Postage for Pakistan and other parts of the planet

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Dignity wells up like a fountain from within

A recently discovered letter from a slave to his former master is not only a tiny masterpiece of American literature, but it shows the indominitable dignity of the human person.

It brings to mind what may be the best scene in the movie Braveheart. In it, Mel Gibson's character William Wallace is trying to rally the troops of the Scottish army. The soldiers are about to disband and flee in the face of their English enemy's overwhelmingly superior numbers.

I see a whole army of my countrymen here in defiance of tyrany. You've come to fight as free men. And free men you are. What will you do with that freedom? Will you fight?
Against that? (He nods toward the English army across the field). No. We will run. And we will live.
And you will live. Aye. Fight, and you may die. Run, and you will live. At least a while. And dying in your beds many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that for one chance, just one chance (!), to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they may never take our FREEDOM!
Men must be free. We were made for freedom. God gave us free will. It's why the Fall happened, right? He wanted to give our original parents the chance to freely love Him and to do so by following His commands. To follow those commands bespeaks trust in Him that He knows what He's doing, that He has our best interests at heart. That is how God asks us to freely love Him. For if love is coerced, it is not love. If loyalty is coerced, it is not loyalty. If conscience is coerced, likewise.

This former slave Jourdan had his freedom long before he left the confines of Col. Anderson's plantation. And now he was simply demanding the respect for his human dignity that the colonel had never fully shown him in Tennessee. He as much says (or at least strongly implies) he would rather die than return and have his or anyone else's dignity assaulted or not respected. Wallace showed his men that choosing to live under tyranny can be a slavery in and of itself, regardless of what a government does to the individual.

Incidentally, the back wages Jourdan is demanding, the $11,680? That would roughly equate to US$165,000 today. I like his style.

Anyway, read the letter, and let me know in the combox: Do you find it as inspiring as I do?

Monday, January 30, 2012

The key to winning this battle

First a little imaginary correspondence ...

Dear Mr. President and Madame Secretary: George Washington said about conscience, "The conscientious scruples of all men should be treated with great delicacy and tenderness; and it is my wish and desire, that the laws may always be extensively accommodated to them." Do his words mean nothing to you? Sincerely, Look in the Mirror

Aaahhh, what did the Father of our Country know, anyway? Your truly, Barack Obama and Kathleen Sabelius

Anyway, something caught my attention today watching Session 6 of Fr. Robert Barron's amazing Catholicism series. He mentioned the scene in Exodus 17:10-13:
So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Am'alek; and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed; and whenever he lowered his hand, Am'alek prevailed. But Moses' hands grew weary; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat upon it, and Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; so his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua mowed down Am'alek and his people with the edge of the sword.
Immediately the relevance to our current situation with the violation of our conscience struck me.

We need troops on the ground. Each of us needs to be a soldier, not in the sense that we pick up a gun, but that we pick our pens, our minds, and our keesters off the proverbial couch and get involved in this really frightening situation. So we need to fight in that sense.

But as the above Scripture passage makes clear, the battle is not to us "troops" alone. Instead, it will be to those who do not lose heart, and it will especially be to those who keep their hearts and minds lifted up in prayer.

You know, it's interesting. A few years ago, I heard from a priest who was there that then-Bishop Jerome Listecki (now the archbishop of Milwaukee) predicted to his priests at a retreat that within 15 years, at least one of them would be arrested simply for preaching the Church's teachings on topics such as homosexuality. This could be the opening salvo in that effort.

I thought the letter by Bishop William Patrick Callahan of La Crosse read at all Masses in the diocese was excellent. It's not available online yet, but when it becomes available, I'll post it.

Until then, I'll leave you with this thought from his blog:
On 23 March 1775, Patrick Henry delivered a passionate speech before the members of the Virginia legislature at St. John's Church in Richmond, convincing them to send troops into the revolutionary war. His highly successful and memorable line stirred the listeners to join him in calling out: "Give me liberty, or give me death."  
Unfortunately, St. John's Church was destroyed by the Confederates during the Civil War. It seems that now, however, in the twenty-first century, we are about to destroy the very concept of liberty itself - or least for some citizens of our country. Catholics are most definitely included in this effort, and, in fact, almost appear to be the targeted group.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

French films ... and we bother with them why?

I have seen some great French films in my time. But sometimes, I gotta admit: I just don't get it.

For instance, I saw this one a while back about a man (he's horrible with women) and his best friend, a woman (she's married and has known the male protagonist since college). So he's a nice guy who just happens whose having love problems, and she's married to a wonderful man with whom there is no passion. Their marriage is in a rut, and their love making is perfunctory.

Male lead reveals to his friend he's having trouble with his girlfriend (he's bad with women but lands a pretty stewardess as his girlfriend ... hmmm). The girlfriend thinks he's a bad kisser, and his best friend offers to see if she agrees with his girlfriend's take. So they kiss. And then they kiss some more. And then ... well, you get the picture.

In the end, she ends up with him and leaves her bewildered husband, whose new wife is severely tempted to do the same thing to him with a man she meets on a business trip. All of it is slowly paced, very little of it is humorous, there is no dramatic tension, the end is largely predictable, and the only point to the film seems to be, "Vive la narcissism! Vive la nihilism! Vive la relativism!"

Now tonight, I watched A Prophet. If I see a review of a film that gets kudos and seems relatively interesting, I put it on my Netflix queue. That's how A Prophet ended up in my mailbox. It's about a guy who won't turn snitch, and so he takes the rap for a crime, and that earns him six years in the slammer. This prison happens to be run, in effect, by the Corsican mafia. They make the crew in any of the Godfather trilogy or the movie Goodfellas or even The Sopranos look like just the nicest bunch of guys in the neighborhood. Malik has no one, knows no one inside or outside, so when he's threatened, "Off a guy who's about to be a star witness at a trial or we'll off you," he feels he has little choice. Now why the French authorities place a material witness for a mafia case in a prison of any type isn't explained. We're just supposed to go with it.

Nor is the amount of freedom these guys have explained. How likely is it that prisoners are allowed to have people in their closed door cells, that they can access prostitutes in the visiting booths, have five person meetings in the capo's cells, and the many other things that do not square with my experience of visiting prisons on tours or visiting prisoners. Either France has really lax security measures for their inmates or this was as about as unreal as anything Hollywood releases.

But I digress. So Malik does the job and thereby starts moving up the criminal ladder. Will he double cross the capo or not? Will he turn to a life of crime or realize just in time that crime simply doesn't pay?

Ah, the suspense of it all. Yes, there are interesting character turns, at least on Malik's part. Why, however, does his friend Fyed turn to crime? After all, he's a husband and father of a baby boy has nothing to gain by doing so (well, nothing unless you watch the deleted scenes)? Too many oddities, curiousities, and questions are left for you to ponder throughout this, let's just put it charitably and say languidly paced film that is over 20 hours long. Sorry. I mean 2 hours long, but at times, it felt like it was 20. As my wife asked, "Is this move never going to end?"

So why do I do it? Why do I keep watching French films?

Because once in a while, just every now and then, I hit the jackpot and see something brilliant, a film with something to say and is bright and bold and beautiful. Take Paris, Je T'aime (i.e., Paris, I Love You), which is a superb movie of 15-20 five-minute vignettes. A few, very few are quite dreary and dreadful. The vast majority, however, sing like birds who are simply happy Spring is here again. The African illegal immigrant who falls in love with the paramedic, the man who learns to love his wife, the middle aged curmudgeon who is hit by love in the most unlikely way, these and more are are just wonderful. La Femme Nikita ... another great film. Every so often, the French, they just hit the nail on the head.

To find these gems, however, you have to slug through so much time wasting crap. It's no different from American cinema, granted. At least with that, though, I know exactly what I'm getting before I get into it. With French films, on the other hand, it's always a flip of a coin.

Anyway, don't waste your time with A Prophet. Lots of nudity, sex scenes, implied sex scene, lots of violence, lots of vulgar language, not for anyone under 18.

Oh, almost forgot: I also saw Get Low with Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, and Bill Murray this week. It's about a recluse named by Felix Bush (serviceably played by Robert Duvall) whose good friend dies. This "good friend" he hadn't seen in who knows how many years. That gets him thinking about his own death and thus his funeral. The only problem is, he doesn't have anyone who would want to attend. See, people in this rural Tennessee town tell all manner of wild tales about him: that he killed a man, that he's insane, that he's a cannibal (well, that one didn't come up, but it may as well have). So he hands Murray's character, Frank Quinn the undertaker, a wad of cash and says he wants to have a funeral and that he wants to be there.

"Oh, you will be," says Quinn. No, Bush tells him, I want it before I die so that I can be there.

The rest of the movie deals with how will they get folks to attend a funeral of a man they don't know anything about except that he scares them and who will be there, alive. Will all of the pieces come together? What will happen at the funeral? What will happen after?

Get Low is a decent, slowly paced film, but that's because, as you might be able to guess, there's not a lot of drama going on. Nothing riveting happened to draw me in and make me care. Even when Bush revealed why did all this, it caught my attention not because I'd come to have feelings for this man. Rather, it was that I'd spent this much time with the film, so I may as well find out why he's such a wounded man of mystery. Get Low wasn't terrible, it just wasn't fantastic. Basically, the best that can be said for it is that it was an interesting twist on the standard redemption tale. Or if your nerves are frazzled and just want a movie that's quiet and and clean and not full of bang-bang shoot-'em-ups, this one's a good call in that way.

Sissy Spacek is marvelous, Bill Murray isn't half-bad, and Lucas Black who plays Murray's assistant in a funeral home turns in the best performance of them all. IMDb says the movie is partially based on a real story. No nudity, one fight scene, no sex, mention of an adulterous affair. Because of themes such as death and Duvall's admitting an affair at one point, as a parent, I wouldn't let anyone under 14 or so watch it.

Finally, Secretariat was good. Saw it finally last night. I'm not normally, "Wow, isn't it great that they showed a strong woman character on screen!" but I did come away thinking that and really admiring Mrs. Tweedy as played by Diane Lane. The always fantastic and underappreciated Lane presents her character as a model of a womanly strength who didn't sacrifice one scintilla of her femininity. You know, it's that old saw: "Why is that if a man is tough, he's just doing what he needs to do to get things done, whereas when it's a woman doing that, she's a b---h?"

Lane's portrayal of Mrs. Tweedy shows there is no contradiction between being a tough woman and being decidedly unb---hy. It's a nice family popcorn movie, with no violence, no nudity or sexual immorality, and only a little bit of adult language (I think I remember a "damn" and maybe one use of the Lord's Name in vain). The only thing to which I objected was that Diane Lane's character was being torn between her vocation and her desire to turn things around for her family of origin's horse business. Sadly, being a good wife and mother (in the sense that she was actually present to her husband and four children) lost out. The movie shows her practicing her vocation over the telephone and by dropping in now and then. That's definitely not positive. Yet the movie also shows how torn she is between her heart's passion and her vocation, so it's not like it just blows off the topic. All in all, a very solid film.

My nation has betrayed me

My nation has betrayed me. My motherland has violated the ideals, the very milk I drank as a babe at her once nourishing breasts, the notions of right and wrong on which she weaned me. My country, my mother has spat upon me as though I was a second class citizen and my conscience no more worth respecting than that of an animal used for lab testing.

She has done so by implementing a rule in the Obamacare law that will force employers – especially religious institutions such as hospitals, schools, etc. – to violate their consciences by providing contraception, sterilization, and abortion as part of the health plans they offer employees.

Oh, what a cruel trick, Mother. To tell me, to make me believe I have basic freedoms. You have taken away my most basic freedom after life itself – the freedom of conscience and to act in concert with that most precious gift – and you will take away more. Mark my words, Mother, you will take away more, and soon.

Oh, what a cruel trick, Mother. To tell me, to make me believe we are a diverse country, and this diversity makes us stronger. To tell me, to make me believe you have valued the contributions of your sons and daughters, my brothers and sisters, whose creed is also mine. That you have valued the men and women who fought and died in our wars, whose sweat erected our buildings and laid our roads, whose artistic endeavors made us shine, whose contributions in the public square made us great. Except it is only the right type of diversity that you want, isn’t it? Except that in your burning, glaring, despising eyes, our creed is like so much used toilet paper: repugnant, unbearable, and best when disposed of as quickly as possible.

Oh, what a cruel trick, Mother. To tell me, to make me believe we ought to have tolerance for opinions different than our own. Except when it comes to my opinion. For that, you reject me from your embrace, you cast me from our family’s home, you disinherit me with your coldness.

Your coldness, dear Mother, your coldness. Well have I imbibed it. I have drunk it to the dregs, and it has made me hot with fury.

Consider this:

·       The Catholic Church in the United States has 68.5 million members (some estimates put it at 77.7 million) representing 22 percent of the nation's population.
·       That makes it the single largest denomination in America. The only countries with more Catholics are, in order, Brazil, Mexico, and the Philippines.
·       In the US, the Catholic Church has the third largest number of churches. Only the Baptists and Methodists, respectively, have more.
·       These cathedrals, basilicas, parishes, and missions are spread amongst 178 dioceses.
·       There are the 18 additional dioceses for the various Eastern rites. This does not count dioceses in overseas territories (e.g., Guam, Puerto Rico, etc.).
·       We have 33 metropolitan archbishops, and at least 17 cardinals.
·       Of the cardinals, at least nine would be electors if a conclave were held today.
·       This doesn't count several archbishops who occupy traditionally cardinatial sees who are simply waiting for the space in the College of Cardinals to open up (canon law allows for only 120 electors, so the red hats are going to archbishops in order of importance, or so it appears).
o   These include Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Los Angeles, whoever gets named to the open seat in Baltimore, and, if Detroit continues to be a cardinatial see (which is open for speculation), Archbishop Allen Vigneron. St. Louis was once a cardinatial see, but hasn’t been since 1979. Keep in mind that the equivalent political rank of a cardinal is a prince.

With all of that is backdrop, will the Obama Administration reconsider their hubris or are they so arrogant, they have convinced themselves the Catholic Church in the United States is a paper tiger?

If so, that tiger is at least fighting.

See what various bishops have said. These are the most heated episcopal statements I can remember in my nearly five decades upon the earth.

It is really hard to believe that it happened. It comes like a slap in the face. The Obama administration has just told the Catholics of the United States, ‘To Hell with you!’ There is no other way to put it.” ~ Bishop David Zubick of Pittsburgh (emphasis mine)

If these regulations are put into effect, they could close down every Catholic school, hospital and the other public ministries of our Church, which is perhaps their underlying intention. What is perfectly clear is that this is a bigoted and blanket attack on the First Amendment rights of every Catholic believer. I am honestly horrified that the nation I have always loved has come to this hateful and radical step in religious intolerance. [We must] vigorously [oppose this] unprecedented governmental assault upon the moral convictions of our faith. Have faith! Have courage! Fight boldly for what you believe! I strongly urge you not to be intimidated by extremist politicians or the malice of the cultural secularists arrayed against us. [As it says in First Letter of John,] ‘the One Who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.’” ~ Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria

In opposing unjust laws, we can positively articulate the truth we have been given. In the weeks and months to come, we can witness to the Catholic belief that sexual relations are a beautiful and integral part of marriage, and that contraceptives rob them of their true and full meaning. If the Catholic Church is forced to comply with this rule, it will be forced to compromise the core principles of its Christian identity. This is a grave violation of religious liberty and is unacceptable. [This action treats pregnancy and fertility] pregnancy and fertility “as diseases instead of gifts. [Pointing to the example of the Servant God Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, he said the] greatest failure [in leadership is for the leader to be] afraid to speak and act as a leader. Today, more than ever, Christianity needs leaders committed to truth in the face of injustice. Imitate the courage of [Cardinal] Van Thuan. Commit to Christian leadership. Let’s join together in witnessing to the truth of the Gospel and the dignity of the human person.” ~ Auxiliary Bishop James Conley of Denver

Although this new rule gives the agency the discretion to authorize a ‘religious’ exemption, it is so narrow as to exclude most Catholic social-service agencies and health-care providers. Under the new rule our institutions would be free to act in accord with Catholic teaching on life and procreation only if they were to stop hiring and serving non-Catholics.” ~ His Eminence Daniel Cardinal DiNardo

The administration’s brazen attempt to attach the binding strings of its secularist agenda to something as basic as health insurance constitutes an unprecedented threat to individual and institutional religious freedom. Never before has the government required private health plans to include coverage for such morally objectionable procedures as contraception and sterilization. In a free society, women and men of faith cannot be compelled to fund medical practices that violate their religious principles.” ~ Archbishop Timothy Broglio, Military Services Ordinariate

Pregnancy is not a disease. We must insist that sterilization, prescriptions, and contraceptives be dropped from the list of preventative services that the federal government is mandating. This is especially important to exclude any drug that may cause an early abortion.” ~ Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn

“[George Washington said,] ‘Conscience is the most sacred of all property.’ Scarcely two weeks ago, in its Hosanna-Tabor decision upholding the right of churches to make ministerial hiring decisions, the Supreme Court unanimously and enthusiastically reaffirmed these longstanding and foundational principles of religious freedom. The court made clear that they include the right of religious institutions to control their internal affairs.

“Yet the Obama administration has veered in the opposite direction. It has refused to exempt religious institutions that serve the common good—including Catholic schools, charities and hospitals—from its sweeping new health-care mandate that requires employers to purchase contraception, including abortion-producing drugs, and sterilization coverage for their employees.

“ ... As Catholic Charities USA’s president, the Rev. Larry Snyder, notes, even Jesus and His disciples would not qualify for the exemption in that case, because they were committed to serve those of other faiths.

Since then, hundreds of religious institutions, and hundreds of thousands of individual citizens, have raised their voices in principled opposition to this requirement that religious institutions and individuals violate their own basic moral teaching in their health plans. Certainly many of these good people and groups were Catholic, but many were Americans of other faiths, or no faith at all, who recognize that their beliefs could be next on the block. They also recognize that the cleverest way for the government to erode the broader principle of religious freedom is to target unpopular beliefs first.

“Now we have learned that those loud and strong appeals were ignored. On Friday, the administration reaffirmed the mandate, and offered only a one-year delay in enforcement in some cases—as if we might suddenly be more willing to violate our consciences 12 months from now. As a result, all but a few employers will be forced to purchase coverage for contraception, abortion drugs and sterilization services even when they seriously object to them. All who share the cost of health plans that include such services will be forced to pay for them as well. Surely it violates freedom of religion to force religious ministries and citizens to buy health coverage to which they object as a matter of conscience and religious principle.

“The rule forces insurance companies to provide these services without a co-pay, suggesting they are “free”—but it is naïve to believe that. There is no free lunch, and you can be sure there’s no free abortion, sterilization or contraception. There will be a source of funding: you.

“Coercing religious ministries and citizens to pay directly for actions that violate their teaching is an unprecedented incursion into freedom of conscience. Organizations fear that this unjust rule will force them to take one horn or the other of an unacceptable dilemma: Stop serving people of all faiths in their ministries—so that they will fall under the narrow exemption—or stop providing health-care coverage to their own employees.

“The Catholic Church defends religious liberty, including freedom of conscience, for everyone. The Amish do not carry health insurance. The government respects their principles. Christian Scientists want to heal by prayer alone, and the new health-care reform law respects that. Quakers and others object to killing even in wartime, and the government respects that principle for conscientious objectors. By its decision, the Obama administration has failed to show the same respect for the consciences of Catholics and others who object to treating pregnancy as a disease.

“This latest erosion of our first freedom should make all Americans pause. When the government tampers with a freedom so fundamental to the life of our nation, one shudders to think what lies ahead.” ~ President of the USCCB Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan of New York

Catholics of America, unite! Take back our land from those who look upon us as vermin and scum, benighted souls unworthy of consideration, who see us as slaves to beliefs that are not only antiquated now but were never acceptable in the first place. Refuse to let this go unchecked. Refuse to let this stand. Take a stand, make a stand with your holy mother, the Church, who is Christ’s spotless Bride on earth and is His Body. Do not let them sully and blasphemy Our Lord Jesus in this reprehensible, filthy manner.

The bishops have provided this website Go to it and make your voice heard. You non-Catholic Americans, too. Or do we too soon forget the poem about the Lutheran pastor in Nazi Germany that starts off, “First they came for the communists,and I said nothing for I was not a communist …

Friday, January 27, 2012

Saints news for December 2011

Van Thuan beatification effort gets new impetus

Cardinal Jean Baptiste Pham Minh Man of Ho Chi Minh City has appealed to Catholics to bear witness to the late Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan’s beatification process before a Vatican delegation in March.

Cardinal Man announced on January 1 that the delegation from the Vatican-based Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace plans to visit Vietnam from March 23 to April 9 to meet and listen to witnesses with regard to Cardinal Thuan’s beatification cause, which was officially launched by the pontifical council on October 22, 2010.

Cardinal Thuan was named coadjutor archbishop of Saigon archdiocese seven days before South Vietnam fell to the communist North on April 30, 1975.

The communist authorities rejected his appointment and imprisoned him for 13 years, nine of them in solitary confinement in the north. Released in 1988, he was allowed to travel overseas in 1991. While abroad, he was barred from returning to Vietnam.

In 1994, Blessed John Paul called him to Rome and appointed him vice-president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. He later became president of the council from 1998 until he died of cancer at age 74 in 2002.

He was the first Vietnamese prelate to hold a high Vatican office.

Vice postulator of Irish beato passes

Dom Mark Tierney of Glenstal Abbey, Co. Limerick, has died at age 86. While best known for his history books, one could say his main interest was the beatification of Bl. Dom Columba Marmion, OSB.

According to the Irish Times, “he wrote Dom Columba Marmion: a Biography in 1994. Another edition of this was published under the title Blessed Columba Marmion: a short biography in 2000 to coincide with the beatification of Columba Marmion that year.

Fr Tierney was vice-postulator for the cause of Blessed Columba Marmion who, like himself, was a Dubliner and a Benedictine.

On September 3rd, 2000, Columba Marmion was beatified by Pope John Paul II alongside Pope John XXIII and Pope Pius IX. In attendance at the beatification ceremony was Pat Bitzan, from St Cloud, Minnesota, the woman believed to have been “miraculously” cured from cancer in 1966 thanks to the intervention of Dom Columba Marmion.

Born in Dublin of an Irish father and Belgian mother in April 1858, Dom Columba studied at Belvedere College and Holy Cross seminary in Clonliffe, as well as serving as a curate in Dundrum, before deciding to become a Benedictine monk. It meant moving to Belgium as there were no Benedictine monasteries in Ireland at the time. He spent most of his adult life in Belgium, dying at the monastery of Maredsous there in 1923.”

Taos, NM, artist helps move along a beatification cause

Taos artist Lloyd Rivera has unwittingly become an assistant in the beatification cause of Ven. Mary of Agreda.

Ven. Mary, who is still famous for her famous work, Mystical City of God, and whose corpse is incorrupt inside the chapel of the abbey where she died in 1665 at age 63, had her cause introduced in June 1672.

However, something else for which she is famous is bringing the faith to the indigenous tribes of Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico, and that’s before the first missionaries to the region even had left Spain, even though she never left that country. She appeared to them as the lady in the blue mantle. Thus she must have had the ability to bilocate.

Rivera, noticing that “santeros,” painters of traditional religious folk art were creating plenty of representations of Our Lady of Guadalupe, St. Raphael, St. Michael, and other saints, none were painting Ven. Mary of Agreda.

The Taos News reported, “The Lady in Blue was venerated shortly after her death by Pope Clement X, but her status has never changed since due possibly to a variety of misinterpretations of her writings. However, international efforts to move her beatification process forward apparently are underway.

“It’s been almost 410 years since she was born, but Rivera is determined to never let her name be forgotten.”

Beatification cause of early female Opus Dei member goes to Rome

On November 21, 2001, Antonio Maria Cardinal Rouco y Varela, archbishop of Madrid, formally opened the canonization cause of Guadalupe Ortiz de Landazuri. Now word comes that a complete study of her life along with a possible miracle have been forwarded to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints for consideration of her beatification.

The first time she met St. Josemaria Escriva, she walked in, and there was the best reproduction of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, for whom she’d been named, she’d ever seen. She had been named for La Virgen given that she was born on her feast in 1916. And she had gone to see St. Josemaria for spiritual direction because she didn’t know what to do with her life. She was profoundly committed to God, but she also had all this education and this beauty and these talents. People were telling her, “Marry! Marry!” but her heart longed to follow God. So St. Josemaria told her that “professional and ordinary life are where she could find Christ.” Keep in mind: At the time, especially before Vatican II, which essentially encouraged the laity to do just this, this was a somewhat radical idea (although you can find its expression in St. Francis de Sales and others throughout the centuries; it’s just that this message was easily obscured).

It wasn’t long after that that she decided to request membership in Opus Dei. From this point on, she lived in the world but was not of the world, and the range of apostolic initiatives she undertook were pretty impressive.

In 1951, St. Josemaria asked her to begin the work for women in Mexico, and she helped so many young ladies come to Christ and find the joy that only comes by living in Him. She also worked with professionals and young mothers.

Because she was a numerary, she never married, and she was just this beautiful woman. And so smart, too. She held a doctorate in chemistry, she taught, and she worked in the government of Opus Dei. To the end of her life on July 16, 1975, she never stopped trying to bring people closer to Christ, and did so usually by simply being a friend, by being cheerful and joyful.

Cause of Cuban patriot priest advances

When people think of the drive for Cuban independence, they’re not likely to think of Fr. Felix Varela. And yet Fr. Varela’s patriotism made him a wanted man. King Ferdinand of Spain had issue a warrant for arrest precisely because his agitation for the liberty of his island nation. In fact, things got so hot for him, he fled his homeland in 1823.

After this, he spent the next 30 years as a priest, mostly in the Diocese of St. Augustine, Florida, but he was even vicar general for the Archdiocese of New York for a while. He died in 1853, and in 1985, the bishops of Cuba asked Bl. John Paul II to open Fr. Varela’s cause.

Now, 26 years later, theologians at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints are reviewing the Cuban patriot’s case file, which is the last step before they decide whether or not to recommend that the Holy Father declare Fr. Felix Varela venerable. Remember, Benedict XVI will travel to Cuba this March, and wouldn’t it be great if he used that opportunity to promulgate the decree of heroic virtue and thus make Fr. Varela titled “Venerable”?

Salesian priest gets beatification nod

The Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI has approved the miracle put forth for the beatification cause of Ven. Louis Brisson, who founded the Institutes of the Oblates and the Oblate Sisters of St. Francis de Sales. The miracle is really remarkable because it was a little 8-year-old boy from Ecuador who had his foot crushed by a tractor. Some Oblates of St. Francis de Sales sisters prayed a novena asking for the intercession of Ven. Louis, and the boy was cured and went on to join the US Air Force.

Ven. Louis was a French priest, born June 23, 1817, and he was handsome. He looked a lot like actor David Soul (remember the 1970s American police TV drama, “Starsky and Hutch”?). Upon receiving ordination in 1840, he was sent to teach at a monastery boarding school, where he not only taught theology and science, but he invented and astronomic clock so precise, that NASA asked to study it.

Now St. Francis de Sales – and if you don’t know him, please, Google him or, better yet, go to your local Catholic bookstore; he’s truly one of the Church’s greatest saints – even those who know a lot about him don’t know that he intended to found an order of priests, but got too busy and so never did.

Well, with the nagging and incessant nudging of a local mother superior, he finally founded that order of priests. It took a long time, though. First he founded the Catholic Association of St. Francis de Sales, which ran boarding houses for single female factory workers so they could continue their religious formation and wouldn’t be forced to rely on loose morals to pay for their board.

Then he founded with St. Leonie de Sales the Oblate Sisters. And then finally, in 1872, he founded the order of priests.

Persecuted by French secularists, he always put his trust in God. Indeed, he had this great quote: “If everything seems lost,” he said, “and everyone has already surrendered his hope, the Lord will show His might and His influence.  Then it will become clear to all that the decision lies only in His hands and we are capable of nothing.”

He died on February 2, 1908, and now he will soon be declared “Blessed.”

New Zealand bishops keen on getting their own saint

On December 13, during their recent ad limina visit to Rome, which each episcopal conference takes every five years, the bishops of New Zealand, held a meeting with the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to discuss the cause of beatification of Sr. Suzanne Aubert. According to Catholic News Agency, “She was a French-born nun who arrived in New Zealand as a young woman in 1860. Albert undertook great works of charity among the sick and orphaned. She died in 1926 in Wellington.”

The Kiwi news source VOXY said Aubert founded “New Zealand’s only indigenous religious Order - the Daughters of Our Lady of Compassion…. She is known and revered throughout New Zealand and the Pacific since she was among the first missionaries to come to [that] part of the world. She is remembered for her life and sanctity and for her unstinting care of the Maori people.” 

Benedict’s favorite Catholic feminist favorite Hildegard of Bingen proposed as next Church Doctor

The blog "Vatican Insider" is predicting Pope Benedict XVI will canonize Hildegard of Bingen this October “and at the same [time] recognize her as a Doctor of the Church.”

Bl. Hildegard was truly a remarkable lady, perhaps the most remarkable woman of her age. She was a prioress, a mystic, a composer, she had a theological mind like a steel trap, and her writings are still influential to this very day. She even beat the inventors of Esperanto to the punch by inventing her very own language.

If the predictions come true, she will be just the fourth female Church Doctor. And by “Doctor,” of course, we don’t mean like a medical doctor, but someone whose learning and scholarship have had a profound influence on Church teaching and such.

Busy year for Archbishop Romero cause

For those unfamiliar with Archbishop Óscar Romero, he was the bishop of San Salvador, capital of El Salvador who was assassinated as he consecrated the sacred blood during Mass on March 24, 1980. He had always been a fairly traditional priest in terms of doctrine, and because of this, his ascension to the See of San Salvador as archbishop in 1977 was greeted with dismay by some of the priests. But when the government murdered a priest friend of his for simply trying to give the poor dignity and a way of improving their lives, and the government, of course, did nothing about it, he began speaking against the poverty that was allowed to fester while the rich enjoyed the good life, the assassinations, and all the other ways the regime abused the dignity of its citizens as human persons.

An El Salvadoran blog released its annual Top 10 events concerning the beatification cause of Archbishop Oscar Romero, noting that “2011 was a strong Romero year.”

Last year, for instance, President Obama visited the late archbishop’s tomb, the website advocating his beatification put his writings online. Archbishop Romero’s being beatified apparently is such a point of national pride that El Salvador Foreign Minister lobbied the Congregation for the Causes of Saints during a trip to Rome last year. And it noted that the man suspected of having organized the hit on the Servant of God was found by one of the nation’s newspapers living in a foreign country. He reportedly is impoverished and “living in squalor.” Not surprisingly, today he totally sympathizes with what his victim was attempting to do for the poor.

Archbishop Sheen cause moves forward

On Sunday, December 11, 2011, Peoria’s Bishop Daniel Jenky celebrated a Mass that marked the formal closing of the investigation phase of a miracle they will submit in support of Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s beatification cause. The miracle is that a baby boy did not breath the first 61 minutes of life. His doctors were just about to declare him dead when the child started breathing. The parents attribute Archbishop Sheen’s intercession for which they were asking throughout the ordeal.

The enemy of my enemy is my friend?

I learned from a friend in Mauritius that pro-abortion forces had attempted last year to legalize the killing of babies in the womb (i.e., abortion). However, thanks to a coalition of Catholics, Hindus, and Muslims, this heinous, barbaric, and murderous practice remains illegal. And yet ...

Isn't it ironic that it took such a coalition to maintain the status quo? Granted 49 percent of Mauritians are Hindu and 16 percent Muslim (27 percent are Catholic and 0.5 percent Protestant). But it seems worth noting that the very same people who in their home countries persecute and murder us Christians have helped us maintain the sanctity of life on this tiny island nation.

In the end, though, who cares? The sanctity of life was maintained in this remote corner of the world, and praise God for it.

A cultural illustration on the seductiveness of evil

Sometimes when we read Scripture or have some religious belief proposed to us, we might find it hard to understand. This is especially true if we have not thought about or studied the issue in any great detail. That's why I love, for lack of a better term, cultural devices. Movies, books, songs, TV shows, they all can provide, often unintentionally, the most abject lessons on the truths taught by our holy faith.

What brings this to mind now is a conversation I had with a friend about Theology of the Body, which both of us love. In fact this friend and I met because I used to sell TOB products, and she was one of my customers.

She is preparing to give an age-appropriate retreat on TOB to her parish's middle schoolers, and she wanted my input. I suggested using lots of stories, and I gave her the example of a scene from the 1999 film Felicia's Journey starring Bob Hoskins (why that man didn't win an Academy Award for that performance, I don't know, but his performance is chilling).

So dumbfounding and, more importantly, so illustrative is this scene, I thought it worthwhile to share it with you.

Here's the context for the scene. Hilditch is the serial killer played by Hoskins. Ada is his late wife. Felicia is an Irish lass impregnated by her boyfriend Johnny. Abortion is illegal in Ireland. If girls want an abortion, they must travel to England to obtain one. Felicia doesn't want an abortion, though. She just wants to find Johnny, have their baby, and begin their lives together. In the scene, Felicia and Hilditch are having dinner in his house (he, seemingly a gentle, kind man, has given her a place to stay until she gets on her feet). She has just told him she thinks she'll be moving on so she can look for Johnny elsewhere. This alarms Hilditch.

Hilditch: Well there's no doubt that Johnny loves you, dear. Nothing you said to me contradicts that. Now, the point I'm trying to make to you is, a situation like you and Johnny and it, can all too easily be affected by misfortune. Ada said that, Felicia. Ada had a considerable insight into matters of the heart. The thing is Felicia, you're over here now. This isn't Ireland. And we have -- certain facilities available. What I'm saying to you is what I'd say to any daughter Ada and myself might have had. We're giving you the benefit of long experience. There isn't a doubt in my mind, Felicia. I thought of nothing else since I rested poor Ada in the ground.

Felicia: Some would call it murder.

Hilditch: Murder? We're not in this world to cause pain, dear. Of course you have to think of yourself on occasion. I'm not saying you don't. But there are other people, too. Which is something you're daily more aware of as you grow older.

Felicia: What are you talking about?

Hilditch: I want you to know when you've been through it, Felicia. But so has your dad. And your great-gran. Imagine them -- trying to hold their heads up. There's that to think about, too. We all have to do terrible things, Felicia. We have to find the courage sometimes. And you're a young girl. When you find Johnny again you can both make the choice to have a child. But the circumstances have to be right. A child needs to be surrounded by all the love it can. The love of the mother -- of course you have that. But the love of the father ... and the grandfather ... and the great-great grandmother. Why deprive this baby of that? I put by a little that I'd gladly donate in order to do the decent thing by your family.
Isn't that just the most demonic, chilling thing you've ever read? And yet it's the rhetoric of pro-"choice," isn't it? It's phenomenal. My friend agreed with my assessment, but applied it only to the 5th Commandment, "Thou shall not murder/kill" (commentator Dennis Prager says the Hebrew in the commandment is not as simple as "kill," that the context is more like "murder").

This scene goes beyond the 5th Commandment, though, doesn't it? Isn't it simply a modern-day updating of the discussion we see between the adversary and Eve in the Garden (see Genesis 3)? "'Did God say you would die? You will not die. You will be as gods. ... And so she took of the fruit and ate it."

It's the lie, the seductive, appealing, "no worries, no remorse" lie that has caused the fall of so many since the dawn of time. It allows us to deceive ourselves that something wholly evil is all right in just this one instance. We can say with great bravado but little certainty, "Aye, this is good. It is evil for others, but not for me." And from this wretched womb is born so much misery.

Is there a solution? Yes, and its most basic level, we find it in the Act of Faith:
O my God, I firmly believe that You are one God in three divine persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I believe that Your divine Son became man and died for our sins, and that He will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe these and all the truths which the holy catholic Church teaches, because You have revealed them, Who can neither deceive nor be deceived.
This isn't asking anyone to be a mindless automoton. Indeed, it requires great thinking and formation on our parts, precisely because the lies of the age are so exceedingly seductive. But if I'm walking a path for the first time and someone who has walked that path their whole life tells me, "At the fork where you see the waterfall, under no experience take the left fork. It will spell your doom," I'm listening to that person. I don't need to say, "Oh, that's just an old, patriarchal male (or whoever) trying to spoil my fun" or "Hmmmm, that may be true, but I have to experience this for myself and make my own judgment." Absolutely not. I'm listening, because I know I'll be happier in the end. If the person is wrong, what do I really lose? Anything? If the person is right ... and as long as I'm convinced of their good will and wanting the best for me, and thus have no reason to doubt them ... then I have everything to gain, no?

Anyway, don't fall for the lie. Easier said than done sometimes, I know, but always keep your vigilance. As 1 Peter 5:8 says, "Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour." Don't let that someone be you.

Friday, January 13, 2012

New feature on this blog

Ever since the death of the "Dear Leader," Kim Jong-il, president of North Korea, I've been studying the Hermit Kingdom on an almost obsessive basis. One thing I really get a kick out of is reading the official news organ, Korean Central News Agency. So I thought I'd take innocuous news stories like the following and gussy them up in that inimitable KCNA style. It's a tough call whether to treat the situation in the DPRK with satire or not, but if it can help increase awareness even a little of what a nightmare is happening there, then it will have served it's purpose.

Explorers Thank Kim Jong-un for Ability to Find Rare White Penguin in Antarctica

National Geographic explorers are heaping effusive praise, the likes of which have people have never seen, on Kim Jong-un for their ability to find spotted an extremely rare, nearly all-white Chinstrap penguin this week. Despite efforts to hide the rare gem of a bird by the thrice-cursed US and Japanese imperialists and their toady stooges in the south in a sea of black and white penguins, the explorers saw the reclusive penguin waddling on Antarctica's Aitcho Islands.

David Stephens, a naturalist on board the Lindblad Expeditions' National Geographic Explorer ship, snapped the photo above of the rare leucistic bird, which he described on their blog as "whitish, but not quite an albino."

"I am a man, but it almost brings tears to my eyes to think that this is the sort of thing Kim Jong-un's father, Kim Jong-il, would have done for us. First there was the Great Leader Kim Il-sung. Second there was the Dear Leader Kim Jong-il. Now we have Kim Jong-un, a man with unlimited talents. We truly are not worthy."

Leucistic penguins, sometime referred to as albinistic penguins, have a reduced level of pigmentation and are set apart from albinos due to their pigmented eyes, according to National Geographic. It is not known whether their "washed-out" coloring, which clearly distinguishes them from the traditional black and white coat of the Chinstrap penguin, is a result of the sort of foul imperialist experiments that have threatened to ruin the environment everywhere but Korea. However, thanks to the efforts of Kim Jong-un, whom all the world acknowledges as a peerless leader and the ultimate environmental visionary and lover of animals, science has found this rare and beautiful bird.

It's so rare to find nearly all-white penguins, Stephens noted, because the birds' black and white coloring serves as crucial camouflage while diving for fish. Still, the leucistic penguins manage to breed normally, according to Stephens, but finding them is hard, which is why all should redouble their praise of the venerable Kim Jong-un.

UPDATE: The author of this piece was arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced in the space of one minute for not having praised the new leader Kim Jong-un in an ebullient enough fashion. He will be sent to Camp no. 12 for 25 years.