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I could use prayers for assorted personal intentions of mine.

I’m trudging through some annoying, disheartening, worrying things right now.

Thanks!

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St. Jerome illumination

Today we celebrate St. Jerome, Father of the Church, Doctor of the Church, and author of the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible.  He is a Patron Saint of librarians and libraries, which makes him very near and dear to my heart.  :D

I love his Prayer for Christ’s Mercy:

O Lord, show your mercy to me and gladden my heart. I am like the man on the way to Jericho who was overtaken by robbers, wounded and left for dead. O Good Samaritan, come to my aid, I am like the sheep that went astray. O Good Shepherd, seek me out and bring me home in accord with your will. Let me dwell in your house all the days of my life and praise you for ever and ever with those who are there.

St. Jerome, pray for us!

(image from SQPN’s St. Jerome gallery)

Today is one of my favorite feast days–that the holy archangels who appear in scripture: St. Michael, the great warrior, St. Gabriel, the great messenger, and St. Raphael, the great guide, guardian, and healer.

St. Michael stained glass

In the older liturgical calendar, this day commemorates the dedication of the Basilica of St. Michael.  I found a beautiful hymn dedicated to the Prince of the Heavenly Host in my 1962 missal:

Oh Thou, the Father’s glorious Might,
Jesus true life of every heart,
Thee do we praise amid angels bright
whose hope and light alone Thou art.

A thousand thousand hosts, for Thee,
of glorious warriors, battle wage;
but Michael waves Thy standard free,
Salvation’s cross and victory’s gage.

The dragon fierce with stubborn crown
he hurls to lowest depths of Hell;
the rebel crew, their prince overthrown,
he thrusts from Heaven’s high citadel.

The prince of pride may we too fight,
and follow this, our captain true,
that so the crown with glory dight
by Jesus given, may be our due.

St. Gabriel glass

St. Gabriel is best known as the angel who came to Mary in the Annunciation.  He also appeared to the prophet Daniel and to Zechariah.  His feast day in the older calendar is 24 March.  Understandably, he is the Patron Saint of all kinds of communications workers and also diplomats. (photo by Lawrence OP)

St. Raphael glass

St. Raphael is best known from his role in The Book of Tobit, who guides and guards Tobias, leads him to his future wife, Sarah, banishes the demon Asmodeus who had been terrorizing Sarah and killing her previous husbands, and cures Tobit of his blindness.  All in a day’s work for this mighty angel!  His feast day in the older calendar is coming up on 24 October.  He is a Patron Saint of many different things… and an unofficial Patron Saint of single Catholics looking for spouses. (photo by Lawrence OP)

Related Post:

An angelic feast! (last year’s post for this feast day)

A friend just sent this to me.  I needed the laugh.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

‘Bless me Father, for I have sinned.
I have been with a loose girl’.

The priest asks, ‘Is that you, little Joey Pagano?’

‘Yes, Father, it is.’

‘And who was the girl you were with?’

‘I can’t tell you, Father. I don’t want to ruin her reputation’.

“Well, Joey, I’m sure to find out her name sooner or later
so you may as well tell me now. Was it Tina Minetti?’

‘I cannot say.’

‘Was it Teresa Mazzarelli?’

‘I’ll never tell.’

‘Was it Nina Capelli?’

‘I’m sorry, but I cannot name her.’

‘Was it Cathy Piriano?’

‘My lips are sealed.’

‘Was it Rosa DiAngelo, then?’

‘Please, Father, I cannot tell you..’

The priest sighs in frustration.
‘You’re very tight lipped, and I admire that.
But you’ve sinned and have to atone.
You cannot be an altar boy now for 4 months.
Now you go and behave yourself.’

Joey walks back to his pew,
and his friend Franco slides over and whispers,
‘What’d you get?’

‘Four months vacation and five good leads.’

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Back to work now.

I have many Protestants in my life, all of them very dear and good people.  Many of them share my love for talking about our faith.  In doing so, I have noticed at times a strange phenomenon, especially when among “mixed company.”

Something that invariably comes up is the topic of Communion, and my Protestant friends are invariably put off by the fact that they are not allowed to receive Communion in the Catholic Church.  Or it may be that they were mistakenly under the impression that it was all right for them to do so.  I find that correcting that impression and explaining the reasoning behind the Church’s teaching  can be a very delicate manoeuvre.  I try to explain that to Catholics, Communion is not just about one’s union with God, but also their union with the Catholic Church and everybody within it.  Catholicism is not a private faith; it is a communal faith as well.  When you receive Communion, you are saying with your body, “I am one with you and with this Church.  I believe as you believe.”

That usually does not end the conversation, however.  Most Protestants find that explanation unfair.  They will protest, “We are baptized Christians.  We too are part of the Body of Christ.  And we are nearly identical to you Catholics in every way!”

Here’s the funny part: once they’ve put in their last word with me, they have a very strong tendency to turn to their Protestant neighbor and say, “Well, I don’t believe in papal infallibility, of course.”

It pretty well catches me off guard every time, causing me to sit dumbstruck for a moment.  “Let me get this straight,” I say to myself.  “My Protestant brethren are so identical to me that they see no problem with receiving Communion with me and think it’s mean and unfair that the Church does not invite them to Communion.  And yet they don’t agree with me on papal infallibility.  Isn’t that sort of a major, irreconcilable difference between us?  Do they just consider it of no importance?  Do they understand that if I had to, and if God gave me the grace, I would prefer to die rather than deny papal infallibility?  It’s not a matter of small import–and it is not an optional belief for Catholics.”

I feel like Catholics–definitely myself included–don’t talk about papal infallibility enough.  Probably because we don’t really understand it ourselves.  And perhaps because it makes us uncomfortable.  I think we like to think of it as something that divided Christians many hundreds of years ago… but we’re supposed to be “over it” now and not let it come between us any more.  It’s like Catholics are supposed to just look the other way when non-Catholics assert that papal infallibility is wrong. I can attest that doing so seems to keep the peace and make life easier.

But more and more, I am not OK with that.  It may keep peace between my Protestant friends and me… but it does not give me inner peace.

I think that’s because infallibility has less to do with the pope than with the Holy Spirit.  It seems to me that to deny papal infallibility is to deny the Holy Spirit’s leadership and custody of the Church.  Infallibility is not some magical power the pope himself has; rather, it is a divine power that the Holy Spirit exercises over the pope.  And ironically, to deny that is to attribute far more power to the pope than he himself or any faithful Catholic would do.  He is our human head, but our Church is not merely human-led.  The pope is the successor of St. Peter–not of Christ Himself.  And why would Christ have sent His Holy Spirit upon the Church if the Church did not need His power, guidance, and protection?

I need to study and think about this topic more.  It is far too important to ignore.  Sadly, it continues to divide Catholics and Protestants today just as surely as it did hundreds of years ago.  Catholics and Protestants today need to acknowledge and respect that.  We are not “over it” now.  The communion among us is still very much broken.  These are facts, even if we fancy otherwise.

Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower. ~ Albert Camus

My favorite season has begun!  A fresh, bright, beautiful season between the extremes of summer and winter.  It is like a second Spring to me.  It makes me feel rejuvenated… chipper… frisky, even!

Never mind that I’ll turn a year older on All Saints Day, which will be here in no time.  Nothing puts a damper on Autumn for me!

I’ve got my window open, and I think I might actually need my blanket tonight!

:D

I loved this Sunday’s Gospel reading so much.

[Jesus and His disciples] came to Capernaum and, once inside the house, He began to ask them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they remained silent. They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest. Then He sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” Taking a child, He placed it in their midst, and putting His arms around it, He said to them, “Whoever receives one child such as this in My name, receives Me; and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but the One who sent Me.”

Mark 9:30-37

What struck me most was that Christ didn’t just pull in the poor child to stand before Him and the Apostles, but rather, He brought the child to Himself, “putting His arms around it.” The RSV translation expresses it as an even more personal and intimate action, thus:

And He took a child, and put him in the midst of them; and taking him in His arms, He said to them …

(For one thing, it refers to the child as a “him” and not an “it”!)

Today the image of Christ embracing and holding a child in His arms is sweet and often very sentimental.  But as our priest taught us today, it was a very significant gesture and a very significant message. In the society in which Jesus and the disciples lived, children were essentially nobodies. They had no rights and no inherent worth. They were completely dependent on others, and their care was generally left to women and/or slaves. For a man to take a random child, not even his own child, and embrace and hold the child, and to do so in the company of other men, would have been quite out of the ordinary.

The portrait that paints in my mind is not sweet and sentimental, but rather, compelling and challenging.  I see Christ holding the child lovingly and protectively, but looking out at us with a keen gaze and a gleam in His eyes that says, “This child is precious to Me… how are you going to treat him?”  (I tried in vain to find an image that matches the one in my head.)

Christ was doing something no other man would do. He was showing the Apostles a new way. A way of loving service even to the smallest, the poorest, and the weakest. Loving service, not power.  That is what He was demanding of them.  It’s what He demands of His disciples today as well, and especially of the successors of the Apostles, our bishops and priests.

Doesn’t this passage have so much to say to us today? I look around at our society and at the Church, and I see lots of people who really need to hear Christ’s message and see His example. There are plenty of people who regard the priesthood in terms of power that should be up for grabs for everybody. There are also lots of people who regard children as objects, as commodities, to be used or disposed of as desired. There is a belief that getting stuck with a child is one of the worst things that can happen to a person. Conception of a child is considered a highly disruptive and undesirable side-effect of sexual pleasure. Pregnancy and childbirth are considered crises–pregnancy as an illness, childbirth as a medical procedure. There are plenty of wealthy, healthy, young married couples who would rather have dogs than children. Or, at their most generous, will only have one or maybe two children.  In short, we regard the natural blessings of sexuality, fertility, and family-rearing as things over which we can, and must, exert our own power.

This is the world we live in.  It’s all about power and putting oneself first.  These attitudes are found within the Church as well as in society at large.  Basically it’s as if Christ never walked the earth, or never taught us how to live.  I don’t know about you, but I find it hard not to be depressed and discouraged by that!  For all the claims that we are so much better and more enlightened than our ancestors, we certainly haven’t lived up to it.  I say “we” because I’ve done my fair share of upholding those common attitudes.  I decided a few years ago that I can no longer support them.  I pray that I can make amends for them in this life (otherwise, I feel I shall have a long and severe season in Purgatory).

I pray that this Gospel passage got through to even a few people this Sunday, that it may prompt some serious examination of themselves and the world in which we live, and indeed that it may prompt some true and deep conversions.  And I pray that we who have heard it will do our best to carry it out into the world through our words, our actions, and our lifestyles.  We mustn’t let Christ’s life and message be in vain!

This is a sequel to an earlier post. Basically, I was in the awful position of having a mortal sin on my soul, and despite my best efforts, couldn’t get to Confession for a couple of days.  But God was merciful to me in wonderful and unexpected ways.  I took comfort and strength in that, but also reaffirmed my intention to get to Confession as soon as possible.

Which raised the question:  Why go to Confession anyway?

All that Sunday, I had these niggling little temptations to just say, “Oh well, God has forgiven me, He has accepted my contrition and my efforts at reconciliation, and after all it’s not my fault that the chaplain didn’t allow enough time for Confession.  And now that I think of it, was it really so horrible what I did?  Do I really have to give up Communion?  There’s still time… the last Mass at my parish is still an hour away…”

I could have quickly and easily rationalized my sin away–the human mind is so very good at that!–and just ditched Confession.  And many people would have applauded that.  Many decent, sincere, and well-meaning people have tried to convince me that I don’t need Confession.  In their minds, they have tried to liberate me.  I love liberty as much as anybody, but as appealing as it may seem, there is something very wrong and discomforting about the notion of giving up Confession.

In my heart of hearts, I knew the fact of the matter: I am in no position to ditch Confession.  I am in no position to absolve my own sins and declare officially that everything is once more hunky dory and peachy keen.  I am in the position of convicting myself of sin, mourning the rift I’ve caused between God and me, and seeking reconciliation with Him.  And you know, there is the greatest of freedoms in that!  To grit your teeth and face reality, to take responsibility for your actions, to seek to make amends with another, to be reunited with One you love.

And the ordinary means–the only certain means–I know of doing that is the Sacrament of Confession.

Yes, God is merciful.  Yes, He is good to me even when I mess up and turn my back to Him.  Yes, He used my pitiful failing to bring about a greater good.  Yes, He let me know He was still there for me.  It may very well be that He, in His own ineffable way, unbound as He is by the Sacraments of the Church, had already made my sins disappear and restored me to a state of grace.  He can absolve whomever and whenever He wills.  I don’t doubt that.

But we are bound. We are bound by love and justice, faith and trust, loyalty and obedience, to the Sacraments of the Church, Sacraments Christ established for our welfare.  We don’t get to presume upon Him and His own superior ways and privileges.  We don’t get to cleverly rationalize things away and fly the coop.  We don’t know what is best for us.  We don’t fully know the state of our own souls as God does.  We are not authorized to make the binding and loosing declarations that God, in His mercy, enables His ordained priests to make.

We are bound for our own good, and assurance.  Consider what the Psalmist says:

Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart;
there is no fear of God before his eyes.
For he flatters himself in his own eyes
that his iniquity cannot be found out and hated.
The words of his mouth are mischief and deceit;
he has ceased to act wisely and do good.
(Ps. 36:1-3, RSV-CE2 translation)

Now, I realize that it’s easy to say, “Oh well, that’s talking about wicked people, not me!” But think about it. If you honestly can’t see yourself in that description of “the wicked,” if you have never “ceased to act wisely and do good”–even for a short time–then you should become the first living person to be canonized a Saint.  I was actually struck first by the translation of this Psalm used in the Divine Office here in the U.S. (and other English-speaking lands):

Sin speaks to the sinner
in the depths of his heart.
There is no fear of God
before his eyes.

He so flatters himself in his mind
that he knows not his guilt.
In his mouth are mischief and deceit.
All wisdom is gone.

“Sin speaks to the sinner in the depths of his heart.”  That definitely struck close to home for me.  That was the voice I kept hearing in my head that morning.  Sin trying to convince me that it was not sin at all.  I’ve paid heed to that voice before.  So do many people.  So many people within the Church and in the world at large have completely lost all “sense of sin.”  Guilt is seen as baggage to be shed.  We are taught that certain sins (most often of the sexual nature), far from being sinful, are actually normal, healthy, even good for us–and that to repress them is dangerous and maddening.  I believed that for many years.  And looking back, I see that my life then was far more repressive, dangerous, and maddening than my life is now.  That’s what happens when you pay heed to sin.

I was also recently struck by these words of Père Garrigou-Lagrange:

I certainly know the interior of my soul better than other men do; but it has secrets from me, for I cannot measure all the gravity of my directly or indirectly voluntary faults.  God alone knows me thoroughly; the secrets of my heart are perfectly open only to His gaze.
(The Three Ages of the Interior Life, part 1, chapter 1 ¶9)

On the surface, this may seem to argue against the necessity of Confession: if only God knows what is in my soul, if even I myself can’t clearly see and know it, then why on earth should I tell my sins to another human being, a person who may know nothing about me? Why not just confess to God instead and let that be the end of it?

First, I would say that 1) confessing to God, and, 2) confessing to a priest in the Sacrament of Confession do not constitute an “either/or” dichotomy.  Rather they constitute a “both/and” unity.  We do both.  In fact, I don’t know that it is possible to make a good confession to a priest without having first made a good confession to God.  Confessing to a priest does not replace confessing to God… it adds to it.

I am highly uncomfortable with the notion of confessing to God and letting that be the end of it.  It seems so… easy.  So… convenient and comfortable.  So… undemanding of personal accountability and responsibility, personal freedom and action, personal reaching out and striving.  It’s one thing to pray to God in privacy.  It’s another thing to speak your sins out loud to a human ear.

In the private confession to God, I think there’s the danger of complacency and pride, the danger of it becoming routine and mechanical–“All I have to do is get down mutter some words, and then I’ll be scott free.  OK, yeah, sorry God, I won’t do it again.  We’re good now, right?  See ya!”  On the other hand, I have yet to meet anybody who harbors complacency and pride while standing in line outside a confessional.  Truly, I don’t think it’s possible.  And it never becomes routine or mechanical either; it doesn’t matter how many times I go to Confession–each time seems like the first time.  Easy, convenient, comfortable, undemanding–no way.  It takes heart, it takes devotion, it takes courage, it takes will.  And doesn’t God deserve that?  If you want to be reconciled with God, must you not put everything into it?  Heart, soul, mind, and body?  Do that, and God will do all the rest.

So, confessing to a priest instills humility and conscientiousness and it calls us out of ourselves–it demands a selfless act, a giving of self.  It demands making a connection with another.  Ultimately, it’s about giving ourselves and making a connection with God.  Believe me, I wouldn’t go through with Confession if it weren’t all about God–who would?  And the Sacrament, by its nature, brings that connection to a concrete, human level.  It brings us the experience that the sinners in the Gospels had–facing Christ on a concrete, human level, being before Him in all their weakness and brokenness and wickedness, and hearing Him say in a human voice, “Your sins are forgiven. Go and sin no more.”  That’s a much different experience than praying in silence.  It’s a more certain experience.  Again, not a replacement for prayer, but a powerful addition to it.  A powerful living out of it.

Is it not apparent that sacramental Confession has benefits and sound reason to it?  Is it not clear that we are bound to the Sacrament for our own welfare, as well as for love of God?  I cannot imagine my life without it.  I can’t imagine my soul being sustained without it.  I feel that I would be lost in very dangerous waters without it.  I would forever be second-guessing myself, wondering if I couldn’t perhaps do more to be reconciled with God and pledge to Him my good faith.  That would be agonizing!  There would be no liberty or re-assurance in that.

Walking out of the confessional with the glorious declaration of absolution still sounding in your ears–that’s true liberation.  That is just as irreplaceable as prayer.  And I, for one, am grateful for it!  Being deprived of it for a couple of days was enough to make me appreciate it.

The blog Fallible Blogma is running a poll on the best Catholic speakers for 2009.  You can vote only once, but your vote can include up to 10 selections!

I was alerted to this poll by my friend Monica Ashour, who happens to be one of the nominees.  She is an outstanding speaker and teacher on Theology of the Body.  She’s the director of our local ToB apostolate, Theology of the Body Evangelization Team (TOBET), which I’ve mentioned a few times before.  I can’t recommend Monica or TOBET highly enough for ToB talks.

As you’ll see, however, that poll includes many wonderful speakers who deserve recognition.  So why don’t you go vote for your favorites!

My visit to the doctor went all right on Tuesday; many thanks to all who have kept me in their thoughts and prayers.  Everything was normal in the physical exam, but the blood work may reveal hidden things.  They are checking for anemia and thyroid abnormalities that may be causing or contributing to fatigue and other depression-like symptoms.  These have been my main concerns.

I bravely faced 4 needles while there–and I do mean bravely, because needles scare the living daylights out of me!  Including a tetanus vaccine which has left my arm sore for nearly 3 days and made it very hard for me to sleep–because naturally, I have the habit of wanting to sleep on that arm!  I’ve been like walking death for the last couple of days.  But it’s over now.

Now, if the insurance company will just let me get my one prescription filled… that’s another story.  You wouldn’t think there would be a story.  Given how much I’ve paid them, you wouldn’t think they would make it a hassle to get one prescription filled.  SIGH.

I’m just glad that I’m getting a handle on my physical condition.  Honestly, I think I’ve blamed all of my problems on grief for too long, while ignoring the possibility of medical conditions–treatable conditions.  Not that I’m “over” the grief, but I fear it may have become a convenient scapegoat in some cases.  I never imagined that could happen.

The important thing is that I’m making an effort to make things better.  I just can’t stand everything being in shambles any more!  Hopefully, positive things will start happening in the near future.

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St. Catherine of Siena, pray for us!
(Image from a painting at St. Catherine of Siena Parish, Metairie, Louisiana)

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