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Posted by on Aug 17, 2016

Mission: Peacemaking and Muslim Christian Relations

Mission: Peacemaking and Muslim Christian Relations

Peace Flows Like a River

Water in the Desert

What I’ve discovered … is that when we show up for people in need — when we seek their well-being, flourishing, and justice, whether they ever convert to our religion or not — we might just see the transformation we long for in ourselves and in hard-to-access places around the world. – Jeremy Courtney

Baptist missionary Jeremy Courtney, his wife, and two children found themselves in the middle of the Iraq War.  In today’s attempt by some Moslems and Christians to demonize the other in a continuation of centuries of bloody warfare, Courtney has founded the Preemptive Love Coalition.

Courtney and his movement represent a broadening of the Protestant Evangelical notion of mission to one that is more in keeping with the Vatican II Catholic notion of the Christian missionary. Courtney’s approach is to pursue peace one heart at a time. “Love first and ask questions later.” became the theme of Courtney’s approach as he started helping Iraqi children to obtain life-saving and life-changing heart surgery within Iraq by increasing the capacity and capabilities of the country to care for its own children.

Courtney opens his web page, JeremyCourtney.com, with a compelling quotation from C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity about how our failure to accept and embrace people we see as opponents corrupts us and our relationship with God because it leads us to a universe of pure hatred.

Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, ‘Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,’ or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally we shall insist on seeing everything — God and our friends and ourselves included — as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.

– C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Although C.S. Lewis wrote in the context of World War II and the Nazi regime, his words are especially relevant in our moral challenge of relating to Islam and to Islamic extremists.

Courtney focuses on the need for authenticity, since many Protestant missionaries pose as aid workers or teachers in countries that are hostile to Christianity. In an OpEd for CNN’s Declassifed – Untold Stories of American Spies – “Three Arguments Against Christian Covert ‘Spycraft'” Courtney decries this practice as dishonest, harmful to religious freedom, and because it “puts a target on the backs of local Christians”.

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingly power: proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching.For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths.But you, be self-possessed in all circumstances; put up with hardship; perform the work of an evangelist; fulfill your ministry.

2 Timothy 4:1-5

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Posted by on Mar 24, 2015

The Alpha Course — Presenting and Encountering Christ

The Alpha Course — Presenting and Encountering Christ

Alpha Course logoA fundamental theme of Pope Francis’ papacy has been the Church’s call to missionary activity. This activity is not simply the call of a few who will travel to distant lands. It is the call of every Christian: the call to participate in evangelization. Yet in our communities,workplaces, and homes, we often feel uncomfortable in this role, whether because the Christian message and lifestyle are counter-cultural or because we don’t really know or understand what we believe, why we believe it, or why we do what we do.

The Alpha Course is a relatively new program that is focused on reaching out to those who have never really heard the Gospel or experienced life as Christians. One of the side-effects of the program, however, is to re-vitalize parish life as new people are touched by the love of the Risen Christ and enter the community of faith. Long-time members of Christian communities, including Roman Catholics, also experience a revitalization of their faith as they see it anew through the eyes of the newcomers.

Fr. Riccardo, pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Plymouth, Michigan and a regular contributor on Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), talks about the fact that we as Catholics tend to focus on sacramentalizing: introducing our parishioners to the sacraments and helping them grow in their sacramental life.  According to Fr. Riccardo, if we teach the people about the faith and the sacraments without introducing them to the person of Christ, it is like throwing seeds on concrete. Nothing will grow. Fr. Riccardo gives a comprehensive presentation of the Alpha Course, a program for evangelization, in a series of YouTube podcasts.

The Alpha Course has a simple method. People gather for a meal and a discussion, not just in a church setting but wherever people gather. The attendees are primarily people who are currently outside the Church. Over a ten week period the participants come to an experience of the Risen Christ as their loving friend and savior.

The Alpha Course began in a Church of England parish in London and is now widely used by many denominations. It is opening doors to ecumenical cooperation and discussion about the centrality of Christ in our faith. Over 1 million Catholics in Canada have been through the course. Fr. Rainero Cantalamessa, preacher to the papal household, Cardinal Rino Fisichella, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, and other Catholic leaders have praised the Alpha Course.

Rev. Mr. Steve Mitchell, a deacon of the Archdiocese of Detroit, is the national director for Alpha USA. According to Deacon Mitchell’s statement on the AlphaUSA.org website “Alpha provides a safe, non-threatening environment where no question is too dumb and no perception is criticized. Barriers are broken down as we share a meal together and build relationships without regard to what someone believes.”

Alpha’s video includes examples from Catholic parishes around the world.

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Posted by on Feb 24, 2015

Catholics and Cultures: A new online resource

Catholics and Cultures: A new online resource

Plaza-centro Catholics & Cultures is a new program developed by the  Rev. Michael C. McFarland, S.J. Center for Religion, Ethics and Culture of the College of the Holy Cross. Its goal is to encourage comparative study of Catholic life as it is being lived around the world today. In addition to comparative studies of Catholic culture, this site aims to provide resources for teaching about the richness and uniqueness of Catholic life in our world. How do ordinary Catholics live their faith through their daily lives? How is a Catholic life different in Ireland, or Indonesia, or Brazil, or China, or India? What local customs, foods, and activities are enjoyed by Catholics in cultures around the world?

We often think that Catholicism as we experience it in our own community is the way it is everywhere and from all times. Any Catholic who has married another Catholic from a different cultural community, however, will have noticed that sometimes it seems as if the two of them are divided rather than united by the bonds of a common religion. Part of the adventure of such marriages is learning to enjoy the differences and enter into the experience of the divine from another direction or perspective.

As part of Catholics & Culture, a new journal will be produced, the Journal of Global Catholicism. The primary focus of the journal will be “lived Catholicism,” whether examined as comparative studies or specific case studies.

The site already offers wonderful resources. I’m looking forward to checking it out often and hope you will too. We’re a great big community with much to celebrate and share together!

Image by Wesisnay of a Catholic festival sand painting in Tenerife
– GNU Free Documentation License

 

 

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Posted by on Jan 22, 2015

Sainthood for Father Junipero Serra

Sainthood for Father Junipero Serra

Bl. Junipero Serra Public Domain Image

Bl. Junipero Serra
Public Domain

Pope Francis on January 16 announced his decision to canonize Fr. Junipero Serra, the Franciscan founder of the California missions during his visit to Washington, DC this fall. The ceremony will take place at the National Shrine of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. The Pope decided to waive the requirement for two miracles. Blessed Fr. Serra is said to have cured a nun in St. Louis from lupus. However a second miracle has not been attributed to his intervention. Pope Francis said that Blessed Junipero Serra has been considered to have been a holy man for many decades and that he is a good example of evangelization — bringing the gospel — to those who have not heard it.

Blessed Junipero Serra has become a controversial figure since the mission system led to the downfall of the ancient cultures of the native people and their way of life. He and the other missionaries are blamed for the destruction of ancient ways. Others see him as the founder of California and a moderating force in the Spanish expansion into Alta California. For example, when the Viceroy demanded the execution of 12 captured Kumeyaay Indians who had attacked Mission San Diego in 1775 and killed three Spaniards, Blessed Junipero Serra managed to spare their lives. The Los Angeles Times published a well balanced article on January 16,  “Decision to Canonize Father Junipero Serra draws divided reaction.”

Native people today are divided on the subject. Andy Galvan an Ohlone Indian and curator of Mission Dolores in San Francisco focuses on the positive aspects of Spanish colonization and says that Blessed Junipero Serra “was a very good man in a very bad situation.” His cousin, Vincent Medina, who is also an Ohlone Indian and the assistant curator at Mission Dolores, focuses on the negative outcomes. Jesuit Father Thomas Rausch, SJ, PhD, a religious studies professor at Loyola Marymount College in Los Angeles, has characterized the controversy as a debate about “an 18th century Catholic missionary by 21st century standards of cultural diversity, religious pluralism and personal autonomy.”

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Posted by on Oct 6, 2014

Music Evokes the Sacred – The Piano Guys

Music Evokes the Sacred – The Piano Guys

The Flame of Music

The Flame of Music

 

The Piano Guys have produced many inspiring productions. Generally the Piano Guys will do a medley of two compositions. In this one they mix the theme from the movie The Mission with How Great Thou Art.  The Mission was a 1986 film which told the story of the Jesuit missions in Paraguay. The Iguassu Falls which form the backdrop of this video are also the general location of the Jesuit missions. The combination of the native Guarani music and dance with the European musical instruments and forms created a wonderful music that is still heard today.

The Guarani fought to maintain their freedom when Europeans sought to enslave them. In the war that followed, the missions were destroyed along with the Jesuits who stood with their Catholic parishioners. It is a tale of light and shadow, of grace and sin, and a struggle that still goes on in South America today as Pope Francis reminds us. Yet the music does not die but reflects the light of the Burning Bush.

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Posted by on Sep 29, 2011

St. Lioba – An Extraordinary Woman in the History of German Christianity

St. Lioba – An Extraordinary Woman in the History of German Christianity

 

St. Lioba of Tauberbishofsheim - by Kandschwar

Saint Lioba (aka Leoba) was born in Wessex, England in approximately 710. Her given name was Thrutgeba and her surname was Lioba, a name meaning Beloved. According to her biographer, Rudolf of Fulda, her birth to aged and formerly barren parents was foretold to her mother in a dream. Her mother promised that her child would be dedicated to the service of God and so Lioba entered the abbey at Wimborne as a child. In a delightful biography, Rudolf provides details about the abbess Tetta who was responsible for the monastery and the women who lived within its walls, as well as of the sources for his narrative of Lioba’s life. He then goes on to tell of Lioba: her life and accomplishments.

Lioba took full advantage of the opportunity to study and learn within the monastery. Girls were not generally given the opportunity to study in the 8th Century. Nevertheless, within the monastery, Lioba learned to read and study Scripture, as well as learning through observation and practice how to get along with others and manage a large enterprise/household such as an abbey.

A relative of St. Boniface, Apostle to the Germans, as a young woman, Lioba wrote to him, expressing interest in his missionary work in Germany: “To the most reverend Boniface, bearer of the highest dignity and well-beloved in Christ, Lioba, to whom he is related by blood, the least of Christ’s handmaids, sends greetings for eternal salvation.”

Lioba and Boniface corresponded with each other for twenty years before he invited her to come to Germany and establish monasteries for women there. She became abbess of the monastery at Bischofsheim, leading a large number of women in the spiritual life as well as the practical details of earning a living as a community. She never stopped studying and deepening her knowledge of Scripture and the faith. According to Rudolf, “She read with attention all the books of the Old and New Testaments and learned by heart all the commandments of God. To these she added by way of completion the writings of the church Fathers, the decrees of the Councils and the whole of ecclesiastical law.” In addition to her education, she was known for her wisdom and kindness, moderation and compassion, hospitality and humility; she welcomed and gave advice to visitors including bishops who came to seek her counsel. In turn, she was the only woman allowed to enter the monasteries for men to participate in consultations with church leaders on issues related to the rule of monasteries.

Under the advice and guidance of Lioba, nuns from her abbey became leaders of other monasteries as well, continuing the work of evangelization begun by Boniface. Lioba was a friend of Charlemagne’s wife, Hildegard, and a welcome visitor in the court of Pippin III. She was known for her learning and for the depth of her faith. Miracles were attributed to her during her lifetime and following her death. In fact, her remains were moved at least twice to protect them when miracles were reported at the grave sites. Eventually, they were buried in a church in Fulda.

Lioba lived approximately 72 years. She died September 28, 782, so her feast is celebrated to this day on September 28. While not one of the more broadly known saints in today’s church, she is certainly a woman worthy of note and imitation. She was not afraid to read, study, and learn of “holy” topics, nor to share her insights with powerful men (not all of whom would have appreciated her position of leadership and equality in terms of education and influence). Yet she did not neglect the practical necessities of life in community or of the administration of large enterprises. She was well-loved by the women whom she led and respected by both ordinary folks and the powerful leaders of her time. Not a bad role model for us today.

Image by Kandschwar – GNU Free Documentation License

 

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Posted by on Sep 3, 2011

St. Gregory the Great on the Bible

St. Gregory the Great on the Bible

St. Gregory the Great by Zurbarán

St. Gregory the Great  was Pope from 590 to 604, guiding the Church through the ending of the Roman Empire and helping set its course as a stable institution through the Middle Ages. He was responsible for sending the first missionaries to Great Britain, regulating the liturgy, promoting choral music, and many other accomplishments. He is recognized as a Doctor of the Church for his leadership.

His insight into the role of the Bible in the lives of Christians is worth noting:

The Holy Bible is like a mirror before our mind’s eye. In it we see our inner face. … We can learn our spiritual deformities and beauties. And there too we discover the progress we are making and how far we are from perfection.

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Posted by on Jul 28, 2011

Novena to St. Ignatius Loyola – Discernment – Seventh Day – July 29th

Novena to St. Ignatius Loyola – Discernment – Seventh Day – July 29th

Roland Joffe’s 1986 Movie “The Mission” traces and telescopes the Jesuit missionary efforts in Paraguay. In 1995, the Vatican Film List singled out “The Mission” as one of 15 films of special religious significance. In this scene Fr. Gabriel (Jeremy Irons) plays his oboe to make contact with the Guarani after several of his brothers had been killed in similar attempts. The song is the now famous “Gabriel’s Oboe” by Morricone. Right click on this link to open it in another tab for a symphonic and choral arrangement as a background for your own meditation on this day of the novena.

The Invitation of Christ

St. Ignatius is very clear in his distinction between the Call of Christ and that of Satan. Like Gabriel’s Oboe, the call of Christ is peaceful, inviting, encouraging. The snares of Satan are fear, anxiety, and compulsion. These are the primary ways in which we can begin to discern the source of motions and movements within our soul. The banner of Satan has been called the path of least resistance while the banner of Christ is that of consciousness.

The banner of Christ requires openness, humility, and real courage, as we see in the scene from the movie. In fact, the Jesuit missionary experience in Paraguay would follow the path of the cross as the Portuguese killed the missionaries and enslaved the Guarani. This in turn was only the prelude to the suppression of the Society of Jesus in 1767 because of its opposition to the absolute power given to kings and emperors during the Enlightenment. The Society was restored in 1814.

A Growing Sensitivity

Wholeheartedness in the service of God demands a constant effort of discernment, a growing sensitivity to the will of God. Without this, generosity can lead only to ‘the expense of spirit in a waste of shame’…

At all events, Ignatius characterizes Lucifer as a tyrant who drives and compels his subjects (he uses a vocabulary of compulsion and trickery), whereas when describing Christ his vocabulary is one of friendship, persuasion, gentleness…

What I have to see is that my personal option must be made in the light of this universal vision. My choice must integrate me into the great movement of salvation already accomplished in Christ and now being worked out on earth. My choice will be a reproduction in me of the option of Christ who chose the cross, despising its shame. We may note that this idea finds its first development with Origen but is already contained in germ in the phrase of Ignatius of Antioch – ‘Let me be an imitator of the passion of my God’. – William Yeomans (emphasis not in the original)

Mother Teresa

Exercise:

Placing myself in God’s presence, I ask these questions of myself and the Holy Spirit. What is my path of consciousness? What is my path of least resistance?

Concluding Prayer

St. Ignatius, you signed your letters “pobre de bondad,” poor in goodness, and called yourself a pilgrim. Please pray for me to be open to what God is calling me to do to announce and build up the kingdom. Transform my petitions into questions of discernment and pray for us to remember that all of our true needs and desires are already known to God. Pray that I be taken beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.

In your writings and by your example we are reminded to pray for the Church and the Holy Father, for all who dwell in darkness, and for the millions lacking food, water, and other necessities. We join our prayer with yours for true openness so that we can contemplate the Divine presence in all things and praise, reverence, and serve God Our Lord in action.Pray for us to have the courage to meet and to serve the Lord Jesus in the poor and the suffering.

Praise be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
Now and Forever. Amen.

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Posted by on Sep 9, 2008

St. Peter Claver – September 9 – Patron Saint of Slaves

St. Peter Claver – September 9 – Patron Saint of Slaves

Peter Claver was born in Catalonia in 1581. He attended the University of Barcelona before entering the Jesuits at the age of 20. During his study of philosophy in Majorca, he was encouraged by the porter, Br. Alphonsus Rodriguez, to travel as a missionary to the Americas. In 1610, Peter Claver arrived in Cartagena, in present day Colombia.

Cartagena was the center of the slave trade in the Americas at that time.

Slavery has had a long history in human relations. To this very day there are people enslaved in our world. Even within Christianity for most of its history, slavery was seen as one of those realities of life that are simply unquestioned until relatively recently. St. Paul, for example, wrote instructions on the proper behavior of slaves and sent an escaped slave who had become a Christian home to his master, with instructions to his Christian master to treat the slave well (Philemon). But there were no instructions to free him.

The West African slave trade that brought so many people to the Americas in chains had its roots in the Crusades. Pope Nicholas V, in a papal bull titled Dum Diversas (June 18, 1452), allowed the perpetual enslavement  of Saracens and pagans captured during the Crusades, because they were seen as enemies of God and Christianity. It seems ludicrous today, but that’s what people believed at the time. Later, on January 8, 1455, in Romanus Pontifex, he also authorized European dominion over newly discovered lands and the enslavement of non-Christian peoples living there. At that time, the Americas had not yet been “discovered” by Europeans, at least not by a Europe in any way ready or able to begin to colonize them.

Once Columbus and his crew brought word back of their findings, both Spain and Portugal, the foremost seafaring European peoples of the time, wanted to claim lands in America. Pope Alexander VI, on May 4, 1493, in Inter Caetera, divided the Americas between Spain and Portugal. He commanded Spain “to instruct the aforesaid inhabitants and residents and dwellers therein in the Catholic faith, and train them in good morals.” 

Despite the instructions of Alexander VI, military leaders and economic developers (colonists) had begun to enslave the native peoples whom they encountered in the Americas. Many had died of European diseases, against which they had no immunity. By May 29, 1537, Pope Paul III issued another papal bull dealing with the question of enslavement of peoples, Sublimus Dei. In this one, he specifically forbade the enslavement of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, based on the fact that they are rational beings with souls. He further extended this prohibition to the enslavement of all other previously unknown peoples. Unfortunately, the peoples of West Africa did not count as “previously unknown peoples” – at least it had been know there were people living there – so enslaving them was not strictly forbidden.

Into this context, Peter Claver entered as a young man, not yet a priest. There he met Fr. Alfonso de Sandoval, another Spanish Jesuit who had earlier dedicated his life to the care of African slaves. Working with Fr. Alfonso, Peter Claver dedicated his life as well to this ministry, declaring himself “the slave of the negroes forever.” For the next 44 years, he served the slaves of Cartagena, from the time the ships arrived bringing them chained in the holds through their time of bondage on the plantations and in the mines.

The work of caring for the slaves was not easy. It was not unopposed. It was not welcomed by “the powers that be” of Cartagena. It was not even always welcomed by his superiors or by members of local parishes.

Each month, as the slave bearing ships arrived, Peter Claver went out to meet them, taking food, medicines, and other supplies with him. He went into the holds of the ships and began to care for those who were nearest death, caring for people with diseases such as smallpox and leprosy (Hansen’s Disease). He organized a group of helpers who spoke the various languages of the peoples arriving. They went with him to the slave pens, speaking to the newly arrived and helping to care for them. As the new slaves recovered their health and strength, Peter, Alfonso, and their helpers began to teach them about Jesus and to baptize those who accepted the faith. Despite official Church instructions, many people still questioned the humanity of these captives and opposed teaching them the faith or accepting them into the Church. This opposition did not stop Peter Claver and those who worked with him. They simply worked and prayed harder.

Care for the slaves did not stop at the slave pens. As men, women and children were purchased and set to work in the mines and on plantations, Peter Claver continued to be their advocate. He visited them, celebrated the sacraments with them, admonished their owners to treat them justly, and continued to teach and care for them. He refused to stay with the owners of the plantations and mines. When he visited slaves, he stayed with them in their homes.

Over time, he gained some respect in Cartagena, if for no other reason than that he was consistent and persistent in following his calling. People began to believe that it was because of his work and his presence that they had escaped many potential disasters (think hurricanes, pirates, etc.).  The slave markets were not closed during his lifetime. But somewhere around 300,000 people received care, love, instruction in the faith and baptism through the ministry of St. Peter Claver. Not a bad record!

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Posted by on Sep 5, 2008

Blessed Teresa of Kolcata – September 5

Blessed Teresa of Kolcata – September 5

Mother Teresa was born in Albania in 1910. She went to India in 1929 to become a Sister of Loreto, an order of teaching nuns. She took her first vows in 1931 and began working as a teacher, work she deeply enjoyed. She chose the name Teresa in honor of St. Therese of Lisieux, patroness of the missions.

As the years passed, Mother Teresa became increasingly aware of the poverty and despair that were the lot of so many people in India, including around the school in Kolkata. On September 10, 1946, she received a “call” from the Lord to leave the work she was doing and go out to live among and serve the poorest of the poor. Her response to this call and the positive results of her service and witness are well documented.

From the streets of Kolkata, men and women who joined her in service as the Missionaries of Charity have moved throughout India and into the broader world. Today, as sisters, priests and brothers, they have schools, clinics and shelters in 120 countries, including the United States. My home parish, St. Patrick’s, in Spokane, WA is even blessed to have a group of sisters working in the community. They are quietly witnessing and bringing the Good News to the larger neighborhood and diocesan community through their service and I am grateful for their presence there.

Many words have been written about Mother Teresa, including a post in this blog last year. Some praise her. Some criticize her. Some mock her. Some don’t know what to think about her. None of this would come as a surprise to her. It was like that from the beginning of her work. In the decades of her “dark night of the soul,” many of these things may have been thoughts she had herself. 

But she was faithful to the calling she received and Pope John Paul II declared her Blessed. We’d do well to keep that in mind as we try to be faithful to the calls each of us have received. There are no guarantees of success or popularity. Most of us will never be praised by Kings, Queens and Presidents. Few will receive Nobel prizes. But we all can aspire to be faithful to the work set before us by our Lord.

If you’d like to send an e-card with words, prayers, and/or blessings from Mother Teresa, check out this link. http://www.catholicgreetings.org/Saints/motherteresa.asp

Blessed Teresa, pray for us.

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Posted by on Sep 3, 2008

Saint of the Day – St. Gregory the Great – Preaching the Gospel to the Ends of the Earth

Saint of the Day – St. Gregory the Great – Preaching the Gospel to the Ends of the Earth

St. Gregory the Great was born in Rome around 540 AD. This was a time when the Goths and Franks were invading Rome. The emperor was in Constantinople. The Senate had been disbanded. Italy was still one country, called Rome, and late classical Latin was the language of the people.

Gregory’s family were wealthy, owning homes and property in and around Rome and in Sicily. He was raised and educated for a career in public office. He had fresco portraits of his family painted at some point, and his biographer, John the Deacon, left a description of them 300 years later as they appeared in the portraits. Gregory’s father was tall and had a light eyes and a long face. He wore a beard. Gregory’s mother was also tall, but she had a round face and blue eyes. She appeared to be a cheerful person. A portrait of Gregory himself was done shortly after his death. Again, John the Deacon left a description of his appearance in the portrait. Gregory is described as being somewhat bald, with a tawny beard. The shape of his face was somewhere between that of his mother and his father. His remaining hair was worn long and curled carefully. He had a thin, straight, almost aquiline nose and a high forehead. His lips and chin were described as also attractive and it is said that his hands were beautiful.

St. Gregory lived in a time of great turmoil. Wars, floods, famines, political changes, and religious controversies swirled through Italy and the Empire. He left a career in public service to enter a monastery when he was around 30 years old, only to be drawn back into public life by the Pope, who sent him to Constantinople to request help from the Emperor in defending Rome. Following 6 years in Constantinople, he returned to Rome. Eventually he himself was elected Pope, an office he tried to decline.

As Pope, he is remembered for reforms of the liturgy, establishing rules of conduct for bishops, the wielding of political power in dealing with invading armies and natural disasters, his insistence on the supremacy of the papacy over the other patriarchs of the church, the notion that the Pope is the “Servant of the Servants of God,” and for establishing the papacy in the form it would take during the Middle Ages. He insisted that the Church has a responsibility to care for the poor. When famine threatened even the wealthy in Rome, he arranged for food and other supplies to be delivered from properties in southern Italy (lands that his family had given the Church) and distributed in the city. He cooked meals for the formerly wealthy himself to spare them the pain of having to ask for charity.

St. Gregory is also remembered for sending missionaries to England, the “end of the Earth” from the perspective of Rome. At that time, there was no knowledge of lands beyond the British Isles. In the rest of the Roman Empire, Christianity had been introduced. Even the Franks in Central Europe had been reached by missionaries. Given the turmoil and upheaval, it stands to reason that he might have thought, as many do today in times of natural disasters and social turmoil, that the end of the world must be near. The Gospels said that the end would not come until the Good News was preached to the ends of the Earth, however. So, perhaps with that in mind, and certainly with a fondness for the blond, blue-eyed people (the Angles) he had seen in Rome, he sent Anselm of Canterbury to preach the Good News in England.

The end of the world didn’t come in St. Gregory’s time. However, the works he did influenced the Christian community of his time and continue to play a role in even our beliefs and style of worship today.

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Posted by on Aug 14, 2008

Saint of the Day: St. Maximilian Kolbe – August 14

Saint of the Day: St. Maximilian Kolbe – August 14

St. Maximilian Kolbe, a Conventual Franciscan, is widely known as the saint of the Nazi death camp Auschwitz, where he voluntered to take the place of a young husband and father who was one of ten innocent men condemned to death by starvation as a reprisal. As courageous as this was, he is also considered a martyr because of the abuse and torture he endured when he affirmed his faith in Christ.

Born Rajmund Kolbe (1894 – 1941), to a working class family in what is now Poland, he took the name of Maximilian when he entered the Conventual Franciscans. He had doctorates in philosophy and theology and founded a thriving monastery at Niepokalanow near Warsaw. St. Maximilian Kolbe was also a missionary to Japan and is remembered for his respect for Japanese culture and tradition as he created a thriving center near Nagasaki.

He lived a life of true Franciscan poverty, often living in very difficult circumstances, but always depending on God for the resources he needed for his apostolate. St. Maximilian Kolbe used publishing and radio to promote the Gospel and to defend the Church. He landed in Japan with a couple of companions and no money. They began their work sleeping on the ground in an improvised hut. Within a month he had a press and was publishing a weekly newspaper. He ventured into India where he wanted to create another foundation, but his superiors recalled him to Poland because of his ill health.

In 1939 the Nazis invaded Poland. St. Maximilian Kolbe and his fellow Franciscans sheltered 3,000 refugees at Niepokalanow including 2,000 Jews. On February 17, 1941 he was arrested by the Gestapo after publishing a defense of truth in the face of Nazi propaganda. In May he was transferred to Auschwitz, where he continued his ministry despite inhuman conditions and beatings. It was in late July that a prisoner from his cell block disappeared and he volunteered to take the place of one of the ten men selected to be executed as a reprisal for the missing prisoner. After three weeks of hunger and thirst, during which he encouraged the other men and led them in prayer, he was murdered by a lethal injection on August 14.

St. Maximilian Kolbe had a powerful effect on a young Polish man, Carol Wotyla, who as Pope John Paul II would declare him a saint.

St. Maximilian Kolbe has also inspired Operation Kolbe, a group in Colombia, to offer themselves in exchange for those who have been kidnapped by rebels. They can be reached at: operacionkolbe@hotmail.com.

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Posted by on Jul 18, 2008

St. Camillus de Lellis – July 18 – “The Original Red Cross”

St. Camillus de Lellis – July 18 – “The Original Red Cross”

St. Camillus de Lellis is one of those saints that remain quietly in the background of our Catholic lives, despite having sown seeds that continue to bear fruit into our present day. He was born in Italy in the mid-1500s and lived to the age of 64. His mother died when he was thirteen and his father was in the military, so he did not receive as much attention and loving care as he should have as an adolescent. He grew up to be an agressive, hot-headed, compulsive gambler. He worked as a mercenary soldier, selling his services to whichever ruler’s army would pay him. Between stints as a soldier, he spent time working in a hospital for the incurably ill. But his gambling and agressive behavior cut short that employment and he returned to being a soldier, serving in the war against the Turks in 1569.

Following the war, when he was working in construction on a building at Manfredonia for the Capuchins, he was touched by a talk from the guardian of the community there and at the age of 25, his life changed. His legs had been injured when he was younger and they never really healed completely. He spent time in hospitals both receiving treatment and helping with the care of other patients. Following his conversion, he dedicated the rest of his life to caring for the ill and injured. He eventually became a priest and founded a religious order, the Fathers of a Good Death, in 1584. Wearing a red cross on their black cassocks, they cared for the sick, including victims of the plague, in hospitals, in the homes of their patients and on the battlefields. The order continued to grow through the years, and today they are known as Camillians (Clerks Regular Ministers to the Sick). Camillians work all over the world.

St. Camillus de Lellis was called the “Founder of a new school of charity” when he was canonized by Pope Benedict XIV in 1726. He taught that God is present in people confined to hospitals and sick beds, reminding his followers, “The poor and the sick are the heart of God.  In serving them, we serve Jesus the Christ.”

A Camillian priest visited our parish last year, raising money for their work in the missions. He spoke compellingly about the people he had served and their stories. It was quite inspiring. When he introduced himself and his order, he told us that Camillians were the “original Red Cross” because of the color of the cross on their habits. Their work through the centuries in hospitals, battlefields and sick rooms would seem to bear that out.

Once again it seems that “God writes straight with crooked lines.” A mercenary, who is a compulsive gambler and brawler, with injured legs, becomes the founder of a group of men who spend their lives working to heal the sick and care for the dying – the patron saint of gamblers and nurses. Truly a life story to be told more widely.

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Posted by on Jul 1, 2008

Saint of the Day: Blessed Father Junipero Serra, the comic book and in real life

Saint of the Day: Blessed Father Junipero Serra, the comic book and in real life

Somewhere, lost in the depths of a bookcase, my family has a comic book about Junipero Serra. It is set in the year 20something, still in the future from now, on board a space craft. The story is about a priest telling a friend of his about Serra. I first picked up the book, (actually I found it), in fourth grade, the time when all California kids study the California missions. That was the first real intro I had to Serra and the founding of the missions, because I found the book just before we started studying the missions in school. His story fascinated me, but soon I forgot about him and the book, until today when I started doing research for this post. Some might say that comic books never tell the truth, but they would be wrong about this one. The research I did showed me that the comic book is actually rather accurate at portraying his life.

Blessed Father Junipero Serra was born Miguel Jose Serra on November 24th, 1713 in Petra, Majorca, Kingdom of Spain. Later, he took the name “Junipero” in honor of Saint Juniper. He entered the Order of Friars Minor on September 14th, 1730.  Because he was so good with his studies, Serra was appointed Lector of Philosophy (some sort of professor) before he was ordained a priest. Later on he also received his doctorate from Lullian University in Palma De Mallorca.

In 1749, Serra travelled to Mexico City. On the way from Vera Cruz to Mexico City, he was bitten in the leg by an insect. The bite never got better, and that leg bothered him for the rest of his life. He never wanted any help with it though, and preferred to walk whenever he could.

From Mexico City, Serra requested transfer to the Sierra Gorda Indian Mission. He spent nine years there, learning the language of the Pame Indians, and translating the Catechism into their language. He was soon recalled to Mexico City and gained fame as being the most fervent and most effective preacher, because he would do ridiculous stuff in order to get people to repent. It is said that he used to pound his breast with rocks at the pulpit, scourge himself and hold a lit torch to his chest. Whether or not he actually did any of that is debated.

The years went by, and in 1769, Serra acompanied Govenor Gaspar de Portola to Nueva California. On July 1st, 1769, the exedition landed in San Diego, where Fr. Serra founded Mission San Diego de Alcala, the first of 21 California missions. After founding Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo in Montery, Serra relocated his head quarters to Carmel. Under his rule as “Father Presidente of Alta California”, the missions expanded to include: Mission San Antonio de Padua, Mission San Gabriel Arcangel, Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, Mission San Juan Capistrano, Mission San Francisco de Asis, Mission Santa Clara de Asis and Mission San Buenaventura. Each of the California missions is located within one day’s walk of each other. He also pressed for laws to protect the Natives from the abuses of the military.

Around 1778, Serra was given dispensation to give the sacrament of Confirmation. He went around confirming people for a year until Felipe de Neve told him to stop until he could present a Papal Brief. Serra waited for two years, until the Viceroy Majorga gave instructions to the effect that Serra was within his rights. Over the next three years, Serra traveled from San Fransico to San Diego, over 600 miles, and confirmed 5,309 people. 600 miles may not seem like a lot now days, but it was a lot then, on foot, with a bad leg.

Blessed Father Junipero Serra died of a snake bite on August 28th, 1784. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II on September 25th 1988. He is buried in the Carmel Mission.

P.S This is not actually Kathy writing. I am Rosie her 15 year old daughter. Gotcha!

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Posted by on Dec 3, 2007

St. Francis Xavier and Me

St. Francis Xavier and Me

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December 3 is the feast of St. Francis Xavier, “Apostle to the East.” Francis Xavier was born in Navarre, Spain in 1506, to a wealthy and influential family. However, his family lost their lands in 1512 when Navarre was conquered by troops from Castille and Aragon. His father died in 1515.

Francis went to study in Paris when he was 19 and met Iñigo (Ignatius) Loyola there. To make a long story short, Francis eventually joined with Loyola as one of the founding members of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits.

Francis is best known for his missionary work in India, Malacca, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and Japan. From 1540, until his death on an island off the coast of China in 1552, he traveled and preached throughout the East, frequently returning to Goa in India. He left behind communities of Christians in each place he visited and pioneered the missionary style of the Jesuit order through the compromises he worked out with the existing Christian community, founded by St. Thomas the Apostle, in India.

There are many biographies and studies written about St. Francis Xavier’s life, teachings, influence in the Church, and miracles.

My family has had a close relationship with St. Francis for several generations in the Pacific Northwest. Jesuits were among the first to arrive in eastern Washington and brought with them a devotion to St. Francis. Growing up in parishes staffed by Jesuits, we shared in the tradition of the “Novena of Grace” each year in March. In fact, my parents’ first date ocurred when my father picked up my mother from her teaching assignment in northern Idaho and escorted her to the Novena in Spokane!

As a child, many of my early memories are related to the family tradition of attending Mass and the Novena from March 4-12. Each year we went, with our own prayer requests, and gathered with hundreds of other people from Spokane and the surrounding areas to praise God and ask St. Francis to intercede for us. There were people we only saw once a year – at the Novena.

Some years  the prayer intentions were very practical – a job for a relative out of work, health for a sick relative, help with school work, etc. Other years the intentions were more “spiritual” – help in overcoming a bad habit, help in discerning a life path, greater understanding of the Holy Spirit – little things like that!

Important things happened during or after the Novena. Two cousins who were born during the Novena were adopted into the family – we had been praying for a child for each family that year. Other children have been born into or adopted into the family in the year following the Novena. One of my brothers survived a difficult birth on March 4 and was given an extra middle name, Francis, in thanksgiving. Relatives got jobs. People got well. An uncle returned to the Church as he lay dying during the Novena. My Great Grandmother and my Grandmother both died on First Friday during the Novena. 

Sometimes funny things happened, like the year my youngest brother dropped a “steely” marble at the back of the church and it rolled all the way to the front, causing a stir as it went all the way! Mom was not amused, but we’re all still laughing about it.

The relationship with St. Francis is not limited to those nine days in March. At harvest time, when a storm threatens to ruin a crop before the field is harvested, prayers go up to “St. Frank” to protect it. When a relationship needs a boost from the Holy Spirit, prayers go to St. Francis. And when something goes really well, prayers of thanks go up too. It’s good to have a powerful big brother (saint) to help out.

A little over ten years ago, a young man from a Goan family knocked on our front door, hoping to sell a medical software program to a medical group we managed. The software was not what our group needed, but he became a close friend. We found many common threads in our educations, life experience and shared bond as Catholics. He in turn has introduced us to his family and many of his friends, including those who are the founders of Suggestica.com and who have opened this world of internet blogs and vertical discovery engines such as theologika.net to us.

It seems St. Francis Xavier is still looking out for us in this increasingly small, small world and doing his part to continue spreading the Good News.

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