Thursday, July 13, 2017

"The Benedict Option," Is It Too Dire?

The Summer Book Club that I facilitate read, "The Benedict Option-A Strategy For Christians In A Post-Christian Nation," by Rod Dreher. The book has received so much press, so many reviews and I was curious what the fuss was about, so I thought it was a good choice for the book club. I heard Cardinal Dolan talking about it on "Conversations with Cardinal Dolan," I saw a panel discussion about it on TV, with notable people including Rod Dreher, the author, discussing "The Option," so what's all the hype about.
Dreher who is a journalist, author and blogger who coined the expression, "The Benedict Option," has a rather dire assessment of modern culture and the West. He thinks we are about to enter another Dark Age (similar to what happened to Rome after the Roman Empire fell) and just as St. Benedict of Nursia in the 6th century withdrew from the chaos and maintained the Christian faith, building a community based on "principles of order, hospitality, stability and prayer," he thinks serious Christians will have to do the same.  He suggests that Christians of all denominations, consider withdrawing from the "fallen" society and forming intentional Christian communities based around monasteries, churches etc, to be in the company of like-minded, serious Christians.  He thinks the culture and all the ills associated with young people's obsession with modern technology (most especially their phones and the internet), and all the negative influences that abound in society along with the fact that young people are turned off to institutions (including organized religion) demands a new and creative response.
He thinks that most priests, ministers, pastors, religious and the hierarchy don't realize the perilous situation we're in. He wrote, "I have written "The Benedict Option," to wake up the church and to encourage it to act to strengthen itself, while there is still time."
He makes the startling claim that if current trends continue, our churches will soon be empty. Sounds like the apocalypse is coming or creeping in without too many noticing.
I'm not sure what to make of it. I do think he's onto something in that the Church needs new and creative ways which are practical (and work) to evangelize young adults and teens. They are the future of the Church and the Church needs to listen to them.
I've visited the community of Ave Maria in Naples, Florida many times. I've spoken to young adults there. They like it there. They are surrounded by like-minded young people and faith filled families. Its the only community I've ever visited that is close to what Dreher is suggesting. A lot centers around the beautiful Church and town square. (There is also a Catholic university there-Ave Maria University). According to what the young adults told me, some of the Catholic families have large families, with lots of children, so there is a lot of energy.
Is withdrawing the answer? Or do faith filled Catholics have to stay near their churches trying to build them up, make them more appealing to young people and newcomers. I'm not sure what the answer is but I do know that the book gave us a lot of interesting things to discuss.
NJA

Friday, July 7, 2017

"Summer of Hell" For Some Commuters But Also For Those Who Love the Church

The phrase "Summer of Hell" has been coined to describe delays, derailments, inconveniences and chaos caused by unreliable transit in NYC. But it also describes what will take place this summer as Penn Station in NYC will reduce the number of trains to repair old tracks, causing commuters to take alternate routes and causing stress for people just trying to get to work. Sad.
I started thinking about that phrase-"Summer of Hell," while reading a scandalous report on AOL today about a supposedly lurid news report coming out of Vatican City. I can't even get into the details, it would be too upsetting.
First there was the recent accusations against George Cardinal Pell. He was charged with multiple counts of sexual abuse of children. Of course, he is innocent until proven guilty, but considering his high position in the Church, it's terrible news. The Church in Australia has suffered enough.
Now this damaging report from the Italian newspaper, il Fatto Quotidiano, which claims a top priest was arrested, on drug charges. And that's only part of it.
I feel sorry for Pope Francis. I don't know what he can do. I'm not sure what the Cardinals can do. But someone is going to have to stand before God and give an account.
This hurts the Church. It hurts the people who love the Church, like me. It hurts all the good, honest, holy priests. I know so many of them, admire them, they work hard and do the right thing.
But this One, Holy, Apostolic Catholic Church needs to be purified. Someone is going to have to give an account before God.
NJA



Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Five Priests Ordained for Diocese of Rockville Centre-An Extraordinary, Holy Weekend on Long Island

This was Catholicism at its best. Five men (Fathers Michael Bissex, Liam McDonald, Michael Plona, Christopher Sullivan and John Wachowicz) ordained at St. Agnes Cathedral, the first priest ordination for Bishop Barres on Long Island. I watched it re-televised in the evening on Telecare. But as I watched I knew I had made a mistake. I was invited to the ordination but had previous plans. I should have tried to change my plans. But in any event, I watched it in its entirety on TV that evening and probably had a much better seat than I would have had at the Cathedral. It was very moving. I was especially moved when Bishop Barres sincerely thanked each set of parents.  Also, when Bishop Barres bestowed the sacrament of ordination during the laying on of hands and then every priest in attendance (it looked like at least 75 or more of them) placed their hands on the heads of the newly ordained priests to give them a blessing and to show solidarity with them. Catholicism at its best!

The next day on Sunday I attended the first Mass of Fr. John Wachowicz at St. Mary's Parish in Manhasset, where he is from. The Mass was too awesome to put into words. Fr. John had us all crying as he spoke to his father and mother from the pulpit, it was very emotional for him and us.

Fr. Nicholas Zientarski gave the homily at the Mass and noted that St. Mary's lost a beloved pastor, Msgr. John McCann who retired and then suddenly died last year and yet we were blessed to have another Fr. John come from our parish to strengthen the Church. Msgr. McCann was instrumental in encouraging John Wachowicz to become a priest.

The party afterwards was well planned with good food and plenty of parishioners and clergy to enjoy it.
We all waited in line for Fr. John's first blessing on each of us. And there was a long line.
Fr. John knows he is greatly blessed. His first assignment is St. Rosalie Parish in Hampton Bays, a very vibrant parish whose pastor, Fr. Edward Sheridan is a wonderful priest and pastor. Fr. Ed, as it turns out,  also happens to be presiding at my son's wedding this summer at Queen of the Holy Rosary in Bridgehampton. All good.
NJA


Friday, June 9, 2017

St. Hildegard of Bingen-Catholic Summer Reading Group Keeps Us Engaged

     During the late spring/summer I am involved with facilitating a book club in my parish. It's a good way for me to keep up with my reading. We've read biographies of two women Doctors of the Church over the last two years and this year we are tackling St. Hildegard of Bingen. She was named a saint and Doctor of the Church in 2012 by Pope Benedict who wanted to see the process completed during his pontificate. It took the Church over 800 years to canonize her. She was a very unusual woman mystic. Hildegard lived in the Middle Ages (1098-1179) and was a remarkable and influential woman, who is most noted today for her music. She was a German Benedictine abbess, composer, musician, expert in herbs and using them for healing,  philosopher and polymath.
     I didn't read the biography before suggesting it to the Church readers' group. I should have I might have considered a different biography.....don't want to go into the details here but she used herbs for all sorts of medical problems and I didn't realize what this would entail. Oh well, I figured she's a doctor of the church, how can I go wrong,  but secular writers highlight different things in saints' lives then theologians would. But anyway, everyone seems to be enjoying the book. I didn't know much about Hildegard which is why I was happy to read about her. I find the saints' very inspiring. We've read about St. Catherine of Siena, St. Teresa of Avila and now St. Hildegard. Since there are 4 women Doctors, next summer (God willing) we will read about the youngest doctor of the Church, St. Therese of Liseiux. I know the most about her, I've taken a course about her, with a Carmelite expert and have a great devotion to her besides, so I saved her for last.
     The next book we are reading this summer is a much discussed book (I've heard Cardinal Dolan and others speak about it on TV), titled, "The Benedict Option-A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation" by Rod Dreher. Probably my next post will be about that book.
NJA

"Let us always invoke the Holy Spirit, so that he may inspire in the Church holy and courageous women like St. Hildegard of Bingen, who developing the gifts they have received from God, make their own special and valuable contribution to the spiritual development of our communities and of the Church in our time." Pope Benedict

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Holy Oil and Miraculous Weeping Icons From St. Paul's Greek Church Can Soothe and Help

When people get bad news about their health, they often become worried and filled with despair. It puts family members in a difficult situation, as doctors are consulted and the best course of action is planned by medical doctors, the patient and the family. At times like that, people need faith, belief and prayer. It helps in more ways than one.
Some time ago my friend called to tell me her son who was newly married and his wife were quite upset as his wife's mother was given a terrible cancer diagnosis. It was very sad, it didn't sound like she had long to live, but with excellent medical care and cancer treatment she has been doing OK. Her cancer is not in remission but its not getting worse and she's "holding her own."
This family of the bride is Jewish and I attended the couple's interfaith marriage ceremony and reception so naturally I felt very sorry for them.  The reality was and still is that soon after their marriage they had to deal with this difficult situation as the bride's mother became very sick.
I told them about holy, blessed oil that I had from a Greek Orthodox Church on Long Island, NY, from, The Cathedral of St.Paul Greek Orthodox Church on Cathedral Avenue in Hempstead. I offered to mail it to them and I suggested she place a drop of holy oil on her mother's forehead every night before she went to sleep and to say a prayer. I've recently made another trip to the Church to get more oil for them....the second trip I've made for them....Not a miracle but she is doing OK which is better than anyone expected as her prognosis was very grave.
I'm telling this story because whether or not the blessed oil is helping I"m not sure. I'd like to think so. Of course, she's had the best treatment available as well. Is it a combination of the two as well as all the prayers? Whatever it is, the daughter who places the holy oil on her mother's forehead each night is able to do something, to have some control, to say a prayer, to comfort her mother.
The history of the Church, the miraculous weeping icons in the Church and the blessed holy oil is very interesting. The holy oil is free, it comes in little containers and people are encouraged to give a donation to the Church when taking the oil. The Church itself with its magnificent mosaics is worth seeing just for the beautiful, religious mosaics in the Church. There are also many saints' relics in the Church.
The Rosary Society from my parish visits the Greek Church at least once a year and the parishioners there welcome us. It's always an inspiring trip.
If you know someone who is ill, you might consider getting some of the blessed oil. It helps on many levels.
NJA

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Divine Mercy Sunday 2017 and God's Mercy


This year was the second year in a row that I gave a presentation on St. Faustina and the Divine Mercy Feast in my Church. After the Chaplet was sung at the 3:00 hour I gave my presentation. The importance of the time and the day, is not lost on me. It's a powerful, prayerful time to be in Church and to be talking about St. Faustina, her message from Jesus and the sacred image.
It so happened that as a prayer leader for the children, in the morning at the Children's Liturgy, it was my turn to give a talk to the children.  I gave a talk to young children and I spent some time talking about St. Faustina. I also gave them a prayer card with the sacred divine mercy image and those powerful words, "Jesus, I trust in you."

Well the children understood because when I asked them when they might use that powerful prayer, "Jesus I trust in you" they had some great answers. One little girl said she would say those words when she was being punished! And a young boy said when he was playing baseball and he was angry because the other team was winning, he would say to himself, "Jesus I trust in you." So they got the message and I was happy about that.

At the presentation, in the afternoon, I spoke about being open and aware. Open to the messages that Jesus gave to St. Faustina which were so important. St. Faustina wrote in her Diary, "Be receptive to God's mercy to the King of Mercy make time to come to God for graces and mercy.....As Jesus said, "My heart overflows with great mercy for souls."
The Feast of Divine Mercy is a day full of graces. Trusting in Jesus is the essence of the message of mercy that Sr. Faustina received from Jesus. Jesus said, "I have opened my heart as a living fountain of mercy. Let all souls draw life from it. Let them approach this sea of mercy with great trust. The graces of my mercy are drawn by means of one vessel only and that is trust. The more a soul trusts the more it will receive" (Diary 1578).
So it's important to be open to God's grace and mercy, to trust in all circumstances and let God's love and mercy transform your life.
NJA

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Joy of Easter Sunday-Being in the Moment

Easter Sunday in  the Northeast was unusually warm and beautiful. A perfect Easter Sunday. The Easter Sunday Mass I attended was food and nourishment for my soul.  Afterwards as I served dinner for seventeen guests (with help from my cousins) we shared an Easter meal, but first we gave thanks and prayed.

What I particularly loved was that sitting in my backyard, small light pink flowers from a flowering tree were "snowing" on all of us....pure magic. Yes it was a "springtime snow" falling softly down on us from a huge flowering tree.

As my young cousins had an Easter egg hunt for which they were rewarded, I was reminded of all that I have to be grateful for. But most especially I am grateful for Jesus. What a blessing to understand the value of His suffering, death and resurrection. What a blessing to be aware of who Christ is for me, for the world. There are so many lost people who have no clue and don't understand how rich a relationship with Jesus is, how nurturing and comforting belief is.

I have been giving retreats this Spring. One of the first things I tell participants is they should congratulate themselves for being there. In that moment in time, when there are so many lost people, they have found and made time for God. They have their priorities straight. It's no small matter, to be on the right path, to have found, "The Way, the Truth and the Life."
NJA