Tuesday, July 31, 2007

St. Francis of Assisi and his love of poverty

St. Francis renounces his earthly goods - by Giotto

by Father Francis X. Russo, OFMCap

And that brings us to a second strong theme in the life of Francis of Assisi. He was insistent on following a life of poverty. The Son of God had come down from the splendid court of heaven and was born in a poor stable. He was brought up, not as a wealthy prince in a royal palace, but in a humble home in Nazareth as a carpenter’s son. He became an itinerant preacher with no place to lay his head, and died totally stripped of his clothing and naked upon rough wood of a cross. To imitate him, Francis would become poor, too.

And so, he gave the very clothes that he was wearing back to his father and dressed himself in a castoff tunic, and placed a rope around his waist to serve as a belt – never realizing that soon a version of that dress would become the habit of all the friars of his Order.

As a sign of his detachment from material things and what he wanted his brothers’ detachment to be as well (in Chapter IV of his Rule) he commanded all the friars “not to receive coins or money in any way, either personally or through the medium of others.”

His prohibition against the use of money was a prophetic symbol for the clergy of all time. Throughout history, with few exceptions, whenever clerics of any church have become truly wealthy, they have had to struggle to stay on the road that leads to Him who said that HE was “the way.” And all too often they have veered from it.

Francis desire to avoid the use of money so that he would be a poor man following the poor Jesus had an added dimension. Money was the symbol of the power wielded in society by the wealthy and upper class, and he had begun the organization of a band of brothers who were to be called the Order of Friars Minor. “Friars Minor” is really an anglicized term for the LATIN—“fratres minores”—and a better translation would be and IS—“LESSER BROTHERS.” The LESSER BROTHERS were to belong to the lower class of people, humble men who were to walk with the powerless and poor and were to be poor and powerless themselves. Francis saw in Jesus the prophesized Messiah who was “despised and rejected” (Is 53, 3-5), and that’s where he wanted to be. He walked that walk so well that the people soon began to call him “il Poverello”—“the little Poor Man.”

Vivificat's Canonical Standing

Many times during the course of this ongoing publication, situations arise in which I feel strongly the need to speak out regarding the good of the local and universal Church. In order to allay any possible confusion regarding my personal standing to make my wishes known to the Church's Pastors concerning the good of the Church, I wish to state that my right to do so rests on Canon 212, ss3, of the 1983 Code of Canon Law:
[Christ's faithful] have the right, indeed at times the duty, in keeping with their knowledge, competence and position, to manifest to the sacred Pastors their views on matters which concern the good of the Church. They have the right also to make their views known to others of Christ's faithful, but in doing so they must always respect the integrity of faith and morals, show due reverence to the Pastors and take into account both the common good and the dignity of individuals.
As a Catholic blogger, I base my right to speak out on this canon, and hereby pledge to follow its accompanying responsibility to always respect the integrity of faith and morals, show due reverence to the Pastors and take into account both the common good and the dignity of individuals. I will not surrender this right. I hereby pledge to prudently and responsibly exercise this right with the lights the Holy Spirit sees fit to grant me.

This pledge is now a part of Vivificat's Mission Statement.

Monday, July 30, 2007

St. Francis of Assisi: Evangelical

by Fr. Francis X. Russo, OFMCap.

When I thought of how I would begin this presentation, the opening words of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s famous sonnet came to mind: “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” St. Francis of Assisi had so many loving ways about him. I would like to share with you at least SOME of the ways that have made him so admired by men and women of all times and places.

Francis was evangelical because of his great love for the Gospel. He was a reformer because his radical way of life attracted so many to follow his path. He was a revolutionary in so many of his approaches to following Christ, but none of the paths he chose ever led him to become a rebel.

I. Evangelical

He began his way of life by listening eagerly to the words of the Gospel according to St. Matthew (10, 7-12) that he heard proclaimed one morning at daily Mass (on Feb 24, 1209): “Do not keep gold or silver or money in your girdles, no wallet for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor staff… . As you enter a house, salute it, saying: Peace to this house.” After Mass, he went to the priest and asked him for a fuller explanation of these words. When he heard that explanation, he exclaimed: “THIS is exactly what I am looking for; this is what I desire from the bottom of my heart!” And so Francis set out on his Gospel journey with great enthusiasm, counting on God’s grace to imitate Jesus as perfectly as he could. History has judged him so successful in that attempt that some have called him “the mirror of Christ” and others “the man most like Christ.”

Francis was evangelical to the core, and because he wanted his friars to share that same loving obedience to the Gospel that he had, he began his Rule (1223) for them with these words: “The Rule and life of the Friars Minor is this: to observe the Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus…

In Chapter Three of that same Rule, he extended reverent observance of Gospel precepts to the embracing of all of Scripture and requiring that it be part of the daily prayer of the friars through the use of the psalms and selections from various books of the Bible. The friars were to pray SCRIPTURALLY in this manner, from dawn to night fall, opening the day with Morning Prayer, seasoning the day with Prayer at various times, drawing the day to a close with Evening Prayer, and saying a Night Prayer to the Lord just before bed.

Francis was so earnest about the necessity of biblical prayer in the life of the friars that even when he was on his deathbed and he found himself blinded by illness, he underlined its importance one last time in the document he dictated as his Testament to them. Even though he was ill, he said, and couldn’t pray the psalms on his own, he still wanted an ordained friar to pray the psalms FOR him and proclaim the Scripture passages TO him: “Although I may be…infirm,” he conceded, “I nevertheless want to have a cleric always with me who will celebrate the (Divine) Office for me….”

As he bade farewell to his friars in 1226 at the age of 44, he admonished them to keep what he was saying especially close to their hearts. About the Bible in general, this is what he had to say: “Whenever I find our Lord’s most holy names and written words in unbecoming places, I want to gather them up and I beg THAT THEY BE GATHERED UP and PLACED IN A BECOMING PLACE.” (When I read these words, I think of the Muslims and how very careful they are about how the words of the Koran are treated, even if they are found in a daily newspaper. That paper can not be used to line a bird cage! Francis would have been especially understanding of such respect).

Francis began his way of life by hearing the Gospel according to Matthew. As he lay dying, he ended his way of life by asking that the Gospel of the Passion according to St. John be read aloud. From head to toe, he was a Gospel man.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Tomorrow: a serial on St. Francis of Assisi

Folks, tomorrow I will serialize in Vivificat! a talk by my spiritual father in Christ, Fr. Francis X. Russo, a Capuchin Franciscan, which he delivered at a Pastor's School which took place last week at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. The event was sponsored by the Beeson Divinity School. The presentation focuses on various aspects of the life and spirituality of St. Francis of Assisi. I hope you enjoy this serial on St. Francis, written and delivered by a man who has dedicated his life to follow the saint's example of following Christ radically and with an open heart.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Back home, taking it easy...

Folks, I am resting after two weeks of work and spiritual retreat. I am taking it easy doing other chores at a slow pace, if at all. Posting will resume on Monday. In the meantime, I present to you a video from YouTube based on John Michael Talbot's rendition of the Creed.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Pope sees no opposition between evolution and theism

Folks, according to the New York Post:
July 26, 2007 -- Pope Benedict XVI says the theory of evolution is backed by strong scientific proof - but the theory does not answer life's "great philosophical question."

Benedict told 400 priests at a two-hour event that he's puzzled by the current debate in the United States and his native Germany over creationism and evolution.

Debaters wrongly present the two sides "as if they were alternatives that are exclusive - whoever believes in the creator could not believe in evolution, and whoever asserts belief in evolution would have to disbelieve in God," the pontiff said.

"This contrast is an absurdity, because there are many scientific tests in favor of evolution, which appears as a reality that we must see and enriches our understanding of life and being.

"But the doctrine of evolution does not answer all questions, and it does not answer above all the great philosophical question: From where does everything come?"

A transcript of the Tuesday event was posted in Italian yesterday on the Vatican's Web site.

The speech came at the end of a three-week vacation in the mountains of northern Italy near the Austrian border, where people are worried that global warming will change their way of life.

"We all see that today man can destroy the foundation of his existence, his Earth," Benedict said.

"We cannot simply do what we want with this Earth of ours, with what has been entrusted to us." With Post Wire Services
Commentary. I reached this conclusion when I was in sixth grade--that was in the 1970's--and never bothered with the question again. Evolution is just a chain of secondary causes and effects that in no way denies the existence of God as First Cause.

Those who posit this false dilemma between God and Darwin never outgrew their middle school discussions. I don't give a hoot as to how "bright" they portray themselves to be. They are men whose souls are stunted and their intellects truly darkened.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The God debate heats up

Folks, according to Zenit.org:
ROME, JULY 22, 2007 (Zenit.org).- The attack against religion started by Richard Dawkins in his book "The God Delusion" shows no sign of letting up. In recent months a number of emulators have published books that continue the polemic.

In "God: The Failed Hypothesis," Victor J. Stenger purports to provide a sort of scientific proof that God does not exist. Stenger, a retired professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Hawaii, alleges that scientific reasoning has now progressed to the point where it can offer "a definitive statement on the existence or nonexistence of a God having the attributes that are traditionally associated with the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God."

God, he contends, should be detectable by scientific means, because of the role he is supposed to play in the universe and human life. An examination which, he argues in the books' chapters, that God fails.

Another contribution is from English philosopher A.C. Grayling. In a collection of brief essays titled "Against All Gods," he purports to provide an alternative to religion, based on the Western philosophical tradition.

Grayling declares his objection to religion both in terms of a belief system and its institutional role. Moreover, he accuses apologists for faith as being "an evasive community, who seek to avoid or deflect criticism by slipping behind the abstractions of higher theology."
Please, continue reading here.

Comments. You may remember that I had a brief exchange with Prof. Grayling which you may inspect here.

I must confess that I am as interested in reading what these grandiose intellectuals have to say, Grayling, Dawkins, Harris et al, as they are interested in even reading and seriously consider what I have to say. These guys don't need our arguments, they need our prayers.

This is not to say that their arguments don't need rebuttal. They do. But not for their sakes, but for the sakes of those who are wavering in their belief for whatever reason and are in danger of tipping over by a few convincing pseudoarguments. Oh, and these also need our prayers.

Democrats still don't get faith voters

Before too long, Republicans won't either.

Folks, CNN reports that Democratic candidates [are] trying to reach religious voters, but I say they still don't get it. I will not support, nor will I vote, for any candidate who will actively support so-called abortion rights by naming Supreme Court Justices who will uphold Roe v. Wade, or by enabling legislation to expand surgical or chemical abortion access.

I would be willing to make an exception and consider any candidates—either Democrat or Republican—who has the courage to say that he or she is personally "pro-choice," but are not willing to impose their value system upon the country, that as President they will remain utterly neutral on the issue and will do nothing to advance it, but as far as Democrat presidential candidates are concerned, they rather sacrifice their Christian consciences for the sake of political expediency. This was particularly painful to see in the past political campaign of Senator John Kerry who, though Catholic, openly embraced NARAL's agenda.

Why can't Democrats be more like the late Pennsylvania Governor Bill Casey Sr., and like former Boston Mayor and Vatican Ambassador Raymond Flynn? The Dems didn't even allow Casey to address the 1992 Convention and Bill Casey Jr. is in this regard like al other Dem politicians who "don't wish to impose his beliefs on anyone." See why I just don't trust them?

The Democrat Party offers a continuum of ideas that I would be willing to engage, such a poverty, labor, immigration, and education, but I feel that the Democrat Party rejects the core values I would bring to bear on these issues, core values that rest on Catholic Social Teaching and the recognition of an inherent, inalienable Right to Life of every human being, from conception to natural death.

As long as the Democrat Party caters to core constituencies that support indiscriminate abortion rights, and support other issues inimical to the Right to Life such as stem cell research, or against the traditional family such as gay marriage, I will not see the party as a viable alternative for me and will only consider isolated candidates who reflect these values and not the party as a whole.

The same thing goes for Republicans who seek to become more "mainstream" by embracing precisely those positions that form the hallmark of the Democrat Party. As a Catholic, it's become near impossible to vote for the Democrat Party, but that doesn't mean the voting Republican is becoming any easier.

As far as I am concerned, faith-based voters are not taken seriously in the Democrat Party, and their value is decreasing for the GOP, the nice words from the candidates notwhiststanding.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

A blessed retreat comes to an end; here I come world!

Folks, my personal retreat has come to an end and I now return to the semi-monastic regime military life has imposed on me, or at least, the semi-monastic regime I've decided to follow while I am on active military duty. There is a difference. Not all military people do live semi-monastically. I've chosen this lifestyle to keep out of trouble and to live life fully.

I go with much to think about, with new plans, and renewed strength.

This morning I attended the Divine Liturgy in the Byzantine Rite and the Ukrainian Catholic National Shrine of the Holy Family. The priest and the parishioners received me kindly. I know the Byzantine Liturgy fairly well so I wasn't "lost." It is always a joy for me to renew the ties that bind me to Eastern Christian and Slavic spirituality, so akin to the Catholicism of my childhood and to worship the Lord in that ancient rite.

Now, I'll be heading back to the world. I may make a stop at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center which is right next door to the Ukrainian Church for a visit and then head back to the world.

Please pray for my success and safe return home, and that this retreat may issue forth plenty of fruit in my life.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Teófilo's on retreat

Not to be confused with "retreating."

Folks, in between my two weerks of active military duty I was able to include, with the assistance of one of my spiritual fathers, a personal retreat in a Franciscan house of studies in metropolitan Washington, D.C. Blogging will continue to be somewhat infrequent throughout this time.

I have much to reflect about. This last year was particularly "heavy." Please, keep me and my family in your prayers, as I weigh the meaning of all these events and consider new vocational, professional, and family-related challenges and opportunities.

Vatican City State now has a website, webcams

Folks, webcam viewers may now peruse five locations across the Vatican City State: one at the Tomb of Pope John Paul II, another placed at the top of St. Peter's Dome aiming at St. Peter's Square, another aimed at the Dome of St. Peter's, another at the Vatican's Governorate building, and finally, one aimed at the Basilica and Plaza complex.

The webcams are part of the new website dedicated to the Vatican City State at www.vaticanstate.va, dedicated to the State that is home to the Church's administrative centers. Eventually, the site will be equipped with online shopping facilities so that people can buy coins, stamps, and I suppose, souvenirs.

This is all pretty neat. Please, visit!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Dear Steven:

Dear Steven: thank you for your active participation in Vivificat’s comments forum. You’ve been forceful and through it all you’ve remained respectful and charitable. I do appreciate that. I can tell that you have applied a lot of self-control and restraint. Surely, I must appear to you somewhat close-minded and even fanatical. I am not. Intransigent, certainly, but not fanatic. I apologize if you find the exchange frustrating.

I have reason to be intransingent. I left the Church once, and I did so via “a Protestant door.” You may verify this by talking with James White of Alpha and Omega Ministries, if you wish. This experience is done and over and I will not reconsider it again, ever. I found the Protestant experience spiritually asfixiating. Protestantism is seriously lacking in many things and I aint’t going back. Period.

For these reasons, it didn’t take me long to return to a liturgical and sacramental church, first a Lutheran church of the Missouri Synod, then an Anglican splinter group, and finally, Eastern Orthodoxy where I spent a few years. Orthodoxy is a different kind of reality, but then again, once you are Orthodox, you are Catholic. But that’s another subject for another time.

Let me now restate my rediscovered position as a Catholic "revert":

Christ instituted ONE CHURCH. The Church is a revealed object, the Body of Christ on earth. The Church is not merely an invisible reality, it is a visible one. Nor does the Church exist appart from Christ nor is it added to Christ: the Church is his Body. The Catholic claim is 2,000 years old, constant, and specific.

Let God be true and every man a liar: “You are Peter (Rock) and upon this Rock I will build my Church and the powers of hell and death will not prevail against her.” You’re familiar with this verse. The Church exists because Christ willed her to exist. The Church is not an accident of Christian history. The Church is a divine reality which can either be accepted on faith, or rejected by rhetorical artifice but never in reality. One cannot say that one is loyal to Christ and not to the Church; one is not free to contradict the Church’s founder and say “I am loyal to you, but belonging to your Church is not important.”

We Catholics take the Church seriously because Christ took the Church seriously, endowing her with a gift of doctrinal and structural permanence until the end of time.

Note that in no way the Catholic stance negates your personal experience of Christ nor your eventual salvation. Our stance is simple, though you may find it scandalous: Christ saves you because He extends the Catholic Church to you, even though you are visibly outside of her. Extra ecclessia nula salus, the ancients liked to say, "Outside of the Church there is no salvation." If you are saved, it is because somehow you are a member of the Church of Christ and this Church happens to be the Catholic Church.

You’ve quoted Scripture to me. So did I to you. I don’t question what the Lord says about himself nor his centrality in the plan of salvation. I do question your own subjective interpretation of Scriptures, an interpretation that minimizes the significance of the Church and its role in Jesus’ very plan of salvation. You may believe yourself to be an honest broker of salvific information, thinking that you are relating purely what Scripture says to you on to me, but I don’t accept that. You too have an undeclared exegetical pressumption and interpretation apparatus which is liable to an in-depth critique. I have done that critique and I’ve found that no free interpretation in the Protestant mold can claim to bind anyone’s conscience permanently and infallibly. Free examen destroys the very certainty that it seeks to create in the conscience of the Christian believer.

It destroys that and much more. I explored this subject briefly on this essay, Sola Scriptura Weakened the Integrity of the Canon of Scripture, Trinitarianism, and Christianity itself. I am sorry, but I don’t buy your stance because of all its unspoken and unrecognized underlying assumptions.

I appreciate your input and welcome it. You are free to post here whenever you want to. And I do see you as a fellow Christian, OK? I assure you, I am where the Lord wants me to be. I would be remiss if I don't tell you that the doors of the Church are also open to you.

I invite you to listen to Dr. Kreeft’s conference on “Ecumenism without Compromise” which I posted here a few days ago. Dr. Kreeft was once quite the Calvinist, but he also saw the folly of Protestantism clearly. I am sure you’ll find it illuminating and extremely charitable.

May the Lord richly bless you.

The truth about Western aid to developing countries

"The aid offered by the West to developing countries has been purely technically and materially based, and not only has left God out of the picture, but has driven men away from God. And this aid, proudly claiming “to know better,” is itself what first turned the “third world” into what we mean today by the term. It has thrust aside indigenous religious, ethical, and social structures and filled the resulting vacuum with its technocratic mindset. The idea was that we could turn stones into bread; instead, our “aid” has only given stones instead of bread. The issue is the primacy of God. The issue is acknowledging that he is a reality, that he is the reality without which nothing else can be good. History cannot be detached from God and then run smoothly on purely material lines. If man’s heart is not good, then nothing else can turn out good, either. And the goodness of the human heart can ultimately come only from the One who is goodness, who is Good himself." - Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, p34.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Posting will slow down in the next several days

Folks, I am currently serving my two weeks military duty in our Nation's capital, so posting will be irregular for the next few days. Today we observed the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel - whose scapular I wear and was formally invested with.

May the Lord bless us all through the intercession of the Blessed Mother.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Peter Kreeft: Ecumenism Without Compromise

Folks, as you've probably noticed, the global henhouse is in a ruckus because of Pope Benedict's latest "controversial" and "daring" acts in which he had the chutzpah to remind the world about what being a Catholic Christian is all about: the radical following of Christ within the One Church He founded.

I think this webcast/podcast/audio by philosopher and apologist Dr. Peter Kreeft is very apropos. It is entitled Ecumenism Without Compromise. In it, he covers the following themes:
Introduction (0:00)
1. The Golden Key (4:00)
2. Common Ground (11:02)
3. A Surprising Clue (14:23)
4. Why Not Now? (19:15)
5. Recap and Example (23:45)
6. Spiritual Gravity (28:31)
You may dowload the audio file from here.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Daft pundits aim at Pope Benedict XVI

Folks, I'd expected plenty of air-headed criticism against the Pope this week in the wake of the release of Summorum Pontificum and the Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine of the Church. I haven't been disappointed. I was fully prepared to ignore them. Alas, no can do. I have to aim at two of them:

The first one flowed into my e-mail this morning, a link to a column on multiple subjects by Jon Carroll in the San Francisco Chronicle, opening with the statement So I guess that "ecumenical" thing is pretty much out the window now. "A 20th century fad" says our enlightened columnist, "apparently, at least according to Pope Benedict XVI, who seems to be wandering back to the 'smiting infidels with the mighty sword of Christ' job description that characterized the papacy before the 20th century." From those pits, Carroll achieved the seemingly impossible, and continued his descent into utter inanity from there. He didn't have much farther left to go, though.

The other came from CNN Contributor Roland Martin, who said that the Pope's comments are irrelevant to non-Catholics. He spat
For him [Pope Benedict XVI] to even suggest that only the Catholic Church can provide true salvation to believers in Christ shows that he is wholly ignorant of the Scriptures that I have known all my life.
The fact that the Pope has never said that posed no obstacle for Martin to utter his sentence. But let's probe Martin's motivations deeper.

Martin feels entitled to his venom because he's a former Catholic. That gives him the right to twist the stance of the Catholic Church and dismiss the Pope. For you see, as a Catholic, he was "never really encouraged to study the Scriptures." He complains that "the standard practice was for all of us to read the same pamphlets passed out by the church" [that's the Missal, for the rest of us], "recite the readings from the New and Old Testaments, listen to the Scripture chosen for us in the Gospel and hear a normally bland homily."

I can't defend the homilist. Many homilies are indeed bland, but then again, perhaps Martin's homilist wasn't that bland. Maybe Martin wanted something "peppier" and the saintly, quiet, erudite homilist wasn't able to cater to Martin's more theatrical tastes. Nevertheless, nothing, no one stopped Martin on the way home from church to stop at a Catholic bookstore and buy a Bible, a commentary, and one of several Bible study aids available. In fact, there were no obstacles at all for Martin to attend one of the hundred Catholic Bible study and prayer groups dotting the land and get his fill. Perhaps Martin wasn't aware of the exhortation from the Second Vatican Council,
The sacred synod also earnestly and especially urges all the Christian faithful, especially Religious, to learn by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures the "excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 3:8). "For ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ." Therefore, they should gladly put themselves in touch with the sacred text itself, whether it be through the liturgy, rich in the divine word, or through devotional reading, or through instructions suitable for the purpose and other aids which, in our time, with approval and active support of the shepherds of the Church, are commendably spread everywhere. And let them remember that prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that God and man may talk together; for "we speak to Him when we pray; we hear Him when we read the divine saying."(Dei Verbum VI: 25)
Martin simply never cared to learn more about his cradle faith or meeting the Lord in the Catholic Church. He just turned his back Him and went to find Him elsewhere, choosing to ignore the fact that He was there, in the Catholic Church, ready to come and dwell with Martin all along. Now, he's casting aspersions against the Church because he feels entitled to do so.

Martin even presumes to lecture the Pope on biblical interpretation—the Pope, who has written and preached extensively on and from Holy Scripture since before Martin was even a gleam in his father's eyes. Martin regales us with the standard Protestant fare. I've heard it all before. Once, I've even believed it. In the end, it utterly dissatisfied me and almost killed my soul. No, Mr. Martin: some of us leave the Church under your exact pretensions and return, having realized that the full truth resides in the Church of Christ that subsists in the Catholic Church and that much of that glitter found outside the Church isn't gold at all.

Neither Carroll nor Martin appear to have read the document or even bothered to understand it. Their reactions have been completely emotional and thoroughly banal. They projected their own fears and prejudices into the document, choosing to build and attack a straw man instead. That's why I'll revert to ignoring all these clueless pundits, fully knowing from direct experience that I really haven't been missing much. All is as I expected.

I've learned something new from St. Augustine

Folks,

I've been reading lately Peter Brown's excellent biography of St. Augustine, and I encountered this passage from his Confessions (Confessions VIII, V, 10), that caught my attention:

The enemy held fast my will, and had made of it a chain, and had bound me tight with it. For out of the perverse will came lust, and the service of lust ended in habit, and habit, not resisted, became necessity. By these links, as it were, forged together--which is why I called it "a chain"--a hard bondage held me in slavery. But that new will which had begun to spring up in me freely to worship thee and to enjoy thee, O my God, the only certain Joy, was not able as yet to overcome my former willfulness, made strong by long indulgence.
This is all very interesting and like the novice who sees at this for the first time and with new eyes, enthralling. Notice the chain he built:

Enemy-will-lust-habit-necessity-slavery.

At first sight I found the order a little bit counterintuitive. Doesn't "lust" - the passion - precede "the will", our intellect making choices? Isn't it the passion what "blinds" us into acting badly?

No. St. Augustine got it right. The passions are not always "bad." The passions are indifferent, that is, neither good nor bad in themselves. The effects of the Fall are first experienced in the will, which is the main faculty weakened by Original Sin. The will, that is, our "I" in the act of making choices, should choose to restrain and reorient the passions to an authentic goal or object. The fact that we can't or won't is the cause of most moral evil in the world.

A lack of will allows the passions to run unrestrained, creating a psychological "feedback" mechanism in which the unleashing of the passions allows the will to attach to a wrong object or finality which the "I" finds desirable and/or pleasurable. The attachment becomes insatiable; we may say "addictive." The subject becomes bent on experiencing repeatedly the object the object of pleasure and satisfaction. Before long, the habit becomes a necessity and once it becomes a necessity, the subject, the "I" becomes a slave to the object. The habit-rather, the "vice" because a "vice" is simply a bad habit-becomes a chain that enslaves the person to evil.

Who is "the Enemy" that St. Augustine talks about? It is the devil, of course. The devil knows that our will is bent. With the right suggestions and in the arrangement of the right circumstances, the weak-willed, the person with deficient formation of conscience, will be likely to "fall." He or she will unfulfill his or her supernatural destiny in the pursuit of the pleasurable, contingent, and finite.

For those who live according to the flesh, temptations are a simple matter because the will is already used to choose wrongly. For those who live according to the Spirit, temptations are a real travail because only these are really free to choose.

I'll have to hand it to St. Augustine. I really learned something from him which will impact my walk with the Lord. Jesus is the one who breaks our chains. He is the true liberator for his freedom takes hold within.

Bishop of Arlington takes stance against pornography

Folks, Bishop Paul S. Loverde of the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, has authored a wonderful pastoral letter, entitled, Bought with a Price: Pornography and the Attack on the Living Temple of God, which should be read by all. These are the first three paragraphs from the Introduction:
 Bishop Paul S. Loverde of the Diocese of Arlington, VirginiaIn my forty years as a priest, I have seen the evil of pornography spread like a plague throughout our culture. What was once the shameful and occasional vice of the few has become the mainstream entertainment for the many - through the Internet, cable, satellite and broadcast television, cell phones and even portable gaming and entertainment devices designed for children and teenagers. Never before have so many Americans been so tempted to view pornography. Never before have the accountability structures - to say nothing of the defenses which every society must build to defend the precious gift of her children - been so weak.

This plague stalks the souls of men, women and children, ravages the bonds of marriage and victimizes the most innocent among us. It obscures and destroys people's ability to see one another as unique and beautiful expressions of God's creation, instead darkening their vision, causing them to view others as objects to be used and manipulated. It has been excused as an outlet for free expression, supported as a business venture, and condoned as just another form of entertainment. It is not widely recognized as a threat to life and happiness. It is not often treated as a destructive addiction. It changes the way men and women treat one another in sometimes dramatic but often subtle ways. And it is not going away.

I know of this plague from my brother priests who routinely confront it in the confessional; from counselors who treat it through our various Catholic social service agencies; from Catholic school teachers, youth ministers, and religious education teachers who confront its effects in the lives of our youth; from parents who speak of the challenge of raising children with modesty in our culture; and from my involvement in the Religious Alliance Against Pornography, an interfaith coalition of religious leaders.
Please, continue reading here.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Comments widget restored...for now

Folks, I have restored the "comments widget." On the right sidebar, underneath the heading "Recent Comments" you'll be able to read the latest comments left on the blog by our visitors. You may add your own thoughts to any individual comment thread by clicking on any of them. This is also where most of my interaction with my readers takes place so I encourage you to leave your comments and engage me or other users in dialogue as often as you like--SPAM and off-topic comics excluded.

Anyway...

In the past, the widget would somehow "push" the rightmost margin of the frame further toward the right, thereby distorting the blog's presentation. This distortion only became noticeable in IE Explorer but not on Mozilla-based browsers such as Netscape and Firefox. Weird.

I think that there was a conflict between the blog's underlying HTML code and the CSS instructions built into the widget. I implemented a simple CSS-based solution today that I think will hold. If not, please let me know because the distortion tends to just "pop in" arbitrarily and at times vanishes without further ado. Weirder and weirder...

Enjoy the restored functionality! While it lasts...

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Today we remember St. Benedict of Nursia

St. Benedict of NursiaFolks, today we remember St. Benedict of Nursia, Father of Western Monasticism and precursor to so many things that boggle the mind that I won't go through all of them. As a Benedictine Oblate, today I feel very close to all other Benedictines, clregy, religious, and lay people around the world and as far as the virtue of humility allows, I am proud to be a Benedictine.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Holy See: the Church of Christ and the Catholic Church are One

Folks, as reported in various news media, Pope Benedict XVI has reasserted the universal primacy of the Roman Catholic Church, approving a document released Tuesday that says Orthodox churches were "defective" and that other Christian denominations were not "true churches." The document in question was released by the Sacred Congregation from the Doctrine of the Faith and it is entitled Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine of the Church. The Responses build on the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, and on its Decrees on Ecumenism (Unitatis redintegratio) and the Oriental Churches (Orientalium Ecclesiarum), as well as on Popes Paul VI's Encyclical Ecclesiam suam and John Paul the Great's Ut unum sint.

The Congregation makes it very clear that the Second Vatican Council neither changed nor intended to change this doctrine [of the substantial identity of the Catholic Church with the Church of Christ], rather it developed, deepened and more fully explained it; that Christ established here on earth only one Church and instituted it as a visible and spiritual community and that this community subsists in its fullness only in the Catholic Church.

The Congregration insists that the Church of Christ may be present elsewhere but that it only subsists in its perduring, historical continuity and with all the elements instituted by Christ alone in the Catholic Church. Although the document keeps referring to the Orthodox Churches as true Churches, the Congregation reasserts the view that the communities born from the Reformation are not true churches because of the absence from them of the sacramental priesthood, and of the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery.

None of these understandings about the Church are anything new. What is new is that all these quotes are found in one document. The document goes to great lengths to explain what expression "the Church of Christ 'subsists' in the Catholic Church," found in Vatican II's Lumen Gentium, really means.

In my view, the purpose of the Congregation and of the Pope in writing this document was to rule out all those fuzzy "ecumenical" definitions that make the Catholic Church simply one church among many and not the one, true Church of Christ from which everyone else at one time separated from.

I knew all this, of course, but it's nice to see it in writing again, and with such force. The dissenters must be squirming, twisting in the wind. Like a fellow blogger has said on his blog's banner, The Cafeteria is Closed. Ditto, ditto.

- Read the Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine of the Church

Monday, July 09, 2007

USCCB acknowledges Apostolic Letter Summorum Pontificum

Folks, the Committee on the Liturgy of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) published, on the most recent issue of their newsletter the full text of the recent Apostolic Letter in the Form of "Motu Proprio" Summorum Pontificum on the Use of Preconciliar Liturgical Forms. The newsletter contains two additional sections: the first one records 20 questions and answers regarding the Apostolic Letter and the second one records 10 more questions and answers dealing with the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms of the Missale Romanum.

The questions-and-answers sections clearly demonstrate that the USCCB understands Pope Benedict’s letter and the papal intentions underlying the liberalization of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. They also dispatch—for the umpteenth time, for the benefit of a deaf and dumb newsmedia—the charges of anti-Semitism that ignorant critics are leveling against the Roman Rite which, in case you didn't know, in its dual forms, still retain prayers for the conversion of the Jews to be prayed on Holy Friday. This is also true for the Liturgy of the Hours. But I'll tackle the propriety of that kind of prayer in a future post.

You may access the USCCB's Committee on the Liturgy's newsletter here.

The members of this committee are:
  • Bishop Donald W. Trautman

  • Cardinal Justin F. Rigali

  • Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk

  • Bishop Edward K. Braxton

  • Bishop Blaise J. Cupich

  • Bishop Ricardo Ramírez, CSB

  • Bishop Emil A. Wcela
  • Sunday, July 08, 2007

    Teófilo's views on leadership

    Folks, I am currently serving my monthly military duty and I want to pick up briefly the subject of "leadership" which I touched upon yesterday. I think I know a few things about leadership because I consider myself a leader, and I have a been a follower of good leaders, non-leaders, gifted administrators, and not-so-gifted administrators.

    Many others have attempted to define "leadership" and have done so very successfully. Edgar Puryear's Nineteen Stars: A Study in Military Character and Leadership and American Generalship: Character Is Everything: The Art of Command provide cases in point. I want to share with you my own definition of leadership within the context of this blog and its subject matter:
    Leadership is the cultivated gift, or acquired ability or skill, that enables the bearer to persuade other men or women to change their opinions or move them towards a course of action or a goal, without first having recourse to the formal hierarchical authority vested on their person or to coercive force.
    The quality of leadership is one of the top qualities I respect on other people, along with compassion, fatherliness, and motherliness. An effective leader validates the goals and aspirations of his or her followers; those who follow become loyal to the leader because the leader personalizes for them their own quests.

    A leader persuades by word, but is even more persuasive by example. A leader doesn't yell, parades his rank or station, behaves haughtily or condescendingly, but seeks to inspire, motivate, and effect positive change on his charges.

    The difference between a Christian leader -particularly, a Catholic Christian leader- and any other kind of leader is that the Christian leader is fully aware of the constraints a moral value system places on him/her. A Christian leader understands that God granted him the gift of leadership in order to guide others to legitimate ends. Otherwise, the leader risks becoming a demagogue, a conman, and a megalomaniac. All true leaders know they must care for those who follow them; Christian leaders are morally compelled to do so, and they learn to "feed" their gift from grace. Evil leaders only cultivate the appearance of caring when in reality they're using others to satisfy their cravings for self-worship.

    Another thing I've learned is that we must not confuse leadership with managerial skills. A brilliant administrator is not necessarily a good leader in my book. I've known brilliant administrators who automatically expect me to respect them as leaders and as holders of organizational rank. I withhold the first kind of respect until they earn it and readily give the second kind because this the second most basic kind of respect I can give a person, the other one being respect for their human dignity. But that's all I give initially. The personal loyalty I normally attach to the respect I give to leaders, that, I don't concede lightly. I understand that this kind of loyalty as a subordinate is the greatest personal gift I can give a leader and they'll have to earn it. We are not called to be blind followers of anyone else but of Christ.

    When it comes to prelates and bishops and such, obviously other divine realities operate. Pastors are anointed by the Holy Spirit to be shepherds of the flock entrusted to them. Their is a spiritual kind of leadership. Their vocation is not one to worldly leadership, but to a spiritual leadership tied to their fatherhood. We, the laity, are expected to transpose the reverence we naturally feel for our natural fathers to our pastors. This is particularly difficult to those whose relationship with their fathers has been less than ideal, but this does not excuse us from the call to be our pastor's children and for him to be a father to his flock.

    I can overlook when a Pastor is not a worldly leader, or even a brilliant administrator, but I cannot overlook those instances when a Pastor is less than a father because when he fails in this he's forfeiting his spiritual leadership. When faced with those kinds of situations I feel that even then, I must show him filial deference, on the principle that one can choose one's friends but cannot choose one's father. If this is true of our natural fathers, how can it not be true about our spiritual fathers? Doing this is not easy, but we still must do it. God is honored and please when we do it, and we'll grant us even more graces for us to love our spiritual fathers with a simple, undemanding love.

    Further thoughts: a Pastor exercises his spiritual leadership by exercising his spiritual fatherhood. The more a pastor is a father to his people, the more effective his leadership would be. Pastors become leaders in the same proportion that they become fathers. If Pastors are able to motivate, persuade, and effect change by just being fathers, they will be exercising ordinarily their leadership in a Christian and pastoral manner and when the time comes to COMMAND, the faithful will follow readily because they already know him as a father to his flock.

    Father, here I am. You are my Captain. Lead me. Provide your Church with true spiritual leaders and fathers that can guide us to you. Make me a good follower of you and of those you have appointed to sheperd your flock. Grant that the Holy Spirit guide them and your flock to life eternal in you. I ask this in the blessed Name of your Son Jesus, Our Lord. Amen

    Saturday, July 07, 2007

    Numerous jurisdictions unprepared to revive Tridentine Mass

    Well, folks, the Holy See has now released Summorum Pontificum the long awaited motu proprio authorizing the expanded use of the Tridentine Mass, now termed "the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite." More knowledgeable analysts than yours truly are now poring over the documents and will be sharing with you their more erudite findings. Therefore, I'll leave that to them.

    In this post I wish to limit myself to discuss which jurisdictions will be the ones in a better position to monitor its enactment, since now any priest will be able to celebrate the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite without having to request permission to their local ordinary—in most cases, their bishop. So let me further restrict my comments to diocese and diocesan bishops and restate my views: those dioceses that have offered the indulted Tridentine Mass since Pope John Paul the Great authorized it already have an infrastructure in place to support the organic expansion of the rite withing their territory. Bishops in these jurisdictions find themselves in a better position to exercise effective moral leadership and their pastoral initiatives to govern the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite will be better received by their flocks.

    Conversely, dioceses that have been slow to allow the indulted Tridentine Mass lack said infrastructure, and bishops who, for whatever reasons, have shown themselves to be indifferent, apathetic, or hostile to Catholics who prefer to worship in this Rite have a lot of "catch-up" to do. These will find themselves in the worst position to influence the organic adoption of the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite in their jurisdictions because they'll first have to earn the trust and confidence of a wounded portion of their flock. The way they do this will impact the results.

    All bishops can be authoritarian. That's part of their job description. But having authority does not make a leader out of a bishop automatically. All bishops rule but not everyone leads. The best bishops are those who can do both seamlessly. Let us pray that the Holy Spirit grants this very human gift of leadership to all our bishops as we all welcome back to the Church as full members those who love the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite.

    Friday, July 06, 2007

    Motu Proprio revealed

    Folks, the Papal document authorizing the wider use of the 1962 Tridentine Missal, Summorum Pontificum, is now being discussed in the open. Blazing the trail is Rocco Palmo, author and blogger at Whispers in the Loggia. For what I see, the document is all I expected it to be: a clear, lucid, concise document explaining the pastoral need for the revitalization of the old Liturgy, a reaffirmation of the authority of local ordinaries --within the guidelines of this Motu Proprio-- to regulate liturgical affairs in their jurisdictions, a delineation of the boundaries within which the now Extraordinary Roman Rite is to be celebrated, and the hope that both expressions of the Roman Rite should enrich each other.

    Fantastic. Marvelous. If you thought that Pope Benedict XVI was to be an old "transitional" Pope, you'd better reconsider that assessment.

    Now, the decree is aimed primarily at reconciled the schismatic traditionalists excoummunicated back in the 1980's, most of whom are members of the Priestly Society of St. Pius X (SSPX). Nevertheless, The society's current leader, Bishop Bernard Fellay, has said the situation "will be practically unchanged" unless the return to the old Mass is accompanied by an "in-depth discussion" with the Vatican on key doctrinal issues that also emerged from Vatican II. "Ecumenism, religious liberty and collegiality remain the points of contention over which we will not budge," Fellay wrote earlier this year. (Source)

    I hope that Bp. Fellay changes his stance. It's not the Church that has to return to the SSPX, is him and his clique the ones who have to return to the Church. If they don't, I see that the great mass of SSPX'ers will return to the Church, leaving their leaders twisting in the wind, overstaffed with pastors with little to do but to validate each other's continued disobedience.

    I pray this doesn't come to be, but with the SSPX, nothing is for sure.

    Gnosticism's continuing conundrum

    Folks, my recent post, Gnosticism at the root of terrorist worldview, has become part of a conversation piece in various blogs and discussion boards. "Brother Jeremy," blogger at Summer Harvest, takes direct issue at the post saying that such claims are not only completely baseless, they’re completely devoid of any kind of provable assertion. Voegelin et al base their arguments about the Gnostics on what was said by the enemies of the Gnostics, not on what was said by the Gnostics. The subject has also taken wings at their forum.

    We find madcap, blogger at Thoughts on God, bravely holding the line against the Gnostic jabberwocky. In a right-on quote, madcap states that
    I would have to say that Jeremy’s definition of the Gnostics, as anarchists who set out to demolish the illusion of the world in order to create a new order, lends even deeper insight into the validity of Voegelin’s understanding of Gnosticism. Jeremy described what Voegelin would call the Gnostic enterprise. He confesses to possessing the desire of “demolishing the world.” He clearly states that the reason for this demolition is so that the Gnostic can “rebuild it.” His motivation for this endeavor must be that he views the world as intrinsically poorly organized. God screwed up, and Jeremy’s going to fix it!
    I have a confession to make--and this will mark me as not completely knowledgeable of the current debate--I didn't know about Eric Voegelin until these conversation strings popped out around my post.

    According to the Wikipedia, Eric Voegelin was a political philosopher. He was born in Cologne, Germany, and educated in the fine arts at the University of Vienna, where he became a professor of political science at the Faculty of Law. In 1938 he fled with his wife from Nazi Germany, emigrating to the United States, where they became citizens in 1944. He then spent considerable parts of his academic career at Louisiana State University, University of Munich and the Hoover Institution of Stanford University. I can tell why the Gnostics are sore at him.

    Frankly, I don't feel at all that Br. Jeremy's criticism that what I've said about the Gnostics is based "on what was said by the enemies of the Gnostics, not on what was said by the Gnostics" applies to me. If you remember, I took it upon myself over a year ago to briefly deconstruct Gnostic ideas in Bearer of Bad News: A brief analysis of the so-called Gospel of Judas. This is what in academia they call "primary source analysis."

    Nevertheless, I think that Eric Voegelin's analyses are gaining well-deserved currency, but that more study is needed to connect the ideas of ancient Gnosticism to modern ideologies. The connections requireas a little tightening. Kudos to madcap for doing so.

    Wednesday, July 04, 2007

    Don't be afraid of charismatics!

    Folks, according this story was published by the Catholic News Service:

    Don't be afraid of charismatics, leaders tell their fellow Catholics

    By Patricia Zapor
    Catholic News Service

    SECAUCUS, N.J. (CNS) -- Mention that you're attending a charismatic renewal event to most American Catholics and they may take a cautious step backward, as if they expect you to lay a hand on their foreheads and pray over them, unbidden.

    In a world where being Catholic can seem countercultural, being a charismatic Catholic often adds one more layer of popular misunderstanding. Terminology like "slain in the Spirit" and "speaking in tongues," hand-waving, dancing and enthusiastically expressed joy are images of charismatics that make other Catholics more than a little uncomfortable.

    But by one estimate, 14 percent of North American Catholics -- nearly 10 million people -- fall under the broad umbrella of the charismatic renewal. The fastest growing portion of the U.S. church, Latinos, are five times more likely than their Anglo counterparts to be a part of charismatic activities.

    The U.S. church is becoming more charismatic, whether or not other American Catholics feel awkward around charismatic practices.
    Please, continue reading here.

    Commentary. I am an "alumnus" of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. The experience of the Holy Spirit I encountered therein when I was 14 changed my entire outlook toward the Lord, Scripture, the Sacraments, my faith and my attitude toward the hierarchical Church. I qualify the effect the experience had on me as central and decisive. The "charismatic experience" unified my inner life and opened in me the ability to look at the world, people, places, and events through the eyes of faith and Providence, even during those times in my life when I felt I was losing my faith.

    When I need to renew my hope and my faith during times of crisis I look back to the beginnings of my conscious life as a Catholic Christian, I look back to those days where I had this "communally mediated" experience of the Spirit.

    I feel certain that those who object to the charismatic experience do so on the grounds that the gifts and the experience of the Spirit were not meant to be distributed in such a "democratic" fashion, that the reception of these gifts are either the consequences of infused grace, or of actual grace conceded by the patient and ascetic cultivation of the virtues.

    I am convinced that the charismatic experience does not negate the ascetic tradition of the Church, because the Holy Spirit doesn't overwhelm you in such a way through the charismatic experience that does away with your free will. If anything, one becomes as free as never before to cooperate with grace and this freedom, properly cultivated through virtue, keeps increasing for the rest of one's life.

    But, what do we say about this "democratization" of the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit? Is this phenomenon a valid one? I will say "yes." First, because the charismatic gifts are the smallest building blocks of one's holy life, and second, because the possession of the gifts are not, nor were ever meant to be seen, as a sign of the holiness of the possessor. Finally, regarding this "democratization" seen by itself, I don't think it is our business to judge it negatively, because the Spirit blows from wherever he wants, however he wants. Theology would just have to catch up.

    Besides, popes and bishops have already given the Charismatic Renewal their blessings; they understand the strengths and weaknesses of the Charismatic Renewal—and the strength and weaknesses are no different than that of other apostolic movements—and have delineated the pastoral provisions all involved with the Charismatic Renewal should follow so that it produces abundant fruit.

    The Church has discerned. All that is left for us to do is say "Yes Ma'am," shut up and follow Jesus.

    As for me, you know, I haven't been in a charismatic prayer meeting since the early 1990s. A part of me misses them. Another part does not, because, well, because of my baptism and confirmation I will always be a charismatic. I have never left the movement because to be a charismatic Catholic is simply to be a Catholic, sojourning along with the rest for the Kingdom of God. I can't quit being a charismatic because I can't quit being a Catholic. If you are a Catholic, neither can you.

    Happy Birthday, America!

    I don't care what others say about you, and I do not ignore the many injustices that still occur within you, but you're the best country in the world still, and worth the sacrifices to keep you free.

    Tuesday, July 03, 2007

    Sunset meditation

    Folks, I one to share with you this picture of a sunset in a desert setting:

    I want you to look at the picture closely and note the refraction pattern the sun projects onto the sky. Have you ever seen this before? Most likely you haven't, because this picture was taken on Mars—as in the planet Mars—by the exploration rover Spirit on May 19th, 2005. Click on the picture to access the original at NASA's Mars Rovers website.


    What a beautiful sunset. Sunsets have always captivated me. Nature seems to come to a stop and just wait until Sol sets in the plains, or behind the desert mountains, or underneath the waters. There is a pause and an expectation and once the sun sets, nature starts breathing again in the knowledge that sunrise is not really that far behind.

    I've been privileged to witness all these in my life time, and several more in other settings.

    Now, our scientific knowledge has given us the golden chance to behold the same scene on an alien world. The picture is deceptive. At first glance one may think this is taking place outside Albuquerque or El Paso. If you look closely, you'll see that the setting is merely rock and sand that the vegetation we've come to associate with the desert is missing. In Mars, as far as we can tell, there is no "nature" that holds is collective breath at a sunset. Yet, millions of miles away, this Martian sunset took the breath of at least one son of Adam, who beheld it by a remote camera, taken there by the collective ingenuity of thousands of men and women sojourning in the "third rock from the Sun."

    I praise the Lord our God when mankind uses the gift of technology to unveil such beauty.
    The heavens shew forth the glory of God, and the firmament declareth the work of his hands. Day to day uttereth speech, and night to night sheweth knowledge. There are no speeches nor languages, where their voices are not heard. Their sound hath gone forth into all the earth: and their words unto the ends of the world. (Psalm 18:1-5; Douay-Rheims)

    Monday, July 02, 2007

    Pope sees challenge of secularism in Puerto Rico

    Vatican, Jul. 2, 2007 (CWNews.com) - Pope Benedict XVI met with a group of bishops from Puerto Rico on June 30, and encouraged them to meet the challenges of "religious indifference" and "a certain moral relativism" in their society.

    The Pope noted that the Puerto Rican bishops, who were making their ad limina visits, had commented on the challenges they faced in their reports to Rome. He told them that they have the duty to ensure that "the Church remains a place where the mystery of divine love is taught and lived."

    The problem for the Church in a secularized Puerto Rico stems largely from an attitude that "leads to derision or ignorance of the sacred, relegating faith to a merely private sphere," the Pope said. While this attitude hampers the public work of the Church, the health of family life is simultaneously endangered by a combination of materialism and "the lack of stability and faithfulness in couples." Young people, meanwhile, are exposed to the damaging influence of "religious indifference and the temptation of an easy moral permissiveness, as well as ignorance of the Christian tradition."

    Christians cannot abandon the world to these influences, the Pope said, because the Church is called to be involved in public affairs "so as to order them in accordance with the divine will." He encouraged the bishops to be faithful and courageous witnesses to the Gospel, urging their faithful to do the same.

    - Read Pope Benedict's Letter to the Puerto Rican bishops here. (In Spanish).

    Pope Benedict writes to Chinese Catholics

    Folks, as reported in several news sources, Pope Benedict XVI has written an eloquent letter to Chinese Catholics and, by implication, to Beijing, which some observers are calling "historic."

    The letter is quite extensive, optimistic, and hopeful. In it the Pope analyzes in detail the situation of the Church in China and sketches a renewed pastoral approach given new developments and eased communications between the Holy See and the Chinese Church. You may read the entire text here.

    I do have one personal anecdote I wish to share with you. Several months ago I was having dinner at a religious house in Washington, DC. My host turned to me and pointing out to a couple of men and said "Look our guests, they are priests from China." I replied "You mean Taiwan." My host said to me, "No, I mean China, as in the People's Republic of China." I was astonished and I had so many questions to ask but immediately refrained. Even the Church needs to have her secrets. I did know that having these Chinese priests having dinner with their brethren in the US portended something which we might be seeing unfold today.