It’s even harder to impress a 16-year-old boy with a Sunday homily.
But on a recent Sunday, a priest at our parish (we’ll call him “Fr. Joe”) did just that.
“Hey, you know that visiting priest, mom? He was on fire. It was like one of those old fire and brimstone deals. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Neither, apparently, had most of the other teens in the Church. Or even most of the adults, most likely.
Pop culture…and its brazen efforts to normalize sexual perversity. Not an easy topic on which to engage teenagers positively and persuasively.
Teens too easily put on mental headphones and tune out “predictable” grown ups. “Yeah, yeah. Back in the day…lecture 192.” Besides haven’t adults always complained about rock-n-roll, teen culture, fashions, and the like? It’s just a generational thing.
But when a priest grabs their attention, keeps them listening—and gives them something meaty to take home and chew on–it’s worth noticing what works.
So what went right?
For starters, Fr. Joe got their attention. He didn’t glide gently into his topic. He fairly roared. He spoke passionately, compelling attention by the volume and certitude in his voice. His voice conveyed the unspoken message: ‘Listen up. This is important. The stakes are high: your soul and our culture hang in the balance.’
Father Joe wasn’t angry and out of control. But he was vehement, concerned, and loud. Troubled about the likely future of our culture, he insisted that his listeners respond, in their own lives, to what he was saying.
Look at it this way: kids understand passion. Celebrities, teachers, coaches, and websites encourage our teens to discover their passion and pursue it, to find what matters to them, and to be a voice for it. But if a priest or youth leader addresses sexual morality or serious cultural problems with the same bland tone of the weekly “doughnuts-and-coffee-in-the-parish-hall-after-all-Masses” announcement, few teens will listen.
And why should they? The speaker’s tone of voice implicitly says, “I know you’re not listening but, bear with me, I’m required to say this.”
Hardly a way to inspire teens to risk their popularity, face humiliation, or endure rejection because they stand up for truth.
A priest who roars, on the other hand, gets their attention. Don’t cringe. I’m not advocating a weekly rant or ear-splitting homilies. But our teachers, pastors, and ministers need to command attention and one way to do that is to let loose with the change-up pitch. Be unpredictable. A dropped voice, a whispering tone, or compelling rhetoric does the trick too.
What else worked about Fr. Joe’s homily?
He used specific words, pointed criticisms, and concrete analogies. Gay marriage? It’s like Grape Nuts: neither grape nor nuts. Gay marriage isn’t “gay”—the homosexual lifestyle teems with unhappiness, depression, disease, and substance abuse. And it isn’t “marriage” either. Marriage has a centuries-old meaning that cannot be changed by popular vote—it requires the faithful sexual intimacy of a man and woman, united permanently to parent the children born of their intimacy. Two women and a turkey baster (or two guys and a rented womb) can’t compare.
Dozens of times a day, the culture pulses seductive, destructive messages to our kids—through music, videos, websites, peer conversations, the media and our schools. (Read Mary Beth Hicks’ excellent new book Don’t Let the Kids Drink the Kool-Aid, and you’ll see the problem.)
Teens need us to respect them enough to provide reasons why certain acts are immoral. Forget the euphemisms. Give them the words to defend traditional morality and provide the examples that challenge the lies behind accepted cultural ‘wisdom.’ If we want our teens to rebuff the culture’s assault on morality, then we need to tackle the other side’s arguments head on. Where else will our teens hear the truth, if not from their families and the Church?
Kudos to Fr. Joe for tackling tough subjects, with passion, clarity, and certitude.
I hope there’s more where that came from—in your parish and mine–for the sake of all our kids.
Mary Rice Hasson, the mother of seven, is a Visiting Fellow in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Washington. DC. She blogs at wordsfromcana.
A number of saints have described the rosary as an effective weapon for helping Christians prevail in the spiritual battle that ever rages in our midst. In fact, so great is the rosary’s power that St. Pio of Pietrelcina even went so far as to say that it’s not simply a weapon; rather, “it is the weapon!”
Even though St. Pio was well known for having prayed the rosary many times each day, it was not so much the centerpiece of his life as it was his compass. And where did it point?
A biography of this great saint and mystic of our age found on the Vatican website tells us, “The pinnacle of St. Pio’s apostolic activity was the celebration of Holy Mass.
The Second Vatican Council very clearly reaffirmed the central place that the Mass occupies in the life of the Church and likewise in the lives of all of Her members saying “The sacred liturgy is the font from which all of the Church’s power flows; it is the summit toward which all of the Church’s activity is directed” (cf SC 10).
In light of this, it seems to me that those oft-ridiculed Catholics of old who assisted at Holy Mass while praying the rosary were actually on to something very important.
Now, I am not advocating that we take up the practice praying silent rosaries throughout the celebration of Holy Mass, but I do wish to say that contemplating the mysteries of the most holy rosary can be of tremendous benefit to all who wish to “grow in their awareness of the mysteries being celebrated in the Mass, and their relationship to daily life” (cf Pope Benedict XVI–“Sacramentum Caritatis”–2007).
As such, one might think of the rosary as a “weapon of Mass instruction;” a benevolent teacher just waiting to be approached by all who are eager to develop the interior disposition that is necessary to participate in the sacred liturgy in a truly fruitful way.
With the implementation of the new English translation of the Roman Missal less than eight weeks away, starting today I will offer in preparation a series of weekly reflections on the mysteries of the rosary and how they relate to the underlying realities that are made present to us at Holy Mass.
In sharing these thoughts, my hope is to encourage you to take up the rosary on your own with the intention of seeking the guidance of the Blessed Virgin Mary, that she might lead you ever more deeply into the sacred mysteries that we celebrate toward a renewed encounter with her Son.
We’ll begin with a look at the Joyful Mysteries.
1. The Annunciation
And in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God into a city of Galilee, called Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David: and the virgin’s name was Mary. And the angel being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. Who having heard, was troubled at his saying and thought with herself what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said to her: Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God. Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb and shalt bring forth a son: and thou shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great and shall be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father: and he shall reign in the house of Jacob forever. And of his kingdom there shall be no end. And Mary said to the angel: How shall this be done, because I know not man? And the angel answering, said to her: The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee. And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God… And behold thy cousin Elizabeth, she also hath conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her that is called barren. Because no word shall be impossible with God. And Mary said: Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it done to me according to thy word. (Luke 1:26-38)
In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the Annunciation resounds anew as we “join with all the choirs of angels singing the Lord’s unending hymn of praise:”
Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of hosts
Heaven and earth are full of Your glory
Hosanna in the Highest
Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord Hosanna in the Highest
In the “Sanctus,” it is as though a new birth is being announced! It is at once a heralding of the Divine Presence that is about to come in the Most Holy Eucharist, but it is also the pleading of God’s People for the Lord to come to our aid, He who alone can save us. Hosanna!
Similar to the Incarnation foretold by the angel Gabriel at the Annunciation, the Eucharistic Lord will become present to us in the Mass by “an overshadowing” of the Holy Spirit.
Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall… (From the Epiclesis – Eucharistic Prayer II–Roman Missal 3rd Edition)
He who once humbled Himself to come in the flesh as an infant in the manger, that He might walk among His people, will humble Himself once more at Holy Mass under the appearance of bread and wine upon the altar, that He might become “truly and mysteriously made present” (CCC 1357) and operative among us in no less substantial way.
In the Most Holy Eucharist, however, it is the Risen and Glorified Lord who comes before us; the Son of the Most High who shall reign in the house of Jacob forever. We must recognize, therefore, that while the altar at Holy Mass is indeed the Altar of Sacrifice, it is also the throne before which the King of kings gathers and feeds His pilgrim people.
What seems mere folly to the unbeliever is apparent to us by the eyes of faith, imparted at Baptism, as not even this great glorious mystery “shall be impossible with God.”
By faith we also know that wherever one finds Christ, there too does one find Mary, our Blessed Mother and His. She is indeed Mother of the Most Holy Eucharist; she is the Chosen Chalice in whom the Eternal Son chose to “humble Himself to share in our humanity,” and so it is fitting for us to turn to the Blessed Virgin at Holy Mass, asking her to lead the way to her Son.
Though we recognize and proclaim that we are unworthy to receive Him, we will follow the example of Mary, our Mother and model of faith, by turning to the Lord who deigns to enter the abode of our soul, repeating after her, be it done to me according to thy word, accepting with humble gratitude and awe the great gift that is offered in Holy Communion.
2. The Visitation
And Mary rising up in those days, went into the hill country with haste into a city of Juda. And she entered into the house of Zachary and saluted Elizabeth. And it came to pass that when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the infant leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost. And she cried out with a loud voice and said: Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed art thou that hast believed, because those things shall be accomplished that were spoken to thee by the Lord. And Mary said: My soul doth magnify the Lord. And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior. Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid: for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. Because he that is mighty hath done great things to me: and holy is his name. (Lk 1:39-49)
Speaking of an encounter with the Lord at Holy Mass “refers not only to the celebration of divine worship but also to the proclamation of the Gospel and to active charity. In all of these situations it is a question of the service of God and neighbor. In a liturgical celebration the Church is servant in the image of her Lord, the one ‘leitourgos’; she shares in Christ’s priesthood in worship, which is both prophetic by way of proclamation and kingly in the service of charity” (cf CCC 1070).
In order to participate in the liturgy in a truly fruitful way we must therefore model ourselves after Mary who, following the Incarnation, did not simply revel in her blessedness; rather, she continued to embrace every opportunity to participate in the work of Redemption, carrying the Real Presence of Jesus Christ within herself out into the world in service to others–in the case of the Visitation, to her cousin, Elizabeth.
It is not enough, therefore, for us to simply receive the Lord at Holy Mass without also embracing the call to give, and so the liturgy by its very nature is a “sending forth” wherein those who are nurtured in the Blessed Sacrament are called to go in peace to build the Kingdom of God on earth in preparation for His glorious return.
In recent decades, unfortunately, we have all-too-often crafted liturgies that seem to stress the call to service aspect of the Mass to the near exclusion of the great sacred mystery of the Lord’s presence that absolutely must precede and accompany it.
In other words, our failure has been “doing liturgy” in a way that seems at times to encourage a “Visitation” while giving but fleeting consideration to the Annunciation!
As always, contemplating and emulating the mysteries of the most holy rosary can reestablish order in our lives and in our worship, giving renewed meaning to our vocation as members of Christ’s Body by helping us to remain aware that our calling is not of this earth; rather, it is to serve one another in such way as to “magnify the Lord and to rejoice in God our Savior,” because apart from this–in spite of our greatest efforts to promote a just society–in truth, we can do nothing.
3. The Nativity of the Lord
And it came to pass that when they were there, Mary’s days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her first born son and wrapped him up in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger: because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country shepherds watching and keeping the night watches over their flock. And behold an angel of the Lord stood by them and the brightness of God shone round about them: and they feared with a great fear. And the angel said to them: Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy that shall be to all the people: For, this day is born to you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David. And this shall be a sign unto you. You shall find the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army, praising God and saying: Glory to God in the highest: and on earth peace to men of good will. (Lk 2:6-14)
Just as the Sanctus at Holy Mass is akin to a new Annunciation heralding the Savior’s mystical return, we witness with the eyes of faith its fulfillment in the consecration of the Most Holy Eucharist – that which makes present, in a sense, the Nativity of the Risen Lord!
In the Gloria we echo the multitude of the heavenly army, praising God and saying: Glory to God in the highest: and on earth peace to men of good will. …
In the Sanctus we join them once again to sing the Lord’s unending hymn of praise: Holy, holy, holy. …
The Council Fathers tell us that Holy Mass on earth is nothing less than participation in the liturgy of Heaven itself, (cf SC 8) and so it is that in the sacred liturgy the choirs of angels are truly present with us!
St. Leonard of Port Maurice was once moved to ask, “How can anyone be present before the altar of the Lord with a mind that is distracted and a heart that is dissipated at a time when even the holy angels are there, trembling and astonished, at the contemplation of a work so stupendous?”
In other words, shouldn’t we–just like the angels – be filled with a tremendous sense of awe at Holy Mass? Indeed we should!
In the Most Holy Eucharist, the Eternal Son of God who humbled Himself to share in our humanity that He may be slain for our sins only to rise in glory, is present to us at Holy Mass in no less substantial way than He was to the shepherds who knelt before Him in Bethlehem (Hebrew for “House of Bread”).
Unlike the shepherds, however, we are called to enter into holy and intimate communion with the Lord.
When we prepare to welcome the Savior anew in the Most Holy Eucharist, we are moved to examine our conscience; to ponder to what extent He who once found “no room at the inn” will find ample room to rest within us that He might accomplish the work of our Redemption.
Moved by the recognition of our unworthiness, we call upon the Blessed Mother for help:
Accompany me this day, O’ Blessed Virgin, in approaching your Son in the Most Holy Eucharist, that the radiant light of your holiness might disperse the shadows of sin that lurk in my soul, illuminating within me a resting place for the Lord, that He may find room to dwell and to reign within me, both now and forever. Amen.
4. The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple
And after the days of her purification, according to the law of Moses, were accomplished, Mary and Joseph carried him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord: As it is written in the law of the Lord: Every male opening the womb shall be called holy to the Lord: And to offer a sacrifice, according as it is written in the law of the Lord. … (Lk 2:22-24)
Those of us who assemble to assist at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass do so not simply as spectators; but rather as a people configured to the Lord through the waters of Baptism–the gateway to liturgical participation–in such way as to exercise a share in the priesthood of Christ in a manner befitting our vocation as lay members of His Body.
As such, we are granted at Holy Mass the great privilege, and indeed the duty, to offer our own sacrifice to the Father, in union with that perfect Sacrifice of the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Pope Pius XII exhorted the faithful to engage in such an offering of self, saying:
It is, therefore, desirable, Venerable Brethren, that all the faithful should be aware that to participate in the Eucharistic sacrifice is their chief duty and supreme dignity, and that not in an inert and negligent fashion, giving way to distractions and day-dreaming, but with such earnestness and concentration that they may be united as closely as possible with the High Priest, according to the Apostle, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” And together with Him and through Him let them make their oblation, and in union with Him let them offer up themselves (Mediator Dei – 80).
As always, our every effort to participate in Holy Mass takes on greater efficacy when we humbly seek the assistance of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and so we turn to our Mother in prayer as the altar is being prepared:
Dearest Mother Mary, carry me in your arms, I pray, as once you carried the child Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem. Place me and all of my intentions upon this Holy Altar of Sacrifice, that I may be joined to your Son and become in Him a sacrifice pleasing and acceptable to God the Almighty Father. Amen.
5. The Finding of Jesus in the Temple
And his parents went every year to Jerusalem, at the solemn day of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they were going up into Jerusalem, according to the custom of the feast, and having fulfilled the days, when they returned, the child Jesus remained in Jerusalem. And his parents knew it not. And thinking that he was in the company, they came a day’s journey and sought him among their kinsfolks and acquaintance. And not finding him, they returned into Jerusalem, seeking him. And it came to pass, that, after three days, they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, hearing them and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his wisdom and his answers. And seeing him, they wondered. And his mother said to him: Son, why hast thou done so to us? Behold thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. And he said to them: How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be about my father’s business? And they understood not the word that he spoke unto them. And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was subject to them. And his mother kept all these words in her heart. And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and grace with God and men. (Lk 2:41-52).
According to the custom of the Passover that has been perfected in Christ in the new and everlasting covenant, the faithful assemble as the People of God in the New Jerusalem that is the Church for the solemn feast of freedom from sin and death–the Holy Mass. It is here where we partake of the Lamb of God–He toward whom the unblemished lamb of the Jewish Passover meal simply pointed–to enter into the Sacrifice of our Salvation offered once and for all.
After the priest proclaims, “The Mass is ended,” however, do we, like the Blessed Mother, continue to seek Him? If so, where is He to be found?
How often we fail to truly seek Him in the ordinary course of daily life, choosing instead to wander among “kinsfolk and acquaintances,” contenting ourselves in the ways of this fallen world. Those who have taken the mysteries of the most holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary to heart, however, not only know that Jesus must be ever sought but also where He is to be found in the Temple.
We are compelled, therefore, to ask: Where is thy Temple, O’ Lord, that I might seek You and find You and follow You all the days of my life?
In the Gospel of St. John we read:
Jesus answered and said to them: Destroy this temple; and in three days I will raise it up. The Jews then said: Six and forty years was this temple in building; and wilt thou raise it up in three days? But he spoke of the temple of his body (Jn 2:19-21).
Yes, the Temple is none other than the Body of Christ, the Church, and so we who seek Jesus know we must follow the guiding hand of the Holy Mother who teaches us in her doctrines and nurtures us in the Sacraments. If we do, the words of St. Paul will certainly ring true:
Know you not that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? (1 Cor 3:16)
To seek and to find the Lord within ourselves, however, is not simply a matter of doing as one pleases; rather, it entails joining with Christ in doing His Father’s business. For it is in building the Kingdom of God on earth in preparation for His glorious return–the true fulfillment of the sacred liturgy–that one finds Christ when “the Mass is ended.”
Even as the Lord in His youth subjected Himself to Mary and Joseph, let us also humbly take our place as children of the Holy Family, seeking the guidance of our Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, in all that we do, so that we too may advance in wisdom and grace with God and with men.
We will continue our reflection next week with a look at the Sorrowful Mysteries.
Author and speaker Louie Verrecchio has been a columnist for Catholic News Agency since April, 2009. He recently launched Preparing the Way for the Roman Missal–Where the New Translation meets the New Evangelization TM available at www.MissalPrep.com
Mr. Verrecchio’s work, which includes the internationally acclaimed Harvesting the Fruit of Vatican II Faith Formation Series, has been endorsed by Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, Australia; Bp. Emeritus Patrick O’Donoghue of Lancaster, England, Bp. R. Walker Nickless of Sioux City, IA, USA and others. For more information please visit: www.harvestingthefruit.com.
Many unmarried persons are seriously interested in finding love and getting married, and are serious about their religious beliefs and sharing that faith with someone in marriage.
However, many of these persons are without the close friendship of God to accompany that which they profess to take seriously.
What do I mean? Isn’t a person serious about their faith close to God? Well, yes and no. Those of us who love God know very well that we don’t love Him as much as we should, nor do we include Him in our everyday life as we should. We are all sinners precisely because of this fact.
Jesus told us to pray without ceasing for an important reason. It seems unfathomable, and probably crazy, to most people to pray constantly, and impossible to do.
But this is truly and literally how we need to approach our lives. Not just seriously, but prayerfully.
How often have you witnessed in dating others (or within yourself) inconsistency with what is professed as belief and the words and behavior?
Christians who are dating each other are confused and get damaged or discouraged because the expectation of taking Christian life seriously is tainted by experiencing rudeness, lack of charity, insensitivity, and all manner of things contrary to love as Jesus taught it.
The seriousness about dating in order to find a marriage partner is unproductive and unsuccessful because the individuals involved are not serious about being Jesus to each other.
Being like Jesus and bringing Him to others is serious business. And it must be taken “prayerfully.” Not just seriously, but prayerfully. Jesus wanted us to know that if we are going to be like Him and maintain sharing His very life, we must pray without ceasing.
The more prayer is involved in our life, the more Christ-like we are. If we are not prayerful, we are left to ourselves, which means sin is not far behind.
Dating is frustrating for many because it does not seem to be much of a Christian experience. You have individuals who are Christian just kind of putting that aside while they take care of more “important” things like their selfish desires and personal pleasures. After all, God wants us to be happy, right? So we should date with a mindset to find someone who makes us happy, right?
Well, perhaps. But not at the expense of the purpose of dating, which is getting into the vocation of marriage, nor the dignity of the person, which is the treatment of Christian love that every person we date deserves.
We should be praying at every step along the dating path, including each date and inbetween dates. Asking the Lord, the Holy Spirit, Our Lady, our Guardian Angel, or anyone in heaven or purgatory, for help as to what to say next or what would be the proper thing to do, or to protect you from a temptation, or to smile when you might be inclined to say something rude, etc.
How many people do this kind of praying while on their dates? My guess is not many do. They just wing it on their own and hope for the best as they interact with the other person.
This is high risk, primarily because we are prone to sin and messing things up, but also because this kind of approach can disconnect us too much from the heart of our moral compass. I’m sure many people feel that they are a good Catholic and pray for God’s assistance and all that, and that means they have enough in place to be okay on their own as they interact with others.
Of course, some are able to do this better than others because they have developed personal human virtue enough that they have good social habits. But even those persons need to keep attentive to what they say and do, and should remain connected to the divine as they interact with people.
For most of us, there are too many bad habits in the way we speak and act that require us to be careful and to invoke divine assistance in the moments, not just at the beginning or end of the day. For those who are dating, this is imperative. Our selfishness is always at work to dominate our interpersonal relationships, so the connection to God and His angels and saints will go a long way in navigating us appropriately through these relationships, especially the beginning stages when first impressions are so important.
Here are some examples of what might be petitioned in the moment on a date:
–“Help me stop focusing on the physical, and pay attention to the whole person”
–“Help me to overcome my initial feeling to pull back, and give this fellow Christian my best and my full attention”
–“Help me to recover from not liking what they said and restore your peace in me”
–“Help me to refrain from staring lustfully at this woman (or men), or looking at other women (men) while with this one”
–“Help me to resist correcting what he said or from dominating the conversation”
–“Help me to stop talking about myself and show more interest in him or her”
–“Help me not take the way they speak or eat or certain mannerisms too decisively”
Thinking before we speak is a form of prayer. But actually including a heavenly person is better. We cannot have the habit of being thoughtful until we have the habit of considering in thought before we speak or do. And thinking before we act is critical.
Praying in the moment does wonders for keeping us on the right path. None of us are beyond doing stupid things, or going as far as to ruin perfectly good opportunities in our dating experiences even though we are generally good people. If we don’t realize that there are things about us that might very well be unique, but not necessarily good or Godly things, and that these things need to be controlled through key virtues such as prudence, temperance, modesty, self-discipline, and moderation, we risk letting these less desirable things about ourselves be unruly, and thus more destructive than they need to be.
Praying at all times is how to keep yourself on the straight and narrow. You can still be yourself, but praying through your day can enhance your better self, and tame your lesser self. Don’t consider this impossible or too hard. The grace is there. It can be done. It takes practice. Keep it short and simple. Just ask for the help as you recognize you need it. And help will come. It’s a worthwhile habit to develop and will make all the difference in having success in your dating life.
If you have a problem with taking life prayerfully, take it up with Jesus. It was His idea, and command.
Fifty-three years ago this month, Pope Pius XII passed away.
On the 50th anniversary, his successor, Pope Benedict XVI, celebrated Mass to mark the occasion and gave a thoughtful homily.
A noble tribute to possibly our time’s most maligned man.
A great man, hailed as a hero in his time—personally responsible, in the estimation of Jewish historian Pinchas Lapide for the rescue of some 860,000 Jews during the Nazi persecution of Europe—has been defamed in death as a coward or Nazi sympathizer by those aiming to harm the Church.
Rabbi David Dalin has done yeoman’s work rehabilitating Pius XII, calling him “a righteous gentile” in a series of articles, and publishing a carefully documented book on the subject: The Myth of Hitler’s Pope: Pope Pius XII And His Secret War Against Nazi Germany.
We know where the lie began: a German playwright who was also a Communist sympathizer penned “The Deputy” in 1963, which claimed that the Church was responsible for the holocaust because Pius XII was so focused on defeating Communism he ignored Nazism. Soviet propaganda also promoted the “black legend.”
No one who actually lived through the war and remembered Pius’ actions could believe such a thing; but younger people fell for the lie—even many Catholics.
I’ve adored Pius XII since reading a biography of him years ago.
His courage, prudence, heroism and sanctity during the war years are slowly being rediscovered, but I can’t wait for his writings to be re-examined, in particular his teaching on the role of women (to whom he must have given great thought, since he defined the dogma of the Assumption and proclaimed the Queenship of Mary).
Pope Benedict said of him, in a passage especially powerful when we recall that Benedict himself was witness to these things:
“…once [Rome] was occupied, he was repeatedly advised to leave the Vatican to safeguard himself, his answer was always the same and decisive: ‘I will not leave Rome and my place, even at the cost of my life.’
“His relatives and other witnesses refer furthermore to privations regarding food, heating, clothes and comfort, to which he subjected himself voluntarily in order to share in the extremely trying conditions suffered by the people due to the bombardments and consequences of war. And how can we forget his Christmas radio message of December 1942? In a voice breaking with emotion he deplored the situation of ‘the hundreds of thousands of persons who, without any fault on their part, sometimes only because of their nationality or race, have been consigned to death or to a slow decline,’ a clear reference to the deportation and extermination of the Jews.”
“[Pius] often acted secretly and silently because, in the light of the concrete realities of that complex historical moment, he saw that this was the only way to avoid the worst and save the largest possible number of Jews. His interventions, at the end of the war and at the time of his death, received numerous and unanimous expressions of gratitude from the highest authorities of the Jewish world, such as, for example, the Israeli Foreign Minister Golda Meir, who wrote: ‘During the 10 years of Nazi terror, when our people went through the horrors of martyrdom, the Pope raised his voice to condemn the persecutors and commiserate with their victims’; ending emotionally: ‘We mourn a great servant of peace.’”
Benedict’s conclusion is striking as well, coming from someone who survived World War II.
“In this world of ours, which, like then, is assailed by worries and anguish about its future; in this world where, perhaps more than then, the distancing of many from truth and virtue allows us to glimpse scenarios without hope, Pius XII invites us to look to Mary assumed into the glory of Heaven. He invites us to invoke her faithfully, so that she will allow us to appreciate ever more the value of life on earth and help us to look to the true aim that is the destiny of all of us: that eternal life that, as Jesus assures us, already belongs to those who hear and follow his word.”
The internet has made the cliche about a lie traveling “round the world before the truth puts its boots on” true on a daily basis.
Maybe the take-home message of Pope Pius XII is: even in the media age, the Lord still sees not as man sees, for man looks on the outward appearance, while the Lord looks on the heart.
Or perhaps he simply invites us to reflect: how quickly what “everyone knows” changes, and with what little cause.
Rebecca Ryskind Teti is a Catholic wife, mother, and contributing editor to Faith & Family magazine. Follow her daily at www.faithandfamilylive.com.
A Pennsylvania man says his miraculous healing shows God’s outreach to those who seem far from their faith. The healing is credited to Blessed Louis Guanella, the Servants of Charity founder who will be canonized Oct. 23.
“It’s pretty amazing, obviously. I never thought this was anything I’d ever be involved with,” Springfeld resident William Glisson, Jr. said.
In March 2002, while rollerblading backwards on a busy commercial street, Glisson tripped and flew in the air, landing on the back of his head.
Glisson, who was 21 at the time, went into a coma and was expected to suffer permanent brain damage if he survived. He underwent five surgeries, including two to replace pieces of his skull.
But Glisson made a full recovery after a family friend organized prayers to Fr. Guanella, with the help of local members of the Servants of Charity as well as residents and students of the Don Guanella Village for those with developmental disabilities.
Only three months after his accident, Glisson was back to work at his family’s home repair business.
“It happened due to the prayers of mostly men at the Don Guanella school while I was in my coma–men who didn’t know me or anything like that were praying for me,” Glisson recalled.
“And then their prayers were answered, and I was helped and I recovered.”
Participants in the prayer campaign used two relics of Fr. Louis Guanella and asked the late priest to intercede with God for their intention, according to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
Fr. Denis Weber, SC, now the local superior of the Servants of Charity, was administrator of the Don Guanella house at the time.
He told CNA that a former staff member, a friend of the Glisson family, contacted the house and asked for prayers after the accident.
“So we began praying for him, within the community, as well as with our residents,” Fr. Weber said in an Oct. 5 interview. “We prayed the Rosary each day with our residents, and we included this intention in praying for his recovery.”
Glisson is grateful for the prayers that helped give him back his life.
“I can’t believe that these men were willing to take the time out to pray for me, and the fact that it worked,” he said.
The 30-year-old man said he grew up in a Catholic household, but had not practiced his faith consistently. “I never said my prayers at night before bed or anything like that,” he recalled.
“But due to the prayers of other people, while I was in my coma … I was chosen because of their prayers to get better, which just shows you that anybody can be saved by God.”
“It doesn’t matter who you are. You don’t have to be a priest or the president or someone high up or anything like that. God chooses you. It’s his choice, and that’s what he did for me.”
“Now I’m just looking for the reason why I got a second chance,” Glisson reflected.
He may want to look to the example of the man credited with his healing.
Bl. Louis Guanella was born in Italy’s Southern Alps during 1842. He became a priest and founded two orders–the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence and the Servants of Charity–to serve the poor and others abandoned by society.
The orders’ ministry revolves around care for the developmentally disabled, support for the elderly, and care for children from difficult backgrounds.
“Wherever there was any need,” Fr. Denis Weber recalled, “Fr. Guanella wanted to be present, to serve those who are marginalized, those who were seen as less by society.”
The priest said his order’s founder “believed in the dignity of each and every person.” Fr. Guanella died on Oct. 24, 1915 and was beatified by Pope Paul VI in 1964.
Fr. Weber also stressed that the soon-to-be saint had “great trust and belief in the providence of God. God is a father, and we are his children. God is a God of love who loves all his children and wants to care for and protect them.”
In November, 2009 the medical commission of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints said there were no scientific, natural or medical reasons for Glisson’s cure. In January 2010 the Pontifical Theological Commission affirmed that the healing took place through Bl. Louis Guanella’s intercession.
The local superior of the Servants of Charity feels excited to be involved in a miracle credited to the founder of his community.
“This is a great day for the Church, for the Servants of Charity, for the Guanellian family, but also for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, which has experienced some difficulties here recently,” Fr. Weber observed.
He said it had been overwhelming for Glisson to have to relive a “terrible accident,” for the sake of the process to find out whether a miracle took place.
“But he’s been very open in talking to others,” the priest said.
For his part, Glisson is looking forward to the trip to Rome, where Pope Benedict XVI will declare Fr. Louis Guanella a saint of the universal Church. The Springfield resident says he’s “never been anywhere before,” making this unusual journal a “very exciting first trip out of the country.”
Philadelphia Aux. Bp. John J. McIntyre will join the delegation to Rome, representing Abp. Charles J. Chaput.
Bp. Robert P. Maginnis, a retired auxiliary bishop of the Philadelphia Archdiocese, will celebrate and preach at a Mass for St. Louis Guanella’s feast day on Oct. 24. The Mass will take place at the Cardinal Krol Center at Don Guanella Village in Springfield, PA.
The Church memorialized the beheading of St. John the Baptist on Aug. 29. It is a liturgical event with a sad, timeless lesson: how a man–in the Gospel account, Herod–dominated by desires and pleasures of the flesh can destroy himself, his family, and his neighbors. Lust can shackle a man into living a sinful life. Consequently, it is important for men to identify lust and recognize its insidious forms.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, lust is a “disordered desire for or inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure,” perverting sex by making it self-serving and “isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes” (2351). Lust manifests itself in a variety of dark ways: masturbation, fornication, pornography, prostitution, and rape (2352-2356). A man corrupted by lust acts is a slave to his passions and sexual appetites.
The slavery of lust destroys men over time in a myriad of ways–publicly, privately, and with undeniably devastating consequences. Publicly, consider the most affordable, accessible, and legally protected (in most cases) form of lust available to “satisfy” the senses of modern man. I refer to pornography, which enslaves all of its participants. Its actors contract sexually-transmitted diseases and endure psychological trauma. Vendors marketing and selling pornography, regardless whether on-screen or in print form, operate as hostages to market forces which violate human dignity. And the men purchasing pornography form addictive, drug-like habits.
Many men don’t know that pornography heightens their senses to the point that their brain releases an intoxicating chemical cocktail that burns the images into their memories. This pleasurable rush is meant to form a loving bond within an ordered sexual activity between husband and wife, but pornography can turn this chemical mix into a dark toxin that poisons our thoughts and affections first, then our families and the larger society and culture. We only have to turn on the TV, watch a PG movie, open a magazine or listen to pop lyrics to know that there is a lot of disordered sexuality floating in our cultural atmosphere.
The slavery of lust can also lead men to crime. Rape–an unwanted sexual act against another–victimizes with such force that it “deeply wounds the respect, freedom, and physical and moral integrity to which every person has a right” (CCC, 2356). Rape injures for life. Thankfully, many Christians reside in a society today that stigmatizes individuals simply accused of rape. But will the same stigma apply tomorrow given the trajectory of our globalized culture, where sex trafficking and prostitution are rampant? Just think how lightly sins of fornication and cohabitation are treated today–as though they are normal steps to adulthood.
Sexual sin can also be private, such as masturbation. Most males give into this sin in adolescence, when immaturity and curiosity may be the driving factors, but too many continue this activity into adulthood and even bring it secretly into a marriage. Masturbation is almost always accompanied (or incited) by some form of pornography and when the two habits feed on one another, they have the power to separate a man from his better senses, his reason, his will to do good and to avoid evil. A man who masturbates is like a habitual gambler who would place all his treasured relationships in jeopardy–his marriage, his fatherhood, his self-image and the image of God within him. Lust destroys slowly, eroding its victims over time from the inside out. It is a form of slavery that distorts a healthy, God-given desire for sexual pleasure into unhealthy actions that can injure men personally, their loved ones, and the community. Both in its public and private forms, lust will enslave men if left unidentified and unchecked. This week, let us learn from Herod’s sin and regret and pray for the Truth to set all men free from lust’s sad and sinful chains.
Jason Godin teaches US history at Blinn College in Bryan, TX, where he lives with his wife and two children.
Imagine waking up one day to find that every single woman in the US has disappeared.
Picture this, writes author and scientific journalist Mara Hvistendahl, and you will come close to understanding the magnitude of over 160 million baby girls being selectively aborted in Asia and East Europe over the last few decades.
Already critically acclaimed since its release in June, Hvistendahl’s book, Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys over Girls and the Consequences of a World Full of Men, meticulously documents the phenomenon of “missing” girls and its dire implications for the future.
“It’s a huge problem,” Hvistendahl said. “What I want readers to take away is that this is a global issue on the level of something like HIV/AIDS or female genital mutilation.”
Hvistendahl said that aside from the basic issue of baby girls being aborted due to their gender in countries such as China, India, Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan, other human rights abuses are beginning to arise from the shortage of women in these regions.
“Women are being bought and sold–trafficked for sex work and for marriage,” she said, noting that the increase in bride-buying and forced prostitution in these countries is staggering.
The author, a Colombia University graduate who has worked as a Science magazine correspondent in Beijing, said that her interest in the subject of gender imbalances began to increase after living in China for a few years.
“I didn’t understand why sex selection was happening,” she said. “I just felt it wasn’t very well explained.”
Hvistendahl set off to find out more, traveling to nine countries and interviewing doctors, mothers, prostitutes, demographers, mail-order brides and men who would be forced into lifelong bachelorhood.
She began to discover a complicated web of explanations but eventually found that some of the ideological roots of the problem could be traced to zealous population control efforts from the 1960s and 70s.
Through funding from western organizations such as the World Bank and the International Planned Parenthood Federation, grants were being funneled into population control initiatives in eastern countries, with sex-selective abortion seen as an effective tool.
The results of these efforts show that in places such as China today, as many as 120 baby boys or more are being born for every 100 baby girls.
In addition to the current problems that women are facing in these countries, “the question in my mind was, How was this going to effect society 30 years from now when this hugely imbalanced generation grows up and there are many more men than women?” Hvistendahl asked.
“There is a danger in jumping too far ahead and making predictions about what will happen,” she added, “but I think this will be a major issue in China and India for social stability.”
“The governments in both countries are very worried,” she said, noting that men statistically commit more violent crimes in societies.
It’s a troubling prospect that Hvistendahl is not alone in noticing.
Dr. Nicholas Eberstadt–a political economist, demographer and member of the visiting committee at the Harvard School of Public Health–has often referred to the problem as a “war on baby girls.”
He outlined the three major factors he believes have led to the current crisis of gender imbalance.
The first is what he calls a “ruthless” son preference that is present in numerous cultures and religious systems.
That, coupled with the second problem of smaller families due to population control efforts such as China’s “coercive” one-child policy, has made couples’ quests for sons even more aggressive, he noted.
“When parents have five, six children, the gender outcome at birth isn’t that critical,” Eberstadt said.
“But when parents are only going to have one or two children, the sex of that child seems to become something that parents want to have a say about.”
Eberstadt said that the third factor in the rise of sex-selective abortion in these countries is reliable, accessible and inexpensive prenatal gender determination technology, such as ultrasound machines, in areas with “policy environments of unconditional abortion.”
Despite the glaring human rights abuses caused by the practice, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has been largely silent on the issue–a fact that’s been noted by Hvistendahl and other experts.
Dr. Susan Fink Yoshihara, director of the International Organizations Research Group and vice president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, said that the population fund has played “a major role” in the increase of sex-selective abortion.
“They do this by refusing to condemn the practice and mainly by promoting its two main causes: fertility control and increasing (the) availability of abortion.”
If the UN fund “says it promotes women’s rights,” Yoshihara said, “why do its leaders refuse to condemn this egregious practice of killing girls?”
Its “leadership has instead issued directives to its employees time and again that show UNFPA is more concerned with promoting abortion than defending women’s right to life.”
Adding to the problem is what many call the ineptitude of US leadership in effectively addressing the issue of forced population control.
Vice Pres. Joe Biden sparked controversy during his recent trip to China where he told leaders that he “fully understood” the country’s one-child policy and was not “second guessing” it.
His comments came during an Aug. 21 appearance at Chengdu’s Sichuan University where he was discussing the US’ dilemma of paying for entitlement programs when the number of retirees exceeds the number of workers–a problem he said China shared.
The vice president’s remarks in Chengdu drew widespread criticism, particularly from pro-life activists and his political opponents.
“Instead of using the power the American people gave him to speak up for human rights, he ignored his responsibility,” Yoshihara charged.
“His scandalous comments are but one example of how easy it is for us to turn away from our responsibility toward the poorest of the poor, in this case, the unborn child.”
Eberstadt was equally critical of the Biden’s remarks, but observed that the “silver lining” in the recent gaffe could be that more media attention is brought to the issue.
He said that demographers in China estimate that half of the missing 160 million girls could be attributed to the country’s one child policy alone.
Eberstadt likened the problem of discrimination against baby girls to the issue of slavery during the 19th century, saying that sex-selective abortion needs to be stigmatized in the same way.
“I think that the only sure way of extirpating this–and it’s an abomination–is the way we’ve extirpated other abominations in the past,” he said.
“Which is through a struggle of conscience and the advent of a new moral understanding of why something like this should be absolutely anathema to a decent, civilized society.”
But an even deeper problem that needs to be addressed, observed Yoshihara, is the underlying human tendency towards selfishness.
“The fundamental problem is that we do not love one another. We do not see that the inconvenient or unwanted person is just as valuable, just as worthy of love, as you and me.”
“Ideologies like radical feminism that undergird UNFPA’s refusal to speak out, ideologies like communism that justify coercing or even forcing mothers to abort their children, and ideologies of utilitarianism that subtly pervade our own society,” she said, “make it easy for us to say nothing in the face of unspeakable human suffering.”
As I knelt staring at St. John de Brebeuf’s skull through the glass case at the Martyr’s Shrine in Midland, Ontario, I thought about the courage of our founding fathers of faith in North America.
In 1611, Jesuit missionaries first set foot on our continent. Within 40 years eight of them, (whose feast day is October 19) gave up their lives near the Georgian Bay and in upstate New York. This quadricentennial of the Jesuit mission gives us cause to look to our spiritual roots.
Much like the setting sun, we often see the full beauty of the Saints as their mortal light exits this world. This is especially true of martyrs. The following is a brief summary of a few of the deaths of these Jesuits, which sums up the heroism with which they lived.
When St. Isaac Jogues was received into the Jesuits his superior asked what he desired. His response: “Ethiopia and Martyrdom.” “Not so.” was the reply. “You will receive Canada and martyrdom.”
After years of ministry among the Huron, St. Isaac Jogues was captured and tortured by the Mohawk Indians. On the verge of execution, he escaped and was smuggled back to France by the Dutch. He quickly rose to “stardom.” Everyone regarded him as a living Saint and national hero. The Queen of France even stooped to kiss his mangled hands, fingers missing, having being cut or gnawed off by his torturers. St. Isaac could have retired in the safety of France but returned to his mission as soon as he was able. He was killed by a Mohawk brave with a tomahawk.
St. Charles Garnier was ministering to his Huron village when it was attacked. He ran from one burning cabin to another, baptizing and comforting his people when he was shot in the upper chest and lower abdomen. After regaining consciousness he saw a wounded Huron writhing across the room. He pulled himself up and struggled toward the dying man to help him. An Iroquois brave noticed and killed him with his hatchet. He died with hand outstretched, reaching to minister to the wounded.
St. Rene Goupil was a layman who worked side by side with the Jesuits. When St. Isaac Jogues was captured there was a time when St. Rene could have easily escaped but chose to stay with his friend. He endured weeks of disfiguring tortures, during which he comforted and converted fellow captives who were suffering a similar fate. He was tomahawked while walking side by side with Jogues for teaching a child how to make the sign of the cross. He fell to the ground saying the name of Jesus.
St. Anthony Daniel had just finished celebrating Mass with his Huron friends at sunrise when the war cries of the Iroquois rang out through his village. He went to those who had been butchered to comfort and baptize them in their last moments. When the Iroquois were headed toward his church to burn it down he sprinted toward them and commanded them to stop. They did for a moment, stunned by this unarmed man’s courage. Then they brought him down with muskets and arrows.
St. John de Brebeuf was a huge man with amazing courage. Though he lived under constant threat of death, a fellow missionary wrote, “Nothing could upset him during the twelve years I’ve known him.”
He was the first missionary to enter Huronia. In time he became like one of them. He wrote instructions to those who wanted to join his mission starting with, “You must love these Huron, ransomed by the blood of the Son of God, as brothers.”
Though he could have escaped, he chose to die with them when Iroquois raided their village. The younger St. Gabriel Lalemont, who had looked up to St. John, remained and died with him as well. Together they underwent some of the most gruesome tortures of any martyr in history for endless hours. Through it all they comforted their fellow captives. John reminded them, “The sufferings will end with your lives. The grandeur which follows will never have an end.”
Seven years after their deaths, the daughter of an Iroquois chief was born in the very tribe that killed them. She is known today as Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American to be beatified, proving true the words spoken by Tertullian 1,400 years before these martyrs entered paradise, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church!”
These men set out into nations where a violent, gruesome death was constantly before them. We set out into an increasingly anti-religious culture where we might lose a few friends for standing up for the truth, or at worst, get mocked or sued, but probably not tomahawked. They set out on canoes into uncharted waters filled with tribes who were hunting them down. We set out in our cars to work or the supermarket to bump shoulders with a world that needs to be reminded of God through our words and our charity.
If only we had a little of the courage of our founding fathers in faith.
Speaker and author Chris Stefanick is Director of Youth, Young Adult and Campus Ministry for the Archdiocese of Denver. Visit him at chris-stefanick.com.
Fr. Robert Barron wears many hats. He is an author, speaker, theologian, the Francis Cardinal George professor of faith and culture at Mundelein Seminary near Chicago, and the founder of the ministry Word On Fire. For the past few years, however, one of his major projects has been a 10-part documentary and study program about the Catholic faith that will appear in parishes, on DVD, and on TV this fall. Filmed in 50 locations throughout 15 countries, the program uses the art, architecture, literature, music, and the treasures of the Catholic tradition to illuminate the teachings of the Church. Barron recently took some time to talk to Catholic Digest about his adventures.
What inspired this project?
Well, part of it was that I was assigned by Cardinal George to do work in evangelizing the culture. And for the past several years I’ve been doing a lot of work with radio, TV, DVDs, podcasting, Internet, various things. But I was thinking about making a major statement through video that would reach out especially to people under 40.
The other great inspiration for me was Kenneth Clark’s series “Civilization.” He went all over Europe and talked about Western civilization, but he showed it by going to the great cathedrals and the museums. Why not use the technology we have to really show off the Catholic faith?
You’re specifically targeting the under-40 group. Why?
I feel so strongly that the Catholic Church has got to reach out to the next generation. Years ago we could trust that Catholics would come to our institutions and be evangelized. But I think now people aren’t coming as readily. So we’ve got to go get them. And, of course, they’re all attuned to the world of media.
In the trailer for the program you say that the Catholic faith is under attack, that its story is being told by the “wrong people,” and that we need to tell our own story. Could you elaborate?
This is coming about during this time of terrible scandal and crisis, the worst crisis in American Catholic Church history. [While] fully acknowledging the Church’s problem, very often, especially in the media, you hear the Church being characterized in a very negative way, and (its story) often told in a superficial way, or told only from one angle. I think it’s high time for us to tell our story, so that the Catholic reality–which is 2,000 years of spirituality and theology, the saints, arts, architecture, music, all of it–is not simply reduced to the sex abuse scandal.
What do you hope Catholic audiences will take away from it and, separately, what do you hope non-Catholics will take away?
I hope Catholics can take a renewed pride in their Catholicism and also be catechized and perhaps re-evangelized. For people outside the Church, I’ve always had in my mind the guy in his hotel room flipping through the cable and stumbling upon a program and finding something compelling. Maybe it’s something I’m saying. Maybe it’s just the sight of one of the great cathedrals. Maybe it’s watching Mother Teresa’s Sisters. My hope is that people outside the Church might be drawn in and find something beautiful or compelling about it.
The program is billed as a response to the New Evangelization. For readers who may not be familiar with that term, what is the New Evangelization and how does the “Catholicism” project fit into it?
It’s an idea of John Paul II’s that you have a lot of cultures in countries that have been evangelized, so they’re traditionally or historically Christian–think of much of Europe, much of the Americas. But in many of these countries the Catholic faith is fading away, or people have lost touch with it. So the New Evangelization is to reach out to these traditionally Catholic countries and to reinvigorate, to re-catechize these cultures. So that’s why this [project] fits right into that: It’s reaching out especially to the American culture, which does, I think, need to be re-evangelized.
How do you think Catholics should handle the challenge of being called to live out our faith and evangelize with the need to respect other faiths?
I think the charge is “Oh, you think you’re the one true faith and everyone else is wrong.” In fact the Catholic position is that the fullness of what Christ wanted to give his people is in the Catholic Church, but there is participation of that fullness in other Christian religions and even other non-Christian religions. And on that basis we can establish all kinds of links, dialogues, and conversations. I think religious people can have nonviolent and deeply respectful arguments with each other.
One of the points you make in the series is that on one hand, the Church needs to stay true to itself over time but that on the other, the Church is not a museum but it’s something living, ongoing. How, in your view, should the Church approach the question of when to evolve and when to hold back?
It’s a classic question we’ve always wrestled with. One of my heroes, John Henry Newman, isolates, I think, seven criteria by which you evaluate an evolution such as in a change in Church teaching. Is it legitimate or is it a corruption?
Let’s say you’re playing basketball and a person decides, “I’m just going to carry the ball around; I’m not going to dribble it.” Well, that’s not basketball anymore. That’s a change that’s actually undermining the integrity of the game. There’s something similar with the development of the Church’s life. In some developments, evolutions are a positive unfolding of the essential structure. Others undermine that structure or compromise it. Obviously people of good will disagree about that, but I think that’s the structure of the conversation.
Would you share a moving experience you might have had while filming the series?
The one that always stays in my mind is Kampala (Uganda) on June 3. The feast of the Ugandan martyrs is the biggest event in African Catholicism. You have 500,000 people in this one spot. As we were getting the cameras set up, I looked out over the crowd. There’s this (shrine) on the site where Charles Lwanga was martyred and it’s built like a pyre. I flashed back to 1886 when he’s lying there being burned to death for being a Christian. And then to see all around us half a million people gathered to celebrate him, that moved me to tears.
How did this project affect your faith specifically?
I think profoundly. I’d say I have a much greater sense of the international Church. And I think my faith … you just see the power of Christ raised over 2,000 years; its reality has endured, has unfolded, and still seizes people’s minds and hearts, you know? It confirms your faith like mad when you see it.
Through the saved, God very often searches for the lost. Quite often, loved ones of lost souls are the means by which the Good Shepherd finds his lost sheep.
This couldn’t be truer for St. Monica who, in the fourth century, followed her son, Augustine all the way to Italy from her home in northern Africa. At the time, St. Augustine was pursuing a career in teaching rhetoric. He didn’t particularly like her tagging along, so he tried to find ways to lose her. However, she was determined to track her oldest son down so that he could be won over to Christ.
In his younger years, St. Augustine was an intellectual who was given over to false beliefs about God and the world. He was also a worldly and sensual man; as such, he did not have any scruples about “shacking up” with his lover. Living the wild life, he presumed the Lord’s patience by praying, “God, make me chaste…but not yet.” As one might expect, a baby came from this out-of-wedlock union. The boy was given the name of Adeodatus. St. Augustine, being the wayward son that he was, would be the source of much sorrow for his saintly mother.
Mother Teresa once told a friend of mine that for those souls who need to be saved from moral and spiritual darkness–such as prostitution and drug addiction–a price needs to be paid. Jesus said as much to the disciples who failed to exorcise a man possessed with demons: “But this kind does not come out except by prayer and fasting.” St. Monica, in a mystical union with our Lord, needed to pay the price for her son Augustine. She carried about in her maternal heart the dying of Jesus. (cf. II Cor 4:10) Indeed, her heart was broken that Augustine did not know Jesus Christ as his savior.
What was true for St. Monica is true for every Christian. And that is, “Christ’s sufferings overflow to us.” (I Cor 1:5) His Passion does not make our sacrifices unnecessary. On the contrary, Jesus suffered for sinners so that we too could suffer for sinners. St. Augustine’s soul was purchased with his mother’s tears; and those tears were mingled with the blood of Christ.
St. Monica, however, was given some relief through a dream she had. This was an indication her prayers were heard. In the book, Confessions, St. Augustine relates the following about what would turn out to be a prophetic dream by St. Monica:
“She saw herself standing upon a certain wooden rule (a measuring rod which symbolized the rule of Faith), and coming towards her was a young man, splendid, joyful and smiling upon her, although she grieved and was crushed with grief. When he asked her the reason for her sorrow and her daily tears–he asked, as is the custom, not for the sake of learning but for the sake of teaching–she replied that she lamented for my (St. Augustine) perdition. Then he bade her to rest secure and instructed her that she should attend and see that where she was, there was I also. And when she looked there she saw me standing on the same rule.”
Soon thereafter, St. Monica arrived in Milan, Italy only to join the company of a great bishop–St. Ambrose. She sought his counsel and how she might save her son from the erroneous sect called Manichaeism. In response, Bp. Ambrose said to her, “Only pray to the Lord on his behalf. He will find out by reading what the character of that error is and how great is its impiety.” She then implored the saintly bishop to talk to Augustine. But St. Ambrose refused by saying that her son needed to be willing to talk to him; that a conversation about the Faith should not be imposed or forced.
Nevertheless, she persisted, with tears flowing, in asking the same favor over and over again. Finally, St. Ambrose got annoyed and said, “Go away from me now! As you live, it is impossible that the son of such tears should perish.” (That’s right. Saints get annoyed too). In any case, instead of getting offended, St. Monica took it as a sign from heaven that her prayers and sacrifices would pay off.
The tears of St. Monica, in a real sense, washed St. Augustine’s soul before his sins were sacramentally wiped clean in the waters of baptism. When a son or daughter strays from Christ, sometimes the tears of a mother make up for the lack of tears we ought to have for our own sins.
St. Monica’s perseverance paid off. St. Augustine, along with his son Adeodatus, entered the Catholic Church in the year 387 AD. After being initiated into his new life with Christ, he became the Bishop of Hippo, located in northern Africa. He would go on to lay the cornerstone of Western Civilization with his sanctity and theology. To be sure, St. Augustine is considered one of the most important Fathers and Doctors of the Catholic Church. All this was made possible by a mother who did not give up.
Joe Tremblay writes for Sky View, a current event and topic-driven Catholic blog. He is currently a contributor to The Edmund Burke Institute, and a frequent guest on Relevant Radio’s, The Drew Mariani Show. Tremblay is also married with five children.