If you are actively discerning a vocation to the Priesthood, Diaconate, Consecrated Life, or Marriage and you are looking for information to help in your discernment, BE SURE TO CHECK the section at the bottom of the right sidebar for the "labels" on all posts. By clicking on one of these labels it will take you to a page with all posts containing that subject. You will also find many links for suggested reading near the bottom of the right sidebar. Best wishes and be assured of my daily prayers for your discernment.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Permanent Deacon Military Chaplains?

Today's military is in dire need of chaplains. Our U.S. Catholic military men and women overseas can go months without the sacraments and the presence of Catholic chaplains. Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion were banned by Archbishop O'Brien due to abuses of "Communion Services." In many cases those seeking some kind of spiritual engagement seek out protestant ministers. Yet it is my understanding (corerect me if I am wrong) that the Archdiocese of the Military - or the Department of Defense does not allow Permanent Deacons to serve as chaplains. Based on at least one conversation I have had with a high ranking military chaplain at the Pentagon, I believe it is the DOD that does not allow it. Apparently they only want Priest Chaplains. I could be wrong, I may have misunderstood. Obviously it would be wonderful to have a plethera of Catholic Priests serving as Chaplains, but wouldn't it at least be better to have Permanent Deacons as Catholic Chaplains than to have Catholics seeking spiritual direction from protestant chaplains?

I found the article below interesting - apparently the Canadian military does allow Permanent Deacon Chaplains...

KANDAHAR — In an environment where death and brutality is inevitably part of the process, faith and religion are too.

"We're that light in the darkness, that calm in the storm," said Maj. Michel Dion, a battle group padre stationed at Kandahar Air Field, where Canadians and troops from other coalition countries are based as part of the mission to rid the Taliban.

There are currently five chaplains providing faith and religion-based services to Canadians on this base that is home to more than 10,000 military personnel. The services are primarily intended for Canadians, but multinational outreach is offered as well.

"Our primary mission is to support the mission here by providing spiritual, religious and ethical support for members," said Dion, a permanent Roman Catholic deacon who has been stationed here for four months. "We provide a ministry of presence." (Photo at left shows Deacon Michel Dion in uniform on the right)

Regular visits to military units, prayer seminars, including religious support for the wounded, sick and dead are available to the troops here, and many take up the offer.

"Our services are utilized quite a lot, in actuality, as Canadians have become more and more involved (in the mission)," Dion said. "It's challenging to have to interpret what's going on out there. And situations can be very traumatic for some. We work with helping members cope and get through traumatic events. We're a voice for those who feel voiceless."

Dion, who has served in the military for 20 years — 10 in his current capacity — is one of a select few here who don't carry a weapon.

"Being able to walk around Afghanistan without a weapon, that's what everyone here is trying to accomplish," he said.

"Vatican initiates study of Catholic sisters’ institutes in the United States"

The Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life has begun an Apostolic Visitation or comprehensive study of institutes of women religious in the United States.

The action was initiated by the Congregation’s prefect, Slovenian Cardinal Franc Rodé, C.M. The decree, issued December 22, 2008, indicated the Visitation is being undertaken ―in order to look into the quality of the life of the members of these religious institutes.

The Visitation will be conducted under the direction of Mother Mary Clare Millea, A.S.C.J., whom Cardinal Rodé appointed Apostolic Visitator. Mother Millea, a Connecticut native, is superior general of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, an international religious institute headquartered in Rome, with approximately 1250 professed sisters worldwide, including 135 in the United States. She entered religious life in 1965 and professed perpetual vows in 1973.

The Visitation, which will collect and assimilate data and observations about religious life, will be limited to apostolic institutes, those actively engaged in service to Church and society. Cloistered, contemplative sisters, who have distinctly different lifestyles, are excluded from the study. Mother Millea will submit a confidential report to Cardinal Rodé at the conclusion of the task. Though there is no deadline, she hopes to complete the task by 2011.

Catholic women religious have been involved in apostolates such as education, healthcare and a variety of pastoral and social services in the United States since before the nation was founded. According to the Washington-based Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) however, the number of U.S. women religious has been in decline during the past 40 years, while their median age continues to increase.

I am truly humbled, and a bit overwhelmed, Mother Millea said of her assignment. ―While I have visited each of the communities and missions in my own congregation, the thought of gathering facts and findings about nearly 400 institutes across the United States can be daunting in scope.

I am praying for all the sisters who will be a part of this Visitation, and hoping for their prayers – both for the good of the process as well as for me in this role, she continued. I ask the prayers of the American Catholic clergy and faithful too.

Despite her sense of awe at the size of the task, Mother Millea was encouraged by the project. I know that the object of this Visitation is to encourage and strengthen apostolic communities of women religious, for the simple reason that these communities are integral to the entire life of the Catholic Church, in the United States and beyond.

Mother Millea indicated that while she is not obliged to visit every community of women religious, she looks forward to learning and better understanding the multi-faceted dimensions of the sisters’ religious lives, as well as their abundant contributions to the Church and society.

A VERY WELL DESIGNED website, apostolicvisitation.org, has been launched to provide basic information about the project.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

"Boys Will Be Altar Boys"

Pictures included below are not from the article. The article in the print version of the National Catholic Register had great pictures from the parishes mentioned in the article. The old pictures I have included are all from parishes, and all of the guys in the photos are altar boys - not seminarians. I've put these pictures in to illustrate how things used to be in our parishes. Is there any real question whether having more altar boys means more vocations to the Priesthood and the opposite is also true?

"Parishes With All-Male Altar Service Corps Tout the Benefits"

From The National Catholic Register
BY Joseph Pronechen

The altar servers at Holy Family Catholic Church in St. Louis Park, Minn., are a sight to behold. In their white surplices and black cassocks — red for special feasts like Christmas and Pentecost — six carry candles, while others process in with the cross, Sacramentary and incense thurible and boat. Between 12 and 20 altar servers assist at every Mass, every Sunday. On special feasts, the head count jumps to more than 30.

And the most astonishing facet of the scene: All of the altar servers are boys.

It’s a sight that must put a smile on the heavenly face of St. John Bosco (1815-1888), the great priest-mentor who promoted the banding together of boys in religious activities. The Church celebrates his feast on Jan. 25.

Holy Family Church is one of a number of parishes that, after deciding to go with an all-boy corps of altar servers, have seen a notable increase in the number of boys participating in the life of the parish.

At Holy Family, the decision was made 10 years ago, when only a few boys were servers. The surge was on immediately. Today, more than 60 boys stand at the ready.

“What’s happened is: The younger boys can’t wait to get on the altar,” says parishioner Bob Spinharney. “And the older boys, to their great credit, stay on even beyond high school age. So the younger boys always have role models to look up to.”

Spinharney and fellow parishioner Mark Rode got the approval of their pastor, Father Thomas Dufner, for the altar boy program. Then they built key elements, like a hierarchy of services and names for each position.

Starting at age 10 as “leads” (beginners who observe from the altar), boys can stay as servers into their early 20s. Along the way, they progress to “torchbearer,” holding one of six candles for processing and during the Gospel reading and consecration; “mains,” serving the priest and ringing bells; “cross” and “book” with Sacramentary duties; and “thurifer” and “boat,” assisting with the incense during consecration. At each Mass, an older boy is designated “master of ceremonies” to lead and supervise the “troops.”

What drove the two men to suggest the experiment a decade ago? Two observations.

One: “When boys and girls are mixed on the altar, the boys tend to be less participative. They defer to the girls,” explains Spinharney. And two: “Many priestly vocations come from the altar. We’re trying to drive new vocations.”

Father Dufner expounds on those points. “Girls tend to be more reliable and get jobs done more effectively,” he says, “so the boys tend to drop out.” At the same time, he notices that boys are excited about being part of an all-male group that is hierarchical and advancement-oriented.

“And, clearly, reverent worship of God the Father through Jesus Christ in the liturgy is a calling card for vocations,” adds Father Dufner. In fact, one of the two current seminarians from this parish — from which four men have been ordained in the last 10 years — was an altar server. Both seminarians come back often to help the youngsters on Sundays, as do server alumni like Spinharney’s college-age son Jordan. The alumni become mentors.

“Boys 7 and 8 are glued to the Mass, watching their friends and brothers,” says Rode. “They can’t wait.”

According to Spinharney, no parent has complained about the absence of female altar servers. Instead of a dramatic immediate shift, the girls were allowed to phase out by age and were reminded of the many other services they could provide.

“The last two girls became some of our finest lectors,” points out Father Dufner.

Altar Apprenticeship

St. Michael Parish in Annandale, Va., also has an all-male server corps. Father Jerry Pokorsky, the pastor, says that when altar girls were permitted, they became the norm. The boys stopped volunteering.

“Lay readers and extraordinary ministers serve the people,” he says. “The altar boy serves the priest. He’s the hands of the priest. He would be an apprentice, either in a real or symbolic way, for the priesthood.”

When parents ask why their daughters can’t become altar servers, “they may not agree, but they do understand,” Father Pokorsky says.

With help from the parish’s Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters, this new pastor is working on a Helpers of Mary ministry for girls to visit nursing homes.

When discussing the question of female altar servers, “It is important not to [use] political categories such as rights, equality, discrimination, etc., which only serve to fog the issue,” wrote Legionary Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum, on the Zenit news service website. “We are dealing with the privilege of serving in an act of worship to which nobody has any inherent rights.

“The question should be framed as to what is best for the good of souls in each diocese and parish. It is thus an eminently pastoral and not an administrative decision, and this is why it should be determined at the local level.”

The Church opened the altar service position to girls in 1994 in a letter from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments. “The Holy See’s recommendation is to retain as far as possible the custom of having only boys as servers,” explains Father McNamara. “But it leaves to the bishop the choice of permitting women and girls for a good reason and to the pastor of each parish the decision as to whether to act on the bishop’s permission.”

Positive Peer Pressure

At Holy Family, Jean Prather sees nothing but positive effects in her son and daughters from the all-boy altar-service policy. Nick is 16 and has risen through the ranks. Oldest daughter, Emily, also in high school, has been a lector since fourth grade.

“They both have their place to contribute in the Mass. Emily wanted to do that after she saw an older teenage girl lector. It really is a positive peer pressure thing.”

“I always like to tell Nick what a special job he has to be so close to Jesus and serve him,” continues Prather. “He has learned such reverence. He really listens and brings things up that Father talks about in his homilies.”

Prather, too, believes participating in the liturgy can open boys’ hearts to hearing a call to a priestly or religious vocation.

But she stresses what the change has done for the parish as well as the servers in lifting people’s hearts to God. The surplices, cassocks and reverential pageantry are “what King Jesus deserves,” she says. “The reverence and beauty and example brings people into the reverence and glory of the Mass by having these altar boys not only as servers but as examples.”

As young as they are, says Rode, they understand there’s something really special going on at the altar: “We truly have the Real Presence.”

Please bear with the lack of posts

Sorry for not getting anything up on the blog this week. I've been working on our Diocesan vocations newsletter, among other projects, which needs to go out soon. That and we're expecting our fifth child at any moment (only God knows the day or the hour). This too has necessitated other projects to be completed prior to "paternity leave." Sleeplessness may ensue, but normal posting should return soon!

"Nun serves God and Army"

From the Washington Times
By Gabriella Boston

She's an Army captain, a Catholic sister and a doctor.

Deirdre Byrne wears many hats — quite literally: a scrub hat when she's doing surgery and a habit as part of her everyday attire.

The statuesque, graying 52-year-old recently exchanged her habit for a helmet and uniform: She spent three months in southern Afghanistan, serving as a doctor (while treating patients, though, she wears scrubs) and reservist in the U.S. Army.

"We were there to support our U.S. soldiers, coalition forces and civilians," Sister Dede says. Turned out that most of her and the other medical staffs' effort and time were devoted to mending civilian lives and limbs.

"The Taliban is out there every day trying to wreak havoc," she says. "One day, the Taliban bombed a village, and we had 17 patients — flown in by helicopter — in our 10-bed hospital."

While gruesome and heart-wrenching, she says of the experience in Afghanistan: "I was happy to be at the healing end of things."

Which is what she does whether serving as a nun and doctor for the poor in the District or Kakuma, Kenya, through Catholic Charities, or as a U.S. Army doctor in Afghanistan.

She's a healer, and in her unique position as a nun and general surgeon (she also is board certified in family medicine) she's concerned with life here on Earth — and the hereafter.

"I'm not just a pro-life doctor, I'm pro-eternal life," she says. "God makes it very clear that he is working through me. … God gave me the opportunity to be a physician, and he creates the miracles."

But how exactly did she get to this triad of professions and callings?

As one might expect, it was not a straight path but just the kind of winding, long road that seems a prerequisite for the type of person Sister Dede is — someone who seems to easily move in any circle but whose ideals and faith never waver.

Lighting the way

Sister Dede is sitting in the unofficial pharmacy of the Spanish Catholic Charities clinic in the District's Mount Pleasant neighborhood, a room so stuffed with medication — mostly donated — that a wrong turn or step could cause a pill-bottle avalanche.

She volunteers full time at the clinic, treating immigrants — many of them from Central America; some legal, some illegal — for everything from bumps and spider veins to cancers.

"For me, God doesn't show floodlights," Sister Dede says. "He sheds just enough light for me to take small steps forward."

She hasn't yet made her final vows as a sister (a term preferred to "nun" — "sister" indicates an active, worldly role as opposed to a convent-based, contemplative life, she says). But Sister Dede has known since adolescence that she wanted to devote her life to serving God and healing the poor.

"It took me a long time to find a community," she says.

In 2000, though, she found her future spiritual — and literal — home, Little Workers of the Sacred Hearts, not far from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Northeast: A place where she could serve the medical needs of the poor while also serving God.

"What I saw was God asking me to start a medical branch of an established community," she says. "The Little Workers of the Sacred Hearts was that community."

Military, medicine, mission

Way, way before then — in the late 1970s — she joined the Army and went to medical school at Georgetown University (following in the footsteps of her father, a retired thoracic surgeon and alumni of Georgetown).

Joining the Army initially was just a way to pay for medical school, but it grew in significance.

She found that she also could do God's work while serving as an Army doctor. In 1985 and 1986, she served as an active-duty Army doctor in Egypt's Sinai desert, where she started a group called the "Sunshine Club" that helped female soldiers "stay chaste and true."

"We'd just go down to the Red Sea — it was very beautiful — and talk about how to stay strong, and about the pressures to do things they didn't really want to do," she says. "I was their mama."

As it turns out, though, she wasn't just a role model and spiritual leader for those young women. A scrapbook from the tour shows a deep appreciation from male soldiers, too.

"Your caring attitude is an inspiration to all of us," a major wrote.

"Thank you for all the help you have given me in both my work and my spirit," added another.

"I have worked with a lot of physicians in my career, but none have shown the compassion that you have shown toward the troops here," wrote another.

Being called compassionate, though, was nothing new to Sister Dede.

Her 92-year-old mother, Mary Byrne, still lives in McLean, Va., not far from the home where she and her husband raised their eight children.

"We had a dog, and I didn't want it to go upstairs," Mrs. Byrne recalls. "Well, Dede, after I'd gone to sleep, would sneak downstairs to sleep with the dog on the floor. She didn't want it to be lonely."

The dog got to come back upstairs so young Dede could go back to sleeping in her own bed.

"She was always compassionate. She was always religious," Mrs. Byrne says. "Her path never really surprised me."

But there's also this other side that at first glance doesn't necessarily jibe with the life of a nun.

"Dede always had lots of fun, too. … We're all like that in our family," says Mrs. Byrne of her large Catholic clan. "We do a lot of sarcasm and it gets us in trouble sometimes."

Sister Dede always wears her habit at the Spanish Catholic Charities clinic where she's worked for the past eight years after "paying back" the Army for medical school and specializations in family practice and surgery.

She also sprinkles most conversations with jokes, some of which can be surprisingly irreverent.

"No, I haven't been drinking. Won't be doing that until I get home tonight," she says, joking about a flash of forgetfulness one morning at the clinic, which treats about 7,000 uninsured patients annually.

This is the same day that she tells a colleague, retired general surgeon Dr. Paul Melluzzo, a volunteer at the clinic, that he is, well, ancient.

"Surgery was started by barbers in the Middle Ages," she says. "Remember that, Dr. Melluzzo?" she inquires with a twinkle in her hazel eyes.

"I heard that," Dr. Melluzzo says, smiling.

He is one of several retired doctors Sister Dede persuaded to volunteer at the two-story clinic, which also has 14 paid employees (the clinic is funded by private donations and some government grants as well as funds from the Archdiocese of Washington and Catholic Charities).

"She came to me and said, "Come to the clinic, it'll be good for you," Dr. Melluzzo says.

That was two years ago.

"And you don't say no to Sister Dede," he says. "This is Sister Dede's bear trap."

Dr. Melluzzo picks up his briefcase from a small administrative room at the clinic, which has five examination rooms on the first floor and several dental chairs on the second.

A "Spanish Now" workbook sticks out of the briefcase — Dr. Melluzzo is taking Spanish lessons to improve his communication with the mostly Spanish-speaking patients.

"I think we all should give back, and this is my way of giving back," he says.

A day at the clinic

The waiting room — often packed — has a framed poster of Our Lady of Guadeloupe, and on the second floor there is a small chapel. Other than that — and the habit-wearing Sister Dede — the clinic looks like any medical office.

Well, with a few exceptions. The equipment is donated and looks aged. Sometimes it means working in substandard conditions — like when Sister Dede and medical resident Dr. Cory Chapman excised a patient's ingrown hair and drained a cyst with a tiny scalpel blade without the holder.

"It's bush medicine in the city," says Sister Dede, holding the tiny blade.

The patient with the ingrown hair is a Mexican delivery man who speaks limited English.

"Lo siento, lo siento," says Dr. Chapman, apologizing as he cuts out a cyst that surrounds the hair.

"You'll hear us say 'lo siento' a lot," says Sister Dede, who, in her very unique position, also has strong ties to Sibley Hospital in the affluent Palisades neighborhood of the city.

Many of the doctors with whom she went to medical school at Georgetown University have privileges there. So, now, whenever she needs an operating room, the hospital provides.

"Thanks to her, we have all the contacts at Sibley," says Cecilia Alava, a retiree who volunteers at the clinic as an interpreter and also fills whatever other role is needed.

"Sister Dede is the best. Without her, the clinic would go down," she says.

Sister Dede calls the hospital "St. Sibley."

Which was where, last summer, she performed surgery on Marshet Zema, a petite native of Ethiopia with a beautiful smile.

When Sister Dede first met Ms. Zema, the 21-year-old had fist-sized keloids (lumps of scar tissue) behind her earlobes.

"We'll remove these and create an earlobe," said Sister Dede, tracing her thumb and index finger along the keloids at the June visit.

Ms. Zema had worn a scarf day and night for the past three years to cover up the deformity.

"Thank God," said her brother, Desalane Zema.

"We have been to every hospital in the city, and no one will treat her because she doesn't have health insurance," Mr. Zema says.

Sister Dede, though, never discriminates.

She treats the poor and the illegal for everything from small medical conditions to big emergencies at the clinic. The same day that Ms. Zema came in for her pre-operation visit, a middle-aged woman with a perfect pedicure came in to get her spider veins removed.

"These are not dangerous, but we'll remove them," Sister Dede says while holding the woman's leg.

She then proceeded to inject saline into the woman's veins, which takes away the discoloration.

"This is with holy water, so you better believe it works," jokes Sister Dede, whose sandal-clad calloused feet stand in sharp contrast to the patient's perfectly painted nails.

The woman smiles.

Sister Dede, though, doesn't judge.

She's there to heal.

"I'm a private practitioner to the poor," she says.

Adds Mario Dorsonville, a priest and the clinic's director: "We are so fortunate to have Sister Dede," he says. "She's amazing."

It's not about success

To Sister Dede, none of her accomplishments are about personal glory. Whether in the military or in civilian life, her work, she says, is about faith and doing God's work.

"The Lord has worked so many miracles in my life, it's not even funny," she says.

Obtaining three $50,000 portable sonogram units, she attributes to God.

Meeting Sister Licia, the superior sister at the Little Workers of the Sacred Hearts, she attributes to God.

Each person she successfully treats, she attributes to God.

She attributes to God the existence of a physical therapy clinic in the basement of the Little Workers of the Sacred Hearts' small brick building, where volunteer physical therapists treat the uninsured on Saturday mornings.

"It's not about my being successful or brilliant," she says. "It's about God guiding me."

She felt this guidance even before she officially entered religious life.

"God would always let me know if I did something that wasn't holy or wholesome," she says.

As a child — before she decided she wanted to become a nun — she was inspired by the selfless work of Mother Theresa.

"She seemed to move me when I was in high school," she says. "She inspired me."

And with her combination of missionary work as well as taking care of the poor and the sick, one can't help but wonder:

Is Sister Dede a new Mother Theresa?

"I don't see myself that way," she says. "Mother Theresa was an inspiration to me growing up. But this is not about me or about my success. It's about God's work."

Ms. Zema and her brother might disagree.

On a post-operation visit at the clinic, a radiant Ms. Zema sports her scarfless and keloidless head and her new earlobes, courtesy of well-known area plastic surgeon Al Fleury, also a friend of Sister Dede.

"Oh my God," she says. "I'm so, so happy," she says, a slight quiver in her lower lip.

Adds her brother Mr. Zema of Sister Dede: "She's working miracles."

Sunday, January 25, 2009

"Vocation week is time to pray, ponder one’s call"

From Intermountain Catholic
by Priscilla Cabral

Photo at left: Father Colin F. Bircumshaw , Director of Vocations and Most Rev. John C. Wester, bishop of the Diocese of Salt Lake City kneel before the Blessed Sacrament while its being exposed for Evening of Prayer with Benediction at the Cathedral of the Madeleine Jan. 11. Evening Prayer with Benediction was part of the National Vocation Awareness week, which has been observed since 1976, when the National Conference of Catholic Bishops established it. IC photo by Priscilla Cabral

SALT LAKE CITY — National Vocation Awareness Week is Jan. 11 – 17, 2009, starting on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. During this period, Catholics are called to pray especially for an increase in vocations to religious life and the priesthood, and to ponder the call to follow Jesus received at their baptisms.

“We are called and formed to be one with Christ in his passion and resurrection,” said the Most Rev. John C. Wester, bishop of the Diocese of Salt Lake City during Evening Prayer with Benediction, part of National Vocation Awareness Week, at the Cathedral of the Madeleine Jan. 11.

Baptism, he said, calls us to practice the mystery of vulnerability and kindness exemplified when God all-powerful, who created everything, became one of us.

This call is hard to answer especially when images everywhere tell us violence and power should be our ideals.

Celebrities and the arms they carry are a good example that in our culture “violence and power get bigger with each generation,” said Bishop Wester.

Humphrey Bogart carried a small gun, then Clint Eastwood came along with a rifle, Sylvester Stallone followed him with a canon, and finally Arnold Schwarzenegger came out with a tank or a bazooka, he said.

“We are conditioned to be powerful… but we are called to a different role, that of a servant,” he said echoing the words of the evening’s reading:

Thus says the Lord: Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my spirit; he shall bring forth justice to the nations, not crying out, not shouting, not making his voice heard in the street. A bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench, until he establishes justice on earth; the coastlands will wait for his teaching. (Isaiah 42:1-4)

As servants, we are called to put somebody else first, to bring hope, love, peace, and courage to others, and to recognize we are vulnerable and fragile.

“When we know we are weak… Christ can work with us and use us,” said Bishop Wester.

Evening of Prayer with Benediction was organized by the Office of Vocations and the Office of Liturgy in an effort to bring the community together to pray for vocations before the Blessed Sacrament.

The evening started with dim lighting in the Cathedral to emphasize the presence of the Paschal Candle. Each assembly member lit the candle he or she was holding as the Paschal Candle passed by under the guard of the Knights of Columbus.

“We ask the Lord to kindle within us the flame of faith,” said Bishop Wester during the homily.

After the Benediction, Bishop Wester gave thanks to Father Colin F. Bircumshaw, Director of Vocations, and Father Javier Virgen, associate director of Vocations and vicar for Hispanic Affairs, for assisting him at the altar, and to the choir for their uplifting music. Then, he gave special thanks to the Knights of Columbus for the stipend they collect for the seminarians of the diocese.

“I know sometimes it is a sacrifice to your members to come forward with that,” he said.

The bishop also invited the assembly to gather again in prayer.

“There is a certain power of prayer when we work together.”

Blogger's Choice Awards - Please Vote!

My site was nominated for Best Religion Blog!

My good friend Dave Myers, did me the honor of nominating this blog for "Best Religion Blog" in the Blogger's Choice Awards competition. I have no delusion of winning this category, especially when competing against the many Catholic heavyweights in this category. However, to the extent that your votes might raise awareness of this blog, and by extension help promote a culture of vocations, I would be most grateful for your votes. If you are so inclined, please click the graphic above, register, and vote. Thanks!

Radical Love: The Sisters of Summit New Jersey

I posted about this before, but this is the final version...
"Radical Love: The Sisters of Summit, NJ"

Click on the photo above to vist the Time website and view this beautiful slideshow.
H/t to Deacon Dan Gallaugher
Sr. Mary Catharine, O.P., Vocations Director for the Dominican Sister of Summit, NJ
Photo by Toni Greaves

"Beloved" - Salt + Light Documentary on the Nashville Dominicans

From Salt + Light Television

"The Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia, commonly known as the Nashville Dominicans, continue to expand into new territory with a message of hope that the springtime of the New Evangelization is indeed in bloom. For almost 150 years, in the heart of the Bible Belt in Tennessee, the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia have embraced God's love in the living of their vows and apostolic vocation in the field of education. Now, with a median age of 36, the 235 Dominican Sisters of this congregation bring generations of young people the message of Christ in over 30 schools, throughout the United States and Australia.

Like the virgin martyr Cecilia, Nashville Dominicans promise their hearts to Christ. The Lord’s voice fills their ears and secures their promise to be Christ’s alone. Nashville Dominicans show the world a love that is different and unique. It is a love that is eternal. Nashville Dominicans are indeed beloved by God, as you will witness in this documentary. You will be taken inside a religious congregation that continues to offer the world and the Church a compelling model of religious life that is beautiful, hopeful, joyful and alive. "

Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B.
C.E.O., Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation


Purchase: Order your DVD copy from the Salt + Light online store or call Salt + Light at 1.888.302.7181

H/t to Deacon Dan Gallaugher

Friday, January 23, 2009

Franciscan Friars of the Renewal Postulant Class of 2008

I'm a little late on this one, considering the Friars posted it in September of 2008...

From the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal:

We are so grateful for the sixteen young men who have joined us as Postulants this year. Twelve years ago I was one of seventeen (our largest class so far). Working with these men has been like a trip down memory lane – “Did I ask that many questions when I was a Postulant?!”

Three days after they arrived we found ourselves in New Jersey for the funeral of the father of one of our priests. After the Mass, we all made our way to the adoration chapel to make our daily Holy Hour. We arrived just as a prayer group was starting. This small group of older people has been praying every week for years, praying especially for vocations. The effect of our arrival was like a miracle. They were weeping as they prayed. One woman thanked us again and again. Another woman said through her tears – “All these years and now we see who we have been praying for!” The Holy Spirit was encouraging them and humbling us.

Please pray for vocations. Pray for all those men and women who are joining various religious orders and seminaries. God is answering those prayers.

Pray that the Lord of the harvest will send more workers into His vineyard,

Fr. Luke Mary Fletcher, CFR
Postulant Director
St. Joseph Friary, Harlem, New York

CFR Postulant Class - 2008 (l-r) Aaron Ocello (NJ); Oisin Martin (Ireland); T.R. Hoffman (CA); Bob Monahan (IL); Alan Fimister (England); Joe Fino (OH); Larry Napier (GA); Declan Gibson (Ireland); Stephen Dufrene (Louisiana); Alain Guiteau (NY); Emmanuel Pena (NY); Matthew Bourgeois (LA); Mike LeFever (VA); Matthew Manders (IA); Eric Forrest (GA); Kris Meiergerd (KS); Fr. Luke Fletcher, CFR, Postulant Director; Fr. Gabriel Bakkar, CFR, Vocation Director.

Photo at left: Fr. Bernard Murphy, CFR Community Servant (Superior), blesses the postulant crosses. The private ceremony was held on September 8th in the South Bronx.



Photo at left: Aaron Ocello, from New Jersey, receives the postulant cross from Fr. Luke Fletcher, CFR Postulant Director.

H/t to Black Cordelias

Thursday, January 22, 2009

'Sponsa Christi' on Consecrated Virginity

Below is a post written by Sponsa Christi for this blog. I am very grateful to her for taking the time to share some thoughts about Consecrated Virginity, the Rite of Consecration (and pictures) and her life as a Consecrated Virgin. I pray that it will be of some assistance to those of you who may be discerning this vocation, and enlightening for those of you who know little about it. If you would like to know more visit the links on the sidebar for Consecrated Virgins. Please keep them all, and their witness in the world, in your prayers!

On January 3, 2009, to my great joy I was solemnly consecrated to a life of virginity in the Archdiocese of New York. That is, I as a virgin was wholly dedicated to God as a “spouse of Christ,” through my reception of an ancient Rite of Consecration by the authority of the local bishop.

Consecrated virginity is actually the oldest form of consecrated life in the Catholic Church, predating religious life by centuries. There are references to consecrated virgins in the Church during Apostolic times, and the central prayer of the Rite of Consecration has been traditionally ascribed to St. Matthew the Evangelist. Before it was historically possible for a woman to enter a religious Order and become a nun, she could offer her life to God as a consecrated virgin. Well-known consecrated virgins from the early Church include St. Agnes, St. Agatha, St. Cecilia, and St. Lucy.

With the rise of monasticism beginning in about the fourth century A.D., the practice of consecrating women living “in the world,” or outside of monasteries, gradually fell into disuse until it was formally discontinued around the year 1000. However, the rite was preserved by certain religious Orders, who continued to use the ritual for their solemnly professed nuns. Then in the later half of the twentieth century, with the decree of the second Vatican Council Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity was revised and the vocation of consecrated virginity in the world was reinstituted in the modern Church.

In my own life, I was twelve years old when I first felt called to dedicate my life exclusively to Christ. At the time, I assumed that I would eventually enter a convent and become a nun or a religious sister. But when at age eighteen I first began to visit various religious communities and discern my vocation more seriously, I started to sense that God was calling me to something other than religious life. This confused and upset me until several months later, when providentially I was able to read the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity for Women Living in the World. Almost at once I knew that I had found my vocation, although it was not until this January, at age twenty-three, that I was able to receive consecration.

The Rite of Consecration always takes place within the context of a Mass. Because I live in a large archdiocese, for pastoral reasons my consecration was delegated to the auxiliary bishop who serves as the Episcopal Vicar for my county. The consecration Mass took place in the parish where the bishop is stationed, about a ten-minute drive from my home parish.

(Photo above) This is the very beginning of the entrance procession. I walked just behind the cross-bearer, followed by the two women whom the Rite of Consecration directs to accompany the candidate (almost like bridesmaids), then by the concelebrating priests and deacons, and finally by the consecrating bishop.

(Photo above) From the introductory rites through most of the Liturgy of the Word, the candidate is seated in the body of the Church. Then, after the Gospel, she is called by the bishop into the sanctuary—this is what constitutes a “vocation” in an official sense.

(Photo above) After I was called, I entered the sanctuary as I made the liturgical response: “Now with all my heart I follow you, I reverence you and seek your presence. Lord, fulfill my hope; show me your loving kindness, the greatness of your mercy.”

Then I sat in the sanctuary while the bishop preached a homily on the nature and purpose of consecrated virginity.

After the homily, I stood before the bishop and affirmed that I was willing to accept my vocation with all its attendant responsibilities.

(Photo above) Following this, as I prepared to offer my life to God, I lay prostrate in the sanctuary while the Litany of the Saints was chanted.

(Photo above) At the conclusion of the Litany, I knelt before the bishop and made a public declaration of my resolve to remain a virgin for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. The technical term for this is a propositum—which is similar, but not identical to, a promise or vow made in religious profession.

(Photo above) Then, I knelt while the bishop prayed the ancient and beautiful consecratory prayer. This prayer is actually the effective element of the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity; unlike religious profession, where a person is consecrated by the promises he or she actively makes, a virgin is consecrated through her passive reception of this solemn blessing and prayer of the Church. Because of this, there is no possibility of dispensation from a life of consecrated virginity.
(Photo above) After the consecratory prayer, I receive a veil, a ring, and a breviary. Here, I am receiving the Liturgy of the Hours, with the commission to pray.

(Photo above) After the Consecration Rites, I returned to my place in the sanctuary before the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The rest of the Mass continued as usual, but with the special additions to the Eucharistic prayer as indicated in the Sacramentary for a Mass of Consecration.

(Above photo) After the Consecration Mass, we had a simple (but big!) reception with my family and friends in the parish hall. Here, I am standing with three seminarian-friends whom I met in college (including, at the far right, Don Maloney from the Diocese of Raleigh, N.C.). All of them here served at the Mass.

In my new life as a consecrated virgin, I am called to spend my life in prayer and service to the Church. Presently, I am full-time graduate student studying for a Master’s degree in Catholic Theology. Eventually I hope to earn a doctorate in either Theology or Canon Law and teach at a university level—but as my main priority is serving the Church, I would be open to using my education in other, perhaps non-academic ways if the needs of the Church suggested this.

But more importantly, every day I attend Mass, pray the full Divine Office, and spend other time in personal prayer. My primary intention is for the needs of the bishops, clergy, and people of the Archdiocese of New York, though the Rite of Consecration also calls me to “pray without ceasing for the salvation of the world.”

"Families, the Crisis and the Church in America"

Interview With Canada's Cardinal Ouellet


By Gilberto Hernández García

MEXICO CITY, JAN. 21, 2009 (Zenit.org).- There is plenty of good news to share about the Christian family in the world, and this is news that the Catholic Church offers, according to the archbishop of Quebec, Cardinal Marc Ouellet.

The cardinal was one of the speakers at the 6th World Meeting of Families last week in Mexico City. He spoke with ZENIT at the conference about various situations facing families today.


Q: It is a fact that there are divided families: divorced couples who have remarried, single-parent families, and other situations. What are the paths to strengthen the family institution?

Cardinal Ouellet: It seems interesting to me what the president of Mexico said in the inauguration [of the theological congress]: that the state should support and consider the family a very important patrimony. He also said that not everyone has the opportunity or the joy of having a family, with a father and a mother and children and a good education. In this case, Christians are not indifferent regarding these difficult situations.

Today, the family must be strengthened in itself, and not only strengthening it in an individual way, as a family, but in stirring up associations of families so that they have public strength, such that they are more listened to by the state, and recognized as a social subject, because not just individuals have rights. If we want to resolve long-term the problems of single-parent families and all of this, the best strategy is prevention, better said, to help families to have consistency, stability and thus we will help to diminish these particular factors and phenomena.

Q: What do you think the impact of the economic crisis will be on families? What hopes has the World Meeting of Families given in this regard?

Cardinal Ouellet: There are many families who live in difficult economic situations; a year ago when the price of gas was at $140, this was a tragedy. We have seen in various parts groups and people shouting that they could no longer buy basic needs because the price of gas made other prices shoot to the stars. The world economic crisis -- that doesn't depend only on gas now but on bad administration -- impacts the family in the basic elements of its life: food and education, because if they must invest money in food, how to do they continue to pay for education. The problems multiply.

I think the reflection of this world meeting is very rich. The influence of communication on family life and the culture in general was spoken of. It is important for those who work in this area and have a social responsibility -- it is important that they develop attitudes that are favorable to the family and not only to individual liberty like now in the culture; that they think of the family, in its stability, in its unity. To help so that they can educate children with peace and not have all of these messages that make the work of fathers and mothers in the home more complicated.

There is much that can be transmitted as good news about the Christian family in the entire world. This is the testimony of the Catholic Church. I hope that this beautiful testimony of the Catholic Church is ever more recognized because it is an extraordinary contribution to peace and civilization.

"Father Cantalamessa's Address at Family Meeting"

Father Cantalamessa on What Marriage Needs: More Than a Defense, Sacrament Must Be Rediscovered


MEXICO CITY, JAN. 22, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of an excerpt of the Jan. 14 address from Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the Pontifical Household, at the 6th World Meeting of Families.

The World Meeting was held Jan. 14-18 in Mexico City.

Father Cantalamessa's address was titled "Family Relationships and Values According to the Bible." The full text of the address is available at ZENIT's Web page.

* * *

Christians' task of rediscovering and fully living the biblical ideal of marriage and family is no less important than defending it. In this way it can be proposed again to the world with facts, more so than with words.

Let's read today the account of the creation of man and woman in the light of the revelation of the Trinity. Under this light, the phrase: "God created mankind in his image, in his image he created him, male and female he created them" finally reveals its meaning, which was mysterious and uncertain before Christ. What relation could there be between being "in the image of God" and being "male and female?" The God of the Bible does not have sexual connotations; he is neither male nor female.

The similarity is this: God is love and love demands communion, interpersonal exchange; it needs to have an "I" and a "you." There is no love that is not love for someone. Where there is only one subject there can be no love, only egotism and narcissism. Where God is thought of as Law and as absolute Power, there is no need for a plurality of persons. (Power can be exercised alone!). The God revealed by Jesus Christ, being love, is one and only, but he is not solitary; he is one and triune. In him coexist unity and distinction: unity of nature, of will, of intention, and distinction of characteristics and persons.

Two people that love each other, and the case of man and woman in marriage is the strongest, reproduce something that happens in the Trinity. There two persons, the Father and the Son, loving each other, produce ("breathe") the Spirit that is the love the joins them. Someone once defined the Holy Spirit as the divine "Us," that is, not the "third person of the Trinity," but rather the first person plural.[1]

Precisely in this way the human couple is an image of God. Husband and wife are in effect a single flesh, a single heart, a single soul, even in the diversity of sex and personality. In the couple, unity and diversity reconcile themselves. The spouses face each other as an "I" and a "you", and face the rest of the world, beginning with their own children, as a "we," almost as if it was a single person, no longer singular but rather plural. "We," in other words, "your mother and I," "your father and I."

In light of this we discover the profound meaning of the prophets' message regarding human marriage, which is therefore a symbol and reflection of another love, God's love for his people. This doesn't involve overburdening a purely human reality with mystical meaning. It is not a question simply of symbolism; rather it involves revealing the true face and final purpose of the creation of man and woman: leaving one's own isolation and "egotism," opening up to the other, and through the temporal ecstasy of carnal union, elevating oneself to the desire for love and for happiness without end.

What's the reason for the incompleteness and dissatisfaction that sexual union leaves within and outside of marriage? Why does this impulse always fall over itself and why does this promise of infinity and eternity always end up disappointed? The ancients coined a phrase that paints this reality: "Post coitum animal triste": just like any other animal, man is sad after carnal union.

The pagan poet Lucretius left us a raw description of this frustration that accompanies each copulation, which should not be scandalous for us to hear at a congress for spouses and families:

"And mingle the slaver of their mouths, and breathe
Into each other, pressing teeth on mouths -
Yet to no purpose, since they're powerless
To rub off aught, or penetrate and pass
With body entire into body"[2]

The search for remedy to this frustration only increases it. Instead of modifying the quality of the act, the quantity is increased, moving from one partner to another. This is how God's gift of sexuality is ruined, in the trend of culture and society today.

As Christians, do we want to find an explanation once and for all for this devastating dysfunction? The explanation is that sexual union is not lived in the way and with the purpose in which God intended it. The purpose was, through this ecstasy and fusion of love, that man and woman would be elevated to the desire and have a certain taste for infinite love. They would remember from whence they came and where they were going.

Sin, beginning with the biblical sin of Adam and Eve, has gutted this plan; it has "profaned" this gesture, in other words, it has stripped it of its religious value. It has turned it into a gesture that is an end in itself, which finishes with itself, and is therefore "unsatisfactory." The symbol has been separated from the reality it symbolizes, bereft of its intrinsic dynamism and therefore mutilated. Never as much as in this case is St. Augustine's saying true: "You made us, Lord, for you and our heart is restless until it rests in you."

Even couples that are believers, sometimes more than others, don't come to find this richness of the initial meaning of sexual union due to the idea of concupiscence and original sin associated with the act for so many centuries. Only in the witness of some couples that have had a renewing experience of the Holy Spirit and that live Christian life charismatically do we find something of that original meaning of the conjugal act. They have confided with wonder, to friends or a priest, that they unite praising God out loud, and even singing in tongues. It was a real experience of God's presence.

It is understandable why it is only possible to find this fullness of the marital vocation in the Holy Spirit. The constitutive act of marriage is reciprocal self-giving, making a gift of one's own body to the spouse (or, in the words of the Bible, of one's whole self). In being the sacrament of the gift, marriage is, by its nature, a sacrament that is open to the action of the Holy Spirit, who is the Gift par excellence, or better said, the reciprocal self-giving of the Father and the Son. It is the sanctifying presence of the Spirit that makes marriage not only a celebrated sacrament, but a lived sacrament.

The secret to getting access to these splendors of Christian love is to give Christ space within the life of the couple. In fact, the Holy Spirit that makes all things new, comes from him. A book by Fulton Sheen, popular in the 50s, reiterated this with its title: "Three to Get Married."[3]

We should not be afraid of proposing a very high goal to some especially prepared couples, who will be future Christian spouses: that of praying a while the wedding night, as Tobias and Sarah, and afterward giving God the Father the joy of seeing his initial plan realized anew, thanks to Christ, when Adam and Eve were nude in front of each other and both in front of God and they were not ashamed.

I end with some words taken once again from "The Satin Slipper" by Claudel. It is a dialogue between the woman of the drama and her guardian angel. The woman struggles between her fear and the desire to surrender herself to love:

- So, is this love of the creatures, one for another, allowed? Isn't God jealous?
- How could He be jealous of what He Himself made?
- But man, in the arms of the woman, forgets God...
- Can they forget Him when they are with Him, participating in the mystery of his creation?[4]

--- --- ---
[1] Cf. Cf. H. Mühlen, Der Heilige Geist als Person. Ich -Du -Wir, Muenster, in W. 1966.
[2] Lucretius, De rerum natura, IV,2 vv. 1104-1107.
[3] F. Sheen, Three to Get Married, Appleton-Century-Crofts 1951.

[4] P. Claudel, Le soulier de satin, a.III. sc.8 (éd. La Pléiade, II, Paris 1956, pp. 804):
- Dona Prouhèze. - -Eh quoi! Ainsi c'était permis? cet amour des créatures l'une pour l'autre, il est donc vrai que Dieu n'est pas jaloux ?
- L'Ange Gardien.- Comment serait-il jaloux de ce qu'il a fait ?...
- Dona Prouhèze. - L'homme entre les bras de la femme oublie Dieu.
- L'Ange Gardien.- Est-ce l'oublier que d'être avec lui ? est-ce ailleurs qu'avec lui d'être associé au mystère da sa création ?

[Translation by Thomas Daly]

--- --- ---

On the Net:

Full text of address: http://www.zenit.org/article-24868?l=english

"Priests Are Not Theological Vending Machines"

From Catholic Exchange
By Mark Shea

When I was a kid I believed my family knew everything. My brother Mike, after all, could work wonders by turning me invisible with a mere “Abracadabra!” I’d run around the house waving at everybody and making faces and they would all stare right through me saying, “I hear you, Mark, but I can’t see you! Where are you?”

More than that, my parents knew everything there was to know about anything from ancient history like World War II to all the names of airplanes to dinosaurs. My oldest brother, Rick, was a fountain of information on any subject that came to hand. They were gods—until the day I asked “Who invented shoes?” and was flummoxed to discover none of them knew.

And as time wore on, I discovered that this strange new experience only increased in frequency. I found there were more and more questions my parents and brothers couldn’t answer at the drop of a hat. I discovered, in short, that they were human beings.

I sometimes think that many people still have not discovered this important fact when it comes to our priests. Here, for instance, is a letter I got recently from somebody who was greatly exercised because priests were not addressing an issue very close to my correspondent’s heart. My correspondent wrote:

What would you say if someone asked you when did Jesus know he was God? Trust me, not everyone agrees on the answer, especially not Catholic priests. When we start talking about Jesus, I think it is very important at this time to immediately say God is Jesus and Jesus is present in the Eucharist. I sure wish one priest would get up on the altar and say Jesus is God and Jesus knew he was God from the incarnation.

Now I’m fairly well-educated theologically. I get lots of questions along these lines from readers and listeners on radio programs. Indeed, I’ve gotten questions that were real lulus (“What is the official Church teaching on how much body mass you can lose before you lose your soul?” stands as the current champion lulu). But, that said, I can tell you that if someone suddenly demanded “When did Jesus know he was God?” my immediate answer would be “Beats me.” So I can well understand how someone might get a variety of answers to that question from a variety of Catholics, including priests. Jesus has, as we recall, a divine and human nature. We know from divine revelation that He “increased in wisdom and in stature” (Luke 2:52). In short, He learned things like all humans do. In His deity, He is omniscient. In His humanity, He asks questions because He doesn’t know things. He freely confesses “Of that day and that hour, no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36). So I don’t know that it’s a slam dunk to say with absolute confidence that Jesus knew He was God from the moment of His Incarnation in Mary’s womb.

Now, I’m just giving you my completely uninformed gerblat of a response based on what happens to spring to mind at the moment. That and five bucks will get you a cup of St. Arbuck’s coffee. I’m willing to bet good money that somewhere in the Church’s tradition this question has been given an exhaustive going-over by somebody (probably several somebodies) and there is probably even magisterial teaching on the question. If there is, then pay attention to that and not to my ignorant ramblings.

However, that said, my point is this: the failure of a busy, harried priest to be a theological vending machine on every abstruse question of theology–and that at the drop of a hat–is not really an indication of something sinister or substandard going on in the pulpit. Nor is it quite fair to relate the sudden question “When did Jesus know he was God?” to either the preaching of the Real Presence or the general question “Is Jesus God?” and suggest that failure to have sudden universal competence in the first question means neglect or denial of the other two questions. I go to a Dominican parish with a very strong Eucharistic devotion and very clear preaching on the deity of Christ and the Real Presence. Yet I have never heard a homily preached on the consciousness of Christ and the question of when He knew he was God. That’s largely because the question just hasn’t come up, not because there is a denial of His deity or of the Real Presence.

Moral: Don’t borrow trouble by assuming a priest who can’t give snappy answers to sudden and difficult questions is an apostate in the pulpit. Chances are he’s just human.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

"Nine new seminarians take first step"

From The Catholic Leader (Australia)

"NEW Holy Spirit Provincial Seminary Rector Monsignor Tony Randazzo is looking forward to welcoming “a full house” when 16 seminarians take up formation early next month.

“It’s a good time to be rector of the seminary,” he said.

“Fr Michael (McCarthy) has sown good seeds and part of my job will be to continue to sow more seeds.

“His dedication, his enthusiasm, his foresight, to take this place to fruition, from dirt to a comprehensive program which looks at human, spiritual, academic and pastoral formation … will allow us to reap that harvest.

Msgr Randazzo said he’s not daunted but enthused by the role, centred at Banyo.

“The grace of the office is what gets you through,” he said.

“Yes I’m on watch now but I’m not alone.

“There’s the power of the Spirit … the Holy Spirit works in amazing ways.
“Clothed with the Holy Spirit I couldn’t be anything but enthusiastic.”

Msgr Randazzo is particularly enthusiastic about joining the seminarians, nine of them new, in their various activities.

He said the seminary “is not about school teacher and pupils” but more concerning “the complete formation of the men” to offer the Church “the best priests possible”.

Msgr Randazzo’s own priestly formation was “sparked” when Fr McCarthy approached him as an altar server in Surfers Paradise parish, south of Brisbane.

“When I was 16, a young priest (Fr McCarthy) said, ‘When are you going to the seminary?’ … and that was the spark that set things off.

“And here we are now, he’s founding rector and I’m thrilled and excited to have succeeded him.”
Msgr Randazzo has lived and worked for the last five years in The Vatican, under the title of ‘Addetto di Segreteria’ – an official of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

With 16 other enthusiastic, prayerful men about to take up residence once again or for the first time at Banyo, Msgr Randazzo remains hopeful “more room” will be needed."

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


From the Vatican Information Service:

VATICAN CITY, 17 JAN 2009 (VIS) - At 8 p.m. today Mexican time, a recorded video message was transmitted to participants in the Sixth World Meeting of Families. The event, a moment of celebration and witness taking place from 14 to 18 January and attended by Christian families from all over the world, was held at the basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico, on the theme: "The family, teacher of human and Christian values".

That theme, said the Pope in his message, reminds us how "the domestic environment is a school of humanity and Christian life for all its members, with beneficial consequences for people, the Church and society. In fact, the home is called to practice and cultivate reciprocal love and truth, respect and justice, loyalty and collaboration, service and readiness to help others, especially the weakest. The Christian home ... must be impregnated with the presence of God, placing the events of every day in His hands and asking His help to accomplish its vital mission".

"To this end it is vitally important to pray in the family at the most appropriate and significant moments", said the Holy Father. "The Master is definitely present in the family that listens to and meditates upon the Word of God, that learns what is most important in life from Him and puts His teachings into practice. In this way individual and family life is gradually transformed and improved, dialogue is enriched, the faith is transmitted to children, the pleasure of being together increases and the home becomes more unified and consolidated, like a house built upon rock".

Benedict XVI emphasised how, "with the strength that comes from prayer, the family becomes a community of disciples and missionaries of Christ. ... Through the experience of filial obedience to God, faithfulness and generousity in welcoming children, care for the weakest and readiness to forgive, the family becomes a living Gospel which everyone may read". Furthermore, families must "bring their witness of life and their explicit profession of faith to their surroundings, such as schools and associations, and must make a commitment to the catechetical formation of their children and to the pastoral activities of their parish community, especially activities associated with preparation for marriage or specifically directed at family life".

"Because of its essential social function the family has the right for its specific identity to be recognised and not confused with other forms of coexistence. It must also be ensured adequate cultural, juridical, economic, social and health protection. In particular it must be afforded a support which, bearing in mind the number of children and the economic resources available, is sufficient to enable freedom of education and the choice of school".

Finally the Holy Father underlined the need "to develop a family culture and family policies that are driven by families themselves". In this context he encouraged his audience "to join associations that promote the identity and rights of the family in keeping with an anthropological vision that is coherent with the Gospel. Furthermore", he concluded, "I invite those associations to collaborate with one another in order for their activity to be more effective".

"Cloister nuns reach out through world wide web"

From the Times of Malta
By Fiona Galea Debono

St Ursula's Monastery in Valletta may not be as cut off from the outside world as it would appear through the bars that block away the nuns beyond - it plans to move with the times, as far as possible, and its own website is testimony to that.

Although the cloister nuns do not have direct access to the feedback they receive, any e-mails are printed out and forwarded to them, while the seminarians handling the site reply on their behalf.

And computer-literate Sr Christine Vella, 28, who brought the first PC into the monastery with the money she received when she entered in 2002, has more IT-advanced ideas.

She is not excluding the possibility of introducing the internet into their midst, aware, however, that she may not have the time for it. Apart from being busy, the last time she had access to the internet, she became addicted to chatting.

More importantly though, it would not be readily accepted by the other nuns, in particular the more elderly, for whom "it is not a part of their lives as it is ours".

It is not surprising that one of the older nuns was bewildered when she received digital photos from her relatives in the US. She asked how they got there... and was shown the "magical" pen drive, the gadget Sr Christine passes back and forth through the metal mesh as a means of exchanging information. The mesmerised septuagenarian still cannot grasp how it works.

The nuns have, however, warmed up to the website, appreciating the response and the community promotion it is aimed at.

"It is still early for the internet but the fact that they have accepted the website is a major step," says Sr Christine.

And she does understand the concerns surrounding its infiltrating the monastery, whose inhabitants only leave it once a year - normally for health reasons.

"It is mainly the pornographic material and filth that is keeping the internet out. It takes nothing to press the wrong button and find a pornographic scene in front of your face," Sr Christine says.

The self-confessed addict to chat rooms would spend hours at it while she was at the University and even recalls the indecent advances she would receive from a "sex-saturated" cyberspace, openly listing the impertinent questions about her likes and dislikes, which often compelled her to log off.

Sr Christine is on a mission to attract more nuns to the cloistered community - and judging by her jolly demeanour and passion for life, cutting off from the world cannot be such a scary notion.
In fact, for Sr Christine, leaving the monastery is far scarier. "Even before I entered, I used to be unnerved. Now, I feel it even more. We all get a dizzy sensation when we walk out of the door and come back feeling faint."

Fifteen nuns, aged between 18 and 81, live in the monastery and two more entered over the last two years. But there are gaps when no one knocks on the door three times - as the entry ritual requires.

"The more, the merrier," she giggles through the grille, admitting that outside prayer time, it is a party inside and "we have such a good laugh together".

The cloister nuns are by no means a dying breed. In fact, they are the youngest community, she declares. But the reality is "it is never enough".

More nuns are also needed to carry out all the "obediences" - Sr Vella is responsible for looking after the sick but she is also helping out with the cooking these days.

"The safety of a nation depends on the number of contemplatives," she proudly quotes. The words had struck her and she explains that "our role is to build a closer union with God. The monastery's charisma is, after all, intercessory prayer".

The media-savvy nun is using any means to recruit more girls, reiterating that it was an interview in The Times on the monastery in 2001 that sealed the deal for her. She had been toying with the idea for six years but when she read it she knew where she wanted to go so she quit University.

God had used the journalist to accomplish His mission, she laughs, reassuring that it was not the latter's sole responsibility.

But it is probably her down-to-earth, no-frills approach that has the most magnetic pull - Sr Christine admits she only decided to spend her first weekend at the monastery to take a break from her studies... That experience grew from a weekend to a lifetime.

The website, www.orderofmalta-malta.org/stursula, offers information on the monthly meetings organised for girls aged 12 upwards.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Immitation of Christ #3 - Religious Life

H/t to Vocation-Station

From Religious Vocations: Seven Practical Tips

The following are a few points of advise that one might follow during the discernment process.

1. Take action. Religious communities welcome discerning guests to stay with them. Make arrangements to go visit certain communities for a short period of time (perhaps 4-6 days). They will provide you with free food, shelter, water, shower, bathroom - in short, everything you need. All you need to bring is yourself, changes of clothes, and toiletries.

2. Repeat #1. If a man were to approach marriage in the same way that some people approach discerning religious life, then he would remain single all his life. He might read books about relationships, or research dating on the internet, but would never actually spend time with the woman he is to court, to get to know her personality, to see whether she is to be his future wife. In much the same way, discerning religious life requires more than reading or conducting research on the internet. The more exposure one has to religious communities, the better position they will be in to make an informed decision. At the very least, a person should grant the same amount of exposure to discerning a religious vocation, as was granted to past relationships.

3. Consecrate yourself to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and submit yourself to her Maternal care. Saint Louis De Montfort stated that with Mary, a soul can quickly attain the highest degrees of perfection. Ask the Blessed Virgin to take you by the hand on the path that brings the greatest glory to her Son. And do not be surprised when She does.

4. Avoid relationships with those of the opposite gender. At the very least, give primacy of place to time spent discerning religious life. Give the respect due to the higher calling. If God wants you to be married, then He will send the right person in due time, and you can be sure that it was His will, and not your own.

5. Frequent the Sacraments. Go to confession often, and to daily Mass if possible. Also spend an hour in Eucharistic Adoration daily, if possible. It is unimaginable how many graces God grants a soul through Eucharistic Adoration.

6. Find a competent spiritual director, if at all possible. Do not trust your feelings, but allow God to direct you under the direction of a wise and learned priest.

7. Remember that there is no commitment. Even if you were to formally enter a community as a postulant, you do not take perpetual vows until 4-6 years into religious life. The postulancy and novitiate periods are considered times of ongoing discernment, and a person is free to leave at any point if they feel God calling them elsewhere.

Fr. Gabriel Skates Again

Fr. Gabriel of the Franciscans of the Immaculate

Interview with Cistercian Brothers from Stift Heiligenkreuz

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Franciscan Friars of the Renewal - Assumption Hermitage

"Brother Charles" has put up a post with pictures on his blog "A Minor Friar" about his recent stay at one of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal Hermitages. I'll post a few of his pictures here, but go to his blog to see the rest and read about the hermitage.

I don't know about you, but what I wouldn't give for about five days in this hermitage!

"Dissenters from Catholic Teaching Not Being Fired Often Enough from Seminary Posts: Vatican Report"

From Life Site News
By Hilary White

ROME, January 16, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com) – A Vatican report on the moral and intellectual life of US seminaries, begun in 2005, has said that the main problems lie with professors who overtly or subtly dissent from Catholic moral teaching. Such professors, the report said, are not frequently enough fired from their positions.

“Quite often,” the report said, “the Visitation discovered one or more faculty members who, although not speaking openly against Church teaching, let the students understand - through hints, off-the-cuff remarks, etc. - their disapproval of some articles of Magisterial teaching.” The report next says that although procedures exist to fire such dissenting faculty, these “are not invoked as often as they should be.”

The Vatican report, signed by Zenon Cardinal Grocholewski, Prefect Congregation for Catholic Education, is the result of a Vatican-led investigation of American seminaries following the explosion of the clergy sex-abuse scandals in 2001. Although written in carefully diplomatic language typical of high level Vatican offices, the report uses unusually blunt terms, especially in its criticisms of seminaries run by religious orders, such as the Jesuits or Dominicans.

What the report calls a “lack of harmony” in the formation of priests “is almost always” due to educators “being less than faithful to the Magisterium of the Church.”

While most media, including Catholic News Service, a body of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, has reported that the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education has found the US seminaries to be in “overall good health,” the document notes that in “centres of formation for religious,” “ambiguities still exist” in the problem of acceptance of homosexual activity or inclinations. The report urges seminary educators and evaluators to continue to watch candidates for signs of homosexual tendencies and “underscores” the importance of the Vatican instruction that prohibits accepting as candidates men who suffer from long-term and deeply ingrained homosexual inclinations.

In the wake of the US clergy abuse scandals that broke into the public eye in 2001, the prevalence of homosexuals in the US priesthood was widely downplayed as a cause. Despite the publication of a report that found that over 80 per cent of the perpetrators were homosexuals and their victims adolescent males, not young children, Church officials and media alike continue to insist that the crisis is purely one of “priestly paedophilia.”

In its section on intellectual formation, the report noted, “In a few seminaries, and particularly in some schools of theology run by religious [orders], dissent is widespread” especially in the area of moral theology, which includes the Church’s teaching on sexual morality. “It is not rare in religious institutes to find basic tenets of Catholic moral doctrine being called into question.”

The report agrees in the main with many faithful Catholic writers and commentators such as George Weigel, a Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, who maintained that in addition to new policies that allowed homosexuals to be accepted as seminarians, it was more general infidelity to orthodox Catholic teaching, the “culture of dissent,” that was responsible for the sex abuse scandals.

Many Catholic commentators observed that the spike in abuse cases occurred at the time when seminaries, in the wake of the Second Vatican Council and the sexual and social revolutions of the 1960s and ‘70s, ceased screening candidates according to standards based on the traditional moral teachings of Catholicism.

The report also makes mention of the acquiescence in some seminaries, again particularly those run by religious orders, to pressure to accept the concept of women’s ordination. In its critique, the report said that seminaries are hampered by “mistaken” fears of offending those “who judge the reservation of the Sacrament of Holy Orders [priesthood] to men alone as discriminatory.”

The report indicates also the decline in many seminaries, widely reported anecdotally by priests and seminarians, of the traditional Catholic devotional life. The report called it “profoundly regrettable” that many seminaries do not include such practices as the Rosary as a normal part of the day to day life of students. “Some institutes even have an atmosphere that discourages traditional acts of Catholic piety - which begs the question as to whether the faculty's ideas of spirituality are consonant with Church teaching and tradition.”

“Unless a great many seminaries introduce regular recitation of the Rosary, novenas, litanies, Stations of the Cross, and so on, the seminarians will lack an education in the sacramentals and will be unprepared for ministry in the Church, which greatly treasures these practices.”

The report, on the other hand, praised the seminarians themselves, saying, “Almost without exception, the seminarians show authentic apostolic zeal and possess a ‘Catholic’ vision of Church life.”

To read the full text of the document: