Thursday, March 31, 2011

Would Thomas Aquinas and Francis of Assisi Join PETA?

Greetings, Coffee Talkers!

Tonight's blogpost is a follow-up to last night's, where I mentioned PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and their recent campaign to rid the Bible of 'speciesist' language, and their 2-for-1 promotion (in honor of Infertility Awareness Week -- how kind!) for neutering of both your pet and YOU!

I think that most people know PETA as an organization that promotes animal rights and abhors animal cruelty, but the more I learn about PETA, the more disturbed I become. But before I get ahead of myself, let me address the initial question at hand: would St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Francis of Assisi have been members of PETA?

First, let's look at Tommy -- Aquinas delineated three types of soul, and insodoing, I suppose that he is considered among the first 'speciesists' by modern-day animal rights activists. He sometimes gets a bad rap from pet-lovers around the world for suggesting that animals might not go to heaven (gasp!), but I think Br. Ignatius Mary, OLSM offers a sound explanation of Thomas' teaching, along with some helpful modern commentary:
St. Thomas Aquinas taught that there exists three kinds of souls:

1) Vegetative Soul: the life forced within all living things that is the animating element that we call life.

2) Sensitive Soul: that faculty that gives consciousness the living being to sense its environment and its surroundings and to respond to that environment through the five senses of the body.

3) Rational Soul: this is the soul made in the image of God that is individually created by God and placed into a human being at the moment of conception. This soul is that which allows us to have the Godly attributes of rational thought, creativity, awareness of who we are, awareness of our own mortality, ability to love, to know God, etc.

Plants have a Vegetative Soul because they are alive, but they do not have consciousness to respond with the five senses to their surroundings.

Animals have a Vegetative Soul that animates them, AND a Sensitive Soul that gives them consciousness and awareness of their environment and the ability to respond through the senses.

Only Humans have all three types of soul. Only Humans have the Rational Soul.

The Vegetative Soul and the Sensitive soul dies. The Rational Soul lives forever.

So the souls of our pets die and return to dust. They have no soul that lives forever.

Thus, there is no theological justification for our pets living forever in heaven. But God is God and being God, He is not restrained by theological principles. He can bring our pets to heaven anyway if He wishes.

I would suggest, however, that you and I will not even ask God to bring our pets into heaven with us. Why? Because the purpose of our pets in this life will have been fulfilled in heaven -- there will be no need for pets in heaven.

Human beings have pets for companionship, for unconditional "love," to otherwise fill a need in us.

In heaven we do not need pets for companionship, we will have the fullness of the COMPANION who is the Holy Spirit. In heaven we will have the greatest level of unconditional love possible for God is love and we will be in his presence. In heaven we will have no needs for we will be FILLED and SURROUNDED, and COMPLETELY SATISFIED by God.

Thus, the whole purpose of having a pet will no longer exist in heaven. The cares of this world will no longer be in our memory. We will be in the bliss of the heavenly country forever.

Now this does not imply that animals will not be in heaven. While we do not know what heaven will be like some have suggested that it will be a return to the Garden of Eden -- a rich forest and garden of trees and flowers and animals. If that is the case we may walk through that heavenly garden to enjoy the beauty of God's creation and that includes enjoying animals. But, these animals of the heavenly Garden of Eden will not be pets in the sense that we experience animals here on earth. Rather it will be simply an enjoyment of creation.

Bottomline: theologically, animals do not have an immortal soul and thus do not die and go to heaven. This does not prevent God from bringing our pets into heaven anyway if He chooses to do so. But, I would suggest that once in heaven will shall be so complete and so filled with the Spirit of God that we will not even ask God for our pets; there will be no need for pets in heaven. But, God can do as He wills.
So while St. Thomas Aquinas was certainly not an animal hater, he definitely saw a love for all creation in the order and hierarchy by which God established the world and all of creation. I think that Aquinas would be disturbed by the way PETA not only reduces the human person to the level of an animal (such as in this distasteful ad campaign targeting the Duggar Family of TLC's show 19 kids and counting):

...but also how they reduce people to a level lower than animals (as in the 'artist' who went naked into factory hog farm for a photo exhibit titles 'The Pig That Therefore I Am'). I think he would also be incredibly disturbed with PETA's actual treatment of animals themselves, but I'll get to that in a second.

Now, let's talk about my good friend St. Francis of Assisi, who is widely known as a lover of all creation, but most especially of animals. At my grad school alma mater, Franciscan University of Steubenville, we had an amazing animal blessing ceremony every year during the weekend-long celebration in honor of the Feast of St. Francis. From cats to dogs to birds to goats, the blessing was always a holy and humorous sight to behold!

I think that, because St. Francis was such an authentic lover of animals, he would be appalled at PETA's hypocrisy in actually killing thousands of the animals that they allegedly protect and rescue. If you're thinking to yourself, "Leslie, clearly you've gone into the realm of craziness and conspiracy theories here," let me just say that I thought the same thing when I first read these allegations against PETA. I mean, they might be a little extreme in their tactics of animal rights activism, but to suggest that they kill the animals just seems over the top.

That's what I thought until I heard and read so many articles about PETA's anti-animal activities that I started to feel sick. Like the 2005 arrest of two PETA employees on 62 combined felony charges of cruelty to animals and eight counts each of illegal disposal of animals after they were caught dumping dead pet bodies into a dumpster. Or the allegations by PETA that all of the animals they euthanized were 'unadoptable' or 'suffering,' while the statistics cite more than 90% of animals in PETA facilities being killed in recent years. And the large $9,000 walk-in freezer they installed to store dead animal bodies at the PETA headquarters. Apparently, the sickening list goes on and on, but I've personally seen more than enough.

You know, rallying against PETA is some people's cause (and apparently many of them have been sued over it -- PETA's got power and money, and I have neither!), but mine is more to try to restore dignity to the human person, and in turn to all of God's creation. I propose that we start a new organization called PETP -- People for the Ethical Treatment of People. Because I don't know about you, but I've personally never known a single human being who has treated other people with decency, respect, and love but then treated animals cruelly. We need to start by treating one another with the respect we all deserve as people made in the image and likeness of God, and then I believe that appropriate respect and care for animals, and for all of God's beautiful creation, will fall into its proper place.

In closing, let us pray for those entrusted with the care of animals and for all pets, using the traditional prayer for the Blessing of the Animals on the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi:
“Blessed are you, Lord God, maker of all living creatures. You called forth fish in the sea, birds in the air and animals on the land. You inspired St. Francis to call all of them his brothers and sisters. We ask you to bless this pet. By the power of your love, enable it to live according to your plan. May we always praise you for all your beauty in creation. Blessed are you, Lord our God, in all your creatures! Amen.”
Peace and all good,

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Should PETA Neuter You???

Oh, Coffee Talkers,

Truth really is stranger than fiction, and the news about PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) never ceases to amaze me. But not in a good way.

A friend posted an article today about PETA's request that there be a new Bible translation with more gender inclusivity...for animals. The furry creatures should no longer be called 'it,' say PETA reps, but always 'he' or 'she.'
After reading the article, I decided to check out the PETA website (which has become increasingly disturbing on each of my few visits there) and found a new promotion that PETA has presented:

Should PETA neuter you?

Are you the kind of guy who does everything with his dog? Are you a team player? If you're considering getting your cat or dog "snipped" and have thought about getting "fixed" yourself, PETA wants to reward you for helping to end human and animal overpopulation by picking up the tab for your vasectomy. We give out thousands of spay and neuter surgeries every year, but never before like this! Visit our "Win a Vasectomy From PETA" page to see how to get your free "snip" in a snap.
And they're offering this promotion in honor of Infertility Awareness Week. Because what would better honor people who have struggled with their inability to have children of their own than making a fertile man infertile?

Lucky for PETA, I need to get some sleep now, but I'll be back tomorrow to offer commentary on why PETA's philosophical underpinnings are contrary to a Catholic-Christian view of the dignity of the human person. Oh, yes, I will.

In the meantime, I am praying for all of you reading around the world!

Peace and all good,

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Question on Christian Marriage

Dear Leslie,

I was recently made aware of your blog, read it this morning and enjoyed your writing very much. I was raised in the Catholic faith and like so many, have fallen away in recent years. I do have a question for you. I posed it to a friend of mine some years ago who has a PhD in Theology and his answer was..."I don't know!"...that question being:  Including but not limited to the Catholic faith, what constitutes a marriage in "the eyes" of our Christian God? One example being, if a Catholic man and woman, each never have been married, are married by a civil Justice of the Peace, in the eyes of our Lord, are they married or are they living in a state of sin? And does the Catholic church recognize marriages as being valid performed between individuals who are not Catholic?" Thank you and kudos on your blog!!

Hello, William!

Thanks for your question! Perhaps your PhD friend was immersed in some type of more advanced scholarly theological study, but since I am more versed in the theological minutia of daily life, you're in luck! Let me give you a brief overview of Christian marriage (as understood by the Roman Catholic Church), and then address your examples.

Marriage is a natural institution common to all cultures, traditionally marked by the lifelong union of a man and woman for the purposes of love and procreation. The Catholic Church understands marriage to have been elevated to a supernatural and sacramental level by Jesus himself, and sees the marriage of any two baptized Christian people as a sacramental union. The ministers of the sacrament are the couple themselves, when each spouse freely consents to enter into this union of persons. A valid Christian marriage is marked by monogamy, fidelity, permanence, and openness to children -- in other words, a valid Christian marriage is free, total, faithful, and fruitful.

There are some impediments to entering into a sacramental marriage in the Catholic Church, but some of these impediments may be dispensed if proper permission is received. A common example of an impediment that can be dispensed is something known as 'disparity of cult,' which refers to a Catholic marrying an unbaptized person. Such a marriage can only be considered valid (but still not sacramental) if a dispensation is granted by the Church. (There are, of course, impediments for which a dispensation cannot be granted, including one person being already married, one having received Holy Orders, or one party previously conspiring to marry (upon condition of death of spouse) while still married [known as crimen -- really, I couldn't make this stuff up!].) Also, if a Catholic is marrying a baptized non-Catholic, they should request a dispensation so that their marriage may still be valid, as well as if a Catholic wants to be married outside of a Catholic Church or by a non-Catholic minister. The Church can grant permission for all of these situations.

It is common that couples (one or both of whom are baptized Catholics) who got married outside of the Church later wish to rectify the situation with the Church, and they can do so through a process called convalidation. One of the priests at my parish is currently giving instruction to a large number of couples who have been married civilly and wish to make their marriage sacramental. Here's a good article on convalidation.

Now, even though Catholics view marriage as a sacrament, they must also conform to the laws of the land, and so a civil marriage must accompany a sacramental marriage. But if a couple is only married civilly, they are not considered to be married sacramentally. Also, if a couple (one or both of whom were Catholic) divorces, they are still considered sacramentally married until such a time as an annulment is rendered by a tribunal of the Catholic Church. There are all kinds of crazy misconceptions about annulments (that's another subject for another blogpost!), but for now let me just explain that an annulment investigation looks at the circumstances leading up to a marriage and determines if one or more of the essential elements of a Christian marriage (remember free, total, faithful, and fruitful?) were lacking. If they were, then the marriage is declared to have been sacramentally invalid. The couple is already civilly divorced (no annulment tribunal will begin an investigation into a particular marriage's validity until a civil divorce is finalized), and the annulment means that since the couple was never married in the eyes of God, the parties are now free to marry sacramentally. Of course, a Church annulment does not render the civil marriage invalid, so this would not affect legitimacy of the children or other such matters.

Your example of a Catholic man and woman being only married civilly but not in the Church could easily be rectified by convalidation, since you say that neither of them was married before. They are legally married, but if they wanted to be married in the eyes of God and the Church and to receive the additional graces of the sacrament, they could approach the pastor of their local parish to start the process toward convalidation. Many couples have done so, and have found it to be a rewarding and spiritually fulfilling process that has strengthened their faith and their marriages.

The United States Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB) also gives some excellent information related to your question, under the topic of 'Frequently Asked Questions About Marriage.' I think you will find it enlightening. I know I did.

Again, thanks for your question and I hope this has been helpful!

Peace and all good,

Monday, March 28, 2011

Keep Your Bumpersticker Out of My Eyeview!

Hello, Coffee Talkers!

The weather here today was beautiful, and it coincided with a day off -- bonus! So my girls and I enjoyed the day at home, playing outside, and taking a long walk through our community -- not a moment spent in the car. Delightful.

I wanted to check the mail and needed some milk, but since I had already told the girls we didn't have to go anywhere in the car (and they were very excited about it!), I decided that we could make our way to the post office and the little market with me pushing them in their swanky double stroller. Really, this thing is like the Cadillac of jogging strollers:
Anyway, the walk there was quite pleasant, and I did even jog for a bit since much of that route was downhill. The way back, well, I only had to stop to catch my breath because I thought I was dying once, so not too bad. (I need to get back in shape!) But despite the realization that I am going to keel over during the countless miles of walking at World Youth Day if I don't get my rear in gear in these next few months, we had a lovely walk and saw many interesting sights.

While my girls were more focused on the birds, pine cones, and sticks that we passed, my eye was caught by the bumper stickers. The noteworthy one I saw today reminded me of a different one I saw last week. First, today's:
And then last week's:

You know, I was just walking along, coexisting with the world and minding my own Catholic business, when out of that orange colored sky came these bumper stickers. Maybe it's like the forbidden fruit in the garden of Eden, but I can honestly say that few things make me want to go up and talk theology with a person than a bumper sticker that says, "Keep your theology off my biology!" There was a guy standing next to the car when I saw that one, and it really took all of my self restraint to not stop and say with a smile, "Oh, how wonderful to see that you have an interest in theology, too!" Or to recommend that he read Fides et Ratio. But I didn't. I coexisted. I kept my theology off his biology.

Really, if you don't want people to bother you with their religion or theology or philosophy of life, don't put that bumper sticker on your car. Especially with me walking around your neighborhood. I can coexist and keep my theology to myself until you issue a throw down like that. At that point, you're just asking me to get all Coffee Talk on you!

Peace and all good,

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Woman at the Well - A Dramatic Interpretation

Happy Sunday, Coffee Talkers!

Today's Gospel reading recounts the story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well. Here's a dramatic interpretation of the story by ValLimar Jansen, who tells the Scriptural story while weaving in personal narrative as she plays the part of the woman at the well. (I must admit, I'd only heard of her in the brochures for the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, and thought she must do some kind of weird liturgical dance/singing/acting combo, but I saw a video of her for the first time yesterday and loved it -- and there's no liturgical dance involved at all!) Enjoy!

Peace and all good,

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Dear Jesus, You're FIRED!

Hello, Coffee Talkers!

I just came across a great blog post from Mark Hart, the 'Bible Geek' and Executive Vice President of Life Teen, talking about how to handle challenges when working in Church ministry. I found it to be both hilarious and insightful. Hart begins the blog with this ficticious letter of Jesus' dismissal from the parish staff:

To Whom It May Concern:
In agreement with the clearly delineated Diocesan norms for termination of employment, below are just a handful of the reasons we were forced to fire Jesus of Nazareth from our Parish Staff here at Our Lady of the Emptying Pews:

He was never in the office.

He was constantly leaving work to “go and pray.”

He never turned in a single bulletin announcement.

He invited all the “wrong kinds of people” into the Parish community.

He turned over tables at the annual Parish ministry fair.

He encouraged people without master’s degrees or PhDs to share, preach and teach.

He refused to utilize clip art.

He had his “team” set up for his own farewell dinner.

He gave the Church keys to a fisherman instead of returning them to the front desk.

He formed catechists and executed a parish plan without first forming a committee.

And finally – in a display that demonstrated complete lack of pastoral discretion – he was unwilling to use his special “gifts” to multiply fish and tartar sauce and, thus, prevent the K of C from looking quite foolish at the Lenten Fish Fry.

As anyone can clearly see, Jesus of Nazareth was unwilling to abide by time-honored rules and expectations as set forth by people at the parish who are long-since dead yet whose memories we celebrate with every rule (“sacred cow”) we choose to heed (feed rather than slaughter). 

Joylessly yours in Christ,
Members of the Perish(ing) Staff
And for those of you who could really relate to this post (like me!) because you work or volunteer in your church, check out the rest of the blog post for some insights on how to stay prayerful and handle frustrations in ministry!

Peace and all good,

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Annunciation and Mary's Fiat

Hello, Coffee Talkers!

I hope you all enjoyed the Solemnity of the Annunciation! I know I did -- a day of family, friends, meat, and brownie sundaes was pretty amazing. But beyond the feasting, pondering the spiritual significance of this day can also be a cause for joy.

If you've ever looked at some of the many artistic renditions of the Angel Gabriel's visit to Mary, you may have noticed that many paintings show Mary reading, and being interrupted by the Angel. The significance of this is to indicate Mary's association with the Word -- she is shown reading God's Word in the Scriptures while the Angel comes to tell her that she will be the bearer of the Word Incarnate, Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.

Also, those of you familiar with the Biblical narrative of the Annunciation may have noticed its striking similarity to the announcement of the birth of John the Baptist to Zechariah. In both accounts, the Angel Gabriel comes to bring news of God's favor and of a pregnancy that, by human standards and understanding, seems impossible. Both Mary and Zechariah are afraid and both question the angel, but the response is very different in each case -- while Mary is regarded as the favored one of God, Zechariah is struck mute until the birth of his son comes to pass. (I had a human embryology professor who jokingly suggested that perhaps the angel did this to Zechariah to ensure a peaceful pregnancy for Elizabeth!) But in reality, the point that I take from these two accounts is this: the Angel Gabriel somehow knows the intentions of their hearts, and knows that while Zechariah questions with doubt, Mary questions with faith and willingly gives a full, free, and generous 'yes.' May we all give that same fiat mihi, that with Mary we may question and ponder God's mysteries and plan for our lives in our hearts, not being overcome by fear but giving God our 'yes' so that He may fulfill His divine will.

Here is the first chapter of Luke's Gospel, where both annunciation accounts are given:

Luke Chapter 1

1 Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us,
just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed them down to us,
I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus,
so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received.
2 In the days of Herod, King of Judea, 3 there was a priest named Zechariah of the priestly division of Abijah; his wife was from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.
Both were righteous in the eyes of God, observing all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly.
But they had no child, 4 because Elizabeth was barren and both were advanced in years.
Once when he was serving as priest in his division's turn before God,
according to the practice of the priestly service, he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord to burn incense.
Then, when the whole assembly of the people was praying outside at the hour of the incense offering,
the angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right of the altar of incense.
Zechariah was troubled by what he saw, and fear came upon him.
But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, 5 Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall name him John.
And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth,
for he will be great in the sight of (the) Lord. He will drink neither wine nor strong drink. 6 He will be filled with the holy Spirit even from his mother's womb,
and he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God.
He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah 7 to turn the hearts of fathers toward children and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to prepare a people fit for the Lord."
Then Zechariah said to the angel, "How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years."
And the angel said to him in reply, "I am Gabriel, 8 who stand before God. I was sent to speak to you and to announce to you this good news.
But now you will be speechless and unable to talk 9 until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled at their proper time."
Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah and were amazed that he stayed so long in the sanctuary.
But when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He was gesturing to them but remained mute.
Then, when his days of ministry were completed, he went home.
After this time his wife Elizabeth conceived, and she went into seclusion for five months, saying,
"So has the Lord done for me at a time when he has seen fit to take away my disgrace before others."
10 In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,
to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin's name was Mary.
And coming to her, he said, "Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you."
But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
Then the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.
Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.
He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, 11 and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,
and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."
But Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?" 12
And the angel said to her in reply, "The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.
And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived 13 a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren;
for nothing will be impossible for God."
Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word." Then the angel departed from her.
During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah,
where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit,
cried out in a loud voice and said, "Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord 14 should come to me?
For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.
Blessed are you who believed 15 that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled."
And Mary said: 16 "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
For he has looked upon his handmaid's lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.
The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him.
He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.
He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly.
The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy,
according to his promise to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever."
Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.
17 When the time arrived for Elizabeth to have her child she gave birth to a son.
Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy toward her, and they rejoiced with her.
18 When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child, they were going to call him Zechariah after his father,
but his mother said in reply, "No. He will be called John."
But they answered her, "There is no one among your relatives who has this name."
So they made signs, asking his father what he wished him to be called.
He asked for a tablet and wrote, "John is his name," and all were amazed.
Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God.
Then fear came upon all their neighbors, and all these matters were discussed throughout the hill country of Judea.
All who heard these things took them to heart, saying, "What, then, will this child be?" For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.
Then Zechariah his father, filled with the holy Spirit, prophesied, saying:
19 "Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for he has visited and brought redemption to his people.
20 He has raised up a horn for our salvation within the house of David his servant,
even as he promised through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old:
salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us,
to show mercy to our fathers and to be mindful of his holy covenant
and of the oath he swore to Abraham our father, and to grant us that,
rescued from the hand of enemies, without fear we might worship him
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord 21 to prepare his ways,
to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God by which the daybreak from on high 22 will visit us
to shine on those who sit in darkness and death's shadow, to guide our feet into the path of peace."
The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel.

Peace and all good,

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Angel of the Lord Declared Unto Mary, and We Could Eat MEAT This Lenten Friday!

Hello, Coffee Talkers!

Friday, March 25th -- two important things you need to know:

1. You can EAT MEAT, even though it's a Friday of Lent...

2. Because it is the Solemnity of the Annunciation of our Lord!

Thank you, Canon 1251!
Can.  1251 Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
So enjoy your burgers, everybody! And Happy Solemnity!
Let us pray: Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts; that we, to whom the incarnation of Christ, Thy Son, was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection, through the same Christ Our Lord.
Peace and all good,

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

We Have Been Created for a Purpose

“We have not come into the world to be numbered; we have been created for a purpose; for great things: to love and be loved.” ~ Blessed Teresa of Calcutta

Peace and all good,

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

An Archbishop, A Mormon, and an Atheist Walk into an Airport...

Greetings, Coffee Talkers!

Some of you may have seen this post by Archbishop Timothy Dolan regarding a recent encounter that he had with a man in the Denver airport, and the discussion that ensued over the clerical sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church. I was impressed with the Archbishop's boldness in defending the dignity of each human person from undue attacks based on the transgressions of a few, and for his willingness to stand up for the Catholic Church and for the ministerial priesthood. And so I shared his article on Facebook.

A number of my other Catholic friends had also shared Archbishop Dolan's blogpost, and so having seen widespread support for the Archbishop's bravery in defending the faith, I was caught almost as unaware as the Archbishop himself had been that day in the airport when the comments started rolling in on my posting of his article. Comments like this:
I'm not totally satisfied with his response. The proportion of child sex offenders among the clergy, while commensurate with that among many other professions that work closely with children, is still far higher than that among the general population. And to say "We, the Roman Catholic Church, didn't handle this crisis much worse than the bureaucracy of the New York City Public School System," also seems to be setting the bar rather low.
 And this...
He definitely deflected the criticism, and the basis was that "These other groups are worse, and don't get press about it. See, we're not that bad." I just don't think that's a valid response. Where is... "You're right. Priest Bob committed a grievous sin and we excommunicated him over it because we just don't stand for that." ????
When a conservative Mormon and a liberal homosexual atheist come to a place of agreement, it could mean only one thing: everyone hates the Catholic Church.

Now, it may seem a bit unfair of me to label people like that, and in fact, it is! Because there are actual people with human dignity beyond those labels. But hey, since we're talking about the labels, here is my ficticious airport encounter with one of the characters mentioned above:
Leslie sees a young married man, his wife, and many young children. She says to the man, "Hey, I know that not that many Catholics are on board with the Church's teachings on contraception these days, so you guys must be Mormon, right? Where are the rest of your wives?"

The man is stunned, but quickly recovers and says, "Leslie, you might be rude, but you're right to label me based on the indiscretions of a few, and because I appreciate personally taking on criticisms that are based largely on ignorance I will now disclose the indiscretion of another former member of my religion (whose situation I actually know very little about, truth be told) as a way to both defend myself and distance myself from the situation. Elder Bob was a polygamist, but we excommunicated him because we don't stand for that kind of thing. Hey, look over there -- a liberal atheist! Why don't you go bother him?"
Now, I hope that the crass and ridiculous example I have just given will be taken a a spirit of humor and charity, and I hope that it makes it clear that no one should be labeled and judged based on misperceptions and ignorance.

I do want a few other points to be understood clearly: 1. I am in no way defending the abuse scandals within the Catholic Church; 2. neither was Archbishop Timothy Dolan; 3. the abuse scandals should have been handled very differently than they were in many cases in the Catholic Church, and that is nothing to be proud of; 4. to defend the Catholic Church itself is not to endorse either the indiscretions of a few nor to support the poor handling of very serious abuse cases; 5. I love all of my friends, from conservative Mormon to liberal atheist and everyone in between.

And there's something else I want to say (I know, I know, there's always something else!) -- while nothing can compare to the tragedy and injustice of people having been abused and those egregious acts being deliberately covered up, far fewer people are aware of the devastation that goes on in the lives of those (clergy and lay people included) who are falsely accused. Priests are absolutely considered guilty until proven innocent and are immediately removed from their public ministry with so much as one false accusation. And the truth is that, even if the claims are shown without a doubt to have been completely false, an accused priest can never really be proven innocent. Never.

Priests, Bishops, Cardinals, even the Pope are human. They are fallen men. In a word, they are sinners. This is one of the reasons that I admire Archbishop Dolan -- he knows himself to be a sinner in need of God's mercy like all of us. In fact, he likes to walk to various parishes to go to confession on Saturday afternoons with the regular people of those parishes.
Because I’m dressed in street garb, and, since I prefer to confess behind the screen, the confessor does not know who I am. Fine with me.
Once, though, as I was leaving the church, another priest of the parish did recognize me, welcomed me, and we chatted for awhile. When he discovered that I had just gone to confession, he blushed.
“But, archbishop,” he remarked, “I’ll send a confessor to your house! You shouldn’t have to come down here, stand in line, and wait like everybody else!”
Well, as a matter of fact, yes I should. While I thanked him for his thoughtfulness, I explained that I really wanted to make the trip to the church, I preferred to stand in line, I wanted to be “just like everybody else!”
Because, as a sinner, I am! And one of the places I most sense being an intimate part of the Church, a member of this community of faith, is when I’m in company with others, head down, waiting in line for God’s mercy in this beautiful and potent sacrament of reconciliation.
‘Look not on our sins, but on the faith of the Church!”
But the point of all of this is not to defend Archbishop Dolan or any particular priest; in fact, the only way that the Catholic Church or her priests can be defended is insofar as they draw grace from Christ. As we consider the difficulties of our modern times, we see that there is nothing new under the sun. Consider the situation of the Catholic Church in the 300s:
In the 4th century, a group of fundamentalist/radicals broke away from the Catholic Church to found their own Church.  Their beef was that during a persecution by the Emperor Diocletian some bishops had acquiesced and had handed over sacred books to imperial officials.   The radicals, called Donatists, concluded that because the bishops sinned they were tainted and could never again confer valid sacraments.

Augustine observed that such a view could be spiritually dangerous.  It lead to a destructive fantasy about the person of the priest.  It could produce spiritual envy.  It could, more seriously, lead to a marginalization of God, God’s holiness and God’s intervention, in favor of that of the priest or bishop who is, materially, right there.
To counter the Donatist materialist approach and obsession with the sinless, Augustine counters that the only true holy one is Christ.  Only Jesus is the true High Priest free from any stain of sin.  Only Christ’s sacrifice atoned for sin.  The bishop and the priest are themselves pardoned sinners.  Priests must not be seen as being entirely apart but as standing together with people as they also strive for holiness.  But they should not be imagined to be holier than a mere human being can be.

When Augustine comments on how the Lord washed the dirty feet of the Apostles, he explains that Christ was pardoning the Apostles for what they had done wrong in their ministry.  When Peter then asks that Christ wash not only his dirty feet (i.e., the sins he committed in ministry) he asks Christ to wash also his whole body.  Christ responds that his whole body had already been washed and he had no need for it to be washed again, a reference to baptism.  The washing of feet represented forgiveness of post-baptismal sins committed by the Apostles, Christ’s priests, in ministry.

In other words, post-baptismal sins can be forgiven and the one forgiven can still minister.

It is a great concern today that many people are deeply shaken in their faith because of the sins of a very small number of priests and bishops.  It is right and proper to be angry about their crimes when they are proven to have committed them.  It could be that an idealization of priests and bishops leads to a disproportionate disillusionment when they are revealed not to be perfect, especially when they are shown to be sinners of the gravest sort.

We have to be reminded constantly what Augustine stressed in that controversy with the Donatists: Christians who left the Church because they were disillusioned with its outward appearances of perfection and holiness.  Priests and bishops are sinners in need of a savior.  Augustine said to his flock, “I am a bishop for you, I am a christian with you.”

Turning priests or bishops into idealized icons of holiness is fraught with spiritual peril.  Admire the admirable, of course.  But we need a necessary corrective in our admiration, namely, that the sole Holy One of God is Jesus Christ, the only perfect High Priest and actual minister of all graces which Holy Church’s ministers have the honor to mediate.
Let's pray for our priests, and for one another that we may not only fall, but rise again.

Peace and all good,

Monday, March 21, 2011

It really is the world wide web!

Hello, Coffee Talkers!

Sometimes I forget what the 'www' stands for, but a quick review of my blog stats today reminded me! Since the last time I greeted all of the Coffee Talkers from the USA, Canada, Malaysia, United Kingdom, New Zealand, Russia, Bermuda, and Italy, we have added many more web readers world wide! A warm Coffee Talk welcome goes out to our new readers in Denmark, France, South Korea, Germany, Chile, United Arab Emirates, Spain, Croatia, India, Trinidad and Tobago, Australia, and Lithuania.

So many good, blog-worthy thoughts crossed my mind throughout the day, and I'm not sure where they've gone to now. I suspect they will return later in the week when sleep has been replenished. In the meantime, let's pray for one another around the world, that all may be united in peace, hope, and solidarity.

Peace and all good,

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Archbishop Gomez on Scripture & the Pope's New Book

Happy Sunday, Coffee Talkers!

Archbishop Jose Gomez, inspired by Pope Benedict XVI's newest book, offers his insights on reading the Sacred Scriptures in the latest Tidings, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Enjoy!
I am starting to read Pope Benedict XVI's new book, "Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection" (Ignatius Press, $25).
This is the second volume of our Holy Father's proposed trilogy on the life and message of Jesus. It is a scholarly work that is beautifully written, deeply spiritual, and inspires meditation and prayer.
I recommend it highly, especially to theologians, Bible scholars, religious educators, pastors and seminarians. Along with the pope's 2010 exhortation Verbum Domini ("The Word of the Lord"), the two volumes of "Jesus of Nazareth" are essential for all of us. These works help us appreciate how important the Scriptures are for our work of the new evangelization.
The pope's method for reading the Scriptures is as important as the insights he draws from them.
His interpretations reflect what the best scholars have discovered about where the texts came from, their historical background, and the literary styles the biblical authors use.
But he does more than study the texts' historical and literary meaning.
He reads in light of the Church's teachings and tradition. He employs the spiritual interpretation methods found in the New Testament, the writings of the Church Fathers, and in the Church's liturgy.
The pope's method has rich possibilities for those of us who must prepare homilies or study theology.
But we all need to read the Bible with his same diligence and reverence.
The Scriptures are the Word of God. They are written, as St. Peter said, "by men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke by God" (1 Pet. 1:21).
The Church has always believed that the Bible is both divine and human - just as Jesus Christ is both true God and true man.
In Verbum Domini, the pope writes beautifully: "As the Word of God became flesh by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, so sacred Scripture is born from the womb of the Church by the power of the same Spirit."
We can't speak about Jesus as if he is an ordinary man. And we can't read the Bible as we would read an ordinary book. Unfortunately, that has been the trend for at least two centuries now.
As Pope Benedict points out, most Bible scholars today take a "secularized" and "scientific" approach to the Bible. This leads them, for instance, to reject any biblical events that can't be explained by the laws of science, such as Jesus multiplying the loaves and fishes or raising Lazarus from the dead. Many scholars today simply presume these events could not have happened.
Also as the pope has noted, scholarship based on these kinds of assumptions has led to bad consequences for the Church's faith, worship and preaching.
Our Catholic faith is not mythology. It's based on true historical events. We believe that at a certain moment in history in a certain place in the world, a man named Jesus was born of a Virgin named Mary. We believe that this Jesus was the Son of God, that he worked miracles, and that he rose from the dead.
We believe that Jesus continues to live in the Church and that he changes the lives of we who believe in him. We believe that he continues to work miracles in the Eucharist and the sacraments.
We believe these things based on his first followers' testimony, handed down to us in the Church in the inspired Scriptures.
That's why Pope Benedict's project is so important.
For many years, beginning when he was a young theologian, he has quoted St. Jerome: "Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ."
The Church has always known that if we don't read the Scriptures right, we won't meet the living Jesus Christ in their pages.
This is the tragedy of our age. As the pope has noted, the crisis of faith in Christ is rooted in this "scientific" way of reading the Bible.
In "Jesus of Nazareth," he gives us a new way of reading that is a path into the heart of God's Word. This method is scholarly, but is at the same time guided by faith and prayer.
Reading the Bible this way, we can come to a sure knowledge of the historical Jesus. And we can come to a personal encounter with the Christ who is our Savior.
In a letter to the world's bishops in 2009, Pope Benedict said: "Leading men and women to God, to the God who speaks in the Bible: This is the supreme and fundamental priority of the Church and of the Successor of Peter at the present time."
This must be the priority of everyone in the Church. "Jesus of Nazareth" helps to show us the way.
Let us pray for one another this week. And let us ask Our Lady of Guadalupe for the grace to allow ourselves be shaped by the Word of God - through our listening, reading, study and prayer.
Blessings to all of you, Coffee Talkers!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

World Youth Day 2013 - Rumors of Rio!

Hello, Coffee Talkers!

I'm not usually one to share things heard through the Catholic grapevine, but this one seems likely to be true (and harmless if it's not). Also, it's quite exciting!

Word on the street: the next World Youth Day (after the one this August in Madrid, Spain) will be held in 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil!
I got a call today from a priest who heard this juicy piece of World Youth Day info from a travel agent at Religious Education Congress in Anaheim, so I looked to see if this info was anywhere on the web, and behold! The Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington, Virginia (I was just there last summer for my friend's ordination to the priesthood!) has a blog for their youth ministry program, and here's what they had to say:
At the National Catholic Conference on Youth Ministry, the future of World Youth Day was discussed. The next World Youth Day will be held on July 8-13, 2013 in Brazil. Other pilgrimage candidates included: Dublin, Ireland; and London, England.

** Dates and Locations cannot be confirmed, but were discussed. Nothing is set in stone until the announcement comes at the end of World Youth Day 2011.
Cool! So now, we just have to wait until Pope Benedict XVI makes the official announcement when he closes the upcoming World Youth Day in Madrid  this August. Let's see what he has to say!

Peace and all good,

UPDATE: The Holy Father did announce that World Youth Day 2013 will be held in Rio de Janeiro, and the dates will be July 23 - 28. Hope to see you all there!

Friday, March 18, 2011

John Paul II's Biblical Way of the Cross

Hello, Coffee Talkers!

Some friends and I prayed the stations of the cross along with my parish community tonight, and as always it was a moving experience. There are many different meditations that have been written for the stations, and tonight's reflections were very relevant to our modern lives and times.

Another version of the way of the cross that I have really enjoyed praying is John Paul II's biblical stations of the cross.
I reviewed the illustrated version of JP II's Biblical Way of the Cross (pictured above) for Lay Witness Magazine, and really enjoyed them. Maybe you will like praying with these stations, as well.

Peace and all good,

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Youth Day in Brief Review!

Hello, Coffee Talkers!

We had a great time at Youth Day 2011 in Anaheim today! Among the highlights were listening to a great Catholic comedian and speaker Judy McDonald, and hearing a wonderful homily from the new Archbishop of Los Angeles Jose Gomez.

Sleep deprivation has officially hit now, so off to bed. Happy St. Patrick's Day to all!

Peace and all good,

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Youth Day 2011!

Hello, Coffee Talkers!

I'm going to bed early tonight, because I will be rising early in the morning to take a group to Youth Day 2011 in Anaheim!

This is the 40th Youth Day, which always takes place the day before the annual Religious Education Congress at the Anaheim Convention Center. With over 15,000 people attending, Youth Day is always an exciting day filled with fun, friends, and faith.

I think I went to Youth Day when I was in high school, but all I can remember clearly was trying to find out how many licks it took to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop on the bus ride home. I can't remember how many now. Maybe we'll have to take up this experiment again tomorrow. Could somebody please bring some Tootsie Pops to Our Lady of the Desert at 5 am?

Peace and all good,

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

There Be Dragons -- A Movie I Want to See ASAP!

Hello, Coffee Talkers!

I want to share with you a movie that will be hitting theatres this May -- but I wish it was coming sooner!

Which Path Will You Choose?

I will say more another time, but for now, let the movie trailer speak for itself:

Peace and all good,

Monday, March 14, 2011

Baby Joseph: A Tale of Two Hospitals and A Priest with Some Chutzpah!

Hello, Coffee Talkers!

Many of you have probably heard by now the tale of 18-month-old Baby Joseph, who was denied a tracheostomy by a Canadian hospital and thus unable to have a chance at going home.

Fr. Frank Pavone of the Priests for Life heard of Baby Joseph's situation, and had this to say:
"I knew, after this dragged on day after day, that I needed to be here myself to get Baby Joseph to safety," said Father Pavone. "He needs to be in a hospital that cherishes life over the bottom line. After around-the-clock negotiations, this really became a race against time."
So Fr. Pavone went to Canada, and this morning brought Baby Joseph to a Catholic hospital in the US that would trach him right away! Man, I love Fr. Frank Pavone. I'm sure that quite a lot of people hate him, but that's high among the reasons that I love him -- it takes a priest with some chutzpah to completely disregard the opinions of others and do something extraordinary to preserve the human dignity of a baby and his family. Like Fr. Frank said, "Neither we nor anyone else knows how long he has to live, but that’s God’s decision."

Fr. Frank reported that the trach went well and that the hospital staff is happy with Baby Joseph's condition -- he is largely breathing on his own now and is responsive to touch.

Let's all continue to pray for Baby Joseph and his family, and for Fr. Frank Pavone and the Priests for Life. May we all live with such chutzpah!

Peace and all good,

Sunday, March 13, 2011

To listen carefully and reflect prayerfully

Hello, Coffee Talkers!

It's the first Sunday of Lent, and today's Mass readings were pretty amazing! I love that the Church has already gone to the work of matching up appropriate and related readings from Old Testament, Psalms, New Testament (non-Gospel), and Gospels. Really, I was awe-struck when I first realized what was going on. The challenge is to listen carefully and reflect prayerfully.

One of my grad school professors, Dr. Scott Hahn, makes available his reflections on each Sundays Mass readings, both in written form and via podcast. Dr. Hahn's St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology has many great resources for transformative Scripture Study in the Catholic tradition. The reflection on today's Mass readings is especially good. I hope you enjoy it, as well!

Peace and all good,

Saturday, March 12, 2011

If I Could Turn Back Time, or Move to Guam...

But I can't, Coffee Talkers. Nope, not tonight. It's almost time to 'spring forward' -- clocks turn ahead one hour in the US (except for Hawaii and Arizona....Hey! Arizona is a drivable distance from here!).

I was gonna post the video of Cher singing "If I Could Turn Back Time," until I saw that it involves her being nearly naked and singing to a huge group of sailors (why???), so I thought better of it.

Instead, why don't you check out this fun little website about Daylight Savings Time? But not for too long. Time to get to bed!

Peace and all good,

Friday, March 11, 2011

What I love about Lent

Hello, Coffee Talkers!

Today, some great things happened. Small things, but great, nonetheless. Including the following: mopped the floors, did approximately 900 loads of laundry [slight exaggeration alert!], had my girls help me pick out lots of fresh veggies from the store, and (you might wanna sit down for this one) COOKED! Don't get me wrong, I always manage to get some sort of semi-nutritious food on the table (we like to eat around here!), but I've been relying too heavily on convenience foods for far too long and new that I needed to make a change.

For Lent, there were SO many areas of life that needed improvement that I decided to do something small with a ripple effect -- I decided to limit my personal internet time to allow more time for cooking, taking walks, and reading with my girls. And that meatless soup I made today -- it was awesome! Man, if I had remembered that actually cooking something could yield such tasty results, I might have gone back to cooking long ago! It hardly seemed penitential to go without meat when that soup was so darned delicious. Also, the fresh ingredients were less expensive and had considerably less packaging than convenience foods, so I was saving green and going green by eating my greens! And it wasn't any extraordinary skill of mine that made the soup so good -- it was really a small effort on my part to re-order my life and make better use of the time and resources that God has given me. God did something great with such a small offering from me.

I realized that this is what I love about Lent -- it reminds me that sometimes 'giving something up' really means getting much more than I had before. It reminds me that no matter how dirty my kitchen floor is, I can always mop it again. That no matter how long it is since I've chopped vegetables, I can take up chopping again. That in 'dying to self,' I find more of my true self and experience a much fuller and more fulfilling life.

Lent reminds us that (as Pope John Paul II said among the final words I heard him speak in person) we are not the sum of our failures and weaknesses, but rather of God's love for us. Lent is filled with the hope that new habits can always be formed, bringing us closer to the person God has made us to be, no matter how far we've drifted. Lent is a message of God's mercy and love.

Peace and all good,

Thursday, March 10, 2011

What are YOU gonna be when you grow up?

Greetings, Coffee Talkers!

Today, my girls and I were riding in our car, and as we passed some horses the girls both greeted the equines with great enthusiasm. It was the horse-sighting that inspired a great conversation initiated by my 4 1/2-year-old, Patricia Rose.
PR: Don't forget -- I'm going to be a cowgirl when I grow up.
Me: Right!
PR: Mommy, what are you gonna be when you grow up?
Me: Well, I'll still be your Mommy.
PR: No, not that! Something else.
Me: Well, I'll probably still work at the church.
PR: No, not that either. Something else...I know! Maybe you could be one of Jesus' saints or something!
Me: You're right, Patricia Rose! That is what I want to be! Thank you very much.
PR: [with a huge smile] You're welcome, Mommy!

I think she gives us all something to strive for!

Peace and all good,

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Biblical Theology of Ashes

Hello, Coffee Talkers!

A blessed Ash Wednesday to you! Today, I'd like to share an entry from one of my very favorite books, Father Xavier Leon Dufour's Dictionary of Biblical Theology.

Really, I cannot recommend this book enough. And I just saw that there are many inexpensive copies available online, so use a little of that money you saved in giving up your Big Mac habit to get one for yourself and enhance your Lenten spiritual reading!

Anyway, here's the entry on ashes. I think it gives some great food for thought (and speaking of food, it makes me quite grateful that we don't have to eat the ashes!).

The original meaning of ashes is a much debated question, in spite of their widespread use in most ancient religions. They are often associated with dust (the Septuagint translates “dust” by “ashes” on more than one occasion) and symbolize both the sin and weakness of man.
1.       In the first place the heart of the sinner is compared with dust: Isaiah calls the idolator “a man who hankers after ashes” (Is 44,20), and the Wise Man says of him, “Ashes his heart, meaner than dirt his hope” (Ws 15,10). This is why the wages of sin can only be ashes: the proud will see themselves reduced to “ashes on the ground (Ez 28,18), and the wicked will be trodden under foot by the just like ashes” (Ml 3,21). Moreover, the sinner, who does not become hardened in his pride (Si 10,9) and who realizes his fault, confesses precisely that he is only “dust and ashes” (Gn 18,27; Si 17,32). And to prove to himself and others that he is convinced of this, he sits amid ashes (Jb 42,6; Jn 3,6; Mt 11,21 p) and covers his head with them (Jdt 4,11-15; 9,1; Ez 27,30).
2.       But this same symbol of repentance is also used to express the sadness of man crushed by misfortune, no doubt because of a connection between misfortune and sin is taken for granted. When she is scorned Tamar covers herself with ashes (2 S 13,19); and so do the Jews when threatened by death (Es 4,1-4; cf 1 M 3,47; 4,39). In this way man wants to show the state to which he has been reduced (Jb 30,19) and even goes so far as to eat ashes (Ps 102, 10; Lm 3,16). But it is especially on the occasion of a bereavement that he feels nothingness and then he expresses it by covering himself with dust and ashes: “Wrap yourself in sackcloth, daughter of my people, roll in ashes; mourn…” (Jr 6,26).
Thus to cover oneself with ashes is to act in mime a sort of public confession (cf the liturgy of Ash Wednesday). Using the language of this lifeless matter that returns to dust, man admits himself sinful and weak, and in this way forestalls God’s judgment and attracts his mercy. To anyone admitting his nothingness like this is addressed the promise of the Messiah, as he comes to triumph over sin and death, “to comfort all who mourn, and to give them for ashes a garland” (Is 61,3).
 A blessed Lenten journey to you all!