Word to Life: Hearing God’s voice in unexpected places

More Word to Life columns.

(Dec. 7, Second Sunday of Advent)

Cycle B. Readings:

1) Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11

Psalm 85:9-14

2) 2 Peter 3:8-14

Gospel: Mark 1:1-8

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"The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. ... Behold I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way" (Mark 1:1-2).

By Jean Denton
Catholic News Service

Paul was 70 years old before he heard the voice crying out in the wilderness.

He had been a good Catholic his entire life, attending Mass regularly. He was a loving, dedicated husband and father and a successful business executive. Then, one night shortly into his retirement, Paul heard the voice crying out, first in a dream.

It was so real to him that he listened. But the idea of such a dream was so irrational and unfamiliar that he was embarrassed to recount it to anyone. However, the dream recurred — several times — and he felt compelled to tell his wife Chris.

“I dreamed I was building a school. In Guatemala!” he said incredulously (he’d never been to Guatemala). It seemed a little strange to her, too, to be talking about this dream. But it struck her as significant.

Then the two of them together heard the voice crying out, this time at church in the person of a visiting Haitian pastor. He wanted to build a school in a remote village in his country.

Recognizing the voice, the couple committed themselves to helping their parish fund construction of the school. A few months later Chris became terminally ill and her final, urgent wish was to ensure that the school would be built. They donated the amount needed.

After Chris’s death, Paul, fluent in French, and the Haitian pastor became close personal friends and Paul became deeply involved in the life and development of his Haitian community.

Peter’s words in this weekend’s readings tell us that God doesn’t mind that it took Paul 70 years to get to this place: “With the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day,” he says.

What happened was Paul and Chris made straight the paths of the Lord to enter the life of a Haitian village. Unexpectedly, but just as powerfully, the paths also led to the transformation of their own life with Jesus.

This story was foretold in Isaiah. “A voice cries out … the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all people shall see it together … here is his reward with him.”

Paul and Chris listened to the voice, opened the path and the Savior came.


What obstacles in your life might keep you from hearing God’s voice in an unexpected place? How can you clear the way for Christ to be present in your day-to-day living?

Late AP reporter’s love for his Catholic faith

Retired AP reporter Hugh Mulligan, a Catholic who once considered the priesthood but chose journalism as his vocation, died recently from pancreatic cancer. He was 83. He was “a legendary storyteller” with a “wit as penetrating as his humor was revealing,” said Tom Curley, president of AP,  in an AP story about Mulligan’s Nov. 26 death. “He will be missed immensely.”

According to AP, Mulligan could find a story “in almost anything” he came across. He traveled the world  — 146 countries — and his assignments covered the gamut. But colleagues recalled that one of his favorite assignments was traveling with Pope John Paul II, and they joked how he seemed to somehow always manage to mention the Catholic Church in his stories. He worked for AP for 49 years, retiring in 2000.

A funeral Mass was celebrated for him Dec. 2 at St. Elizabeth Seton Church in Ridgefield, Conn. He is survived by his wife of 60 years, Brigid (Murphy) Mulligan. The couple married in 1948 at her parish in Armagh, Northern Ireland.

Another voice weighs in on FOCA

Last week we had a blog item and a news story on the chances — or lack thereof — that the next Congress would approve, and President-elect Obama would sign, the proposed Freedom of Choice Act, which would further loosen restrictions on abortion in the United States.

Today, veteran Catholic journalist and Washington observer Russell Shaw posted his own take on the blog site of Our Sunday Visitor. Shaw’s bottom line: dangerous bills must be vigorously opposed.

Four ‘Chicago guys’ mark 25 years as bishops

As The Georgia Bulletin in Atlanta notes in its latest edition:

There’s no place like home, and when you can’t live there perhaps the next best thing may be sharing memories of it with friends.

A cherished camaraderie has formed over the years for the four “Chicago guys” ordained auxiliary bishops together on Dec. 13, 1983. It continues even after they were sent by the church to serve in diverse places.

Two of the four are now prominent archbishops: Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta and Archbishop John Vlazny of Portland, Ore. The other two are Bishop Placido Rodriguez of Lubbock, Texas, and now-retired Chicago Auxiliary Bishop Timothy J. Lyne.

O Christmas tree…

Christmas tree in St. Peter's Square

A 108-foot Christmas tree being erected in St. Peter's Square (CNS photo by Carol Glatz)

VATICAN CITY — If you thought maneuvering your freshly cut Christmas tree from the car roof to the tree stand in the living room was a feat only for the bold and brawny, well, the Vatican has you beat.

Half of St. Peter’s Square was cordoned off Friday morning as huge flat-bed trucks, cranes and Vatican workers strained to put up this year’s Christmas tree.

This year’s donated tree was cut from the forests near the town of Gutenstein in eastern Austria.

The tree is 120 years old and its felling was part of the region’s regulated forestry program aimed at thinning selected trees to make way for new growth.

With the help of a large crane, Vatican workers carefully raised the 108-foot spruce fir off a flatbed truck and spent at least a couple hours trimming the base and rotating the tree to get it to sit straight in a special stand in the middle of the square.

Tree 2008

Vatican workers fitting the tree into a special stand (CNS photo by Carol Glatz)

With the tree now snug in the square, workers will spend the next couple of days decorating it with lights and more than 2,000 ornaments. Its tip will be crowned with a large star.

Next Friday the pope will meet the Austrian delegation that donated the tree. The official tree lighting ceremony will be on Saturday and entertainment will be provided by an Austrian band and children’s choir.

A wet day for the Vatican fire department

Pope Benedict XVI tries on a fire helmet given as a gift by Italian firefighters last June. (CNS photo from L'Osservatore Romano)

Pope Benedict XVI tries on a fire helmet given as a gift by Italian firefighters last June. (CNS photo from L'Osservatore Romano)

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican’s firemen — about 30 in all — celebrated the feast of their patron saints Friday with a Mass and a simulated fire call.

The firefighting corps, which dates to at least the early 1800s, is not taken for granted in the 109-acre Vatican City State. So far this year, they’ve responded to more than 600 emergency calls — many of them involving flooded offices and warehouses after recent heavy rains in Rome.

The firemen’s patrons are St. Barbara, who’s protected firefighters and others in dangerous occupations for centuries, and St. Leo IV, who according to legend contained a 9th-century fire near the Vatican by giving a blessing. St. Leo’s gesture has been famously preserved in Raphael’s Renaissance fresco, “The Fire in the Borgo,” which decorates a room of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace.

The earliest Vatican firemen are remembered for their elegant uniforms, preserved in paintings and etchings held by the Vatican Archives.

The modern firefighting team was reorganized in 1941, and the fire station is tucked into a corner of the Belvedere Courtyard, a crossroads of sorts at the Vatican. Most visitors don’t even notice the fire station, unless their new fire truck, donated by a German company last year, happens to be parked outside.

The feast day went well, according to one fireman, and the squad was able to demonstrate some of the latest firefighting technology in front of Vatican City officials — in the pouring rain.

Not all Advent-wreath candles are purple and pink

There’s been some online chatter in recent days on the colors of the candles in Advent wreaths. (We also saw one semi-sarcastic comment to an earlier post in this blog dismissing home wreaths as a “Lutheran wreath and candles adornment” that ought to be replaced by a trip to church for vespers.)

Pope Benedict XVI’s Advent wreath from last year is shown in this 2007 file photo.  The wreath follows the German tradition of using red candles. (CNS/Giancarlo Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo)

Pope Benedict XVI’s Advent wreath from last year is shown in this 2007 file photo. The wreath follows the German tradition of using red candles. (CNS/Giancarlo Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo)

The chatter reminded us of an item we posted on this blog last year revealing that Pope Benedict’s Advent wreath candles were not purple and pink — or even white with purple and pink adornments — but all red. And our intrepid Rome bureau informs us this morning that this year’s wreath is the same.

Why all red? As our Cindy Wooden explained last year, Germans gave us Advent wreaths in the first place and generally used just red candles. “The practice of using three purple and one pink candle was an adaptation made to reflect the colors of the liturgical vestments used on the four Sundays preceding Christmas,” she wrote.

(CNS/Giancarlo Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo)

(CNS/Giancarlo Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo)

Here’s another view (right) of last year’s wreath, taken during the pope’s meeting with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk at the Vatican Dec. 7, 2007.

Church doctors bail out of miracle business at Lourdes? Not so fast…

A pilgrim prays at the foot of a statue of Mary at the sanctuary in Lourdes, France, Feb. 10, the eve of the 150th anniversary of Mary's first appearance to St. Bernadette. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

A pilgrim prays at the foot of a statue of Mary at the sanctuary in Lourdes Feb. 10, the eve of the 150th anniversary of Mary's first appearance to St. Bernadette. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

A lede like the one The Associated Press published yesterday — “An international doctors’ panel appointed by the Roman Catholic Church says it’s getting out of the ‘miracles’ business at Lourdes” — might raise some eyebrows.  But relax, oh faithful believers in the miraculous healing powers of the spring waters of Lourdes. The doctors never really dubbed a cure a miracle. They are the first step in a long process.

Last February while in Lourdes, I met Dr. Marco Tampellini, an Italian oncologist who collaborates with the Lourdes Medical Bureau, which reviews medical documentation for cases of potentially miraculous cures resulting from a visit to Lourdes. Tampellini helps gather medical information on cases for the bureau’s French doctor, who is appointed by the bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes.

Dr. Marco Tampellini, an Italian oncologist, is among the professionals who review medical documentation for cases of cures resulting from a person's visit to the Sanctuaries of Our Lady of Lourdes. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

Dr. Marco Tampellini, an Italian oncologist, is among the professionals who review medical documentation for cases of cures resulting from a person's visit to the Sanctuaries of Our Lady of Lourdes. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

Since 1883, the bureau has examined the records of more than 7,000 people claiming they were cured after visiting the sanctuaries, Tampellini said. Only 67 such cures have been considered miracles.

It is “not so simple to say a cure is a miracle,” and the medically based evaluation process is difficult, he said.

Strict criteria govern the evaluation process. People must prove the illness, which cannot be psychological in nature. They must voluntarily notify the medical bureau of the cure, which must be sudden, complete and durable for more than five years, without medical intervention.

The case is reviewed by the bureau and its collaborators and sent to the International Medical Committee of Lourdes. This committee of 20 doctors, experts in their fields from around the world, decides if the cure is extraordinary.

All the clinical records are then passed to the bishop of the person making the claim, and that bishop decides if the cure is a miracle.

According to AP’s report, the International Medical Committee of Lourdes decided that it will only rule on whether a case is “remarkable” or not.

Remarkable or extraordinary, it still seems the church docs must check out claims of a cure carefully these days.

Tampellini said that today, because medication almost always is administered to treat an illness, it is becoming difficult to pass the no-medical-intervention rule. However, Vatican officials have been discussing how to address this issue.

Catholic school students figure out what is “Christ-like” in new leadership program

It never ceases to amaze me when an inexperienced child comes up with an idea that just make so much sense, and we just scratch our heads and wonder why we never came up with such a novel concept.

Yes, experience does provide a certain wisdom, but sometimes a fresh perspective is exactly what we need.

In an article entitled “Paving the way: St. Bartholomew School showcases leadership program” in The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen, N.J., we learn that students in that Catholic educational facility are expressing their faith while learning responsibility.

The seventh- and eighth-grade students involved in the East Brunswick school’s new student council program are honing their leadership skills and discovering which new qualities are “Christ-like,” and which are not.

Bishops to address Charlie Weis situation at Notre Dame?

With tongue firmly in cheek, we bring you this breaking news. I’m not happy that CNS was scooped on this, but if we can liveblog the meeting we’ll let you know. (And please, send us no criticism — with all the serious issues we cover, it’s nice to take a break for a few laughs.)


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