Saturday, March 31, 2007

The weapons the Enemy fears the most

Folks, I finally acquired the DVD of Pope John Paul II: The Movie, which was released initially over a year ago by CBS, which I reviewed here.

Of course, I've watched it a couple of times already to study it in detail. There's one powerful scene, where young Karol -- played by Cary Elwes -- speaks with Archbishop Sapieha of Krakow -- played by James Cromwell--about the best way to resist the horror of Nazi occupation in Poland. These are the lines:
Sapieha - Violence only leads to more violence. If you must use a weapon, choose the one they fear the most.

Wojtyla - Our faith?

Sapieha - Yes, our faith, and our intelligence. Our fine minds.
These words are still words to live by, more so today.

We see today a new coterie of atheist apologists making emotional appeals to our vanity by calling us "stupid." They say that if we are believers, we are stupid. They say that they are the really smart, intelligent, enlightened, and tolerant people.

Don't you believe them.

The difference between Wojtyla's time and our own is only superficial. Of course, we don't have goose-marching Nazis parading outside, but the assault upon our culture, faith, and civilization is no less real. It is, in fact, more insidious, because it now occurs within the constitutional and political structures of traditionally free societies. When the law is not enough and the Enemy's constituence can't uproot our Christian roots, they proceed to attack and ridicule Christianity and Christian believers and to create around us a perception of ignorance, credulity, and fanaticism in order to reduce our influence in public affairs and culture. Achieving this will grant them a free rein to do as they please.

Now, as it was back then, we are facing the same Enemy, albeit he's wearing a different mask, one more reasonable and convincing. Earnest, even. But the best weapons at our disposal remain the same, and they are even more effective now: our faith, our intelligence, and our fine minds.

Friday, March 30, 2007

We, Benedictines: Other Benedictine Charisms

Compiled from various Benedictine sources.

"Let everyone that comes be received as Christ" is one of the most familiar and oft-quoted phrases of the Rule. It emphasizes the preeminent position which hospitality occupies in every Benedictine monastery. Benedictine hospitality goes beyond the exercise of the expected social graces—the superficial smile or the warm reception of expected guests. Hospitality for Benedict meant that everyone who comes—the poor, the traveler, the curious, those not of our religion or social standing or education—should be received with genuine acceptance. With characteristic moderation, though, he cautions against "lingering with guests," realizing that the peace and silence of the monastery must be protected. "Too great a merging of monastics and guests will benefit neither," says Esther de Waal in Seeking God: The Way of St. Benedict.

Stewardship is another value which, like hospitality, captures the essence of Benedictine life. On a most basic level, Benedict prescribed care and reverence of material things ("treat all goods as if they were vessels of the altar"). For Benedictines, the idea that gardening tools were just as important as chalices has come to mean a total way of life which emphasizes wholeness and wholesomeness and connectedness; the body, the mind, the spirit, material things, the earth—all are one and all are to receive proper attention. All created things are God-given, and a common-sense approach to resources should prevail. Thus, Benedictine communities are ready to accept the most recent technology but will use the same bucket for thirty years. "Taking care of things" has been elevated to a virtue of surpassing value in Benedictine monasteries.

The wisdom of Benedict's Rule lies in its flexibility, its tolerance for individual differences, and its openness to change. For 1500 years, it has remained a powerful and relevant guide for those who would seek God in the ordinary circumstances of life.

Ora et Labora

One well-loved Benedictine motto is Ora et Labora, "Pray and Work" - known to generations of fatigued novices as "Ora et labora, et labora, et labora. . ." Prayer and work are two important facets of life at a Benedictine school. Benedictines have long been known for the beauty they have added to public worship. We strive to maintain that tradition of beauty and reverence in all of our services. We also encourage students and faculty to find opportunities to cultivate the life of the spirit, no matter what their religious traditions.

Benedictines deserve the credit for introducing into western culture the idea of the dignity of work. The Classical world saw scholarship (the very word comes the Greek word for leisure) as the prerogative of the privileged class and scorned manual labor, even in the form of the production of works of art, as beneath the dignity of those who pursued the life of the mind. The monks demonstrated to post-classical Europe that they could be scholars and teachers and also participate in Divine Worship, serve at table and work in the fields to bring in the harvest when needed. We view work not just as a means of providing economic support, but as a creative outlet for human energies. By providing programs for professional education, we make it possible for students to find a life's work which will be rewarding and fulfilling. We also encourage the participation in and appreciation for the intellectual, visual and performing arts, as human crafts which are of vital importance to a full life.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

We, Benedictines: What's an Oblate of St. Benedict?

Source: www.osb.org

Folks, continuing this little serial about the Benedictines, today I want to talk about the Oblates of St. Benedict. What's an Oblate?

An Oblate is a lay or clerical, single or married, person formally associated to a particular monastery. The Oblate seeks to live a life in harmony with the spirit of Saint Benedict as revealed in the Rule of Saint Benedict and its contemporary expression. Oblates shape their lives by living the wisdom of Christ as interpreted by St. Benedict. Oblates seek God by striving to become holy in their chosen way of life. By integrating their prayer and work, they manifest Christ's presence in society.

Oblates concern themselves with striving to be what they are, people of God and temples of the Holy Spirit. Their prayer life will flow from this awareness, as will their willingness to offer themselves (that is the meaning of the word oblate) for the service of God and neighbor to the best of their ability. Oblates do not take on a new set of religious practices and are not required to say a certain number of prayers or engage in special devotions. They do not live in a religious community or take vows.

Oblates promise to lead an enriched Christian life according to the gospel as reflected in the Rule of St. Benedict. In this way they share in the spiritual benefits of the sons and daughters of Benedict who are dedicated to the monastic life by vow. After a time of preparation, which culminates in an act of Oblation -- a rite approved by the Church -- the candidates become Oblates of St. Benedict. This promise affiliates them with a Benedictine community and commits them to apply to their lives the characteristic monastic principles.

Oblates strive after stability and fidelity in their lives by regular worship with other Christians and by the support they give to the social and educational apostolates of their local parishes as well as that of the Church as a whole.

In accord with the teaching of Benedict, Oblates practice moderation. This moderation manifests itself in the use of the goods of this world, an increasing concern to their neighbor, and in the way they temper and direct their desires. Their fidelity to Christian living will provide a much needed example of genuine Christianity and a stabilizing influence for good on all around them.

In the spirit of the gospel, Oblates commit themselves to a continual conversion to Christ. They see sin and any attachment to it as basically incompatible with a serious following of Christ. Through this deepening of the baptismal promise, Oblates are free to put on Christ and to allow him to permeate their lives. In this way Oblates will come to recognize that in all the phases and events of their lives, in their joys and successes as well as in their sorrows and disappointments, they are in close union with Christ and participate in his very death and resurrection. This 'putting on of Christ' is the goal Oblates pursue in their conversion of life.

In the spirit of obedience, Oblates strive to discover and maintain their proper relationship toward God, their family, and the civil and religious society in which they live. Before God, Oblates must come to recognize themselves as creatures dependent on their Creator and as sinners before their Redeemer. Aware of their own spiritual poverty and need of God, Oblates come to realize that they have no other reason for being, except to be loved by God as Creator and Redeemer and to love and seek him in return.

In loving obedience to God's plan, Oblates will develop a deep reverence for life. They will respect it as a precious gift from God and defend those groups which because of age, health or race are defenseless and most open to attack. Seeking harmony and integrity of life, they perpetuate and enhance the traditional Benedictine motto: Peace. Personally and together with other Christians, Oblates work to promote Christian family living. They take care to seek out opportunities for the practice of charity and warm hospitality to those around them.

Benedictine Oblates seek God in association with a monastic community: as individuals and as members of a body, they grow in love of God, neighbor, and self. With the Rule as their guide, Oblates adopt values that are part of the very fabric of Christian spirituality, such as, spending time daily reflecting on the Sacred Scriptures; cultivating an awareness of the presence of God in silence; devoting time to the praise of God; performing acts of mortification. An acquaintance with these and other Christian values presented in the Rule of St. Benedict will enable Oblates to attain that special peace and joy that Christ came to bring and promised to all who follow him.

Monday, March 26, 2007

We, Benedictines

A Lenten Meditation.

St. Vincent's Archabbey in Latrobe, PennsylvaniaBrothers and Sisters: Glory be to Jesus Christ! Glory now and forever! I want to start this 5th week of Lent by talking to you about the Benedictines. As many of you know, I am lay Oblate of St. Benedict attached to St. Vincent's Archabbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Living out the Gospel according St. Benedict's spirituality and discipline is very important to me because it brings a very important spiritual "rhythm" of prayer, praise, adoration, and the practice of the virtues and the corporal works of mercy in a context of constant prayer.

The Founder

St. Benedict of Subiaco - A Contemporary icon by Brother Claude Lane, OSBThe Order of St. Benedict (OSB) is the oldest religious order in the Roman Catholic Church. Its origins go back to the Rule written by St. Benedict of Nursia.

Saint Benedict was not the founder of Christian monasticism, since he lived two and a half to three centuries after its beginnings in Egypt, Palestine, and Asia Minor. Nor did he intend to found a new religious order. He became a monk as a young man and thereafter learned the tradition by associating with monks and reading the monastic literature. He was caught up in the monastic movement but ended by channeling the stream into new and fruitful ways. This is evident in the Rule which he wrote for monasteries and which was and is still used in many monasteries and convents around the world (see Rule of Benedict).

The Benedictines

Monte CassinoBenedictines carry on a monastic tradition that stems from the origins of the Christian monastic movement in the late third century. They regard Saint Benedict as their founder and guide even though he did not establish a Benedictine Order as such. He wrote a Rule for his monastery at Monte Cassino in Italy and he foresaw that it could be used elsewhere. Monte Cassino was destroyed by the Lombards about A.D. 577 and was not reestablished until the middle of the eighth century. Meanwhile the Rule found its way to monasteries in England, Gaul, and elsewhere. At first it was one of a number of rules accepted by a particular monastery but later, especially through the promotional efforts of Charlemagne and his son Louis, it became the rule of choice for monasteries of Europe from the ninth century onwards.

The early medieval monasteries of Europe, those for men and women, followed the Rule of Benedict with local adaptations needed in different climes and cultures. They continued, however, the tradition of community life with its common prayer, reading, and work. Some of the monasteries were founded as centers of evangelization of peoples; others carried on a program of education, art and architecture, and the making of manuscripts. Many monasteries were centers of liturgy and learning in the midst of chaotic times and shifting kingdoms.

Benedictines of today continue to group themselves in congregations of monasteries; some, however, especially many communities of nuns, are positioned outside congregations and relate directly to the local bishop and to the abbot primate in Rome. The followers of Saint Benedict vary much in the way they carry out the thrust of the sixth-century Rule, but in general they retain essential features of their origins -- local gatherings of monastics who endeavor to seek God in a common life of prayer, reading, and service.

Spirituality

Arms and motto of the Benedictine OrderBenedictines make three vows: stability, fidelity to the monastic way of life, and obedience. Though promises of poverty and chastity are implied in the Benedictine way, stability, fidelity, and obedience receive primary attention in the Rule—perhaps because of their close relationship with community life.

Stability means that the monastic pledges lifelong commitment to a particular community. To limit oneself voluntarily to one place with one group of people for the rest of one's life makes a powerful statement. Contentment and fulfillment do not exist in constant change; true happiness cannot necessarily be found anywhere other than in this place and this time. For Benedictines, the vow of stability proclaims rootedness, at-homeness, that this place and this monastic family will endure.

Likewise, by the vow of fidelity to the monastic way, Benedictines promise to allow themselves to be shaped and molded by the community—to pray at the sound of the bell when it would be so much more convenient to continue working, to forswear pet projects for the sake of community needs, to be open to change, to listen to others, and not to run away when things seem frustrating or boring or hopeless.

Obedience also holds a special place in Benedict's community. Monastics owe "unfeigned and humble love" to their abbots and prioresses, not because they are infallible or omniscient, but because they take the place of Christ. St. Benedict carefully outlines the qualities the leaders should possess—wisdom, prudence, discretion, and sensitivity to individual differences. The exercise of authority in the Rule points more to mercy than justice, more to understanding of human weakness than strict accountability, more to love than zeal. What defines the leader of a Benedictine community is not being head of an institution but being in relationship with all the members.

Benedict envisioned a balanced life of prayer and work as the ideal. Monastics would spend time in prayer so as to discover why they're working, and would spend time in work so that good order and harmony would prevail in the monastery. Benedictines should not be consumed by work, nor should they spend so much time in prayer that responsibilities are neglected. According to Benedict, all things—eating, drinking, sleeping, reading, working, and praying—should be done in moderation. In Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, Sister Joan Chittister writes that in Benedict's Rule, "All must be given its due, but only its due. There should be something of everything and not too much of anything."

The Work of God

Monks in south choir waiting silentlyMonks in north choir singingBenedict emphasizes the importance of public prayer by devoting no less than twelve chapters of the Rule to his description of how the ‘work of God’ is to be structured. He is also very concerned about the timetable for public prayer, as he sets aside seven distinct periods during the day when the monks are to drop whatever work may be engaging their atten­tion in order to gather for prayerful recognition of God’s claim on their lives.

This public prayer of the monastic community is made up primarily of biblical psalms, but there are also readings from other parts of Scripture, as well as special prayers, such as the Lord’s Prayer. The constant chanting of the psalms is intended to immerse the monk in a world where God’s presence is felt and where God’s goodness is praised. This world is made access­ible to the monk through personal faith, which finds the gift of God at the centre of all reality, in spite of much evil and violence on the surface of human life.

For the purpose of achieving this prayerful immersion, Benedict prescribed that his monks should memorize the entire Psalter. This must have been a daunting task for the younger members of the monastery. But they would have been greatly assisted and encouraged by the older members, for we can well imagine that they were carried along, as it were, on the waves of biblical words provided by their elders. Over the years, the effect would be that the minds and memories of all the monks would be filled more and more with expressions of praise and gratitude.

We know that Benedict’s spiritual wisdom is valid for all Christians. Many lay people would like to share in that wisdom and they can do so even when they are prevented from regular participation in the public prayer of the monastery. There are breviaries available, which contain prayers very similar to those used in monasteries. By saying these prayers, lay people will also be able to consecrate each day to God and to enter into that same loving awareness of the divine presence in their lives.

I can add many other things that make up Benedictine spirituality. But one that really strikes me as apt for today is that of civilizing the world. Benedictine monasticism were the forgers of European civilization, preserving classical knowledge and becoming seminaries for the explosion of science and art of the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance. This charism to forge civilization anew is needed today more than ever, as witness today a new birth of obscurantism and paganism under the guise of liberty and progress. We, Benedictines, followers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ according to the charism revealed to St. Benedict, stand at a new crossroads where we need to bring light into a world sinking in barbarism, where human life is valued little, and when powerful forces and personalities seek to extinguish the human spirit. The world stands in need of a Christian civilization and we, Benedictines, must be up for the task at hand.

- With the exception of the first and last paragraphs, everything else was compiled from multiple sources. Pictures of St. Vincent Archabbey displayed here are my property and must be used with attribution.

- For more information about the Benedictines, visit their website.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

USCCB: Statement Concerning Errors of Daniel Maguire

Folks, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops published an Statement Concerning Two Pamphlets Published by Professor Daniel Maguire, in which the bishops state the following, among various other things:
Daniel MaguireOn June 19, 2006, Professor Daniel Maguire of Marquette University sent two pamphlets to all of the Catholic Bishops in the United States, one entitled The Moderate Roman Catholic Position on Contraception and Abortion and the other A Catholic Defense of Same-Sex Marriage. These pamphlets do not present Catholic teaching. His views about contraception, abortion, same sex "marriage", as well as the very nature of Church teaching and its authoritative character, cross the legitimate lines of theological reflection and simply enter into the area of false teaching. Such mistaken views should not be confused with the faith and moral teaching of the Catholic Church...

...The Archbishop of Milwaukee, exercising his pastoral responsibilities as teacher and shepherd, has made public statements affirming that the views expressed by Professor Maguire in his two pamphlets are erroneous and incompatible with the Church's teaching. We the Committee on Doctrine of the USCCB concur that, despite his claims to authority as a Catholic theologian, the views of Professor Maguire on contraception, abortion, and same-sex "marriage" are not those of the Catholic Church and indeed are contrary to the Church's faith. We deplore as irresponsible his public advocacy of his views as authentic Catholic teaching. Lastly, we trust that this statement will clarify the Church's faith and teaching for all of the Catholic faithful throughout the United States.
The statement is worth reading. Please, access it here.

Friday, March 23, 2007

John Michael Talbot has a blog

Friends, Catholic musician, liturgist, and founder John Michael Talbot has a blog named after him. If you are like me and enjoy his music and reflections, I know you will enjoy it too. Here's the link:

http://johnmichaeltalbot.blogspot.com/

I hope you add him to your blog roll and your favorites.

USCCB denounce works by pro-abortion theologian

Folks, I interrupt briefly the sequence of Lenten articles to comment on this worthwile news report by Catholic World News:
Washington, Mar. 23, 2007 (CWNews.com) - The US bishops have announced that two pamphlets circulated by a Marquette University theologian represent “false teaching” which cannot be reconciled with Catholic doctrine.

In a statement released on March 22, and approved by the administratative board of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the bishops’ doctrinal committee said that the works by Daniel Maguire “do not present Catholic teaching.”

The doctrinal committee, chaired by Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, Connecticut, addressed two pamphlets circulated last year by Maguire, covering the issues of contraception, abortion, and same-sex marriage. The USCCB concluded that Maguire’s views on those topics, and his understanding of Church teaching authority, “cross the legitimate lines of theological reflection and simply enter into the area of false teaching.”
Please, continue reading here.

Commentary. The thing is that Mr. Maguire alleges that the bishops are the ones who are misinformed and that he is the one who is correct. According to this article, Maguire argues that “the Roman Catholic position on abortion is pluralistic,” claiming that some Catholics have always endorsed the “pro-choice” stance. He writes that on abortion-- and on other issues such as contraception and same-sex marriage-- there are two opposing Catholic views. “Neither is official,” he says, “and neither is more Catholic than the other.”

Mr. Maguire is deeply, profoundly, and absolutely, wrong. How can he still continue teaching in a Catholic university as a Catholic moral theologian is beyond me. I think that he just want to play the victim, like Hans Küng did back in the 70's. He is daring the authorities to remove him for self-publicity purposes. What for, I don't know. The Church is not going to change her teaching just to please him.

The USCCB has acted rightly in pointing out the errors in Mr. Maguire's ways. I hope that the revocation of his ecclessiastical license to teach follows soon.

Let us pray, then, for Daniel Maguire, for those who followed his errors and promote the Culture of Death, and for all of us, guilty bystanders: may the Lord forgive us and reform us according to His image.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

How to fast during Lent - or for any other worthy intention

Folks, the following is an adaptaion of the wikihow.com article, How to fast for a religious occasion.

Steps
  • Prepare yourself physically. Fasting can actually be a cleansing opportunity for the body, but you don't want to make yourself sick. Eat a good meal prior to beginning your fast. Don't gorge yourself, but don't go into it on nothing but a snack-size meal.

  • Limit your fast appropriately. If there is not a specific limit already set by your religious tradition, limit the fast yourself to 12-24 hours. Anything less is not much of a fast, and anything more could lead to serious physical problems. Remember that your fast should be a good experience, not a dangerous one.

  • Make the fast an opportunity to step-up your spirituality. Set aside time to study scripture or other inspirational writings, and meditate on their meaning.

  • Pray during your fast. Whatever your purpose for religious fasting, it can be a great opportunity for spiritual growth when accompanied by prayer. Pray with purpose, expressing gratitude and articulating both your needs and the needs of others. Pause to reflect and meditate on your prayer and your fast.

  • Close your fast with prayer. If you were fasting with a specific purpose, take the opportunity again to express your purpose. Express gratitude for the opportunity to fast, and for being able to complete it!
  • Tips
  • Remember why you are fasting. When your stomach growls, or you feel hungry or weak, recognize it as an opportunity to remember the purpose of your fast - not a weakness or something to grumble about.

  • Stay away from food. The sight or smell of food will probably make fasting more difficult physically, and if food is easily accessible, you may unconsciously begin to snack.

  • Discreetly inform close friends, family, or associates that you are fasting so they can support you instead of inadvertently undermining your fast by offering food.

  • When it is time to eat again, start slowly. Your stomach may not be ready for harsh foods.
  • Warnings
  • Do not fast if you are seriously ill. Don't use a minor illness as an excuse, but consider your own health and the possible risks associated with fasting.

  • If you are taking medications, ask your physician before fasting and continue to take them as instructed by your physician.

  • If you do not want anyone to know you are fasting, try going out of the workplace for lunch or going into another room when people start to eat.
  • Wednesday, March 21, 2007

    The Value and Dignity of "Work" vs. "Labor" as punishment for sin in Genesis 3:17-19

    Last week in class we had a brief discussion on the character of "work" as a human activity found in the initial chapters of the Book of Genesis, specifically, the question of "work" as being part of the original design of God in creation, or actually a dimension of the punishment God exacted upon Adam and Eve after the Fall. The instructor seemed to have initially taken the latter view, whereas I and several fellow class members held to the former view.

    The purpose of this brief paper is to substantiate the view that "work," was part of God's original design for man whereas "labor" or rather, the "arduousness" of work is what the punishment of God consisted of when he "cursed" man's work with "labor" upon the fall of Adam.

    The course of "proof" is simple. I will quote from three recognized authorities who commented on these verses: a pope, a theologian, and a church father that either spoke highly of the inherent dignity of work, or made the proper distinctions between "work" and "labor." I will follow the quotes with some brief commentary of my own and close this paper with a summary conclusion. Due to the brevity of this paper, I will exclude the bibliographical notes that are expected in all kinds of scholarly work, but I trust the sources themselves are pretty self-explanatory throughout the text.

    There is an unspoken, underlying assumption informing this paper a priori. This is that pronouncements of the ordinary papal Magisterium, the teachings of the Church's doctor comunis, and the exegetical and homiletical work of a church father, enjoy a certain right of precedence when it comes to interpret the Bible. This "right" is to be exercised, some times along, sometimes against, the conclusions reached by biblical scholars employing scientific methods independently from any hermeneutical tradition. In other words, this paper assumes the normative status of dogmatic theology over biblical theology, as the insights from the custodians of the Catholic tradition are brought to bear on the biblical text.

    Pope John Paul II – Laborem Exercens

    Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical letter Laborem Exercens ("On Human Work") shared the following insights about the origins and inherent dignity of work as a human activity in paragraphs 13 and 14 of said encyclical:
    13. The Church finds in the very first pages of the Book of Genesis the source of her conviction that work is a fundamental dimension of human existence on earth. An analysis of these texts makes us aware that they express--sometimes in an archaic way of manifesting thought--the fundamental truths about man, in the context of the mystery of creation itself. These truths are decisive for man from the very beginning, and at the same time they trace out the main lines of his earthly existence, both in the state of original justice and also after the breaking, caused by sin, of the creator's original covenant with creation in man. When man, who had been created "in the image of God....male and female,"[9] hears the words: "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it,"[10] even though these words do not refer directly and explicitly to work, beyond any doubt they indirectly indicate it as an activity for man to carry out in the world. Indeed, they show its very deepest essence. Man is the image of God partly through the mandate received from his creator to subdue, to dominate, the earth. In carrying out this mandate, man, every human being, reflects the very action of the creator of the universe.

    14. Work understood as a "transitive" activity, that is to say an activity beginning in the human subject and directed toward an external object, presupposes a specific dominion by man over "the earth", and in its turn it confirms and develops this dominion. It is clear that the term "the earth" of which the biblical text speaks is to be understood in the first place as that fragment of the visible universe that man inhabits. By extension, however, it can be understood as the whole of the visible world insofar as it comes within the range of man's influence and of his striving to satisfy his needs. The expression "subdue the earth" has an immense range. It means all the resources that the earth (and indirectly the visible world) contains and which, through the conscious activity of man, can be discovered and used for his ends. And so these words, placed at the beginning of the Bible, never cease to be relevant. They embrace equally the past ages of civilization and economy, as also the whole of modern reality and future phases of development, which are perhaps already to some extent beginning to take shape, though for the most part they are still almost unknown to man and hidden from him.
    In his exegesis of Genesis 3:17-19, John Paul II sees work as a kind of participation by man in the creative act of God, implicit in the commandment "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it, which God gave before the Fall. For John Paul, work is any activity for man to carry out in the world. Therefore, work as defined by John Paul reflects the very action of the creator of the universe as man subdues and dominates the earth.

    The dignity of work constitutes, for John Paul II, a spring board to launch into the necessary justice that most exist in its exercise in civilization, economy, and development. The Pope's is a positive evaluation of work per se that excludes a positive notion of work as punishment.

    St. Thomas Aquinas — Summa Theologica

    The second authority brought to bear in this matter is that of St. Thomas Aquinas, called by Pope Leo XIII the doctor comunis or "common doctor" of the Church. Aquinas addressed this subject in Question 102 of his Summa Theologica, subtitled Man's abode which is paradise, as follows:
    Article 3. Whether man was placed in paradise to dress it and keep it?

    Objection 1. It would seem that man was not placed in paradise to dress and keep it. For what was brought on him as a punishment of sin would not have existed in paradise in the state of innocence. But the cultivation of the soil was a punishment of sin (Genesis 3:17). Therefore man was not placed in paradise to dress and keep it.

    Objection 2. Further, there is no need of a keeper when there is no fear of trespass with violence. But in paradise there was no fear of trespass with violence. Therefore there was no need for man to keep paradise.

    Objection 3. Further, if man was placed in paradise to dress and keep it, man would apparently have been made for the sake of paradise, and not contrariwise; which seems to be false. Therefore man was not place in paradise to dress and keep it.

    On the contrary, It is written (Genesis 2:15): "The Lord God took man and placed in the paradise of pleasure, to dress and keep it."

    I answer that, As Augustine says (Gen. ad lit. viii, 10), these words in Genesis may be understood in two ways.

    First, in the sense that God placed man in paradise that He might Himself work in man and keep him, by sanctifying him (for if this work cease, man at once relapses into darkness, as the air grows dark when the light ceases to shine); and by keeping man from all corruption and evil.

    Secondly, that man might dress and keep paradise, which dressing would not have involved labor, as it did after sin; but would have been pleasant on account of man's practical knowledge of the powers of nature. Nor would man have kept paradise against a trespasser; but he would have striven to keep paradise for himself lest he should lose it by sin. All of which was for man's good; wherefore paradise was ordered to man's benefit, and not conversely.
    St. Thomas makes the same point Pope John Paul II made above, albeit from a different direction. Whereas for the Pope the similarity between man's call to subdue and dominate the earth and God's sovereign activity in the same activities is one of "reflection," that is, man's activities in nature resemble God's by means of analogy, for Aquinas, "work," before the loss of original innocence was an activity of God indwelling in man. The Fall resulted in the loss of God's indwelling presence in Man, therefore every human activity, primitively designed to be imbued by God's own activity, now lay defective, lacking an animating principle that would have made every human work "good."

    Aquinas also makes the distinction between "work" and "labor," as when he writes that man might dress and keep paradise, which dressing would not have involved labor, as it did after sin; but would have been pleasant on account of man's practical knowledge of the powers of nature. The privation of God's indwelling in man brought "labor" as a punishment for sin. According to this interpretation, it might be said that "labor" is, in reality, work deprived of its divine dimension, "defective" work which results in diverse bodily, mental, and spiritual travails.

    St. John Chrysostom - Homily 36 on the Gospel of John

    This is a short quote from a larger homily delivered by the saintly Archbishop of Constantinople:
    "But," says one, "to work is one thing, to labor is another." Yea, but it was in man's power then to work without labor. "And is this," says he, "possible?" Yea, it is possible; God even desired it, but you endured it not. Therefore He placed you to work in the garden, marking out employment, but joining with it no labor. For had man labored at the beginning, God would not afterwards have put labor by way of punishment. For it is possible to work and not to be wearied, as do the angels. To prove that they work, hear what David says; "You that excel in strength, you that do His word." ( Ps. ciii. 20 , LXX.) Want of strength causes much labor now, but then it was not so. For "he that has entered into His rest, has ceased," says one, "from his works, as God from His" ( Heb. iv. 10 ): not meaning here idleness, but the ceasing from labor. For God works even now, as Christ says, "My Father works hitherto, and I work." ( c. v. 17 .)
    Chrysostom already had the idea that "labor" could and should be distinguished from "work." He explicitly referred to "labor" as the punishment for sin and distinguished it from work, and also distinguished work from mere "idleness" noting that Christ himself continued to "work" as his Father did.

    Conclusion

    These exegeses of Genesis 3:17-19 support the view that work, as a human activity, was willed by God as part of the original plan of creation, even before Original Sin. As such, work is imbued with dignity, as an activity that makes man like God, his partner even, in shaping nature and co-creating human life.

    Human work after the Fall becomes "labor" not because of any ontological property, but for a lack of one, which is the indwelling presence of God in man, the subject of work, in the same sense that something is "evil" not because there is an eternal, first principle of evil, but because evil is merely the absence of good, which is God's very grace in both instances.

    Hence, though wounded by sin, work has not lost its original dignity, just as man did not lose his original dignity, a dignity that demands the right exercise of work in terms of its availability, distribution, nature, and entelechy. Were "work" as a human activity to be seen as "punishment" for sin and not part of God's original creative design, all moral evaluation of work would of necessity be a negative, disparaging one.

    Finally, it should be duly noted that these exegeses of Genesis 3:17-19 posed by John Paul, Aquinas, and Chrysostom, do not seem to be fanciful interpretations derived a priori from the arbitrary dictates of Catholic Tradition, but clearly emerge from the literal sense of the text itself, that is to say, that the distinction between "work" and "labor" existed in the mind of the sacred writer himself and formed part of the religious truth the Holy Spirit impelled him to transmit to Israel and through Israel, to the Church.

    Monday, March 19, 2007

    Illegal immigrants should be treated with dignity and respect

    As published in the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat

    In the past few years, several municipalities across the nation, including Pennsylvania, have adopted laws aimed at squeezing out illegal immigrants from participating in local economies.

    Defenders of these measures argue that local resources should be accessible only to citizens or to legal residents and point out the failure of the federal government to secure the borders.

    These measures empower civilians to discriminate against all immigrants without distinction of legal status – and even against some citizens who speak with a “foreign” accent – on the basis of fear and stereotype.

    In the end, these ordinances will turn illegal immigrants into homeless criminals and wanted fugitives in these communities.

    I have seen the U.S. northern and southern borders firsthand.

    The view from Detroit is typical of what you see across the U.S.-Canadian border: Gleaming cities and suburbs inhabited by happy people very much like us.

    They move across the longest undefended border in the world with surprising freedom, almost unmolested – as many 9/11 hijackers found out.

    From El Paso, Texas, the view is quite different.

    The Rio Grande River is almost a trench, and on the U.S. side, it bristles with cameras and electronic sensors.

    Border patrol agents lounge in their SUVs at set intervals along the border, their vehicles cooled by sunshades built for that purpose.

    Ciudad Juarez is not quite as bucolic a city as what you can see in Canada. Entire hills are built up with shanties through which the desert dust blows with impunity.

    On cold mornings, and if the wind blows toward El Paso, one can smell a thousand wood-burning stoves.

    Throngs of workers come over the bridge from Mexico to work in the United States, only to return late in the night to their city – back into poverty, squalor and violence.

    I thank God for the opportunity to see for myself, to compare and contrast the two borders, and for the opportunity he gave me to live and work along the southern one.

    These experiences have taught me what not to say to illegal aliens.

    I will not ask them: “Hey, don’t you understand that you’re breaking our laws? Don’t you see that you are taking away from real Americans and legal residents health, welfare and educational resources you are not entitled to?”

    Neither will I ask them: “Can’t you see that your poverty is a direct consequence of the socialist zero-sum economics practiced by your leftist-populist governments that continue to act as misery-multipliers in a region still reeling from dictatorships from the left and from the right? Why don’t you go back to your own country and try to fix it for the upcoming generations? Sacrifice, man, sacrifice! But not on our country.”

    As true as these arguments may be on occasion, our illegal immigrant doesn’t give a damn about them.

    He’s only worried about bread-and-butter questions: Finding a job, feeding his family and living with freedom and dignity.

    Those who come here to engage in criminal activities are clearly the exception to the rule that gets all the media attention.

    So, what are we to do?

    Rounding up all 12 million illegal aliens in this country and interning them in detention camps where they can happily await their destiny is impractical.

    We have to come to terms with a solution that will allow immigrants to surface from the underground economy, flee exploitation by unscrupulous businesses and avoid the shunning they get by the rest of the populace.

    Illegal immigrants should be legalized and integrated into our society.

    Aliens with criminal records should be either imprisoned or deported, leaving the rest to live in peace as upright, tax-paying, hardworking men and women in search of the American dream.

    Mine is not an appeal for an open border. Border security should be improved.

    Southern countries should be pushed to liberalize their economies and empower their poor, and not use us to dump their excess population for the benefit of local elites.

    Yet, our law should distinguish between those who have been here for a few days and those who have been here for years, and treat the latter as productive, contributing members of society.

    Above all, municipalities, landlords and business owners should not engage in anti-alien vigilantism sanctioned by law or ordinance.

    Regulating immigration according to criteria of equity and balance is one of the indispensable conditions for ensuring that immigrants are integrated into society with the guarantees required by recognition of their human dignity.

    Immigrants are to be received as persons and helped, together with their families, to become a part of societal life.

    Afterword

    Relevant verses from the Pentateuch dealing directly with the treatment of aliens in Israel's midst:

  • Exodus 22:21 - "Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt."

  • Exodus 23:9 - "Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt."

  • Leviticus 19:34 - "The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God."

  • Deuteronomy 10:19 - "And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt."

  • Deuteronomy 23:7 - "Do not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother. Do not abhor an Egyptian, because you lived as an alien in his country."
  • Source: BibleGateway.

    Thursday, March 15, 2007

    The Word of God utters my word

    The Word of God is a two-edged sword
    He rents my soul
    He sets my heart on fire
    He captures my attention

    The Word of God demands my obedience
    He demands my response in love and service
    He judges me and finds me wanting
    He proclaims the sentence
    He comes to my help and completes me

    The Word of God makes me whole
    He heals me
    He makes me the man God wants me to be

    The Word of God utters my word
    He who was before God in the beginning
    and is God
    Now sends me to heal the world

    I am to be the Word of God for others
    A word of peace
    A word of forgiveness
    A word of love
    A word of transformation
    A word of permanence
    A living word

    Tuesday, March 13, 2007

    Sacramentum Caritatis now on-line

    Folks, Pope Benedict XVI's newest Apostolic Exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis, the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Eucharist as the Source and Summit of the Church's Life and Mission is now on-line here. I think this Letter will come to define "the reform of the reform" in the standard Roman Rite. You must read it.

    - Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Eucharist as the Source and Summit of the Church's Life and Mission

    Jesus was no socialist, guru, or hippie, but rather the Son of God, says Venezuelan bishop

    Folks, these words from Venezuelan bishop Mario Moronta of San Cristóbal should echo here too:
    “Therefore, neither a revolutionary, nor a Socialist, nor a hippie, nor a philosopher, nor a Gnostic deity, nor an alien, nor a ghost, nor a myth: Jesus is Lord, the Son of the living God, the Savior, the Word incarnate who has made the mystery and plan of God known to us, the Beginning and the End, the faithful witness, the same today, yesterday and forever,” Bishop Moronta emphasized.
    This Lent, let us reflect and ascertain if we are worshipping and emulating the real Jesus, or a counterfeit we've built to serve our own needs and notions of moral righteousness. Consider that once you worship your own image of God, you've built an idol, you're guilty of idolatry, and your're not worshiping the True God even if you believe you are.

    Monday, March 12, 2007

    Pope John Paul the Great's beatification clears first hurdle

    Folks, according to the Catholic News Agency,
    Rome, Mar 11, 2007 / 10:52 am (CNA).- The Diocese of Rome has concluded its examination of the life and virtues of the Servant of God, Pope John Paul II. Cardinal Camillo Ruini, Vicar General for the diocese, announced on Saturday that the important investigation had been concluded and will be marked by a ceremony at Rome’s Cathedral, the Basilica of St. John Lateran on April 2nd, the AP reports.

    The study of those who are candidates for being declared “Blesseds” and Saints usually begins at a diocesan level before being passed on to a Vatican congregation which conducts its own study.

    Whereas all Popes serve as the Bishop of Rome, the study of John Paul II’s life began both there and in Poland, where the young Karol Wojtyla grew up and served as a priest and bishop before being elected Pope. In January, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, the late Pope’s longtime secretary and current Archbishop of Krakow announced that the Polish investigation was nearly complete.
    Please, continue reading here.

    Commetary. Axios! He's worthy! Let's add this prayer to our Lenten "lineup":
    O Blessed Trinity
    We thank You for having graced the Church
    with Pope John Paul II
    and for allowing the tenderness of your Fatherly care,
    the glory of the cross of Christ,
    and the splendor of the Holy Spirit,
    to shine through him.
    Trusting fully in Your infinite mercy
    and in the maternal intercession of Mary,
    he has given us a living image of Jesus the Good Shepherd,
    and has shown us that holiness
    is the necessary measure of ordinary Christian life
    and is the way of achieving eternal communion with you.
    Grant us, by his intercession, and according to Your will,
    the graces we implore,
    hoping that he will soon be numbered
    among your saints.
    Amen.
    - Prayer courtesy of the website for the Cause for the Beatification and Canonization of the Servant of God John Paul II.

    Friday, March 09, 2007

    How do I die to self?

    Folks, I've been reading this most excellent book by Frederick Bauerschmidt, entitled Why the Mystics Matter Now, in which the author briefly explores the thought of Thomas Merton, St. Thérèse de Lisieux, St. Hildergard of Bingen, Julian of Norwich, Meister Eckhart, St Ignatius of Loyola and St. Catherine of Siena.

    In the section dedicated to Meister Eckhart, Bauerschmidt wrote:

    The human ego has an immense gravitational pull. Left unchecked, it asserts its sovereignty by drawing everything into itself. The world becomes the world of my perceptions; the things I encounter are grasped in their relationship to me, the world is endowed by me with whatever truth it has; beauty is in the eye of the beholder, who is me. Even God cannot resist the ego's pull. Rather than being created in the image of God, I create God in my image. I make a God who serves me. I, in effect, take the place of God as the one who is the source of goodness, truth, and beauty.
    These words have placed me in the trajectory to answer the question I had asked before, Why should I love God?.

    For I can only ask such a question if I were the source of goodness, truth, and beauty, and not God. The indictment against my own self expressed in my question reveals that, implicitly, I believe myself to be "God," or that at least, I believe myself sufficiently smart to assign Him a paired-down meaning in relationship to me.

    To find out why I should love God first I have to die to myself. The Lord was right when He stated so and now I have an inkling of the manifold applications and consequences of His saying.

    To love God, and for that matter, to love my neighbor, I have to die to self.

    Now, the fair question, in its just proportion becomes, how do I die to self?

    Wednesday, March 07, 2007

    Milestones reached today at Vivificat's Spanish Site

    Folks, for the first time since I began running two blogs, the unique visits to Vivificat en Español have surpassed this site's. Usually this site beats the Spanish side 2-to-1. Not today!

    I want to thank all my readers, whether you are reading in English or in Spanish, for your support and for sticking by to read my ocassionally good reflections.

    May the Lord continue to bless us all during this Holy and Great Lent.

    The four senses of Scripture

    Folks, I've been attending my Scripture classes lately and we have talked about the traditional senses of Holy Scripture. The subject has also come up in the context of Lectio Divina. To say that understanding these senses is most important for preachers, teachers, and people who pray with the Word of God would be an understatement. The Catechism of the Catholic Church has a section expounding on these senses of Scripture:
    The senses of Scripture

    115 According to an ancient tradition, one can distinguish between two senses of Scripture: the literal and the spiritual, the latter being subdivided into the allegorical, moral and anagogical senses. The profound concordance of the four senses guarantees all its richness to the living reading of Scripture in the Church.

    116 The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation: "All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal."

    117 The spiritual sense. Thanks to the unity of God's plan, not only the text of Scripture but also the realities and events about which it speaks can be signs.

    1. The allegorical sense. We can acquire a more profound understanding of events by recognizing their significance in Christ; thus the crossing of the Red Sea is a sign or type of Christ's victory and also of Christian Baptism.

    2. The moral sense. The events reported in Scripture ought to lead us to act justly. As St. Paul says, they were written "for our instruction".

    3. The anagogical sense (Greek: anagoge, "leading"). We can view realities and events in terms of their eternal significance, leading us toward our true homeland: thus the Church on earth is a sign of the heavenly Jerusalem.

    118 A medieval couplet summarizes the significance of the four senses:
    The Letter speaks of deeds; Allegory to faith;
    The Moral how to act; Anagogy our destiny.
    119 "It is the task of exegetes to work, according to these rules, towards a better understanding and explanation of the meaning of Sacred Scripture in order that their research may help the Church to form a firmer judgement. For, of course, all that has been said about the manner of interpreting Scripture is ultimately subject to the judgement of the Church which exercises the divinely conferred commission and ministry of watching over and interpreting the Word of God."
    But I would not believe in the Gospel, had not the authority of the Catholic Church already moved me.
    To learn these senses is critical for all those whose task is to interpret the Bible, along with all the different scientific methods that when applied correctly shed light upon the literal sense of Scripture and the way it came to be.

    I also learned of the existence of a little known document issued by the Pontifical Biblical Commission, entitled, The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, presented March 18, 1994. This document recapitulates the ways in which the Church has received and interpreted Holy Scripture and re-presents the Catholic way of reading the Bible to a modern audience. At the risk of being redundant, I think this document is a must read. These two paragraphs spoke directly to me:

    This same [Vatican II] council teaches that all the baptized, when they bring their faith in Christ to the celebration of the eucharist, recognize the presence of Christ also in his word, "for it is he himself who speaks when the holy Scriptures are read in the church" ("Sacrosanctum Concilium," 7). To this hearing of the word, they bring that "sense of the faith" ("sensus fidei") which characterizes the entire people (of God).... For by this sense of faith aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth, the people of God, guided by the sacred magisterium which it faithfully follows, accepts not a human word but the very Word of God (cf. 1 Thes. 2: 13). It holds fast unerringly to the faith once delivered to the saints (cf. Jude 3), it penetrates it more deeply with accurate insight and applies it more thoroughly to Christian life" ("Lumen Gentium," 12).

    Thus all the members of the church have a role in the interpretation of Scripture. In the exercise of their pastoral ministry, as successors of the apostles, are the first witnesses and guarantors of the living tradition within which Scripture is interpreted in every age. "Enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they have the task of guarding faithfully the word of God, of explaining it and through their preaching making it more widely known" ("Dei Verbum," 9; cf. "Lumen Gentium," 25). As co-workers with the bishops, priests have as their primary duty the proclamation of the word ("Presbyterorum Ordinis," 4). They are gifted with a particular charism for the interpretation of Scripture, when, transmitting not their own ideas but the word of God, they apply the eternal truth of the Gospel to the concrete circumstances of daily life (ibid.). It belongs to priests and to especially when they administer the sacraments, to make clear the unity constituted by word and sacrament in the ministry of the church.
    What this means is that we are all interpreters of Scripture, not all of equal abilities or authority, but all equally necessary to spread the message of Christ by hearing and practicing the faith "once for all received by the saints" in the hearing of the Word, the reception of the Sacraments, and the practice of Love.

    To interpret the Word according to our state in life, our calling, and with the Mind of the Church is an awesome responsibility which should not be taken lightly, and for which we should be thankful for.

    Monday, March 05, 2007

    Why should I love God?

    Folks, recently, the following question keeps popping up in my mind: why should I love God? Yeah, I know, that's sort of a basic question that I should've answered long ago. I mean, I love God, but I am surprised at myself when I try to marshal a cogent answer to the question "why"? Is it because God commands me to? What kind of love would that be? No one can command anyone to love. Love would not be free and there's no love without freedom.

    Then there is the matter of profit. If God is complete in himself, why should he need my love? God doesn't profit from my love. Then again, should I profit from loving God? Then, is loving God a matter of self-interest? Do I love God because I seek some sort of advantage? Then, I don't love God, I love myself through God. I'm just being unspeakably selfish.

    Should I love God because it's "just" to do so, because "justice" demands it? So, is love for God a forensic, legal necessity? What kind of love is that? Then again, if God is Justice, to say that to love God is "just" is to say in other words that God commands me to love Him and we're back on square one. This would mean that I am not "free" to love, that I am MANDATED to love him.

    To say that I "love" God requires a profound redefinition and restatement of what "love" means in this context, and this would place "love" beyond standard notions of authority, power, necessity, justice, or feeling.

    This poses another question. Can I ever love God like that? Can I even love my fellow men like that? How about my wife? My children? This redefined "love" is as true "vertically" as it is "horizontally." If I were to love God with this new kind of Love, I have to love men the same way, or I would be cognitively dissonant - a nice euphemism for hypocrite.

    What do you think? How can we learn to love like that? I know that as soon as I find that answer I would'd learned the answer to why I should love God.

    - Read also On Loving God by St. Bernard of Clairvaux, founder of the Cistercian reform of the Benedictines.

    Sunday, March 04, 2007

    "Recent Comments" widget restored

    Folks, I have restored the "Recent Comments" widget. The most recent comments are now displayed immediately below the "Recent Posts" section on the right sidebar, where they used to be before they pushed the right margin way off to the right. You may click on the comment to read it in its entirety and also to enter one of your own. Enjoy the restored functionality! Please, leave a comment!

    P.S.
    Please remember that I am operating under a self-imposed "reduced posting mode" due to Lent.

    P.P.S
    No, I am not watching the darned Discovery Channel thing.

    Friday, March 02, 2007

    Holy Silence

    Source: Dominican Contemplative Nuns, Corpus Christi Monastery

    Hagia Hesychia - Holy Silence IconIn the process of St. Dominic's canonization it was testified that 'he rarely spoke except with God in prayer, or about God, and he exhorted the brethren to do likewise'. From his example and teaching we have our constitutional statement that
    'Pondering this in their hearts, the nuns should make of their house, and especially of their hearts, a place of silence.'

    This statement in our Constitutions gives us the why of silence. It is not an emptiness, but a fullness. We can meet each other without stopping to chat, although we acknowledge the presence of God in our sister by a smile or nod. And we work side by side in silence without being at all uncharitable. The reason we are not speaking to each other is because we, and also those around us, are trying to be engaged in communing with God. This help toward union with God has been stressed in all types of religious life from the very beginning when men and women went out into the desert to be alone with God. It is a tradition that has been adopted by all religious founders and is common to all religious families.

    Not everyone is capable of prospering in silence, and one of the purposes of the time of aspirancy and postulancy is to determine whether the candidate can grow spiritually in this environment. If it makes one irritable to be constantly restraining oneself in this practice, then perhaps God is not giving the grace of a monastic vocation. Newcomers to religious life usually have to come slowly to an appreciation of silence by learning gradually how to use well the time that is quiet. Young religious grow in love of silence by making serious efforts at stillness rather than communicating every thought that comes into their head and commenting on everything they notice or hear about. One learns to be silent by being silent, more than by talking about silence or reading about it.

    But silence as a help to regular observance can sometimes be made into an end rather than a means. Charity is the essential, and silence the means to that end. There are times when silence is not the best thing at the moment. When another sister needs help or encouragement or instruction, when I need to ask directions about my work or some aspect of the life I am living, then is not the time to keep silent.

    There is also an unhealthy and negative type of silence. Non- communication can express mute rebellion, obstinate refusal, deep resentment, passive aggression. By not speaking one can often avoid being challenged, avoid taking a stand, avoid the relationship that should be nurtured, avoid the demands of love. Or silence may be a sign of an underdeveloped personality, a suspicious, moody, morose, type of character. Or it could indicate a vacuum of indifference or be the sign of a haughty, aloof disinterestedness. Such silence is a selfish shutting-the-world-off, a withdrawal behind closed doors posted with a 'Do Not Disturb' sign.

    Holy silence must be joyous, warm, embracing. It is only virtuous when practiced out of love for God and for others. It creates a climate that facilitates recollection and nurtures the fruits of recollection. It expresses an openness to others. Our silence is an attentiveness to the word of God that will be spoken to our heart. The word may be spoken softly, but it falls like a seed into the receptive soil of our silence. The word is retained by silence and is given a home where it can accomplish its work of transformation. The silent nun welcomes, gathers, and takes to heart the words of distress, the cries of pain, the pleas for help that rise from the suffering world. We in turn present these cries to God. Silence has always been the milieu in which the word of God has been heard most clearly and understood most completely.

    We see how intrinsically silence is connected with the goal of monastic life - loving union with God through continual prayer - and we are committed to maintaining a prayerful and recollected atmosphere in the monastery. So love of silence should translate itself into concrete measures. There is what we call 'silence of action'. The level of physical noise in buildings can be reduced by little things like walking softly, closing doors quietly, closing windows and/or doors of the room where we are doing some necessarily noisy job like vacuuming or typing or printing, so the sound does not carry through the building.

    There is a certain silence in the bodily dimension of the self that involves stilling those drives that may deaden our sensitivity to the word and silence of God. These drives are the desire for intense pleasure and sense satisfaction. This calls for some mortification of the pleasure appetite. We also need to discover personal ways of relaxing tense nerves and muscles to help toward this stillness. This may take the form of stretching exercises, yoga, brisk walking, or other exercises. These things help us to be able to sit still without compulsive fidgeting or falling asleep.

    On the personal level of the self, the ego raises an inner clamor by its aggressive and ambitious drives, its tendency to manage, control and organize all of life for its own glory. Ego selfishness is the source of noisy disturbance both in one's own heart and in the community. It makes us ambitious or competitive, makes us collect things that act as security blankets, and makes us insist on our own rights and reputation. We will experience rest and stillness on this level only when we learn to let things be and to trust that our life is guided by a higher wisdom which invites us to surrender to its mysterious but loving ways.

    In our relationships with others we must use silence and words well. We can also practice the silence of listening patiently and openly, with full attention, as another speaks to us, and letting her finish speaking before we respond.

    The psalmist states the goal of perfect inner silence when he has the Lord say, 'Be still and know that I am God' (Ps 46). When I silence myself on the spirit level, I am at peace and at home in the presence of the Lord of my life. I have quieted the chattering of my imagination and memory in order to hold myself open to the Holy. I perceive a new richness and beauty in the everyday world about me. In silence I am content to absorb and appreciate all that happens without commenting on it - the contemplative stance. I listen more intently to the mystery of nature, letting aesthetic experience direct me toward the silent emptiness where God dwells in the depths of my heart.

    God can be pictured, though inadequately, as wrapped in silence. We must be drawn into this wrapping, this cloud, to find God. The silent person lives in readiness to commune with the divine silence. Monastic silence in its fullest reality is not simply the absence of noise but the presence of a reality too great for expression. What does God do in silence? Often God does not do anything. God is simply there, in the fullness of loving mystery. We are aware of a vague presence in the silence, and this awareness is a typical form of the monastic contemplative experience.

    The Holy Season of Lent - Fast and Abstinence

    by Colin B. Donovan, STL

    Source: EWTN

    It is a traditional doctrine of Christian spirituality that a constituent part of repentance, of turning away from sin and back to God, includes some form of penance, without which the Christian is unlikely to remain on the narrow path and be saved (Jer. 18:11, 25:5; Ez. 18:30, 33:11-15; Joel 2:12; Mt. 3:2; Mt. 4:17; Acts 2:38). Christ Himself said that His disciples would fast once He had departed (Lk. 5:35). The general law of penance, therefore, is part of the law of God for man.

    The Church has specified certain forms of penance, both to ensure that the Catholic will do something, as required by divine law, while making it easy for Catholics to fulfill the obligation. Thus, the 1983 Code of Canon Law specifies the obligations of Latin Rite Catholics [Eastern Rite Catholics have their own penitential practices as specified by the Code of Canons for the Eastern Churches].
  • Canon 1250 All Fridays through the year and the time of Lent are penitential days and times throughout the entire Church.

  • Canon 1251 Abstinence from eating meat or another food according to the prescriptions of the conference of bishops is to be observed on Fridays throughout the year unless they are solemnities; abstinence and fast are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and on the Friday of the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

  • Canon 1252 All persons who have completed their fourteenth year are bound by the law of abstinence; all adults are bound by the law of fast up to the beginning of their sixtieth year. Nevertheless, pastors and parents are to see to it that minors who are not bound by the law of fast and abstinence are educated in an authentic sense of penance.

  • Can. 1253 It is for the conference of bishops to determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence and to substitute in whole or in part for fast and abstinence other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety.
  • The Church, therefore, has two forms of official penitential practices - three if the Eucharistic fast before Communion is included.

    Abstinence. The law of abstinence requires a Catholic 14 years of age until death to abstain from eating meat on Fridays in honor of the Passion of Jesus on Good Friday. Meat is considered to be the flesh and organs of mammals and fowl. Moral theologians have traditionally considered this also to forbid soups or gravies made from them. Salt and freshwater species of fish, amphibians, reptiles and shellfish are permitted, as are animal derived products such as margarine and gelatin which do not have any meat taste.

    On the Fridays outside of Lent the U.S. bishops conference obtained the permission of the Holy See for Catholics in the US to substitute a penitential, or even a charitable, practice of their own choosing. Since this was not stated as binding under pain of sin, not to do so on a single occasion would not in itself be sinful. However, since penance is a divine command, the general refusal to do penance is certainly gravely sinful. For most people the easiest way to consistently fulfill this command is the traditional one, to abstain from meat on all Fridays of the year which are not liturgical solemnities. When solemnities, such as the Annunciation, Assumption, All Saints etc. fall on a Friday, we neither abstain or fast.

    During Lent abstinence from meat on Fridays is obligatory in the United States as elsewhere, and it is sinful not to observe this discipline without a serious reason (physical labor, pregnancy, sickness etc.).

    Fasting. The law of fasting requires a Catholic from the 18th Birthday [Canon 97] to the 59th Birthday [i.e. the beginning of the 60th year, a year which will be completed on the 60th birthday] to reduce the amount of food eaten from normal. The Church defines this as one meal a day, and two smaller meals which if added together would not exceed the main meal in quantity. Such fasting is obligatory on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The fast is broken by eating between meals and by drinks which could be considered food (milk shakes, but not milk). Alcoholic beverages do not break the fast; however, they seem contrary to the spirit of doing penance.

    Those who are excused from fast or abstinence. Besides those outside the age limits, those of unsound mind, the sick, the frail, pregnant or nursing women according to need for meat or nourishment, manual laborers according to need, guests at a meal who cannot excuse themselves without giving great offense or causing enmity and other situations of moral or physical impossibility to observe the penitential discipline.

    Aside from these minimum penitential requirements Catholics are encouraged to impose some personal penance on themselves at other times. It could be modeled after abstinence and fasting. A person could, for example, multiply the number of days they abstain. Some people give up meat entirely for religious motives (as opposed to those who give it up for health or other motives). Some religious orders, as a penance, never eat meat. Similarly, one could multiply the number of days that one fasted. The early Church had a practice of a Wednesday and Saturday fast. This fast could be the same as the Church's law (one main meal and two smaller ones) or stricter, even bread and water. Such freely chosen fasting could also consist in giving up something one enjoys - candy, soft drinks, smoking, that cocktail before supper, and so on. This is left to the individual.

    One final consideration. Before all else we are obliged to perform the duties of our state in life. When considering stricter practices than the norm, it is prudent to discuss the matter with one's confessor or director. Any deprivation that would seriously hinder us in carrying out our work, as students, employees or parents would be contrary to the will of God.

    Thursday, March 01, 2007

    The real tomb of Jesus is in Kashmir (!)

    My last word on the "Jesus tomb" debacle.

    Jim Cameron, Dan Brown, Simcha Jacobvici, et al. are wrong. The true tomb of Christ is in Kashmir! This has been known since the 1970's! Come on, people, let's get on with the program!

    "So dark the con of man" indeed.