Posted by: Fr Chris | February 1, 2019

Encountering the Lord – Feb. 2

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Why is February 2 both a great feast day and Groundhog Day? There was an old tradition in Europe that if February 2 is a day of bright sun, then the winter will continue; if it is a dark day, winter will end soon. Also, this day was chosen since  in Germany the male hedgehogs and badgers would start stirring from their hibernation in early February, looking for their mates, before settling back into sleep until mid-March. When the Germans settled in Pennsylvania they discovered groundhogs, and so if it’s a bright day and the groundhog would have a shadow, then winter is staying on. Of course the vernal equinox of spring won’t come for six weeks no matter what, since that happens on March 21.

The old English name is Candlemas, or Mass of the candles, since on this day candles are blessed. The blessed candles are meant to call to mind that Christ is the light of the world. At every Vespers we sing Simeon’s famous hymn, the Nunc Dimittis, or Now You Shall  Dismiss Your Servant. In that prayer, Simeon refers to the “light of revelation to the Gentiles, the glory of Your people, Israel. ” Jesus is that radiant light, the shining glory.

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Why do Mary and Joseph go to the temple? The woman had to be purified forty days after a birth, because blood had been shed during the birth-giving. Our Lady has no need of purification, but she goes out of humility and obedience to the Jewish Law. The Law ordered that if the first child was a male, he belonged to God, and the parents would have to offer a sacrifice in order to redeem the baby boy for themselves. Jesus however is God, the Son of the Most High, divine and human, so there is no need to redeem Him with a sacrifice! By the way, “first-born” does not mean Mary had other children. Many tombs have been found in Palestine of women buried with their first-born; the title first-born is important as this is the child who opened the doors of the womb. Our Lady’s perpetual virginity, therefore, is not threatened whatsoever by this word.

So off they go, not to the synagogue in Bethlehem or another shrine, but all the way up to Jerusalem. It is important that Mary and Joseph take this unique Child to Mount Zion, to the place where God lived in the Holy of Holies. Joseph and Mary know that they must go there, and they go with the offering of the poor: two birds. They can’t afford a lamb or a calf. In Exodus at Passover, the angel of the Lord killed all the first-born males, from Pharaoh’s son and heir to that of the poorest peasant, including among the livestock, as a final punishment for the Egyptians’ stubborness in resisting God’s will and His power shown in the various plagues. The Hebrew sons were spared because of the mark of blood on the doorways while they ate the first paschal lamb inside. Now the true paschal Lamb, the Lamb Who will be offered for us on Good Friday and triumph on the true Pascha of Easter Sunday, is brought into the Temple courtyard.

Simeon and Anna represent the faithful Jews who trusted in God’s word and waited upon Him. They, along with Mary and St. Joseph, are the true anawim, the ones who live as though they depend upon God, not money, or power, or authority. They can be poor or have money, they can be old or young, they can live on the edges of society, or in the very heart of the city like Simeon and Anna at the Temple. Mary, Saint Joseph, Simeon, Anna all fulfill what God asks of them, without debating or complaining. But what of us? How do we respond to challenges, spiritual difficulties?

In the East, today is called the Encounter, Stritenijie,  instead of the Presentation. Christ meets His people, these anawim, in a special way. Simeon both recognizes Who this Child is, and prophesies the sorrows that Our Lady will have to suffer in her lifetime. Anna announces to all who will listen to her that this Child is the holy one of God, the one for whom she has been waiting all her life. Christ is the fulfillment of all the prophets of the Old Testament, the First Covenant. Jesus comes to the capital not to see Herod and his court, but to be in the House of the Lord. In this encounter, this meeting, the Savior begins His ministry by bringing joy to the hearts of Simeon and Anna, and there is joy for St. Joseph and Our Lady as well. Simeon and Anna confirm that what they have been living for the past ten months is very real indeed – here these two prophets announce that this Child Jesus, Who will save His people from their sins, is exactly who Mary and Joseph were told He is. Thus despite the prophecy of sorrow for Mary, it is a very joyful day, and appropriately is one of the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary.

For ourselves, let’s try to make this a day of meeting Christ anew, of letting Him encounter us in the stillness of our hearts at Holy Communion, and of sharing His Good News with those around us as Simeon and Anna did so that we can truly say,
“Christ is among us.”

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Posted by: Fr Chris | January 5, 2019

Theophany Day!

Theophany:  Manifestation of God  Epiphany –  shining forth

For Byzantine Catholics, the 12th day of Christmas is the baptism of Jesus in Jordan, for Latins, it is when the magi, traditionally known as the Three Kings, come to worship Jesus as king of kings. They celebrate the Baptism on the Sunday after the 6th of January.

I grew up in St John the Baptist parish in Kenmore, New York. In front of the church there are two life-sized statues of St John baptizing Jesus, with John pouring the water over his head.  Every time I passed that monument, I remembered that this shows the moment in Matthew’s Gospel when the Father speaks: This is my beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased.  The Father proclaims Who Jesus is – his eternal son, the second person of the trinity.  One of sixty vv in NT that affirms Jesus is divine.

St Gregory of Nyssa: Today He is baptized by John that He might cleanse him who was defiled, that He might bring the Spirit from above, and exalt man to heaven, that he who had fallen might be raised up and he who had cast him down might be put to shame. Baptism, then, is a purification from sins, a remission of trespasses, a cause of renovation and regeneration. too the child of regeneration has nothing for which to answer, being released by royal bounty from accountability. And this gift it is not the water that bestows (for in that case it were a thing more exalted than all creation), but the command of God, and the visitation of the Spirit that comes sacramentally to set us free. But water serves to express the cleansing.

Water is sanctified on Theophany. Fr Artur celebrated this last night for the holy water to take home, and then today going down to bless the Rio Grande river as in Europe the custom is to bless living water in a river or lake.  Holy water is ordinary water that has been completely transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. The prayer says: Come now and sanctify this water, and goes on to talk about how the water now serves as a protection against evil, healing for the sick in both soul and body, sanctification of places, for the gift of enlightenment. It is sanctified when the triple branched candle goes into the water, when the priest’s hand goes in 3 times, when the priest breathes 3 times, when the life-giving  cross is put into the water three times. The whole ceremony invokes the Holy Trinity over and over again.

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The baptism of the Lord is the first big event recorded in the four gospels after the birth of Christ and His first forty days on earth. The Bible itself begins with the Spirit moving over the void,  a wind from God[b] swept over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. Theophany is called a feast of light: the Spirit bringing light where there was darkness, and then moving over the waters of the earth.

Holy water is so important that in the Byzantine rite it was the practice to bless water every month on the first day, because the people used so much of it. Now this is formally done still only on August 1, but it would be great to have the need to bless water over and over again because you used it so much.

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The holy water is kept near the church’s front door, available all year for those who need it. The clergy use it to bless houses, to bless cars, to bless  icons and religious objects, to bless the casket at the end of life’s journey on earth.

You can use it, to bless your children, every day if you want, putting them under God’s protection, to bless yourself daily. You can use it to bless a room after someone has bad dreams, to put in someone’s beverage when they’re sick, to bless after a fight or bad incident takes place, or a nasty person visits. When you travel and stay someplace, take a little plastic bottle of holy water with you and bless the room. Take water home, but use it! Invite Father to come and bless  your house, and enjoy the ceremony as an opportunity for renewal and healing and blessing.  All of these things are done so that by visibly partaking of the water we invisibly  partake of the Holy Spirit and invoke the Spirit’s graces and blessings.

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This is such an important feast that it is a holy day of obligation for us, and the day before it is kept as a fasting day. This is one of the days when converts are baptized, as a powerful sign of their deliverance from the world of sin and darkness and being brought into light and goodness. And it is meant to be a day of enlightenment for us. John baptized with water, and the crowds who came to hear him were so moved by his preaching that they confessed their sins, went into the Jordan river to be baptized, and emerged with the conviction to live differently.

So for us – the excitement of Christmas is over, the season of Lent is a ways off. But that does not mean that Christian life and behavior is on vacation. Icons of St John the Baptist also often depict an axe at the base of a tree. This symbolizes the cutting down of all that is rotten and bad within ourselves through repentance.

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Drinking of the sanctified holy water is a symbolic act that we all partake of on this feast, but it is meant also to be a wake-up call, a reminder of our own baptism, a reminder to convert and change our lives. We do not have to confess our sins publicly but we are expected to live in a state of awareness of the ongoing need to change, to dig down into ourselves, to grab hold of a spiritual axe and cut out of ourselves the things that we know lead us into sin, or behaviors that we know are sinful. John warned the people who came to him that there was a judgment coming. Judgment Day will come for each of us – at our  own deaths, and at the end of time. No one can escape it. We have been given the fullness of revelation through the Catholic Church, and we have been fed with the Bread of Life, some of us for a few years, some of us all our lives. Whatever the case, we are invited to make this day a day of both renewal and repentance, and to go forward in the power of Christ and the Holy Spirit, so as to grow closer to the Father and become holier on our own personal roads to paradise. Christ is among us.

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Fr. Jack Custer of St. Michael Cathedral, blessing the Passaic River, 2018 

Posted by: Fr Chris | December 26, 2018

Mary as Mother of God

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Synaxis of Theotokos

I always say that we continue to learn until death, and this feast is a good example of that. We commemorate Mary today as the Mother of God, the God-bearer, the Theotokos.  I was taught in seminary that the word Theotokos was coined in 431 AD for Our Lady at the council of Ephesus. We now know that is not true at all, which is important both for ecumenical dialogue and for our own understanding of Mary.

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We now know that this word Theotokos, and all it implies, was in popular use very early on. The famous scrap of papyrus paper on which the prayer Sub Tuum Praesidium, Under Your Protection, was found has been dated to come from the 200s.
We hasten to thy protection, O holy Mother of God; despise not our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us always from all dangers, O glorious and blessed Virgin. Amen.

It is especially important because Mary is invoked as the Mother of God, as one who intercedes in heaven before God’s throne for us, and the prayer has the word “we”, which shows it was used in common worship. It is not a pious thought from one lost individual, but a prayer that was said in church, less than 200 years after Jesus’ resurrection.  She is being honored for her role in our salvation history in Bethlehem, Egypt and Nazareth, the woman who carried God in her womb, the unique God-Man, fully divine and fully human, and who raised Him to adulthood. What does this divine maternity mean?

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It is much more than she carried Jesus Christ in her womb. It is rather that she lived as His Mother, and all the things that a good mother does for her child. It is important that she stands at the foot of the Cross when He dies – she is there from beginning to end, and then at the next beginning, as Luke tells us she is in the upper room when the Holy Spirit descends upon the apostles and disciples on Pentecost.

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Luke presents her in a special way. In the annunciation to Zechariah, Gabriel is angered that he, a priest, who should know the Jewish scriptures, doubts that God can give a son to him and his equally elderly wife. There are many examples of surprising pregnancies in the Old Testament. Mary on the other hand, converses with the angel in a very calm way, asking the right question, and then accepting God’s action in her. This shows us how she lived: in daily awareness of God, in close harmony with God, in the way that God intended us to live before the fall of original sin. She is not surprised, not frightened, not worried. She simply asks a common-sense question: how can this happen, as this was never something that happened in Jewish history ,a virgin conceiving? Gabriel tells her that the spirit of the most  high ,the ruah elohim, will descend upon her. He uses the words used in Genesis for the creation of the universe, and Mary accepts, firmly and briefly and powerfully – let it be done to me according to thy word. “Thy” — she has a close friendship with Gabriel and with God. Word – It is the Logos, the Word of God, Who descends into her to become the God-Man inside her.

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Would that we would live in such harmony with God!  We are distracted by so many concerns, from  private ones to work to family to issues of the nation or world. But we are made to live with God, to visit with God daily like Adam and Eve in the cool of the evening in the Garden of Eden. We are made to be close to Him, and ultimately to be with Him for eternity. That is the divine maternity of Mary – she is not only the Mother of Jesus Christ, and therefore the Holy Mother of God. She is our mother, who was given to the entire Church on Calvary by Jesus Himself when He said to John, “Behold your Mother.” She is praised not because she carried and gave birth to Jesus. She is praised because she heard the Word of God and kept it – literally incarnating God’s Word in her womb, and incarnating God in her actions of love and care for Christ, for St. Joseph, for the early Church, and now for us still today.

Tonight let us beseech the holy Mother of God to help us to live with God, to be with God, and to be able to not only visit with Him daily – in prayer, or Holy Communion, or both – but to live so that we will be able to be with Him forever.


Posted by: Fr Chris | December 24, 2018

Christmas 2018

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The Byzantine Catholic Christmas greeting Christ is born! Glorify Him! was already  common in the mid-300s. St Gregory Nazianzen starts his famous Christmas sermon with those words, and Eastern Christians have been saying this during the twelve days of Christmas for over 1700 years.

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In the Office of the Royal Hours from this morning, we read of the prophecies concerning the conception of Christ in a virgin’s womb, of the ox and the donkey knowing their Master’s crib, of the shepherds coming to the stable, of the wise men from the east coming to worship, and of Herod’s jealousy. All of the gospel texts around the nativity of Jesus which we have been fasting for, praying for, preparing for, waiting for during these forty days are rich with imagery and you’d need a three hour presentation just to unpack part of it.

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Tonight focus on Bethlehem and the shepherds. Bethlehem is the ancestral home of Joseph’s family, the house of David the king. David was a shepherd in the fields, the least of Jesse’s sons, yet the only one whom God wanted to rule Israel. Jesus is legally the son of Joseph, fulfilling God’s promise that the messiah would come from David’s descendants.     Bethlehem in Hebrew means house of bread, but in Aramaic it means house of meat. Christ the Bread of Angels is born there, Christ our true Food in the Holy Eucharist is laid  into the feeding trough of the animals. The ox and the donkey know him. Mary and Joseph know him. Nobody else in the town has any idea who He is.

When the angels appear to the shepherds, they are appearing to the men and boys watching over the flocks which were being raised for the temple. The wool from the adult sheep was used to make the linen vestments of the priests. The unblemished lambs who were physically perfect were set aside to become the paschal sacrifices, the  Passover lambs. Jesus is revealed to these shepherds – He is perfect God, perfect Man. He is the High Priest of priests, the source of my priesthood and that of every Catholic priest, the High Priest Who was truly worshipped in the old Temple. He is the true Lamb of God – perfect, sinless, and destined to die so as to save all humanity from the power of sin.

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Some of the shepherds that night may well have been from the Levites, the priests, themselves. Thus it is a powerful sign when they search out the newborn baby boy, wrapped in traditional white swaddling clothes, Who has been put into the straw of a manger. They come to find Him, and then to worship Him. He Who is in the feeding trough will be the Bread of Life for the entire world; He Who is wrapped in pure white swaddling clothes is not only all-pure Himself, but He is also destined to be wrapped in a pure white burial shroud after dying on the cross for our sins.

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Tonight we partake of His very flesh and blood, and His entire Personhood, in Holy Communion. The new-born King of the Jews, the new High Priest, the Lamb of God, the Eternal Word of God, the Bread of Angels and Bread of Life – all these symbols and titles are wrapped up in these few verses of the Gospels about this baby boy resting in straw.

Isaiah cries out to us tonight: the animals knew Who this Child was, but do you truly know Him? Christmas in western cultures is so far divorced from its origins in the birth of Jesus, with more emphasis on spending money to as to save the retail industry than in imitating Christ and worshipping Him. Do I live as if I know Him?

Do I speak as if I know Him?

Do I watch movies and television shows as if I know Him?

Do I pray as if I know Him?

Do I love others as if I know Him?

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Through the gift of sacred time we are present at the cave as Mary gives birth and Joseph helps, and we are there as the Infant King is wrapped in white and put into the straw of the crib, the manger, the feeding trough of the animals. We are there for all these events surrounding Jesus’ birth, and we will be reminded of these in the Scripture readings this week. The great challenge is to live as if I know Him.

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Those here tonight who are Catholics properly prepared are invited to the table of the Lord to receive Him in the Most Holy Eucharist – what though shall we do tomorrow? And the next day? And so on? We must live as Christ wants us to live, not as the fallen world wants us to live.
That takes courage, and self-emptying love. It takes divine grace. Jesus offers us a share in His courage, His self-emptying love to imitate, and His grace to build us up with. Let us leave here tonight transformed by Him, ready to proclaim Him, and above all, ready to live as He did.  Christ is born!

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Posted by: Fr Chris | December 12, 2018

Guadalupe Day, 1531

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We remember the appearances of Our Lady in 1531 from Dec 9 – 12. In 1521 the Spanish invaders and their native allies defeated the Aztec Empire. The Spaniards had been horrified when they discovered that the Aztec religion required the constant sacrifice of hundreds of people a day, with their blood running down the temple steps, which the Aztecs believed kept the universe in harmony and fed their gods. With the conquest, the religion was overthrown, but what came to replace that worldview?

The friars who came to preach the Gospel faced serious challenges at converting anyone in Mexico because of the awful behavior of many conquistadors, who themselves killed people, stole from them, raped the women, and enslaved entire towns. Many Spaniards questioned if Indians were even human beings with a soul. Even though the Spanish Crown intervened on the side of the native peoples, and even though the Church decreed that Native Americans were indeed fully equal human beings, the seeds of racist behavior had already been planted.  As for the Aztecs, most of the population was in a severe state of spiritual apathy and depression, to the point of suicide. They had no hope  in the future, their past religion had been shown to be based on falsehoods, their nobility had joined the Spanish, and they were ruled by foreigners.  Very few people converted to Catholicism.

St Juan Diego (1474-1548), his wife Maria, and his uncle Bernardino were among the few – by 1531 his wife Maria had died, and it was he and his uncle remaining.  Juan Diego’s birth name was “The eagle who speaks” which is very important for the story. The eagle was the main symbol of the Aztec state. God chose The Eagle Who Speaks to convey the message of heaven to the bishop and other Spaniards, that God indeed recognized the Native people not only as human beings, but as His children who were to be instructed in the faith. When Juan Diego first meets the Virgin on Tepeyac hill, she says to him: “Know, my dear son, that I am the ever Virgin Mary, Mother of the true God, and it is my desire that they erect a temple to me in this place from where, as a loving Mother of you and your people, I will show my loving clemency and compassion that I have for the natives and those that love and seek me. I will hear their prayers and supplications to give them consolation and relief. And so that my will be done, you should go to Mexico City to the bishop’s palace and you will tell him that I sent you and that it is my will that he build a temple in this place. You will tell him what you saw and heard. I will thank you for what you do for me and I will give you prestige and exalt you.”

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The bishop asks for a sign. But when Juan Diego prepares to ask the lady for the sign, his uncle is dying, and he has to find a priest to give him the sacraments. He tries to evade Tepeyac, but Mary finds him again. Not only does she assure him that his uncle will recover, she says these wonderful words: “Do not be afflicted about anything, not even with illness or any other harmful things. Am I not here, am I not your Mother? Are you not under my protection and care? Am I not life and health? Are you not in my lap and walk under my care? Do you need anything else?”… That is the first miracle, the uncle’s cure, and in fact she appears to his uncle. Then she provides the sign: Spanish roses, of the type found in Castile, which Juan Diego collects in his cactus cloth. Of course when he presents the roses, instead the greater miracle with what we in the Christian East call an icon-made-without-hands, the miraculous image left by Mary on that simple cloth.

If you go to Mexico City, that image remains as radiant as it was on December 12, 1531. Our Lady appears with brown skin, a mestiza, or woman of mixed race. In 1531, the children of Spanish men and Native women were scorned as the products of rape or at best illegitimate, and they were forced to scrounge and beg for food and clothing as no one wanted them. But the Virgin Mother of God appears as one of them, the sign of the mestizo race which now dominates Latin America. The despised are exalted, the poorest and most humble are lifted up to the level of the Mother of God herself.

Her robes are covered with symbols:

She stands on the moon, which was the Aztec god of darkness: she has conquered, as she and her Son have defeated Satan.

She stands in front of the sun, that Aztec god who demanded a constant flow of blood, showing that she has defeated the old gods.

She bends her head down, looking at Juan Diego, but Aztec gods looked straight ahead, never at their worshippers – she shows herself to be a mother who listens.

She is carried by an angel – in the Aztec world, only royalty were lifted up and carried by others. The angel has eagle wings – the eagle was the messenger of the gods who led the Aztecs to settle in Mexico City.

The stars are the exact ones that appeared over Mexico City on December 12, 1531.

The glyphs are all powerful symbols from the original Nahuatl style of writing – one is of jasmine, a sacred flower to the Aztecs, and marking the Child inside the womb as divine; the glyphs for mountains, rivers, and nation are turned upside down to reveal the human heart with arteries. Instead of tearing hearts out of captives, the Christian God presents His own divine sacred heart for the Natives to turn to.

Her dress is the color of the dawn sky, a new age appearing for the people.

Her black rope shows that she is a virgin, but her swollen stomach declares that she is also pregnant with the Eternal Word of God, and she is bringing Him to the natives.

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Juan Diego himself became a great missionary, as a layman living next to the chapel built at Tepeyac. His intercession with God was credited with many miraculous cures during his lifetime and after his death, but his Cause for sainthood was delayed for centuries, and he was not beatified until 1990 and canonized only in 2002.

The Catholic Church in the Americas is facing repeated scandals connected with violation of vows of celibacy and poverty, with decades of abuse of children, teenagers, and adults at the hands of various priests, bishops, and even a cardinal. For every person who converts to the Catholic Faith, six Catholics walk away from the Church. In 1532, the spread of the message of Guadalupe by Juan Diego, his uncle Bernardino, and the Franciscan friars resulted in a flood of nine million people being baptized and accepted into the Church. These millions went on to lead lives of strong devotion, people who sought out confession on a regular basis, who turned their backs on human sacrifice and the temptation to despair and suicide and moved into the light of the Gospel.

This is very much a moment for you, the laity. People expect priests to still preach the Gospel and uphold Catholic truths, but fewer and fewer will listen to us thanks to the sins of those priests who molested youngsters and adults, and thanks to the bishops who protected them for the last 70 years. Now is most especially the moment of the laity. Ask Saint Juan Diego, the eagle who talks, to intercede for you with God so that like him, you can proclaim the message of Jesus Christ and His Church to those around you. Ask the Virgin Mother to strengthen your own commitment to her Son’s Church, and to make this Christmas not a Christmas of gifts but a Christmas of proclamation, of salvation, of lifting the members of the Body of Christ  away from despair and into the proclamation of joy to the world. We are thirteen days away from the Nativity of Christ – we must be the light of Jesus to the darkened world around that is so torn with anger, division, despair, fear. We must be the ones who speak the truth boldly, to anyone, that Jesus Christ comes to save us, and He founded a Church which, despite the sins of its members, continues to proclaim the fullness of truth and revelation.

Christ is among us!

Posted by: Fr Chris | December 6, 2018

St Nicholas Day

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Saint Nicholas 

When my mother was leaving St. Francis Hospital with me in 1956 after one of my early medical issues, an old German Sister stopped her and said, “Saint Nicholas will be very important in this child’s life.” My mother made a point of putting out our shoes on Dec. 5 for treats from the saint when we were children, but never said anything. I just figured it was because Dad was German. But in 1976 she came to the Byzantine Catholic church in Olean, NY, with me. There  I pointed out the icons, and when I got to the big Saint Nicholas, and I told her that he is on every iconostas because of his importance, she then said, “Oh, that’s what that nun meant” and then told me the story. Little did I know Nicholas had been guiding me to the Byzantine Catholic Church, as I pursued Eastern Catholicism as a boy and teenager!

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The little  church on Fountain Street in Olean 

As a friend of mine noted recently, Saint Nicholas left us no sermons, no theological treatises, no writings of any kind. He is known mostly through stories of his miracles which God worked through him in answer to his prayers while serving as bishop of Myra: the innocent are saved from execution; girls saved from prostitution; abandoned children rescued; sailors saved at sea during storms. He is the patron of Greece, Russia, navies, children, falsely accused, archers, bakers, brewers, pawnbrokers, students and multiple cities across Europe. In particular one legend acclaims him for defending the full divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ at the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, a council which he did indeed attend. The legend says that he was deprived of his episcopal regalia after striking an Arian who denied Jesus’ divinity. But then the bishops all had a dream where Jesus and Mary appeared to him, asking Nicholas “Why are you in prison?” His reply?”Out of love for you.” And with that, Our Lady restored his omophorion and Jesus the Gospel book – and in the morning all the bishops (many of whom were pro-Arian) shamefacedly restored him to his role as bishop of Myra.

St. Nicholas saves innocent men from execution – Ilya Repin’s painting  

You can read more about him here: And you can read about  the 2014 reconstruction of his face here:  based on his relics which rest in the port city of Bari, Italy.

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You will see how faithful the icons are to what he actually looked like – a great proof of just how traditional icon painting is!

So – how will I be remembered? By my books, my sermons, my spiritual direction? Hopefully I will be remembered by what I have done for others in the Name of Christ, and for being a faithful Catholic priest,  as our holy father Nicholas is still known today.

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St. Nicholas the Wonderworker 


Posted by: Fr Chris | December 3, 2018

Catching up, and St. Francis Xavier

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St. Francis Xavier in front of Immaculate Conception cathedral, Beijing, China

Goodness! I have not posted in six weeks. Life got a little hectic, between parish, some health issues, and then my father’s physical decline.  He fell asleep in the Lord on November 14 and I was able to celebrate his Mass of Christian Burial on the 17th, at Saint John the Baptist Church in Kenmore, NY. He was 94, would have been 95 on December 9th. An interesting point to ponder: who comes to mourn a man of that age, who has outlived nearly all of his contemporaries? Well, if you have lived well and cared for others, it turns out a couple hundred people came to the wake, where we spent four hours with a nonstop line of mourners, and again at the church and cemetery.  We heard many good stories of his actions on behalf of other people, and the importance he placed on doing the right thing. As we prepare for the Birth of Christ, it is worth asking ourselves, what will my legacy be as a follower of Christ? 

Today is the feast of St. Francis Xavier on the Roman calendar. He is probably the most prolific missionary in the history of the Catholic Church, covering territory from western India to Japan. A gifted linguist, this Basque co-founder of the Jesuits was also blessed at least twice with the gift of tongues, when diverse people heard him preach in their own languages at Travancore (India) and Amaguchi (Japan). God granted many miracles in answer to Xavier’s prayers, and after his death – he died waiting to enter China in 1532 – the various Catholic communities founded by him reported a plethora of miracles that were sent to Rome for study.

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Why do I like him so much? My home parish of Saint John’s in Kenmore is one of the two churches where the annual Novena of Grace is preached every March (the other being Saint Michael in downtown Buffalo). I served the novena Masses or attended all through grammar school and high school. The novena was so popular in Buffalo that it occasionally showed up on the evening news on television. And as an Eastern Catholic, it is great to record that unlike so many missionaries and soldiers who followed in his wake, he accepted the ancient Syriac Church of India as solidly orthodox in faith. Had his example been followed by the Portuguese churchmen who devastated that Church in the 1500s and 1600s, the Christian history of India would have been much better. Instead they launched a violent purge, destroying ancient manuscripts, Latinizing the liturgy and sacraments almost beyond recognition, and breaking the Syriac Church’s ties with the mother Church in Iraq. Tens of thousands broke with Rome as a result, and the Syriac-Malabar Catholic Church was forbidden to conduct Catholic missionary work in India, despite it being of apostolic origin* and well adapted to Indian life. The Malabar Catholics were only allowed to preach the Gospel to non-Christians after Vatican II!

Tomb of Saint Francis Xavier

Saint Francis Xavier’s body reposes today in Bom Jesus basilica in Old Goa, the city where he first landed in India. He remains very popular in Asia, where his many miracles of his lifetime are well-known. As persecution of Christianity intensifies in India – and other Asiatic countries – may his prayers bring about many blessings for the faithful! 

This is a good article on the miracles of Saint Francis Xavier during his lifetime.

*The Syriac Churches of India all trace their founding to the work of Saint Thomas the Apostle, whose tomb lies in Chennai, India. Excavations of the tomb found not only items that matched the ancient stories of the apostle, but brickwork done in the style of first-century Rome. There was a steady trade between western India and the Roman Empire using the trade winds of the Indian Ocean.

Posted by: Fr Chris | October 19, 2018

1.3 billion Catholics, 18% of world

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Official statistics for 2016 from the Holy See

Vatican City (Agenzia Fides) – As every year, in view of World Mission Day, which this year celebrates its 92nd anniversary on Sunday, October 21, 2018, Fides News Service offers some statistics chosen to give a panorama of the missionary Church all over the world. The tables are taken from the latest edition of the “Church’s Book of Statistics” published (updated to 31 December 2016) regarding members of the Church, church structures, healthcare, welfare and education. Please note that variations, increase or decrease, emerging from our own comparison with last year’s figures (2015), are marked increase + or decrease – in brackets

World population
To 31 December 2016 the world population was 7.352.289.000 with an increase of 103.348.000 units compared with the previous year. Population growth was registered on every continent, including Europe: increases were registered above all in Asia (+ 49.767.000) and Africa (+ 42.898.000), followed by America (+ 8.519.000), Europe (+ 1.307.000) and Oceania (+ 857.000).

On the same date Catholics in the world numbered units with an overall increase of 14.249.000. The increase affects all continents, except Europe for the third consecutive year (- 240.000). Increases were registered above all in Africa (+6.265.000) and in America (+ 6.023.000)* followed by Asia (+ 1.956.000) and Oceania (+ 254.000). The world percentage of Catholics decreased by 0.05 %, settling at 17.67%. By continent: increases were registered in America (+ 0.06), Asia (+ 0,01) and Oceania (+ 0.02), decrease in Africa (- 0.18) and Europe (- 0,11).

*America means the entire Western hemisphere

Persons and Catholics per priest 
This year the number of persons per priest in the world increased by 254 units, average 14,336. The distribution by continent: increase in Africa (+ 271), America (+ 108), Europe (+ 66) and Oceania (+ 181). The only decrease in Asia (- 264).
The number of Catholics per priest in the world increased by 39 units, average 3.130. There are increases in Africa (+ 7), America (+ 74); Europe (+ 22), Oceania (+ 52). Asia unvaried (-13). 

Ecclesiastical circumscriptions and mission stations 
The number of ecclesiastical circumscriptions are 10 more than the previous year to 3,016 with new circumscriptions created in Africa (+3), America (+3), Asia (+3), Europe (+1). Oceania unvaried.
Mission stations with a resident priest number 2,140 (581 more than in the previous year). Decrease was registered only in Africa (- 63), while and an increase was registered in America (+ 98), Asia (+ 151) Europe (+ 364) and Oceania (+ 31).
Mission Stations without a resident priest decreased in number by 513 units, to 142.487. Increase were registered in Africa (+ 135), Europe (+ 456), and Oceania (+ 91). The number dropped in America (- 35) and Asia (- 1.160).

The total number of Bishops in the world increased by 49 units, to 5,353. Diocesan Bishops and Religious Bishops increased in numbers. Diocesan Bishops number 4,063 (27 more), while Religious Bishops number 1,263 (22 more).
The increase in diocesan Bishops is registered in America (+ 20); Asia (+ 9), Europe (+ 3), while a decrease was registered in Africa (- 2) and Oceania (- 3). The number of religious Bishops increased in all continents except Asia (- 7): Africa (+ 5), America (+ 14), Europe (+ 8), Oceania (+ 2).

The total number of priests in the world decreased even this year, to 414.969 (- 687). The only continents which registered a major decrease was again Europe (- 2.583). There was also a decrease in America (-589). Increases were registered in Africa (+ 1.181) and Asia (+ 1.304) Oceania unvaried. Diocesan priests increased by 317 units, reaching a total of 281.831 with a decrease only in Europe (- 1.611) and increases in Africa (+ 983); America (+ 180), Asia (+ 744) and Oceania (+ 21). The number of Religious priests decreased by 1.004 units to a total 133.138. Increases were registered as in recent years in Africa (+ 198) and in Asia (+ 560), whereas numbers dropped in America (- 769), Europe (- 972), Oceania (- 21)

Permanent Deacons 
Permanent deacons in the world increased by 1.057 units to 46.312. The highest increase was registered again in America (+842) followed by Europe (+145), Oceania (+45), Africa (+22) and Asia (+3).
Permanent Diocesan deacons in the world are 45.609, with an overall increase of 982 units. They increased on every continent except in Asia (- 38): Africa (+ 36), America (+ 807), Europe (+130) and Oceania (+ 47).
Religious permanent deacons number 703, increased by 75 units compared to the previous year, with decreases in Africa (- 14) and Oceania (- 2), increases in Asia (+41), America (+35) and Europe (+15).

Men and women religious 
The number of non-religious priests decreased for the fourth consecutive year by 1.604 units to 52.625. Situation: a decrease was registered in all continents: in Africa (-50), America (-503), Asia (-373), Europe (-614) and Oceania (-64). Even this year there is an overall decrease in the number of women religious by 10.885 units to 659.445. An increase was registered in Africa (+ 943) and Asia (+ 533), decrease in America (- 3.775), Europe (-8.370) and Oceania (-216).

Members of secular institutes, male and female
Members of male secular institutes number 618 with a decrease of (-79) after an increase compared to the previous year. At a continental level there is an increase in Africa (+2) and Asia (+ 4), while a decrease in America (- 77), and Europe (-8), Oceania unvaried also this year.
The members of female secular institutes decreased this year, by 459 units to a total of 22.400 members. Increase only in Africa (+ 113), while a decrease was registered in America (-33), Asia (-35) Europe (- 502) and Oceania (-2).

Lay missionaries and Catechists 
The number of lay missionaries in the world is 354.743 units, with an overall increase of 2.946 units in particular in America (+ 4.728) and Africa (+759). Decrease was registered in Asia (- 1.569), Europe (-921) and Oceania (- 55). Catechists in the world decreased by 36.364 units to a total of 3.086.289. An increase was registered in only in Africa (+ 10.669). A decrease was registered in America (- 20.407), Asia (- 12.896), Europe (- 13.417) and Oceania (- 313).

Major seminarians 
The number of major seminarians, diocesan and religious decreased this year, they are globally 683 units, reaching a total of 116.160. Increases occurred in Africa (+1.455) and in Asia (+9), while even this year a decrease in America (-1.123), Europe (-964) and Oceania (-60). 
Major diocesan seminarians number 71.117 (+999 more than the previous year) and Religious major seminarians 45.043 (-1.682). Diocesan seminarians increased in Africa (+1.059), America (+16) and Asia (+310). Decreases are in Europe (-381) and Oceania (-5). Religious Seminarians increased only in Africa (+396), while decreased in America (-1.139), Asia (-301), Europe (-583) and Oceania (-55).

Minor seminarians 
The number of minor seminarians, diocesan and religious this year decreased by 2.735 units to 101.616. Overall decrease on all continents: Africa (-69), America (-1.299), Asia (-871), Europe (-581), Oceania (-5).
Minor diocesan seminarians number 78.369 (-1.729) and religious seminarians number 23.247 (-1.006). The number of diocesan minor seminarians increased in Africa (+ 236) and Oceania (+7). Decrease in America (-684), Asia (-988), Europe (-300), Religious minor seminarians increased in number only in Asia (+207), while decreases in Africa (-305), America (-615), Europe (-281) and Oceania (-12).

Catholic schools and Education 
In the field of education, the Catholic Church runs 72.826 kindergartens with 7.313.370 pupils; 96.573 primary schools with 35.125.124 pupils; 47.862 secondary schools with 19.956.347 pupils. The Church also cares for 2.509.457 high school pupils, and 3.049.548 university students.

Catholic charity and healthcare centres
Charity and healthcare centres run in the world by the Church include: 5.287 hospitals, most of them in America (1.530) and Africa (1.321); 15.937 dispensaries, mainly in Africa (5.177); America (4.430) and Asia (3.300); 610 Care Homes for people with Leprosy, mainly in Asia (352) and Africa (192); 15.722 Homes for the elderly, or the chronically ill or people with a disability, mainly in Europe (8.127) and America (3.763); 9.552 orphanages, mainly in Asia (3.660); 11.758 creches, mainly in Asia (3.295) and America (3.191); 13.897 marriage counselling centres, mainly in Europe (5.664) and America (4.984); 3.506 social rehabilitation centres and 35.746 other kinds of institutions. 
Ecclesiastical Circumscriptions dependent on the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples 
The ecclesiastical Circumscriptions dependent on the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (Cep) are 1.114 with an increase of 3 circumscriptions compared to last year. Most of the ecclesiastical circumscriptions are mainly in Africa (511) and in Asia (482), followed by America (75) and Oceania (46).
(S.L. – Agenzia Fides, 21/10/2018)

Special Dossier Catholic Church statistics 2018 ->
Posted by: Fr Chris | September 26, 2018

Resources on Pius XII and the Holocaust

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Pope Pius XII, pontiff from 1939-1958 

Want to hear Pius’ voice? This film shows his address in English to Allied soldiers who liberated Rome in 1944:

I did a presentation for university students on Sept 25, 2018, on Pius XII and the Holocaust. The video of my talk will be on You Tube on our CAFE Catholic Apologetics Evangelization Fellowship Channel in Fall 2018  ‘

Below are first books, and then good internet resources, that cover his years as nuncio in Germany (Munich 1917- 1920, Berlin 1920-1929), Secretary of State at the Holy See, and Pope. These deal with the Empire, Weimar Republic, and the National Socialists (Nazis) in Germany,  and his actions on behalf of German and Italian Jews while working in the Vatican Secretariat (1929-1939), and his actions as Pontiff during the War (1939-1945). Pius himself questioned if he did enough, or spoke out enough, but at the same worried that if he was too open in speaking, that the Jews would suffer even more.

These should all be of interest to anyone who wants to read more on the topic. I have to say that I am amazed at the amount of misinformation, or outright lies on the internet, e.g., “the Catholic Church did nothing to help Jews during the Holocaust.”  It is a difficult area to read about, but important given the rise in Anti-Semitism in Europe and elsewhere, and the actual denying that the Holocaust even took place! 

Pius XII Resources

Bartley, Peter. Catholics  Confronting Hitler.

Blet, Pierre, ed. Pius XII and the Second World War

Bottum and Dalin, eds. The Pius War: Response to the Critics of Pius XII

Caroll-Abbing, John Patrick. But For the Grace of God. Autobiography includes this priest’s work in the Italian Resistance and the rescue of Jews in occupied Italy 1943-44.

Chadwick, Owen. Britain and the Vatican in the Second World War.

Dalin, Rabbi David. The Myth of Hitler’s Pope

Gallo, Patrick. Pius XII, the Holocaust and the Revisionists.

Harris, Robin. Stepinac: His Life and Times

Krupp, Gary, ed. Pope Pius XII and World II: The Documented Truth.

Kurzman, Dan. A Special Mission: Hitler’s Secret Plot to Seize the Vatican and Kidnap Pius the XII.

Pacepa, Ion. Disinformation: Former Spy Chief Reveals Secret Strategies for Undermining Freedom, Attacking Religion, and Promoting Terrorism (former spy chief for Romania and USSR)

Riebling, Mark. Church of Spies.

Rychlak, Ronald. Hitler, the War, and the Pope.

Sanchez, Jose. Pius XII and the Holocaust: Understanding the Concerns.

Tittman, Harold.  Inside the Vatican of Pius XII: Memoir of an American Diplomat During World War II.

“Roman Convents Opened to Jews During the Occupation: Orders from the Top. L’Osservatore Romano, 30 January, 2015, p. 2.

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Breslau Synagogue ablaze, Kristallnacht, 1938  Did Pius XII Lie to Save Jews? Details about the roundup of Jews in Rome in 1943  Catholics and the Holocaust Hiatt Collection at Holy Cross College with links to other sites (some of which are not the best, FYI)  New Book Defends Pius XII, Attacks Critics  Nizkor Project: Timeline with links on how Nazis came to power in Germany   This link:    includes information on attacks against the Catholic Church,-the-Pope-who-opposed-Hitler-17173.html   Deals with the Black Legend of Pius XII   Links to articles in First Things on Pope Pius XII, the Nazis, the Holocaust and his role as pope during the war.   Doino, William. Papal Rescue in Wartime Rome Claims that Pius XII was framed gaining support – 1

Pave the Way Foundation:

-Contains the entire French-language series of wartime Vatican documents and letters 1939-1945;

-relevant copies of L’Osservatore Romano in Italian, 1938 – 1945;

-19 video interviews with researchers or co-workers; and  120 collections of documents from the Holy See, Germany, Italy, the American OSS, letters, testimonies of survivors;

-Argentina’s role in hiding Nazi war criminals; radio interviews;

-article on the concordat of 1933. You have to register to use the site, but there is no fee.   Critique by William Doino of the various charges against Pius XII during the war The Good Samaritan: Jewish Praise for Pius XII  The Cold War How Moscow framed Pope Pius XII as pro-Nazi In 1934 The Pope Hired a German Jew  Pius XII: The Martyrdom of Silence Graham, Robert. Pius XII’s defense of Jews and Others 1944-45 Dalin, Rabbi David. Pius XII Saved More Jews Than Schindler  Abbot Marcone and  Croatia  Pius XII and the Armenian Genocide  Hitler’s Mad Plot to Sack the Vatican Martin Gilbert on Pope Pius XII  Russian article on refugees in Castel Gandolfo Flight from Defeat: Who Helped the Germans Escape Europe?   Holy See’s Apostolic Visitor intervened on behalf of Croatian Jews

file:///C:/Users/hp15/Documents/5601-10936-1-SM.pdf     Ventresca, Robert ” The Vatican Was For Us Like a Mountain”Reassessing the Vatican’s Role in Jewish Relief and Rescue during the Holocaust (2014).

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Posted by: Fr Chris | September 14, 2018

The Holy Cross and Our Situation Today

September 14, 2018

Today’s official feast day title is The Exaltation of the Holy and Life-Giving Cross.  This reflects the paradox that Saint Paul writes about – the Cross is a stumbling block to pagans, Jews, Muslims, nonbelievers of all kinds. Why would a merciful and loving God require the death of His Divine and Human Son in such a terrible way?

Ave Crux, Spes Unica! is an old Latin phrase: Hail O Cross, our unique hope! The instrument of death becomes an instrument of salvation. In imperial Japan, they crucified people who were discovered to be secret Catholics, part of a network of faithful that waited nearly 200 years for Catholic missionaries to return. In the Soviet Gulag, there were cases of priests nailed to doors and then doused with water in the middle of winter, leaving them crucified and frozen to death. Muslims routinely call Christians as Worshippers of the Cross.  In the recent upsurge of Islamic fundamentalism, many Christians have been crucified on church doors or along the roads to punish them for continuing to believe in Jesus  Christ, and to frighten remaining  Christians into converting. In all of these examples and more, the Cross on which Jesus died has been used by  pagan, communist, and Muslim regimes to frighten people, where instead it simply increased their resolve to imitate their Savior by accepting such a death in His honor, confident of what awaited them after death.

The original Cross is said to have been buried, and Saint Helen to have been directed to it during excavations of Jerusalem in the early 300s. A sick person who touched the cross was cured, but when a funeral procession went by, Helen had them stopped and touched the cross to the corpse. The man immediately came back to life. The instrument of death gives life and healing, both literally in these two cases but also spiritually and psychologically for millions over the last twenty centuries.

The Gospel tells us that Jesus was crucified outside the walls of the city – that was a death reserved for the worst criminals. The Jewish leadership wanted to get rid of Him and His miracles, His challenges to their authority, His constant call to conversion. The Romans were the only ones with the authority to kill him, and do so because the procurator is too weak to stand up for the authentic truth. The apostles take off, except for the youngest, who stands with the Blessed Mother and the other women. We must be willing to stand at the Cross in our lives, with St. John and Mary and the others – we can’t run away. From the Cross comes the Church and we are staying with this Church founded by Jesus Christ, not by some ordinary guy who wants to make his own theology.

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Jesus dies in order to bring salvation to the entire world, not only the Jews.  The cross is a door. Through it we will find redemption and God’s abiding love. Stay stuck in front of it and we may be moved by Christ’s great suffering, but not find the resurrection. Saint Edith Stein wrote that we must embrace the Cross, go into the Cross, and only then will we find the power of God on the other side. In His death, which He willingly went to, Jesus makes the weak strong, makes sinners into holy people. Jesus defeats death itself, conquering Satan and all his wicked plots, to emerge triumphant as the king of kings, the risen Lord.

The pouring out of Jesus’ blood and water from the wound in His side is very important, which is why the Gospel records it. At this stage, Christ is dead. He had been in a long, brutal passion, with neither food nor water since the Last Supper. He has been tortured, flogged, abused psychologically in the mocking, and forced to drag a heavy weight over cobblestone streets while His blood and sweat pour out of His body. Then He is nailed to the cross, and lifted up, like the bronze serpent of Moses, for the people to look upon. But when the soldier wants to insure that Jesus is truly dead, he runs the spear through His side into the cavity around His holy heart.  Nothing should really come out, because by that point the body is exhausted. So everyone is surprised by not only the fluid coming out, but the amount and force: it gushes out, pours out, floods out. From that wound, the Church is born. That wound from what traditional Catholic devotion calls the Sacred Heart gives out water, which baptizes us, and blood of the Holy Eucharist,  which feeds us.

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“Blood of Christ, inebriate me; Water from the side of Christ, wash me” is from the ancient Anima Christi prayer. His Precious Blood, which we will receive tonight, is that same blood that poured out onto the streets of Jerusalem and soaked the wood of the holy Cross. This Precious Blood should fill me, enliven me, indeed cause me great joy, as a testimony to the awesome love of Christ, willing to die so as to bring about my salvation; the incredible humility of the Holy Trinity, that one Person would take on our weak humanity in fullness so as to save us.

The Church is seen as being born from the wound in the side of our crucified Lord. Right now the Body of Christ is suffering, as decades of sexual abuse of children, teenagers, and adults at the hands of priests and even bishops continues to come to light. The Church is being wounded by the sins of some of its clergy – only some, but enough to do serious damage to the reputation of Catholicism and to thousands upon thousands of souls, and through the financial payments of compensation and for therapy of victims, to cripple the Church’s charitable and educational work in many dioceses. The exalted nature of how some clergy live and think of themselves, the failure to weed out abusive personalities, the STILL ongoing emphasis on protecting the institution rather than the souls and bodies of the faithful, the isolation some clergy lived in, and the failure to stop predators when they were first discovered all contribute to the mess we are in. It is a profound moment when the Body of Christ is being attacked by these sins, and the only one benefiting so far is Satan.

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Today is a day of abstinence for us anyway as it is Friday, and a day of expiation nationally for these sins. Personally I think every bishop involved in any cover up who is still around should be kneeling in his cathedral facing the people and prostrating himself on the floor in complete sorrow, and not in fancy vestments either but sackcloth and ashes. Whether or not that ever happens, we as the members of the Body, some of us having been personally affected by these sins, all of us being spiritually wounded, must remember that it is from that sacred wound that the Church was born on Mount Calvary. The sacred wound gave us life. This wound can again give life – if the leadership of the Church is willing to be washed in the blood and water and pray again with that ancient prayer, “Blood of Christ, inebriate me; Water from the side of Christ, wash me” and listen to the Holy Spirit’s guidance and act accordingly. For ourselves, may we each listen to that same Holy Spirit, and move forward. Let us work at being healers for those who are wounded directly and indirectly. Let us listen to those who are suffering. And let us take our strength from a God Who was willing to suffer alongside us and die as we die, in order that we find peace in this life, and eternal happiness with Him, the Virgin Mary, and all the saints in the life to come.

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