Sunday, August 31, 2008

"Peter" to "Satan" in five verses!

This Sunday's Gospel is the continuation of Last Sunday's Gospel, from Matthew 16.  Taken together, it shows a drop in prestige and esteem that looks like the stock market crash of 1929.

In Matthew 16:19, Simon has been told that he is "Peter", the rock on which the Church is to be built.  Now, just five verses later, Jesus calls him "Satan".  Bad enough if Peter had dropped back down to being Simon again, but he seems to sink even further, down to the the devil.

What happened?  What'd he do?  For that, let's go back to the end of last week's Gospel.

Verse 20 tells us that Jesus "strictly ordered his disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ."  He's let the cat out of the bag.  He confirmed what they may have suspected, but now they got confirmation.  They must've thought they had won "life's lottery": their longed for Messiah had arrived, and they were not just on the earth when it happened; they were part of his "inner circle"!  Woo-hoo!

Now, fast forward to today's Gospel.  While the Apostles are basking in their imagination of what it would mean to be a member of the Messiah's court, Jesus brings them back to earth with the reality of what his Kingship will mean for him: to "suffer greatly" and "be killed".  His "red carpet" is the Way of the Cross.  No "velvet ropes"; just the cords of a scourge.  For Peter and the other eleven, this was like being told they were getting a pony for Christmas, only to find a pile of pony-poo under the tree.

Matthew tells us Peter "took Jesus aside".  This is one of those little moments that really make no difference to the story itself, but gives us something that an eye-witness to the event (Matthew) would have remembered.  The other eleven guys saw Jesus & Peter talking quietly, and then hear Jesus rebuke Peter loudly.  They must've thought, "What did he say to Jesus?"

We know what Peter said.  "No such thing shall ever happen to you."  In other words, "I'll take care of it, Jesus.  You don't have to suffer.  You won't be killed."  Jesus has heard that before, a while back in the desert just after he was baptized by John.  Only then, it was the devil telling him something like that.  He recognized that this wasn't Peter talking to him; it was the devil talking through Peter to him.  Thus, the rebuke is not so much to Peter as, through Peter, back to Satan.

Perhaps it'd be a little easier for us to fight sin if we saw it coming a mile away.  But more often than not, sin comes disguised, packaged nicely.  Sometimes, the temptation to sin even comes from another person talking us into it.  Sometimes that "other person" is a friend, even our best friend.  The Devil is the master of knowing just what buttons to push in us.  He knows our weaknesses, whether chronic or momentary, and he waits for just the right time to move in for the attack.

How do we fight an opponent like that?  Like Jesus, we need to be able to identify Satan, even when he comes at us in disguise.  Nothing is better for building our confidence than getting a good "first punch" in, and nothing accomplishes this better than announcing to Satan that you can see through his disguise.

Sometimes we're going to lose those fights, but sometimes we're going to win them.  Cheer up, Peter.  You had a bad round, but it's a long fight.  In the wise words of Francis Albert, "Each time I find myself flat on my face, I pick myself up and get back in the race."

Friday, August 29, 2008

She had me at "hockey mom".

Feast of the Martyrdom of John the Baptist

Another sign of the "end of summer" is today's celebration of the Martyrdom of St. John.  It's also that time of year when seminarians are back in classes for another semester of studies.  This time of year, I especially think of the men in 1st Theology, who are going through a bit of a panic time right now, as they adjust to seminary life, wonder whether this was the right thing for them to do, and try their best to memorize the names of their new classmates.  We've all faced those "What the heck am I doing here?" moments, and if it gives any comfort to anyone in 1st Theology reading this, they never really stop happening.  Just because a loving God is the one giving us the test doesn't mean he's sharing the answer key.

I think that seminarians, in a special way, have a special affinity towards John the Baptist.   Seminarians, as "JB" did in being the hinge between the Old and New Testaments, do represent the "transition": guys who are not yet clergy, but more than just "regular" laymen.  In the seminary or in parish settings, they're constantly reminded that they are not yet Priests, and shouldn't act in a "clerical" way.  But when they're at home, family members and friends have begun acting differently in their presence, watching their language and asking them to explain anything remotely having to do with the Church that made the newspapers.  But they also face the heroic danger that John the Baptist faced: sometimes calling things as you see them can get you into trouble.  As in the days of Herod, telling the truth to power (say, for example, that the pastor to whom you've been assigned is insane and who, shall we say, "doesn't just have issues but a whole subscription!") runs the risk of imprisonment (in the case of a seminarian, being sent for counseling, or, perhaps asked to take time away from studies to "discern" their vocation), or even death (being dropped as a seminarian altogether).  Always remember the "magic pastor shield", which is the aura that settles upon someone when given the canonical title of Pastor (there's no such thing as a "magic administrator shield").  It means that no matter what happens in a parish between you and the pastor, the powers-that-be will begin their investigation with the presumption that the Pastor was correct.  

Enjoy your feast days, guys.  Take deep breaths.  Count the days until Fall Break.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


On April 22, 2007, Pope benedict made a pilgrimage to Pavia, Italy, where St. Augustine's relics are entombed.  Here are some links to talks and homilies he gave, which give more insight into his Augustinian insights.

Feast of St. Augustine (354-430)

Today, I betcha, there's punch and cookies in the papal Household.

St. Augustine of Hippo is, by far, Pope Benedict's favorite, well, you name it: Saint, Doctor of the Church, Theologian, Christian writer, etc.  You can bet there's a party going on in the Appartamento Pontificio (for as much as a party can happen there).  Want to know what B16 thinks St. Augustine has to offer us?  This passage comes from talk two:
"When I read St Augustine's writings, I do not get the impression that he is a man who died more or less 1,600 years ago; I feel he is like a man of today:  a friend, a contemporary who speaks to me, who speaks to us with his fresh and timely faith. In St Augustine who talks to us, talks to me in his writings, we see the everlasting timeliness of his faith; of the faith that comes from Christ, the Eternal Incarnate Word, Son of God and Son of Man. And we can see that this faith is not of the past although it was preached yesterday; it is still timely today, for Christ is truly yesterday, today and for ever. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Thus, St Augustine encourages us to entrust ourselves to this ever-living Christ and in this way find the path of life."
Amongst his Wednesday General Audience addresses, the Holy Father has dedicated no less than five of them to the topic of Sant'Agostino.  If you want a concise précis of St. Augustine, click on the following for the addresses:

Talk one - January 9, 2008 (Augustine's life)

Talk two - January 16, 2008 (Augustine's later life)

Talk three - January 30, 2008 (faith & reason)

Talk four - February 20, 2008 (Augustine's writings)

Talk five - February 27, 2008 (Augustine's conversions)

I just downloaded & printed them myself, and now I'm going to cram in preparation for tonight's homily at Mass.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Wednesday at the DNC

Has anyone else picked up on the fact that Bill Clinton is speaking at the Democratic National Convention, of all days, TOMORROW?

And tomorrow is whose feast day?  Monica's, of course.
No, not THAT Monica.

That's better.  St. Monica, mother of St. Augustine.

mint, dill, cummin, gnats and camels

Today's gospel is a continuation of Our Lord's opening of a can of whoop@$$ on the Pharisees.

"You pay tithes of mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier things of the law: judgment and mercy and fidelity."
To understand what the Lord was throwing out at them, you have to understand that everything growing from the earth was the subject of a tithe.  Both in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, it's clear that one-tenth of every bit of produce from the ground was,  technically, owed to the Levitical (priestly) class in exchange for the ministerial functions they performed at the Temple.

So what about mint, dill, and cummin?  These were not grown in any great quantity; certainly nothing compared to wheat or barley or any other food crop.  These were kitchen herbs, used not as a main food staple, but as something to spice up food.  As such, it was grown in small quantities, and not really thought to be part of the tithe-able crops.

But not so with the Pharisees, who prided themselves (and made sure everyone knew about it) on the fact that they did tithe on the little bit of kitchen herbs they grew.  This was their way of bragging that they kept the law to a meticulous (and some would say ridiculous) degree.

So what is Jesus saying to them?  He's questioning how, on one hand, they could be so meticulous about the smallest details of observing the Law.  But, on the other hand, they could also be so obstinate when it came to following the bigger precepts of the Law; things like judgment, mercy, and fidelity.

The other part of that passage is also great for the trivia value:
"Blind guides, who strain out the gnat and swallow the camel!"
A gnat is an insect, and as such, an unclean animal (not kosher).  In fact, so is a camel (I mean unclean, not an insect).  Pharisees would often strain their wine through a cheesecloth kind of gauze, to make sure they didn't accidentally consume an non-kosher animal.  The "dig" Jesus is throwing at the Pharisees is that they went to great lengths to make sure they didn't eat a gnat, but had no problem gulping down a camel.  It reminds me about the statement he makes about ignoring the plank in one's own eye while calling attention to the splinter in someone else's eye.

Jesus knew how to hit the Pharisees in a way that would hurt them.  Uncleanliness.  Not in the way of being dirty, but more about being unclean and thus unable to worship God properly.  They prided themselves on a ritual purity that they believed set them apart from the common folk.  The very name "Pharisee" is literally translated as "separated ones", meaning they stay holy by staying separate from the rest of the profane world.
"You cleanse the outside of cup and dish, but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence."
Pharisees believed that a cup or dish that was ceremonially unclean could not be used, but food that was obtained through theft or cheating was perfectly fine, as long as it was eaten in a ritually clean cup or dish.

What's it all about?  Obsession with the externals.  We try our best to make sure that we look, on the outside, to be good and upright.  But how do we look on the inside?  I remember part of a talk I heard once given at a youth group retreat, which spoke about the "3 views of me".  The first view is how we see ourselves, which tends to be the most unflattering (since we're overly critical about ourselves).  The second view is how others see us, and we spend a whole lot of time and effort making sure that others see us in a positive light.  The third view is how God sees us; that's the one we need to spend our time working on to make perfect.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Death to King Loooeeeeeeeee!

No, not really.  I'm just having a "History of the World - Part I" flashback.  Remember Cloris Leachman as madame Defarge?

Thinking as I was, today, about St. Joseph Calasanz, I started to ponder the other Saint whose feast day was today: St. Louis IX, King of France (1226-1270).  I got to thinking of him because of the church named for him in Roma: San Luigi dei Francesi.  It's the church designated for French nationals living in Rome, and is usually the titular church for French Cardinals, most recently the Cardinal Archbishops of Paris.  I often pass the church on my visits there, as I walk between the Piazza Navona and the Pantheon.  But, though the church is named for him, you need to go a little further away, to the Church of the Gesù, to venerate a relic of King Louis.

Should you visit the church, make your way to the chapel in the back left corner.  This is the "Contarelli Chapel", designated by French cardinal Matthieu Cointerel (1519-1585) as the place where he wanted to be buried.  Thanks to some mismanagement by artists, paintings above the altar and walls of the chapel ended up being painted by the great Caravaggio around 1600.  They are three paintings of St. Matthew (since Matthew was the patron of Cardinal Contarelli).  Bring some Euro coins with you to light up the chapel and get a good look at the paintings (or, if you've got time, hang around and wait for some group of art students to swoop in and pay for the illumination themselves.  Little buggers are just using their parents' money, anyway).

The most famous of these paintings is this one, called "The Calling of St. Matthew".  For a better image that will give you more of the details, click here.  Check out the look of Christ, with his hand extended, towards Matthew.  See how Matthew can't look Jesus in the eye, and only looks down at the coins he collected in taxes.  Imagine what's going through his mind: "Jesus, or these coins?  Which life do I choose?"  Remember when art in churches "spoke" to people?

OK, I realize that I'm not really talking about St. Louis, as much as I'm talking about the church named for him.  But it is one of those neat little treasures hidden away in Rome.  Definitely worth a visit.

Where have you gone, Joe Calasanz?

Today the Church gives us the option of celebrating the feast day of St. Joseph Calasanz, founder of the Poor Clerks Regular of the Mother of God of the Pious Schools.  Whew, that's a mouthful; no wonder they shortened it to be known simply as the Piarists.  Calasanz was a Spaniard by birth, but founded his order and worked most of his life in Rome.  In fact, if you're in the Piazza Navona in Rome, you're just a hop, skip, & jump from venerating his relics at the Chiesa di S. Pantaleo e S. Giuseppe Calasanzio.  You can even see the rooms in which he lived (and died) if you make an appointment.

Calasanz is credited with creating the first free public schools in Europe, and he did it whilst working on educating young children.

Did you just let out a gasp?  I'll say it again: he spent his time ministering to the young.  If you did gasp, cough, or gagged so that your coffee came out of your nose a little, you're probably not alone.

How different a world we live in today.  A world that would probably never allow a St. Joseph Calasanz to function in this capacity.  Picture it:  It's 2008, and a Priest who came from another country visits with the bishop of a diocese, explains how he sees a need to start educating the young, and seeking permission to do so on church property.  How many bishops would have diocesan lawyers screaming at them, warning them what a liability such a place could possibly become?  How many benefactors would be reluctant to have their names associated with such a school, just in case something scandalous might theoretically happen down the road?   How many times would vocations to such an order be fingerprinted, background checked, probably even having DNA samples collected from them?  How many priests today shy away from being anywhere in proximity to young people because of the awareness that it would only take one accusation (true or not) from one of them to essentially end his priestly ministry?  How many teens have been so conditioned by the media that they fear any contact with clergy or religious?

Calasanz, Bosco, even Mother Seton.  Would Sainthood even be possible for them in 2008?

Today's Question

I just got back from the local CVS pharmacy, where I had to pick up a few things.

The section with all the condoms and stuff had a big sign above the aisle, advertising its location.  The sign read, "FAMILY PLANNING".

Shouldn't the sign read "FAMILY PREVENTION"?

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Manning family karaoke

Obviously, all the talent genes got used up in athletics,  If anyone can decipher what song they're singing, I'd be curious.

Feast of St. Rose of Lima

Howdy-doo, there, readers.  I'm back from vacation.

I am constantly amazed that, depending on what I'm going through in my life, God sends me a message out there for the world, yet one that seems to be directed just toward me.  This quote comes from the writings of St. Rose of Lima, found in the breviary in today's Office of Readings:

"Our Lord and Savior lifted up his voice and said with incomparable majesty: 'Let all men know that grace comes after tribulation.  Let them know that without the burden of afflictions it is impossible to reach the height of grace.  Let them know that the gifts of grace increase as the struggles increase.  Let men take care not to stray and be deceived.  This is the only true stairway to paradise, and without the cross they can find no road to climb to heaven.'"

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Gone for the week

I'm about to take off for a few days of R&R with my mother.  But it's bugging me that I'll be away from my parish, and daily Mass with people, for some great feast days this week.  So, since my mother would never stand for me giving a homily at a Mass in a hotel room, here's my little thoughts for the Saints this coming week:

Monday: St. Jane de Chantal.  The foundress of the Visitation sisters makes me think of the Visitation Convent that used to be, until only recently, in Frederick, Maryland.  Seminarians used to go down for First Friday devotions, which always attracted a large amount of local families (not to mention the sisters behind the cloister grille).

Tuesday: St. John Eudes.  Could the founder of the Congregation of Jesus and Mary have considered that, after his death, they'd be known as "Eudists"?  I love telling daily Mass attendees this fact; in their half awake, 8:10am consciousness they think I say he was the founder of the "nudists".

Wednesday: St. Bernard of Clairvaux.  My first summer parish assignment as a seminarian was at a parish named for St. Bernard.  This was a guy with a great love for the Blessed Mother.

Thursday: Pope St. Pius X.  Papa Sarto.  Restoring all things in Christ.  Great motto for today.  Known most of all for lowering the age of reception of Holy Communion to the age that is commonplace today.  But not so well known is his encyclical on liturgical music.

Friday: The Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  The last day of an "octave" which began on the Assumption of Our Lady.  The principal patroness of my diocese (thanks to the fact that our founding bishop was ordained on this feast day back when it was celebrated on May 31, the end of the month dedicated to Mary.

Have a great week, everyone, and thanks for reading.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Decoration Withdrawal Syndrome

OK, so it's probably not a disease I can sue anyone for, but I can still consider myself a victim, can't I?

For the ten years of my Priesthood, I've always been assigned to parishes that had side altars to Our Lady.  So for the feast days, I enjoyed decorating these altars.  But now I'm in a place that neither has side altars, nor seems to have flowers in the church.  Since I've only been here for about six weeks, I promised myself I'd sit back and not do anything, waiting to see whether the parish buys flowers, or whether parishioners bring flowers themselves.

Last night and this morning I got my answer.  Neither happens, and I've got the shakes because I want to run to the store and get some flowers.  Of course, the shakes could be the 4-shot espresso iced coffee I'm chugging.

I miss simple piety.  One of my friends is pastor of a parish in Maryland.  Over the past few days, leading up to today, his parishioners bring flowers from their gardens (and probably more than a few supermarkets' flower departments).  They take a personal ownership in decorating Our Lady for her feast day.  Of course, I've also seen other places in which the attitude is, "What a shame no one decorated that statue.  Of course, I'm much too busy to do such a thing, but someone in the parish should do it."

I always liked decorating the altars.  For someone who'll never have biological children, I always felt it was something akin to what parents do when they put presents under a Christmas tree, and then wait to see their childrens' expressions of surprise when they see it all in front of them.  Some flowers here, a few candles there, the occasional reliquary, and -boom- Catholic joy!

Who knows?  Our Lady's birthday is coming up.  Maybe then.

The Solemnity of the Assumption

"It was necessary that she who had preserved her virginity inviolate in childbirth should also have her body kept free from all corruption after death.

It was necessary that she who had carried her Creator as a child on her breast should dwell in the tabernacles of God.

It was necessary that the bride espoused by the father should make her home in the bridal chambers of heaven.

It was necessary that she, who had gazed on her crucified Son and been pierced in the heart by the sword of sorrow which she had escaped in giving him birth, should contemplate him seated with the Father.

It was necessary that the Mother of God should share the possessions of her Son, and be venerated by every creature as the Mother and handmaid of God."

St. John Damascene, quoted by Pope Pius XII in today's Office of Readings.

Monday, August 11, 2008

CDW Letter - continued

A few readers commented that they would like me to post the letter I mentioned in the last blog.  I'm sure there was a way to do this, only I'm still learning my iMac.  Anyway, the gang at New Liturgical Movement has done me the service, so readers here can read the letter by clicking here.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

"[God], I know you are near."

On Friday, a friend of mine sent me a copy of a letter sent out by Cardinal Arinze at the CDW to the Presidents of Bishops' conferences around the world.  Pope Benedict recently approved a directive which says that the literal Hebrew pronunciation of the name of God not be used in songs or prayers.

What is Rome talking about?  The "Tetragrammaton".  Confused?  We're talking about the four Hebrew letters yod, heh, vav, and heh (יהוה) transliterated in English as "YHWH", and found in some translations of the Old Testament as well as the occasional hymn as "Yahweh".  "Tetragrammaton" is a Greek word meaning "four letters", as in the 4 letters used to name God.

In books of Scripture written in Hebrew, the name is certainly written, but never pronounced phonetically.  Instead, the word "Adonai" ("God") is substituted, or even the words "Ha Shem" (literally, "The Name") are used.  For Jews, even to say the proper name of God would be a violation of the third commandment (or second commandment to Christians), taking God's name in vain.  The only time it was used in Judaism was once per year by the High Priest during Yom Kippur, when he alone had the privilege of pronouncing God's authentic name while offering prayers of atonement on behalf of the people.

What a great chance this gives us to reflect on our use of the word, "God", in our culture and in our own vocabulary.  Yes, lots of people come to confession and tell us that they've "used God's name in vain" (which is a sterilized way of saying they have a foul mouth), but in reality, most obscenities do not use the word, God, except for the one that most resembles, "Goshdarnit!" (use your imagination).  How many times do we begin a sentence with, "O my God, that was the best (food) I've ever eaten!", or, "I swear to God, I saw (proper name) at the mall with (another proper name)."  This is starting to look like Mad Libs, no?  You get the idea.

So what does this mean?  First of all, directive one says that the word "YHWH" is not to be used in liturgical celebrations.  This would affect hymns like "You are Near", and, "Sing a New Song" (which has the line in the first verse about Yahweh's people dancing for joy).  Honestly, I'm not shedding any tears in putting those songs out to pasture.  The second directive says that in future translations of Scripture into vernacular languages, the word YHWH be translated as "God".  It's hard to say what this will affect in the future, but looking to the past, I believe it is the New Jerusalem Bible that used "Yahweh" in translations of the Psalms.   In short, words like "God" or "Lord" should be used, rather than God's proper name.

Friday, August 08, 2008

"Koiné" Hebrew?

Today's New York Times has a story about the display of the Qumran (aka "Dead Sea") scroll of Isaiah in a special exhibit at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

Israelis are flocking to read the Hebrew words first put to the parchment 2,100 years ago, some leaving in tears because of the connection they feel to the past.  No one uses Latin or Koiné (classical) Greek as their primary language anymore, but Hebrew is still in use.

But something else is becoming apparent.  Israelis are losing touch with "classical Hebrew", and as they attempt to read the scroll, they're realizing that they cannot understand ancient Hebrew prose.  Because it's a "living language", it has evolved, and continues to do so.  So much so, that it's becoming more difficult for a person fluent in Hebrew to read an ancient text.  

Could Hebrew be facing what has happened with the Greek language?  Read the story.

By the way, if you'd like to see the "Isaiah scroll" for yourself, the museum has it available online.  Click here, and remember, you're stepping back 2,100 years in history.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

It was 30 years ago today...

...that Pope Paul VI died.

Remember this Servant of God in your prayers, especially this year, the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae.

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

You learn something every day

This came from the Orbis Catholicus blog:
Swiss Guards Souvenir Shop

Fridays, between 10 - 11 o'clock you can visit the Swiss Guard souvenir shop. Not many people know about it, but just show up at the Porta Santa Anna during that hour and tell the guard you came to buy something in the shop. He will let you into the foyer of the Swiss Guard barrack where the guard on duty will telephone the Swiss sister in charge of the shop. She will walk you into the barracks and show you what they have. They have calendars, CDs, DVDs, hats, shirts, etc. The best is the CD of their marching songs with the inno (anthem) of the Vatican City State played by thier band. Four years ago when I was there I got to see the guards on drill as they marched in as well as some of the nice 1930 frescos of guardsmen they have on the walls (such as in their canteen).

Not going to Rome (in the August heat who can blame you)?  Buy Swiss Guards merchandise from their new online shop.  Check it out by clicking here.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

"Sing a new worship space into being"

Tired of churches that look like Pizza Huts on the outside?

Saddened by church design which seems to hold the choir and organ in more esteem than the Tabernacle?

Ever hear the response, "Oh, no one builds churches like that anymore."

Wanna see what can be built nowadays?

Click here and see photographs taken of the new Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the Diocese of LaCrosse, Wisconsin.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Copts under attack

Today's New York Times has an article about the plight of Coptic Christians in Egypt, and the rise of violence against them.  Check it out.