred Scripture.
3. We take turns at the physical chores of running the monastery household.

Jobs I have as personal assignments.
1. Serve as a priest in the celebration of the Mass and the Divine Office.
2. Take turns as a cantor or as an organist in our liturgical services.
3. Serve as the Formation Director and as one of the course instructors for new monks.
4. Maintain the schedules and records of Mass Intentions that the priests of our monastery offer.
5. Preach conferences and hear confessions for groups on retreat at the monastery.