All Saints’ Day, All Souls’ Day and ‘Dia de los Muertos’

The celebration of the Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, throughout Latin America celebrates the lives of the deceased. In many places, people fly kites to help their friends and loved ones get to heaven. (CNS/Reuters)

The celebration of the Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, throughout Latin America celebrates the lives of the deceased. In many places, people fly kites to help their friends and loved ones get to heaven. (CNS/Reuters)

While this year’s observance of All Saints’ Day won’t be a traditional holy day of obligation because it falls on a Saturday, millions of Catholics will take time to remember the lives of departed saints and loved ones Nov. 1-2.

While Nov. 1 recalls the most visible of Catholic icons, it’s Nov. 2, All Souls’ Day, that is a day set aside for the rest of the faithful who have graced our lives with their presence, service and love.

The Catholic Sun of the Phoenix Diocese takes a look at what the day means to Catholics as they recall their loved ones. The diocese has been refining its bereavement ministries to reach out to people whose deceased family members are buried far away or people who are alone for the first time in years.

In developed countries the observance is more reserved as Catholics pray for their deceased family members, friends and acquaintances — some at Mass, perhaps at a local Catholic cemetery, but most in private.

Throughout Latin America Nov. 2 is known as “Dia de los Muertos,” or the “Day of the Dead.” It’s more of a festive observance as people gather at cemeteries to clean grave sites, share food and drink in a picniclike way, reminisce and pray. There may even be an outdoor Mass if the local priest is around.

However the day is celebrated, it serves as a time of inspiration and reflection and a way to think about God’s divine plan for life.

Homosexuality and the priesthood revisited

Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, head of the Congregation for Catholic Education. (CNS photo/Giancarlo Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo)

Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, head of the Congregation for Catholic Education. (CNS photo/Giancarlo Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo)

VATICAN CITY — In 2005, the Vatican issued a long-awaited document saying the church could not ordain men with “deep-seated” homosexual tendencies. That document did not say, however, who should determine whether a candidate for the priesthood has homosexual tendencies.

On Thursday, the Vatican released an even longer-awaited document that partly answers that question. The “Guidelines for the Use of Psychology in the Admission and Formation of Candidates for the Priesthood” states that psychological evaluation should be used when there is a suspicion of “psychic disturbances” or “grave immaturity” in a candidate — such as uncertain sexual identity or deep-seated homosexual tendencies.

It also said that in judging a candidate’s capacity for living the charism of celibacy with joy and faithfulness, his sexual orientation must be evaluated.

That prompted some questions at a Vatican press conference, and sitting on the dais to answer them was Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, whose Congregation for Catholic Education issued both documents.

One lingering doubt about the homosexuality document was whether a homosexually oriented man who was nevertheless committed to celibacy could be ordained a priest. At Thursday’s press conference, Cardinal Grocholewski gave a rather forceful “no,” and here are the essential parts of his answer:

“The candidate does not necessarily have to practice homosexuality (to be excluded.) He can even be without sin. But if he has this deeply seated tendency, he cannot be admitted to priestly ministry precisely because of the nature of the priesthood, in which a spiritual paternity is carried out. Here we are not talking about whether he commits sins, but whether this deeply rooted tendency remains.”

Cardinal Grocholewski was then asked why, if a man with strong heterosexual tendencies but who is celibate can be ordained, the same could not be true of a man with homosexual tendencies? His answer:

“Because it’s not simply a question of observing celibacy as such. In this case, it would be a heterosexual tendency, a normal tendency. In a certain sense, when we ask why Christ reserved the priesthood to men, we speak of this spiritual paternity, and maintain that homosexuality is a type of deviation, a type of irregularity, as explained in two documents of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Therefore it is a type of wound in the exercise of the priesthood, in forming relations with others. And precisely for this reason we say that something isn’t right in the psyche of such a man. We don’t simply talk about the ability to abstain from these kinds of relations.”

Commenting on the 2005 document’s distinction between “deep-seated” and “fleeting” tendencies to homosexuality, the cardinal said fleeting tendencies could be overcome. He said there were two schools of thought on this, however:

“Today, some people say homosexuality is so `structured’ that it cannot be cured. On the other hand, many others say today that homosexuality can be cured, and we even have examples of this that have been presented. So we don’t exclude the possibility of a certain cure, but there is also needed a degree of certainty that someone’s psyche has been put right, because very often this homosexual  tendency, as we know, begins to emerge later.”

CNS Bible Blog: A world without stars is a tragedy

Link to Bible Blog seriesBy Brother Guy Consolmagno, SJ
Special to Catholic News Service

Brother Guy

Brother Guy

The Bible is not without its share of wrathful moments. Like a stern parent, God challenges his people to do better, and warns them of the tragedy that will result if they do not change their ways. What could be more tragic than the end of the world? And so, when the prophets warn Israel, they use the loss of the sun, moon and stars as a symbol of the worst that could happen:

Is 13:9-11   See, the day of the LORD comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the earth a desolation, and to destroy its sinners from it. For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light. I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; I will put an end to the pride of the arrogant, and lay low the insolence of tyrants.

Ez 32:7-11   When I blot you out, I will cover the heavens, and make their stars dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give its light. All the shining lights of the heavens I will darken above you, and put darkness on your land, says the Lord GOD.  I will trouble the hearts of many peoples, as I carry you captive among the nations, into countries you have not known. I will make many peoples appalled at you; their kings shall shudder because of you. When I brandish my sword before them, they shall tremble every moment for their lives, each one of them, on the day of your downfall. For thus says the Lord GOD: The sword of the king of Babylon shall come against you.

Jl 2:10-11  The earth quakes before them, the heavens tremble. The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining. The LORD utters his voice at the head of his army; how vast is his host! Numberless are those who obey his command. Truly the day of the LORD is great; terrible indeed – who can endure it?

Jl 3:14-16   Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision. The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining. The LORD roars from Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth shake. But the LORD is a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel.

There is an interesting if unspoken assumption in these descriptions. The sky and the things in that sky are a part of “us” — when our world ends, they end with it.

Stars shine by fusing hydrogen into helium; especially large stars can burn further by converting the helium into heavier elements. But eventually even that fuel runs out, and the star collapses. If the star is big enough, the rebound from that collapse can produce an immense explosion called a supernova. This is the remnant of a star that was seen to explode in 1066, known today as the Crab Nebula, as imaged by Father Rich Boyle at the Vatican’s telescope on Mount Graham, Ariz. Out of the gases of such a supernova come the heavy elements that eventually come together again to form planets around new stars -- the heavy elements required for life.

Stars shine by fusing hydrogen into helium; especially large stars can burn further by converting the helium into heavier elements. But eventually even that fuel runs out, and the star collapses. If the star is big enough, the rebound from that collapse can produce an immense explosion called a supernova. This is the remnant of a star that was seen to explode in 1066, known today as the Crab Nebula, as imaged by Father Rich Boyle at the Vatican’s telescope on Mount Graham, Ariz. Out of the gases of such a supernova come the heavy elements that eventually come together again to form planets around new stars -- the heavy elements required for life.

This image continues into the end-of-the-world scenarios found in the Gospels: in every case, the true end-times are not merely the end of planet Earth, but the end of the universe itself. In each case, the passage quotes Jesus:

Mt 24:29   “Immediately after the suffering of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven will be shaken.”

Mk 13:24-26   “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory.”

Lk 21:25   “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.”

But stars symbolize more than the end of the world, because the end of the world is most assuredly not the end of everything. We have immortal souls. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, we see stars as an example of the range of possibilities of what God can create, especially what he does with us after death:

1 Cor 15:38-42   But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. Not all flesh is alike, but there is one flesh for human beings, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are both heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one thing, and that of the earthly is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; indeed, star differs from star in glory. So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable.

We are creatures — things created — made of matter, and in that sense the same as every other material being. But even among the created bodies, not all are the same. And we are also more than that because we humans have within us the spark of intellect and free will, the soul, which makes us the image and likeness of God. In that, we are more glorious than even the stars themselves.

(Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, ©1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U. S. A.  All rights reserved.  Used by permission.)

A growing concern for hunger

The country’s economic maladies have been slowly unfolding for quite some time now. Home foreclosures, job losses and gradually growing lines at hunger centers mark such troubled times and have led to an air of uncertainty that has permeated every level of society.

For the poor, the impact always is the harshest. People on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder feel the impact of economic trouble first and the longest. In good times, history has shown it’s not too often that the good fortune of those at the top of the ladder makes it all the way down to the ground.

So today, when those who are well off begin to feel the pinch, it’s going to be toughest for those without a job or a home. And now, The Dialog, newspaper of the Diocese of Wilmington, Del., reports that the poorest are facing even greater challenges: not enough food.

Citing fast growing needs, one Wilmington parish, Christ Our King, recently had to turn away some families from its Kevin Sullivan Food Pantry because the cupboards ran bare. And that’s before the holidays set in and the busy winter season begins.

Hunger centers across the country are reporting decreased donations and greater demand as well. Christ Our King’s expience may portend a far deeper crisis ahead.

CNS Bible Blog: Stars are to be appreciated, but not to be worshipped

Link to Bible Blog seriesBy Brother Guy Consolmagno, SJ
Special to Catholic News Service

Brother Guy

Brother Guy

In ancient civilizations, the study of the planets and stars was carried out for two very practical purposes: time-telling and astrology. The opening chapter of Genesis, cited in our first blog entry, refers to the sun, moon and stars as the rulers of day and night: using the stars to make one’s calendar is completely right and proper. But the Bible’s attitude toward astrology is very different.

The Hebrews had a complex luni-solar calendar, based on the motions of the moon and the sun through the zodiac constellations. Holy days were related to the phases of the moon (which determined the length of the month) and the seasons of the sun. For example, Passover (from which we derive our Christian Easter) occurs on the first full moon in spring. The beginning of the solar year, whose seasons determine the planting and harvesting of crops, was determined by the high priests; they had the responsibility to add an extra month every two or three years, as they saw necessary, to keep the lunar calendar and the seasonal (solar) calendar more or less in sync.

By relying on the judgment of the priests, the ancient Hebrews avoided the need for a sophisticated mathematical model of how the sun and moon moved in the sky. The Greeks did work out such a system, however, which eventually became the basis of both the modern Jewish calendar (after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem) and it was used for the Christian calendar, established at the council of Nicea in 325 and reformed by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 — the occasion of the church hiring its first official astronomers, the forerunners of the modern Vatican Observatory.

The motions of the sun and moon are complicated, and it took a pretty sophisticated mathematics to work them out. But worked out they are; as we noted in our second blog, their regularity was one of the reassuring things about the universe to the writers of the Psalms, a sign of God’s constancy.

The motion of small bodies in the solar system is still a subject of intense research. Observing the colors and spin of the comet/asteroid Pholus, Steve Tegler (Northern Arizona University) and Brother Guy Consolmagno took this image with the Vatican’s telescope on Mount Graham, Ariz., as the object passed in front of the galaxy NGC 5964. We took three separate images in red, green and blue, and then combined them to make this image; since Pholus was moving between images, it appears as a rainbow "streak" in the image.

The motion of small bodies in the solar system is still a subject of intense research. Observing the colors and spin of the comet/asteroid Pholus, Steve Tegler (Northern Arizona University) and Brother Guy Consolmagno took this image with the Vatican’s telescope on Mount Graham, Ariz., as the object passed in front of the galaxy NGC 5964. We took three separate images in red, green and blue, and then combined them to make this image; since Pholus was moving between images, it appears as a rainbow

The motions of the planets, however, are far more complicated. The ancient Greeks tried to model them mathematically, but without complete success. The Roman astronomer Ptolemy came up with a system that he claimed fit his data, and it supported Aristotle’s idea of how the universe worked; but he may have fudged a few observations to make his theory work. (If so, he was not the first, or last, scientist tempted to shade the numbers to fit the model!) Copernicus and Kepler came up with better models in the early Renaissance, encountering furious opposition in the process, and even their methods were not perfect.

How tough is it to work out the positions of the planets? Consider this: just this month, October 2008, the Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society gave a major award to Jon Giorgini, a scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., for deriving the current most widely used model of the motions of the planets and asteroids. It is still a current topic of research, especially in an age when we send spacecraft to land on planets, or point their cameras at tiny asteroids, and we need to know their positions to very high accuracies.

Nowadays we need those positions for our spacecraft; but why did ancient peoples put so much effort into predicting the positions of the planets? The planets don’t control the growth of crops, like the sun does, or the tides like the moon; there was no practical application for this knowledge back then — except for this: to use the motions of the planets to cast horoscopes.

The logic behind astrology is understandable, if flawed. Events in our human lives seem to repeat, good times and bad, good crops and bad, victories and defeats in wars; and so it was tempting to try to predict from the rhythm of past events what is going to happen next. (Stockbrokers continue to try to do that even today — with a questionable level of success, as seen in the current economy.) If the sun and moon can control things like crops and tides, could it be that the complicated rhythm of planetary positions might be responsible for other human activities?

After 3,000 years of astrological predictions, it is pretty obvious to most astronomers that astrology just doesn’t work. (If it did work, then why is it that astrologers and fortune tellers are found only in the poorest districts of town?) But that wasn’t at all obvious 3,000 years ago. Instead, the wisest men of almost every civilization spent an enormous effort to try to keep track of planetary positions, to try to correlate them with human events.

Almost every civilization did this — but not the ancient Hebrews. It wasn’t for lack of faith in the stars, but for a far more interesting reason. Here is what the books of Wisdom has to say about using the stars to predict the future:

Wis 13:1-5   For all people who were ignorant of God were foolish by nature; and they were unable from the good things that are seen to know the one who exists, nor did they recognize the artisan while paying heed to his works; but they supposed that either fire or wind or swift air, or the circle of the stars, or turbulent water, or the luminaries of heaven were the gods that rule the world. If through delight in the beauty of these things people assumed them to be gods, let them know how much better than these is their Lord, for the author of beauty created them. And if people were amazed at their power and working, let them perceive from them how much more powerful is the one who formed them. For from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator.

The idea that the stars are some sort of gods who control human events is specifically condemned by the Bible. For one thing, it is a kind of paganism. The book of the law, Deuteronomy, is quite specific about this:

Dt 4:19   And when you look up to the heavens and see the sun, the moon, and the stars, all the host of heaven, do not be led astray and bow down to them and serve them, things that the LORD your God has allotted to all the peoples everywhere under heaven.

We are not subject to the stars; rather, we are to use them, not let them use us.

This condemnation is repeated elsewhere in the Old Testament. Perhaps the most interesting development on this front, however, is found in Isaiah. Notice here that the reasons against astrology and fortune-telling now go beyond merely the admonition against worshipping other gods.

Is 47:10-14   You felt secure in your wickedness; you said, “No one sees me.” Your wisdom and your knowledge led you astray, and you said in your heart, I am, and there is no one besides me.”  But evil shall come upon you, which you cannot charm away; disaster shall fall upon you, which you will not be able to ward off; and ruin shall come on you suddenly, of which you know nothing. Stand fast in your enchantments and your many sorceries, with which you have labored from your youth; perhaps you may be able to succeed, perhaps you may inspire terror. You are wearied with your many consultations; let those who study the heavens stand up and save you, those who gaze at the stars, and at each new moon predict what shall befall you. See, they are like stubble, the fire consumes them; they cannot deliver themselves from the power of the flame. No coal for warming oneself is this, no fire to sit before!

It is not enough merely that astrology doesn’t work; it would be immoral even if it did work. The consuming fire that Isaiah refers to is not the result of being led astray by these sorceries — “perhaps you may be able to succeed,” he notes. Rather, it is the moral destruction that comes to anyone who tries to use the arts of the world to control the freedom of other people. Ultimately, the crime of the astrologer is the denial of free will. If one believes that human actions are controlled by the stars, one denies both the power of God and the power of the free soul made in the image and likeness of God.

There is one interesting result of this biblical condemnation of astrology. When, many hundred years after Moses and Solomon and Isaiah, a group of astrologers from the East showed up in Jerusalem with charts and diagrams, Herod and the high priests were completely taken by surprise. They didn’t know their astrology. They were unaware of the configuration of the planets and their purported meaning. They had to wait for the Magi to tell them of a newborn King.

(Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, ©1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. All rights reserved. Used by permission.)

Climate change to get major Catholic attention in 2009

A cathedral is seen silhouetted against the sunset in St. Petersburg, Russia, as smoke rises in this 2005 file photo. (CNS/Reuters)

A cathedral is seen silhouetted against the sunset in St. Petersburg, Russia, as smoke rises in this 2005 file photo. (CNS/Reuters)

Climate change and the vital importance of protecting God’s creation is going to be the focus of a major campaign opening in 2009 and coordinated through the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change.

The coalition, under executive director Daniel Misleh, is planning to introduce an ambitious effort to reach all of the country’s 19,000 parishes through what is being called the Catholic Climate Covenant: The St. Francis Pledge to Protect Creation and the Poor. The covenant is an extension of efforts to more fully implement the U.S. bishops’ 2001 statement on climate change.

Misleh revealed some of the campaign’s developing plans Oct. 25 in an address to the 39th annual Peace and Justice Awards Dinner of the Commission on Catholic Community Action of the Cleveland Diocese.

The covenant, according to the coalition’s online fall update, will be the campaign’s cornerstone. It will “offer a distinctively Catholic perspective on global climate change.” It will also invite people to “deeper prayer, more learning and sincere action in this time of environmental uncertainty and challenge.”

Specifically, the St. Francis pledge calls Catholic individuals, groups and institutions to a “serious commitment” to five steps of action from personal prayer and reflection to advocacy to policymakers those Catholic principles and priorities related to climate change, especially as they touch the poor and vulnerable.

Plans call for unrolling the campaign during the Easter season, perhaps Earth Day, April 22, Misleh said.

The coalition’s partners are: U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, National Religious Partnership for the Environment, Catholic Relief Services, National Council of Catholic WomenCatholic Health Association of the United States, Catholic Charities USA, National Catholic Rural Life Conference, Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, Franciscan Action Network, the Carmelite NGO, Leadership Conference of Women Religious and Conference of Major Superiors of Men.

CNS Bible Blog: Aliens! Stars also praise and adore God

Link to Bible Blog seriesBy Brother Guy Consolmagno, SJ
Special to Catholic News Service

Brother Guy

Brother Guy

Another lesson that stars in the Bible tell us is that we are not alone. The universe is more than just us, and God is responsible for more than our own narrow neck of the woods. First and foremost, we need a dose of humility when approaching that God, as Job discovered:

Jb 38:1-7  Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements – surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?  On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?”

It is easy to see in those words of Job a reproach for thinking we know it all; clearly we don’t. In the list of the things we don’t yet know, however, I find such an enticing description that I feel I am also being invited to know those things. The Bible’s description of creation is inevitably so beautiful that it makes studying nature — being a natural scientist — the answer to a call from God. It is a holy act.

But what I like most about this passage from Job is the way it personalizes the stars — who are described singing together with all the heavenly beings. Who are these heavenly beings? We don’t know — and, of course, that’s exactly the point.

But they, too, whoever, they are, do take delight in praising God:

Psalm 148

Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights!

Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!

Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars!

Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!

Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created.

He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.

What does it take to praise the Lord, or to choose not to praise? Such a creature must have the intelligence to be aware that it, and the object of its praise, exists; and it must have the freedom to choose to praise, to choose to love. Intellect and free will are the marks of the soul, the way in which human beings were formed in the image and likeness of God. The writer of the Psalm has no problem postulating such souls in the heavens. Shades of ET!

The moon is one place off Earth where we know there has been intelligent life: us! Even the ancients could see it as a world like ours and speculated on the possibility of other races living there. The bright crater at the top is named Copernicus; like all the major features on the moon, it was named by the Jesuit astronomers Grimaldi and Riccioli in Rome on a map published in 1672. It is interesting that Jesuits would name the most prominent crater on the moon after the astronomer whose theories got Galileo into trouble, a mere 40 years after his trial! (This photograph was taken through the 40 cm refractor telescope at the Vatican Observatory in Castel Gandolfo by Jesuit Father Manny Carriera.)

There are many places where the Bible makes almost off-hand remarks to other intelligences who love and adore God … or who, in some cases, perished for not recognizing their right relationship with him. In a sense, this science fictional speculation about other creatures in space and time is as old as storytelling, a part of the mythology of all ancient cultures. But if the Odyssey had one-eyed Polyphemus or the twin perils of Schylla and Charybdis, it never bothers to wonder where they came from.

The biblical writer Baruch does wonder, however. And he ends with a delightful vision of the stars, these worshipers in the sky, singing with their bright light to their Creator:

Bar 3:24-35  O Israel, how great is the house of God, how vast the territory that he possesses! It is great and has no bounds; it is high and immeasurable. The giants were born there, who were famous of old, great in stature, expert in war. God did not choose them, or give them the way to knowledge; so they perished because they had no wisdom, they perished through their folly.

Who has gone up into heaven, and taken her, and brought her down from the clouds? Who has gone over the sea, and found her, and will buy her for pure gold? No one knows the way to her, or is concerned about the path to her. But the one who knows all things knows her, he found her by his understanding.

The one who prepared the earth for all time filled it with four-footed creatures; the one who sends forth the light, and it goes; he called it, and it obeyed him, trembling;  the stars shone in their watches, and were glad; he called them, and they said, “Here we are!” They shone with gladness for him who made them. This is our God; no other can be compared to him.

“Here we are!” shout the stars. How unlike those humans, Adam and Eve, who hid at the sound of God’s arrival.

(Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, ©1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U. S. A.  All rights reserved.  Used by permission.)

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