For Your Lenten Friday Night at the Movies II

Ladies and gentlemen, this is your co-pilot once again. We have now descended to 31,000 ft. It’s way before dinner, but seeing how you have been so patient on this flight, your pilot Webster and I thought we would give you a sneak preview of our after dinner entertainment for this evening. By the way, smoked talapia is on the menu tonight, so hold your appetites until then!

This scene is the final one from tonight’s selection, Chariots of Fire, which won the Academy Award for best picture in 1981. This scene includes a rousing rendition of William Blake’s Jerusalem and features Eric Lidell winning the 400-meter sprint, against all odds.

So again, sit back and enjoy the ride and thank you for flying YIM Catholic Airlines!

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Because of His Cross

Guest post by Warren Jewell
I don’t know about you, but if a bunch of thugs nailed me to a wooden display after having beat me up, my Italian side would not be very nice in talking to them. In fact, I can’t think of any side of me that would be nice. I would avoid saying anything terrible about their moms, but all else would get free rein. However, the High Priest Himself not merely said nice things to his death squad, He pleaded for them with His Father to forgive them for their ignorance. Even Frank’s best ‘Sheesh!’ can’t cover that act of love.

What a great Guy we have in Jesus! You can hope for the same magnanimous, magnificent mercy without even asking, right? Right? Wrong! They were ignorant—we are not. His love for us is as infinite as ever, but, “they know not what they do” has no place for us. We know that we torture and destroy God made man, our own Savior, Priest of priests, Innocent of innocents, King of kings, God from God—need I go on?—as surely as we know anything.

There’s no easy way out anywhere for me. Mother Mary would cast an eye on us, me among the embarrassed group, and tell Saint John, “Keep an eye on this bunch. They need a lot of work.”

I have been blessed with open ears, and have listened; blessed with open eyes, I have seen. So, I know better about what it is I do, Who it is I am doing it to. “But – I had to do it – really!” It sounds rather empty, standing under that Cross; Mary Magdalene looking at me with a “How could you?!” look. The good thief, traditionally named Saint Dismas, would shockingly realize what he was witnessing: “You mean, Lord, that he is from among Your followers?!” Indeed, surrounded by His most beloved, and with Jesus the Christ hanging, dying, right over our heads, just where could I look?

Of wonderful mercy, I cannot have been party to the actual Crucifixion. However, every time I sin, I do stand beneath that Cross without an excuse or reason or cause. I am not ignorant. I am shamefully aware that I am guilty of sin. And His Blood flows not only as His perfect sacrifice because of my sin, but as His purifying waters to wash away my sin.

If somehow I could take away my sin, and you your sin, we would not have put Him on the Cross. We all know better: that we sin and even the best of us is putting the Lord Jesus Christ up on His Cross just too regularly. Once again, we must stand beneath Him, explain to His Mother why “my sin was more important to do” than not crucifying her Son. Looking at His tortured frame yet again is not ever going to make any of us do less than cringe all the way to the confessional.

His gift to His executioners was mercy in the face of ignorance. His gift to us and through His Church and His Word are that we need not, and more importantly cannot, be ignorant.

Faith and reason, as two essential gifts to all of us who submit our wills to believe, ride to our rescue, if we just permit God to care for and cherish us through them. We lost ignorance long ago, my friends. We gained the beloved Presence of the Lord to make the best of us, and have no doubts about that.

Now, just take a moment and bow before a crucifix and know that He is God and loves you all that much.

YIMC Book Club, “Mere Christianity,” Week 6

This week we finished up Book III, Chapters 9-12.

I’ve really been enjoying what CS Lewis has been writing thus far. Oh sure, in the early going, the book was pretty weak tea. But since week #2, Jack has been hitting on all cylinders. As a recent convert to Catholicism from the nondenominational Protestant side of the house, I’m enjoying everything he is writing here. For the most part, none of it is controversial to me. Jack hasn’t swerved on the icy roads of the opinions of the modern age. His doctrinal traction-control is in the “on” position.

Some of you reading along with us are probably in the same camp with me. Others may have dropped by the wayside with Jack because what he is writing may be painful to read. Instead of wincing, keep in mind these words St. Paul writes to his young protegé Timothy (2 Timothy 4:1-4),

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingly power: proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching. For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths.

For as Jack wrote earlier, we are living behind enemy lines. Which is why being a Christian is hard. Recently my pastor was welcoming the current class of Catechumens and Candidates, and as he and the congregation welcomed them he also warned them that as Catholic Christians, they had chosen a hard way. Jack expounds on that tough road this week as he writes about the theological virtues of Charity, Hope, and Faith. Just some quickie thoughts from me and quotes from Jack this week and then on to the discussion in the comments box. And Chapter 1 of Book 4 will be discussed next week. How does that sound?

Chapter 9, Charity

Jack quickly lets us know that this word means love, and not the modern idea of alms giving. St. Paul reminds us that the greatest of the virtues is charity. Because without love, everything else is naught. See St. Paul again in his letter to the Corinthians. Jack reminds us that love in the Christian sense isn’t a sentimental emotion. Do not confuse eros or romantic love with caritas or brotherly love. And remember that sticky wicket of loving our neighbor? Yeah, that slam-dunk of easy Christian living? Jack reminds us,

Do not waste time bothering whether you “love” your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.

Stop theorizing about it. Need help? I know I do, and later Jack shows us where to find the strength. For now he shows a few examples of charity, that resonated with me. First this,

The worldly man treats certain people kindly because he “likes” them: the Christian, trying to treat every one kindly, finds himself liking more and more people as he goes on-including people he could not even have imagined himself liking at the beginning.

You know, this has been my experience since I have become a Catholic. It has been an amazing grace to me actually. Think of the unlikely pairing of Webster Bull, lapsed peacenick, and myself, the uber-Marine. Who would have thought it possible? Even St. Paul was losing friends because of the faith, but he gained them as well. See his letter to Timothy again for an example,

Try to join me soon,for Demas, enamored of the present world, deserted me and went to Thessalonica, Crescens to Galatia,and Titus to Dalmatia. Luke is the only one with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is helpful to me in the ministry. I have sent Tychicus to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak I left with Carpus in Troas, the papyrus rolls, and especially the parchments. Alexander the coppersmith did me a great deal of harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. You too be on guard against him, for he has strongly resisted our preaching. At my first defense no one appeared on my behalf, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them!

So much for Easy Street. But note how St. Paul still hopes that those who deserted him will be saved. That is Christian love for you. Next, my inner finance guy enjoyed this quote,

Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of.

Well said, Jack! On to the next chapter.

Chapter 10, Hope

A good discussion of how Christians are called to serve in the world today. Naysayers may suggest that Christians are shallow thinkers who leave it all to God. Jack attempts to enlighten them, but the same ridiculous ideas are always in play and, frankly, always have been. Jack notes,

If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.

There was a short time when Christians did sort of throw up their hands and leave it all to God. We’ll see the effects of that in our next YIMC Book Club selection, The Great Heresies by Hillaire Belloc. Jack really hammers on this later, in Chapter 12. Suffice it to say now that much good has come from Christians working in the world while being faithful as well.

Jack then gives us an idea of the three ways to make sense of the world,

1. The Fool’s Way
2. The Disillusioned Sensible Man
3. The Christian Man—The Christian says, “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

This brings to mind the behind enemy lines analogy and the characterization of the life of a Christian as The Sojourner—our existence as aliens, scattered among unbelievers, far from our true country.

Jack counsels a very British stiff upper lip regarding our reputation in this world,

There is no need to be worried by facetious people who try to make the Christian hope of “Heaven” ridiculous by saying they do not want “to spend eternity playing harps.” The answer to such people is that if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them.

Imagine if you will, present-day skeptic celebrity Bill Maher attempting to have a match on these points with Jack Lewis. Jack by a knock-out. Which is why Bill Maher didn’t interview anyone with any real substance in his anti-religion movie Religulous. Let’s move on to the back-to-back chapters on faith that close out this week’s readings.

Chapter 11, Faith

In fact, I was assuming that the human mind is completely ruled by reason. But that is not so. Yeah, we’re humans Jack, not Vulcans. Sheesh! Jack talks about two kinds of faith and how faith as a bedrock foundation is rational but still difficult. Which reminds me of the idea that often we focus on the noise while ignoring the signal which I wrote about here. He goes on to remind us of this,

Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes…Consequently one must train the habit of Faith…That is why daily prayers and religious reading and church going are necessary parts of the Christian life.

Sounds like as good a reason as any to consider your spiritual reading and prayer routines. Sort of like Marines and the daily seven, which may have morphed into the daily dozen nowadays. Routine physical exercises that can be done daily in 15 minutes or so, you know, to keep the body in shape. Which takes a measure of willpower to practice. And then this,

You may remember I said that the first step towards humility was to realise that one is proud. I want to add now that the next step is to make some serious attempt to practise the Christian virtues. A week is not enough. No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is.

Jack than crashes fantasyland by proclaiming that in the history of mankind, Christ was the the only complete realist. As we come to realize that this road is tough, we also realize that we owe everything, absolutely everything to God.

If you devoted every moment of your whole life exclusively to His service you could not give Him anything that was not in a sense His own already…When a man has made these two discoveries God can really get to work. It is after this that real life begins. The man is awake now. We can now go on to talk of Faith in the second sense.

Chapter 12, Faith

I get the impression that Jack considered this second chapter on faith as optional. Because unless you’ve walked this path for a while, you may not understand the descriptions of this chapter’s account on the higher sense of faith. I’ll let Jack explain through these passages,

I said that the question of Faith in this sense arises after a man has tried his level best to practise the Christian virtues, and found that he fails, and seen that even if he could he would only be giving back to God what was already God’s own. In other words, he discovers his bankruptcy… When I say “discovered,” I mean really discovered: not simply said it parrot-fashion.

All this trying leads up to the vital moment at which you turn to God and say, “You must do this. I can’t.” It is the change from being confident about our own efforts to the state in which we despair of doing anything for ourselves and leave it to God.

I know the words “leave it to God” can be misunderstood, but they must stay for the moment. The sense in which a Christian leaves it to God is that he puts all his trust in Christ: trusts that Christ will somehow share with him the perfect human obedience which He carried out from His birth to His crucifixion: that Christ will make the man more like Himself and, in a sense, make good his deficiencies. In Christian language, He will share His “sonship” with us, will make us, like Himself, “Sons of God”: in Book IV I shall attempt to analyse the meaning of those words a little further. If you like to put it that way, Christ offers something for nothing: He even offers everything for nothing. In a sense, the whole Christian life consists in accepting that very remarkable offer.

To trust Him means, of course, trying to do all that He says… But trying in a new way, a less worried way…Not hoping to get to Heaven as a reward for your actions, but inevitably wanting to act in a certain way because a first faint gleam of Heaven is already inside you.

This idea is one that many who criticize Christianity yesterday, today, and most likely tomorrow fail to understand. That Christians behave out of love for God instead of just out of fear of damnation does not seem to have been considered by them. I have several friends who think this way. Perhaps they haven’t checked their moral balance sheets as closely as Jack and I have. And this is a conundrum,

I think all Christians would agree with me if I said that though Christianity seems at first to be all about morality, all about duties and rules and guilt and virtue, yet it leads you on, out of all that, into something beyond. One has a glimpse of a country where they do not talk of those things, except perhaps as a joke. Every one there is filled full with what we should call goodness as a mirror is filled with light But they do not call it goodness. They do not call it anything. They are not thinking of it. They are too busy looking at the source from which it comes.

And that’s all I have. I’ll meet you at the banquet table and the comment box for discussion on how this week’s chapters spoke to you. I think I’ll have some chardonnay, too.

Next week we’ll begin Book 4 with chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. I know I said we would read chapter 1 this week, but I changed my mind!

Because of Maria Esperanza Medrano Bianchini, Servant of God

Guest post by Allison 
A woman with roses that grow out of her chest. Who carries the aroma of roses, without wearing perfume. Whose hands bleed during Holy Week and who sees visions of the Virgin Mary in Venezuela. No, these are not reports from the Weekly World News. This is the story of Maria Esperanza, who died in Long Beach Island, New Jersey in 2004 and who the Church now is investigating for sainthood.

Some might dismiss such a woman, along with her followers, as kooks. Others might embrace her as a prophetess, even build their own religion around her. I am Catholic because my church treads the middle way: it keeps open the possibility of miraculous happenings while systematically investigating such claims. This is known as the canonical process. It won’t make Maria Esperanza a saint: it will confirm—or not—that she already is.

“The church takes these cases on with a lot of prudence and reason,” says my good friend and fellow parishioner Dan Finaldi, who met Maria Esperanza at healing Masses in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. “That process makes it much less likely that it can devolve into superstition or occultism.”

Dan’s own first-hand experiences with Maria Esperanza left him convinced. “She was clearly a gifted mystic,” he says, “there is no doubt about it.”

Last month, the opening of her Cause of Beatification and Canonization took place in the Cathedral of Saint Francis of Assisi in Metuchen, New Jersey. More than a thousand people attended the Mass, including Dan.

Maria Esperanza, born in a town in Monagas State, Venezuela, in 1926, became known around the world after the Blessed Mother appeared to her and 150 others at a farm named Finca Betania on March 25, 1984. Our Lady is said to have appeared to the mother of seven children under the title, “Mary, Virgin and Mother, Reconciler of all People and Nations.” After an investigation, the local bishop approved the apparition in 1987. This was the fourth such Church-approved apparition of the Blessed Mother in the 20th century.

Visions of the Blessed Mother are not the only reason the Church is investigating Maria Esperanza for sainthood. Her charisma are said to have included: stigmata, visions of the future, the gift of healing, the gift of counsel, locutions, ecstasies, levitations, the materialization of the Holy Host in her mouth, the outpouring of flower and fruit perfume, the apparition of rose petals, levitation, bilocation, transfiguration, and a unique mystical phenomenon, the spontaneous birth or outburst of a rose—at 16 different times during her life—from her chest.

Dan is a painter and a bit of a mystical thinker. In the late 1990s, drawn to attending healing masses, he went to one in Perth Amboy where Maria Esperanza was appearing. He watched after the Mass, which was crowded with more than 1,500 people, as she spoke from the ambo. During her talk, he says, she fell into an ecstasy, which interrupted her talk. After the Mass, he said, he waited in a line for three and half hours for spiritual advice. Finally, he could wait no more and went home, giving a lift to two women he had stood in line with.

As they were driving away from the church, the three of them saw a very bright light flicker on and off in the darkened rose window by the choir loft. “There was suddenly bright illumination, as if someone turned on a very bright light inside a window . . . three bright lights illuminated the choir loft. It was an unusual thing to see.” Later, driving north on the New Jersey Turnpike, Dan said he and his passengers saw a shooting star, a coincidence, he says, but an interesting end to the evening.

The second time Dan met Maria Esperanza, he was agonizing over whether to pursue a teaching career. He stood in line for three hours and finally had the chance to talk to her. “You know what it smells like when you put your face in a rose? “ Dan said. “That is what it smelled like.” The aroma would “waft and subside and waft and subside” as he spoke with her, pouring out his difficulties. He told Maria Esperanza about a strange dream—or a vision, he wasn’t sure—he had had.

“I woke up,” he said, “and saw a woman dressed in a white suit, holding a box. It was an illuminated box that was levitating. The woman said, ‘This is a gift. Our Lord Jesus wants you to have this.’ He told the woman ‘I’m afraid,’ and the vision disappeared. When he recounted this dream or vision to Maria Esperanza, she said, “You will be a teacher and you MUST trust the Lord.”

“As I processed my encounter with Maria and my strange dream,” Dan said, “I thought, The Lord is telling me in ways I can understand, that teaching is right for me, it is a gift.” Two months later, Dan landed a teaching job. And he has found great joy in teaching—and painting±ever since.

I never have been deeply drawn to the mystical side of the Catholic Church. But my thinking is, if I believe that God created the world (which I do) and sent his only Son to Earth to preach the truth and heal people (which I do) and that this Son rose from the dead and then returned to earth (which I do), it is not such a leap to believe that God could gift a human being with such charisma.

So I am grateful my Church takes seriously the possibility we might have mystics among us.

Special Thanks to Father Mario

What’s the difference between a Carmelite and a caramelite? One is devoted to prayer, the other to candy. But the two saw eye to eye this afternoon in my religious ed class, as Fr. Mario Lopez of the North Shore Carmelite Chapel graciously agreed to teach fourteen attentive ten-year-olds. Before the class I asked him if he had ever taught children. “Never,” he said.

You would have thought he had done this all his life. The kids were eating out of his hand. I think the Carmelite father originally from Los Angeles must be a born actor. He arrived in simple black shirt and trousers, with only a collar to suggest that he is a priest. His first gesture at the start of the class was to open a suitcase, pull out his vestments, and don them. It was Clark Kent and Superman, gone Catholic.

Father Mario began with the difference between diocesan priests and those belonging to an order, like the Jesuits, Franciscans, or Carmelites. He said that a diocesan priest is like a primary care physician, while an order priest is a specialist, like an eye doctor. While the specialty (charism) of the Franciscans is poverty, that of the Carmelites is prayer—or, as Fr. Mario put it, “to imitate Jesus in prayer.” He proceeded to teach the children about the history of his order and about the different kinds of prayer. Let’s have a close-up:

The Carmelites began in about 1160 AD, when some Crusaders retired to pray in caves on Mt. Carmel, a thirteen-mile range on the coast of what is now Israel. Prophets, including Elijah, had been known to frequent the area. Let’s go to the map:

The original Carmelites had a particular devotion to the Blessed Mother and originally bore the name Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mt. Carmel. They had the simplest rule of any order: poverty, chastity, obedience—and that’s it. Life was not simple on Mt. Carmel, however. In 1291 Muslims attacked, slaughtered some of the hermits, and drove out the others. The survivors returned to their home countries of Spain, Italy, Germany, France, Cyprus, and England and set up “Carmels” there.

For his next act, Father Mario said that Carmelites are like Marines. They have a dress uniform and they have battle fatigues, or work clothes. Fr. Mario then got down to work:

Work, for a Carmelite, is prayer, and the rest of the class was taken up with the different kinds and qualities of prayer. Father Mario began with a beautiful analogy. He asked the children if they liked putting their hand out the window of a car and feeling it rise in the wind. Of course, they said they did. That is prayer, he said. The hand is like the wing of a plane being lifted by an airstream. Or like ourselves in prayer, with our hearts and minds lifted up to God. Prayer is the wind that takes us there.

Father Mario finally itemized five forms of prayer: adoration, petition, praise, thanksgiving, and intercession. He called for a vote, asking which form of prayer is most important. Several girls voted for intercession, several boys for petition—which the Carmelite said is typical, girls being the compassionate ones and boys usually thinking only of their own needs!

Before he offered a closing prayer for the class, I asked a final question: “Father Mario, what is your favorite prayer?” His answer was a stunner. “My favorite prayer,” he said slowly, thoughtfully, “is the Mass. It includes all five forms of prayer.”

Before he left, the class gave Father Mario a retablo painted by Ann Burt. It was a painting of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, a Carmelite and (I didn’t know this in advance) a personal favorite of our guest teacher. In an e-mail this evening he wrote:

“Thank you, too, for the gift of the ‘retablo’ of St. Thérèse who was very instrumental in my own vocation. It’s precious because it’s a gift from you and her. I will remember you to her in my prayers.”

Thank you, Father Mario!

For Another Lenten Hymn and Thanks to Our Readers Too

One of the neat side-effects of this blog is that many of our readers share the same joy that Webster and I have for the Catholic Church. And then, they share what they have joyfully found with us and with you. This post is a text-book example of this.

About a week ago, I posted a poem by St. Gregory the Great called The Glory of These 40 Days to get Lent started off.  Today, I happened over to our Facebook page and noted  two things.

First, we have crossed the 200 Facebook fans mark (203 as of this writing) so Webster and I have popped some champagne! Thanks to all of you who have signed up to follow our posts either here (on Blogger) or there (on Facebook)! We sincerely appreciate your support.

The second thing I noticed was that one of our readers posted the video below of another hymn by Gregory the Great on the Fans Only part of our Facebook page. Neither the Caped Crusader (Webster) nor the Boy Wonder (Frank) found this one, folks. All thanks go to YIM Catholic Facebook fan and reader Emile James G.

And what a great find it us!  Just another day rummaging through the treasure chest of the Catholic Church searching for the roots of our faith and the essence of Christianity. Which, quite simply, is another reason YIM Catholic.

And as Webster’s post on Ecclesial Movements shows us an example of sharing our faith with others outside of our parish communities, so too does sharing with our band of brethren here at YIM Catholic reinforce the same love for the Church.

The following hymn entitled Audi, benigne Conditor (Merciful Creator, Hear!)  is attributed to Pope St. Gregory the Great (540-604). In the Roman Breviary this hymn is used at Vespers during Lent for both Sundays and the ferial Office from the first Sunday in Lent until the Friday before Passion Sunday. In the Liturgia Horarum it is used at Vespers for the Sunday Office from the first Sunday until the Saturday before Holy Week. That’s a whole lot of Latin, folks. Lucky for us, the video below has subtitles. Enjoy!

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Because of Joan of Arc, Again

I don’t know what it is with female saints, but they get to me, Joan of Arc in particular, although I’m reading a biography of Teresa of Avila now, and I’m already hooked. She was one of the first saints to have a devotion to St. Joseph. Priest me no female priests. What other church, what other world religion treats holy women with such high regard?

Fact is, though, this post is mostly a pretext to show off this beautiful retablo of St. Joan by Ann Burt, who has made retablos a personal mission.

Last week I bought Ann’s retablo of St. Joseph, which now hangs inside the door to my office, so that I can greet my patron saint coming and going. I’ll use it to illustrate a future post on San José (St. Joseph to you). I also bought Ann’s version of the Carmelite saint Thérèse of Lisieux so that I can give it to a Carmelite priest who is guest-teaching my fourth-graders in religious education this afternoon.

You’ll find some of Ann’s work featured here on Etsy.

Because the Holy Water is Back

Guest post by Ellen Hutchinson 
I bounded up the steps into the church last Friday. (Okay, so I didn’t “bound up the steps.” I’m hitting the big 5-0 later this year and I don’t bound up anything anymore. But it sounds so youthful to say that. Frankly, it was 6:50 in the morning and without morning caffeine, I was grateful to God that I was just functional.)  Reaching the top step, I  took my usual two steps to the left and dipped my fingers into the holy water stoup.

It’s been empty for several months now, an archdiocesan-ordered response last fall to the H1N1 scare. The dipping of my fingers into the empty stoup and blessing myself as I enter the church is an “auto-pilot” gesture. Or so I thought. For this time, my fingers hit water—holy water—and as I felt the coolness of the water on my forehead, I found myself thrilled by the fact that the holy water was back. Ditto as I left the church after Mass.

I spent much time later that day and on into the weekend thinking about my almost giddy reaction to being able to bless myself with holy water.  In CL (Communion and Liberation, the movement which I belong to along with uber-blogger and dear friend Webster, and our beloved Ferde) we are taught to judge our experiences. That, and the fact that my middle name is “dissect and analyze.”

I came to the conclusion that despite initially thinking that my dipping and blessing is an auto-pilot gesture, that I don’t really think of it that way. There’s a whole lot of meaning behind that most simple of gestures. That the crossing of myself as I enter church is my final act of preparation for the Mass; a last ditch prayer that I may be considered worthy of being in the presence of God; worthy to participate in the Mass; worthy to receive Him. That the coolness of the water on my forehead is a final attempt to cleanse myself before participating in the most beautiful of meals. That it is indeed a renewal of my baptism which took place in that same church almost 50 years ago. That as I leave the church, the act of crossing myself and the water on my forehead and chest help to form a shield, to protect me against the evil which awaits me out in the world.

The holy water is back, and I couldn’t be happier.  And tomorrow morning, as I walk up the steps, take my usual two steps to the left, dip my fingers into the water and make the sign of the cross, feeling that cool water on my forehead, I’ll pray that I never take that gesture for granted again.   

Through the Grace of Ecclesial Movements

I heard a remarkable statistic last night. I can’t back it up; I heard it secondhand; but my source is Cardinal Seàn O’Malley of Boston (left), who celebrated Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in honor of the fifth anniversary of the death of Fr. Luigi Giussani. “Don Giuss” was the founder of Communion and Liberation (CL), a movement of which I am a member. Here’s the statistic:

In his homily, Cardinal O’Malley said that, today in Spain, traditionally a Catholic country, only 15 percent of those born to Catholic families actively practice their faith. That’s not the statistic.

This is the statistic: Of these practicing Spanish Catholics, 80 percent belong to ecclesial movements like CL, Opus Dei, Focolare, Cursillo, and the Neocatechuminal Way. Another name on that list is the Catholic Worker Movement, founded by Dorothy Day, for whom I have a certain unreasonable affection.

I would like to write more about CL in the days and weeks ahead, but for this short post I will leave you with a quote from Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete, the CL “Responsible” (big cheese) for the USA. Asked to define Communion and Liberation, he called it “Opus Dei for bad people.” I know nothing about OD, but I like the definition anyway.

Oh heck, another CL story, again from Msgr. Albacete. Father Barnes relayed it to me this morning after Mass.

Often when a new bishop is appointed in the USA, Albacete (left) will pay him a visit in his capacity as Responsible. He says that new bishops dread such visits, because the visitor almost invariably wants something. Albacete defies expectation by telling the new bishop that CL stands ready to help him in any way. The bishop loves that, of course. “But then,” Albacete says, “comes the inevitable question, which I dread. The bishop asks, ‘So how many CL members are there in my diocese?’

“The answer,” Albacete says, half jokingly but only half, is “Two. And all they do is sing. And they don’t sing that well.”

I would be interested to know if any of our readers belong to an ecclesial movement and, if so, which and why.

For All The Saints: Polycarp of Smyrna

On this day we celebrate the feast of St. Polycarp, an Apostolic Father of the Church. He was eighty-six years old when he was captured, arrested, and publicly executed by the Roman authorities on this day in AD 156. He was the Bishop of Smyrna and had been a disciple of St. John, the Apostle.

He died a martyr when he was stabbed after an attempt to burn him at the stake failed. This is true Christian martyrdom in the example of  Our Lord, St. Stephen, and all the Apostles (except St. John)—death freely accepted rather than deny the Faith. Not martyrdom by way of killing a bunch of innocent bystanders with a suicide bomb wrapped around your waist. Not lashing out with a sword to see how many of the enemy you can take with you to the grave. Instead, a simple refusal to deny Our Lord when tempted to do so and an acceptance of the sentence as meted out by the authorities.

What follows is Polycarp’s famous refusal to revile Our Lord and the account of the prayer he prayed when the authorities attempted to burn him at the stake.

But when the magistrate pressed him hard and said, “Swear the oath, and I will release thee; revile the Christ,” Polycarp said, “Fourscore and six years have I been His servant, and He hath done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”

And when the funeral pile was ready, Polycarp, laying aside all his garments, and loosing his girdle, sought also to take off his sandals, a thing he was not accustomed to do, inasmuch as every one of the faithful was always eager who should first touch his skin. For, on account of his holy life, he was, even before his martyrdom, adorned with every kind of good. Immediately then they surrounded him with those substances which had been prepared for the funeral pile. But when they were about also to fix him with nails, he said, “Leave me as I am; for He that giveth me strength to endure the fire, will also enable me, without your securing me by nails, to remain without moving in the pile.”

They did not nail him then, but simply bound him. And he, placing his hands behind him, and being bound like a distinguished ram taken out of a great flock for sacrifice, and prepared to be an acceptable burnt-offering unto God, looked up to heaven, and said, “O Lord God Almighty, the Father of thy beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, by whom we have received the knowledge of Thee, the God of angels and powers, and of every creature, and of the whole race of the righteous who live before thee, I give Thee thanks that Thou hast counted me worthy of this day and this hour, that I should have a part in the number of Thy martyrs, in the cup of thy Christ, to the resurrection of eternal life, both of soul and body, through the incorruption imparted by the Holy Ghost. Among whom may I be accepted this day before Thee as a fat and acceptable sacrifice, according as Thou, the ever-truthful God, hast foreordained, hast revealed beforehand to me, and now hast fulfilled. Wherefore also I praise Thee for all things, I bless Thee, I glorify Thee, along with the everlasting and heavenly Jesus Christ, Thy beloved Son, with whom, to Thee, and the Holy Ghost, be glory both now and to all coming ages. Amen.”

“Martyrdom of Polycarp” from Ceiling of the Church of St. Polycarp, Smyrna (now Izmir, Turkey)

Take a look at the video by Drive Thru History:

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