Saturday, February 27, 2010
Make sure to watch for a very handsome Permanent Deacon in this video!
Honestly just watching these videos, my heart overflowed with the love we experienced both times we've attended a Holy Family Fest @ Catholic Family Land... during the week there, in the presence of so many parents and children TRULY doing their very best to live their faith, you are inspired. I was inspired more than ever during both Holy Family Fests we attended.
Visit The Apostolate for Family Consecration for more info.
Thursday, February 25, 2010
Free Lenten Audio Download of 40-Day Divine Mercy Readings (courtesy of The Apostolate for Family Consecration)
The Apostolate for Family Consecration website is www.familyland.org
|The Apostolate for Family Consecration |
Consecrating families to the Holy Family
February 24th, 2010 by Peggy Bowes
I recently walked into a local store and was enthusiastically greeted by a teenaged employee who admired the bag I was carrying. We chatted for a few minutes, our twenty-five year age difference overcome by our common interest in a woman’s most important accessory. Not surprising really, as the search for the perfect bag begins early in life.
Even a toddler realizes that a purse reflects who she is as she debates which Disney princess should be featured on her starter bag. After all, the right bag says “I’ve arrived! I’m stylish! I’m somebody!” No wonder so many women splurge on designer handbags that cost more than their mortgage payment.
If a handbag reflects who a woman is, then the things she carries inside are tools for her success — a matching wallet filled with credit cards, lipstick in the current color palette, the must-have smart phone, a stack of business cards, perfect designer sunglasses, and keys to a luxury car. Handbag contents are even the subject of celebrity interviews. My favorite fashion magazine asks the cover model, “What’s in your bag?” as if its contents will somehow reveal the secret to her fame and fortune. Gullible readers rush out to purchase the same products, hoping for similar results.
There is one event in a woman’s life that will forever alter her choice of handbags — motherhood. Suddenly the designer label is not as important as the function of the bag. It must be easy to clean, have lots of pockets and compartments, and not fall apart when chewed by teething babies. The contents also reveal a shift away from self. I’ve seen women pull band-aids, bibs, juice boxes, miniature cars, sunscreen, and even portable DVD players out of enormous purses.
Like all earthly treasures, the allure of the perfect handbag fades over time. It gets soiled, the stitches come undone, or it is simply no longer in vogue. It must be cast aside and replaced. Likewise, as a woman matures, she realizes that her words, actions and accomplishments better reflect who she is than her handbag. Its contents, or tools for her success, change as well. They are more practical – a coupon organizer, a pack of tissues, hand sanitizer, and keys to a minivan.
My own handbag and the things I carry in it have gradually changed to reveal the person I have become. I still like to carry a stylish bag, but the contents have evolved to emphasize my inner beauty rather than my outward appearance. My handbag is merely an earthly treasure, but it can carry the tools to help me store up treasures in heaven. In the pocket next to my lipstick is a small container of holy water. A zippered compartment holds a prayer book, an assortment of holy cards and a booklet to examine my conscience before Confession. My rose-scented Rosary is neatly contained in a case with a picture of St. Therese of Lisieux. A Sunday bulletin is stuffed in a side compartment. Even my keychain proclaims my faith with the Sacred Heart Auto League logo and a request to call a priest in the event of an accident.
With these tools at my disposal, I can use those idle moments in my day to direct my focus toward heaven, where I hope to some day shout with joy, “I’ve arrived!”
Peggy Bowes, a devout Catholic, is the author of The Rosary Workout – available soon. She graduated from the US Air Force Academy in 1988 and served nine years as an Air Force pilot and Health and Wellness consultant. After leaving the military to raise a family, Peggy continued her education in the fitness industry by becoming certified as a personal trainer, Lifestyle and Weight Management Consultant and Spinning® instructor. She established a successful and rewarding business in metabolic and athletic performance (VO2) testing, with an emphasis on weight loss counseling. Peggy is also very active in parish life. She has been a lector, CCD teacher, and Little Flowers Girls' Club leader. She also enjoys triathlons, hiking, adventure races, and other sports as she incorporates all the benefits and blessings of The Rosary Workout. Peggy and her husband and two children currently reside in North Carolina.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Thanks to a dear friend who told me about her success with the "Eat-Clean" plan, our family will dive into this in the next few weeks.
Pat & I are really excited about this new phase of our lives -- eating the healthiest we have in years. Our recent weight loss has motivated us to make the life changes necessary to stay healthy as well as thin (I'm definitely not there YET, but am on my way back to my pre-Redding thin-ness, as Mackenzie would say).
I'm really enjoying spending tons of time in the kitchen cooking & preparing foods with my born-chef, Mackenzie! This girl amazes me.
The best part about Pat & I embarking on this healthier eating is that our two youngest are still home and will learn to eat this way, too. "CHILDREN LEARN WHAT THEY LIVE" -- I used to have a poster that said that...now I realize how true that really is!
That small clarification made, it may nonetheless be asked whether the proposition “Murder is bad” really required all the smoke and thunder of Sinai. Everybody knows murder is wrong. So why command something that everybody already knows and accepts?
Because we only know it sporadically, and the same faculty we use for making legitimate distinctions (as in the first paragraph above) can, under the influence of sin, also be used to make excuses for ignoring this basic principle of natural law. Situations arise in which we have to be reminded that what we know to be true and right in happy moments continues to be true and right even when the temptation to murder can be very strong indeed.
Our culture is chockablock with examples of this. We modern westerners wonder how it could be possible the Germans were capable of exterminating 11 million people in their mad zeal for racial hygiene. But the reality is that they gave exactly the same rationales we give for our extermination of four times as many people since 1973 in the US alone: by re-defining the victim so as to exempt ourselves from guilt for violating the commandment. Jews, Poles and Gypsies were re-classified as untermenschen or even “bacteria” (it was all very scientifically worded) and their deaths were treated like the death of cattle—“no innocent human beings were harmed in the making of this Holocaust”. We do the same trick: reclassifying babies as “fetal material” (another tidy scientific-sounding euphemism).
Why do we do labor to justify murder? For the same reason the Nazis did it: because we regard it as a matter of us vs. them self-preservation. They believed anything was justified to preserve the Volk from their own delusional fears of racial impurity. A culture of death is a culture of fear and the Germans whipped themselves into a frenzy of fearful hatred of six million innocent men, women, and children and killed them as enemies of the state and the Volk. We have whipped ourselves into a frenzy of fear of responsibility for our choices and believe anything is justified to preserve ourselves from the burden of raising a “parasite” (as the pro-choice rhetoric so delicately puts it). Ends justify means: the usual excuses.
Another trick we often use to justify the taking of innocent human life is the Minimum Daily Adult Requirement approach to Catholic moral teaching. This involves that notion that the Ten Commandments describe the uppermost limits of human achievement. So, for instance, when a nation is in the grip of war fever (as ours was in 2003), Just War requirements (which are intended to make it extremely difficult to go to war), get treated as a sort of imprimatur and blessing on war instead of that they are: a set of hard-to-satisfy requirements that aim to fill us with very grave doubts about the wisdom of ever taking this horrible step. Rather than seeing Just War requirement as a massive restraint intended to remind us of the gravity of war, we labor to jerry-rig arguments (often very specious ones) to show that Just War requirements are “satisfied” and then, once we have skated past these, we go to war with alacrity and eat popcorn while boasting about the cool “shock and awe” visual effects on the nightly news. Those who are eager to go war are fairly easy to spot: they tend to be itching to fudge the definitions, to claim that Special Circumstances make it okay to ignore this or that particular criterion, and to be quick to make much the same sort of appeals about the need to bring Just War doctrine “up to date” as abortionists do when they talk about “updating” our definitions of “innocent”, “human” and “life.”
In all this, we see a basic itch to find some way to minimize the Fifth Commandment, just this once, because our particular end is so good and noble, or so desperate and urgent, that surely we can cut a few corners and get on with pulling the trigger. The wheedling voice says, “Look. We’ve jumped through (or given serious thought to jumping through, or convinced ourselves that, in our special case we don’t need to jump through) all the hoops Just War doctrine requires. Now can we start killing?”
Put that baldly, we begin to see the truth about the Ten Commandments, and most especially this commandment: they are given in order to reinforce minimal moral requirements in the face of temporary assaults on reason. They show us, not the height of sanctity, but the bottom-most limits of morality and virtue: if you can’t love your neighbor, at least don’t beat his head in with a baseball bat. It’s important to remember that these bottom limits are merely the bottom, not the heights, of what we are called to in Christ. Merely not killing somebody is not exactly a glittering example of the splendor and holiness of Christ’s love, so boasting that we are “good enough” simply because we observe minimal morality is insufficient. We still need a Savior. Indeed, the Savior himself warns us that the commandment against murder is not satisfied merely because we haven’t actually shot the guy who cut us off on the freeway. As Jesus points out in the Sermon on the Mount, if you hate somebody from the heart, you are already guilty of murder, because the heart is where murder is born.
So God is, as George MacDonald says, easy to please, but hard to satisfy. On the one hand, we cannot pat ourselves on the back as saints merely because we keep a tight lid on our hatred and don’t actually throttle our neighbor to death when he has the loud party. On the other hand, under the power of grace, minimal morality is a starting place in those desperate moments when we are really tempted to murder that jerk at work who has abused us for years. And since God is pleased with our faltering efforts as much as with the great deeds of giants like St. Paul, he can turn the widow’s mite of our struggles with anger into a great spiritual fortune for his glory. The main thing for us to remember is that commandments like the one against murder give us a sure floor to stand on and a limit below which we must not go. But to fulfill our destiny in Christ, we must reach for the heavens and beatitude, through the imitation of Christ and not merely by living up to Minimum Daily Adult Requirement morality.
Friday, February 19, 2010
I cannot understand you when you talk about matters of morals and of faith and you tell me that you are an independent Catholic.
From whom are you independent? That false independence is equivalent to leaving the way of Christ.
– St. Josemaria Escriva, Furrow, #357
I pray all Catholics take this to heart and those who have fallen would return COMPLETELY to the truths of our beautiful Catholic faith!
– St. John Chrysostom
WOW, doesn't this go against our secular American society...to shun luxury? Definitely something worthwhile to ponder during this truly blessed Lenten Season.
"You won't laugh, Father, will you, if I tell you that, a few days ago, I found myself spontaneously offering the Lord the sacrifice of time it meant for me to mend a broken toy for one of my little children?"
I am not laughing. I am delighted because with that Love, God sets about mending our faults.
– St. Josemaria Escriva, Furrow, #986
Thursday, February 18, 2010
Remember our bishops do need our prayers, so please keep each and every one of them in prayer.
ORIGINAL ARTICLE HERE
Hospital decided it could not meet the Catholic standard
In the course of the past several weeks I have focused on what it means for individuals and institutions to be Catholic. I have done this, in part, because of a concern about Catholic colleges and hospitals in general but also, in part, because of very specific discussions I have been having with the administration of St. Charles Medical Center, a Catholic health care institution, in Bend. Over the course of the past several years I have struggled with the difficulty of trying to reconcile some practices ongoing at the medical center with clear Church teaching. In January I wrote: “It is not uncommon for faithful Catholics to question the Catholicity of these public institutions especially when they seem to be expressing and holding public views which are, or strongly appear to be, contrary to the clear teachings of the Church. At what point are these institutions no longer ‘in the communion of the Catholic Church on this earth?’” I have come to the very difficult conclusion, after much discussion and discernment, that it is time to acknowledge that which has become very clear to me, namely, that St. Charles is a community hospital and should no longer be identified as a Catholic institution.
A little history: In the 1970s St. Charles became a community nonprofit organization with the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Tipton, Indiana as the Catholic Sponsors. In 1992 an Association of the Christian Faithful was established with the specific goal of “preserving the unique Catholic character of St. Charles.” This was done because the Sisters determined that they could no longer provide Catholic Sponsorship. Most notable among the Sisters was Sister Kathryn Hellmann, who personally oversaw the progress of St. Charles for many years. In 1992, the Sisters transferred control of the hospital to the board of directors and the Sisters were instrumental in helping establish the Association of the Christian Faithful as the vehicle by which the hospital’s Catholic sponsorship could be maintained.
A specific part of the role of the Association of the Christian Faithful was to assure that there was a clear adherence to both Catholic principles and approved Catholic practices at St. Charles. These specific practices, as well as a summary of the principles, are contained in a document published by the Catholic Bishops of the United Sates titled: “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services” (ERDs). The adopted statutes of the Association of the Christian Faithful, however, did not allow sufficient control over the implementation of the directives at St. Charles and thus the association had no real means of insisting upon adherence to the ERDs. Consequently, the ERDs were viewed as “guidelines” or “suggestions” and compliance with them was understood by the board as both voluntary and optional.
In 2007 the diocese was presented with a report on the level of compliance with the ERDs and that report indicated that there were a couple of areas of grave concern. While the commitment to adhering to Catholic principles was clearly present the same could not be said about adherence to or avoidance of certain immoral medical practices.
I have noted elsewhere that while adherence to the principles in a general way is commendable, that alone does not identify an Institution as Catholic. There must also be an adherence to those practices which are also a part of what it means to be a Catholic institution. Sadly, after having functioned in a particular way for a large number of years the board did not see how it could now align the medical practices of the hospital with the ERDs to a degree that would justify an ongoing sponsorship relationship between the Diocese of Baker and St. Charles.
As bishop, I am responsible for attesting to the full Catholicity of the hospitals in my diocese, a responsibility I take very seriously, and I have reached the conclusion that I can no longer attest to the Catholicity of St. Charles. The board is responsible for the operation of the medical center and for its compliance with the ethical guidelines it deems suitable for St. Charles. The question the board faced was whether it could alter its present practices to the degree required for continued identification as “Catholic.” It was the board’s determination that it could not meet that standard.
I see before me two distressing options. I must either condone all that is being done at St. Charles and its affiliates by continuing a sponsorship relationship or I must recognize that those practices are absolutely contrary to the ERDs and distance myself from them. It would be misleading to the faithful for me to allow St. Charles to be acknowledged as Catholic in name while, at the same time, being morally certain that some significant tenets of the ERDs are no longer being observed there.
This is not a condemnation of St. Charles. It is a sadly acknowledged reality.
I believe the board has acted in good faith over the years because of its understanding that the ERDs were voluntary. The diocese has always presumed full compliance with a proper interpretation of the ERDs until the revelations of the 2007 report.
St. Charles has gradually moved away from adherence to the requirements of the Church without recognizing a major possible consequence of doing so. That consequence is a loss of Catholic sponsorship. Since I see no possibility of St. Charles returning to full compliance with the ERDs and since such full compliance with the ERDs is essential to “Catholic Status,” St. Charles will now be considered solely as a community nonprofit organization, not a Catholic one.
In practical terms there should be very little change in how St. Charles presently functions. One major shift will be the absence of the Blessed Sacrament at the hospital. The chapel will no longer be a Catholic chapel and Mass will no longer be celebrated there. In our secular culture most do not recognize the extreme grace of our Lord’s Real Presence but I suspect his absence from the chapel will be deeply felt.
THIRTY DAYS PRAYER TO ST. JOSEPH (IN HONOR OF THE 30 YEARS HE SPENT WITH JESUS AND MARY)
(Note: This prayer was taken from a leaflet provided by the Josephites and may be said during any 30 days of the year.)
Ever blessed and glorious Joseph, kind and loving father, and helpful friend of all in sorrow! You are the good father and protector of orphans, the defender of the defenseless, the patron of those in need and sorrow.
Look kindly on my request. My sins have drawn down on me the just displeasure of my God, and so I am surrounded with unhappiness. To you, loving guardian of the Family of Nazareth, do I go for help and protection. Listen, then, I beg you, with fatherly concern, to my earnest prayers, and obtain for me the favors I ask.
I ask it by the infinite mercy of the eternal Son of God, which moved Him to take our nature and to be born into this world of sorrow.
I ask it by the weariness and suffering you endured when you found no shelter at the inn of Bethlehem for the Holy Virgin, nor a house where the Son of God could be born. Then, being everywhere refused, you had to allow the Queen of Heaven to give birth to the world's Redeemer in a cave.
I ask it by the loveliness and power of that sacred Name, Jesus, which you conferred on the adorable Infant.
I ask it by the painful torture you felt at the prophecy of holy Simeon, which declared the Child Jesus and His holy Mother future victims of our sins and of their great love for us.
I ask it through your sorrow and pain of soul when the angel declared to you that the life of the Child Jesus was sought by His enemies. From their evil plan, you had to flee with Him and His Blessed Mother to Egypt.
I ask it by all the suffering, weariness, and labors of that long and dangerous journey.
I ask it by all your care to protect the Sacred Child and His Immaculate Mother during your second journey, when you were ordered to return to your own country.
I ask it by your peaceful life in Nazareth where you met with so many joys and sorrows. I ask it by your great distress when the adorable Child was lost to you and His mother for three days.
I ask it by your joy at finding Him in the temple, and by the comfort you found at Nazareth, while living in the company of the Child Jesus.
I ask it by the wonderful submission He showed in His obedience to you.
I ask it by the perfect love and conformity you showed in accepting the Divine order to depart from this life, and from the company of Jesus and Mary.
I ask it by the joy which filled your soul, when the Redeemer of the world, triumphant over death and hell, entered into the possession of His kingdom and led you into it with special honors.
I ask it through Mary's glorious Assumption, and through that endless happiness you have with her in the presence of God. O good father! I beg you, by all your sufferings, sorrows, and joys, to hear me and obtain for me what I ask. (Here name your petitions or think of them.)
Obtain for all those who have asked my prayers everything that is useful to them in the plan of God. Finally, my dear patron and father, be with me and all who are dear to me in our last moments, that we may eternally sing the praises of:
JESUS, MARY AND JOSEPH
"A blameless life,
may we lead,
by your kind patronage
from danger freed."
Sacramento bishop urges easing up on tech devices for Lent - Sacramento News - Local and Breaking Sacramento News | Sacramento Bee
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Sacramento bishop urges easing up on tech devices for Lent
Published Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2010
Bishop Jaime Soto is the first leader of the Catholic Diocese of Sacramento to use a laptop, browse the Internet on his cell phone and read a book on Kindle. He regularly e-mails his priests and reads religious blogs.
But starting today, the first day of Lent, Soto will begin a 40-day, virtual "fast." The bishop is calling on the area's 900,000 Catholics to join him in cutting back on their online connections.
"The computer, or the iPhone or Facebook, have become addictions for many people," Soto said. "During Lent we should look at everything we do and think: How can we exercise moderation?"
Lent is the season of reflection, repentance and spiritual discipline for Christians. The observance begins today, Ash Wednesday, and ends Easter Sunday.
This year, in addition to reminding Catholics to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays during Lent, Soto is asking followers to fast from "needless television, video games, Internet use and social entertainment," according to the 2010 Lenten Regulations and Admonitions. He is not seeking a ban – just restraint.
The rules were posted on the diocese's Web site last week.
The Catholic Church has embraced new technologies in recent years, with Pope Benedict XVI welcoming them as "a gift." Last month, the pope urged priests to use digital communication to preach the Gospel. The Vatican has a YouTube channel and a Facebook account. Several bishops blog.
In his two years as the spiritual leader of the diocese, Soto has urged the faithful to use technology. Most parishes have Web sites. Men training for the priesthood in the diocese now blog about their experiences at Santissimo Sacramento – "The Most Holy Sacrament."
"It demystifies the whole seminary process. … Some people are surprised that we blog; they think we live in a cave or something," said Brian Soliven, 29, a seminarian interning at St. Rose of Lima Church in Roseville. "The blog gives people a peek into our lives."
He said technology will play a vital role in his ministry. Nowadays, he said, the first impression most people have of a parish is not when they walk into a church. "Their first impression is the church's Web site."
While encouraging followers to use media to communicate their message, church leaders also have become increasingly aware that technology can be misused. The pope has warned against "obsessive" virtual socializing. For some, it has taken the place of human interaction, said Bishop Soto.
"People should become less plugged into their iPod and more plugged into the people around you," Soto said.
As she walked out of noon Mass at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, Gloria Hernandez said she was glad to hear the bishop asking for moderation during Lent.
As the mother of three teenagers who are constantly texting their friends, she said she is not sure how they will react to the bishop's call. "Giving up meat for them is not a problem. It's probably easier than giving up their cell phones."
Soto, who carries a bag full of his latest technological gadgets with him when he travels, understands.
He calls his PDA "indispensable," and he signs onto his computer first thing every morning. But cutting back during Lent will give him time to reflect on how he is using technology to further his ministry and communicate God's message, he said.
"I want to have more time in prayer and not be distracted by what's in my inbox."
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
(NOTE: bold, italics, emphasis added)
We still ask ourselves as Ash Wednesday approaches, "What am I doing for Lent? What am I giving up for Lent?" We can be grateful that the customs of giving up something for Lent and abstaining from meat on Fridays during Lent have survived in our secular society. But, unfortunately, it is doubtful that many practice them with understanding. Many perform them in good faith and with a vague sense of their value, and this is commendable. But if these acts of self-denial were better understood, they could be practiced with greater profit. Otherwise, they run the risk of falling out of use.
A greater understanding of the practice of self-denial would naturally benefit those who customarily exercise it during Lent. Better comprehension of self-denial would also positively affect the way Christians live throughout the year. The importance of self-denial can be seen if we look specifically at fasting and use it as an example of self-denial in general. Indeed, fasting, for those who can practice it, is a crucial part of voluntary self-denial.
But since we live in a consumerist society, where self-indulgence rather than self-denial is the rule, any suggestion to fast will sound strange to many ears. It is bound to arouse the questions: Why is fasting important? Why must a Christian practice it? Using these questions as a framework, we can construct one explanation, among many possible ones, of the importance of self-denial.
To answer the question "Why must the Christian fast?" we should first note that fasting, in itself, is neither good nor bad, but is morally neutral. But fasting is good insofar as it achieves a good end. Its value lies in it being an effective means for attaining greater virtue. And because it is a means for gaining virtue– and every Christian ought to be striving to grow in virtue–there is good reason to fast.
Some people point out that fasting is not the most important thing and, therefore, they do not need to worry about it. Such reasoning displays a misunderstanding of our situation. But, since the excuse is common enough, some comments to refute it are worthwhile.
Doing Small Things Well
First, while it is true that fasting is not the most important thing in the world, this does not make fasting irrelevant or unimportant. There are, certainly, more urgent things to abstain from than food or drink, such as maliciousness, backbiting, grumbling, etc. But a person is mistaken to conclude that he therefore does not need to fast. He should not believe that he can ignore fasting and instead abstain in more important matters. Rather, fasting and avoiding those other vices go hand in hand. Fasting must accompany efforts to abstain in greater matters. For one thing, fasting teaches a person how to abstain in the first place.
Moreover, it is presumptuous for a person to try to practice the greater virtues without first paying attention to the smaller ones. As Our Lord says, "He who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much"  and so can be trusted with greater things. Therefore, if a person wants to be able to abstain in greater matters he must not neglect to abstain in smaller matters, such as through fasting.
Finally, there is a subtle form of pride present in the person who says that because something is not very important, he does not need to do it. Whoever makes such a claim implies that he does only important things. But the average person is rarely called to do very important things. Accordingly, each person is more likely to be judged on how he did the little, everyday things. Even when, rarely, a person is called to do a great work, how often does he fall short? All the more reason, then, for a person to make sure that he at least does the small things well. Furthermore, if he truly loves the Lord, he will gladly do anything–big or small–for him. So, in the end, saying that fasting is not the most important thing is not a good excuse for avoiding it.
What, then, is the reason for fasting? To answer this let us first clarify what fasting entails. It involves more than the occasional fast, such as on Good Friday. To be effective, fasting requires disciplined eating habits all the time. There are certainly days when a person should make a greater effort at abstaining from food and drink. These are what we usually consider days of fasting and they must be practiced regularly. But, still, there are never days when a person is allowed to abandon all restraint. A person must always practice some restraint over his appetites or those periodic days of fasting arc valueless. Always keeping a check on his desires, a person develops good habits, which foster constancy in his interior life. So, in addition to practicing days of fasting on a regular basis, a person should continuously restrain his desires, such as those that incline him to eat too much, to be too concerned with what he eats, or to eat too often. 
We might, then speak of the discipline of fasting in order to avoid the impression that fasting is sporadic. The operative principle behind the discipline of fasting is simple: to limit yourself to only what is necessary for your physical and psychological health–no more, no less. St. Augustine puts it concisely when he teaches: "As far as your health allows, keep your bodily appetites in check by fasting and abstinence from food and drink."  So, fasting is meant only to keep a person's unnecessary wants in check. A person is not– nor is he permitted–to deny himself what is necessary for his health. The discipline of fasting instead asks a person to check his desires for what is superfluous and not necessary.
Realizing True Well-being
Consequently, fasting should not threaten a person's health. And there is no foundation for believing that fasting is somehow motivated by anti-body sentiments. Fasting actually does good for the body by helping it realize its well-being. The body needs to be in conformity with the spirit and this requires such disciplines as fasting. In this way, the body is like a child. Children would never realize their true well-being if their parents never told them "no," but gave in to every one of their desires. In the same way, if a person never says "no" to his bodily desires, his body will never realize its true well-being. That is, the body needs such discipline to be brought into conformity with the spirit. For otherwise, it cannot share in the spiritual blessings of Christ.
This makes perfect sense when we consider that the human person is not just a soul, but is matter as well. A person’s body, too, is to be renewed in Christ. Fasting is one way that a person brings about a harmony between body and soul, so that being made whole he can be one with Christ.
The Christian belief that the body is intimately united to the soul should also make a person suspicious of the opinion that fasting is merely external. External acts stem from the desires of the heart within, as Our Lord says in the Gospel.  So, a person's external acts are linked to his interior desires. The external act of abstaining from food and drink, therefore, clearly affects a person internally. It does not permit his desires within to reach fulfillment. Thus fasting has the ability to keep interior desires in check, which is important for improving a person's interior life.
It is true, of course, that a person should be more vigilant over his interior life than over his external actions. He must be attentive to interior motives, desires, intentions, to make sure that his fasting is affecting his interior life as it ought–and not giving rise to pride, anger, or impatience.
In fact, only by considering the interior self, and how fasting can affect it, does one see the high value of fasting. If someone looks only at the external act of eating, and does not consider the underlying internal desires of the heart, then the value of fasting cannot be seen. For, clearly, there is nothing wrong with the very act of eating. Nor do the enjoyments of food and the pleasures of eating, as such, harm a person. The joys and comforts of eating are good. Like all created goods, they testify to the goodness of God, who made them. Therefore, the enjoyment of eating and drinking manifests the goodness of God. A person ought to see God's goodness in the joys of these things, and give God thanks for them.  The enjoyment of food can then actually help lift the mind and heart to God. 
But by lifting a person's gaze to God, created goods point beyond themselves, to greater joys. Consequently, he who truly enjoys God's goodness in created things, such as food and drink, will not remain attached to them. Rather, he will go beyond them, readily giving them up, in order to enjoy the higher things, which St. Paul says we must seek. 
Seek What Is Better
This might lead some to ask: If the enjoyment of eating does me no harm, and can in fact manifest God's goodness, why sacrifice this joy by fasting? That is, why check my unnecessary desires for what is enjoyable? After all, there is nothing wrong with enjoying food. Why, then, if I enjoy having a snack, or eating fine foods, sacrifice these things? Again, they are not bad or sinful.
The answer is: Because it is better. Having a tasty meal prepared just to my liking is good, but it is better to sacrifice such things. Showing why it is better to fast than to neglect fasting will provide the reason why a Christian is expected to fast.
A Christian must be seeking what is better, and not merely trying to avoid what is bad. This is the only way to live a life of continual conversion, to which we are committed by baptism. The Christian must face decisions with the question: "What is the better thing for me to do?" He must not, when he has a decision to make, approach what he is inclined to do with the justification: "Well, there is nothing wrong with doing it." If that is his approach, then he is not genuinely seeking improvement in his life. Spiritual progress becomes impossible.
Ongoing conversion, to which, again, the Christian must be dedicated, involves going from good to better. This conversion is unreachable for him who in his life refuses to give up the lesser goods in order to attain greater goods. Due to fallen human nature, every person is prone to be complacent. Each of us is reluctant to change his ways. But clearly, if a person has not yet reached perfection, there are certainly greater goods for him to realize. Fasting, in many ways, is simply the choice to give up lesser goods for greater ones, to abstain from the joys of food and drink in order to attain greater joys from God. It seeks for more. If a person ever stops seeking for more, then he has stopped seeking God.
Why is it better to fast than not to fast? Again, we said that the enjoyment of food and drink is good. Enjoying food is not the problem. Fasting does not tell a person not to enjoy eating–I think this is impossible–as much as it says not to seek the enjoyment of eating. A person may take the joys of food as they come, and be grateful for them: but he should not pursue such joys.
True, there are legitimate occasions, such as when entertaining guests, where especially enjoyable foods are procured. But this is done for the sake of hospitality and for lifting up the heart and mind to God in thanksgiving. The joys of food and drink are not sought, consequently, for their own sake but for God's glory. Thus, the person is not really seeking the joys of eating and drinking, as such: he uses them only to pass beyond them to God. Hence, he who uses the joys of eating and drinking rightly will readily give them up. Because fasting is better than not fasting, he will deny himself these joys regularly. "Looking to the reward,"  moreover, he will not often make the excuse that hospitality, or the "need" to celebrate, requires that he allow himself enjoyable foods. In truth, it is more often the case that self-denial and restraint are called for. 
Obstacles To Grace
So, it is not wrong, in itself, to seek tasty, enjoyable food: but still a person should not do so. For when a person seeks the enjoyment of eating, his action is tainted with inclinations to sloth, complacency, and self-love.  That is, his motives are mixed. For when he seeks the joys of food, selfish inclinations are at work in his heart along with whatever good motives there might be. Now, if a person only looks at the external act of eating or the objective value of enjoying food, he will not see this. But, if he honestly looks into the heart, he will see that sloth, complacency, and self-love are present in the desire for the joys of eating. Having such mixed motives is simply part of our imperfect condition in this world.
These selfish inclinations in a person's heart, which are present when he seeks the enjoyment of eating, are the sort of things that hinder a person's growth in holiness and virtue. To grow in holiness and virtue every person needs God's help–we know that a person cannot do it on his own. As Christ says, "Apart from me you can do nothing."  Hence, the help of God's grace is needed to grow in virtue and to live a life of continual conversion. Yet the presence of these inclinations to sloth, complacency, and self-love get in the way of a person's reception of God's grace. They are obstacles to receiving more grace.
Therefore, the Christian, who is dedicated to conversion, must remove these obstacles from his heart, so that he may receive more grace and become a better follower of Christ. A person should not expect God to force his grace on him without his consent. As we know, God chooses to work with a person's cooperation. And, so, he is obliged to work with God to remove these inclinations from his heart as much as possible.
This is done by fasting. For fasting, by checking a person's desires for what is not necessary, teaches him to seek what is sufficient when he eats. When he fasts, he does not seek the enjoyment of food, but is simply seeking what he needs to eat and drink. And since he is no longer pursuing the joys of food, the self-centered inclinations that accompany this pursuit are not allowed a chance to spring up in his heart. A person gives up things he enjoys because in so doing he denies inclinations such as sloth, complacency, and self-love a chance to be active in his heart.
Purifying The Heart
This is why it is better to fast. Fasting removes these obstacles so that being more receptive to God's grace, a person will grow in holiness and virtue. The self-centered inclinations that accompany pleasure-seeking are not directed towards God–therefore, they do not lead the heart to God but away from him. Their presence in the heart creates a divided heart–a heart, which does not completely look to God for its needs. As St. Augustine teaches, a divided heart is an impure heart. 
Purifying the heart, then, will involve denying oneself the pursuits of pleasures in things like food and drink. For thus a person protects his heart from the self-centered inclinations that are bound to coexist with these pursuits.
This provides one answer to the question, "Why must we fast?" (and, by extension, to the question, "Why should one practice self-denial?"). Since, by fasting, a person no longer seeks after the joys of food and drink, the heart is set free to focus more completely on God. By turning away from his concerns for the pleasures of eating, he can turn more wholeheartedly to God. And this, we know is what continual conversion is all about.
By fasting, then, a person turns to God more intently. This is reflected in God's words spoken through the Prophet Joel: "Return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning."  Naturally, a person is reluctant to give up through fasting things he enjoys–but by doing so he turns his attention to God and waits for him. He places his trust in him that he will give him the joy he needs–joys "greater than when grain and wine abound."  But he has to trust and be willing to persevere through the dry times that will accompany fasting. If he puts his hope in God, however, the Scriptures assure him that he will not be disappointed. 
For the sake of his ongoing conversion, then, the Christian must fast. But we might add another, better reason for fasting. Not only does fasting benefit a person's own individual spiritual progress, it also benefits his neighbor.
It is commonly pointed out that fasting can help others by allowing those who fast to increase their almsgiving with the money saved from eating less. But the benefit referred to here is of a different sort. It is due to our being connected with each other through prayer, so that a person's offering of prayer can help others. Now, prayers for others are more effective the more united the person praying is to Christ, since Christ is the source of the benefits gained through prayer. So the more converted a person becomes to the Lord, the more effective his prayers for others: "The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects."  And since fasting aids a person's continual conversion, it strengthens his prayers so that they benefit others more. In this way, he can help his neighbor through fasting.
Moreover, this service to his neighbor through fasting is an imitation of Christ. He offered himself on the Cross for others. A person too, in union with Christ, offers himself through the sacrifice of fasting. In fasting, he has the opportunity to join Christ in offering himself for the sake of others. Thus, even if a person's heart were pure and always free from selfish inclinations–as was Christ's–he should still fast–as did Christ. Through Christ he has the chance of helping others through voluntary acts of self-denial. Christian love is, indeed, eager for such chances to serve others.
So, in a very real way that is clearly visible to the eyes of faith, the Christian must fast out of love of neighbor. He is commanded by Jesus to live in his love.  This love is the love that compels a person "to lay down his life for his friends."  That is, it is the love that compels him to sacrifice his own preferences and desires on behalf of others. And this is what each person is invited to do through fasting– to give up things he enjoys for the benefit of others. And, as we are told, "there is no greater love than this." 
There are good reasons then, why a person must practice fasting and develop disciplined eating habits. Fasting and, by extension, self-denial are important for a person's continual conversion as well as for others who need our prayers. So, the Christian should regularly ask himself, "What do I really need? What can I do without?" and consider the advantages of denying himself even things that are not necessarily bad.
A better understanding of the virtue of denying oneself would undoubtedly benefit our society, where one is taught only how to say, "yes" to what one wants and desires. The practice of self-denial provides a humble yet profound way of giving oneself to God and others out of love, thus breaking the tendency to self-absorption. For, as we have said, self-denial is necessary for helping bring about ongoing conversion, which is sought out of love of God: and one restrains oneself and sacrifices one's desires out of love of neighbor. Love, then–real liberating, sacrificial love–is behind voluntary self-denial.
This article was originally published in the February 2000 issue of Homiletic & Pastoral Review.
 Luke 16:10.
 John Cassian Institutes 5.23.
 Augustine Rule 3.1.
 Luke 6:45.
 1 Tim. 4:3-5.
 The theme of the mind ascending from created goods to God, the Ultimate Good, is common among spiritual writers. The spiritual master, Saint John of the Cross, refers to it in The Ascent of Mount Carmel (trans. Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D., and Otilio Rodrigues, O.C.D., in The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross [Washington, D.C.: Institute of Carmelite Studies Publication, 1979]) 3.24.3-7,3.26.5-7. For a more recent discussion on the subject, see Dietrich von Hildebrand Transformation in Christ (Garden City, N.Y.: Image Books, 1963) 192-193.
 Col. 3:1-2.
 Heb. 11:26.
 For further insights into this subject, see Saint John of the Cross, op. cit.
 See Dietrich von Hildebrand In Defense of Purity (New York: Sheed and Ward Inc., 1935) 150-156.
 John 15:5.
 Augustine The Lord's Sermon on the Mount 2.11.
 Joel 2:12.
 Ps 4:8.
 Rom. 5:5: Ps 22:5.
 Jas. 5:16.
 John 15:9.
 John 15:13.
Lent: Path of Conversion and Openness to Divine Love
VATICAN CITY, 17 FEB 2010 (VIS) - "Today, Ash Wednesday, we begin the Lenten path that lasts forty days and which leads us to the joy of the Lord's Easter", the Pope said at the beginning of his catechesis during today's general audience, celebrated in the Paul VI Audience Hall.
Recalling the formula, "Convert and Believe in the Gospel", the Holy Father affirmed that "conversion means changing the direction of the path of our lives. (.) It is going against the current when the "current" is a superficial, incoherent, and illusory way of life that often drag us down, making us slaves of evil or prisoners of moral mediocrity. Nevertheless, through conversion we tend to the highest measure of Christian life, we trust in the living and personal Gospel who is Jesus Christ. He is the final goal and the profound path of conversion, the path that we are all called to travel in our lives, allowing ourselves to be illuminated with his light and sustained by his strength, which moves our steps".
"'Convert and believe in the Gospel' is not just the beginning of the Christian life, but the accompaniment of all our steps, renewing and penetrating all aspects of our lives. Each day is a moment of favour and grace, (.) even when there is no lack of difficulties, weariness, and missteps, when we are tempted to abandon the path that follows Christ and retreat into ourselves and our selfishness without paying attention to the need to keep ourselves open to the love of God in Christ in order to live the very logic of justice and love".
Benedict XVI emphasized that "faced with the innate fear of our end, and most of all in the context of a culture that tends in many ways to censure reality and the human experience of death, the Lenten liturgy reminds us of, on the one hand, death, inviting us to reality and wisdom, but on the other hand encourages us especially to grasp and live the unexpected newness that the Christian faith reveals in the reality of death itself".
"The human being", he continued, "is dust and to dust it will return, but it is dust that is precious in God's eyes because He created humanity, destining us to immortality. (.) Jesus the Lord also wanted to freely share in human frailty with each person, above all through his death on the cross. But it was precisely this death, full of his love for the Father and for humanity, that was the way of glorious resurrection, the means by which Christ became the source of grace given to all who believe in Him and participate in the same divine life".The Pope highlighted that the distribution of ashes "is an invitation to spend the time during Lent as a more aware and more intense immersion in the paschal mystery of Christ, in his death and resurrection, through participation in the Eucharist and a life of charity that is born of the Eucharist and which finds its fulfilment in it. "With the distribution of ashes", he concluded, "we renew our commitment to follow Jesus, letting ourselves be transformed by his paschal mystery so that we may conquer evil and do good, so that we can let our 'old selves', tied to sin, die and let the 'new person' be born, transformed by the grace of God".
Monday, February 1, 2010
Sacred Music and Your Parish
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One can walk into nearly any parish today and hear almost any type of music, from Gregorian chant to folk music to heavy metal. While most parishes offer one type of music within a given Mass, some parishes even provide a musical contrast within the same one. I actually attended a funeral Mass in which an electric guitar was used alternately with a harp. Figure that one out if you can.
Unusual combinations aside, isn’t it a good thing to have something different for everyone? The old people can listen to chant, the middle-aged people can listen to folk music, and the young people can listen to heavy metal. Everyone gets to be around their favorite music, which is, after all, a large part of what the Mass is all about: personal preferences and self-expression. Right?
Pope Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Ratzinger, stated in The Spirit of the Liturgy that "Not every kind of music can have a place in Christian worship." Although individuals can be naturally drawn to certain types of music, sacred music–which is meant specifically for the liturgy — is not derived from natural tendencies or preferences. Sacred music, like the rest of the liturgy, is not about mere self-expression; it is about receiving and participating in what has been passed down to us, such as Gregorian chant.
Gregorian chant — named after Pope St. Gregory the Great (590-604) — is sacred music of the highest order. In the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium , we are told that
The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services (Art. 116).
Why does Gregorian chant occupy such a central role in the liturgy? Pope St. Pius X (1903-1914) explains in his 1903 instruction Tra le Sollecitudini that
Sacred music should…possess, in the highest degree, the qualities proper to the liturgy, and in particular sanctity and goodness of form, which will spontaneously produce the final quality of universality (No. 2).
The saintly Pontiff goes on to state in the same document that
These qualities [of sanctity, goodness of form, and universality] are to be found, in the highest degree, in Gregorian Chant, which is consequently the Chant proper to the Roman Church, the only chant she has inherited from the ancient Fathers, which she has jealously guarded for centuries in her liturgical codices, which she directly proposes to the faithful as her own, which she prescribes exclusively for some parts of the liturgy… (No.3).
While other types of sacred music (such as polyphony) may be admitted to the liturgy (SC Art 116), Gregorian chant is, according to Pope St. Pius X, "the supreme model for sacred music" (TS No. 3) because of its sanctity, goodness of form, and universality. It has a simplicity, sobriety, and resonance that manifest the beauty of the liturgical action.
The next time you’re at Mass, ask yourself how the music you’re hearing measures up to this supreme model. In many parishes, the goal seems to be the avoidance of this supreme model, rather than the approach toward it. In fact, many Catholics would be surprised to learn that Church authorities have taught anything at all on sacred music, and would probably be even more surprised to learn that specific musical instruments have been named, whether for endorsement or for exclusion.
One of the instruments that has been mentioned is the pipe organ, which can enhance the beauty of Gregorian chant. According to the Council Fathers, the pipe organ "is to be held in high esteem, for it is the traditional musical instrument which adds a wonderful splendor to the Church’s ceremonies and powerfully lifts up man’s mind to God and to higher things." (SC Art. 120). The pipe organ, however, is meant to accompany the singing, not to overpower it.
This "non-overpowering rule" is applicable to any other instruments which might be lawfully admitted into the liturgy, pending the approval of rightful authority (SC Art. 120). It is also pointed out that
This [admittance of other instruments] may be done, however, only on condition that the instruments are suitable, or can be made suitable, for sacred use, accord with the dignity of the temple, and truly contribute to the edification of the faithful (SC Art.120).
Can drums, guitars, and pianos be made suitable for sacred use? Do they accord with the dignity of the temple? Do they contribute to the edification of the faithful? Before these questions are answered, it should be pointed out that while many types of music are inherently good, they are not meant specifically for the Mass. Piano music, for example, can be great entertainment at a social function–but the Mass is not a mere social function, it is the Sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
With this in mind, it is interesting to note that Pope St. Pius X actually banned pianos and drums from the Mass, stating that "The employment of the piano is forbidden in church, as is…that of noisy…instruments such as drums…" (TS No. 19). We can be fairly certain that, had guitars made their way into the liturgy by 1903, our Holy Father would have banned them as well.
This is not to say that such music is inherently bad, but that it is not meant specifically for the liturgy. There is a type of music which, although not appropriate for the liturgy and therefore not called "sacred," is used to teach the Faith and is therefore called "religious". Pope Pius XII (1939-1958) said that
We must also hold in honor that music which is not primarily a part of the sacred liturgy, but which by its power and purpose greatly aids religion. This music is therefore rightly called religious music. The Church has possessed such music from the beginning and it has developed happily under the Church’s auspices. As experience shows, it can exercise great and salutary force and power on the souls of the faithful…when it is used…during non-liturgical services and ceremonies… (Musicae Sacrae No. 36)
Although he does not give specific examples, perhaps Silent Night or We Three Kings of Orient Are — sung in the vernacular–would be examples of such songs which, according to the Pope,
… bring pure and chaste joy to young people and adults during times of recreation …They bring pious joy, sweet consolation and spiritual progress to Christian families themselves. Hence these popular religious hymns are of great help to the Catholic apostolate and should be carefully cultivated and promoted (MS No. 37).
We are told that popular religious hymns should be promoted–but not in the liturgy. Everything good has its place, but the Mass is not the place for everything good.
There is no better way to sum it up than with the words of our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, from his 2007 encyclical Sacramentum Caritatis :
Certainly as far as the liturgy is concerned, we cannot say that one song is as good as another. Generic improvisation or the introduction of musical genres which fail to respect the meaning of the liturgy should be avoided. As an element of the liturgy, song should be well integrated into the overall celebration. Consequently everything–texts, music, execution–ought to correspond to the meaning of the mystery being celebrated, the structure of the rite and the liturgical seasons. Finally, while respecting various styles and different and highly praiseworthy traditions, I desire… that Gregorian chant be suitably esteemed and employed as the chant proper to the Roman liturgy …(No. 42).
We have the clear instructions, now we need more people to read them and carry them out. St. Cecilia, Patroness of Musicians, pray with us that this will happen, for the glory of God and the sanctification of all.
(For more information on sacred music, read Papal Legislation on Sacred Music . Help support Catholic Exchange buy getting Papal Legislation on Sacred Music and The Spirit of the Liturgy from our online store.)
Lord Jesus Christ, take away my freedom, my memory, my understanding, and my will. All that I have and cherish you have given me. I surrender it all to be guided by your will. Your love and your grace are wealth enough for me. Give me these, Lord Jesus, and I ask for nothing more. Amen.
St. Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556)
“For mental prayer…is nothing more than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us. The important thing is not to think much but to love much…Love is not great delight but desire to please God in everything.”
St. Thérèse of Lisieux
"...So I sought in holy Scripture some idea of what this life I wanted would be, and I read these words: 'Whosoever is a little one, come to me.' It is your arms, Jesus, that are the lift to carry me to heaven. And so there is no need for me to grow up; I must stay little and become less and less."
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name. He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation. He has shown the strength of his arm, he has scattered the proud in their conceit. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has come to the help of his servant Israel for he has remembered his promise of mercy, the promise he made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children forever.