Saturday, January 22, 2011

St. Agnes Virgin, pray for us

Yesterday, January 21, was the feast day of St. Agnes.

She was a young girl of the 4th century who consecrated her life to Christ. She was exceedingly beautiful and many men sought to marry her, but her only desire was to be in holy matrimony with her beloved Jesus.

When a young nobleman sought to make her his bride, she refused. He took his vengeance by having her imprisoned for the crime of being a Christian. She suffered tortures but refused to renounce her belief in Christ. She died a virgin at age thirteen and was a highly revered martyr of the early Church.

St. Agnes exemplifies the love of God by which all of us are called to lead our lives.

She also exemplifies Christian morality in an immoral world. This young girl teaches us to remain holy in the midst of a world that constantly challenges our faith. Even as the secular society attempts to impose standards of promiscuity on the consciences of young people, the Church continues to stand for an uncompromising chastity.

The symbol of St. Agnes is a white lamb, representing purity. As we prepare for the annual March for Life to end abortion, it is fitting to address our prayers to the patron saint of chastity.

Further reading:

Monday, January 17, 2011

Beatification of Pope John Paul II

"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."
 – Matthew 5:7

The news that the world has been awaiting was announced recently by the Vatican. Pope John Paul II will be beatified on Divine Mercy Sunday – May 1, 2011.

Beatification is one of the steps towards sainthood – first a person is declared venerable; then with beatification the person is elevated to the status of blessed; the highest status is that of a saint, which is recognized by the Church through canonization.

The choice of Divine Mercy Sunday for the beatification of John Paul II has particular significance. Who can forget the day of John Paul's passing from this earth? There were immense crowds of worshipers in St. Peter's Square praying for His Holiness. The news – though it was anticipated – came as a shock. He passed away on the vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday in 2005, less than six years ago – April 2, 2005.

Divine Mercy Sunday is celebrated on the Sunday after Easter. It was officially instituted by Pope John Paul II on April 30, 2000 – which was itself the first Divine Mercy Sunday of the new millennium.

The celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday comes to us through the revelations of Sister Maria Faustina Kowalska. She was beatified by Pope John Paul II on April 18, 1993, and was canonized on April 30, 2000.

It was during her canonization ceremony that John Paul announced the official recognition of Divine Mercy Sunday by the Catholic Church. He pronounced, "It is important that we accept the whole message that comes to us from the word of God on this Second Sunday of Easter, which from now on throughout the Church will be called 'Divine Mercy Sunday.' "

"Mercy" was an early theme of John Paul's pontificate. His second encyclical, released on November 30, 1980, was titled "Dives in misericordia" ("Rich in Mercy"). Early on in this encyclical he reminds us of the words of St. Paul to the Ephesians.
"Among these we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of body and mind, and so we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God -- not because of works, lest any man should boast."
 – Ephesians 2:3-9
As the Pope points out, the concepts of grace and mercy are antithetical to our modern mentality.
The present-day mentality, more perhaps than that of people in the past, seems opposed to a God of mercy, and in fact tends to exclude from life and to remove from the human heart the very idea of mercy. The word and the concept of "mercy" seem to cause uneasiness in man, who, thanks to the enormous development of science and technology, never before known in history, has become the master of the earth and has subdued and dominated it.
The truth, revealed in Christ, about God the "Father of mercies," enables us to "see" Him as particularly close to man especially when man is suffering, when he is under threat at the very heart of his existence and dignity. And this is why, in the situation of the Church and the world today, many individuals and groups guided by a lively sense of faith are turning, I would say almost spontaneously, to the mercy of God. They are certainly being moved to do this by Christ Himself, who through His Spirit works within human hearts.
"Mercy" raises many question marks to our modern way of thinking. How can someone receive something just by asking for it? Shouldn't that person have to earn it?

And because of our culture's aversion to God himself, we naturally have questions like: Shouldn't Man be the source of mercy, rather than God? Is there some way for me to obtain mercy without having to go through God?

Mercy is equally troublesome because it is wrapped up in the concepts of grace and faith. But if we can fight our way through all that confusion that has been planted in our minds by the secular world, then we can begin to find the tranquil path which leads us closer to him; towards His infinite Divine Mercy.

And then finally we begin to understand that Mercy is Love; Love is Mercy. Compare the words of Pope John Paul II at the canonization of St. Faustina with those of Luke 10:27.
By this act of canonization of Sr. Faustina I intend today to pass this message on to the third millennium. I pass it on to all people, so that they will learn to know ever better the true face of God and the true face of their neighbor. In fact, love of God and love of one's neighbor are inseparable.
"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself."
Luke 10:27
We give God our Love, He showers us with His Mercy.


Mary, Mother of Mercy

Salve, Regina, Mater misericordiae,
vita, dulcedo, et spes nostra, salve.
ad te clamamus exsules filii Hevae,
ad te suspiramus, gementes et flentes
in hac lacrimarum valle.

Eia, ergo, advocata nostra, illos tuos
misericordes oculos ad nos converte;
et Jesum, benedictum fructum ventris tui,
nobis post hoc exsilium ostende.
O clemens, O pia, O dulcis Virgo Maria.

Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy,
our life, our sweetness and our hope.
To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve;
to thee do we send up our sighs,
mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.

Turn then, most gracious advocate,
thine eyes of mercy toward us;
and after this our exile,
show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.
Epilogue – John Paul's Mission of Mercy

On May 13, 1981 Pope John Paul II nearly lost his life at the hands of an assassin's bullet. During his convalescence it is reported that he had the Diary of Sister Faustina read to him in Polish. His first trip outside of Rome following his recovery was to the Shrine of Merciful Love in Collevalenza, Italy on November 22, 1981. It was a year after he had published his encyclical on mercy which he later revealed to be inspired by St. Faustina's writings. There he delivered these words.
"A year ago I published the encyclical Dives in Misericordia. This circumstance made me come to the Sanctuary of Merciful Love today. By my presence I wish to reconfirm, in a way, the message of that encyclical. I wish to read it again and deliver it again.

Right from the beginning of my ministry in St. Peter’s See in Rome, I considered this message [Divine Mercy] my special task. Providence has assigned it to me in the present situation of man, the Church and the world. It could be said that precisely this situation assigned that message to me as my task before God."
It should be understood also that St. Faustina's vision of Divine Mercy has an apocalyptic component. In the revelations she received it was explained to her that this gift of Divine Mercy was a last hope for His people before the coming wrath of God. Pope John Paul II was certainly aware of this, which makes his message all the more vital.

Further reading:

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Two Hearts beating as one

"So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you."
 – John 16:22

As I was plodding through the snow today and began to grow weary, I could feel my heart beginning to pound harder. As I searched for inner strength to take my next step, an image came to mind.

I have been meditating on the Sacred Heart of Jesus by way of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. The essence is to transform one's own heart into the heart of Jesus; or to ask Jesus to enter into one's body so that His Sacred Heart beats in place of one's own.

I have also been meditating on the Immaculate Heart of Mary. As I mentioned previously, I repeat the words of the Virgin at Lourdes, "I am the Immaculate Conception" ten times, while meditating on her Immaculate Heart.

Today as I felt drained of energy, I imagined that both Mary's Heart and Jesus' Heart were beating in my chest. As my left foot stepped forward it was Mary's Heart beating, and as my right foot stepped forward in the snow it was Jesus' Heart beating in my chest.

First the blood pumped through Mary's tender Heart. It was warmed and filled with a mother's love. And then the blood pumped through Jesus' Heart where it was fortified and strengthened.

Together, they lifted my spirits and gave me the inner strength to continue.

And then my mind turned to Saint Paul, who has been in my thoughts lately. After many years of shunning the teachings of the Apostle, I have come to sympathize with him and appreciate his great personal sacrifice and his love for the early Church.

I imagine that he himself must have felt the Sacred Heart of Jesus beating within him. How else could he have persevered for so many years – journeying to so many distant lands? And in his love for his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, he must have also felt beating within him the tender heart of Our Lady.
"We have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love which you have for all the saints.... We have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding to lead a life worthy of the Lord."
 – The Letter of Saint Paul to the Colossians 1:4,9-10
Those two hearts that shared one body during Mary's pregnancy, reshaped the world.

Friday, January 14, 2011

First Friday of Ordinary Time, MMXI

They shall build up the ancient ruins,
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.

Isaiah 61:4

Man painting Crucifix of ruined Cathedral in Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Today is Friday. As I was praying the Rosary and meditating on the Sorrowful Mysteries, I was reminded that it was on a Friday that Our Lord was crucified.

This is the first week of Ordinary time in the Catholic Liturgical year. "Ordinary" in this case refers to the ordinal numbers, which is just another way of saying the "counting numbers".

The Christmas season, which just ended, came to its conclusion with Sunday's Feast of the Baptism of Christ. Apparently this is also the first Sunday of Ordinary time, because this coming Sunday is counted as the second Sunday of Ordinary time. (I suppose this duality of the last Sunday of the Christmas season, and the first Sunday of Ordinary time is one of those minor mysteries of the Catholic Church.)

I was speaking in an earlier post about signs. The baptism of Christ by St. John the Baptist at the Jordan River is one of those signs. It is both visible and invisible. There is an outward sign which is visible and there is an inward reality which is invisible. While we tend to focus our attention on what is accessible to our physical senses, the more important lesson for our minds to grasp is what we cannot see.

Not only can we not see it, but we cannot describe it. It remains a mystery.

The baptism of Christ signifies the beginning of His public ministry. It is the fitting end of the Christmas season begun with the nativity scene. This is what the people of God had been waiting for – Christ, the anointed one, proclaiming the arrival of the Kingdom of God.

As Jesus performs miracles (signs) many people come to believe, but there are also many who reject His message. From the very beginning of His public ministry, there are those who seek to kill Him.
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and he went to the synagogue, as his custom was, on the sabbath day. And he stood up to read; and there was given to him the book of the prophet Isaiah. He opened the book and found the place where it was written,

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord."

And he closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

And all spoke well of him, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth; and they said, "Is not this Joseph's son?"

And he said to them, "Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, `Physician, heal yourself; what we have heard you did at Caper'na-um, do here also in your own country.'"

And he said, "Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his own country. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Eli'jah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when there came a great famine over all the land; and Eli'jah was sent to none of them but only to Zar'ephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Eli'sha; and none of them was cleansed, but only Na'aman the Syrian."

When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and put him out of the city, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw him down headlong.

But passing through the midst of them he went away.

 – Luke 4:16-30
At the time that God has chosen, Jesus submits himself to God's will and delivers himself up to be crucified. This is the Passion of the Christ. It is the universal symbol (sign) of Christianity – the Crucifix; the Cross.

As Christians, we all understand that Christ died for our sins; that he sacrificed Himself for us. He is the Agnus Dei, the sacrificial Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

What we don't see – and what the Bible does not tell us specifically about – is the spiritual torment which Christ suffered, far beyond the physical torment that He experienced. From the Apostle's Creed we get a glimpse of His spiritual ordeal as we learn that "He descended into Hell".

At that moment, Satan and the evil forces of the world must have thought that they had triumphed, but "on the third day" God emerged triumphant through the Resurrection of Christ.

This is the Gospel – the good news – that God triumphed over Evil; that the light overcame the darkness.

There is a dark shadow over the world today. It is apparent to anyone who is listening to God's message. It has grown from a thin veil to a dense fog. But there is also the shining light of Christianity that is growing and penetrating the fog.

In times like these, we cannot be neutral; those that are not with God are against Him. When Jesus was asked how one could attain eternal life, he affirmed the truth of God's commandments.
"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself."
 – Luke 10:27
This is the opposite of the message that we receive daily through the media. We are told to love ourselves. And we are told that each of us is capable of becoming our own personal deity.

Both of these opposing messages cannot be true. The way in which we live our lives will be profoundly impacted by our choice of which messenger to follow. Do we follow God's messenger, Jesus Christ, or do we follow the messenger of the secular world? It's a choice that each of us has to make.

I know this is very "preachy", and I know that Easter is a long way off. We haven't even begun Lent yet. This is just the first Friday of Ordinary time after Christmas, but I'm eagerly anticipating Easter this year. It was last year on Palm Sunday that I began to attend Mass regularly for the first time in my life.

This year, MMXI, I have resolved to pray the Rosary everyday and so far I have honored that promise to the Virgin Mary. I asked for nothing in return, but what I have received is a tranquility of the spirit and a joy and happiness that I have never experienced before. And along with that has come a renewed sense of energy and of optimism. And a desire to help others and in so doing to share that gift with others.

Prayer request: Please remember Haiti in your prayers.
"For the sake of His Sorrowful Passion, have Mercy on us and on the whole world."
 – from Chaplet of Divine Mercy

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Haiti: a year after

"[Who] proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?" He said, "The one who showed mercy on him." And Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."
 – Luke 10:36-37

I am growing in awareness of the disaster that struck Haiti one year ago today. And which the Haitian people are still experiencing in their daily lives.

There are a million people in Haiti living in tents. This is a year after, and after millions of dollars have been donated to help the victims of the earthquake.

I was speaking with my neighbor, who is himself Haitian, and he was quite openly disapproving of the manner in which the NGOs (non-governmental relief organizations) have handled the crisis. He visited there sometime around August and was struck by how little had been done to directly help the people of Haiti.

A similar impression was related by my parish priest who had just come back from a visit to Haiti. From his description it seems that the conditions are as if the earthquake had just happened yesterday.

Christian groups – and especially the Catholic Church – have been among the top charities sending funds to help the Haitian people. Haiti is 80% Catholic. Today, Pope Benedict XVI sent an additional aid of one million dollars to Haiti.

If the answer was just to send more money, then there would be reason for optimism. But already billions of dollars have been pledged. Much of that money remains unspent.

Haiti is a reminder to us that there is something terribly wrong with our society. We seem unwilling and incapable to really stretch out a helping hand to our neighbors. We delegate this task to others as if it were something detestable.

There is a huge gulf between the Christian moral teachings that our society professes to believe in and our daily lives. Charity is a word that is despised by liberals and conservatives alike. We are quick to offer excuses as to why this is true.

What seems to be lacking is a real Christian spiritual foundation for our society. And in Haiti we see the consequences of this as it directly effects the lives of millions of people.

Imagine if we were a society that is truly based on the love, faith and charity that Christ taught us. We would never allow our brothers and sisters to suffer like those in Haiti have suffered over this past year.

The world needs to change; we need to examine our lives and our priorities and begin to live like true disciples of Christ. The change begins with prayer, for ourselves and for those in Haiti who are suffering. Once there is a real transformation of our hearts, then God will take care of the rest.

Politics is not going to change the situation; economics is not going to change the situation. It will take a much more powerful force to bring about any real and lasting change.

Please pray every day for Haiti – the young and old, the men and women; especially the poor – those living in tents. Keep them in your thoughts. And ask them to pray for us.

Monday, January 10, 2011

"I am the Immaculate Conception"

"Que soy era Immaculada Counceptiou" (Original Patois)
"Je suis l'Immaculée Conception" (French)
"Yo soy La Inmaculada Concepción" (Spanish)
"I am the Immaculate Conception" (English)

These are the words of the Virgin Mary that appeared at Lourdes to Bernadette in 1858.

The doctrine that Mary was born without sin had been part of the Christian faith for many centuries, but it had never been officially pronounced by the Catholic Church until 1854 by Pope Pius IX.

I have asked Mary to be my spiritual director, and to guide me in a deepening of my faith. Today, I received a gift of a bit of advice. It is simply this:
Say on a decade of the Rosary the words, "I am the Immaculate Conception". Or you can just say these words ten times, while counting on your fingers. And at the same time contemplate the Immaculate Heart of Mary
Faith is not something that can be taught; it must be experienced.

Mary, herself, experienced the birth, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. And yet all of these outward physical events would in themselves be meaningless, without the inner faith which she experienced in her spiritual life.

For those of us seeking higher spiritual fulfillment, Mary is the ultimate example for us to follow.

In her womb, the heart of Our Lord Jesus and her own truly beat as one.

As we pray to be able to transform ourselves into models of Christ, so that our hearts may beat as one with the Sacred Heart of Jesus; we can follow the path illuminated by the footsteps of Mary. There we will also find the footprints of the saints that have preceded us.

Immaculate Heart of Mary

Oh, Immaculate Heart of Mary, guide us to the light of your Son.
"And a sword will pierce through your own soul also."
 – Luke 2:35

Related posts

Friday, January 7, 2011

A leap of faith

For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith.
 – 1 John 5:4

There came a man full of leprosy; and when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and besought him, "Lord, if you will, you can make me clean." And He stretched out his hand, and touched him, saying, "I will; be clean." And immediately the leprosy left him.
 – Luke 5:12-13

Blue Heron nest

One of my readers, Ride, asked me a question about how to respond to non-believers. And especially those that mock the faith.

My answer was not to try to reason with them, but to ask them about their own personal experiences with religion and spirituality in their lives.

I'm not one that is attracted by the works of Christian apologists. They attempt to provide a rational argument for belief in Christ and His Church. There is nothing wrong with their arguments, but I don't think that faith can ever be acquired through reason.

In order to take the "leap of faith" we must be willing to stop clinging to our own personal egotistical belief systems, which prevent us from surrendering to God's will.

One of the temptations that Christ faced in the desert was to throw himself off of a precipice to prove that the angels would come to His rescue and keep Him from crashing to earth. Christ refused. Not because He had any doubt in the capacity of God's angels to save Him, but because it would have been a meaningless and self serving demonstration of His faith in God.

But at some point in our lives we all need to walk out on the precipice and let go of all our worldly attachments and allow ourselves to continue over the edge. Knowing that we are leaping into the loving and merciful arms of our Lord Jesus Christ.

And as we leap we need to say, "Jesus, I trust in You!" These are the words of Divine Mercy that were revealed to Sister María Faustina Kowalska. A simple nun with little education.

The hurdles and obstacles that stand in our way – that keep us from accepting the faith – are not rational ones. They may appear that way. And rational arguments may be successful in lowering some of those hurdles so that they are easier for us to clear.

But without a full act of submission to the power of God, those hurdles will always remain and we will constantly trip over the same unseen obstacles.

Picture a fledgling bird in the nest preparing to take its first flight. It has to trust in a power higher than itself that it will not go crashing to the ground. As it approaches the edge and looks down from a great height, it cannot help but feel a paralyzing fear.

The Virgin Mary was faced with such a moment when the archangel Gabriel appeared before her. Her response was to submit fully to God's will. She said, "I am the handmaid of the Lord." Which can also be translated as "I am the Lord's servant." (Luke 1:38)

Mary said "Yes." And her life was forever changed.

With faith, the hurdles and the obstacles disappear as we soar above them. They are still there, but they become irrelevant small specks in the distance below.

The only way to come to faith is through a personal acceptance of God in our lives. We must first understand how He is calling us. And then respond to that call. There are times in all of our lives when we have felt a closeness to God. It is a matter of recognizing those moments and events, and accepting them for what they are.

God has a plan for each and every one of us. We are all God's children. We are all called to greatness. Our lives are touched by His hand. He showers graces upon us.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

I see His blood upon the rose

I discovered this poem by Joseph Mary Plunkett in the Christian Prayer book, which I just recently acquired to be able to say the Liturgy of the Hours. I was quite surprised and inspired when I found it in the back appendix on page 2060.

The words immediately suggested a melody to me, and I began working on composing a song. I found that I did not have to change the words at all, except for a very minor one. Where the original says, "and carven by His power, Rocks are His written words." I wrote instead, "and carved by His power, The rocks are His written words."

I see His blood upon the rose
© 2011 PublicVigil
Lyrics by Joseph Mary Plunkett
Music by PublicVigil

I see His blood upon the rose
And in the stars the glory of His eyes,
His body gleams amid eternal snows,
His tears fall from the skies.

I see His face in every flower;
The thunder and the singing of the birds
Are but His voice—and carved by His power
The rocks are His written words.

All pathways by His feet are worn,
His strong heart stirs the ever-beating sea,
His crown of thorns is twined with every thorn,
His cross is every tree.

I see His blood upon the rose
And in the stars the glory of His eyes

After I had finished with the music, I went online to learn about Joseph Mary Plunket, the poet.

Joseph Mary Plunkett
Born in Dublin in 1887, Joseph Plunkett wrote many poems of rare mystical force. He must have been something of a mystic, attracted as he was to St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila and St. Francis de Sales. Plunkett was one of the signers of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic and was imprisoned by the English army. He was executed in 1916 for his part in the 1916 Rising. Shortly before his execution on the morning of May 4, he married his fiancée, Grace Gifford, in the jail’s chapel. Plunkett was 28 years old.

Because of his great love for the Incarnate Word and the Word’s close connection to all created things, Plunkett seemed to see Christ’s destiny and great love as forever entwined with this earth and this universe. There are images of earthly romance in this poem: the rose, the stars, the tears, the flowers reflecting the face of Christ, the singing birds. One also senses, I believe, the throbbing heart of the Bridegroom in “the ever-beating sea.”

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Taseer's death casts a pall over religious minorities in Pakistan

Salman Taseer with Asia Bibi (center)
By now you have all heard of the assassination of Salman Taseer. His confessed killer, Mumtaz Qadri, says unrepentantly that Taseer deserved to die for his opposition to Pakistan's "blasphemy" laws. And many Muslims in Pakistan apparently agree.
The increasing radicalisation of Pakistani society was today laid bare when mainstream religious organisations applauded the murder of Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, earlier this week and his killer was showered with rose petals as he appeared in court.
Qadri appeared in court, unrepentant, where waiting lawyers threw handfuls of rose petals over him and others in the crowd slapped his back and kissed his cheek as he was led in and out amid heavy security.
The assassination barely drew a raised eyebrow from the White House and the State Department. The most that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton could come up with was a pro forma statement of regret.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the assassination, saying Mr Taseer's death was "a great loss".

"I had the opportunity to meet Governor Taseer in Pakistan and I admired his work to promote tolerance and the education of Pakistan's future generations," she said.

"The United States remains committed to helping the government and people of Pakistan as they persevere in their campaign to bring peace and stability to their country."
There's nothing in Clinton's statement about the central issue surrounding the assassination of Taseer which is religious freedom. There is nothing demanding an end to Pakistan's "blasphemy" laws which are used to persecute Christians. There is nothing demanding the pardon and freedom of Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian condemned to death for her religious beliefs.

Just a few months ago Pope Benedict XVI spoke out publicly in support of Asia Bibi, saying that he felt a “spiritual closeness” to Bibi and her family. In the context of the outspoken public support for Taseer's assassin, one can imagine how the Pope's statement is viewed among the more conservative members of Pakistan's Muslim majority.
Mr Taseer was known for his positive stance towards better equality and rights for women and for minority faith groups. Several times he spoke out against the Blasphemy Law of Pakistan most notably during the recent case of Aasia Bibi, for whom he also demanded a pardon.

Today at his funeral thousands attended as his black coffin was draped with a flag of Pakistan and carried by military helicopter to its resting place at Calvary Ground Graveyard.

Although Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Interior Minister Rehman Malik represented the government and the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party, their were notable absentees. Those missing including President Asif Ali Zardari the President and close friend of Mr Taseer also missing were political rivals Nawaz and Shabaz Shariff from opposing Party Muslim League.
There is an investigation underway of the circumstances under which Taseer was publicly executed.
Elements of the case are suspicious such as how one member of the elite team was able to shoot the Governor without being killed himself. He was part of a 6 man crack team that were commissioned to protect Mr Taseer. Yet when retaliation shots were fired 5 innocent bystanders were shot dead and the killer was apprehended without wound. From outward appearances it would seem that the killing was a planned assassination that involved a larger party then so far uncovered.
The assassin, Qadri, who was one of the bodyguards assigned to protect Taseer was a member of the Elite Police which specializes in counter-terrorism and VIP security duties. The Elite Police are trained by the Special Service Group (SSG), also known as Black Storks,  which is a special operations military unit of the Pakistan Army.
Reports suggested that Qadri, 26, was a known radical in the police service who had previously been declared by his superiors to be unfit for guarding VIPs. He told interrogators he was proud to have killed a blasphemer.

Reports also said Qadri, part of Taseer's security force, had tipped off other guards about his plan to kill the Punjab governor. The other bodyguards did not seem to react as Qadri fired a whole clip of bullets into Taseer in a market in central Islamabad and then laid down his weapon.
The absolute support of some mainstream Muslim organizations for the assassination of Taseer is demonstrated in some of the following statements.
"Salman Taseer was himself responsible for his killing," Munawar Hasan, the head of Jamaat-e-Islami, one of the two big religious political parties, said. "Any Muslim worth the name could not tolerate blasphemy of the Prophet, as had been proved by this incident."

Qadri was in the Barelvi sect, which is followed by most Muslims in Pakistan. However, on the issue of the blasphemy law, the Barelvi clerics had joined hands with the pro-Taliban Deobandi. The issue was sparked by Taseer's championing of a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, who was sentenced to death for blasphemy late last year.

"No Muslim should attend the funeral or even try to pray for Salmaan Taseer," a statement from Jamaate Ahle Sunnat Pakistan, one of the biggest organisations of the Barelvi, representing 500 religious scholars, said. "We pay rich tributes and salute the bravery, valour and faith of Mumtaz Qadri."

Taseer's assassination showed how free speech has been curtailed in Pakistan. The religious scholars warned that others could meet the same fate.

"The supporter is as equally guilty as one who committed blasphemy," the Jamaate Ahle Sunnat Pakistan statement said. It added that adding politicians, the media and others should learn "a lesson from the exemplary death".

The impact on the public debate over Pakistan's "blasphemy" laws is devastating according to Catholic Archbishop Saldanha of Lahore, Pakistan.
The assassination of a Pakistani governor who opposed the country’s blasphemy law will make it “virtually impossible” for anyone to speak out against it, the Archbishop of Lahore has warned.
“We were very shocked to hear the news,” Archbishop Lawrence J. Saldanha of Lahore told Vatican Radio. “We feel that this is definitely a move against those who are opposing the blasphemy law.”

The governor was “a quite outstanding critic” of the blasphemy law and had called for its repeal several times.

The archbishop expressed the Catholic Church’s sadness at his murder. He reported that there is increasing intolerance of any form of dissent in Pakistan and less hope that the blasphemy law may be overturned.
Meanwhile, radical Islamic groups have called nationwide strikes to counter any effort to repeal the blasphemy law.

“Initially when the High Court sentenced Asia Bibi to death, many members of civil society spoke out against this law and there was a general sense that it needed to be repealed. Now that tide has turned,” Archbishop Saldanha said.

Catholics feel increasing marginalized, he explained, and have had to increase security around churches especially during Christmas.
He said Catholics “live from day to day, hoping and praying and quietly going about their business. And not making any waves. Certainly the mood is very gloomy, and there is fear and tension. But at the same time, they come to church and they get an uplifted feeling.”
On a personal note, I had written an article about Asia Bibi at the end of November 2010 following the Pope's declaration in support of her. This was the first time I had become aware of her case and the general persecution of Christians in Pakistan. I can only imagine the sinking feeling that must have come over Asia Bibi and her family when they heard of the death of Punjab governor Salman Taseer. Just imagine if they could do this to him, what would they do to Asia and her family?

There was a general feeling of optimism surrounding the case of Asia Bibi following the Pope's pronouncement, that she would be swiftly pardoned and freed from prison. Now all of that optimism is gone. Asia remains in prison and condemned to death, and her family is in hiding. Even if she is freed, she would not be able to continue living in Pakistan or any other predominately Muslim country for fear of her life

It is up to Christians around the world to rally in support of victims like Asia Bibi and to denounce Pakistan's blasphemy laws. Certainly with all the financial assistance that the the United States gives to Pakistan for their support in the war against terrorism, our government could apply pressure to Pakistan to bring about change leading to greater religious freedom. After all isn't that one of the goals of the war against terrorism?

In a statement on religious freedom which Pope Benedict XVI released on January 1st he stated:
"Each person must be able freely to exercise the right to profess and manifest, individually or in community, his or her own religion or faith, in public and in private, in teaching, in practice, in publications, in worship and in ritual observances. There should be no obstacles should he or she eventually wish to belong to another religion or profess none at all."

Related articles:

The Mall as a Temple

I hadn't been to a shopping mall in a while. In fact I don't remember the last time. Let's just say it has been many months.

Every Sunday I attend Mass. I see my fellow Catholics kneeling in prayer. I am surrounded by stained glass images of the Saints. I am absorbed in devotion to Christ in the company of not just those present, but also those who have entered into Heaven, and people all around the world who are hearing the same readings from the Bible that day, and even those souls in Purgatory who are striving to reach perfection so that they too can abide in God's eternal presence. This is what the Catholic Church calls "the communion of saints".

There are prayers and incense and candles. The priest is dressed in robes appropriate to the current season in the Church's liturgical year. There is music and singing that celebrates God's love for His Creation.

And then I went to the Mall.

There were people busily going from store to store with shopping bags filled with their purchases. There were bright signs that beckoned me to enter one store or another. There was music that stimulated the inner urge to buy. There were life size posters of models in the latest fashions.

And I realized that the Mall is the Temple of modern secular society.

It's where we go to worship our secular gods of materialism and wealth. And we pray for the money to be able to purchase the objects of our desire. We go through the rituals of exchanging money for goods in order to receive the blessings of the gods of Levi's, Macy's and Abercrombie and Fitch.

We believe in the power of the brand. We have faith in the ritual of the return; and the joy everlasting of a good purchase.

We rejoice at the return of the prodigal sons and daughters who had given up shopping, because now the Malls are full again – overflowing with the communion of consumers. As our fellow consumers around the world flock to identical malls and purchase the identical products and brands that we have purchased.

We are reminded by the images of our role models, the saintly celebrities, who we imitate by dressing in the same fashions. So that we might attain the same blessings which have been bestowed upon them by secular society.

We seek to achieve the eternal fame of those who have died and have gone to live in Hollywood heaven among the stars. We aspire to become like them, and imitate their dress and hair styles and postures in order to come closer to the spotlight of fame,

We adore the iconic images of the celluloid heros and heroines of the past – blessed Marilyn Monroe and blessed James Dean. We fill our homes with memorabilia devoted to their adoration.

And every week we religiously return to the Mall. Seeking spiritual comfort in the surroundings, even when we have no intention of partaking in the ritual of the purchase. But simply shopping in anticipation of the coming day when the paycheck will rise again; meditating on the glories of buying.

Monday, January 3, 2011

God among us

He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.

John 1:10-14

Our Lady of Grace
Zoë Labouré was born on May 2, 1806 at Fain-les-moustiers, As child she had consecrated herself to the Blessed Virgin Mary.   Her mother died when she was eight, and when her elder sister, Louisa, left home to become a Sister of Charity, the duties of housekeeper and helper to her father fell upon her. When her mother died she chose the Blessed Virgin for her mother, and when she was about 14 or so she heard a call to the religious life. After some opposition from her father, she was allowed to join the Sisters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul in Paris, France in 1830 becoming Sr. Catherine Labouré.

Here, St. Catherine describes the second apparition of Our Lady to her:

On November 27, 1830, the Saturday before the first Sunday in Advent, at 5:30 P.M., while I was making my Meditation in deep silence, I seemed to hear a sound, like the rustling of a silk dress.

Turning my eyes in that direction, I saw the Blessed Virgin near the picture of St. Joseph. She was well proportioned and so beautiful that I could not describe Her.

She was standing, and her robe was the color of the dawn, high at the neck, and plain sleeves. On Her head She had a white veil, which fell down on each side to Her feet. Her hair was parted in front and confined in a sort of coif, trimmed with a narrow crochet lace. Her face was quite uncovered, and Her feet were resting on a globe, of which about half was visible.

Her hands were raised up to the height of Her girdle, in a graceful posture, holding another globe, which She seemed to press to Her Heart. Her eyes were turned to Heaven, and Her countenance was most beautiful.

All of a sudden the globe disappeared from her hands, and her fingers were filled with rings with most precious gems. From these, rays of light went forth to all sides, enveloping Her in such splendor that one could see neither Her feet nor Her robe.

As I was absorbed in contemplating the Blessed Virgin, She lowered Her eyes to me, and said: "The globe which you see" (I understood Her to mean the one She had beneath Her feet) "represents the world, especially France, and every single person." And then She added: "The rays are the symbol of the graces I shed on those who ask Me for them."

This year I have asked the Virgin Mary to become more than an intercessor for me. You see I have come to realize that I need a spiritual director. The problem is that I don't even really know what that means or what  I should be looking for. So for the time being I have asked Mary to be my spiritual director.

Her first requirement of me is that I spend time daily with her so that she can properly guide me in my spiritual life. So I made a New Year's resolution to start my day off in meditation with her. She is providing me guidance through her very own spiritual exercise which is the Rosary.

Here she shares with me the wonders of her life spent in the presence of her Son Jesus. She tells me of His birth, life, death and resurrection. She tells me about the appearance of the archangel Gabriel. The coming of the shepherds and the Three Wise Men. The baptism of Jesus by John. The time that the young child Jesus was lost in Jerusalem and she and Joseph found Him in the Temple.

Mother Mary describes to me her visitation to Elizabeth who had miraculously conceived a child at an old age. She describes the events around the presentation of Jesus at the Temple as a baby. How Simeon predicted that her soul would be pierced by a sword, and how she wondered about what that could mean.

She described the wedding at Cana when she told Jesus that they had run out of wine. And how Jesus miraculously turned the water into wine.

She described the immense sorrow that she felt when Jesus was condemned to death and was taken before Pontius Pilate. And how she watched in horror as her Son was first beaten mercilessly to the point of death and then forced to carry His own cross up the hill to Calvary. And how she stood and wept at His feet along with the other women. And then how they had to quickly bury Him before the arrival of the Sabbath.

And then she received the news from Mary Magdalene that she had seen Jesus and that He was not dead after all. But that He had risen as He had promised. And how she was overcome with joy at the news of His resurrection.

And how she in the company of the other disciple of Jesus had prayed for the arrival of the Holy spirit for nine days. And how when the Holy Spirit descended upon them they began to speak in tongues. And some in the crowd thought that they were drunk, but Peter explained that this was a form of intoxication that came from God.

And how when she died she was granted her wish to be carried bodily up into Heaven to be with her Son. And how God and the angels crowned her Queen of Heaven.

All of this she told me and much more. So that I could understand that her Son was truly God among us, Immanuel. And so that I could understand His personal message for my life.

The Mysteries of the Rosary

The Joyful Mysteries

The Annunciation
The Visitation
The Birth of Our Lord
The Presentation of Our Lord
The Finding of Our Lord in the Temple

The Sorrowful Mysteries

The Agony in the Garden
The Scourging at the Pillar
The Crowning with Thorns
The Carrying of the Cross
The Crucifixion and Death of Our Lord

The Glorious Mysteries

The Resurrection
The Ascension
The Coming of the Holy Ghost
The Assumption of our Blessed Mother into Heaven
The Coronation of our Blessed Mother

The Luminous Mysteries

The Baptism in the Jordan
The Wedding at Cana
The Proclamation of the Kingdom
The Transfiguration
The Institution of the Eucharist

Sunday, January 2, 2011

No more sorrows

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.

And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away."

– Revelation 21:1-4

No more sorrows
© 2010 PublicVigil

Love, you don’t need to cry any more
No more sorrows, no more pain
Peace, falling down from Heav’n like rain
Now we’re free, from our chains

Jesus said to his disciples
When he saw the children
These are God’s angels
Bring them to me!

We were troubled by our burdens
Now we can sing with angels
Set me free!

Love, spring is here the winter’s gone
No more cold, and barren ground
Flowers, are everywhere and the robin’s song
Fills our hearts with joyous sounds

Love, sail with me into sunsets
On the evening breeze
Hold my hand,
And stay with me

Share, my cup of wine and bread
And sing with me forever
In Holy communion
Until our last days

Love, you don’t need to cry any more
No more sorrows, no more pain
Peace, falling down from Heav’n like rain
Now we’re free, from our chains

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Pray for peace on earth

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!"
 – Luke 2:13-14

Madonna del Sacro Monte di Viggiano
Today, January 1, is the celebration of the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. The Church also celebrates today the 44th World Peace Day.

The statue of the Madonna del Sacro Monte di Viggiano is displayed in St. Peter's Basilica during the Mass on this day. It is one of many Black Madonnas which is venerated by the Catholic Church.
I am very dark, but comely,
O daughters of Jerusalem,
like the tents of Kedar,
like the curtains of Solomon.
 – Song of Solomon 1:5
The Madonna of Viggiano seems to be based on the more famous Virgen de Montserrat in Spain, affectionately known as "La Moreneta" – roughly translated this means "the dark-skinned one".

La Virgen de Montserrat

Today, also, Pope Benedict XVI issued his Message for the celebration of the World Day of Peace. He titled it "Religious Freedom, the Path to Peace". The Pope has highlighted recently the persecution of Christians around the world. There are the examples of violence like what has been occurring in Iraq, but there are also the attacks on religious freedom in the name of secular humanism which are occurring in the more "liberal" societies. These actions are sometimes cleverly disguised as affirmations of various human rights, when they are actually designed to attack one of the most fundamental human rights which is the right of freedom of religion.

Here are some excerpts from the Pope's message, "Religious Freedom, the Path to Peace".
Among the fundamental rights and freedoms rooted in the dignity of the person, religious freedom enjoys a special status. When religious freedom is acknowledged, the dignity of the human person is respected at its root, and the ethos and institutions of peoples are strengthened. On the other hand, whenever religious freedom is denied, and attempts are made to hinder people from professing their religion or faith and living accordingly, human dignity is offended, with a resulting threat to justice and peace.
Each person must be able freely to exercise the right to profess and manifest, individually or in community, his or her own religion or faith, in public and in private, in teaching, in practice, in publications, in worship and in ritual observances. There should be no obstacles should he or she eventually wish to belong to another religion or profess none at all.
The world needs God. It needs universal, shared ethical and spiritual values, and religion can offer a precious contribution to their pursuit, for the building of a just and peaceful social order at the national and international levels.

Peace is a gift of God and at the same time a task which is never fully completed. A society reconciled with God is closer to peace, which is not the mere absence of war or the result of military or economic supremacy, much less deceptive ploys or clever manipulation. Rather, peace is the result of a process of purification and of cultural, moral and spiritual elevation involving each individual and people, a process in which human dignity is fully respected. I invite all those who wish to be peacemakers, especially the young, to heed the voice speaking within their hearts and thus to find in God the stable point of reference for attaining authentic freedom, the inexhaustible force which can give the world a new direction and spirit, and overcome the mistakes of the past.
[NOTE: It is very saddening that the Catholic Bishops in the United States seem to have been afflicted by the secular spirit and have decided not to recognize as a separate Holy Day the celebration of the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God on January 1. Their thinking seems to be that most American Catholics will not be interested in taking time out of their busy week to attend Mass on a Saturday. This is unfortunate. I hope that in the future the Bishops will show leadership in this matter, rather than acquiescing to the most lackadaisical desires of the laity.]