Thursday, April 29, 2010

Doctor Ecclesiae-Doctor of the Church

I gave a talk recently on St. Catherine of Siena, so once again I had to research the life and writings of this great saint. She was one of the women saints that I spoke about, a couple of weeks ago. As I was preparing for the talk, I thought to myself that I have to re-read the writings of these extraordinary women saints, whose lives have impacted so many, including me. Their writings are so rich, so filled with wisdom, love and truth that everytime I go back to them, I realize I've stayed away too long.
The first person to arrive the evening of my talk was a retired fire department lieutenant. To my surprise he knew a lot about St. Catherine of Siena and the other saints I was going to speak about. He had read many of the writings of the saints and he could have given the talk himself. Never underestimate the faithful! As you can imagine, he had a lot of good comments and contributed much to the discussion. 
In 1970, Pope Paul VI, declared St. Catherine, a Doctor of the Church (as well as St. Teresa of Avila). The title dates back to the Middle Ages and honors the extraordinary holiness of a saint as well as important writings and doctrine. A woman had not received the title before 1970. 
(There are only 3 women Doctors of the Church. The two others are Carmelites-St. Teresa of Avila and the youngest doctor who is St. Therese of Lisieux).  
In his homily, declaring Catherine a Doctor of the Church the Pope mentioned, "Catherine's lucid and profound absorption of divine truths." For an "unschooled" woman to receive this honor is quite amazing. Once again, I think of Scripture, "With God all things are possible." What other explanation could there be, other than God guiding St. Catherine and enabling her to know divine truths. 
St. Catherine often repeated these words, which might be good for us to recite as well, "My Lord, what do you want me to do. I will do it." The central theme in Catherine's writing is the love of God for all of us and the love shown through Christ's sacrifice on the Cross. These themes appear over and over again in the writings of the saints.
Here is one of her beautiful prayers that I read that evening. As I read the prayer, I could sense the divine inspiration that Catherine had, enabling her to write such a simple, yet profound and deeply moving prayer. What a gift to the Church! What pure love she had for the Trinity!

O eternal Trinity, my sweet love!
You, light, give us light.
You, wisdom, give us wisdom.
You, supreme strength, strengthen us.
Today, eternal God, let our cloud be dissipated
so that we may perfectly know and follow your truth, 
in truth with a free and simple heart.
St. Catherine of Siena 

Monday, April 26, 2010

Courage, Spirituality and the Path To God

I went to Bayside, Queens on Sunday afternoon to St. Robert Bellarmine Parish to attend a talk by Fr. Donald Haggerty, as part of a Catholic Speakers Series. Fr. Haggerty is a moral theologian, spiritual director and professor at St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers, NY. He is also a retreat leader and he's given many retreats for the Missionaries of Charity, ( a religious order founded by Mother Teresa in 1950) , all over the world. Years ago I took courses at St. Joseph's as part of some post-graduate courses I took. After receiving my Master's degree from Fordham, I've taken many courses over the years, here and there, some for credit, others for non-credit. I'm always trying to learn more and gain new insights and knowledge in spirituality, in particular about Christianity. In any event, I know Fr. Haggerty is a gifted teacher and a wonderful priest. He also writes wonderful reflections for Magnificat. 
On Sunday, I noticed that there was a film crew present, who apparently were going to film Fr. Haggerty's talk. Since I'm always curious, I went up to the cameraman and asked who he was filming for. His answer wasn't too surprising, especially since I was in the Diocese of Brooklyn. He was filming for NET-TV, the evangelization television network of the Brooklyn Diocese. There will be a clip of Fr. Haggerty's talk on the Currents News Show. The title of his talk was, "Catholic Teaching on Cooperation in Evil." 
There are many ways, sadly, that human beings can cooperate with evil and evil intentions. That's why prayer, going to Mass and staying on the right path in life is so important. There is a lot of evil in the world, it's so evident in the news. Through prayer God guides us, strengthens us for the journey and gives us courage. As Fr. Haggerty mentioned, Catholicism is about heroism. The Church was built on the heroic men and women martyrs, saints, apostles and ordinary disciples of the early Church. They had a great deal of courage in the face of adversity and persecution. They were Spirit-filled. From a personal standpoint, I believe God is with me, at all times, in all situations. That doesn't mean I haven't had my share of dark periods in my life because I have, but I understand that's part of the human condition. As one famous writer put it, "Life is difficult." 
When Fr. Haggerty was speaking about cooperation with evil, I was thinking about something which is prevalent today and an issue that concerns me. I always warn parents about it, during talks that I give. What I spend time talking about is the prevalence of bullying in our society. Children and teenagers can be bullied in school, at play and then there is cyberbullying, which takes place through the internet. When children are bullied, gossiped about or harrassed, it's very destructive. There have been some very well documented cases, in the news, of children, teenagers and even adults who committed suicide because of gossiping and bullying, which was detrimental to their self-image and self-esteem. Jesus was bullied, hated by some, threatened, stalked and eventually killed by his enemies. He was an innocent man/God. He warned us it could happen to us. And it does, unfortunately. Teaching children and adults to rely on God's love and the love of family, to build a deep relationship with God, based on trust and gain self-esteem  and self-confidence from that relationship with God and close family and friends is very important in this world we live in. Human beings can be very fickle and children need to know that. They also need to know that we are made in the image and likeness of God and are beloved by God.
Fr. Haggerty's talk centered more on life issues and what the Church teaches regarding those issues and cooperation with evil in regard to those who fail to respect or protect life.  It was very enlightening. I learned a lot as I always do, which is why I'm still learning, growing, listening, reading and attending lectures, as I continue to journey towards God.

The eyes of the Lord are upon those who love him; God is their mighty shield and strong support, A shelter from the heat, a shade from the noonday sun, a guard against stumbling, a help against falling.  (Sirach 34:16)

It is you who bless us Lord; you surround us with favor as with a shield. (Ps.5)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Another Idea Besides Public Penance

A deacon in Alaska, Deacon Charles Rohrbacher sent a letter to Deacon Greg Kandra who writes the popular blog for beliefnet called "The Deacon's Bench," with the idea that bishops (with deacons alongside them) should do public penance to atone for the sins and horrific acts of sexual abuse caused by some priests. Pope Benedict has called on the Church to do penance. Here is what the Deacon specifically suggests: "So here is my question for you. What if our bishops chose to do public penance? What if they lay prostrate or knelt in front of their cathedrals as penitents before each Mass on the weekend closest to the feast of St. Peter and Paul or on the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus or some other approrpriate day or days? Or, even better, on the first Friday of every month for the next year starting with the feast of the Sacred Heart or Sts. Peter and Paul? And what if we, as their deacons, as an order in the Church, in all humility, not only called on our bishops to do public penance, but offered to join them in it?" (Deacon Rohrbacher)
It's an interesting idea and perhaps some bishops will respond to the idea. In a previous blog, I noted that needed reparation, healing and settlements that were made to the victims of child abuse are necessary and important. Reaching out to console, as Pope Benedict did in Malta is also crucial for healing. The Church is working hard and has instituted many new policies to ensure this never happens again.  But there is something else that is needed, in my opinion, something more tangible.  I believe that added reparation or atonement is necessary for God. After all we are the Body of Christ, when one suffers, we all suffer (on some level) and we are all united to Christ. 
So my idea is that some kind of reparation that would help the poor, help struggling families and those in need.  A Reparation Fund-a fund whose sole purpose is to help the unfortunate, marginalized, the hungry, homeless etc. Of course, the Church already has Catholic agencies  that do great work in this area, but I'm speaking about a specific fund, to be set up within the agencies (perhaps), so that some tangible good for the poor, could come of this horrific crisis. Then bishops who felt compelled to donate could, or priests, or anyone else, could contribute to the fund to help the needy. It's just an idea I had. 
I keep wondering, "What is God's will in all this?" Our God is a God of goodness, unconditional love and truth. How can we make amends to God for the failures within the Church that hurt children and others? I don't know the answer but I think about it a lot. 

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Volcanic Ash, Earthquakes, A Meteorite....Life on Planet Earth

As most people know, volcanic ash from the eruption of a volcano in Iceland spread across the skies in Europe canceling thousands of flights for days, disrupting travel plans and canceling concerts and other important events. Even President Obama's trip to Poland to attend the funeral of the Polish president, Lech Kaczynski and his wife, had to be cancelled, because of the dangers of ash to aircraft engines. Such tragedy in Poland. So sad. 
In other news last week, a blazing fireball streamed across the southern Wisconsin sky, lighting it up. Hundreds of people called local police and the National Weather Service, concerned about what it might be. There were "several reports of a prolonged sonic boom....along with shaking of homes, trees and various other objects." It turned out to be a large meteor since fragments have already been found by farmers and meteor hunters (who knew meteor hunters even existed). Fragments of meteors, which don't disintegrate in the atmosphere and land on earth are valuable, each one is worth approximately $100.00-$500.00. That's interesting. They'll most likely wind up in a museum, maybe right here in New York. Probably you'll be able to see one of these fragments in the Museum of Natural History, in the future. They have some huge meteors in the museum. 
Sadly, there was another deadly earthquake recently, this time in China. Some people think earthquakes are happening more frequently, but geologists state this isn't the case. Craig Childs wrote in a NY Newsday article titled, "All Shook Up on Planet Earth," that a "series of quakes makes it feel like the end of days. But it's been this way forever." He ends his article like this...."Are these the end times? Yes. And they have been this way since the beginning. Welcome to Planet Earth, a wonderful but not entirely stable place to live."
Earth isn't a stable place to live? Well, most of the time it is. It's a beautiful planet, especially this time of year in the Northeast, a wonderful creation, but it does have its imperfections.
The most uplifting words I heard this weekend came from a 2nd grader who is preparing to receive First Communion. He came with his parents to a mini-retreat in Brooklyn. I asked the children present, "What's the best thing about Jesus?" One boy came to the microphone to share and his reply was great, "He's got our back!" I think that's a great statement of faith. Yes, Jesus' got our back and even in the midst of trials, uncertainty and stressful events, Jesus will see us through. As I said yesterday and as I've written many times on this blog, "keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus" helps us stay grounded and focused. Children are very open to that message. 

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Count Me In

Pope Benedict is being vilified, it's irresponsible and it's fueling hatred. Because of irresponsible behavior on the part of some people whose remarks and actions enflame ill emotions and hatred, Catholicism and the visible leader of the Catholic Church on earth, the Vicar of Christ, are going through a difficult and painful trial. In England a "publicity stunt," calling for the arrest of the Pope when he visits Britain, has upset many. (It is utter nonsense!) It is being condemned by sensible British citizens and leaders. So in light of all the negative press, it is not surprising that vandals targeted the house in Southern Germany where Pope Benedict was born. Graffiti was sprayed on the front door, but it was quickly painted over. 
Graffiti was also painted on billboards, which were promoting Pope Benedict's April 17th-18th visit to the island nation of Malta. 
Public opinion is turning against the Church in many European countries. A statistic, that is hard to believe, stated that as many as a quarter of Germany's Catholics were considering leaving the Church. Some people are actually filling out forms called, "Declaration of Defection,"and sending them to their local bishops. This is a crisis that seems, at times, to be spinning out of control. Perhaps the Church does need to convene a new council, Vatican III, as some Church experts and commentators have suggested. Or perhaps, more realistically, a convocation of Archbishops and Bishops should be imagined to "brainstorm" about how to deal effectively with this ongoing crisis and limit the damage it has done to the credibility of the Church. A proactive, enlightened, insightful,  prayerful response is in order. 
There is a website called, "Count Me Out," which provides information for those considering leaving the Roman Catholic Church. According to the website it is, "For many who no longer practice, remaining 'lapsed' is not sufficient; a clean break is needed." According to the website, 9,112 people have completed a "Declaration of Defection," and 458 e-mails have been sent. 
This is very sad and disturbing news. 
I'm going to give a talk this weekend in Brooklyn to Catholic parents. One of the things I'm going to tell them is how important faith, belief and prayer is for children and adults, especially in this uncertain, anxiety-filled, fast-paced world we live in. I will tell many stories, quote studies and my own faith experiences to try to stress that their children need religious rituals and prayer (as many psychologists also state), to give them inner strength and courage to deal with the challenges and complexities of the modern, secular world. 
Talking to parents on the importance of faith and prayer, is one of the most important things I do. I can't imagine a life without faith, prayer and belief, but sadly there are many people without faith. What troubles me even more, is that they try to convince others that faith and belief is not important or necessary in life and that simply is not true. All the studies that I have read, support my belief and the beliefs of all the major world religions, that prayer, belief and religious rituals are good for human beings. 

Friday, April 9, 2010

Accepting God's Call, While Others Reject It

As reported in the news, Archbishop Jose Gomez, who was born in Mexico, has been chosen by Pope Benedict to become the next leader of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. LA is the largest Roman Catholic diocese in the United States. According to Catholic blogger, Rocco Palmo, Archbishop Gomez who is considered young for the appointment at 58 years old is, "Humble, prayerful and reserved, theologically conservative and spiritually fervert." He is also a priest of the conservative and somewhat mysterious religious organization, Opus Dei. He is the highest ranking member of Opus Dei, in the Catholic Church. (As most people know, Opus Dei was made famous in popular culture by Dan Brown's best-selling work of fiction, the book, "The Da Vinci Code.")
At a recent news conference,  at the city's magnificent Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, the Archbishop was introduced by Cardinal Mahony. Cardinal Mahony will be retiring on Feb. 27th, his 75th birthday. Archbishop Gomez, who is presently the Archbishop of San Antonio, got a little emotional at the news conference, which is a good sign. It shows his humanness at the extraordinary mission he's been given. He said, "I was born in Mexico, my sisters still live there." (His voice was shaking.) "I am very proud of the Mexican love for life and family and faith that first turned my heart toward God." As the Archbishop spoke about his humble beginnings, he had to stop to take a drink. He continued, "This is getting a little emotional-forgive me." He then commented that he was drinking only water. I watched the video of the news conference, a great thing about the internet. 
I've thought about the words he spoke. He credits his Latino love for life, family and faith for helping him to turn towards God. His heart turned towards God and that turning, that accepting of God's call put him on a path that would ultimately lead him to a very important role in the Catholic Church, at a crucial time in Church history. It seems he's up for the task. 
Whenever I hear about God working in extraordinary ways in someone's life, I always think of the Scripture passage, "With God, all things are possible." For believers, we see that truth happening all the time. When we accept God's call and are faithful to God, in all situations and trials in life, then amazing things can happen, as we see happening in the life of Archbishop Gomez. He will be a Cardinal someday, as the leader of the Archdiocese of LA is traditionally a Cardinal. I can only imagine the celebration and tears of joy and pride that will bring to the Latino community throughout the world, ( of course to his immediate family as well) when he becomes a Cardinal.
The Latino community in California is uplifted by the good news. One woman was quoted as saying, "Someone who speaks the language and understands the culture is going to be different. I think he is going to pick up the pieces here." Many blessings and God's abundant grace....for Archbishop Gomez.

I was going to continue blogging about the sad news of people who choose to reject God's call. They gathered on Easter weekend as they always do, and this past Easter they were "celebrating" that their numbers are increasing. Sadly, atheism is on the rise in America. But that story is for another day.
For those of us who believe in the mystery and goodness of God and all that entails, we rejoice and live in hope, especially during this Season of joy.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Miracle of Easter

A Blessed and Happy Easter and Easter Season to All!

Thank God for the faithful laity of the Catholic Church, who keep their eyes fixed on Jesus. They understand Easter joy and Easter hope. They believe in the miracle of the resurrection, the gift of Eucharist, the love of God for each of us. The failures within the Church and the recent barrage of negative news reports did not dampen the beautiful day of Easter, for most. It was a magnificent, sunny day in the Northeast. My family still had to arrive a half hour early on Easter Sunday, to get our usual seats in Church. There were people standing in Church and that was with extra Masses added. Some Catholics have read the horrific articles about scandal in the Church or heard about them, but they still come, because their faith is grounded in Jesus. It's about Jesus, it's about the mystery and love of God and they know and believe that Jesus is "the Way, the Truth and the Life." They choose life "with Jesus," as opposed to the emptiness and hopelessness of unbelief. As Christians, we know that Christianity when it is well lived, provides a life filled with purpose, meaning and depth. Yes, the faithful believers in Christ, who trust, believe and are loyal, are the greatest asset and resource that the Church has. It uplifts me and inspires me at every Mass to be a part of a faith community that stands firm in belief, tradition, love of God and God's word. That is why people want to belong to the Catholic Church, to our community of believers. They know, that in spite of failures, that never should have happened, we are still Christians filled with courage, hope for a better future and a desire to bring forth the Reign of God and God's peace on Earth.  Yes, we are a redeemed people, filled with hope, promise and a longing for God's peace and the fulfillment of God's promises. We "stand" on the shoulders of great men and women, throughout the centuries, who have worked hard and even given their lives, for the Christian cause of love, hope, truth, charity and goodness. 

Let us come into God's presence with confidence, because we will find mercy and strength when we need it.   (Heb. 4:16)

Friday, April 2, 2010

Jesus Transforms Suffering Into Love, Suffering Into Peace

Jesus is the image of one who has been deceived, betrayed; he seems a failure. He is fearful, timid, disoriented. Jesus forsaken is darkness, melancholy, contrast. He is the image of all that is strange, undefinable, that has something monstrous about it. Because he is God crying out for help!....He is the lonely person, the derelict...He seems useless, an outcast, in shock......Consequently we can recognize him in every suffering brother or sister. When we approach those who resemble him, we can speak to them of Jesus forsaken. To those who recognize that they are similar to him and are willing to share his fate, he becomes: for the mute, words; for the doubtful, the answer; for the blind, light; for the deaf, voice; for the weary, rest; for the desperate, hope; for the seperated, unity; for the restless, peace. With him the person is transformed and the non-meaning of suffering acquires meaning. He had cried out a "why?" to which no one replied, so that we would have the answer to every question. The problem of human life is suffering. Whatever form it may take, however terrible it may be, we know that Jesus has taken it upon himself and -as if by a divine alchemy-he transforms suffering into love. I can say from my own experience that as soon as we lovingly accept any suffering in order to be like him, and then continue to love by doing God's will, if the suffering is spiritual, it disappears; if it is physical, it becomes a light burden. When our pure love comes in contact with suffering, it transforms it into love. In a certain sense, it divinizes the suffering. We could almost say that the divinization of suffering, that Jesus brought about, continues in us. And after each encounter in which we have loved Jesus forsaken, we find God in a new way, more face to face, with greater openness and fuller unity. Light and joy return; and with the joy, that peace which is the fruit of the spirit. This light, joy and peace which blossom from suffering that is loved strike people and move even the most difficult persons. Nailed to the cross, we become mothers and fathers of souls. The effect is the greatest possible fruitfulness. As Oliver Clement writes: 'The abyss, opened for an instant by that cry, is filled with the great wind of the resurrection.' Every disunity is annulled, traumas and splits are healed, universal brotherhood is resplendent, miracles of resurrection abound, a new springtime begins for the Church and for humanity.
Words of Wisdom from Chiara Lubich

And what would Julian of Norwich say as we look forward with hope to the joy of Easter, the beauty and hopefulness of the Easter Season...she would say......."All will be well."