Postage for Pakistan and other parts of the planet

Monday, December 31, 2012

The Pope's New Year resolution for families

From the Pope's Angelus address this past Sunday:
[M]ay parents seriously concern themselves about the growth and education of their children, so that they may mature as responsible and honest citizens, without ever forgetting that faith is a precious gift to be nourished in their children through personal example. At the same time we pray that every child is welcomed as a gift from God, is sustained by the love of the father and mother in order to advance as the Lord Jesus "in wisdom and age and favour before God and man " (Lk 2: 52). The love, loyalty and dedication of Mary and Joseph are an example for all Christian couples who are neither the friends nor masters of their children’s lives, but the guardians of this incomparable gift from God.
The silence of Joseph, the just man (cf. Mt 1:19), and the example of Mary who kept all things in her heart (cf. Lk 2:51), causes us to enter into the mystery full of faith and humanity of the Holy family. I wish for all Christian families to live in the presence of God with the same love and the same joy as the family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Putting words into the Pope's mouth ... again

Did you hear about Pope Benedict XVI's 2012 Christmas address to his Curia, where he attacked same sex unions, adoption of children by homosexual couples, and such? Yeah, me, too. Only he didn't.

Instead, as this makes clear, he never mentions the words "homosexual," "sex," "gay," "lesbian," or the like. Don't believe me? Click on the link, hit Ctrl-F, and do a search for any of these terms.

If His Holiness is attacking anything, it is the notion that gender is merely a social construct that each individual can change based on nothing more than whim. In other words, if this theory is accurate, I can change my name from "Brian" to "Briana."

Benedict essentially starts off by saying it is "clear that the question of the family is not just about a particular social construct, but about man himself – about what he is and what it takes to be authentically human."

He then muses on whether society any more requires that which has always served as the foundation for the family.
The challenges [to the family] ... are manifold. First of all there is the question of the human capacity to make a commitment or to avoid commitment. Can one bind oneself for a lifetime? Does this correspond to man’s nature? Does it not contradict his freedom and the scope of his self-realization? Does man become himself by living for himself alone and only entering into relationships with others when he can break them off again at any time? Is lifelong commitment antithetical to freedom? Is commitment also worth suffering for? [These are great questions because they echo exactly what many are saying in our society, don't they?] Man’s refusal to make any commitment – which is becoming increasingly widespread as a result of a false understanding of freedom and self-realization as well as the desire to escape suffering – means that man remains closed in on himself and keeps his “I” ultimately for himself, without really rising above it.
He then says something quite alarming:
Yet only in self-giving does man find himself, and only by opening himself to the other, to others, to children, to the family, only by letting himself be changed through suffering, does he discover the breadth of his humanity. When such commitment is repudiated, the key figures of human existence likewise vanish: father, mother, child – essential elements of the experience of being human are lost.
He proceeds to reference Gilles Bernheim, France's Chief Rabbi, who has written a paper, "Mariage homosexuel, homoparentalité et adoption: ce que l’on oublie souvent de dire" (roughly translated as "Homosexual marriage, homosexual parenting, and adoption: What we frequently forget to mention").
While up to now we regarded a false understanding of the nature of human freedom as one cause of the crisis of the family, it is now becoming clear that the very notion of being – of what being human really means – is being called into question. He quotes the famous saying of Simone de Beauvoir: “one is not born a woman, one becomes so” (on ne naît pas femme, on le devient). These words lay the foundation for what is put forward today under the term “gender” as a new philosophy of sexuality. According to this philosophy, sex is no longer a given element of nature, that man has to accept and personally make sense of: it is a social role that we choose for ourselves, while in the past it was chosen for us by society.
Benedict makes clear that this is not at all his opinion by pointing out that, "The profound falsehood of this theory and of the anthropological revolution contained within it is obvious. People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being. They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves."

Here is why this is wrong:
According to the biblical creation account, being created by God as male and female pertains to the essence of the human creature. This duality is an essential aspect of what being human is all about, as ordained by God. This very duality as something previously given is what is now disputed. The words of the creation account: “male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27) no longer apply. [i.e., man makes himself God] No, what applies now is this: it was not God who created them male and female – hitherto society did this, now we decide for ourselves. Man and woman as created realities, as the nature of the human being, no longer exist. Man calls his nature into question. From now on he is merely spirit and will. The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned.
He concludes his argument by noting, "Likewise, the child has lost the place he had occupied hitherto and the dignity pertaining to him [Family is ultimately about the child]. Bernheim shows that now, perforce, from being a subject of rights, the child has become an object to which people have a right and which they have a right to obtain. When the freedom to be creative becomes the freedom to create oneself, then necessarily the Maker himself is denied and ultimately man too is stripped of his dignity as a creature of God, as the image of God at the core of his being. The defence of the family is about man himself. And it becomes clear that when God is denied, human dignity also disappears. Whoever defends God is defending man." [Do secular humanists understand this? Are they capable of acknowledging it? I'm just asking/am sincerely curious.]

Now is the Pope against same sex marriage? You bet (although Andrew Sullivan takes this same text and laughably tries to prove otherwise, and he concludes that the Holy Father can't see those with same sex attractions as "human beings," the same man who helped craft the Catechism's section on homosexuality, which says quite clearly they are human persons ... incredible; the woundedness this bespeaks is hard for me to fathom). Does the Holy Father think adoption by same sex couples is a bad idea because it robs children of the complimentarity that only having both a mother and father can bring? To use a very precise theological term, "Duh!" Does His Holiness hope society will gets its act together and realize the threat to the family posed by things such as same sex marriage, but also heterosexual cohabiting and the huge number of broken homes in western society? Undoubtedly.

But this part of the address was not about any of these things (indeed, not a single part was). Rather, it was about how the worst threat to the family is the push to redefine gender as maleable and simply a socially imposed construct/decision that we now have the ability to make for ourselves.

And you know what? Benedict's right. If redefining gender really is the foundational issue, if, as he indicates pace Bernheim, same sex unions et al are simply symptoms growing from this poisonous root, we ought to be scared to such an extent that we won't have to use the latrine for quite some time.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Praying with Bl. Alberto Marvelli

This evening at 5:30 p.m. local time in Rimini, Italy, a prayer service was held at Sant'Agostino church beseeching the intercession of Bl. Alberto Marvelli for peace in an ever violent world. The occasion was the Feast of the Holy Innocents, on which the Catholic Church commemorates those infant boys two and younger whom Herod had slain. The postulator for Bl. Alberto's cause, his friend Don Fausto Lanfranchi, asked that those who could not be there in person unite themselves in prayer by praying the prayers on their own.

As most won't read the prayers' original Italian, I've taken the opportunity to translate the prayer service into English. Please enjoy, and do pray. It's a worthy intention.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

In the year in which the Church invites us to rediscover our faith, we come in prayer to life and the words of Bl. Alberto Marvelli, to help them become "credible witnesses of the risen Christ and joyful, able to point out to our brothers in search the door of faith" (Benedict XVI).

Faith is to accept the gift of peace.
From the Gospel according to John, 14, 12-27:
"Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in Me will do the works that also I do, he will do even more, because I go to the Father, and what you ask the Father in My name, I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it. If you love Me keep My commandments, and I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Paraclete, to be with you forever, the Spirit of truth, whom the world can not receive, because it seeth and knoweth Him not, but you know Him for He dwelleth in you and in you. Who has My commandments, and keepeth them, he loves Me, and he who loves Me will be loved by My father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him. Whoever loves Me will keep My word, and My Father will love him and We will come to him and make Our home with him. Who does not love Me does not keep My words, and now the word which ye hear is not Mine, but the Father who sent Me. I have told you these things while I was still with you, but the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit the Father will send in My name, He shall teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said. I leave you peace, My peace I give you. I give it to you not as the world gives. Your heart be troubled, nor let it be afraid."

From the "Notes" of Alberto Marvelli:
"Lord, may we soon experience Your kingdom of peace and love, of justice for the peoples and nations, truth and joy for souls who are thirsty for truth, of the defeat the evil, of the triumph of good, because we all ardently desire, repeating and singing, together with the angels and the saints, the choirs of Cherubim and Seraphim who surround You, the magnificent words of the Our Father, the prayer that you taught us: Domine, fiat voluntas tua, Adveniat Regnum tuum."

Say the "Our Father."

- God of love and peace, we cannot pretend to achieve the ability to live well or in peace without You. We can not expect to overcome our inner anxieties and personal conflicts if we do not turn to You, Lord of peace, Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, Who have suffered death to give us peace. We ask that the peace that surpasses all understanding will reassure our thoughts, our will, our hearts.
Through the intercession of Alberto, we pray, "Lord hear us."
- Lord, we pray for the Church. Help us, Lord, to make a contribution, however small, so that everyone can recognize
members of one body and grow in mutual cooperation and mutual support.
Through the intercession of Alberto, we pray, "Lord hear us."

Peace is the rejection of any war: the life of Alberto Marvelli
"1939 is the dreadful year in which has descended on the world the darkness of the Second World War. Vain are the calls for peace by Pius XII.... Italy, though unprepared for the conflict, entered the war a year later, June 10, 1940, following the overwhelming strong German successes against France and England. Even Rimini, in the afternoon of June 10, 1940 was mobilized. The "bell" sent its mournful tolling, which echoed all the other bells. The voice of the leader [Mussolini, literally "il Duce"] was heard in the two squares of the historic city center by way of high speakers ... Despite the propaganda campaign which saw the war as an easy adventure, Alberto condemned it openly, calling it "a catastrophic moment for society," so convinced was he that war was not necessary and that it could be avoided. On 31 January 1941, he wrote in his diary: "We are at war for eight months. All men speak of peace, desire peace, but few are those who, like the Pope, are working for it, to keep it, to bring her back. How many lives are sacrificed, how many young people have shed their blood, how many sorrows are renewed ...  The root cause of the war is our little love for God and for men. Missing is the spirit of charity in the world, and, therefore, we hate each other as enemies rather than love one another as brothers, [even though] all [have been] redeemed by Christ" (by Don Fausto Lanfranchi, Alberto Marvelli, engineer, laborer of charity).

 - For world peace and for the justice which is its prerequisite. Lord, we ask that You end all tyranny and oppressive rule, and give us the courage to do our part so as to fulfill Your plan of salvation. Through the intercession of Alberto, we pray, "Lord, hear us."
 - For all the wars that nobody ever talks about because they do not affect our economic interests. Lord, let not our comforts make us deaf to the cries of the dying. Through the intercession of Alberto, we pray, "Lord, hear us."

 Peace will come ...
 If we believe that forgiveness goes beyond revenge.
 If we know the happiness of others sing and dance their joy.
 If we we can still listen to those who causes us to lose time and give them a smile.
 If we we accept criticism and treasure it.
 If we we accept and adopt an opinion different from ours.
 If we prefer to be damaged than to hurt someone.
 If we refuse to come after us "no matter what happens."
 If we stand on the side of the poor and oppressed without considering ourselves heroes.
 If we believe that love is the only power for discussion.
 If we believe that peace is possible ...
 Then peace will come.

Meditation and personal prayer

Peace is built up in the little things of everyday life: the life of Alberto Marvelli
 "Suddenly, on March 7, 1933, after returning from a business trip to Austria, Alberto's father Alfredo fell seriously ill. The diagnosis was cerebral spinal meningitis. He died After only three days ... Alberto, who was only fifteen-years-old, suffered deeply. His father's death put both his faith and his emotional stability to the test ... Yet even the death of the father was gradually experienced as a time of maturation. Despite his youth, Alberto now supported his mother and siblings, becoming almost a second father to the whole family ... In the parish, he played football, volleyball, and ping pong. Alberto was a great athlete and happily spent his energies in football. He played the position of striker for the team and scored some beautiful goals. When he played, the team was sure to win. But there were many guys who wanted to play on the team, so Alberto retired and gave way to others. He contented himself with serving as a referee ... In high school, he stood out for his moral qualities. His willingness to help his  fellow students, his loyalty to the teachers ... Once, in the third high school, when all the men's section received a collective disciplinary note, even Alberto was punished. However, he managed to persuade the perpetrators to present themselves to the principal and apologize" (from Don Fausto Lanfranchi's "Alberto Marvelli, engineer laborer of charity").

Prayer of St. Francis

 - Lord, we ask You to help us learn from Alberto the ability to commit ourselves in our daily lives, knowing we will never lack your help, because "all our greatness comes from Your littleness, all our power from Your weakness, all our wisdom from Your madness." Through the intercession of Alberto, We pray, "Lord, hear us."
 - Lord, give us the grace that the object of our prayers will also be the focus of our work. Through the intercession of Alberto, We pray, "Lord, hear us."
 - Lord, keep us far from the "heroic" intentions, which we never manage to keep. Help us to live well each day -- at home, at work, in the church -- without wanting or expecting to solve our problems and those of neighbor all at once. Through the intercession of Alberto, We pray, "Lord, hear us."
 - Personal intentions ...

Prayer to Alberto Marvelli:
O God, almighty Father, rich in mercy, thank you for giving us Alberto, a sign of Your love for us. We contemplate the wonders that You have done in him: his solid prayer life, his generous social and political engagement, his  burning love for the poor, the faith, hope, and charity that he heroically practiced in every area of his life. Through the intercession of Alberto, we ask You, Father, to grant that we may imitate his virtues and become like him, witnesses of your love in the world. Give us all spiritual and material grace so that we, like him, will love and serve Your Church and work for the peace and salvation of creation. Amen.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Pope doesn't consider pedophilia "absolute evil" and thinks child porn is "normal"?

A friend posted this on my Facebook page, which apparently was lifted from this article in the Belfast Telegraph. If you don't want to bother going to those links, here's what it said:
"Victims of clerical sex abuse have reacted furiously to Pope Benedict's claim that paedophilia wasn't considered an 'absolute evil' as recently as the 1970s. He also claimed that child pornography was increasingly considered 'normal' by society. He must be referring to the 'elite' society which openingly condones that and is heavy [sic] into child sex trafficking.... Pope's child porn'normal' claim sparks outrage among victims."
Pretty horrible, eh? Talk about having a tin ear. Doesn't the Catholic Church get it? Is Pope Benedict XVI really that clueless?

Well, no. As I wrote my friend, context is everything ...

X, thank you for sharing this with me. ...

... keep in mind two things. One, people are always waiting for the Pope -- any pope, really, but especially this one -- to make a verbal slip. People love to play "Gotcha!" with this guy. It's sad and pathetic, but there it is. So if there's an opportunity to take his words out of context, they will. (I could take anything you said on any controversial topic and wrench it out of context and make you look like a monster.) Is it any coincidence that the reporting from which this slander came is the main newspaper in hyper-anti-Catholic Belfast? Two, if the Pope had really meant what the photo's caption indicates he did, then it would have made the news much more than it did and would have had global indications. That I'm just now becoming aware of it two years after the fact -- me, who devours news, especially when it comes to the Church -- shows that something might be off in the caption's presentation of the facts. It's why I either go to the source or, at the very least, check

This time, I went to the source. The remarks in question came from the Pope's 2010 address to his Curia (e.g., his administration or bureaucracy), a talk he gives every year around Christmas.

Look at the context.

He starts off saying this:
"In the vision of Saint Hildegard, the face of the Church is stained with dust, and this is how we have seen it. Her garment is torn – by the sins of priests. The way she saw and expressed it is the way we have experienced it this year. We must accept this humiliation as an exhortation to truth and a call to renewal. Only the truth saves. We must ask ourselves what we can do to repair as much as possible the injustice that has occurred. We must ask ourselves what was wrong in our proclamation, in our whole way of living the Christian life, to allow such a thing to happen. We must discover a new resoluteness in faith and in doing good. We must be capable of doing penance. We must be determined to make every possible effort in priestly formation to prevent anything of the kind from happening again. This is also the moment to offer heartfelt thanks to all those who work to help victims and to restore their trust in the Church, their capacity to believe her message. In my meetings with victims of this sin, I have also always found people who, with great dedication, stand alongside those who suffer and have been damaged. This is also the occasion to thank the many good priests who act as channels of the Lord’s goodness in humility and fidelity and, amid the devastations, bear witness to the unforfeited beauty of the priesthood."
Obviously, this man, who has called the priestly sex abuse scandal a "filth," gets it.

He next gets into the "normal" child pornography bit. But he's not saying it's "normal," as in, "Hey, everybody's doing it. What's the big deal?" Instead ... Well, see for yourself:
"We are well aware of the particular gravity of this sin committed by priests and of our corresponding responsibility. But neither can we remain silent regarding the context of these times in which these events have come to light. There is a market in child pornography that seems in some way to be considered more and more normal by society. The psychological destruction of children, in which human persons are reduced to articles of merchandise, is a terrifying sign of the times. From Bishops of developing countries I hear again and again how sexual tourism threatens an entire generation and damages its freedom and its human dignity. The Book of Revelation includes among the great sins of Babylon – the symbol of the world’s great irreligious cities – the fact that it trades with bodies and souls and treats them as commodities (cf. Rev 18:13). In this context, the problem of drugs also rears its head, and with increasing force extends its octopus tentacles around the entire world – an eloquent expression of the tyranny of mammon which perverts mankind. No pleasure is ever enough, and the excess of deceiving intoxication becomes a violence that tears whole regions apart – and all this in the name of a fatal misunderstanding of freedom which actually undermines man’s freedom and ultimately destroys it."
Obviously, he's not saying child porn isn't a big deal. What he's saying is that it's becoming more normal in the sense that it's bigger than ever and more people are indulging in it than ever, despite it's still being illegal. NAMBLA and similar groups are constantly arguing for a lowering of the age of consent. If the age of consent drops, then how long before the age drops in which children (key word) can legally appear in pornography? Do a search for "hot teens barely legal." Look at the number of hits that come up. Even accounting for redundancies, it's a lot!

Now what about that thing about "absolute evil," which comes in the very next paragraph of his talk?
"In order to resist these forces, we must turn our attention to their ideological foundations. In the 1970s (note he's not saying "before"), paedophilia was theorized as something fully in conformity with man and even with children. This, however, was part of a fundamental perversion of the concept of ethos (this opinion is not good, it's perverted). It was maintained – even within the realm of Catholic theology – that there is no such thing as evil in itself or good in itself. (This and the following are what others are saying, not what he is saying.) There is only a “better than” and a “worse than”. Nothing is good or bad in itself. Everything depends on the circumstances and on the end in view. Anything can be good or also bad, depending upon purposes and circumstances. Morality is replaced by a calculus of consequences, and in the process it ceases to exist. The effects of such theories are evident today. Against them, Pope John Paul II, in his 1993 Encyclical Letter Veritatis Splendor, indicated with prophetic force in the great rational tradition of Christian ethos the essential and permanent foundations of moral action. Today, attention must be focussed anew on this text as a path in the formation of conscience (i.e., we have to change this). It is our responsibility to make these criteria audible and intelligible once more for people today as paths of true humanity, in the context of our paramount concern for mankind."
So he wasn't saying what he was portrayed as having said at all! He wasn't saying paedophilia was normal "until the 1970s." He was saying that it *started* in the 1970s.

Actually, it started before then, because it goes back to Alfred Kinsey and his assertion, fraudulently derived, that all people are sexual from birth (he got it from the diary of a child molester and forced sexual experimentation on children, which is a matter of fact that you can look up; I'd recommend the work, of Dr. Judith Reissman, which will make you scream in horror).

Furthermore, you can see he's characterizing what others say, and he obviously disagrees with it. He's saying it's wrong to not define certain things as moral absolutes -- as either absolute evils or absolute goods -- to say there is no such thing as right, wrong, good, evil, only less good and more good. In other words, he's decrying moral relativism (i.e, "Well, that may be true for you, but it's not true for me."). And moral relativism is bogus. Either something's true or it's not. He's saying moral relativism is what led in part to the priestly sex abuse scandal because it led those advising bishops to send their priests for therapy rather than to the cops. That's the ultimate context of his comments.

Have I missed anything? Do I get anything wrong? If you disagree with me, I'm very open to hearing why. I'm sure I could learn something.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

How to have fun with St. Lucy

St. Lucy was born ca. 283 and she was martyred in 304 during Emperor Diocletian's martyrdom, so she would have been about 21-years-old at the time of her death.

We say on her feast day, "Today is the day of Lucylight, shortest day and longest night," and that's because back when we had the Julian calendar, in other words, before the mid-16th century, her feast coincided with the winter solstice. Since the world adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1582 under Pope Gregory XIII, that now falls on December 21.

Something else that's significant with her is, if your priest says Eucharistic Prayer I (which I hope they all do on a fairly frequent basis because it's the most ancient in terms of use and one could reasonably argue the most beautiful), she is one of eight women mentioned in it, all of whom except for the Virgin Mary were fellow martyrs. In fact, two -- Ss. Perpetua & Felicity -- in the book Saint Who? 39 Holy Unknowns.

The story is that Lucy was a good Sicilian girl from the city of Syracuse, and her story is almost identical to many accounts from this period of Church history. It seems every Western European country has a female martyr whose story is almost identical to hers. For instance, in Saint Who?, we read about St. Faith of Conques, whose story isn't identical but very similar.

Anyway, the story further says that her parents had betrothed her to a pagan, even though she had consecrated her virginity to Christ. Noticing her coldness to his advances and romantic gestures and witnessing the many good works she did, her betrothed put two-and-two together and turned her into the authorities for being a Christian. Some accounts say he already knew she was a Christian but was willing to overlook it for reasons we'll make clear in a moment.

Supposedly what happened was that Lucy tried to talk her mother out of making her go through with the wedding. She told her, "...whatever you give away at death for the Lord's sake you give because you cannot take it with you. Give now to the true Savior, while you are healthy, whatever you intended to give away at your death." Her intended heard from a gossip that Lucy had found a "nobler bridegroom" and grew jealous, especially because he stood to obtain a great fortune by marrying this wealthy maiden.

The governor first sentenced her to live in a brothel, because, you know, what better sentence can you give to someone who wants to maintain her purity for Christ?

When the day came to take her to her new home, the guards couldn't move her. She was stiff and unmovable. They then condemned her, and even though the Romans tried various methods of killing her, stabbing her through the throat, burning her, nothing harmed her. So the guards gouged out her eyes. Like Bl. Lucy the Chaste, a Dominican nun who took her for her namesake, another version says that her fiance was so captivated by her eyes that she gouged them out herself and said, basically, "Here, take them if this is what you want. Now leave me alone to live for God."

The interesting thing is that her name may not have actually been Lucy. Some think they only gave her that name after her martyrdom since Lucia, which is where we get "Lucy", comes from the Latin lucis, which means "light." So even though she couldn't see temporal things after her eyes were removed, she always saw the light of Christ. One ancient writer says that, "In 'Lucy' is said, the way of light."

However, accounts of her eyes aren't found until the 1400s, and it's thought that maybe the name "Lucia" came first and, because the name means "light," the story about the eyes came later.

Sometime in the 7th century, her relics were taken from Syracuse, and were moved to different places over the next few hundred years. Regardless, her body was in Venice by at least the late 1400s, and in the Church of St. Jeremiah is where they rest today. I've been there, and what you see is a plaster body, where the feet stick out. They're definitely incorrupt feet, although the skin looks like it's full of moth holes.

In 2005, I visited Venice and got to see this first hand ...

 In any event, her feast is a big deal throughout Europe, a big, big deal, especially in Sweden and Italy. In fact, it's one feast that Lutherans still celebrate. You can imagine why in Sweden, because of the long, long winter nights. The day when the days start getting longer is definitely cause for celebration.

Each Swedish town votes a young lady "Sankta Lucia." She wears a crown of candles and, escorted by girls in white with a red sash and "star boys," she brings light and song (and saffron buns!) to homes and workplaces.

And, of course, one of the songs sung is "Santa Lucia," which is the same tune in Italy as it is in Sweden. In Sweden, it's all about being a light in the darkness, whereas in Italy, the lyrics deal with sailors and waters and looking out on the dark, starlit sky up at heaven.

The feast is even celebrated in our own country in a big way in Omaha, although it's celebrated in the summer. They have a procession through the city's streets that features a statue of the saint and a first class relic, that is something from her body.

St. Lucy's feast is a great Advent way of preparing for Christmas and, by extension, the Second Coming. When I lived in Sacramento, we used to celebrate it every year. We invited families over from church and other friends to a big party.

We'd tell her story to the kids and give them eyeball-themed candies (for instance, chocolate balls wrapped in tinfoil painted as eyes is pretty easy; eye gummies, etc.), we'd sing the English-language version of "Santa Lucia," and we'd float a pair of plastic eyeballs in the punch. One year we served eyeball cupcakes on a platter (mimicking her iconography, where she is depicted as holding a plate with two eyeballs on it).

Not far away, one neighborhood really did it up with the Christmas lights. Each house was amazingly festooned with lights, and the neighbors served hot chocolate and cider. So we'd have everyone caravan over, and we'd walk around admiring these people's handiwork.

The great thing is that there are special St. Lucy Day recipes. The Sicilians make a sort of pudding called cuccia, whereas the Swedes serve coffee and Lussekatter (or St. Lucia Buns).

St. Lucy's Day Cuccia (Sicilian Cuccia)

Cuccia is a traditional dessert, served only on St. Lucy's day In Sicilian households. In legend, Saint Lucy brought wheat berries to the Sicilians. The leftovers are a special treat eaten for breakfast the following day.

•1 pound wheat berries
•1/4 teaspoon salt
•1/2 cup corn starch
•2 1/2 cups milk
•1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
•1/2 cup semisweet chocolate bits
•1/2 cup candied citron


Soak wheat berries in water overnight. If you aren't cooking them in the morning, the wheat berries can continue to soak, but change water in the morning.

Drain wheat and place in a wide-bottomed soup pot with water to cover by two inches. Add salt and simmer for three hours or until tender. Add water if necessary. When tender, drain excess water. Set aside, covered.

In a small bowl whisk cornstarch with 1/2 cup milk until cornstarch is dissolved and smooth. Put in a saucepan with remaining milk, lemon zest, and chocolate bits. Cook over low flame, stirring continuously, until milk thickens. Be careful milk does not boil.

Remove from heat and mix with drained wheat. Add citron just before serving.

Serves 12.

Lussekatter (St. Lucia Buns)

St. Lucy's day marks the opening of the Christmas season in Sweden. Lussekatter are their delicious saffron buns made in any number of figures: cats, "s" shapes, or figure eights.

•1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
•8 ounces (1 cup) milk
•1 tablespoon yeast
•1/2 cup sugar
•4 ounces (1 stick) butter
•5 cups all-purpose flour
•1 teaspoon salt
•1/2 cup sugar
•2 large eggs, beaten
•1 beaten egg white for egg wash


Using a mortar and pestle, pound saffron threads to break down strands.

In a small saucepan, heat milk to lukewarm.

Mix yeast with 1/4 cup milk and 1 tablespoon sugar. Set aside.

On low heat, melt butter in saucepan with milk. Add crushed saffron. Let cool.

In large bowl, mix together flour salt and remaining sugar.

Stir yeast into cooled milk mixture. Mix into dry ingredients, beating to mix well. Add beaten eggs. Knead in bowl for 5 - 7 minutes. Turn onto floured board and knead another 7 - 8 minutes.

Put dough in lightly greased bowl, turn to coat all sides, cover and put in warm, draft-free place to rise for about 1 hour.

When dough has risen, knead lightly to push out air and divide into small pieces (about 10 - 12). Using the hands, roll each small piece into a strip about 8 - 10 inches long. Shape each strip into an 'S' or a figure 8. Place on lightly buttered cookie sheets.

Cover with clean cloth and let rise again until double in bulk, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Preheat oven to 375°F.

When dough has risen, brush lightly with egg white. Bake in preheated 375° F oven for 15 minutes, or until lightly browned. Let cool on wire rack.

Yield: 10 - 12 buns

recipe from

Contributor: Kerstin Bergstrom
"Santa Lucia" (find the tune at
Verse 1
Now 'neath the sil-ver moon
O - cean is glow-ing,
O'er the calm bil - lows,
soft winds are blow-ing.
Here balm - y breezes blow,
pure joys in - vite us,
And as we gent-ly row,
all things de - light us.
Hark, how the sail-or's cry joy - ou - sly ech-oes night:
San-ta__ Lu - ci - a, San-ta Lu - ci - a!
Home of fair po - e - sy, realm of pure har-mon-y,
San-ta__ Lu - ci - a, San-ta Lu - ci - a!
Verse 2
When o'er the wa - ters
light winds are play-ing,
Thy spell can soothe us,
all care al - lay - ing.
To thee sweet Na - po - li,
what charms are giv-en,
Where smiles cre - a - tion,
toil blest by hea-ven.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Saints News for October and November

Calungsod and the Clods of Mud
On the last day of November, a huge Mass of Thanksgiving was held in Cebu City in honor of the canonization of the Philippines second saint, St. Pedro Calungsod. Despite heavy rains and much mud, the open air event drew hundreds of thousands of grateful and justly proud Catholics.
And just to show that the United States isn't the only country where the Church must cope with politicians who vigorously promote laws that go against the her teachings, Pilipino President Benigno Aquino was amongst the event's most prominent attendees. Currently, he is using all his power to ram the "Responsible Parenthood, Reproductive Health and Population and Development Act of 2011" through his nation's Congress.
We in the US have become pretty familiar with this type of legislation, but this bill is unique because it seeks to have the government guarantee "pleasurable ... sexual experiences" for women. (What will we think of next?)
In light of this proposed law, what made the Mass especially worth noting is that it was attended by Angelo Cardinal Amato, who did not attend a similiar event held in honor of the canonization of St. Kateri Tekakwitha. Some are predicting that the Mass will end up reigniting "Catholic activism in every area of Philippine social, economic and cultural life."
Another Pilipino saint in the making?
Keeping our eye on the Philippines, the beatification cause for the first Pilipino bishop of the Diocese of Lipa, His Grace Alfredo Florentin Verzosa, who served as Lipa's ordinary from 1916 until 1950. He also founded the Missionary Catechists of the Sacred Heart, whose charism is to catechize youth in the barios of the now-Archdiocese of Lipa.
One news sources says "Verzosa witnessed some of the miracles of the Roses in Lipa, along with his auxiliary bishop, Servant of God Bishop Alfredo Obviar whose cause for beatification and canonization started in 2001." The Pinoy Exchange newspaper says, "The Blessed Mother, Mediatrix of All Grace, appeared to a young novice, Sister Teresing Castillo several times, showering her with fragrant petals of roses. The miracle sparked controversy and Sister Teresing and the other Carmelite nuns underwent untold trials and sufferings from the hands of skeptical priests who accused them of 'staging' the miracle to raise funds for the construction of their convent in Lipa."
An old new face at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints
According to the Vatican Information Service, the "Holy Father appointed Msgr. Carmelo Pellegrino, relator of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, as promoter [general] of the faith of the same dicastery." There are five relators at the Congregation, and their job, says the USCCB, is to "assemble the historic documentation of the particular location and era of the candidate." The Promoter General, on the other hand, is the prelate theologian of the Congregation, and he heads a staff of 71 theological consultors.
Servant of God Ciszek Given Special Role During the Year of Faith
Bishop John Barres of Allentown has named diocesan native and Servant of God Fr. Walter Ciszek, SJ, as patron for the Year of Faith in his diocese.
According to the Pottsville Republican Herald, Bishop Barres, who is an amazing preacher, told the 300 people attending a Mass at St. Casimir Church, Fr. Ciszek's home parish in Shenandoah, PA, Barres told the congregation, "As we stand up for our First Amendment rights as Americans and as Catholics, we stand up for our religious liberties following the footsteps of Father Walter Ciszek.... What was Father Walter's life in the end but the expression of a deep Catholic faith and missionary spirit that led him to God in Russia? His witness is extremely relevant right now. He experienced in communist Russia gross violations of religious liberty. His biography, his sanctity and missionary spirit, his spiritual teaching is a reminder to all of us to defend and promote our precious gift of religious liberty - a gift that Americans can no longer take for granted."
When Fr. Ciszek was ordained in 1937, he became the first American Jesuit priest for the Byzantine rite, which he became in order to work the mission fields of Soviet Russia. However, he was arrested in 1941 as a Vatican spy, and thereafter spent time in both the notorious Lubianka prison and doing hard time in Siberia. Even though doing so put his life in great danger, Fr. Ciszek continued his ministry even these situations. In 1963, after 23 years in the USSR, the United States swapped a spy for the priest, and he dedicated the rest of his life to leading retreats and doing spiritual direction. He is possibly best remembered because of his two best selling books, He Leadeth Me and With God in Russia, both of which are still available from Ignatius Press. Tomorrow, incidentally, December 8, 2012, marks the twenty-eighth anniversary of his death.
Paul VI soon to be a beato?
Theologians at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints have approved the positio -- or position brief -- arguing for the beatification of the Servant of God Pope Paul VI. By this time next month, we will know whether the Congregation's bishops have similarly approved the late Holy Father's being raised to the altar. If that happens, Benedict XVI would declare the pontiff who made him cardinal "venerable" and after that it is just a matter of getting approval of a miracle, from which there are reportedly several to choose.
Born Giovanni Battista Montini, Paul VI reigned from 1963 to 1978. In those 15 years, he led the last three sessions of Vatican II, wrote eight encyclicals, including Humanae Vitae, which affirmed the Church's age-old teaching on contraception and marriage, as well as several other masterpieces. He also reformed the Mass and did his best to guide the Church through tumultuous, often confused times when a spate of voices were raised to badger the Barque of Peter to jettison her teachings and Tradition. And no one, even those who believe he was not the best pope, no one doubts his personal holiness. Everyone who knew him intimately and who worked alongside him was convinced he was a saint. We will soon see if they are right.
Prague sees beatification of fourteen martyr monks
On Sunday, October 14, at Prague's historic St. Vitus Cathedral, Angelo Cardinal Amato beatified fourteen Franciscan monks who were lynched in Prague for preaching the truths of our Catholic faith.
Fr. Frederic Bachstein and his 13 companions came from Italy, Germany, what is now the Czech Republic, Spain, France, and Holland. Their superiors sent them to Prague in order to learn the Czech language and rebuild the partially destroyed Monastery of Our Lady of Snows in the nation's capital, a city that had become almost entirely devoid of Catholics and extremely hostile to the faith. There were wars of religion taking place, and even attempts at fostering religious tolerance backfired.
In a way, the monks' martyrdom was an ecumenical affair, since Hussites, Calvinists, Lutherans and even some Catholics broke into their convent around 11am on February 15, 1611. By 3pm, after terrible torture and mutilation, the fourteen monks had been massacred. Then their murderers exposed the desecrated bodies outside the monastery for four days.
After this, two Catholic women who were aristocrats took the martyrs bodies and buried them.
During the beatification Mass, Cardinal Amato told the 6,000 strong congregation, "Far from living in hatred, these blessed martyrs prayed, worked and acted for good, as penitent witnesses to Christ's love."
Today, the situation in the Czech Republic is very much like it was back in the 1600s. While they number 1 million, Catholics are a decided minority. For in a nation of 10.5 million people, five million claim no religion, and a third of the population claims to be atheists. This makes the Czech Republic one of Europe's least religious countries.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The story of the real Santa Claus

St. Nicholas of Myra

Let’s begin with a prayer:

Almighty God, who in thy love didst give to thy servant Nicholas of Myra a perpetual name for deeds of kindness on land and sea: Grant, we pray thee, that thy Church may never cease to work for the happiness of children, the safety of sailors, the relief of the poor, and the help of those tossed by tempests of doubt or grief; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

St. Nick was an actual real, live person, and he became famous as the bishop of a town that was then known as Myra, but which is now called Demre, in Turkey. If you look at Turkey on a map, it’s sort of shaped like a lima bean lying on its back. Well, Demre or Myra is at the bottom of that bean, slightly left of center. It’s right on the Mediterranean, and until the 1920s, there was a huge Christian population here. But at that time, Greece and Turkey did a huge population exchange, which saw Greek Muslims swapped for Turkish Christians, and as a result this entire area became deserted. There are whole villages in the surrounding hillsides that are ghost towns. But until that happened, the descendants of the people shepherded by St. Nicholas had clung tenaciously to the faith in the diocese he had run.

St. Nicholas was born in 270 in Patara, Turkey, which is now just a bunch of ruins, but at the time was a flourishing commercial port in the key Roman province of Lycia. And even though Patara is a dead city, it’s still a featured beach on the Turkish Riviera. So we can picture the saint as a boy running along the beach and swimming in the ocean. Who knows? Maybe he even body surfed.

His parents were ethnic Greeks, which made him a Greek, as well. And it is said that he was always a very pious boy. Religion really took with him almost from the beginning, and because Our Lord spoke about the importance of fasting, St. Nick would fast each and every Wednesday and Friday. Again, this is all from a very young age. He also made pilgrimages to Egypt and the Holy Land. We have to imagine he was too young to go without his parents, so they must have been very faithful themselves.

When he just a youth, his parents died during an outbreak of some illness, and he followed Our Lord’s admonition to the rich young man, “Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor.” Afterward, his Uncle Nicholas, who was bishop of Patara, raised him. Seeing his nephew as an ideal cleric, he gave him the tonsure and ordained him to the minor order of lector and then later bestowed on him holy orders. Eventually, while still a young adult, he became a bishop like his uncle, but in nearby Demre or Myra, as we know it.

He was a short man, barely 5’ tall, and he had a broken nose. Why that was, we don’t know. There is not unreasonable speculation that he was imprisoned for the Faith at some point during Emperor Diocletian’s persecution, but he was not a martyr. In fact, he died on this day sometime between 343 and 352, depending on your source. As a result, he not only lived during the time of the Council of Nicaea, but he is said to have been a participant. However, none of the old lists of attending bishops mention him.
Anyway, this is what we know for sure about St. Nicholas or Santa Claus. As for the rest, it is hard to discern fact from fiction.

The most famous story relating to him concerns a poor man with three daughters. Because this gentleman could not afford their dowries, and because there were no employment opportunities open to most young women other than the world’s oldest profession, it likely meant they would end up on the streets as practitioners of that profession.

Well, Bishop Nicholas heard of this, and he wanted to help, but he also knew the impoverished father was proud and wouldn’t want to accept his help in broad daylight. So late one night, he snuck to the window of the man’s house and tossed in three small sacks of gold. Other versions of the story say he dropped them down the family’s chimney, which is where we get that part about Santa Claus coming into our houses on Christmas Eve that way. And it’s likely that the chimney part came in when parents in northern climes were trying to explain to young children who had never experienced warmth in December why anyone would have their windows open in the middle of winter.
There are different variations of the story, that he threw the gold in as a one-time thing, that it happened over the course of three nights, that it happened over the course of three years, that sort of thing. What marks the latter stories is that the father lied in wait on the third night or the third year and discovered his benefactor, who told him to thank God, not him.

Since pawnbrokers exchange money for hocked goods, those in Bari put paintings of three gold on the signs in front of their shops as a way of identifying themselves for people who couldn't read. Over time, those coins were mistaken for heads. This led to the above story being twisted into St. Nicholas’ resurrecting three children, after they’d been killed and pickled by a butcher, who was going to carve them up and cook their remains into pies a la Sweeny Todd. But, in any event, this is why he’s patron of bakers and children.
Leaving aside the gruesome corruption of the core story, our beloved bishop became associated with anonymous gift giving, which is why we say a certain someone left our Christmas gifts.

Another legend concerns a famine Myra was said to have had around 311-312. There was a boat at the docks, and the saint asked the captain for some of the wheat that was on board, even though it was destined for the Emperor. You can imagine, the skipper wasn’t too keen on the request, but after St. Nicholas promised he would take the blame if they got in trouble, they agreed. When they got to the capital of the Eastern empire at what is today called Istanbul, the weight of the cargo on board was exactly what it was before St. Nicholas had come and spoken with them. This is in spite of the fact that Nicholas took with him two years’ worth of wheat. This is why he is the patron saint of sailors.

After his death, he was buried in his cathedral. However, in the late eleventh century, the Byzantine Empire -- which was really the Eastern Roman Empire -- it fell to the Muslims, and the area around Myra was one where control went back and forth for a while. Well, one day, sailors from the town of Bari, Italy, went into the cathedral, opened his tomb and took about half of his skeleton, really the principle half, the skull and all the major bones. The Muslims at the time were desecrating the tombs of lesser known saints and scattering their bones to the dogs. Why wouldn’t they eventually do the same to the relics of this famous Christian hero who was hugely venerated all over the eastern Mediteranean (and Bari is almost as close to Greece as it is to Rome). If you look on a map of Italy, it’s just above the heel on the Italian “boot,” if you will, on the Aegean Sea.

Then about 25 years later, sometime during the First Crusade, so 1096-1099, Venetian sailors took the rest of his remains back to their city and built a church to house them called San Nicolò al Lido, or St. Nicholas on Lido Island, as we might say it.

Each year, the relics in Bari exhude what the Greeks call “manna,” a clear, watery liquid that smells like roses. This is also called myrrh, and these waters are held to have miraculously curative powers. So many miracles have been wrought by the sick being touched with this manna that our saint is often called St. Nicholas the Wonderworker. You can obtain a vial of this myrrh yourself by writing to the cathedral of San Nicolò at Bari. Of course, you should include a cash donation of some kind to cover the expense of the vial and postage, but it’s anyone’s for the asking. I mean, the extract is so copious, it fills up a flask each and every year. Some say the liquid is simply seepage from the nearby sea, since the saint’s sepulchre is below sea level, but then how does it smell like roses? Also, how did it happen at both Myra and Bari and not at Venice, since the tomb there is at or partially below sea level, as well?

Today, possibly seeing the tourist dollars it’s losing, Turkey’s Islamic government is asking for Italy to return both sets of St. Nicholas’ remains. However, given its treatment of its Christian population and of the Greek Orthodox Church, which is headquartered there, I personally think Italy is the safest place to keep the remains.

In any event, his feast, which we celebrate today, is a big deal throughout Europe. In fact, today is the main gift day in many European countries, particularly what are called the Low Countries, namely the Netherlands and Belgium. But in all places, children leave out their shoes, and in them, they find bags of gold foil covered chocolate coins or an orange or the like. Or they find small gifts for themselves in the stocking attached to the mantle.

He’s not a big deal in France, Spain, the Scandinavian countries, but in every other European country, devotion to him is second only to Mary.

Sad that more people don't know this

“L’obbedienza non è un atto di costrizione, ma un abbandonarsi all’oceano della bontà di Dio." ("Obedience is not an act of coercion, it is letting go, surrendering oneself to the ocean of the goodness of God.") —Pope Benedict XVI, at his Wednesday General Audience in Rome today, December 5, 2012. Thanks to Robert Moynihan at Inside the Vatican for bringing this non-published remark to our attention. It's so true.

And I would add, his translation of the word costrizione I originally read as "constriction." In other words, God doesn't constrict so much or coerce: He gives. He gives up so much more for us than we can ever do for Him. He always has, He always will.

Let go, let God. Once you get past your initial reluctance, you'll be glad you did.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Good news from Pakistan!

If you're like me, and you hear news coming out of Pakistan concerning Christians, you automatically think, 'Oh, no. Another Christian accused of blasphemy,' or 'Lord, help us. Who was gunned down in the streets this time?'
So when a priest friend of mine, Fr. Simon Khurshid, sent me the following, I rejoiced. It may not seem like big news, but in a country where Christians and other religious minorities are less than second class citizens, it's very big, indeed. My first experience with Pakistan was when I learned of a Catholic bishop publicly immolating himself to protest mistreatment by the nation's majority Muslim population. God rest his soul for this unfortunate act, but it shows how desperate the people there can get.

In recent years, we've learned of Shabaz Bhati and victims of the country's insane blasphemy law such as Asia (pro. "Aa-see-yah") Bibi.

Asia Bibi
Then there was that poor young teenage girl who was shot in the head for speaking out against the Taliban and for women's rights, although she is a Muslim and not a religious minority.

So you can see why any good news is cause for celebration.Therefore, without further ado, here it is:

132 Young Catholics Blessed
with Sacraments of Confession & Holy Communion,
Immaculate Conception Parish, Toba Tek Singh, Pakistan

The First Sunday of Advent 2012 was celebrated with great joy at Immaculate Conception Parish as 132 young Catholics were blessed with the sacraments of Confession and First Holy Communion.

On Sunday morning, the Church was packed with children, their parents, and other Church members from rural and urban areas. The sacrament aspirants came before the Mass and queued up with their gifts to offer on the occasion.

Nimar Masih, a 12 year old aspirant said, “I cannot express my feelings in words. Our Catechist had been visiting our school for the last six months to teach the importance of sacraments in our life. He was used to teach with simple and day to day examples of our life. I was very excited to receive the Holy Communion. It was my dream. Now I am thankful to my parents, teachers, Catechist and priest to guide me to be prepared for this day. I pray that God enlightened our minds & hearts to witness the Gospel values in Pakistan”

Mukhtarian Bibi, 56 a mother six said, “The Advent season has brought endless joy and happiness, on Nov 29, 2012, my children were blessed with sacrament of confession and December 2nd, they were blessed with sacrament of Holy Communion. It’s a like a feast day.  Another great day is fast approaching, that is December 8, 2012, feast of my parish (Immaculate Conception) and Bishop Ruffin Anthony will bless 132 children with sacrament of Confirmation. What a day it will be!”

Rev. Fr. Shamas Simon, Rev. Fr. Abid Saleem (a local OMI priest serving in Quetta, Diocese) were the Mass celebrants. Parish pastored Rev. Fr. Simon Khurshid welcomed the sacrament aspirants, their parents, and other Church members and gave an introduction of the Mass. He hailed the services of his team of Sisters of Religious of Jesus & Mary (RJM), teachers, and catechists who worked tirelessly to make the event a success.

Rev. Fr. Shamas Simon asked basic questions from the sacrament aspirants about sacraments and their importance in one’s life. He repeated the story of Jesus, where He stressed His followers to pray together and remember the Last Supper and being a Catholic Holy Communion is vital to receive.

Church members and sacrament aspirants offered special gifts to the priests. Choirs presented theme-based hymns and altar servants decorated the Church with beautiful seasonal flowers. Tehsil Municipal Administration made special arrangements to clean the church boundaries and adjoining roads.

Children from the following schools and villages blessed with sacraments:

·         Convent of Jesus & Mary
·         Green Leaf Elementary
·         Grace Charity
·         St. Peter’s
·         Vision for the Future
·         Brighter Future
·         Village Number,  327 J.B, Bhalair
·         Village Number, 328 J. B. 
·         Village Number, 323 J.B, Tarandi
·         Village, Eban.

The program ended with a delicious meal. 
Reported by,
Ashfaq Fateh
Immaculate Conception Parish,
Toba Tek Singh