Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Real Measure of Success

What is the measure of making a real difference throughout the world?

When we are young, we often think of success in material terms – that's why we go to college or graduate school. But making money is not the measure of success. Even if we have all the riches of the world, there will still be something missing, and it profits a man or a woman nothing to gain the whole world, if his or her soul is not saved. True success and happiness are not measured in material things, but in the transcendent Truth that is God.

Real success is measured in becoming closer to Him and helping others to know Him and become closer to Him. That is the greatest difference any of us can make. It doesn't take a high position or great worldly power. The person who made the greatest real difference ever in the world was a sim­ple, single, teenaged girl, who simply said "Yes" when God called. And through her, we all become closer to Him. Because of her, because of her "Yes," it is possible for us all to be with Him.

Heaven cares not about gold and riches, but all the angels sing and rejoice when the lowliest of the low are reconciled to Him. We should all be like that simple girl, that handmaid of the Lord. We should all say "yes," and help lead others to Him. Then, we will have truly made a difference. Then, we will have been a true success.

Dogmatic Definition of the Immaculate Conception

Ineffabilis Deus
Apostolic Constitution on
the Immaculate Conception
His Holiness Pope Pius IX, December 8, 1854

God ineffable -- whose ways are mercy and truth, whose will is omnipotence itself, and whose wisdom "reaches from end to end mightily, and orders all things sweetly" -- having foreseen from all eternity the lamentable wretchedness of the entire human race, which would result from the sin of Adam, decreed, by a plan hidden from the centuries, to complete the first work of his goodness by a mystery yet more wondrously sublime through the Incarnation of the Word. This he decreed in order that man who, contrary to the plan of Divine Mercy had been led into sin by the cunning malice of Satan, should not perish; and in order that what had been lost in the first Adam would be gloriously restored in the Second Adam. From the very beginning, and before time began, the eternal Father chose and prepared for his only-begotten Son, a Mother in whom the Son of God would become incarnate and from whom, in the blessed fullness of time, he would be born into this world. Above all creatures did God so love her that truly in her was the Father well pleased with singular delight. Therefore, far above all the angels and all the saints so wondrously did God endow her with the abundance of all heavenly gifts poured from the treasury of his divinity that this mother, ever absolutely free of all stain of sin, all fair and perfect, would possess that fullness of holy innocence and sanctity than which, under God, one cannot even imagine anything greater, and which, outside of God, no mind can succeed in comprehending fully. * * *

The Catholic Church, directed by the Holy Spirit of God, is the pillar and base of truth and has ever held as divinely revealed and as contained in the deposit of heavenly revelation this doctrine concerning the original innocence of the august Virgin -- a doctrine which is so perfectly in harmony with her wonderful sanctity and preeminent dignity as Mother of God -- and thus has never ceased to explain, to teach and to foster this doctrine age after age in many ways and by solemn acts. From this very doctrine, flourishing and wondrously propagated in the Catholic world through the efforts and zeal of the bishops, was made very clear by the Church when she did not hesitate to present for the public devotion and veneration of the faithful the Feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin. By this most significant fact, the Church made it clear indeed that the conception of Mary is to be venerated as something extraordinary, wonderful, eminently holy, and different from the conception of all other human beings -- for the Church celebrates only the feast days of the saints. * * *

These truths, so generally accepted and put into practice by the faithful, indicate how zealously the Roman Church, mother and teacher of all Churches, has continued to teach this doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin. Yet the more important actions of the Church deserve to be mentioned in detail. For such dignity and authority belong to the Church that she alone is the center of truth and of Catholic unity. It is the Church in which alone religion has been inviolably preserved and from which all other Churches must receive the tradition of the Faith.

The same Roman Church, therefore, desired nothing more than by the most persuasive means to state, to protect, to promote and to defend the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. This fact is most clearly shown to the whole world by numerous and significant acts of the Roman Pontiffs, our predecessors. To them, in the person of the Prince of the Apostles, were divinely entrusted by Christ our Lord, the charge and supreme care and the power of feeding the lambs and sheep; in particular, of confirming their brethren, and of ruling and governing the universal Church. * * *

And indeed, illustrious documents of venerable antiquity, of both the Eastern and the Western Church, very forcibly testify that this doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the most Blessed Virgin, which was daily more and more splendidly explained, stated and confirmed by the highest authority, teaching, zeal, knowledge, and wisdom of the Church, and which was disseminated among all peoples and nations of the Catholic world in a marvelous manner -- this doctrine always existed in the Church as a doctrine that has been received from our ancestors, and that has been stamped with the character of revealed doctrine. For the Church of Christ, watchful guardian that she is, and defender of the dogmas deposited with her, never changes anything, never diminishes anything, never adds anything to them; but with all diligence she treats the ancient documents faithfully and wisely; if they really are of ancient origin and if the faith of the Fathers has transmitted them, she strives to investigate and explain them in such a way that the ancient dogmas of heavenly doctrine will be made evident and clear, but will retain their full, integral, and proper nature, and will grow only within their own genus -- that is, within the same dogma, in the same sense and the same meaning. * * *

When the Fathers and writers of the Church meditated on the fact that the most Blessed Virgin was, in the name and by order of God himself, proclaimed full of grace by the Angel Gabriel when he announced her most sublime dignity of Mother of God, they thought that this singular and solemn salutation, never heard before, showed that the Mother of God is the seat of all divine graces and is adorned with all gifts of the Holy Spirit. To them Mary is an almost infinite treasury, an inexhaustible abyss of these gifts, to such an extent that she was never subject to the curse and was, together with her Son, the only partaker of perpetual benediction. Hence she was worthy to hear Elizabeth, inspired by the Holy Spirit, exclaim: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb."

Hence, it is the clear and unanimous opinion of the Fathers that the most glorious Virgin, for whom "he who is mighty has done great things," was resplendent with such an abundance of heavenly gifts, with such a fullness of grace and with such innocence, that she is an unspeakable miracle of God -- indeed, the crown of all miracles and truly the Mother of God; that she approaches as near to God himself as is possible for a created being; and that she is above all men and angels in glory. Hence, to demonstrate the original innocence and sanctity of the Mother of God, not only did they frequently compare her to Eve while yet a virgin, while yet innocence, while yet incorrupt, while not yet deceived by the deadly snares of the most treacherous serpent; but they have also exalted her above Eve with a wonderful variety of expressions. Eve listened to the serpent with lamentable consequences; she fell from original innocence and became his slave. The most Blessed Virgin, on the contrary, ever increased her original gift, and not only never lent an ear to the serpent, but by divinely given power she utterly destroyed the force and dominion of the evil one.

Accordingly, the Fathers have never ceased to call the Mother of God the lily among thorns, the land entirely intact, the Virgin undefiled, immaculate, ever blessed, and free from all contagion of sin, she from whom was formed the new Adam, the flawless, brightest, and most beautiful paradise of innocence, immortality and delights planted by God himself and protected against all the snares of the poisonous serpent, the incorruptible wood that the worm of sin had never corrupted, the fountain ever clear and sealed with the power of the Holy Spirit, the most holy temple, the treasure of immortality, the one and only daughter of life -- not of death -- the plant not of anger but of grace, through the singular providence of God growing ever green contrary to the common law, coming as it does from a corrupted and tainted root. * * *

To these praises they have added very noble words. Speaking of the conception of the Virgin, they testified that nature yielded to grace and, unable to go on, stood trembling. The Virgin Mother of God would not be conceived by Anna before grace would bear its fruits; it was proper that she be conceived as the first-born, by whom "the first-born of every creature" would be conceived. They testified, too, that the flesh of the Virgin, although derived from Adam, did not contract the stains of Adam, and that on this account, the most Blessed Virgin was the tabernacle created by God himself and formed by the Holy Spirit, truly a work in royal purple, adorned and woven with gold, which that new Beseleel made. They affirmed that the same Virgin is, and is deservedly, the first and especial work of God, escaping the fiery arrows of the evil one; that she is beautiful by nature and entirely free from all stain; that at her Immaculate Conception she came into the world all radiant like the dawn. For it was certainly not fitting that this vessel of election should be wounded by the common injuries, since she, differing so much from the others, had only nature in common with them, not sin. In fact, it was quite fitting that, as the Only-Begotten has a Father in heaven, whom the Seraphim extol as thrice holy, so he should have a Mother on earth who would never be without the splendor of holiness. * * *

In the most holy liturgy and the Offices of the Church, * * * the Mother of God is invoked and praised as the one spotless and most beautiful dove, as a rose ever blooming, as perfectly pure, ever immaculate, and ever blessed. She is celebrated as innocence never sullied and as the second Eve who brought forth the Emmanuel. * * *

Wherefore, in humility and fasting, we unceasingly offered our private prayers as well as the public prayers of the Church to God the Father through his Son, that he would deign to direct and strengthen our mind by the power of the Holy Spirit. In like manner did we implore the help of the entire heavenly host as we ardently invoked the Paraclete. Accordingly, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, for the honor of the Holy and undivided Trinity, for the glory and adornment of the Virgin Mother of God, for the exaltation of the Catholic Faith, and for the furtherance of the Catholic religion, by the authority of Jesus Christ our Lord, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own:
We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.

[Declaramus, pronuntiamus et definimus doctrinam quae tenet beatissimam Virginem Mariam in primo instanti suae conceptionis fuisse singulari Omnipotentis Dei gratia et privilegio, intuitu meritorum Christi Jesu Salvatoris humani generis, ab omni originalis culpae labe praeservatam immunem, esse a Deo revelatam, atque idcirco ab omnibus fidelibus firmiter constanterque credendam.]
Hence, if anyone shall dare -- which God forbid! -- to think otherwise than as has been defined by us, let him know and understand that he is condemned by his own judgment; that he has suffered shipwreck in the faith; that he has separated from the unity of the Church; and that, furthermore, by his own action he incurs the penalties established by law if he should dare to express in words or writing or by any other outward means the errors he thinks in his heart.

Our soul overflows with joy and our tongue with exultation. We give, and we shall continue to give, the humblest and deepest thanks to Jesus Christ, our Lord, because through his singular grace he has granted to us, unworthy though we be, to decree and offer this honor and glory and praise to his most holy Mother. All our hope do we repose in the most Blessed Virgin -- in the all fair and immaculate one who has crushed the poisonous head of the most cruel serpent and brought salvation to the world: in her who is the glory of the prophets and apostles, the honor of the martyrs, the crown and joy of all the saints; in her who is the safest refuge and the most trustworthy helper of all who are in danger; in her who, with her only-begotten Son, is the most powerful Mediatrix and Conciliatrix in the whole world; in her who is the most excellent glory, ornament, and impregnable stronghold of the holy Church; in her who has destroyed all heresies and snatched the faithful people and nations from all kinds of direst calamities; in her do we hope who has delivered us from so many threatening dangers. We have, therefore, a very certain hope and complete confidence that the most Blessed Virgin will ensure by her most powerful patronage that all difficulties be removed and all errors dissipated, so that our Holy Mother the Catholic Church may flourish daily more and more throughout all the nations and countries, and may reign "from sea to sea and from the river to the ends of the earth," and may enjoy genuine peace, tranquility and liberty. We are firm in our confidence that she will obtain pardon for the sinner, health for the sick, strength of heart for the weak, consolation for the afflicted, help for those in danger; that she will remove spiritual blindness from all who are in error, so that they may return to the path of truth and justice, and that here may be one flock and one shepherd.

Let all the children of the Catholic Church * * * fly with utter confidence to this most sweet Mother of mercy and grace in all dangers, difficulties, needs, doubts and fears. Under her guidance, under her patronage, under her kindness and protection, nothing is to be feared; nothing is hopeless. Because, while bearing toward us a truly motherly affection and having in her care the work of our salvation, she is solicitous about the whole human race. And since she has been appointed by God to be the Queen of heaven and earth, and is exalted above all the choirs of angels and saints, and even stands at the right hand of her only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, she presents our petitions in a most efficacious manner. What she asks, she obtains. Her pleas can never be unheard.

Given at St. Peter's in Rome, the eighth day of December, 1854, in the eighth year of our pontificate.
Pius IX

Friday, September 29, 2006

Mary -- the new, definitive Woman

Homily of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Mass at Kapellplatz Altötting, 11 September 2006

In today’s First Reading, Responsorial Psalm and Gospel, three times and in three different ways, we see Mary, the Mother of the Lord, as a woman of prayer. In the Book of Acts we find her in the midst of the commu­nity of the Apostles gathered in the Upper Room, pray­ing that the Lord, now ascended to the Father, will fulfill his promise: Within a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit. Mary leads the nascent Church in prayer; she is, as it were in person, the Church at prayer. And thus, along with the great community of the saints and at their center, she stands even today before God interceding for us, asking her Son to send his Spirit once more upon the Church and to renew the face of the earth.

Our response to this reading is to sing with Mary the great hymn of praise which she raises after Elizabeth calls her blessed because of her faith. It is a prayer of thanksgiving, of joy in God, of blessing for his mighty works. The tenor of this hymn is clear from its very first words: My soul magnifies - makes great - the Lord. Making the Lord great means giving him a place in the world, in our lives, and letting him enter into our time and our activity: ultimately this is the essence of true prayer. Where God is made great, men and women are not made small: there too men and women become great and the world is filled with light.

In the Gospel passage, [at the wedding in Cana], Mary makes a request of her Son on behalf of some friends in need. At first sight, this could appear to be an entirely human conversation between a Mother and her Son and it is indeed a dialogue rich in humanity. Yet Mary does not speak to Jesus as if he were a mere man on whose ability and helpfulness she can count. She entrusts a human need to his power - to a power which is more than skill and human ability. In this dialogue with Jesus, we actually see her as a Mother who asks, one who intercedes. As we listen to this Gospel passage, it is worth going a little deeper, not only to understand Jesus and Mary better, but also to learn from Mary the right way to pray.

Mary does not really ask something of Jesus: she simply says to him: They have no wine (Jn 2:3). Weddings in the Holy Land were celebrated for a whole week; the entire town took part, and consequently much wine was consumed. Now the wedding couple find themselves in trouble, and Mary simply says this to Jesus. She doesn’t tell Jesus what to do. She doesn’t ask for anything in particular, and she certainly doesn’t ask him to perform a miracle to make wine. She simply hands the matter over to Jesus and leaves him to decide what to do.

In the straightforward words of the Mother of Jesus, then, we can see two things: on the one hand her affectionate concern for people, that maternal affection which makes her aware of the problems of others. We see her heartfelt goodness and her willingness to help. * * * To her we entrust our cares, our needs and our troubles. Her maternal readiness to help, in which we trust, appears here for the first time in the Holy Scriptures.

But in addition to this first aspect, with which we are all familiar, there is another, which we could easily overlook: Mary leaves everything to the Lord’s judgment. At Nazareth she gave over her will, immersing it in the will of God: Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word (Lk 1:38). And this continues to be her fundamental attitude. This is how she teaches us to pray: not by seeking to affirm our own will and our own desires before God, but by letting him decide what he wants to do. From Mary we learn graciousness and readiness to help, but we also learn humility and gen­er­osity in accepting God’s will, in the confident convic­tion that whatever he says in response will be best for us.

If all this helps us to understand Mary’s attitude and her words, we still find it hard to understand Jesus’ answer. In the first place, we don’t like the way he addresses her: Woman. Why doesn’t he say: Mother? But this title really expresses Mary’s place in salvation history. It points to the future, to the hour of the crucifixion, when Jesus will say to her: Woman, behold your son - Son, behold your mother (cf. Jn 19:26-27). It anticipates the hour when he will make the woman, his Mother, the Mother of all his disciples.

On the other hand, the title Woman recalls the account of the creation of Eve: Adam, surrounded by creation in all its magnificence, experiences loneliness as a human being. Then Eve is created, and in her Adam finds the companion whom he longed for; and he gives her the name woman. In the Gospel of John, then, Mary represents the new, the definitive woman, the companion of the Redeemer, our Mother: the name, which seemed so lacking in affection, actually expresses the grandeur of Mary’s mission.

Yet we like even less the other part of Jesus’ answer to Mary at Cana: Woman, what have I to do with you? My hour has not yet come (Jn 2:4). We want to object: you have a lot to do with her! It was Mary who gave you flesh and blood, who gave you your body, and not only your body: with the yes which rose from the depths of her heart she bore you in her womb and with a mother’s love she gave you life and introduced you to the community of the people of Israel.

If this is our response to Jesus, then we are already well along the way towards understanding his answer. Because all this should remind us that in Holy Scripture we find a parallelism between Mary’s dialogue with the Arch­angel Gabriel, where she says: Let it be with me according to your word (Lk 1:38), and the passage of the Letter to the Hebrews which cites the words of Psalm 40 about the dialogue between Father and Son - the dialogue which results in the Incarnation. The Eternal Son says to the Father: Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me ... See, I have come to do your will, O God (Heb 10:5-7; cf. Ps 40:6-8).

The yes of the Son: I have come to do your will, and the yes of Mary: Let it be with me according to your word - this double yes becomes a single yes, and thus the Word becomes flesh in Mary. In this double yes the obedience of the Son is embodied, and Mary gives him that body. Woman, what have I to do with you? Ultimately, what each has to do with the other is found in this double yes which resulted in the Incarnation. It is to this point of profound unity that the Lord is referring. Here, in this common yes to the will of the Father, an answer is found. We too need to progress towards this point; and there we will find the answer to our questions.

If we take this as our starting-point, we can also understand the second part of Jesus’ answer: My hour has not yet come. Jesus never acts completely alone, and never for the sake of pleasing others. The Father is always the starting-point of his actions, and this is what unites him to Mary, because she wished to make her request in this same unity of will with the Father. And so, surprisingly, after hearing Jesus’ answer, which apparently refuses her request, she can simply say to the servants: Do whatever he tells you (Jn 2:5).

Jesus is not a wonder-worker, he does not play games with his power in what is, after all, a private affair. He gives a sign, in which he proclaims his hour, the hour of the wedding-feast, the hour of union between God and man. He does not merely make wine, but transforms the human wedding-feast into an image of the divine wedding-feast, to which the Father invites us through the Son and in which he gives us every good thing. The wedding-feast becomes an image of the Cross, where God showed his love to the end, giving himself in his Son in flesh and blood - in the Son who instituted the sacrament in which he gives himself to us for all time. Thus a human problem is solved in a way that is truly divine and the initial request is superabundantly granted. Jesus’ hour has not yet arrived, but in the sign of the water changed into wine, in the sign of the festive gift, he even now anticipates that hour.

Jesus’ definitive hour will be his return at the end of time. Yet He continually anticipates this hour in the Euch­a­rist, in which even now He always comes to us. And He does this ever anew through the intercession of His Mother, through the intercession of the Church, which cries out to Him in the Eucharistic prayers: Come, Lord Jesus! In the Canon of the Mass, the Church constantly prays for this hour to be anticipated, asking that He may come even now and be given to us.

And so we want to let ourselves be guided by Mary, by the Mother of all the faithful, towards the hour of Jesus. Let us ask Him for the gift of a deeper knowledge and understanding of Him. And may our reception of Him not be reduced to the moment of communion alone. Jesus remains present in the sacred Host and He awaits us constantly. * * * Mary and Jesus go together. Through Mary we want to continue our converse with the Lord and to learn how to receive Him better.

Holy Mother of God, pray for us, just as at Cana you prayed for the bride and the bridegroom! Guide us towards Jesus - ever anew! Amen!

Feast of the Holy Archangels - Raphael

Raphael the Archangel travelled with and guarded Tobiah, son of Tobit, and expelled and defeated a demon in the desert of upper Egypt. He later cured Tobit's blindness. Hence, his connection with travellers, young people, blindness, healing and healers. The name "Raphael" means God has healed. Traditionally, he is considered the force behind the healing power of the sheep pool mentioned in John 5:1-4.

He is one of the seven angels who stand before the Lord. In Tobit (ch. 12), Raphael reveals that "when you, Tobit, and Sarah prayed, it was I who presented and read the record of your prayer before the Glory of the Lord; and I did the same thing when you used to bury the dead." He further admonishes us to "Thank God! Give him the praise and the glory. Before all the living, acknowledge the many good things he has done for you, by blessing and extolling his name in song. Before all men, honor and proclaim God’s deeds, and do not be slack in praising him. A king’s secret it is prudent to keep, but the works of God are to be declared and made known. Praise them with due honor. Do good, and evil will not find its way to you."

Feast of the Holy Archangels - Gabriel

"You should be aware that the word 'angel' denotes a function rather than a nature. Those holy spirits of heaven have indeed always been spirits. They can only be called angels when they deliver some message. Moreover, those who deliver messages of lesser importance are called angels; and those who proclaim messages of supreme importance are called archangels.

"And so it was that not merely an angel but the archangel Gabriel was sent to the Virgin Mary. It was only fitting that the highest angel should come to announce the greatest of all messages.... So too Gabriel, who is called God's strength, was sent to Mary. He came to announce the One who appeared as a humble man to quell the cosmic powers. Thus God's strength announced the coming of the Lord of the heavenly powers, mighty in battle."

-- Pope St. Gregory the Great

Feast of the Holy Archangels - Michael

St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle;
be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,
and do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host,
by the power of God,
cast into hell Satan and all the other evil spirits
who prowl about the world, seeking the ruin of souls.


Thursday, September 28, 2006

Mary the Immaculate Conception shows that by entrusting ourselves totally to God, we do not become God's puppet, but find true freedom.

Homily of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 2005

What picture does [the Genesis passage regarding the Fall] show us? The human being does not trust God. Tempted by the serpent, he harbors the suspicion that in the end, God takes something away from his life, that God is a rival who curtails our freedom and that we will be fully human only when we have cast Him aside; in brief, that only in this way can we fully achieve our freedom. The human being lives in the suspicion that God's love creates a dependence and that he must rid himself of this dependency if he is to be fully himself.

Man does not want to receive his existence and the fullness of his life from God. He himself wants to obtain from the tree of knowledge the power to shape the world, to make himself a god, raising himself to God's level, and to overcome death and darkness with his own efforts. He does not want to rely on love that to him seems untrustworthy; he relies solely on his own knowledge since it confers power upon him. Rather than on love, he sets his sights on power, with which he desires to take his own life autonomously in hand. And in doing so, he trusts in deceit rather than in truth and thereby sinks with his life into emptiness, into death.

Love is not dependence but a gift that makes us live. The freedom of a human being is the freedom of a limited being, and therefore is itself limited. We can possess it only as a shared freedom, in the communion of freedom: only if we live in the right way, with one another and for one another, can freedom develop. We live in the right way if we live in accordance with the truth of our being, and that is, in accordance with God's will. For God's will is not a law for the human being imposed from the outside and that constrains him, but the intrinsic measure of his nature, a measure that is engraved within him and makes him the image of God, hence, a free creature.

If we live in opposition to love and against the truth - in opposition to God - then we destroy one another and destroy the world. Then we do not find life but act in the interests of death. All this is recounted with immortal images in the history of the original fall of man and the expulsion of man from the earthly Paradise.

Dear brothers and sisters, if we sincerely reflect about ourselves and our history, we have to say that with this narrative is described not only the history of the beginning but the history of all times, and that we all carry within us a drop of the poison of that way of thinking, illustrated by the images in the Book of Genesis. We call this drop of poison "original sin."

Precisely on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, we have a lurking suspicion that a person who does not sin must really be basically boring and that something is missing from his life: the dramatic dimension of being autonomous; that the freedom to say no, to descend into the shadows of sin and to want to do things on one's own is part of being truly human; that only then can we make the most of all the vastness and depth of our being men and women, of being truly ourselves; that we should put this freedom to the test, even in opposition to God, in order to become, in reality, fully ourselves. In a word, we think that evil is basically good, we think that we need it, at least a little, in order to experience the fullness of being. * * * We think that a little bargaining with evil, keeping for oneself a little freedom against God, is basically a good thing, perhaps even necessary.

If we look, however, at the world that surrounds us we can see that this is not so; in other words, that evil is always poisonous, does not uplift human beings but degrades and humiliates them. It does not make them any the greater, purer or wealthier, but harms and belittles them.

This is something we should indeed learn on the day of the Immaculate Conception: the person who abandons himself totally in God's hands does not become God's puppet, a boring "yes man"; he does not lose his freedom. Only the person who entrusts himself totally to God finds true freedom, the great, creative immensity of the freedom of good. The person who turns to God does not become smaller but greater, for through God and with God he becomes great, he becomes divine, he becomes truly himself. The person who puts himself in God's hands does not distance himself from others, withdrawing into his private salvation; on the contrary, it is only then that his heart truly awakens and he becomes a sensitive, hence, benevolent and open person.

The closer a person is to God, the closer he is to people. We see this in Mary. The fact that she is totally with God is the reason why she is so close to human beings. For this reason, she can be the Mother of every consolation and every help, a Mother whom anyone can dare to address in any kind of need in weakness and in sin, for she has understanding for everything and is for everyone the open power of creative goodness. In her, God has impressed his own image, the image of the One who follows the lost sheep even up into the mountains and among the briars and thorn-bushes of the sins of this world, letting himself be spiked by the crown of thorns of these sins in order to take the sheep on his shoulders and bring it home. As a merciful Mother, Mary is the anticipated figure and everlasting portrait of the Son.

Thus, we see that the image of the Sorrowful Virgin, of the Mother who shares her suffering and her love, is also a true image of the Immaculate Conception. Her heart was enlarged by being and feeling together with God. In her, God's goodness came very close to us.

Mary thus stands before us as a sign of comfort, encouragement and hope. She turns to us, saying: "Have the courage to dare with God! Try it! Do not be afraid of him! Have the courage to risk with faith! Have the courage to risk with goodness! Have the courage to risk with a pure heart! Commit yourselves to God, then you will see that it is precisely by doing so that your life will become broad and light, not boring but filled with infinite surprises, for God's infinite goodness is never depleted!"

On this Feast Day, let us thank the Lord for the great sign of his goodness which he has given us in Mary, his Mother and the Mother of the Church. Let us pray to him to put Mary on our path like a light that also helps us to become a light and to carry this light into the nights of history. Amen.

Quiz Time

Mary – Questions for Classroom Discussion

1. Was Mary baptized? If so, where and when? If not, why not?

2. Was John the Baptist baptized? If so, where and when? If not, why not?

3. Was Mary confirmed? If so, where and when? If not, why not?

4. Where was Mary buried?

5. How many children did Mary have after Jesus was born?

6. How does the “fiat” reflect Mary’s entire life?

7. Did the grace conferred upon Mary deprive her of free will?

8. How does the “Our Father” recall an event in Mary’s life?

9. Why and how is Mary “our mother”?

10. The crucifixion of Jesus occurred almost 50 years after Mary was conceived. Is there any relationship between the two?

11. Was Jesus being disrespectful in referring to His mother as “Woman” on multiple occasions?

12. What is the impact of the Fourth Commandment with respect to Mary and Jesus?

All Nations have an Obligation to Protect Religious Freedom and the Right to Freedom of Thought and Expression

All States Must Promote Religious Freedom

VATICAN CITY, SEP 28, 2006 (VIS) - In New York, Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, President of the Governatorate of the Vatican City State, intervened yesterday during the LXI Session of the United Nation's General Assembly.

The once secretary for the Relations with States of the Secretary of State stated that the Holy See "favours its (United Nations) ongoing reform in the fields of peace-building, development and human rights." "The need to improve the system for effective humanitarian interventions in catastrophes brought on by war, civil conflict and ethnic strife will be an important test of the UN reform agenda."

With reference to the theme of human rights, Monsignor Lajolo asserted that "the Holy See regards the promotion of human rights as one of the United Nations' primary forms of service to the world." In this context, he recalled the three most important fundamental rights: the right to life, the right to religious freedom and the right to freedom of thought and expression, "including freedom to hold opinions without interference and to exchange ideas and information and the consequent freedom of the press."

"We must acknowledge, however, that not all fundamental rights - and in particular the three which I have mentioned - are adequately protected in every nation, and, in not a few, they are openly denied, even among States sitting on the Human Rights Council," he continued.

In conclusion, Archbishop Lajolo, with reference to Muslim reactions to some passages of the Pope's academic address at the University of Regensburg, last September 12, stated: "His real intention was to explain that 'not religion and violence, but religion and reason go together', in the context of a critical vision of a society which seeks to exclude God from public life."

"It falls to all interested parties - to civil society as well as to States - to promote religious freedom and a sane, social tolerance that will disarm extremists even before they can begin to corrupt others with their hatred of life and liberty. This will be a significant contribution to peace among peoples, because peace can be born only from the hearts of human beings."

Read the entire address here.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Mary, the Immaculate Reflects and Prefigures the Church in her Person

Homily of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 2005

The [Second Vatican] Council took place in a Marian setting, [which refers us] to the image of the Virgin who listens and lives in the Word of God, who cherishes in her heart the words that God addresses to her and, piecing them together like a mosaic, learns to understand them. It refers us to the great Believer who, full of faith, put herself in God's hands, abandoning herself to His will; it refers us to the humble Mother who, when the Son's mission so required, became part of it, and at the same time, to the courageous woman who stood beneath the Cross while the disciples fled. * * *

Not only does Mary have a unique relationship with Christ, the Son of God who, as man, chose to become her Son. Since she was totally united to Christ, she also totally belongs to us. Yes, we can say that Mary is close to us as no other human being is, because Christ becomes man for all men and women and His entire being is "being here for us." Christ, the Fathers said, as the Head, is inseparable from His Body which is the Church, forming with her, so to speak, a single living subject. The Mother of the Head is also the Mother of all the Church; she is, so to speak, totally emptied of herself; she has given herself entirely to Christ and with Him is given as a gift to us all. Indeed, the more the human person gives himself, the more he finds himself.

* * * Mary is so interwoven in the great mystery of the Church that she and the Church are inseparable, just as she and Christ are inseparable. Mary mirrors the Church, anticipates the Church in her person, and in all the turbulence that affects the suffering, struggling Church she always remains the Star of salvation. In her lies the true center in which we trust, even if its peri­ph­eries very often weigh on our soul. * * * [The] Petrine aspect of the Church, however, is included in that Marian aspect. In Mary, the Immaculate, we find the essence of the Church without distortion. We ourselves must learn from her to become "ecclesial souls," as the Fathers said, so that we too may be able, in accordance with St Paul's words, to present ourselves "blameless" in the sight of the Lord, as He wanted us from the very beginning.

But now we must ask ourselves: What does "Mary, the Immaculate" mean? Does this title have something to tell us? * * * Mary, the humble provincial woman who comes from a priestly race and bears within her the great priestly patrimony of Israel, is "the holy remnant" of Israel to which the prophets referred in all the periods of trial and darkness. In her is present the true Zion, the pure, living dwelling-place of God. In her the Lord dwells, in her He finds the place of His repose. She is the living house of God, who does not dwell in buildings of stone but in the heart of living man. * * * She is the offshoot from which grew the tree of redemption and of the redeemed. God has not failed, as it might have seemed formerly at the beginning of history with Adam and Eve or during the period of the Babylonian Exile, and as it seemed anew in Mary's time when Israel had become a people with no importance in an occupied region and with very few recognizable signs of its holiness. God did not fail. * * * Mary is holy Israel: she says "yes" to the Lord, she puts herself totally at His disposal and thus becomes the living temple of God. * * *

The closer a person is to God, the closer he is to people. We see this in Mary. The fact that she is totally with God is the reason why she is so close to human beings. For this reason she can be the Mother of every consolation and every help, a Mother whom anyone can dare to address in any kind of need in weakness and in sin, for she has understanding for everything and is for everyone the open power of creative goodness. In her, God has impressed his own image, the image of the One who follows the lost sheep even up into the mountains and among the briars and thorn-bushes of the sins of this world, letting himself be spiked by the crown of thorns of these sins in order to take the sheep on his shoulders and bring it home. As a merciful Mother, Mary is the anticipated figure and everlasting portrait of the Son.

Thus, we see that the image of the Sorrowful Virgin, of the Mother who shares her suffering and her love, is also a true image of the Immaculate Conception. Her heart was enlarged by being and feeling together with God. In her, God's goodness came very close to us. Mary thus stands before us as a sign of comfort, encouragement and hope. She turns to us, saying: "Have the courage to dare with God! Try it! Do not be afraid of him! Have the courage to risk with faith! Have the courage to risk with goodness! Have the courage to risk with a pure heart! Commit yourselves to God, then you will see that it is precisely by doing so that your life will become broad and light, not boring but filled with infinite surprises, for God's infinite goodness is never depleted!"

On this Feast Day, let us thank the Lord for the great sign of His goodness which He has given us in Mary, His Mother and the Mother of the Church. Let us pray to Him to put Mary on our path like a light that also helps us to become a light and to carry this light into the nights of history. Amen.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Mary is a “woman of the Eucharist” in her whole life

Ecclesia de Eucharistia
On the Eucharist in its Relationship to the Church
Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Letter

Ch. 6. At the School of Mary, “Woman of the Eucharist”
53. If we wish to rediscover in all its richness the profound relationship between the Church and the Eucharist, we cannot neglect Mary, Mother and model of the Church. * * * At first glance, the Gospel is silent on this subject. The account of the institution of the Eucharist on the night of Holy Thursday makes no mention of Mary. Yet we know that she was present among the Apostles who prayed “with one accord” (cf. Acts 1:14) in the first community which gathered after the Ascension in expectation of Pentecost. Certainly Mary must have been present at the Eucharistic celebrations of the first generation of Christians, who were devoted to “the breaking of bread” (Acts 2:42).

But in addition to her sharing in the Eucharistic banquet, an indirect picture of Mary's relationship with the Eucharist can be had, beginning with her interior disposition. Mary is a “woman of the Eucharist” in her whole life. The Church, which looks to Mary as a model, is also called to imitate her in her relationship with this most holy mystery.

54. Mysterium fidei! If the Eucharist is a mystery of faith which so greatly transcends our understanding as to call for sheer abandonment to the word of God, then there can be no one like Mary to act as our support and guide in acquiring this disposition. In repeating what Christ did at the Last Supper in obedience to his command: “Do this in memory of me!”, we also accept Mary's invitation to obey him without hesitation: “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5). With the same maternal concern which she showed at the wedding feast of Cana, Mary seems to say to us: “Do not waver; trust in the words of my Son. If he was able to change water into wine, he can also turn bread and wine into his body and blood, and through this mystery bestow on believers the living memorial of his passover, thus becoming the 'bread of life.'” * * *

58. In the Eucharist, the Church is completely united to Christ and his sacrifice, and makes her own the spirit of Mary. This truth can be understood more deeply by re-reading the Magnificat in a Eucharistic key. The Eucharist, like the Canticle of Mary, is first and foremost praise and thanksgiving. When Mary exclaims: “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior”, she already bears Jesus in her womb. She praises God “through” Jesus, but she also praises him “in” Jesus and “with” Jesus. This is itself the true “Eucharistic attitude”.

At the same time Mary recalls the wonders worked by God in salvation history in fulfillment of the promise once made to the fathers (cf. Lk 1:55), and proclaims the wonder that surpasses them all, the redemptive incarnation. Lastly, the Magnificat reflects the eschatological tension of the Eucharist. Every time the Son of God comes again to us in the “poverty” of the sacramental signs of bread and wine, the seeds of that new history wherein the mighty are “put down from their thrones” and “those of low degree are exalted” (cf. Lk 1:52), take root in the world. Mary sings of the “new heavens” and the “new earth” which find in the Eucharist their anticipation and in some sense their program and plan. The Magnificat expresses Mary's spirituality, and there is nothing greater than this spirituality for helping us to experience the mystery of the Eucharist. The Eucharist has been given to us so that our life, like that of Mary, may become completely a Magnificat! * * *

God is building quite a different house from the one you thought of

Another reason we love our Happy Catholic. From her quote journal --
Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of -- throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.
-- C.S. Lewis

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Blessed Virgin Mary is our Mother in the Order of Grace

Dogmatic Constitution on the Church
Promulgated by Pope Paul VI, November 21, 1964

Chapter VIII -- The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother Of God In The Mystery Of Christ And The Church
I. Introduction
53. The Virgin Mary, who at the message of the angel received the Word of God in her heart and in her body and gave Life to the world, is acknowledged and honored as being truly the Mother of God and Mother of the Redeemer. Redeemed by reason of the merits of her Son and united to Him by a close and indissoluble tie, she is endowed with the high office and dignity of being the Mother of the Son of God, by which account she is also the beloved daughter of the Father and the temple of the Holy Spirit. Because of this gift of sublime grace she far surpasses all creatures, both in heaven and on earth. At the same time, however, because she belongs to the offspring of Adam she is one with all those who are to be saved. She is "the mother of the members of Christ . . . having cooperated by charity that faithful might be born in the Church, who are members of that Head." Wherefore she is hailed as a pre-eminent and singular member of the Church, and as its type and excellent exemplar in faith and charity. The Catholic Church, taught by the Holy Spirit, honors her with filial affection and piety as a most beloved mother. * * *

II. The Role of the Blessed Mother in the Economy of Salvation
55. [Mary] stands out among the poor and humble of the Lord, who confidently hope for and receive salvation from Him. With her the exalted Daughter of Sion, and after a long expectation of the promise, the times are fulfilled and the new Economy established, when the Son of God took a human nature from her, that He might in the mysteries of His flesh free man from sin.

56. The Father of mercies willed that the incarnation should be preceded by the acceptance of her who was predestined to be the mother of His Son, so that just as a woman contributed to death, so also a woman should contribute to life. That is true in outstanding fashion of the mother of Jesus, who gave to the world Him who is Life itself and who renews all things, and who was enriched by God with the gifts which befit such a role. * * * Adorned from the first instant of her conception with the radiance of an entirely unique holiness, the Virgin of Nazareth is greeted, on God's command, by an angel messenger as "full of grace," and to the heavenly messenger she replies: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to thy word." Thus Mary, a daughter of Adam, consenting to the divine Word, became the mother of Jesus, the one and only Mediator. Embracing God's salvific will with a full heart and impeded by no sin, she devoted herself totally as a handmaid of the Lord to the person and work of her Son, under Him and with Him, by the grace of almighty God, serving the mystery of redemption . . . freely cooperating in the work of human salvation through faith and obedience. * * *

58. In the public life of Jesus, Mary makes significant appearances. * * * the Blessed Virgin advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully persevered in her union with her Son unto the cross, where she stood, in keeping with the divine plan, grieving exceedingly with her only begotten Son, uniting herself with a maternal heart with His sacrifice, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of this Victim which she herself had brought forth. Finally, she was given by the same Christ Jesus dying on the cross as a mother to His disciple with these words: "Woman, behold thy son."

59. But since it has pleased God not to manifest solemnly the mystery of the salvation of the human race before He would pour forth the Spirit promised by Christ, we see the apostles before the day of Pentecost "persevering with one mind in prayer with the women and Mary the Mother of Jesus, and with His brethren," and Mary by her prayers imploring the gift of the Spirit, who had already overshadowed her in the Annunciation. Finally, the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all guilt of original sin, on the completion of her earthly sojourn, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen of the universe, that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and the conqueror of sin and death.

III. On the Blessed Virgin and the Church
60. There is but one Mediator as we know from the words of the apostle, "for there is one God and one mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a redemption for all." The maternal duty of Mary toward men in no wise obscures or diminishes this unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows His power. For all the salvific influence of the Blessed Virgin on men originates, not from some inner necessity, but from the divine pleasure. It flows forth from the superabundance of the merits of Christ, rests on His mediation, depends entirely on it and draws all its power from it.

61. * * * [The Virgin Mary] conceived, brought forth and nourished Christ. She presented Him to the Father in the temple, and was united with Him by compassion as He died on the Cross. In this singular way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope and burning charity in the work of the Savior in giving back supernatural life to souls. Wherefore she is our mother in the order of grace.

62. This maternity of Mary in the order of grace began with the consent which she gave in faith at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, and lasts until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this salvific duty, but by her constant intercession continued to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation. By her maternal charity, she cares for the brethren of her Son, who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and cultics, until they are led into the happiness of their true home. Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked by the Church under the titles of Advocate, Auxiliatrix, Adjutrix, and Mediatrix. * * *

63. By reason of the gift and role of divine maternity, by which she is united with her Son, the Redeemer, and with His singular graces and functions, the Blessed Virgin is also intimately united with the Church. As St. Ambrose taught, the Mother of God is a type of the Church in the order of faith, charity and perfect union with Christ. For in the mystery of the Church, which is itself rightly called mother and virgin, the Blessed Virgin stands out in eminent and singular fashion as exemplar both of virgin and mother. By her belief and obedience, not knowing man but overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, as the new Eve she brought forth on earth the very Son of the Father, showing an undefiled faith, not in the word of the ancient serpent, but in that of God's messenger. * * *

65. But while in the most holy Virgin the Church has already reached that perfection whereby she is without spot or wrinkle, the followers of Christ still strive to increase in holiness by conquering sin. And so they turn their eyes to Mary who shines forth to the whole community of the elect as the model of virtues. Piously meditating on her and contemplating her in the light of the Word made man, the Church with reverence enters more intimately into the great mystery of the Incarnation and becomes more and more like her Spouse. For Mary, who since her entry into salvation history unites in herself and re-echoes the greatest teachings of the faith as she is proclaimed and venerated, calls the faithful to her Son and His sacrifice and to the love of the Father. Seeking after the glory of Christ, the Church becomes more like her exalted Type, and continually progresses in faith, hope and charity, seeking and doing the will of God in all things. * * * The Virgin in her own life lived an example of that maternal love, by which it behooves that all should be animated who cooperate in the apostolic mission of the Church for the regeneration of men.

The Mother of Our Family, the Church

Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, "Woman, behold, your son." Then he said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother." And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.

-- John 19:25-27.

Respect and dialogue require reciprocity in all spheres, especially religious and other basic freedoms

Pope Benedict Tells Diplomats from Islamic Countries that an Authentic Dialogue, Mutual Understanding, and Reciprocity are Required
September 25, 2006

Dear Muslim Friends . . .
In a world marked by relativism and too often excluding the transcendence and universality of reason, we are in great need of an authentic dialogue between religions and between cultures, capable of assisting us, in a spirit of fruitful co-operation, to overcome all the tensions together. Continuing, then, the work undertaken by my predecessor, Pope John Paul II, I sincerely pray that the relations of trust which have developed between Christians and Muslims over several years, will not only continue, but will develop further in a spirit of sincere and respectful dialogue, based on ever more authentic reciprocal knowledge which, with joy, recognizes the religious values that we have in common and, with loyalty, respects the differences.

Inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue is a necessity for building together this world of peace and fraternity ardently desired by all people of good will. In this area, our contemporaries expect from us an eloquent witness to show all people the value of the religious dimension of life. Likewise, faithful to the teachings of their own religious traditions, Christians and Muslims must learn to work together, as indeed they already do in many common undertakings, in order to guard against all forms of intolerance and to oppose all manifestations of violence; as for us, religious authorities and political leaders, we must guide and encourage them in this direction.

Indeed, "although considerable dissensions and enmities between Christians and Muslims may have arisen in the course of the centuries, the Council urges all parties that, forgetting past things, they train themselves towards sincere mutual understanding and together maintain and promote social justice and moral values as well as peace and freedom for all people" (Declaration, Nostra Aetate, 3). The lessons of the past must therefore help us to seek paths of reconciliation, in order to live with respect for the identity and freedom of each individual, with a view to fruitful co-operation in the service of all humanity. As Pope John Paul II said in his memorable speech to young people at Casablanca in Morocco, "Respect and dialogue require reciprocity in all spheres, especially in that which concerns basic freedoms, more particularly religious freedom. They favor peace and agreement between peoples" (no. 5).

Dear friends, I am profoundly convinced that in the current world situation it is imperative that Christians and Muslims engage with one another in order to address the numerous challenges that present themselves to humanity, especially those concerning the defence and promotion of the dignity of the human person and of the rights ensuing from that dignity. When threats mount up against people and against peace, by recognizing the central character of the human person and by working with perseverance to see that human life is always respected, Christians and Muslims manifest their obedience to the Creator, who wishes all people to live in the dignity that he has bestowed upon them.

Dear friends, I pray with my whole heart that the merciful God will guide our steps along the paths of an ever more authentic mutual understanding. At this time when for Muslims the spiritual journey of the month of Ramadan is beginning, I address to all of them my cordial good wishes, praying that the Almighty may grant them serene and peaceful lives. May the God of peace fill you with the abundance of his Blessings, together with the communities that you represent!

(emphasis added)

Pope Benedict reiterates his respect for Muslim believers

Pope Benedict Meets with Diplomats from Islamic Countries
September 25, 2006

Dear Muslim Friends,
I am pleased to welcome you to this gathering that I wanted to arrange in order to strengthen the bonds of friendship and solidarity between the Holy See and Muslim communities throughout the world. * * *

The circumstances which have given rise to our gathering are well known. I have already had occasion to dwell upon them in the course of the past week. In this particular context, I should like to reiterate today all the esteem and the profound respect that I have for Muslim believers, calling to mind the words of the Second Vatican Council which for the Catholic Church are the Magna Carta of Muslim-Christian dialogue: "The Church looks upon Muslims with respect. They worship the one God living and subsistent, merciful and almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to humanity and to whose decrees, even the hidden ones, they seek to submit themselves whole-heartedly, just as Abraham, to whom the Islamic faith readily relates itself, submitted to God" (Declaration Nostra Aetate, 3).

Placing myself firmly within this perspective, I have had occasion, since the very beginning of my pontificate, to express my wish to continue establishing bridges of friendship with the adherents of all religions, showing particular appreciation for the growth of dialogue between Muslims and Christians. (cf. Address to the Delegates of Other Churches and Ecclesial Communities and of Other Religious Traditions, 25 April 2005) As I underlined at Cologne last year, "Inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue between Christians and Muslims cannot be reduced to an optional extra. It is, in fact, a vital necessity, on which in large measure our future depends." (Meeting with Representatives of Some Muslim Communities, Cologne, 20 August 2005)

A peaceful sign of contradiction which shows the victory of love over hate and evil

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Sunday Angelus, September 24, 2006

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In this Sunday's Gospel, Jesus announced to his disciples for the second time his passion, death and resurrection (cf. Mark 9:30-35). The Evangelist Mark highlights the strong contrast between His mentality and that of the Twelve Apostles, who not only didn't understand the words of the Master and clearly rejected the idea that he was going to meet death, but also disputed over who among them was to be considered "the greatest." Jesus patiently explains to them his logic, the logic of love that involves service up to the gift of self: "If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all."

This is the logic of Christianity, which responds to the truth of man created in the image of God, but at the same time it contrasts with his egoism, a consequence of original sin. Every human person is attracted by love -- which ultimately is God himself -- but often [the person] errs in the concrete ways of loving, and thus from a tendency that is at its origin positive, though tainted by sin, can be derived evil intentions and actions.

Also recalled, in today's liturgy, is the Letter of St. James: "Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice. But the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity." The apostle concludes: "A fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace" (3:16-18).

This word brings to mind the witness of so many Christians who, with humility and in silence, spend their life at the service of others for the sake of the Lord Jesus, working concretely as servants of love and therefore "artisans" of peace. Some are asked to give the supreme testimony of blood, as happened a few days ago to the Italian religious, Sister Leonella Sgorbati, who fell victim to violence. This nun, who for many years served the poor and the children in Somalia, died pronouncing the word "pardon": This is the most authentic Christian witness, a peaceful sign of contradiction which shows the victory of love over hate and evil.

No doubt, following Christ is difficult, but, as he says, only the one who loses his life for the sake of the Gospel will save it (cf. Mark 8:35), giving full sense to one's existence. There exists no other path to be his disciples, there is no other path to witness to his love and tend toward evangelical perfection.

Mary, whom we invoke this day as Our Lady of Mercy, helps us to open our heart ever more to the love of God, mystery of joy and sanctity.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Baptism and the Family of God

Homily of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, 8 January 2006

Through Baptism each child is inserted into a gathering of friends who never abandon him in life or in death because these companions are God's family, which in itself bears the promise of eternity.

This group of friends, this family of God, into which the child is now admitted, will always accompany him, even on days of suffering and in life's dark nights; it will give him consolation, comfort and light. This companionship, this family, will give him words of eternal life, words of light in response to the great challenges of life, and will point out to him the right path to take. This group will also offer the child consolation and comfort, and God's love when death is at hand, in the dark valley of death. It will give him friendship, it will give him life. And these totally trustworthy companions will never disappear.

No one of us knows what will happen on our planet, on our European Continent, in the next 50, 60 or 70 years. But we can be sure of one thing: God's family will always be present and those who belong to this family will never be alone. They will always be able to fall back on the steadfast friendship of the One who is life. * * *

This family of God, this gathering of friends is eternal, because it is communion with the One who conquered death and holds in his hand the keys of life. Belonging to this circle, to God's family, means being in communion with Christ, who is life and gives eternal love beyond death. And if we can say that love and truth are sources of life, are life itself - and a life without love is not life - we can say that this companionship with the One who is truly life, with the One who is the Sacrament of life, will respond to your expectation, to your hope. Yes, Baptism inserts us into communion with Christ and therefore gives life, life itself.

Our Family, the Church

"The fascinating thing [about being Catholic] is this great living history into which we enter. Looked at in purely human terms, it is something extraordinary. That an institution with so many human weaknesses and failures is nonetheless preserved in its continuity and that I, living within this great communion, can know that I am in communion with all the living and the dead; and that I also find in it a certainty about the essence of my life -- namely, God who has turned to me -- on which I can found my life, with which I can live and die."
-- Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Salt of the Earth, "The Catholic Faith."

"I believe that by belonging to the Church, and living with her faith, one is given a share in the inspiration allotted to this family. The Church can open up horizons for you and deepen your insight into things you could not understand on your own. then there are, of course, especially gifted me, whom we call saints, who, through their inner closeness to God, penetrate, as it were more deeply into this memory and bring it before us as a living reality. . . . She is my home, my extended family, and thus, I am bound to her in love, just as one is bound to one's family."
-- Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, God and the World, "The Church."

One Family in Christ

One aspect of the Church that draws many to Her is that the Church is One Big Family. It is a family composed of all flavors, stripes, and colors. We are conservative, liberal, traditional, progressive, orthodox, heterodox, single, married, young, old, singers, non-singers, hand-holders, non-hand-holders, weirdos, and straight-laced. Those we agree with, and those we disagree with. Those we like, those we otherwise would probably dislike. But although we may endeavor to be saints, we are all sinners.

We live in a time and place where there are many different divisions between people -- political, ethnic, and otherwise. There are times when it is all well and good to be with those people who share our interests and beliefs, but it is also beneficial to spend some time with those people -- those family members -- we otherwise would never have anything to do with. So, it is not necessarily a bad thing to go to and stick with some parish that might make you squirm a bit. Perhaps there is some benefit to a neighborhood parish system after all. We are all One Family in One Church. Those we disagree with are our brothers and sisters in Christ as well as those we agree with. And it is nice, every once in a while, after doing battle with them during the week, to be able to set aside those differences and come together as one family in Christ.

Friday, September 22, 2006

By His Body and Blood, Christ increases within us the gift of His Spirit

Ecclesia de Eucharistia
On the Eucharist in its Relationship to the Church
Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Letter

15. The sacramental re-presentation of Christ's sacrifice, crowned by the resurrection, in the Mass involves a most special presence which – in the words of Paul VI – “is called 'real,' not as a way of excluding all other types of presence as if they were 'not real,' but because it is a presence in the fullest sense: a substantial presence whereby Christ, the God-Man, is wholly and entirely present.” This sets forth once more the perennially valid teaching of the Council of Trent: “the consecra­tion of the bread and wine effects the change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord, and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. And the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called this change transubstantiation.” Truly the Eucharist is a mysterium fidei, a mystery which surpasses our under­standing and can only be received in faith, as is often brought out in the catechesis of the Church Fathers regarding this divine sacrament: “Do not see – Saint Cyril of Jerusalem exhorts – in the bread and wine merely natural elements, because the Lord has expressly said that they are his body and his blood: faith assures you of this, though your senses suggest otherwise.” * * *

17. Through our communion in his body and blood, Christ also grants us his Spirit. Saint Ephrem writes: “He called the bread his living body and he filled it with himself and his Spirit... He who eats it with faith, eats Fire and Spirit... Take and eat this, all of you, and eat with it the Holy Spirit. For it is truly my body and whoever eats it will have eternal life.” The Church implores this divine Gift, the source of every other gift, in the Eucharistic epiclesis. In the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, for example, we find the prayer: “We beseech, implore and beg you: send your Holy Spirit upon us all and upon these gifts... that those who partake of them may be purified in soul, receive the forgiveness of their sins, and share in the Holy Spirit.” And in the Roman Missal the celebrant prays: “grant that we who are nourished by his body and blood may be filled with his Holy Spirit, and become one body, one spirit in Christ.” Thus by the gift of his body and blood, Christ increases within us the gift of his Spirit, already poured out in Baptism and bestowed as a “seal” in the sacrament of Confirmation. * * *

22. * * * The Church's mission stands in continuity with the mission of Christ: “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (Jn 20:21). From the perpetuation of the sacrifice of the Cross and her communion with the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist, the Church draws the spiritual power needed to carry out her mission. The Eucharist thus appears as both the source and the summit of all evangelization, since its goal is the communion of mankind with Christ and in him with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

The Eucharist makes the paschal event present throughout time

Ecclesia de Eucharistia
On the Eucharist in its Relationship to the Church

Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Letter

1. The Church draws her life from the Eucharist. This truth does not simply express a daily experience of faith, but recapitulates the heart of the mystery of the Church. In a variety of ways she joyfully experiences the constant fulfillment of the promise: “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28:20), but in the Holy Eucharist, through the changing of bread and wine into the body and blood of the Lord, she rejoices in this presence with unique intensity. Ever since Pentecost, when the Church, the People of the New Covenant, began her pilgrim journey towards her heavenly homeland, the Divine Sacrament has continued to mark the passing of her days, filling them with confident hope. * * *

3. The Church was born of the paschal mystery. For this very reason the Eucharist, which is in an outstanding way the sacrament of the paschal mystery, stands at the center of the Church's life. This is already clear from the earliest images of the Church found in the Acts of the Apostles: “They devoted themselves to the Apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (2:42). The “breaking of the bread” refers to the Eucharist. Two thousand years later, we continue to relive that primordial image of the Church. At every celebration of the Eucharist, we are spiritually brought back to the paschal Triduum: to the events of the evening of Holy Thursday, to the Last Supper and to what followed it. The institution of the Eucharist sacramentally anticipated the events which were about to take place, beginning with the agony in Gethsemane. Once again we see Jesus as he leaves the Upper Room, descends with his disciples to the Kidron valley and goes to the Garden of Olives. Even today that Garden shelters some very ancient olive trees. Perhaps they witnessed what happened beneath their shade that evening, when Christ in prayer was filled with anguish “and his sweat became like drops of blood falling down upon the ground” (cf. Lk 22:44). The blood which shortly before he had given to the Church as the drink of salvation in the sacrament of the Eucharist, began to be shed; its outpouring would then be completed on Golgotha to become the means of our redemption: “Christ... as high priest of the good things to come..., entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption” (Heb 9:11- 12). * * *

5. By the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the Church was born and set out upon the pathways of the world, yet a decisive moment in her taking shape was certainly the institution of the Eucharist in the Upper Room. Her foundation and wellspring is the whole Triduum paschale, but this is as it were gathered up, fore­shadowed and concentrated forever in the gift of the Eucha­rist. In this gift, Jesus Christ entrusted to his Church the perennial making present of the paschal mystery. With it he brought about a mysterious “oneness in time” between that Triduum and the passage of the centuries. * * *

The thought of this leads us to profound amazement and gratitude. In the paschal event and the Eucharist which makes it present throughout the centuries, there is a truly enormous “capacity” which embraces all of history as the recipient of the grace of the redemption. This amazement should always fill the Church assembled for the celebration of the Eucharist. But in a special way it should fill the minister of the Eucharist. For it is he who, by the authority given him in the sacrament of priestly ordination, effects the consecration. It is he who says, with the power coming to him from Christ in the Upper Room, “This is my body which will be given up for you This is the cup of my blood, poured out for you....” The priest says these words, or rather, he puts his voice at the disposal of the One who spoke these words in the Upper Room and who desires that they should be repeated in every generation by all those who in the Church ministerially share in his priesthood.

6. * * * The Church draws her life from Christ in the Eucharist; by him she is fed and by him she is enlightened. The Eucharist is both a mystery of faith and a “mystery of light.” Whenever the Church celebrates the Eucharist, the faithful can in some way relive the experi­ence of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus: “their eyes were opened and they recognized him” * * *

10. The Magisterium's commitment to proclaiming the Eucharistic mystery has been matched by interior growth within the Christian community. Certainly the liturgical reform inaugurated by the Council has greatly contributed to a more conscious, active and fruitful participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Altar on the part of the faithful. In many places, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is also an important daily practice and becomes an inexhaustible source of holiness. The devout participation of the faithful in the Eucharistic procession on the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ is a grace from the Lord which yearly brings joy to those who take part in it. * * *

Thursday, September 21, 2006

I will be with you always

History of the Mass
St. Justin Martyr, First Apology (c. A.D. 156)

Ch. 66 -- Of the Eucharist.
And this food is called among us Eukaristia [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Savior, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, "This do ye in remembrance of Me, this is My body;" and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, "This is My blood;" and gave it to them alone. Which the wicked devils have imitated in the mysteries of Mithras, commanding the same thing to be done. For, that bread and a cup of water are placed with certain incantations in the mystic rites of one who is being initiated, you either know or can learn.

Ch. 67 -- Weekly Worship of the Christians.
And we afterwards continually remind each other of these things. And the wealthy among us help the needy; and we always keep together; and for all things wherewith we are supplied, we bless the Maker of all through His Son Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Ghost. And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succors the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration.

St. Augustine and the Truth in the One Holy Catholic Church

"There are many things that most properly keep me in the bosom of the Catholic Church; to say nothing of the most genuine wisdom."

"The consensus of peoples and races keeps me in the Church, as does the authority based on miracles, nourished by hope, increased by charity, strengthened by its ancient character; likewise the succession of the priests, from the very see of the apostle Peter, to whom the Lord entrusted the care of His sheep after the resurrection, down to the episcopate of today; finally, the very name of the Catholic Church keeps me in her, because it is not without reason that this Church alone has obtained such a name amid so many heresies."
-- St. Augustine, Contra ep. Man. 4,5:PL 42,175.

Christ’s Abiding Presence and the Birth of the Church

In speaking of the promise of Jesus to be with us always, to the end of the age, and the consequential “birth” of the Church, we must first address some fundamental questions: Who is God? What is God? Who and what is Man? Who and what is Jesus? Who and what is the Church?

1. Who is God? What is God?
God told Moses that He is the “I am.” That means that He is Truth itself. He is Reality itself. And as the Ultimate Reality, as we learn in Genesis, He is the Creator and all-powerful. He is not one-dimensional, but exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three persons in one. He exists beyond and outside of space -- the physical universe – and because time is a measurement of changes in space, He also exists outside of time. As a result, He transcends the universe and is eternal.

2. Who is Man? What is Man?
Man is a creature; that is, he is a created being, he is not self-actualizing. God did not create us as merely spiritual beings, like the angels. Rather, He gave us both a spirit and a body, and it is through our bodies that we experience things and acquire knowledge of things.

God also created Man as a social creature, one who is in need of an “other” to complete and fulfill us. Genesis informs us that “God created Man in his image; in the divine image He created him; male and female He created them.” Thus, in this account, we see that there was an original unity of male and female, man and woman; they are designed and intended for each other.

In another account of the same truth, Genesis describes how God said "It is not good for the man to be alone.” God then took a rib from the side of Adam and, from that rib, made Eve, leading Adam to exclaim, "This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” This describes how, as individuals, there is something missing in our very being. For both men and women, there is a gaping hole in our side, and we desperately need an “other” to fill that hole. Without that "other," there is a void, an emptiness. We need to have that rib returned to our side to be whole again, to be fulfilled.

Fulfillment requires that we go beyond ourselves. Indeed, the very word suggests that we are not already "filled." We cannot be fulfilled if we are left to ourselves. We can fill part of that hole with a spouse, as with the first spouses, Adam and Eve, but even then God needs to be part of the relationship to fill the remaining void. For those who are single, God is the only one who can fill the entirety of that void because He is the One who is Love, the One who is Completeness. Unless and until the heart is filled with one or the other, a spouse or God, there is a restlessness and a hunger.

Now, at the Fall, we not only thought that we could be like gods, choosing our own truth, we thought that we could be self-sufficient and self-fulfilling. We foolishly thought that we had no need for God or others. Even today, there are many people that still believe this. In the Fall, Adam not only hides from God, but the first thing he does when confronted is to blame Eve. Proper relationships between mankind and God, and between human beings themselves, were severed, and a wide gulf of separation between them was created.

3. Who is Jesus? What is Jesus?
At His trial, Jesus was asked if He is the Messiah, the son of the Blessed One? In response, Jesus echoed the words of God in telling Moses His name, “I am.” With these words, there are only three possibilities -- either (1) Jesus was rightfully condemned as a criminal for committing blasphemy by wrongfully taking the Lord’s name in vain and equating Himself with God; (2) Jesus was delusional and insane, thereby mitigating His alleged blasphemy; or (3) He is, in fact, the “I am.”

Faith informs us that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God – God Himself – the Word through whom the world was made. However, He is not only God in a spiritual sense, He is God incarnate, God become Man. He is Emmanuel, meaning “God with us.” He is not merely an idea, but an actual event. He is God taking tangible form.

As the new Adam, Jesus was formed out of Mary, the new Eve, flesh of her flesh, bone of her bone. God literally bonded with and merged into mankind, becoming small, defenseless, and vulnerable while dwelling within Mary, in the most intimate of relationships.

Why did He do this? One reason He did this is because God is Love. (a) Because He loves us, as the name Emmanuel suggests, He wanted to be “with us,” among us – not only at a single point in time, but always and forever. (b) He wanted to teach us, to give us a deposit of faith, and be a Light for us -- the Way, the Truth, and the Life. (c) He wanted to “save” us -- to redeem us and repair the rift. As the Son, Jesus wanted to reconcile Fallen Man to God, to bridge the gap that Man had created and reunite us.

Accordingly, Jesus allowed Himself to be the sacrificial lamb, whose Body and Blood were given as payment for sins. He also established and gave us the sacraments. In both respects, He has an “abiding presence,” He is with us forever.

Because God is outside the “space-time continuum,” He is present not only in all time and all places, but specific points in time continue to exist forever. The Passion and Crucifixion were not isolated events in some distant past. Rather, His sacrifice is an on-going event. He is not crucified again and again, but is one sacrifice. He is perpetually being scourged, eternally on the Cross. Every sin of ours is another lash on His flesh, it is another pound of the hammer, driving nails deeper into His hands.

Jesus also has an abiding presence in the liturgy and sacraments. It is Christ who acts in the sacraments and communicates the grace they signify. The efficacy of the sacraments does not depend upon the personal holiness of the minister. However, the fruits of the sacraments do depend on the dispositions of the one who receives them.

By Baptism and Confirmation, which initiate us into the Church, the Holy Spirit is sent by Jesus, while the Anointing of the Sick prepares us for the final journey in order to join Christ in heaven. By the Sacrament of Holy Orders, which was instituted by Jesus calling His apostles, the Church is passed on to the generations throughout time. The water and chrism oil of these sacraments are sanctified by Jesus and the Cross. The recipients are anointed and joined with the Christ, which means “anointed one.”

By the Crucifixion, through the Sacrament of Penance, our sins are forgiven, and grace is given, if we accept it, to avoid further sin. By the Sacrament of Matrimony, Jesus is present to unite not only husband and wife, two into one, but to unite that one in marriage with God.

In the most obvious sense, Jesus is with us in the Eucharist. The Blessed Sacrament is His Real Presence, Body and Blood. Through the one Mass, according to his Word, Jesus is with us, not merely theoretically or as a philosophy, but physically, such that we, as bodily creatures who experience things through our senses, can be united with Him bodily, as well as spiritually.

How does this happen? How do bread and wine become the actual Body and Blood of Jesus?

(a) With respect to the natural physical process, transubstantiation is what is called a “mystery.” The Church recognizes that we human beings are limited in our capacity and ability to understand certain things, and it does not even attempt to provide a complete answer for all things. Instead, it accepts that some things remain a mystery, known to and knowable by God alone. However, this should not trouble us, because there are many things in life that neither science nor philosophy can fully explain either.

(b) With respect to the supernatural process, the transformation of bread and wine into Body and Blood of Christ occur the same way that the world itself was created – by the Word. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.” (John 1:1-3) And so it was that “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth . . . God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” (Gen. 1:1-3) In like fashion, the priest at Mass, acting, not as himself, but in persona Christi, says the words of Christ at the Last Supper, “This is my body . . . This is my blood,” and by the Word, Christ’s Real Presence comes to be with us.

Jesus also said that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, that no one could come to the Father except through Him. He established the Church as His Bride, two become one, and He gave the sacraments to the Church so that we could be with Him. Accordingly, we see that Christ and the Church are absolutely necessary for salvation.

4. What is the Church? Who is the Church?
In answering these questions, we must acknowledge the limitations of language and our annoying practice of using the same word to mean different things, and we must differentiate between “Church” and “church.”

(a) In one usage, the Church is divine, founded by Christ, who is the Head of the Church -- One, Holy, Apostolic, and Catholic, that is, universal. The Church is an “ecclesia,” an assembly set apart, and She has been characterized as the Mystical Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, Temple of the Holy Spirit, and People of God. The Church is also Mater et Magister (Mother and Teacher), where the successors of Peter and the apostles are guided by the Holy Spirit and the Faith is protected from error.

(b) In other usages, the words “Church” or “church” can refer in a human sense to members collectively, or it can refer to the building or structure in which services are conducted. In this sense, the Church is one big family. However, it is not a hotel for saints, but a hospital for sinners. And those individuals in the Church, as sinners, may do wrongful and hateful things. But just because it is populated by imperfect sinners does not mean that the Church Herself is sinful or imperfect or fallible.

The Church, as Bride of Christ, is protected by the Holy Spirit and is perfect, just as Her Spouse, Jesus, is perfect. And like Jesus, the Church does not hate; She has only love for all, including sinners. Members may and do sin, and in doing so, they may cause scandal, leading others to question the Faith or Church, or to fall away from the Church. As members of the Body of Christ, we must be very careful in our words and actions, so that we do not reflect poorly on the Church and cause scandal.

Because She was founded by Christ, we are not free to change the Church as we wish; Faith and Truth are not matters of opinion to be decided by majority vote. She is the One Universal Church of Christ, not the “Church of do your own thing.”

5. Birth of the Church and Confirmation
Although the Church had Her conception earlier, She is considered to have had Her “birth” at Pentecost. This was when the Holy Spirit descended on the faithful, just as it descends in the Sacrament of Confirmation. In receiving this Sacrament, we complete what began in Baptism. We receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit and become adults in the Faith.

This might be difficult to grasp at first; we might not understand how this might change us. Thus, it might be helpful to consider in context how it changed the faithful at Pentecost. Before then, the apostles and disciples had abandoned Jesus -- hiding out, afraid – but after the Holy Spirit descended upon them, after their “confirmation,” they were given the grace and strength and perseverance to go out and spread the Good News and endure persecution. So, too, your Confirmation will strengthen your graces and you will be made soldiers of Christ in order to fulfill your duty of witnessing to and defending the Faith.

It may also appear after receiving the Sacrament that nothing has happened, that you are the same as before. If no one breaks out speaking in tongues, you may be tempted to conclude that you have not received any graces. But do not be misled by such superficial appearances. By the Sacrament, your very being is altered in a fundamental way. Like with the Eucharist, you may look the same, but you are radically changed; an indelible spiritual mark or seal is left. We may not notice because sin and the contemporary world have so corrupted us that we cannot always immediately recognize God’s presence within us. But He is present nonetheless. If even only as a seed, the Holy Spirit, if you accept Him, will dwell within you and graces will grow within you.