Holy families to consider on the feast of the Holy Family

Wedding bands decorate the reliquary containing the remains of Louis and Marie Zelie Guerin Martin. (CNS/Sanctuary of Lisieux)

VATICAN CITY — Since Christmas was on a Sunday this year, the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of the Holy Family today.

At his general audience Wednesday, Pope Benedict talked about the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph being a model, especially of prayer, for Christian families.

Earlier this year, Marist Father Anthony Ward, undersecretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, compiled a list of other holy families for Catholics to imitate. The list of married couples was drawn from the 2004 edition of the “Roman Martyrology,” a thick tome listing the saints and blesseds of the Catholic Church according to their feast dates.

Father Ward’s list shows the Catholic Church formally, liturgically honors three married couples from the New Testament: Sts. Joachim and Anna (Mary’s parents), Sts. Zachariah and Elizabeth (the parents of St. John the Baptist) and Sts. Aquila and Priscilla (missionaries who traveled with St. Paul).

The list also includes eight married couples martyred in the first centuries of Christianity and seven married couples who lived in Europe in the Middle Ages. Interestingly, three of the Medieval couples are made up of a husband who has been canonized and his wife who has be beatified. Those three are: St. Stephen of Hungary and Blessed Giselle; St. Isidore the Farmer (or Laborer) and Blessed Maria de la Cabeza; and St. Elzear and Blessed Dephine of Sabran.

Five married couples are among the canonized 19th-century martyrs of Korea, and 16 married couples are among the beatified martyrs of Japan, who were killed in the early 1600s.

Rounding out the list are Luigi and Maria Beltrame Quattrocchi, a 20th-century couple from Rome who had four children and were active in civic affairs and religious activities. They were beatified together in 2001.

Since the “Roman Martyrology” was published, another married couple has been beatified together: Louis and Zelie Guerin Martin, the parents of St. Therese of Lisieux.

Letters in antique shop lead retired editor to write tribute to ‘ordinary soldier’

James Breig retired in 2008 after 37 years at The Evangelist, newspaper of the Diocese of Albany, N.Y., where he had been a staff writer, assistant editor and then editor (for the last 25 years of his tenure). But retirement meant he had time for a new project — researching and writing what turned out to be a 332-page nonfiction book. The book idea was sparked by his discovery of a soldier’s letters in an antique shop three years ago. That find resulted in “Searching for Sgt. Bailey: Saluting an Ordinary Soldier of World War II.”

“Dearest Mama,” begins a letter written by Army Sgt. James Boisseau Bailey on Aug. 8, 1944. “I know that you have begun to think that I have forgotten you but that will never happen. … Will do anything to get this damn war over and to get back home.”

Bailey sent that letter from New Guinea to his mother in Virginia, according to Breig. It and others like it inspired Breig to “search between their lines for telltale clues to the soldier’s entire life and for hidden hints about his fears and his worries, his hopes — and his love for a mysterious woman named Jane.”

Breig’s books also introduces many other ordinary men and women who, as he puts it, “went off to war, dutifully did what they were asked to do and returned to anonymity.” He drew on hundreds of letters home from Marines, sailors, WACs and soldiers, and he conducted interviews with WWII veterans and experts on the history of the war.

He notes that “heroes of the ‘Greatest Generation’ have been rightly honored for their exploits on Normandy’s beaches, along Iwo Jima’s sands and in the air above Germany,” but he wanted to focus on the “other kinds of heroes,” he said, “the unnoticed millions who deserve to be saluted because they did their duty, regardless of what it was, well and faithfully.”

“If the stories are allowed to fade,” writes Breig, “so, too, will the men and women who lived them. So, too, will the history they made.”

The book covers what life was like in an Army training camp as well as New Guinea’s significance “in the string of fierce battles to reclaim the Pacific”; the creation of V-mail; the role of quartermasters, engineers and mechanics; and the demobilization of troops at the end of the war.

Since the book was published in November, Breig has been busy. He told CNS he has had a chance to promote the book on national radio, via “The Jim Bohannon Show.” He’s talked about it on at least 15 radio stations in local markets around the country,  has made some TV appearances and been the subject of newspaper articles in the Albany area and in Virginia, Bailey’s home state. He said he’s also given at least 20 presentations “to libraries, senior clubs and fraternal organizations.”

Update on the ends of the earth

We recently reported here about Msgr. Stephen Rossetti’s time in Antarctica as the Catholic chaplain to the American and New Zealand communities working for the National Science Foundation. Since that post, the priest also wrote for the the CNN Belief Blog where he said his planned “quick visit” to the South Pole ended up being much longer than anticipated as weather was not permitting flights out.

The priest arrived at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole station Dec. 21 and was to celebrate an early Christmas liturgy before returning to McMurdo Station on the coast of Antarctica the next day for its celebration of the Lord’s birth. But days later found him “locked in at the pole, and there was absolutely nothing I or anyone else could do about it. A common feeling on the continent swept over me I was helpless.”

Putting it in spiritual perspective he wrote: “Antarctica puts you in your place. We are not in control here. Planning is difficult, and people are constantly adjusting. But on a larger scale, it reminds me that in general we have little control over much of our lives.”

When Msgr. Rossetti was told he might be at the South Pole for Christmas he also learned that there had never been a chaplain there that day.

He has not updated his personal blog post about this trip so those tracking his progress will have to look for a future update.

In the meantime, at the other end of the earth, Oblate Father Andrew Small, national director for the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States, spent Christmas in the Diocese of Fairbanks, Alaska — the only U.S. diocese receiving help from the Pontifical Mission Societies.

During his visit he appropriately spent Dec. 23 in the Alaskan town of North Pole.

The Fairbanks Diocese stretches from Tok, near the Canadian border, all the way across the state to Little Diomede near the border with Russia; from Barrow on the coast of the Arctic Ocean to Chefornak south of Nelson Island.  It encompasses almost 410,000 square miles and is home to 161,000 people, 14,500 of whom are Catholics.

Father Small’s Christmas visit to Alaska is chronicled here.

Pope to ‘the city and the world’: God extends his hand to hurting humanity

VATICAN CITY — Tens of thousands of people gathered in St. Peter’s Square this morning for Pope Benedict XVI’s Christmas Day talk and blessing “urbi et orbi” (“to the city and the world”).

People watch as Pope Benedict delivers his message and blessing "urbi et orbi." (Paul Haring/CNS)

Speaking from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, the pope said Jesus “is the hand that God extends” to humanity, which is afraid, uncertain and troubled. All people have to do, he said, is stretch out their hands and ask for help.

He offered special prayers for people who are suffering from natural disasters, war or political instability and tensions, including in the Holy Land, where Christ “chose to come into the world.”

Under a deep blue, sunny sky, the crowd that flocked to the square enjoyed the music of military bands while waiting for the pope and pressed around the Nativity scene in the center of the square.

After delivering his message in Italian, the pope offered Christmas greetings in 65 languages. In English he said, “May the birth of the Prince of Peace remind the world where its true happiness lies; and may your hearts be filled with hope and joy, for the Savior has been born for us.”

Here is the text of the pope’s message:

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Rome and throughout the world!

Christ is born for us! Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth to the men and women whom he loves. May all people hear an echo of the message of Bethlehem which the Catholic Church repeats in every continent, beyond the confines of every nation, language and culture. The Son of the Virgin Mary is born for everyone; he is the Savior of all.

This is how Christ is invoked in an ancient liturgical antiphon: “O Emmanuel, our king and lawgiver, hope and salvation of the peoples: come to save us, O Lord our God”. Veni ad salvandum nos! Come to save us! This is the cry raised by men and women in every age, who sense that by themselves they cannot prevail over difficulties and dangers. They need to put their hands in a greater and stronger hand, a hand which reaches out to them from on high. Dear brothers and sisters, this hand is Jesus, born in Bethlehem of the Virgin Mary. He is the hand that God extends to humanity, to draw us out of the mire of sin and to set us firmly on rock, the secure rock of his Truth and his Love (cf. Ps 40:2).

This is the meaning of the Child’s name, the name which, by God’s will, Mary and Joseph gave him: he is named Jesus, which means “Savior” (cf. Mt 1:21; Lk 1:31). He was sent by God the Father to save us above all from the evil deeply rooted in man and in history: the evil of separation from God, the prideful presumption of being self-sufficient, of trying to compete with God and to take his place, to decide what is good and evil, to be the master of life and death (cf. Gen 3:1-7). This is the great evil, the great sin, from which we human beings cannot save ourselves unless we rely on God’s help, unless we cry out to him: “Veni ad salvandum nos! – Come to save us!”

The very fact that we cry to heaven in this way already sets us aright; it makes us true to ourselves: we are in fact those who cried out to God and were saved (cf. Esth [LXX] 10:3ff.). God is the Savior; we are those who are in peril. He is the physician; we are the infirm. To realize this is the first step towards salvation, towards emerging from the maze in which we have been locked by our pride. To lift our eyes to heaven, to stretch out our hands and call for help is our means of escape, provided that there is Someone who hears us and can come to our assistance.

Jesus Christ is the proof that God has heard our cry. And not only this! God’s love for us is so strong that he cannot remain aloof; he comes out of himself to enter into our midst and to share fully in our human condition (cf. Ex 3:7-12). The answer to our cry which God gave in Jesus infinitely transcends our expectations, achieving a solidarity which cannot be human alone, but divine. Only the God who is love, and the love which is God, could choose to save us in this way, which is certainly the lengthiest way, yet the way which respects the truth about him and about us: the way of reconciliation, dialogue and cooperation.

Dear brothers and sisters in Rome and throughout the world, on this Christmas 2011, let us then turn to the Child of Bethlehem, to the Son of the Virgin Mary, and say: “Come to save us!” Let us repeat these words in spiritual union with the many people who experience particularly difficult situations; let us speak out for those who have no voice.

Together let us ask God’s help for the peoples of the Horn of Africa, who suffer from hunger and food shortages, aggravated at times by a persistent state of insecurity. May the international community not fail to offer assistance to the many displaced persons coming from that region and whose dignity has been sorely tried.

May the Lord grant comfort to the peoples of South-East Asia, particularly Thailand and the Philippines, who are still enduring grave hardships as a result of the recent floods.

May the Lord come to the aid of our world torn by so many conflicts which even today stain the earth with blood. May the Prince of Peace grant peace and stability to that Land where he chose to come into the world, and encourage the resumption of dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians. May he bring an end to the violence in Syria, where so much blood has already been shed. May he foster full reconciliation and stability in Iraq and Afghanistan. May he grant renewed vigour to all elements of society in the countries of North Africa and the Middle East as they strive to advance the common good.

May the birth of the Savior support the prospects of dialogue and cooperation in Myanmar, in the pursuit of shared solutions. May the Nativity of the Redeemer ensure political stability to the countries of the Great Lakes Region of Africa, and assist the people of South Sudan in their commitment to safeguarding the rights of all citizens.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, let us turn our gaze anew to the grotto of Bethlehem. The Child whom we contemplate is our salvation! He has brought to the world a universal message of reconciliation and peace. Let us open our hearts to him; let us receive him into our lives. Once more let us say to him, with joy and confidence: “Veni ad salvandum nos!”

Christmas Eve at the Vatican

The Nativity scene in St. Peter's Square for 2011. (CNS photo by Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY — The Nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square was unveiled this afternoon with a focus on Mary, the Mother of God. There were traditional Christmas songs played during the event and Pope Benedict appeared at his studio window to light a “candle of peace,” setting the tone for tonight’s Midnight Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Here is the full text of the pope’s homily from tonight’s Mass:

Dear Brothers and Sisters!
The reading from Saint Paul’s Letter to Titus that we have just heard begins solemnly with the word “apparuit”, which then comes back again in the reading at the Dawn Mass: apparuit – “there has appeared”. This is a programmatic word, by which the Church seeks to express synthetically the essence of Christmas. Formerly, people had spoken of God and formed human images of him in all sorts of different ways. God himself had spoken in many and various ways to mankind (cf. Heb 1:1 – Mass during the Day). But now something new has happened: he has appeared. He has revealed himself. He has emerged from the inaccessible light in which he dwells. He himself has come into our midst. This was the great joy of Christmas for the early Church: God has appeared. No longer is he merely an idea, no longer do we have to form a picture of him on the basis of mere words. He has “appeared.”

But now we ask: how has he appeared? Who is he in reality? The reading at the Dawn Mass goes on to say: “the kindness and love of God our Saviour for mankind were revealed” (Tit 3:4). For the people of pre-Christian times, whose response to the terrors and contradictions of the world was to fear that God himself might not be good either, that he too might well be cruel and arbitrary, this was a real “epiphany”, the great light that has appeared to us: God is pure goodness. Today too, people who are no longer able to recognize God through faith are asking whether the ultimate power that underpins and sustains the world is truly good, or whether evil is just as  powerful and primordial as the good and the beautiful which we encounter in radiant moments in our world. “The kindness and love of God our Saviour for mankind were revealed”: this is the new, consoling certainty that is granted to us at Christmas.

In all three Christmas Masses, the liturgy quotes a passage from the Prophet Isaiah, which describes the epiphany that took place at Christmas in greater detail: “A child is born for us, a son given to us and dominion is laid on his shoulders; and this is the name they give him: Wonder-Counsellor, Mighty-God, Eternal-Father, Prince-of-Peace. Wide is his dominion in a peace that has no end” (Is 9:5f.). Whether the prophet had a particular child in mind, born during
his own period of history, we do not know. But it seems impossible. This is the only text in the Old Testament in which it is said of a child, of a human being: his name will be Mighty-God, Eternal-Father. We are presented with a vision that  extends far beyond the historical moment into the mysterious, into the future. A child, in all its weakness, is Mighty God. A child, in all its neediness and dependence, is Eternal Father. And his peace “has no end”. The prophet had previously described the child as “a great light” and had said of the peace he would usher in that the rod of the oppressor, the  footgear of battle, every cloak rolled in blood would be burned (Is 9:1, 3-4).

God has appeared – as a child. It is in this guise that he pits himself against all violence and brings a message that is peace. At this hour, when the world is continually threatened by violence in so many places and in so many different ways, when over and over again there are oppressors’ rods and bloodstained cloaks, we cry out to the Lord: O mighty God, you have appeared as a child and you have revealed yourself to us as the One who loves us, the One through whom love will triumph. And you have shown us that we must be peacemakers with you. We love your childish estate, your powerlessness, but we suffer from the continuing presence of violence in the world, and so we also ask you: manifest your power, O God. In this time of ours, in this world of ours, cause the oppressors’ rods, the cloaks rolled in blood and the footgear of battle to be burned, so that your peace may triumph in this world of ours.

Christmas is an epiphany – the appearing of God and of his great light in a child that is born for us. Born in a stable in Bethlehem, not in the palaces of kings. In 1223, when Saint Francis of Assisi celebrated Christmas in Greccio with an ox and an ass and a manger full of hay, a new dimension of the mystery of Christmas came to light. Saint Francis of Assisi called Christmas “the feast of feasts” – above all other feasts – and he celebrated it with “unutterable devotion”  (2 Celano 199; Fonti Francescane, 787). He kissed images of the Christ-child with great devotion and he stammered tender words such as children say, so Thomas of Celano tells us (ibid.).

For the early Church, the feast of feasts was Easter: in the  Resurrection Christ had flung open the doors of death and in so doing had radically changed the world: he had made a place for man in God himself. Now, Francis neither changed nor intended to change this objective order of precedence among the feasts, the inner structure of the faith centred on the Paschal Mystery. And yet through him and the character of his faith, something new took place: Francis discovered Jesus’ humanity in an entirely new depth. This human existence of God became most visible to him at the moment when God’s Son, born of the Virgin Mary, was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. The Resurrection presupposes the Incarnation.  For God’s Son to take the form of a child, a truly human child, made a profound impression on the
heart of the Saint of Assisi, transforming faith into love. “The kindness and love of God our Saviour for mankind were revealed” – this phrase of Saint Paul now acquired an entirely new depth. In the child born in the stable at Bethlehem, we can as it were touch and caress God.  And so the liturgical year acquired a second focus in a feast that is above all a feast of the heart.

This has nothing to do with sentimentality. It is right here, in this new experience of the reality of Jesus’ humanity that the great mystery of faith is revealed. Francis loved the child Jesus, because for him it was in this childish estate that God’s humility shone forth. God became poor. His Son was born in the poverty of the stable. In the child Jesus, God made himself dependent, in need of human love, he put himself in the position of asking for human love – our love. Today Christmas has become a commercial celebration, whose bright lights hide the mystery of God’s humility, which in turn calls us to humility and simplicity. Let us ask the Lord to help us see through the superficial glitter of this season, and to discover behind it the child in the stable in Bethlehem, so as to find true joy and true light.

Francis arranged for Mass to be celebrated on the manger that stood between the ox and the ass (cf. 1 Celano 85; Fonti 469). Later, an altar was built over this manger, so that where animals had once fed on hay, men could now receive the flesh of the spotless lamb Jesus Christ, for the salvation of soul and body, as Thomas of Celano tells us (cf. 1 Celano 87; Fonti 471). Francis himself, as a deacon, had sung the Christmas Gospel on the holy night in Greccio with resounding voice. Through the friars’ radiant Christmas singing, the whole celebration seemed to be a great outburst of joy (1 Celano 85.86; Fonti 469, 470). It was the encounter with God’s humility that caused this joy – his goodness creates the true feast.

Today, anyone wishing to enter the Church of Jesus’ Nativity in Bethlehem will find that the doorway five and a half metres high, through which emperors and caliphs used to enter the building, is now largely walled up. Only a low opening of one and a half metres has remained. The intention was probably to provide the church with better protection from attack, but above all to prevent people from entering God’s house on horseback. Anyone wishing to enter the
place of Jesus’ birth has to bend down. It seems to me that a deeper truth is revealed here, which should touch our hearts on this holy night: if we want to find the God who appeared as a child, then we must dismount from the high horse of our “enlightened” reason. We must set aside our false certainties, our intellectual pride, which prevents us from recognizing God’s closeness.

We must follow the interior path of Saint Francis – the path leading to that ultimate outward and inward simplicity which enables the heart to see. We must bend down, spiritually we must as it were go on foot, in order to pass through the portal of faith and encounter the God who is so different from our prejudices and opinions – the God who conceals himself in the humility of a newborn baby. In this spirit let us celebrate the liturgy of the holy night, let us strip away our fixation on what is material, on what can be measured and grasped. Let us allow ourselves to be made simple by the God who reveals himself to the simple of heart. And let us also pray especially at this hour for all who have to celebrate Christmas in poverty, in suffering, as migrants, that a ray of God’s kindness may shine upon them, that they – and we – may be touched by the kindness that God chose to bring into the world through the birth of his Son in a stable.

Amen.

Atlas may shrug, but Catholics likely to scratch their heads

By Adam Shaw

Catholic News Service

NEW YORK (CNS) –- The DVD release of “Atlas Shrugged: Part 1” -– a screen adaptation of the first third of Ayn Rand’s 1957 novel –- invites viewers of faith to reflect on the differences between Rand’s philosophy of objectivism, which undergirds both book and movie, and a Judeo-Christian approach to the economic and social issues her work raises.

While objectivism takes a stand on a wide range of philosophical topics, it’s Rand’s views on ethics and politics that are perhaps best known -– and most controversial. They certainly rise to the fore in the film.

As summarized by Rand herself, the objectivist outlook involves seeing reality as an objective absolute, entirely independent of subjective feelings or desires. Accordingly, reality can only properly be encountered through the faculty of reason, and it is on reason alone that all ethical decisions should be based. Rand concluded that each individual human being is an end in him- or herself, meaning that the pursuit of one’s own happiness is the highest moral purpose in life.

“(Man) must exist for his own sake,” Rand argued, “neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself.” This stands in clear contrast to Christ’s teaching that the greatest love consists in laying down one’s life for the sake of others, a truth he affirmed by his own self-emptying in the Incarnation and by his supreme sacrifice on Golgotha. Objectivism, however, would seem to have no place for Christ’s cross, except perhaps as a misguided and futile gesture. It is with this dichotomy in mind that Christians must approach “Atlas Shrugged: Part I.”

From an aesthetic point of view, perhaps the first thing to note about the film is that several previous attempts have been made to transfer Rand’s ideas from page to reel, yet all except the latest have failed for one reason or another. This is all the more surprising given the fact that Rand’s 1943 novel “The Fountainhead” reached the screen six years later in a major release starring Gregory Peck, Raymond Massey and Patricia Neal — and directed by Hollywood stalwart King Vidor.

Yet, considering the lackluster characters and turgid plot on display in director Paul Johannson’s “Atlas” adaptation, it’s not all that difficult to imagine why earlier efforts bit the dust.

The year is 2016, and an embattled business sector struggles against a depressed economy and an ever more intrusive set of government regulations, all advanced in the name of social justice.

With these conditions as backdrop, the plot focuses on Dagny Taggart (Taylor Schilling) -– the vice president of Taggart Transcontinental Railroads –- and her relationship with steel innovator Henry “Hank” Rearden (Grant Bowler). Despite their typically Randian pursuit of individual happiness, the two titans do manage to work together to fight off the unholy alliance of politicians and opponents arrayed against them.

As other successful industrialists disappear in peculiar circumstances, each vaguely referencing an ambiguous figure named John Galt (played by director Johannson), the movie begins to indulge in the wordy philosophical argumentation that will presumably stretch on for the remainder of the trilogy.

Politically right-of-center Catholics will likely appreciate the deconstruction — if not debunking –- of such charged buzzwords as “fairness,” “equalization” and “public interest.” And all well-informed Catholic viewers will be aware that many modern popes, up to and including Blessed John Paul II, have warned against the dangers of misguided socialism.

These would include the dehumanization of the person through collectivization, the trampling down of personal freedom by an overbearing state, and the mistaken desire to replace religiously motivated individual charity with mere government expenditure — a wholly inadequate substitute.

Thus, while delving into themes like the inherent freedom and irreducible value of the individual, the film may meet with at least guarded approval on the part of some Catholics. Yet, as it goes further to reflect the full objectivist creed, Catholic moviegoers will likely begin to shift uncomfortably in their seats.

Belief in the dignity of work — and in the truth that each human being is entitled to the fruits of his or her labor — is, after all, entirely in keeping with scripture. But when characters snort and scoff at those who are trying to show compassion, they obviously depart from Catholic values. So, too, when industrial executives roll their eyes because the representatives of their unionized employees have requested a meeting.

Even from a mainstream libertarian viewpoint, Rand’s approach seems extreme. The Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman (1912-2006) — a champion of unfettered capitalism — once observed: “Government doesn’t have responsibilities, people have responsibilities.” “Atlas Shrugged: Part I” serves to affirm the first part of that statement, but wholly ignores the second.

Ultimately, for the objectivist, an individual’s only responsibility is directed inward, toward the self. Perhaps because of this, the characters in “Atlas Shrugged: Part I” mostly come across as flat and unsympathetic.

Nowhere is this more striking than in the peculiar relationship between the two main characters. United by mutual interest in the success of a new railroad, they quickly develop their own version of a romantic attachment based on their shared love of hard work, profit and free markets, with Rearden declaring, “My only goal is to make money.” How charming!

Theirs is not a pairing-off likely to set audiences hearts aflame and, unsurprisingly, the portrayal of their bond registers as tedious.

The screenplay’s nods to the virtues of individual endeavor may appear to be in accord with Catholic teaching, as presented in papal encyclicals like “Rerum Novarum” (1891) and “Laborem Exercens” (1981). But, by ignoring God, “Atlas” and its underlying philosophy fall into a tired –- and potentially dangerous — brand of Pelagianism. In Rand’s world, superior individuals achieve their own goodness and virtue, instead of turning to God and allowing his grace to work through them. They possess no humility and require no salvation.

Catholic political and social teaching consistently balances freedom with responsibility. “Atlas Shrugged: Part I” effectively critiques socialism for denying man’s freedom apart from the collective. Yet the alternative vision it provides –- a scenario wherein the rich man turns his nose up at Lazarus for being lazy, all the while complaining at the noise the beggar is making –- is just as bleak. In the face of poverty and vulnerability, Christians are called to demonstrate active concern; when confronted with those in need, by contrast, Rand’s “Atlas” merely shrugs.

- – -

Shaw reviews films and video games for Catholic News Service.

Reflections on ice

Msgr. Rossetti at the South Pole

Msgr. Stephen Rossetti, clinical associate professor of pastoral studies and associate dean for seminary and ministerial programs at The Catholic University of America, is in a cold place.

The priest, who spent more than 12 years at the helm of the St. Luke Institute, a treatment center in Maryland for priests and religious with addictions or psychological problems, has been spending the month of December in Antarctica as the Catholic chaplain to the American and New Zealand communities working for the National Science Foundation.

The priest has been sharing some of his South Pole reflections here.

It turns out this trip is a repeat journey for him. He writes that when he was asked by a friend why he would go back to Antarctica there is no simple answer.

But staying in this place far removed from the rest of the world for a limited time draws inevitable comparisons to spiritual life.

He writes: “We are pilgrims, and the journey is so very brief. But, for these 30 days, I am fortunate to be on this rock of ice with a sturdy group of brothers and sisters who are valiantly living in this most inhospitable place. They are devoting their time to science or to helping those who do. They are savoring their experience — each person volunteered to come. But everyone of us is aware that we are pilgrims here. Antarctica is not home but a way-station. So too is this earth but a way-station for a life to come without end.”

How the Christians saved Hanukkah for the Jews

As we all know Christmas and Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, generally fall fairly close to each other in December. This year, Hanukkah begins this evening at sundown.

While most Christians know that the Jews are celebrating Hanukkah this season, not all that many know the the story of the festival and the heroic deeds of the Maccabees, the Jewish martyrs who resisted Greek attempts to make them turn away from their ancient faith. Scripture holds that a mother and seven sons chose torture and death rather than renounce their faith. The Maccabees were regarded by the early church as proto-martyrs of the early Christians who died for their faith across the Roman Empire.

In fact, both the Catholic and Orthodox churches even today remember the Maccabean martyrs in their calendars of saints.

In Friday’s The Wall Street Journal, Jon D. Levensen, a Harvard Divinity School professor of Jewish studies and author, writes in his essay — “The Meaning of Hanukkah: A celebration of religious freedom, the holiday fits well with the American political tradition,” that the origins of Hanukkah would have been forgotten in Jewish scholarship and history had it not been for the inclusion of the Book of Maccabees in the Christian Bible.

“And so we encounter another oddity of Hanukkah: Jews know the fuller history of the holiday because Christians preserved the books that the Jews themselves lost,” Levensen writes.

Read Levensen’s interesting essay and even go back and rediscover the Books of Maccabees. It’s good to know that Christians helped save a Jewish feast that makes holy this season for both faiths.

Text of homily at Cardinal Foley’s funeral Mass

The red hat of Cardinal John P. Foley rests at the foot of his casket during the visitation before his funeral Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia Dec. 16. (CNS/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)

PHILADELPHIA — Here is the prepared text of the homily delivered by Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York at the funeral liturgy Dec. 16 in Philadelphia for Cardinal John P. Foley, former president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications and grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem.

“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us!”

        It is the celebration of that mystery of the Incarnation that we await this Advent season, as we long to hear those inspired poetic lines from the Prologue of the Gospel of John the Evangelist on Christmas morning.

It is the mystery of the ongoing Incarnation, especially manifest in the life and ministry of John Patrick Foley, that unites us in grateful, reverent, supplicant prayer this Advent afternoon.

Early last Sunday morning, I had just begun the Office of Readings from the Liturgy of the Hours for the Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, when I took a call from Cardinal Justin Rigali, who, with characteristic thoughtfulness, telephoned to tell me of the passing of Cardinal John Patrick Foley.

When I then returned to my breviary, it was this line fromSt. Augustine, the second lesson for that day’s office, that greeted me:

“John is the voice, but the Lord is the Word who was in the beginning. John is the voice that lasts but for a time; from the beginning Christ is the Word who lives forever.”

What do you say we pay our friend Cardinal Foley one final tribute and concentrate right now, as he would plead for us to do, not upon him, but upon the Eternal Word, the Word made flesh, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word.

Because, love for Jesus and His Church was indeed the passion of John Patrick Foley’s life, the only dictionary required to translate the meaning of the life and ministry of this remarkably lovable, simple, humble, wise, holy man.

It was into the dying and rising of Jesus that John Foley was baptized, asSt. Paulteaches us in today’s Liturgy of the Word;

It was with the body and blood of Jesus in the Eucharist that John Foley was daily nourished;

It was on the lap of the bride of Christ, Holy Mother Church, so alive in the vibrant and coherent Catholic culture of this great archdiocese he so cherished, that John Foley was raised, formed, and educated;

It was into the priesthood of Jesus Christ that John Foley was ordained, assuming, not only in soul but in his very person, reconfigurment to Jesus Christ the Head and Shepherd of the Church;

It was as a successor to the apostles, the intimate friends of this Jesus, that he was consecrated as a bishop;

It was to the service of the Church universal, the Mystical Body of Christ, under the pastorate of the successor of St. Peter, that John Patrick Foley served most famously the last twenty-seven years;

And it is now to the tender and unfailing mercy of this Jesus that, with immense love and gratitude, we commend this loyal son of the Church.

Yes, love for Jesus and His Church was indeed the passion of his life.

The Eternal Word was incarnate in Jesus Christ;

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

That mystery of the Incarnation continues in and through the Church.

But John Foley, ever the philosopher and debater, would remind us of the last part of this syllogism: each of us is also called to continue the mystery of the Incarnation through His Church in our own lives.

As God asked the Virgin of Nazareth, to whom Cardinal Foley had such filial devotion, at the Annunciation, so does God still ask each of us: “Will you give my Son flesh? Will you supply the Eternal Word with a human nature? Will you allow the Incarnation to go on?”

We genuflect at the reply of Mary: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord! Be it done unto me according to Thy Word!”

And this afternoon we praise God’s grace and mercy for the humble, obedient reply of John Foley: a yes for seventy-six years; a yes to what he described as “God’s whisper” to him to become a priest; a yes to God’s plan in recent years that entailed the splinters of the cross as he gradually bowed to leukemia.

Cardinal Foley, effective pedagogue that he was, would remind us of the scholastic maxim that grace builds on nature.

And what an appealing nature John Foley provided to God so the Incarnation might continue!

A courtesy that was so impeccable and the thoughtfulness that was so unfailing that we might not be surprised to find his photograph in the “pictionary” for the entry on “gentleman.”

A natural sense of humor that was so spontaneous that I once told him, “John, if I did not know for a fact that you were a teetotaler, I’d swear you had a couple shots under your filattata before breakfast every morning!”

A holiness in “His Foleyness” that was evident without being overbearing;

A depth to his intellect which could express itself with warmth and childlikeness;

A sparkle in his eye, smile on his lips, lilt to his laugh… and one too many puns!

All a nature upon which God’s grace built, and which God’s Word assumed, to keep the mystery of the Incarnation going.

Priests and people of this noble Archdiocese of Philadelphia, this only child of John and Regina Foley considered you his family; never did he stop bragging about this Archdiocese of Philadelphia, (as much as we begged him to!); to you go our condolences for this “death in the family;” hold your heads high! A local Church that can give us the likes of such a noble, gentle man, whose “message went out to all the world,” is a Church which can endure and come out even stronger in the face of woe and tears.

The “Vatican’s Voice of Christmas” may now be silent; but the Incarnation that made radiant the darkness of that night called silent will never go still, because the example of friends such as John Patrick Foley inspires us to emulate him and his Regina, Mary, in providing God a human nature.

“John is the voice, but the Lord is the Word who was in the beginning. John is the voice that lasts but for a time; from the beginning Christ is the Word who lives forever.”

Saturdays with Cardinal John P. Foley

By Joseph Ryan
Editor, The Dialog, diocesan newspaper of Wilmington, Del.

(CNS/Paul Haring)

Cardinal John P. Foley had the ability to make faith a reasonable and happy choice in these skeptical times.

Well-named after his patron saint, John the Evangelist, Cardinal Foley, who died Dec. 11 at 76, drew people to God and the church through his cheerful personality and his clear, succinct explanations of the Catholic faith.

He was familiar to millions of Catholics as the “voice of Christmas” during his 25 years as the commentator on NBC’s broadcast of the pope’s Midnight Mass from St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

He was a hero to hundreds of Catholic press professionals in the United States and Canada for his friendship and advice as a working member of the Catholic Press Association and for his championing of church and media during his 24 years in Rome as president of the Vatican’s social communications agency and three years leading the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher, an international lay institute supporting the work of the church in the Holy Land.

He was also my “father” in the Catholic press. I had the good luck to be hired by him in 1977 when he was editor of The Catholic Standard and Times in Philadelphia.

He was the model of what a Catholic journalist should be: accurate, fair and true to the mission of the church.

He often said the “Good News” included bad news, too, noting the Gospel writers reported on Christ’s crucifixion as a criminal, his betrayal by Judas, his denial by Peter and his abandonment at the cross by all the Apostles, save John, his mother and other women disciples. But the Good News of Easter is at the heart of all Gospel and church stories.

The future cardinal’s vision of Catholic journalism, along with my admiration for his writing and speaking skills, sparked my interest is staying in the Catholic press for the rest of my working life.

Knowing the joy he took in his work as a priest and bishop and learning the church’s views through his perspective also made me proud to be a Catholic.

He retired from his post in Rome last February. For much of his three years leading the Holy Sepulcher order, the cardinal was coping with leukemia and other ailments.

Because he knew he was dying, he asked me to help him record his life’s story.

On most Saturdays since July, I had the honor to meet with him and listen to him discuss his Philadelphia archdiocese roots, his vocation — “I’ve never had an unhappy day as a priest” — his varied experiences — “and that’s how I met Ginger Rogers” — and his work with two popes — “Pope John Paul II was a saint; he was a mystic.”

Every week we met, although he was growing weaker as time passed, he was still the same priest I met in 1977 — brilliant, insightful, focused, funny and full of energy that could only have been spiritually based as his conditioned worsened.

Cardinal Foley was dying during the months we talked, but I was being inspired, lifted up by him.

The sudden turn for the worse he took last Friday wasn’t unexpected. He was at peace about his death and ready. “We are made for heaven,” he said.

He proclaimed the Good News every day of his ministry. He proclaimed it the day after he died, too, when I received his Christmas card. He proclaims it now.

(Original post)

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