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Mathetes Award

nullMathetes is the Greek word for disciple, and the role of the disciple (per the Great Commission) is to make more disciples. So this is the Discipleship Award. I was humbled to receive this award a number of weeks ago from Jean at Catholic Fire, who is a great disciple herself. As I was reflecting on what I was thankful for last week, one of the things that came to mind was the many faithful bloggers out there, taking advantage of the new media to witness to the truth. Since today is the feast of St. Andrew the apostle I thought it might be appropriate to point out some of these modern day disciples.

First is Jennifer at Et-Tu. She is an atheist convert and always has beautiful reflections on all aspects of faith and spirituality – many things that I find myself taking for granted, having been born and raised in the faith.

Then there is Mark Pickup at Human Life Matters. I love Mark’s blog and link to it frequently at Reflections. Mark is a triplegic with advanced multiple sclerosis and has many wonderful observations on life, death and suffering.

Besides Jean’s blog, here are some more of my other favorites:
Thoughts of a Regular Guy
Alive and Young
Driving out the Snakes
The Catholic Knight
Kansas City Catholic
Pro Ecclesia, Pro Familia, Pro Civitate
Causa Nostrae Laetitiae

This one is a new favorite of mine:
Moniales OP – Dominican Nuns of Summit New Jersey

You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father (Mt. 5:14-16).

Veteran’s Day

nullI know that Veteran’s Day was technically yesterday, but since the public offices are recognizing it today, I figure I’m ok getting this post up a day late. I have mentioned before my affection for our military men and women. It started with movies depicting the bravery and sacrifices of our soldiers in the wars of history (Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers are my two favorites). And it continues with the knowledge that we still have men and women living, and dying, in these extreme situations. Pictured here is James, a soldier in the 173rd Airborne Brigade currently serving in Afghanistan. James is my adopted soldier via Adopt a Platoon. Please keep him and all our veterans in your prayers today.

Catholics and Harry Potter

HP Book 1After expressing my favorable view of the Harry Potter novels recently on my blog I was asked by one reader why my view on the subject is so “contradictory to others who are so Catholic and so pro-life.” She specifically pointed out the view of Pope Benedict who, while still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, wrote a letter to Gabriele Kuby regarding her book, Harry Potter – good or evil, explaining the damage HP does to our young children, saying:

“It is good, that you enlighten people about Harry Potter, because those are subtle seductions, which act unnoticed and by this deeply distort Christianity in the soul, before it can grow properly.”

This came right around the same time a Vatican document was published on New Age phenomenon and one of its contributers, Father Don Peter Fleetwood, when questioned about HP said:

“I don’t see any problem in the Harry Potter series. They aren’t bad. If I have understood well the intentions of Harry Potter’s author, they help children to see the difference between good and evil.”

HP Book 4Both of these statements were made in 2003 and, as far as I know no further statements from anywhere in the Vatican have been made and there is no official Catholic position on whether the HP books are good, bad or indifferent. Quite the contrary. There doesn’t even appear to be a general consensus on the matter. With regard to Harry Potter the Catholic world seems pretty split. For example, based on the links offered on Life Site News’ website, they have a very unfavorable opinion of the books. Whereas Our Sunday Visitor has published a book by Nancy Brown, The Mystery of Harry Potter, designed to “help guide your family through a fully enjoyable, and even educational, experience of Harry Potter.”

Other note-worthy Catholic figures differ in opinion. In 2002, Father Gabriele Amorth, the Pope’s chief exorcist warned that, “Behind Harry Potter hides the signature of the king of the darkness, the devil” (Catholic League’s Bill Donohue recently responded). I have already mentioned Gabriele Kuby and her book – she also has an article on LSN: Ten Arguments Against Harry Potter. Author Michael O’Brien has written extensively warning of the cultural impact of the novels, here are a few interviews from Zenit.

HP Book 6Meanwhile, master Catholic blogger, Mark Shea is a constant defender of the series. In his review of The Mystery of Harry Potter he calls HP the greatest Christian fantasy epic of our generation. Even Amy Welborn, another well known Catholic author and blogger, who doesn’t appear to be a big fan of the books, insists that there is nothing wrong with them:

[c]oncerned parent, just relax. The Harry Potter books are far better than ninety percent of contemporary children’s literature, and I think all of us should be deeply grateful to J.K. Rowling for the gift she’s given our children, which goes beyond the books themselves, to the rediscovery of the pleasure of reading.

I was surprised to learn that Cardinal George Pell of Australia has read and enjoys Harry Potter saying: “The Harry Potter series are brilliantly written children’s books, which many adults enjoy.”

Obviously opponents have serious concerns about the magic being used in the novels – that it can lead children into an interest in the occult and away from faith in God. So what do supporters have to say about the witchcraft and wizardry? Many of us see it as a backdrop to the greater story of the lives of the characters. It’s even portrayed as more of a talent that some children are born with and some aren’t, and those who are must study to learn how to control their power and use it wisely. Amy Welborn also suggests that magic is often a metaphor in novels:

It’s a metaphor for personal power. Stories in which children must deal with magic are really about the discovery of one’s own gifts, talents and capability to use one’s life for either good or evil.

Still concerned about the magic? It’s a legitimate concern, especially with HP Book 7regards to young readers. Both Welborn and Brown suggest explaining to children that Rowling doesn’t believe in magic, dragons and spells herself, but has simply used her imagination to come up with a creative story. Also explain, as I just pointed out, that in the story magic is a natural born talent. One cannot just start casting spells and “become” magical. It is also worth noting that the “spells” in Harry Potter are really just Latin words and many of the “potions” consist of non-existent, mythical ingredients like Acromantula venom, Erumpent parts and unicorn blood. In other words, we’re not talking about real sorcery that would or could be condemned Biblically.

As you can see Catholics have far from resolved the HP debate. That is why, as with all things, it is up to parents to discern and pay attention to what their children are reading. It is good for parents to read these books (and others) before giving them to children – even reading with them – and offering guidance along the way (yes, there are good things in HP that can be pointed out to children, you can find some of them here and in the books below). Brown has many suggestions for parents in her book, here is an excerpt).

Despite popular belief most of the books are not appropriate for very young readers, so Brown offers this age guide:

“Sorcerer’s Stone”: 7-11 to adult
“Chamber of Secrets”: 8-11 to adult
“Prisoner of Azkaban”: 9-11 to adult
“Goblet of Fire”: 10-12 to adult
“Order of the Phoenix”: 10-13 to adult
“Half-Blood Prince”: 11-14 to adult
“Deathly Hallows”: 12-14 to adult

Bottom line: the books are not bad or evil in and of themselves, parents can, in good conscience, allow their children read HP, as they see fit, but are by no means obligated to do so – bear in mind other children’s books can have their own problems and should be approached with the same concern and consideration. Parents just need to keep an eye on their children – what they’re reading, watching, playing or doing, take an active role in their entertainment and look for signs that they may be being lead astray, whether by HP or something else.

Other links (many of these contain spoilers):
This is a great in depth look at the end of the series
Nancy Brown’s Blog
Brown’s thoughts on Deathly Hallows
A discussion on marriage at Nancy Brown’s blog
Catholic perspective can be seen in Potter series, says priest-devotee

The Mystery of Harry Potter

Looking for God in Harry Potter
The Gospel According to Harry Potter
God, the Devil and Harry Potter

“We are Honoring Mary, Never Worshiping Her”

The above are lyrics to an African hymn that a priest in our diocese, who was transferred from Nigeria, sings during Mass when he talks about devotion to our Mother Mary. A few nights ago I turned on the TV and a local Christian station was on with some protestant preacher accusing Catholics of divinizing Mary, worshiping her and making her equal to God. This is why it is important for us to really understand the Church’s teaching on Mary’s role and to know what true devotion consists of.

Much of what we believe about Mary comes straight from scripture. We believe that nothing written in scripture is insignificant or accidental and therefore its many references to Mary are worth noting. First and foremost is the link between the Old and New Testaments regarding Mary. In the few encounters between Jesus and His mother depicted in the Gospel of St. John Jesus does not refer Our Ladyto Mary by name or even as mother; he calls her ‘woman’ (Jn. 2:4, 19:26). For Catholics this ‘woman’ is an echo of the woman referred to in the book of Genesis (3:15):

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.

This verse is also a foreshadowing of the ‘woman’ in the book of Revelation who was “clothed with the sun” and “gave birth to a son, a male child, destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod” (12:1, 5).

In his book, Hail, Holy Queen, Scott Hahn says, “That child could only be Jesus; and so the woman could only be His mother, Mary.”

Catholics’ desire to honor Mary is fitting because of her role in the redemption of mankind. Through her ‘fiat,’ her obedience to the Divine will of God, Mary was overshadowed by the power of the Most High (Lk. 1:35) and became the means by which the Son of God came into the world to redeem mankind and thus became also a cooperator, or co-redeemer with Him. Our LadyMore proof that Mary is intimately linked with the redemptive work of her Son is in the prophecy of Simeon in which he reveals that Mary will also share in the sufferings of Christ. As Christ suffered and died on the cross for our sins, those sins formed the sword that was to pierce the soul of Mary as well (Lk. 2:24-35). It is not the Church who has raised Mary to such a prominent position, but God himself who found favor with her and chose her to be blessed among women (Lk. 2:30, 42). Mary’s obedience undid the disobedience of Eve. For more on this see the Catechism of the Catholic Church n. 494 (which also, by citing the likes of St. Irenaeus, shows that the early Christians believed this as well).

Christ not only desired that Mary be honored among all women, but also that she should have a special relationship with the faithful. In handing Mary over to his beloved disciple he made all Christians, who are represented in the person of John, children of Mary (Jn. 19:26). Our LadyIn devoting ourselves to the care of our heavenly Mother we are using the same means He used to come down to us. That is why St. Louis DeMontfort calls true devotion to Mary an “easy, short, perfect and secure way of attaining union with our Lord.” It is perfect because,

“The Most High has come down to us perfectly and divinely, by the humble Mary, without losing anything of His Divinity and Sanctity. So it is by Mary that the very little ones are to ascend perfectly and divinely, without any fear to the Most High.”

Even Mary herself foresaw this devotion when she said in her great Magnificat; “behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed” (Lk. 2:48).

Nowhere in Catholic Church teaching do we claim that Mary is equal to God or that we worship her at all. In fact the Catechism expressly states that,

“This very special devotion[to Mary] … differs essentially from the adoration which is given to the incarnate Word and equally to the Father and the Holy Spirit, and greatly fosters this adoration,” (CCC n. 971)

We honor Mary, giving her the respect that is owed to such an important figure in Salvation History, one who is, as common sense tells us, the Mother of God. And we devote ourselves to her powerful intercession, a devotion which is, above all, Christ centered, with the goal of achieving perfect union with Him through the help of our Mother in heaven.

The same African priest I mentioned earlier explains Mary’s role this way: Two thousand years ago Mary brought Christ into the world; today she desires to bring Christ into our hearts.

The Navarre Bible
The Catechism of the Catholic Church

Further reading:
True Devotion
Hail, Holy Queen: The Mother of God in the Word of God.
Mary of Nazareth

Imitation of Mary

More on Tony Blair

Blair and BenedictEarlier this month I told you that it has been long rumored that Tony Blair was on the way to becoming Catholic. In a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI, he and the pontiff shared a “frank exchange” on “particularly delicate subjects” – which probably refers to the delicate subject of Blair’s support for abortion, gay adoption, same-sex marriage and stem-cell research. After that meeting, during the Angelus the Pope mentioned a need for “true conversion,” stating:

“Today, as the Church celebrates the birth of St John the Baptist, let us ask for the gift of true conversion and growth in holiness, so that our lives will prepare a way for the Lord and hasten the coming of His Kingdom.”

True conversion is not simply switching from one church to another, but changing one’s entire being – abandoning oneself to the will of the Heavenly Father and striving for holiness. Who knows what Tony Blair’s reasons for possibly converting actually are, regardless, we should pray that he will soon have a change of heart and soul which will lead him to love an appreciate the Church and all of her teachings, especially regarding human life.

Love Your Enemies, Cont.

Today’s Gospel reading, a continuation of yesterday’s, goes into further detail about the importance of forgiveness and loving our enemies:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Mt. 5:43-48)

The priest at Mass today offered some great words about loving our enemies. First he pointed out that love is not a feeling, it is a decision – it is not an act of emotion but an act of the will. We don’t have to feel good about our enemies, we don’t have to like them, per se, but we should always will them good.

Next he reminded us that we love our enemies not because we excuse or approve of their evil deeds, but because of what they can become. Even our enemies can become saints and we should never give up on them. We see this especially in the example of St. Stephen and St. Paul. As St. Stephen was being stoned to death, under the supervision of St. Paul (Saul, at the time), he cried out with love for his persecutors, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60). Later we know that Saul was converted and became a great preacher and example of the Gospel.

In the example I provided yesterday of St. Maria Goretti, during the 20 hours she suffered after being attacked she forgave and prayed for Alessandro. After seeing a vision of her in his jail cell he converted and, when released, took up residence in a Capuchin monastery and worked in its garden.

This is why we love and forgive our enemies. As children of a loving God, everyone has the potential to become a saint, which we should always support and encourage.

Love Your Enemies

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on (your) right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles.

Today’s Gospel reading from Matthew (5:38-42) reminds us of our call to forgiveness and to love our enemies. This message is particularly important for us today in light of recent events, such as the gruesome discovery of 18 year old Kelsey Smith’s body after she was abducted in a Target parking lot. I remember vividly when I was living in Florida last year, which seems to be the child abduction capitol of the world, a press conference with the mother of an abducted and murdered child addressing her daughters murderer. My heart ached as I listened to this beautiful heartbroken woman spew words of venomous hatred at her enemy to the point that she even wished him eternal damnation. I was sad not only for the terrible loss of her child, but also for the loss of love and forgiveness within her heart.

St. Maria GorettiForgiveness is difficult, to say the least, especially when we have been wronged in the most painful sort of way. But the gate that we must pass through is narrow, it is difficult, it is painful, but with Our Lord it is possible. In these difficult situations I always think of St. Maria Goretti who, after having been stabbed to the point of death by a family friend who wished to rape her, when asked if she forgave her attacker, replied:

“Yes! Yes!” she replied, “For the love of Jesus, I forgive him, and I want him to be with me one day in heaven!”

After getting out of jail, Alessandro Serenelli, her murderer, fled to Maria’s mother, Assunta, begging her forgiveness, which she readily gave him. The two even attended Christmas Mass together, receiving communion side by side. More recent examples of extraordinary forgiveness include:
JPII and Mehmet Ali Agca-JPII’s visit to Mehmet Ali Agca’s jail cell after he attempted to kill the late pontiff
-A Somalian nun offering forgiveness to her killers in her dying breaths
-A Pennsylvanian Amish community forgiving the man who held a number of Amish schoolgirls hostage, killing 5

These stories show us that forgiveness is possible if we open our hearts to compassion. Compassion, rooted in prayer, allows us to see others in the light of Christ – to realize that “the God who loves you unconditionally loves all of your fellow human beings” without exception (Henri Nouwen). This means that everyone, even the most hardened criminal, is worthy of our love and forgiveness, even if they do not accept it.

Day of Days

It was 63 years ago today that Allied forces lead a massive attack on the German stronghold in Normandy France. For some years now I always make sure to take time on this day to remember the men involved in this invasion on both sides, living and deceased. I have already told you that I have a soft spot in my heart for our combat veterans and this war, this attack, always seem to stick out in my mind the most. I think that must be because I was so affected by movies such as Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers and have spent a good amount of time looking into the history of them, especially from the soldier’s perspective – I am a sucker for war stories. It was an incredible invasion the likes of which we have not seen in recent history.

After such a devastating world wide military conflict, it is disappointing – to say the least – that we have not found a way to solve major conflicts without going to war. But our Lord tells us this will happen:

You will hear of wars and reports of wars; see that you are not alarmed, for these things must happen, but it will not yet be the end. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be famines and earthquakes from place to place. All these are the beginning of the labor pains. (Mt. 24:6-8)

So why does this happen? Why do such seemingly unresolvable conflicts continue to arise, leading us into war? After thinking much about it, it appears to me the answer is sin. Sin is a moral evil which separates us from God and therefore from true and lasting peace. Fallen by nature, man is subject to temptation and sin. As sins continue, conflicts increase and war, because of our nature, is inevitable. But, as the Lord says, we should not be alarmed for:

Immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming upon the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a trumpet blast, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other. (Mt. 24:29-31)

Until that day we pray and work for peace, for the conversion of sinners. We pray for those who have seen war, for those who have died in war and those who are in the midst of war today. And we hope for the coming of the Lord.

That’s what I think anyway.

Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. “But of that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. For as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. (Mt.24:34-37)

Catholics Embrace New Media

What is ‘new media’ you ask? You’re lookin at it! Blogging, podcasting…the world of communication is quickly evolving and Catholics are taking notice. From the National Catholic Register:

First came the online network informally known as St. Blog’s. Then came the invasion of the Catholic podcasters.

Now it’s “vodcasts.”

The latest innovation on the Internet is the rise of Catholic video podcasts, otherwise known as vodcasts. Through YouTube and other media, Catholics have been able to spread the faith, provide historical footage and draw attention to liturgical abuses…

Such resources are utilizing both audio and video to show the richness of the Catholic community, says blogger Rocco Palmo. He has been impressed with how some dioceses are using online video. The Diocese of Salt Lake City, for example, makes liturgies at the cathedral available online.

Even the clergy is getting in on the action:

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Cardinal Justin Rigali became the first Church leader to make regular use of YouTube. Every week of Lent, Cardinal Rigali presented a weekly two- to four-minute video reflection on the Gospels called “Living Lent.”…

To date, Cardinal Rigali has recorded a dozen videos.

“It’s an effort to communicate with the people on some important evangelical points,” Cardinal Rigali said. “We hope to keep it going as long as we can.”

Getting into this medium is particularly important for Catholics because some are using it to bring people (especially the young) away from the Church. Not that long ago an atheist group called on our youth to openly deny the Holy Spirit in its Blasphemy Challenge. Upon hearing this one transitional deacon, Christopher Decker, responded with a video of himself reciting the Apostle’s Creed and inviting others to follow.

Defend the truth with charity and firmness when the things of God are at stake…God wants us, now and always, to spread his seed, a divine sowing in all surroundings (St. Josemaria)

Some of the places mentioned in the article: God Tube and EJVideo (Christian video sites), Word on Fire by Fr. Robert Barron and The Recovering Dissident Catholic, a woman who was influenced by Catholics online and returned to the fullness of the Catholic faith. Other Catholic blogs can be found at St. Blog’s Parish Directory.

I wonder if JPII foresaw this when he called for a new evangelization.