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Pope Benedict farewell

With humility he came to the papacy, and with humility he left.  Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI bade farewell to the public world today.  I’m still taking it in.  The Church is pope-less for a time.  Sedes vacans.  While I was watching videos of his departure from Vatican City, I felt awe at the fact that I was witnessing such an historical moment.  I also felt a touch of sadness.  But I know Papa Benedict will be a great prayer-warrior for the Church and the world, and I am grateful for that.  I hope and pray that this gentle scholar–that is how I will always remember him most–will enjoy serenity and some refreshment for the rest of his days.  I hope he will continue to bless us with his writing as well.

At the same time, let us pray very hard for the cardinals who will be in the upcoming conclave.  As Papa Benedict himself said in his farewell address to them, the future pope is among them.  We must pray for their discernment, for their careful attention to the voice and motion of the Holy Spirit.  In addition to praying for the college of cardinals as a whole, perhaps you might want to adopt a cardinal and pray for him in particular.  I am praying for my adopted cardinal, Cardinal Peter Erdo of Hungary.

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A blessed Fourth of July to my country and fellow citizens!  This day marks the birth of the United States as a free nation, determined not to suffer tyranny any longer.  It is a nation founded on the belief that man is free by nature and by the dignity bestowed upon him by his Creator.

Of course, like all human endeavors, the reality has not fully lived up to the ideal.  Many of the same men who declared that this was a free nation and that all men were created equal were also slave owners.  The nation was less than a century old when a massive civil war broke out, bringing extreme misery to people on both sides.  People who came here from many other nations in search of relief from poverty, famine, war, oppression, and other forms of distress and injustice often found themselves suffering from the very same things after they’d arrived here.  From the beginning of this nation right up until this very day, some people have been less free and less equal than others.  Of course, this is not only the reality of the United States; it is the reality of the entire fallen world.

But there is another reality both in this country and in this world.  A reality made up of saints and heroes and leaders and peacemakers and ordinary people winning everyday victories over afflictions great and small, public and private.  Mercy, justice, charity, steadfastness, resourcefulness, cooperation, humility, gratitude, grace, steadfastness, reason, ingenuity–these are some of the countless threads that make up the fabric of this reality.  And while this reality may seem more feeble than the other, though it may at times seem non-existent, this reality has in fact underlain all of human history.  While it may be difficult to discern among immediate circumstances, we will always find when we look back that it stretches away in a great swathe.  Oh, it may be battered and torn in some places, but in others it shines forth radiantly and completely intact.

What condition it will be in moving forward is for us to decide.  We always have a choice–always–which fabric we will lay down.  In times when other people are intent to impose the more dismal reality over us, even if they are able to do so in a very powerful way, even then, we still have a choice!  We have the choice to strive to overcome it!  The Founding Fathers were not wrong about man’s freedom and dignity.  They are ours by nature, and we exercise them every time we make a choice which path we will follow and every time we choose to stand against adversity!

It doesn’t matter if we be in chains or in prison, if we be poor or hungry, young or old, rich or poor, male or female–we still have our freedom and dignity.  Race doesn’t determine it, nor ethnicity.  No circumstance in this world determines it.  Our own choices and deeds determine it, and the eyes of our God, who alone can see clearly what is occurring inside a person.  A man may appear to others to be utterly worthless, defeated, and a failure–Christ appeared that way as He hanged dead upon the cross.  But it wasn’t true of Him, and it needn’t be true of us.  Because of Him, even death itself is nothing but a final obstacle to overcome!

Let us declare our independence from the harsh ways and harsh circumstances of the world–we may not be able to change them, at least not on the surface, but we can nevertheless declare independence from them and refuse to serve them.  Let us declare our independence from the Tyrant who seeks the deception, degradation, and eternal ruin of our souls, and from all who have chosen to serve him.  Let us declare our independence from all that troubles, tempts, misleads, and holds us captive.  Let us strive to become saints, heroes, leaders, peacemakers, and victors no matter what happens or who tries to exert power over us.

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are free to us all.  Nobody can give them to us or take them away from us.  We have only to choose them and strive for them.

I finally made it over to the Meadows Museum at Southern Methodist University to see their marvelous exhibition of some of the illuminated manuscripts that were taken from the Vatican to Toledo, Spain during Napoleon’s occupation of Rome.

What a blessing that these books–some of them from the early Middle Ages–were saved and preserved in all their original beauty and splendor!  The details, the colors, and the gold leafing were so vivid, almost as if the books were brand new.

The artistry and imagination that went into them is truly mind-blowing.  Part of the exhibition was a short film about how manuscripts were made–how animal skins were turned into vellum, how inks and quills were made and used, how the writing was done so neatly, how the books were bound and ornamented.  I can’t even imagine doing such work by hand.

Among many other things, I got to see an early 15th-century Dominican breviary, made for a community of nuns.  The illumination that was displayed included a little picture of St. Dominic handing books to some nuns.

If you are in or near Dallas, you really should visit the exhibition if you haven’t already!  It runs through April 23.  Click the banner for more info.

About the same time that I received St. John Berchmans as my Patron Saint for 2011, Pat McNamara posted the story of the miracle that finalized his canonization!  A stunning miracle it was!  It happened in 1866, in a tiny rural town in southern Louisiana called Grand Coteau.  The recipient of the miracle was Mary Wilson, a young Catholic convert who had entered the convent at the Academy of the Sacred heart.

Here is an excerpt from Mary’s testimony:

I do not think I had eaten an ounce of food for about forty days. During that time I had taken nothing but a little coffee or tea, which for a week before I recovered I could no longer take. And for two weeks no medicine had been administered. The doctor said it was useless to torture me more. So, he stopped giving me any. The last two days I was unable to take even a drop of water. I endured the pangs of death. My body was drawn up with pain; my hands and feet were cramped and as cold as death. All my sickness had turned to inflammation of the stomach and throat. My tongue was raw and swollen. I was not able to speak for two days. At each attempt to utter a word, the blood would gush from my mouth.

Being unable to speak, I said in my heart: “Lord, Thou Who seest how I suffer, if it be for your honor and glory and the salvation of my soul, I ask through the intercession of Blessed Berchmans a little relief and health. Otherwise give me patience to the end. I am resigned.” Then, placing the image of Blessed Berchmans on my mouth, I said: “If it be true that you can work miracles, I wish you would do something for me. If not, I will not believe in you.”

I can say without scruple of fear of offending God: I heard a voice whisper, “Open your mouth.” I did so as well as I could. I felt someone, as if put their finger on my tongue, and immediately I was relieved. I then heard a voice say in a distinct and loud tone: “Sister, you will get the desired habit. Be faithful. Have confidence. Fear not.”

I had not yet opened my eyes. I did not know who was by my bedside. I turned round and said aloud: “But, Mother Moran, I am well!”

Then, standing by my bedside, I saw a figure, He held in his hands a cup, and there were some lights near him, at this beautiful sight I was afraid. I closed my eyes and asked: “Is it Blessed Berchmans?” He answered:” Yes, I come by the order of God. Your sufferings are over. Fear not!” For the glory of Blessed John Berchmans, whose name be ever blessed! I deem it my duty to declare here, that from the moment of the cure I never experienced the slightest return of my former ailments.

It is exciting that this incredible story took place not too terribly far from my neck of the woods.  I will have to try to get down there for a visit!

I read at that St. John died before he could be ordained a priest.  So it is not surprising, and indeed it is wonderfully fitting, that he would obtain a miracle for another person who was facing death before entering religious life.  It’s a powerful and reassuring reminder of the bonds that exist between the Saints and us.  Let us thank and praise God for giving us the Communion of Saints!

Thanks to Mr. McNamara for sharing this story, and to the kind reader, Mr. Bertrand, who sent me a link to it!

I’d never heard this story before, but just happened upon it in the UK’s Catholic Herald The Priests who Survived the Atomic Bomb.  Here’s an excerpt:

August 6 is also an important date in world history: the fateful day on which the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in Japan. On that day, a Monday, at 8.15 in the morning, an American B-29 bomber, Enola Gay, dropped its bomb “Little Boy”, which fell to a predetermined detonation height of about 1,900 feet above the city. It exploded with a blinding flash, creating a giant fireball, which vaporised practically everything and everyone within a radius of about a mile of the point of impact. It is estimated that up to 80,000 people were directly killed by the blast, and by the end of the year, that figure had climbed considerably higher, due to injuries and the effects of radiation. Over two thirds of the city’s buildings were completely destroyed.

But in the midst of this terrible carnage, something quite remarkable happened: there was a small community of Jesuit Fathers living in a presbytery near the parish church, which was situated less than a mile away from detonation point, well within the radius of total devastation. And all eight members of this community escaped virtually unscathed from the effects of the bomb. Their presbytery remained standing, while the buildings all around, virtually as far as the eye could see, were flattened.

Fr Hubert Schiffer, a German Jesuit, was one of these survivors, aged 30 at the time of the explosion, and who lived to the age of 63 in good health. In later years he travelled to speak of his experience, and this is his testimony as recorded in 1976, when all eight of the Jesuits were still alive. On August 6 1945, after saying Mass, he had just sat down to breakfast when there was a bright flash of light.

Since Hiroshima had military facilities, he assumed there must have been some sort of explosion at the harbour, but almost immediately he recounted: “A terrific explosion filled the air with one bursting thunderstroke. An invisible force lifted me from the chair, hurled me through the air, shook me, battered me [and] whirled me round and round…” He raised himself from the ground and looked around, but could see nothing in any direction. Everything had been devastated.

He had a few quite minor injuries, but nothing serious, and indeed later examinations at the hands of American army doctors and scientists showed that neither he nor his companions had suffered ill-effects from radiation damage or the bomb. Along with his fellow Jesuits, Fr Schiffer believed “that we survived because we were living the message of Fatima. We lived and prayed the rosary daily in that home.”

The Franciscan Friary in Nagasaki also survived the bomb that was dropped on that city on 9 August.  This friary had been founded by St. Maximilian Kolbe, who had died in Auschwitz almost exactly 4 years before the bombing.

The article makes an interesting connection between the atomic bombs and the miracle of the sun at Fatima:

Consider, too, that the poor people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki suffered as man-made “suns” exploded in their midst causing horrific devastation.

I’d never really thought about that before, but nuclear bombs are pretty much “man-made ‘suns'” aren’t they? Perhaps there was a very specific warning in that miracle of the sun.  A warning that became horrific reality in Japan in 1945, and might possibly become reality again elsewhere in the world at most any time.

This story should definitely be better-known, and we should re-dedicate ourselves to living out the message of Fatima.

At a recent general audience, Pope Benedict was speaking about the Church’s ability to constantly renew and reform herself and the society around her in every time and place, and he used the example of the Mendicant Orders that arose in the 13th century: the Dominicans and Franciscans.

Aside from my joy that the Holy Father spoke about Dominicans, it also gave me great joy to hear him speak about the Medieval Church and Medieval Saints.  It was a very different age, of course, and yet I always find that it resonates with me.  I don’t think it was as different as we may think today.  The word “medieval” has a connotation today that is far more negative than it deserves.

In fact, the Medieval Church was dealing with some of the same issues our modern Church faces: issues such as the role of the laity, the universal call to holiness, the relationship between faith and reason, and the necessity of the Church’s voice in the academy and in society at large.

Not a few lay faithful, who lived in greatly expanding cities, wished to practice a spiritually intense Christian life. Hence they sought to deepen their knowledge of the faith and to be guided in the arduous but exciting path of holiness. Happily, the Mendicant Orders were also able to meet this need: the proclamation of the Gospel in simplicity and in its depth and greatness was one objective, perhaps the main objective of this movement. … They dealt with themes close to the life of the people, especially the practice of the theological and moral virtues, with concrete examples, easily understood. Moreover, they taught ways to nourish the life of prayer and piety. … Hence it is not surprising that the faithful were numerous, women and men, who chose to be supported in their Christian journey by the Franciscan and Dominican Friars, sought after and appreciated spiritual directors and confessors.

Thus were born associations of lay faithful that were inspired by the spirituality of Sts. Francis and Dominic, adapted to their state of life. It was the Third Order, whether Franciscan or Dominican. In other words, the proposal of a “lay sanctity” won many people. As the Second Vatican Council recalled, the call to holiness is not reserved to some, but is universal (cf. “Lumen Gentium,” 40). In every state of life, according to the needs of each, there is the possibility of living the Gospel. Also today every Christian must tend to the “lofty measure of Christian life,” no matter what state of life he belongs to!

Ha, did you see that? He linked the 13th century with Vatican II! One of the things I love about being a Lay Dominican is that I am indeed part of a tradition that traces itself all the way back to the 13th century, and yet it remains incredibly relevant and up-to-date. I do sort of wish that the Holy Father had mentioned that these religious third orders still exist and still provide a powerful means for people to seek out the “lay sanctity” that has been talked about so much since Vatican II. We hear lots about “lay sanctity” today… but not nearly enough about the religious third orders. I think we need to work on that.

The greatest thinkers, Sts. Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventure, were mendicants, operating in fact with this dynamism of the new evangelization, which also renewed the courage of thought, of dialogue between reason and faith. Today also there is a “charity of and in truth,” an “intellectual charity” to exercise, to enlighten intelligences and combine faith with culture. The widespread commitment of the Franciscans and Dominicans in the Medieval universities is an invitation, dear faithful, to make oneself present in places of the elaboration of learning, to propose, with respect and conviction, the light of the Gospel on the fundamental questions that concern man, his dignity, and his eternal destiny. Thinking of the role of the Franciscans and Dominicans in the Middle Ages, of the spiritual renewal they aroused, of the breath of new life that they communicated in the world, a monk says: “At that time the world was growing old. Two orders arose in the Church, from which it renewed its youth, like that of an eagle” (Burchard d’Ursperg, Chronicon).

Through the example of the great saint scholars, the Holy Father is calling us to bring our faith into the academy, to “combine faith with culture.”  I can’t help but think that this is a much taller order today than it was in the Medieval period.  I constantly struggle with it.

As a Catholic, and particularly as a Lay Dominican, I consider it my duty and also my right to carry my faith wherever I go–to carry it as a lantern that casts its light around me and before me and upon everything and everybody I come in contact with.  If I did not do so, I would risk not only losing my way, but also losing myself.  And yet there is at least a little part of me that has been manufactured by a very secularist society and a secularist educational system.  And a little voice that always tempts me to keep my faith shut up in a box… to keep my lantern hidden away, my light beneath a bushel basket.

I’m sure the Medieval scholars had their own struggles and challenges–although I can’t imagine that secularism was one of them.   No, secularism is the great challenge of our era.  The challenge for the future Saints now living among us.  Facing it will come down to heroic virtue.  To conviction and to courage.  To God’s grace transforming that little part of us that has been manufactured by our society.

Anyway, I highly recommend reading the full address.  The Dominican Province of St. Joseph (eastern U.S.) has a full translation at their blog.

7 October, one of the most significant days in history.

On this day in 1571, near the Greek town of Lepanto, a joint navy of Christian states dealt a crushing defeat to the Turkish navy, preventing an invasion of Europe.  The defeat was so crushing that it was considered miraculous.

The victory was attributed to the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of the Rosary, Pope St. Pius V having urged all the Catholics in Europe to pray the Rosary for victory.  Pope St. Pius V was a Dominican, and the Dominicans had long been the special custodians and propagators of the Rosary.  Tradition says that the Rosary was given to St. Dominic by the Blessed Virgin herself, as a special weapon against heresy and other dangers.  The victory at Lepanto reaffirmed the Rosary’s power.  This feast day has also been known as the Feast of the Most Holy Rosary.

Pope St. Pius V also gave Mary the title, Our Lady of Victory, and this is one of the titles under which she is Patroness of the United States, my beloved patria!

So, as a Catholic, as a Dominican, and as an American, this feast day is very special to me!

Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us!

Wouldn’t you know… just as I was feeling that I had nothing to write about tonight, I find that a kind correspondent has given me something to share!  And it is something most wonderful!

Many thanks to Mr. Richard Collins from the UK for giving me this story and photos from a very special Mass that took place in celebration of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and–as he reminds me–the 2nd anniversary of Pope Benedict’s motu proprio, Summorum Pontificum, which has liberated the 1962 Mass, what we now know as the Extraordinary Form (EF) of the Latin Mass:

Latin Mass on the Feast of the Holy Cross celebrated in ex Italian PoW Chapel

Mass in the Extraordinary Form was celebrated, on the Feast of The Holy Cross, in a Nissan hut in Henllan, West Wales. The hut is the framework to a small Chapel created lovingly by Italian prisoners of war in the final years of World War II. The original Nissan hut is part of a PoW camp where both German and Italian servicemen were held.

One of the main artists responsible for creating images of St Joseph, Our Lady of Mount Carmel and the Papal Flag, Mario Polito, died only this year. He and his fellow servicemen made pigments from vegetable juices and painted the aisle arches in a fresco style and the sanctuary area and pillars (made of corrugated cardboard) with a faux marble effect.

Tin, from corned (bully) beef tins was used to make candle sticks which look uncannily three dimensional despite being totally flat.

All artwork in the Chapel leads the eye to the primitive painting of The Last Supper in the apse, a lasting testament to the devotion of men held prisoner many miles from their families and loved ones.

The Missa Cantata, in thanksgiving for the second anniversary of the Motu Proprio was celebrated by Father Jason Jones, Rector of the National Shrine of Our Lady in Wales at nearby Cardigan and whose parish embraces Henllan.

What a perfectly beautiful and fitting way to celebrate this feast day and this anniversary–and to honor men who made something good in a bad situation!  Here are some of the photos:

Italian Prisoner of War Camp Mass

Italian Prisoner of War Camp Mass

Italian Prisoner of War Camp Mass

Well done to those who created that sacred space, and to those who still preserve and use it today!

Today we remember the tragic, sudden, and violent loss of 2,996 innocent Americans on 11 September 2001.

This year, I have the special honor and privilege, thanks to Project 2,996, to pay tribute to Paul “Paulie” Ortiz, Jr., aged 21, from Brooklyn, NY.

Paul Ortiz, Jr.

Paul was preparing a conference at the Windows on the World restaurant atop the north tower of the World Trade Center when the tower was struck by a jet liner.

Although he lost his life at the very young age of 21, Paul had created a happy and successful life for himself and his loved ones. He was clearly a hard-working and passionate young man who knew what was most important in life.

Paul was devoted to his wife, Star, and their infant daughter, Rebecca. He worked as a computer technician at Bloomberg, a job and a company he loved. He was also dedicated to and active in his Jehovah’s Witness faith and community. He was a very joyful and caring man, always putting himself at the service of others. Many who knew him remark upon his radiant, unforgettable smile.

This excellent young man will live on in the wonderful legacy of love he has left in his wife and daughter and in everybody who carries his memory in their hearts.

I pray that he has found peaceful rest in God’s eternal light and eternal life, and that God will also grant peace and comfort to his family and friends, especially to Star and Rebecca. May the Lord’s face shine upon them all!

Let us never forget Paul Ortiz, Jr. or any of our brothers and sisters who lost their lives eight years ago. No matter how many years go by, let us never forget!

Related links:

See other tributes at the Project 2,996 blog

Paul’s memorial page at Legacy.com

Paul’s memorial page at 9-11 Heroes

Another blogger’s tribute to Paul from 2006

My tribute to another 9/11 victim, Thomas E. Sabella, from 2006

I just finished watching  A Hand of Peace: Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust.  It’s a beautiful documentary with powerful historical footage as well as interviews with both Christian and Jewish scholars and writers and the priest who is in charge of Pope Pius’s cause for canonization.  It gives the origins of the “black legend” that arose around the pope in the early 1960’s and how this legend  is soundly refuted by basic historical facts.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know how I admire Pope Pius XII and wish for his canonization as soon as possible.  Seeing him in action and hearing his voice was very moving.

I’ve already posted evidence that he was an animal lover.  Here’s some more:

Pope Pius XII with bird

The Holy Father had expected the Holy Spirit to be a bit more impressive in person.

(Yes, I know…  But we just passed Pentecost, and there’s something irresistable about captioning photographs of popes with animals!  I suspect that both Papa Pacelli and the Holy Spirit would be amused.)

Anyway.  I highly recommend this video.  (I learned of that photo from the video, btw.)

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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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