Luke 15 House offers parolees a place to start over

Our Catholic faith tells us to forgive those who have trespassed against us, but putting that into practice isn’t always an easy thing to do.

In reading a story about Luke 15 House in The B.C. Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Vancouver, British Columbia, in western Canada, we are able to visualize how this Christian-based organization has overcome adversity during the years to help paroled prisoners readjust to life in society.

The program offers these men counseling, vocational training, Bible studies and spiritual direction.

Catholic teens in St. Louis examine plight of the homeless

Parents who believe their children don’t understand the hardships of life may want to read a story about a group of teenage parishioners in St. Louis who got a close look at what it’s like to live as a homeless person.

The account in the Oct. 24 issue of the St. Louis Review, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, tells how the encounter with the homeless became a life-changing event in the lives of these youths.

One high school girl said she saw the “face of Christ” when she looked into the eyes of homeless people and their children during the parish-run retreat.

Do not forget their silent cries

Cardinal Emmanuel-Karim Delly of Baghdad, Iraq. (CNS/Carol Glatz)

Cardinal Emmanuel-Karim Delly of Baghdad, Iraq. (CNS/Carol Glatz)

VATICAN CITY — Iraqi Cardinal Emmanuel-Karim Delly of Baghdad told me in a recent interview at the Vatican that he felt the international community had all but forgotten the plight of Iraqis as well as the country’s Christians who continue to suffer tremendously from a lack of infrastructure and religious intolerance.

The Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need publishes a number of reports each year to remind people that there are countless people worldwide who need our help as they are suffering — and perhaps dying — for their faith.

Just last week, the charity’s president, Father Joaquin Alliende Luco, presented its annual Religious Freedom in the World report documenting the limitations, coercion, violations, or persecution nations levy against people solely because of their faith or religion. That report found that 10 of the the top 13 countries with serious limitations on religious freedom were all countries in Asia.

Another publication called “Persecuted and Forgotten? A Report on Christians Oppressed for their Faith” looks just at the situation Christians face worldwide. This “snap-shot view” of the terrible oppression and violence Christians face is meant “to fill the gap in people’s knowledge about a subject that is worsening because it largely escapes media attention,” says the report’s Index of Persecution.

Countries the report lists where the plight of the faithful has deteriorated sharply since last year:

Algeria, Bangladesh, Belarus, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Egypt, Eritrea, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel and Palestine, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe.

CNS Bible Blog: God’s omnipotence

By Brother Guy Consolmagno, SJ
Special to Catholic News Service

Brother Guy

Brother Guy

Over the years, I’ve gotten e-mails from a number of people asking me if planets, stars or constellations are mentioned in the Bible. Of course they are!

There are computer programs you can get that contain the whole text of the Bible and allow you to do global searches on words or phrases. When I just looked up “stars” I came across a number of instances. (And, in the process, I missed one of the most famous ones: the opening from Psalm 19, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.”)

But of course, that’s just gathering data. As a scientist, what I do instinctively is to look the data over and try to find trends. And over the next few days I want to share some of these insights here. It’s not just that stars are mentioned in passing in the Bible; what is fascinating to me is how they are used.

The first instance of astronomical objects in the Bible is, of course, the first chapter of Genesis where their creation is described:

Genesis 1:16-19 reads: God made the two great lights — the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night — and the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good.  And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

Father Michael Kolarcik wrote a beautiful blog about the opening of Genesis at the beginning of this series: http://cnsblog.wordpress.com/2008/10/06/cns-bible-blog-genesis-chapter-1-is-creation-good/.

I shouldn’t have to remind my readers here that this description, appropriate for the time it was written and the people for whom it was directed, did not intend to describe the science of astronomy, the nuts and bolts of how God made the stars. Instead, it carried a far more important message: that the stars were not themselves pagan

The whole Milky Way can be seen in this fish-eye view of the skies over Mt. Graham, Arizona, the site of the Vatican’s Advanced Technology Telescope, operated by the Vatican Observatory in conjunction with the University of Arizona. Such dark skies are becoming more and more rare, however; even here, the sky glow from the cities of Phoenix and Tucson, both more than fifty miles distant, can be seen as the yellow patches on the right hand side of the picture.

The whole Milky Way can be seen in this fisheye view of the skies over Mount Graham in Arizona, the site of the Vatican’s Advanced Technology Telescope, operated by the Vatican Observatory in conjunction with the University of Arizona. Such dark skies are becoming more and more rare, however; even here, the sky glow from the cities of Phoenix and Tucson, both more than 50 miles distant, can be seen as the yellow patches on the right side of the picture.

gods nor the random result of pagan gods messing about in the primordial chaos, as the mythological stories of the neighboring nations would have it. Rather they are the result of the one true God’s deliberate act of creation. For the first time, we are told that everything in the universe, including the lights in the sky, are but creatures … things made by God.

And because the stars are God’s creation, they are under God’s rule. We see that in Job 9:1-10: Then Job answered:  “… how can a mortal be just before God?  If one wished to contend with him, one could not answer him once in a thousand. He is wise in heart, and mighty in strength who has resisted him, and succeeded? –  he who removes mountains, and they do not know it, when he overturns them in his anger; who shakes the earth out of its place, and its pillars tremble; who commands the sun, and it does not rise; who seals up the stars; who alone stretched out the heavens and trampled the waves of the sea; who made the Bear and Orion, the Pleiades and the chambers of the south; who does great things beyond understanding, and marvelous things without number.”

Orion is perhaps the most famous constellation; the Bear, the Lion, the Pleiades are references to the familiar constellations of Ursa Major, Leo, and the famous star cluster in Taurus. These descriptions of the constellations are found without much ambiguity in the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament, while the Hebrew version uses words that ancient commentators usually connect with those constellations, though some argue that different stars are actually meant. Which stars are being talked about really doesn’t matter for our purposes, however. The important point is that even the stars are made by God.

That’s a pretty big God, even if your understanding of the universe is limited to seeing the stars as points of light in a dome relatively close overhead.

The power of God over the universe is most directly inferred in Psalm 147: Praise the LORD! How good it is to sing praises to our God; for he is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting. The LORD builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the outcasts of Israel. He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names. Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure …

As we saw in Genesis where Adam is given the task of naming the animals, to give a name is to claim ownership — and responsibility. You don’t bother naming something that you don’t care about.

And if God cares about the physical universe, so shouldn’t we?

(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.)

Pope headed to Africa next spring

It’s official — Pope Benedict XVI plans to make his first trip to Africa next March, visiting Cameroon and Angola.

The pope announced the trip at Sunday’s closing Mass for the Synod of Bishops on the Bible. He also confirmed plans to hold the second special Synod of Bishops for Africa at the Vatican in October 2009.

The pope said he will hand-deliver the African synod’s Instrumentum Laboris, or working document, when he travels to Cameroon in March to meet with representatives from African bishops’ conferences.

The 2009 synod theme will be “The Church in Africa at the Service of Reconciliation, Justice and Peace.”  The first African synod took place at the Vatican in 1994. Ten years later, Pope John Paul II said another synod would be held to allow church leaders to address the continent’s changing religious, demographic, social and political scenes.

Pope Benedict said he would go from Cameroon to Angola, where he will celebrate the 500th anniversary of that country’s evangelization.

For months, rumors have been percolating around the Vatican of a papal trip to Africa, a continent that has not hosted a pope since 1998.  In October, the Vatican’s advance team traveled to Africa to firm up plans, according to sources.

At present, it’s the only foreign trip on the pope’s calendar next year. With the synod to follow, it looks like 2009 with be a year of Africa for the church.

An opening on women lectors?

VATICAN CITY — Probably the most newsy — and somewhat unexpected — item in the final propositions of the Synod of Bishops on the Bible was a proposal to allow women to be officially installed in the ministry of lector.

The issue was raised in Proposition 17 on “The ministry of the word and women,” and on Saturday morning it passed with 191 votes in favor, 45 opposed and three abstentions, according to our sources.

“It is hoped that the ministry of lector be opened also to women, so that their role as proclaimers of the word may be recognized in the Christian community,” the proposition states in its final sentence.

What Pope Benedict XVI will do with that proposal is unclear, according to Vatican people I spoke with shortly after the synod vote.

The issue, of course, is not whether women can act as lectors, or Scripture readers, in Catholic liturgies. They already do so all over the world, including at papal Masses.

The question is whether women can be officially installed in such a ministry. Until now, the Vatican has said no: canon law states that only qualified lay men can be “installed on a stable basis in the ministries of lector and acolyte.” At the same time, canon law does allow for “temporary deputation” as lector to both men and women, which is why women routinely appear as lectors.

The reasoning behind church law’s exclusion of women from these official ministries has long been questioned. For centuries, the office of lector was one of the “minor orders,” generally reserved to seminarians approaching ordination. While seminarians still are installed formally as “acolyte” and then as “lector”  before being ordained deacons, since the 1970s service at the altar and proclaiming the readings at Mass have been seen primarily as ministries stemming from baptism and not specifically as steps toward ordination.

“It’s important to emphasize that any proposition for women lectors would simply arise from their baptism and not from any presumptive opening for orders,” said one Vatican source.

The synod took up the question because some have suggested that in promoting greater scriptural preparation and presentation, the church designate “ministers of the word.” Lectors were seen as natural candidates.

It’s interesting that this proposal, while passing overwhemlingly, drew the greatest number of “no” votes than any of the other 54 propositions, most of which passed with fewer than five opposing votes.

Poll shows how young Catholics say they’ll vote in 2008 election

A recent survey on the political views of young Catholic voters found that they have similar views to their peers on many issues in this election.

The “Faith and Politics of Young Adults in the 2008 Election” survey, sponsored by Faith in Public Life and conducted by Public Religion Research, polled young adults ages 18-34 on issues such as the economy, immigration, the environment, torture, same-sex marriage, abortion, employment nondiscrimination, religious liberty, and the role and size of government.

“As we go forward, expect to see young people across faiths focusing more and more on issues that reflect a concern for America’s image in the world and how our government treats the least of these at home and abroad. Expect to see the dividing lines of the culture wars continue to fade,” said Katie Paris, director of communications strategy at Faith in Public Life.

You can access the entire report, including statistics on the so-called “God gap,” views of candidate “friendliness” to religion, and the candidate preference of different religious groups.

After the synod, how will you use your Bible?

Now that the world Synod of Bishops has said that Catholics should each own — and use — a Bible, what ideas can you give for all of us to accomplish that in our busy lives? Just open and fill out the comments form below. (Comments are moderated for spam, etc., but, if you stay on topic, yours will eventually show up.)

Brother Guy

Brother Guy

P.S.: Hope you’re following our Bible Blog in conjunction with the synod. And if you’re not, make sure you come back here next week. (Though the synod will be over, the Bible Blog will continue.) Our next guest blogger will be Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno, who has been associated with the Vatican Observatory since 1993. He’ll write about how stars are mentioned in the Bible and other questions about our universe and God’s creation. Don’t miss it!

More on the alternative dismissals at Mass

Our friend Rocco over at “Whispers in the Loggia” just this morning highlighted our story on the Vatican’s preparation of three alternative endings for dismissal at Mass. But what he didn’t know was that we were also preparing a second story on the practical implications of the proposal, including the fact that you’re not likely to hear the new endings until 2012. You can read that story here.

CNS Bible Blog: How will we recognize him? (Luke 24)

By Fathers Glen Lewandowski, OSC, and Jerry Schik, OSC
Special to Catholic News Service

Father Jerry Schik, OSC

Father Schik

Father Lewandowski

Father Lewandowski

Has your boss ever said to you, “Go to the airport and pick up John Doe, who is coming in for a business meeting.”? Your response is immediate and automatic: “How will I recognize him?” And you hope that your boss will name several easily recognizable characteristics, such as his height and the color of his suit coat.

The two disciples on the road to Emmaus were not able to identify the stranger that walked into their midst. They did not recognize Jesus. They did not recognize his physical appearance or the sound of his voice. They did not recognize him on human terms.

Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, who has been briefing English-speaking journalists on synod speeches at the Vatican, commissioned Benedictine Sister Marie-Paul of the Mount of Olives Monastery to paint this icon of the Emmaus story’s two main scenes. (CNS photo by Father Thomas Rosica. Used with permission)

So when did they recognize him? When he gave himself to them. “He took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them” (Lk 24:30). They recognized him when he gave himself to them in the Eucharist. In other words, they recognized him when he gave himself to them on divine terms in the sacrament of his body and blood. At the beginning of the journey they did not recognize him on human terms, but at the end of the journey they recognized him in his divinity before he vanished from their sight (Lk 24:31).

The story of the road to Emmaus has many lessons for us and we wish to focus on only one: The active agent in revelation is Christ himself. We can’t recognize our savior on human terms while using our human skills. We don’t recognize Christ just by walking down the road and discussing “the things that have taken place in these days” (Lk 24:18). Rather, we recognize him when he opens the Scriptures for us and breaks the bread for us. We are actors on the stage when Revelation takes place but we never have the lead role. The main actor is always Christ, our savior. He reveals himself on the road to Emmaus, on the road to Damascus, and on the road of life.

Synod note: The Emmaus story has surfaced several times in the course of the synod. Don Pascual, superior general of the Society of Don Bosco — men dedicated to youth work — told the synod, “It is both a story of what happened and a programmatic itinerary for evangelization.” The story tells where we are going and how to get there. Where: to Jesus. How: walking together.

Like many youths whose hopes have been dashed, the two men on the road were deeply disappointed in the community they left behind back in Jerusalem. They were walking out on it. Everything about “the things that have taken place back there in these days gone by” had gone wrong.

Jesus walks together with them, on the way. Between the community they left and the community to which they return in the end, there is Jesus.

Evangelization outside the context of community is dangerous and false, Don Pascual insisted. Connecting with community, at a new depth, heals and restores hope. Jesus connects with community. Jesus restores hope.

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