I recently uncovered a sliver of positive news buried beneath the stories about celebrity shenanigans, murders and kidnappings, the high unemployment rate and the stagnant economy, and TV shows about serial killers and serial sex – this daily tsunami of sin and misery.
The story told of a mining town in Bolivia that built a statue of the Blessed Mother and the Child Jesus almost as tall as the Statue of Liberty.
Just moments into the discussion, I knew where it was going. A group of women had gathered over coffee, and for reasons that now escape me, the topic turned to the homeless.
"You know what I don’t understand?" one woman began rather stridently. "Where are their families? Why should their care be left to government hand-outs and charities?"
"Yeah," several women agreed. "Don’t the homeless have families to care for them?"
If the conclave of 2005 was about continuity – extending the legacy of John Paul II by electing his closest theological advisor as his successor – the conclave of 2013 was about governance.
The College of Cardinals came to Rome convinced that the incapacities of the Roman Curia over the previous eight years had become a serious obstacle to the Church’s evangelical mission; their experience in the General Congregations prior to the conclave hardened that view. So the cardinals elected a proven reformer whose age on assuming the papacy meant that he wouldn’t have to play a long game, but could move swiftly to repair what needs repairing in what Blessed John Henry Newman allegedly referred to as the "engine room" of the Barque of Peter.
What needs repairing, down there below decks?
According to a Jewish proverb, "God could not be everywhere, so he made mothers." This is a fine, enduring sentiment. I do think, however, that by reversing the statement, we come closer to the truth: "God could be everywhere and proved it by creating mothers." This image is consistent with the American novelist William Makepeace Thackeray’s comment that "‘Mother’ is the name for God in the lips and hearts of little children."
A mother is not a substitute for God, but acts more like a medium that transmits God’s beneficence to others. One might object, of course, that fathers also do this. This is true enough. But there is something of special privilege about the way a mother reveals the presence of God. It is as if she had had, in some mysterious way, a face-to-face experience of God. This claim may be more plausible if we understand Mary’s role as the spiritual prototype of all mothers.
Before another Easter season is history, I thought that a column on Easter customs, practices and traditions could be helpful. There is so much superstition and confusion about such topics in the secular media, as well as academia, whose biases and preferences are not trustworthy.
First, Easter is the summit of all liturgical celebrations; it outranks all other Christian feasts and festivals, with a special post-Easter Octave. "Easter" is our English word for the great festival of Resurrection from the grave. Hence, everything about Easter itself is especially sacred. Problems arise for the most part when various peripheral aspects of the Greatest Festival are discussed or applied.
Which brings up the topic of "the Easter Rabbit," which became the target of various journalistic pieces recently (as usual). According to Father Francis X. Weiser, the initial reference to the "Easter bunny" appeared among the peoples of Northern Europe and Christian Asia. Rome, he says, adopted the symbolism about two centuries later. The Easter Rabbit, while never seen as a religious ikon, was nonetheless an ancient reminder of fertility. Indeed, the rabbit and hare have long been associated with Easter festivities linked to children, and "candy-like" replicas date at least from two centuries ago, in Germany, for example.
Each weekend as we gather together to celebrate Mass, or on those special occasions when we gather to celebrate the sacraments of baptism or matrimony or even a funeral Mass, we do so with the belief that our great nation provides us with this freedom. In essence, we take for granted the privilege to worship which so many fought and died to achieve and which still eludes too many people in this world.
To enter Westminster Abbey is to enter into the history of Great Britain. Not only monarchs but also many artists are honored there. In Poets Corner, I was drawn especially to the memorial for Gerard Manley Hopkins. Hopkins was an Anglican convert to Catholicism, a man who became a Jesuit priest, teacher and poet, though one who remained unpublished in his lifetime. If you are familiar with Hopkins’s poetry, it is probably at least through the work he considered his masterpiece, "The Windhover." In this sonnet, written in his Welsh-influenced "sprung rhythm," he captures the flight of a falcon above the Welsh landscape, finding in the majesty of the bird, caught in "the achieve, the mastery" of flight, a sign of Christ and his presence in the world.
The passing of our most recent Mother's Day, along with my work in poor villages in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, have made me take a fresh view of the enormous sacrifices that women make for the sake of our children, present and future. In our country, flowers, cards, dinners out and a special day mark motherhood, childbirth, a life experience which is accepted as hard work, but which has a fruitful outcome almost guaranteed. Here, with an experienced physician or midwife in charge, along with a small platoon of supporting personnel, a woman labors knowing with near certainty that her life as well as that of her unborn child is not in jeopardy.
How We Became
A Nation Of Heretics
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In recent years, in our academic world, we have heard about the Post-Modern Age. While our understanding of this mindset is still a bit hazy, the evidence is clear that many things have changed. Traditional moral values have been relativized and many of our cultural absolutes have vanished. The old standards have been questioned. How has all of this played out in our mainline Christian churches?