Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Addiction

Scott Weiland died on December 3 from an overdose due to a variety of drugs in his system, complicated also by his regular medication, as well as his asthma and heart disease from years of cigarette smoking. I love my 90s music, which is heavy on the Grunge, and I've seen too many of my rock favs die from drugs. Just off the top of my head, I think of Kurt Cobain (if the gun didn't kill him, the drugs would have), Layne Staley from Alice in Chains, Bradley Nowell from Sublime, and Shannon Hoon from Blind Melon. Addiction is a terrible thing. Phil Anselmo from Pantera OD'd on heroin and died for nearly five minutes before being resuscitated. James Hetfield from Metallica had the sense of going to rehab before alcohol and drugs could take his life. And there are many more out there.

I've been blessed with the realization that I, too, am an addict. By God's good graces, He has saved me from being addicted to alcohol, however I have always struggled with weight and, at one time, cigarettes. Normally, I'd smoke two packs a day, except for nights that I'd hang out all night with friends - then I'd hit three packs in a day; I did this every day for over a decade, until it became too expensive to smoke cigarettes anymore. Some people say that we should raise the prices on junk food the same way we've raised it on cigarettes, but I don't think that's right. As an addict, I'm still going to try to buy junk food or order out - it's just that the quality, like with drugs, will get worse and worse in order to buy the cheap stuff.

Scott struggled with faith, going from a practicing Christian to an atheist by the time of his death (I still hold on to the hope that he had a change of mind as he lay dying, or that God, in his infinite mercy, understood that Scott wasn't in his right mind for decades as he struggled with drug addiction, anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, depression, and schizophrenia). But I remember hearing the line in his song Barbarella, "Let go - let God, they say..." and as I read the Alcoholics Anonymous book, I realize now that he was quoting what he must have heard in his many, many trips to rehab. The key to any 12-Step program is the Third Step, when you realize that you are powerless to fight against your addiction and you turn everything over to God: God, I offer myself to Thee, to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life. May I do Thy will always! I am sure part of his atheism stemmed from those countless times when he prayed that AA prayer, trying to let go and let God do it instead, and felt no change, no cure, no relief from his struggles. That is why I cannot judge Scott or any addict (not that we should judge anyone - criticizing or condemning sinful actions is quite different from "being judgmental", as the Bible indeed tells us to be judgmental of sinful actions - but we're told to not judge the person; we are not better than that person. They are not evil for what they do or did. We can never say a person is going to Hell for any reason. THAT is the judgmentalism the Bible warns us about).

No, I cannot judge alcoholics or other addicts because, despite many Americans believing that there's no such thing as eating as an addiction, it very much is an addiction. The same chemicals are released in the brain when an addict gets their fix, be it food, alcohol, drugs, sex, porn, or whatever it may be. Your body and brain then starts to crave those waves of feeling good, so you keep doing that bad behaviour. The AA book says that for the addict, this is an allergy; an addict reacts differently than others to a certain stimuli. Just like an alcoholic can't have *just* a single drink, or maybe two, someone like me can't *just* have a handful of something unhealthy. I hear that often, like from people at work, where they know I struggle with food and support me when I try to eat healthier, but the moment they are having a party or cake or something and you say you don't want any candy or cake or chips, they say, "Oh come on! Just a little bit won't hurt!" Yes, for an addict, it will. People just don't believe that overeating can be an addiction - to most people, I'm just fat and lazy and should just stop eating. Simple as that. Well, yeah, and all Scott Weiland had to do was just stop using drugs. Easy, right?

The theory behind the "allergy" is that when an addict has "a little bit", that's never enough. For the addict, we react in a manner completely unlike "normal" people. Whereas a normal person might buy a bag of Doritos and make it last several days, I'm lucky if a bag lasts me more than an hour. Alcoholics react in this manner, as do sex addicts or porn addicts or whoever - a little is not enough; we need more! And you go until you can't go anymore. It might take me an entire medium pizza, an appetizer of cheese fries, a bag of popcorn, and a pint of ice cream to feel satisfied, but until I reach that point, then I'm going to keep eating. This isn't normal; it's compared to someone's allergic reaction to certain foods or pollen or bee stings - for some people, these things affect them not, but for others it creates a major reaction, one that could even be deadly.

The AA book also explains how addicts have an "obsession of self". When I read this part, I knew it was me. Let's say I'm at work and my coworker starts talking about how he's going to eat Chinese food when he gets home. Now, I could have gone all day - all week - without once thinking about Chinese food. But now he's planted the seed and "obsession of self" takes over. I start thinking and thinking and thinking about how good Chinese food tastes and I start to imagine eating it. I think about what would really hit the spot: fried pork dumplings? Egg rolls? General Tso's Chicken? And I just keep thinking about it, even if someone changes the subject. Even if I forget about how badly I wanted to get Chinese food and I go home and eat something else, the obsession comes back the next day, and the next, and the next until I finally get it out of my system and bring home some Chinese food. The AA book acknowledges that this isn't normal, that other people don't have this reaction.

It doesn't help that some research is indicating that food producers are purposely manipulating the ingredients in our food (mostly junk food) in order to keep us coming back for more, like when the tobacco companies were manipulating the nicotine levels to keep people addicted to smoking.

James Hetfield, singer for Metallica, wrote about addiction in their song Master of Puppets: "Taste me, you will see more is all you need; You’re dedicated to how I’m killing you!" Whether the act or item is killing us physically, mentally, spiritually, or all the above, it's the quandry of addiction - you know it's killing you, but you don't really see a way out. When I see those old pics of myself from five years ago, the healthiest I ever looked and felt, I can't help but think how absolutely far away that seems now, and how nearly impossible it feels that I'll ever be that size again. "Come crawling faster. Obey your master. Your life burns faster. Obey your master."

The biggest challenge is admitting you need help, and that's a process; many addicts will lie to themselves and to others, never wanting to realize they need help, but for me, I know I need help. Last year I spent nearly as much on food as I did on rent - had it been spent on cocaine instead of food, I'd probably be dead by now. Chances are, I might be dead soon anyway for all I know. This is the third time in my life I've exceeded 300 pounds and twice before I've lost over 100 pounds in order to get to a healthy weight - the human heart wasn't made for that kind of stress. But I trust God. I try to remain in a state of grace, even if that means going to Confession more than once a week, just in case my time comes, for the Lord promised that he can come "like a thief in the night, at a time we least expect". I stay close to God in the Sacraments, the Scriptures, and with prayer. Scott asked God for help and when it didn't happen right away, he probably thought that was his *proof* that there is no God. As for me, I do believe in God and in "all the truths which the Holy Catholic Church teaches because [God] has revealed them, who can neither deceive nor be deceived." I pray that Step Three prayer every day, and every day I wind up falling on my face, still spending money I don't have, in order to pig out another day, diabetes be damned. But that's not proof that there is no God; it's just proof that I haven't finished Step One yet: We admitted we were powerless over [food] - that our lives had become unmanageable. Scott and I parted ways over Step Two, which acknowledges that there is "a Power greater than ourselves [who] could restore us to sanity." I do believe in God and I do believe he can restore me to sanity - but it has to be after I've accepted Step One, that my life is unmanageable and that I am powerless to defeat the problem. As I said, it's a process - an expensive one, coupled with all the aches and pains and embarrassment of having so much weight on my frame; I literally have to lose half of myself in order to be a healthy weight. But then I'll hear Scott's lyrics from Creep in a totally different way than how he meant it when he sang, "I'm half the man I used to be." That day seems so far away...

My heart broke when Scott died, because I had always hoped he'd make it through this trial. I wasn't surprised by the news, but it was still sad. And all I can think in retrospect is, "there, but for the grace of God, go I." For me it's food, but it could have been drugs. It could have been alcohol. I could have been like Charlie Sheen and bed-hopped until I got HIV. It could happen to you; it's currently happening to me, but thank God it's not drugs, alcohol, or sex. But losing Scott was sad for me. I've heard Scott's singing for the last 22 years, even running a website dedicated to Scott and STP back in the OLD days of the internet (I named the site Comotose Commodity after a line in a song from their third album, my favorite of theirs). He was like a cousin that you never see, but you know they exist and you care about their welfare - still, they are far away and you don't really think about them until they do something stupid, which Scott did very often over the past two decades. Sadly, he'll probably be remembered more for his addiction and the way he died, which is sad because he was super-talented and he made some great music with STP, Velvet Revolver, the Wildabouts, and his various solo stuff. Still, his addiction feels like a wakeup call for me; perhaps it's enough to push me from Step One to Step Two and finally attending Overeaters Anonymous. I'm sure I won't think about it again all weekend, as I eat Christmas leftovers and Christmas cookies. But maybe my first New Year's resolution I've ever made could be to give OA a chance, to see some worth in those silly meetings, that this is a burden I can't carry on my own. Maybe that's why God is taking his time with me, so that I learn to lean on other people for help, something I don't like to do.

Since his death I've been watching tons of videos of Scott through the years, seeing him slowly shrivel into the wiry, gaunt, stick figure he became - slowly losing his voice and talent - and I just shook my head and asked, "What's wrong with us? Why do we do it? Why is it so hard for us?" As God would have it, Scott died from his addiction before I could die from mine, but that doesn't mean I have all the time in the world to get my act together, though.

No, I can't judge the behaviour of addicts, for I am one. And I could really use your prayers. Rest in peace, Scott. May the immeasureable mercy of God grant you peace and enternal rest, for hopefully you knew not what you were doing. God's mercy endures forever.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Muslims & Mary

One thing that Muslims, Catholics, and Orthodox have in common is a devotion to Mary. In the Qur’an, women are never mentioned by name - only by their relationship to men (such as "the daughter of so-and-so", or "the wife of so-and-so"); however, there is one woman in the Qur’an who is named: Mary. She is mentioned in the Qur’an more times than in the entire New Testament. And, like with the beliefs of Catholics and Orthodox, Mary is never considered alone from her son, but is always connected to him; she is referred to as Maryam bint Imran, Mother of Isa (The Greatest Woman Mary, Mother of Jesus).

Going further, the Qur’an starts the story of Mary from her Immaculate Conception in the womb of Holy Anna. The story shared in the Qur’an is somewhat similar to the Orthodox's non-canonical Protoevangelium of James. In both testimonies it speaks of St. Anne offering her offspring (Mary) to the service of the Lord...

Orthodox: "And Anna said: As the Lord my God lives, if I beget either male or female, I will bring it as a gift to the Lord my God; and it shall minister to Him in holy things all the days of its life."
Qur’an: "When a woman of ‘Imran said, My Lord! Surely I vow to Thee what is in my womb, to be devoted (to thy service); accept therefore from me, surely Thou art the Hearing, the knowing.” (3:35)

In a Hadith attributed to Mohammad, he taught, "Every child is touched by the devil as soon as he is born and this contact makes him cry. Excepted are Mary and her Son." The Qur’an states, "...the angels said, "O Mary, indeed Allah has chosen you and purified you and chosen you above the women of the worlds..."

In line with what we've discussed with Islam, the Catholic document Lumen Gentium explains, "Redeemed by reason of the merits of her Son and united to Him by a close and indissoluble tie, she is endowed with the high office and dignity of being the Mother of the Son of God, by which account she is also the beloved daughter of the Father and the temple of the Holy Spirit. Because of this gift of sublime grace she far surpasses all creatures, both in heaven and on earth" (53).

In the Qur’an, Mary grows directly under divine protection, is nourished daily by angels, and has visions of God every day - NOT because she is so special by herself, but because she was chosen by Allah to bear Isa (Jesus), in their minds the greatest prophet (except for Mohammad). "O Mary, indeed Allah gives you good tidings of a word from Him, whose name will be the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary - distinguished in this world and the Hereafter and among those brought near [to Allah ]...He will speak to the people in the cradle and in maturity and will be of the righteous...And He [Allah] will teach him writing and wisdom and the Torah and the Gospel."

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "Mary's role in the Church is inseparable from her union with Christ and flows directly from it...No creature could ever be counted along with the Incarnate Word and Redeemer; but just as the priesthood of Christ is shared in various ways both by his ministers and the faithful, and as the one goodness of God is radiated in different ways among his creatures, so also the unique mediation of the Redeemer does not exclude but rather gives rise to a manifold cooperation which is but a sharing in this one source." Giancarlo Finazzo writes in L'Osservatore Romano, "Mary is unimaginable if dissociated from her Son: the divine election and the purity of the Mother are directly proportioned to the qualities of the Son; the moment of their interdependence is greatly felt, therefore, since the historical greatness of Mary is conditioned by that of her Son, and the Son in his turn depends on his Mother, who constitutes the indispensable promise for his presence on earth. In the Qur’an, Christ is called repeatedly Issa ibn Maryam — Jesus son of Mary."

Mohammad had a daughter named Fatimah. Muslims throughout the world revere her. Inspired by her love and support towards her father, Fatimah is one of the most popular name for girls in the Muslim world; Fatimah is seen as the perfect role model for Muslim women. For Catholics, there is a significance to the name 'Fatimah'. In 1952, Archbishop Fulton Sheen wrote in The World's First Love:

...after the death of Fatimah, Mohammed wrote: Thou shalt be the most blessed of women in Paradise, after Mary. In a variant of the text Fatimah is made to say; I surpass all the women, except Mary.

This brings us to our second point; namely, why the Blessed Mother, in this 20th Century should have revealed herself in the significant little village of Fatima, so that to all future generations she would be known as “Our Lady of Fatima.” Since nothing ever happens out of Heaven except with a finesse of all details, I believe that the Blessed Virgin chose to be known as “Our Lady of Fatima” as pledge and a sign of hope to the Moslem people, and as an assurance that they, who show her so much respect, will one day accept her divine Son, too. Evidence to support these views is found in the historical fact that the Moslems occupied Portugal for centuries. At the time when they were finally driven out, the last Moslem chief had a beautiful daughter by the name of Fatima. A Catholic boy fell in love with her, and for him she not only stayed behind when the Moslems left, but even embraced the Faith. The young husband was so much in love with her that he changed the name of the town where he lived to Fatima. Thus the very place where our Lady appeared in 1917 bears a historical connection to Fatima, the daughter of Mohammed.

Muslims have named buildings after Mary, such as the Mary Mother of Jesus Mosque in Hoppers Crossing, Victoria, Australia, and the Mosque Maryam, the Nation of Islam National Center in Chicago, IL. Each year, millions of Muslims come on pilgrimage to the Catholic Marian shrines in places such as Fatima, Harissa, Damascus, Samalut, Assiut, and Zeitun. There are at least a dozen places of pilgrimage dedicated to the Virgin in Egypt, commemorating the journey the Holy Family made there as they escaped the murderous rampage of King Herod. During some pilgrimages, Muslims make up nearly a quarter of the participants! Seeking to use Mary as a bridge between Muslims and Christians, the Lebanese parliament declared August 15, the Solemnity of the Assumption (the day Mary died and was delivered, body and soul, into Heaven) as a national holiday, a decision supported by both Christians and Muslims in that country.

Aynur Gunenc, Ottawa native and practicing Muslim, said, "For us, Mary is a symbol of purity and patience, honesty and believing 100 per cent in God, even when things are difficult. I am full of respect and love for her. I cannot imagine, myself, keeping your faith when you have had a baby without a husband, close to people who disapprove. It would not be bearable. If there had been a woman prophet, it would have been Mary. She knew this life is temporary." Benedict XVI, on his 2006 visit to the pilgrimage House of the Virgin Mary in Ephesus said:

Strengthened by God’s word, from here in Ephesus, a city blessed by the presence of Mary Most Holy – who we know is loved and venerated also by Muslims – let us lift up to the Lord a special prayer for peace between peoples. From this edge of the Anatolian peninsula, a natural bridge between continents, let us implore peace and reconciliation, above all for those dwelling in the Land called “Holy” and considered as such by Christians, Jews and Muslims alike: it is the land of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, destined to be the home of a people that would become a blessing for all the nations (cf. Gen 12:1-3). Peace for all of humanity! May Isaiah’s prophecy soon be fulfilled: “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Is 2:4). We all need this universal peace; and the Church is called to be not only the prophetic herald, but even more, the “sign and instrument” of this peace. Against the backdrop of universal peace, the yearning for full communion and concord between all Christians becomes even more profound and intense.

Muslims believe Jesus Christ is a great prophet, and will return to earth at the end of time to judge the living and the dead; and they love and revere his mother, Mary. The Second Vatican Council's document Nostra Aetate declares, "The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting. Since in the course of centuries not a few quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Moslems, this sacred synod urges all to forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual understanding and to preserve, as well as to promote together for the benefit of all mankind, social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom."

Mary, Mother of God - Mary, Mother of Jesus - Mary, Mother of the Church, pray for us. Our Lady of Fatima, bring peace between Christian and Muslim. As you are portrayed standing on the crescent moon on the tilma of St. Juan Diego, be that bridge between the Cross and the Cescent that we so desperately need in this violent and dark hour. Amen.

Blessed Are the Merciful...

On December 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Jubilee Year of Mercy began, a year that will highlight the great mercy Christ gives us, most especially through the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession), and in the way we've been asked by God to mercifully treat one another. The Year of Mercy began when Pope Francis threw open a special set of doors at St. Peter's Basilica. These Holy Doors, at St. Peter's and at cathedrals and holy sites around the world, symbolize Jesus Christ's declaration, "I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture" (Jn 10:9). A photo making rounds online shows the retired Benedict XVI embracing Pope Francis after having walked through the Holy Doors. I've seen both popes together several times and every time I cannot help but thank God for his mercy; my, how we've changed since Pope Celestine V.

Pope Benedict was elected in 2005; prior to his election, he often spoke of retiring, but Pope St. John Paul II talked him out of it. Even in interviews, Benedict (as Cardinal Ratzinger) spoke of the joys of being able to just disappear into quiet retirement and spend the rest of his days reading and writing. On April 29, 2009, Benedict visited the tomb of Pope Celestine V (1215-1296). Now, when a bishop is ordained, he receives a special wool stole to wear around his neck, called a pallium - it represents a bishop's authority. Going largely unnoticed, Benedict XVI removed his pallium and laid it upon the tomb of Celestine. Most people shrugged and saw it as just having a devotion to some medieval pope - just a nice gesture - but it was much deeper than that...

Pope Celestine V (born Pietro da Morrone) was elected pope in 1294. He was a devout Christian and hermit, founding a strict order of monks called the Celestines, who followed the Rule of St. Benedict. Pope Nicholas IV died on April 4, 1292 and for two years the conclave debated who should become pope. As the story goes, Morrone wrote the conclave and chastised them over the scandal of having such a long conclave (something that was apparently normal back in the Middle Ages). Morrone was forced to regret his letter, because the conclave (pretty much out of spite) chose him as the next pope! Morrone was devastated by the news of his election. As a hermit living in a cave and striving to live a life like John the Baptist, he believed he wasn't worthy to be pope and worried that being pope would disrupt his life of strict penance. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Celestine's "hair-cloth [shirt] was roughened with knots; a chain of iron encompassed his emaciated frame; he fasted every day except Sunday; each year he kept four Lents, passing three of them on bread and water; the entire day and a great part of the night he consecrated to prayer and labour..."

He initially refused to serve, and even attempted to flee! But, they insisted that he serve, which he did - after they dragged him from his cave. Even after he accepted the papacy, he continued to live like a hermit, staying in Castel Nuovo in Naples, and in preparation for Advent had a little cell built on the model of his beloved hut. As pope, Celestine V wanted to make sure the Church wouldn't endure another long and painful conclave, so he re-enacted the Apostolic Constitution of Pope Gregory X; another thing he did was declare that a pope could resign his position.

Five months after his election, Celestine V resigned the papacy. In his declaration of retirement, Celestine wrote why he was abdicating the papacy: "The desire for humility, for a purer life, for a stainless conscience, the deficiencies of his own physical strength, his ignorance, the perverseness of the people, his longing for the tranquility of his former life."

After Celestine's papacy, he expected to retire back to his hermitage, however, that wasn't meant to be. Celestine's successor, Pope Boniface VIII - the man who encouraged Celestine to resign - was now worried that Celestine's supporters would prop him up as a competing anti-pope. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, "After revoking many of the provisions made by Celestine, Boniface brought his predecessor, now in the dress of a humble hermit, with him on the road to Rome...Celestine yearned for his cell in the Abruzzi, managed to effect his escape at San Germano, and to the great joy of his monks reappeared among them at Majella. Boniface ordered his arrest; but Celestine evaded his pursuers for several months by wandering through the woods and mountains. Finally, he attempted to cross the Adriatic to Greece; but, driven back by a tempest, and captured at the foot of Mt. Gargano, he was delivered into the hands of Boniface, who confined him closely in a narrow room in the tower of the castle of Fumone near Anagni. Here, after nine months passed in fasting and prayer, closely watched but attended by two of his own religious, though rudely treated by the guards, he ended his extraordinary career in his eighty-first year," dying in prison on May 19, 1296. Popular culture ridiculed Celestine, seeing him as a failure and a coward. In the most popular Italian work of the Middle Ages - Dante's Divine Comedy - the poet portrayed Celestine as being in hell, as "the shade of him who in his cowardice made the great refusal".

Fast-forward to Benedict XVI, only the second pope to resign the papacy under his own volition, announcing his abdication on February 11, 2013. Now his two visits to Celestine's tomb made sense to people (especially his leaving his pallium behind). Perhaps he was asking Celestine for his prayers, for strength to do what he was about to do. The papacy has taken many forms over the years, having - out of necessity for survival - grown to the power of a monarch through the Middle Ages. However, that was not the original role of the Pope; one of the papal titles is 'Servant of the Servants of God'. But due to the power the papacy grew to hold due to needing to protect the office from attacks by the powers of Europe and invaders of Arabia and Turkey, the thought of a pope retiring was unheard of! It had been over 700 years since the last one...

How would the Church react to Benedict? Would he go to prison? Would the Church faithful ridicule him and call him names, like so many had done to Celestine? Would he go down in history as a coward and a failure? God is good and his mercy endures forever - the exact opposite would happen.

Orthodox priest Fr. Johannes Jacobes said that Benedict showed "towering intellect" but also "a deep humility." Touched by Benedict's love and respect for the Orthodox churches, Fr. Jacobes said, "May God grant us more teachers like him...May his remaining years bear much fruit. We still need him." Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, the second highest person in the Russian Orthodox Church, said Benedict's choice to retire was "an act of personal courage and humbleness...Pope Benedict XVI is not a media star. He is a man of the Church."

Bartholomew I, the Patriarch of Constantinople, said, "It is with regret that we have learned of the decision by His Holiness Pope Benedict to retire from his Throne, because with his wisdom and experience he could have provided much more to the Church and the world...We Orthodox will always honor him as a friend of our Church and a faithful servant of the sacred proposition for the union of all."

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, wrote, "It was with a heavy heart but complete understanding that we learned this morning of Pope Benedict’s declaration of his decision to lay down the burden of ministry as Bishop of Rome, an office which he has held with great dignity, insight and courage...I speak not only for myself, and my predecessors as Archbishop, but for Anglicans around the world, in giving thanks to God for a priestly life utterly dedicated, in word and deed, in prayer and in costly service, to following Christ...We pray that God will bless him profoundly in retirement with health and peace of mind and heart..." The Anglican Archbishop of York said the Christian world will "miss a great theologian with great spiritual depth...He was unafraid to proclaim the Gospel and challenge a culture that is so self-referential, managing to lift our eyes to God's glory.

"

Pope Francis, when asked how it was having Benedict XVI so close, living a quiet life of prayer in a monastery in the Vatican, the Pope referred to Benedict as "a very wise grandfather...a grandfather is honored, loved, and he is listened to...If I am in a bind, or if I'm faced with something I don't understand, I can call him." He also said, "I am in favor of what Benedict did [retired]. I think what Benedict so courageously did was to open the door to the popes emeritus...Benedict should not be considered an exception, but an institution."

Out of humility, Benedict XVI said he would be happy to be called Father Benedict, but the Church declared him "His Holiness Benedict XVI, Supreme Pontiff Emeritus." He wanted to retreat into the quiet of the monastery, offering prayers for the Church and the world, but Pope Francis has routinely encouraged Benedict to be present for significant events of the Church, such as the canonizations of particular saints or the celebration of significant holy days. But, for the most part, Benedict has the retirement he sought, and instead of being thrown in prison and considered a coward or anti-pope, he is revered by Christians across denominations as a man of great humility and courage. His immediate successor, Pope Francis, speaks of Benedict fondly in interviews and quotes him many times in his writings. In this Year of Mercy, we can reflect on how the Church has grown in mercy over the centuries, remembering that God's mercy endures forever. The way we react to things can make a deep impact on others - who knows how many other popes considered retiring, but upon remembering the imprisonment of Celestine V, reconsidered the thought? Not knowing what the future would bring, Benedict XVI took the chance - and the Church, remembering the mercy of her head, Jesus Christ, embraced Benedict and wished him well. Thank God that times have changed.

As for Celestine V, he wouldn't be considered a coward or a failure forever. He was canonized in 1313 and many miracles have been attributed to his intercession. Blessed Paul VI visited his tomb, as well as those famous visits by Benedict XVI. In 2014, Pope Francis declared a Jubilee Year of Pope St. Celestine V. In his address, Pope Francis said, "Like Saint Francis of Assisi, [Celestine V] had a very strong sense of God's mercy, and the fact that God's mercy renews the world." Celestine went down in history as one of the most humble and holy of popes, while his successor Boniface went down in history as one of the most wicked and corrupt.

Thanks to the examples of Celestine and Benedict, even Pope Francis has thought that, if necessary, he would follow their lead. Francis said that Benedict "opened a door, a door to retired popes. Will there be others? God knows. But this door is open...A pope who feels that his strength is failing - because these days we are living longer - has to ask the same questions Pope Benedict asked..."

St. Celestine V, pray for us, that we may learn from your humility and love for God, and apply your example to our own lives. In 2010 Benedict XVI had this to say about Celestine - let's reflect on it.

...it is important to learn to live in our days moments of inner silence in order to hear the Lord's voice. You may be sure that if we learn to listen to this voice and to follow it generously, we have nothing to fear, we know and feel that God is with us, that God is Friend, Father and Brother. In a word: the secret of the vocation lies in the relationship with God, in prayer that develops, precisely, in inner silence, in the capacity for listening, hearing that God is close...St Peter Celestine was first and foremost this: a man of listening, of inner silence, a man of prayer, a man of God...may you always make room in your day for God, to listen to him and pray to him!

Being with God, listening to his word, in the Gospel and in the Church's Liturgy, protects you from the dazzle of pride and presumption, from fashions and conformism, and gives you the strength to be truly free, even from certain temptations masked by good things...None of this removes us from life but instead helps us truly to be ourselves in every context, faithful to the voice of God who speaks to our conscience, free from the conditioning of the time! This is how it was for St Celestine V. He was able to act according to his conscience in obedience to God hence without fear and with great courage even in difficult moments such as those linked to his brief Pontificate, not fearing to lose his dignity but knowing that it consists in existing in truth. And the guarantee of truth is God.

Dear Friends, faith and prayer do not solve problems but rather enable us to face them with fresh enlightenment and strength, in a way that is worthy of the human being and also more serenely and effectively...let yourselves be totally won over by Christ! ...Here is another badge (distinctive sign) of the Christian: he is never an individualist. Perhaps you will say to me: but if we look, for example, at St Peter Celestine, in his choice of the heremitical life might there not have been individualism or an escape from responsibility? This temptation does of course exist. But in the experiences approved by the Church, the solitary life of prayer and penance is always at the service of the community; open to others, it is never in opposition to the community's needs. Hermits and monasteries are oases and sources of spiritual life from which all may draw. The monk does not live for himself but for others and it is for the good of the Church and of society that he cultivates the contemplative life, so that the Church and society may always be irrigated by new energies, by the Lord's action.

I am happy as I leave, like a father who is serene because he has seen that his children are growing up and growing up well...Walk on the path of the Gospel; love the Church our mother; be simple and pure in heart; be gentle and strong in truth; be humble and generous. I entrust you all to your holy Patrons, to St Peter Celestine and, especially, to the Virgin Mary, and I bless you with deep affection. Amen.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Why Catholics Especially Should Condemn Trump's Promise to Halt Muslim Immigration

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has called for the complete halt of all Muslim immigration to the US. "Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in Jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life." Nice to say they have "no respect for human life" while also being a candidate who supports abortion (depending on what day of the week you ask him, but I digress).

Now, I'm not naive when it comes to radical Islam - we're seeing the death of Europe over it (coupled with the voluntary sterilization of the post-Christian world). So, yes, some Muslims are very, very bad. Yes, the Koran indeed has verses encouraging death, murder, and terror - and this is NOT a misinterpretation of the Koran, as so many politically-correct politicians have insisted. However, as a Catholic, I cringe whenever I hear an American call for the halt of immigration due to religion, since Catholicism felt that bigotry since before the United States was a nation.

For instance, the state constitution in New Jersey granted religious freedom to all residents except Catholics. In fact, most of the 13 colonies either banned Catholics from settling there, or at least severely restricted (or banned) the celebration of Mass. During the mid-1800s, reacting to the large wave of German and Irish Catholic immigrants coming to the US, a new political party emerged - the American Party, powered by the anti-Catholic "Know Nothing" movement and their secret society, the Order of the Star Spangled Banner. Their platform demanded that anyone who has "any allegiance or obligation of any description to any foreign prince, potentate or power" - in other words, the Pope - should never be allowed to hold political office. My ex-wife had to reside in the US for three years before she was entitled to citizenship - for other immigrants, the wait is five years; the American Party called for a 21-YEAR waiting period. They demanded the repeal of all existing immigration laws, demanded the establishment of an American public school system in order to counteract the Catholic school system, "war to the hilt" on Catholics in politics, the protection of "Protestant interests", the sending back of all "foreign paupers", and "eternal enmity" against anyone who tries to carry out "the principles of a foreign Church or State" - i.e., Catholics.

The American Party won many seats in local and state elections, and even won some national seats. Anti-Immigrant/anti-Catholic violence erupted around the country. Things got so bad that Mass was suspended in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia because too many Catholics were being assaulted on their way to Mass. The basilica in Philadelphia has very high windows because the builders, knowing the hatred of the area, built them too high for rock-throwing bigots to reach. There were riots in several cities, priests and nuns were harassed and sometimes assaulted, and several people even died.

The Civil War basically disrupted all the Catholic immigrant hatred for a while, but it would rear its ugly head again in the early 20th Century when more poor Catholic immigrants from Poland, Germany, Italy, and parts of Eastern Europe flooded American cities. The Ku Klux Klan would re-emerge across the nation, demanding a halt to immigration; that these immigrants were a threat to our jobs, our culture, and "our religion". Even during the call for Prohibition, many of the supporters of that movement said that banning alcohol was a way to "punish the Germans" who were waging war in Europe and stealing our jobs at home. The same thing that politicians and Protestant ministers were shouting in the 1840s are shouted today at Latinos: immigrants are stealing our jobs, bringing in diseases, raising the crime rate, and are endangering our culture and our religion. And now, Trump is saying the same thing that those Know Nothings shouted - kick out the immigrants, ban certain religions from coming here.

And many Americans are eating it up. We haven't really changed much. That's very sad.

My advice to America is the same as to Europe - you want to combat radical Islam and stop Muslims from "taking over"? Then start having bigger families and teach them to be devout in their faith. A Christian West will never be conquered by Islam, and a nation that is fertile will never be scared of immigrants. And stop hating Catholics. Isn't 500 years long enough to stop being so bitchy about things? If we don't learn to work together, everything is lost.

The Reformers' Love For Mary

This isn't a posting arguing who is right and who is wrong; it isn't to argue teachings or where in the Scriptures this is or that. Rather, it's a posting showing the Protestant Reformers and their love for Mary. Devotion to Mary wasn't something foreign to the Reformers, but sadly, it was something that's been lost. If they ever return to loving the Mother that Jesus so dearly loves, then they will share with Catholics and Orthodox - and even Muslims - a love to the Mother of Jesus, that perfect and spotless tabernacle for the Lord. May Mary be the vehicle that brings all Christians together to celebrate our commonalities and may she encourage us to work and grow together until we all may be one.

The following quotes are from the Protestant Reformers - and are mainly in line with the teachings of the Catholic Church.

Martin Luther:
"Christ, ..was the only Son of Mary, and the Virgin Mary bore no children besides Him... 'brothers' really means 'cousins' here, for Holy Writ and the Jews always call cousins brothers." (Sermons on John, chapters 1-4.1537-39).
"He, Christ, our Savior, was the real and natural fruit of Mary's virginal womb.. .This was without the cooperation of a man, and she remained a virgin after that." (Ibid.)
"God says... "Mary's Son is My only Son." Thus Mary is the Mother of God." (Ibid.).
"God did not derive his divinity from Mary; but it does not follow that it is therefore wrong to say that God was born of Mary, that God is Mary's Son, and that Mary is God's mother...She is the true mother of God and bearer of God...Mary suckled God, rocked God to sleep, prepared broth and soup for God, etc. For God and man are one person, one Christ, one Son, one Jesus. Not two Christs...just as your son is not two sons...even though he has two natures, body and soul, the body from you, the soul from God alone." (On the Councils and the Church, 1539).
"It is a sweet and pious belief that the infusion of Mary's soul was effected without original sin; so that in the very infusion of her soul she was also purified from original sin and adorned with God's gifts, receiving a pure soul infused by God; thus from the first moment she began to live she was free from all sin" (Sermon: "On the Day of the Conception of the Mother of God," 1527).
"She is full of grace, proclaimed to be entirely without sin — something exceedingly great. For God's grace fills her with everything good and makes her devoid of all evil." (Personal {"Little"} Prayer Book, 1522).
"There can he no doubt that the Virgin Mary is in heaven. How it happened we do not know. And since the Holy Spirit has told us nothing about it, we can make of it no article of faith... It is enough to know that she lives in Christ." (Sermon on the Feast of the Assumption, 1552)
"The veneration of Mary is inscribed in the very depths of the human heart." (Sermon, September 1, 1522).
[She is the] highest woman and the noblest gem in Christianity after Christ...She is nobility, wisdom, and holiness personified. We can never honor her enough. Still honor and praise must be given to her in such a way as to injure neither Christ nor the Scriptures." (Sermon, Christmas, 1531).
"No woman is like you. You are more than Eve or Sarah, blessed above all nobility, wisdom, and sanctity." (Sermon, Feast of the Visitation. 1537).
"One should honor Mary as she herself wished and as she expressed it in the Magnificat. She praised God for his deeds. How then can we praise her? The true honor of Mary is the honor of God, the praise of God's grace...Mary is nothing for the sake of herself, but for the sake of Christ...Mary does not wish that we come to her, but through her to God. (Explanation of the Magnificat, 1521).
"It is the consolation and the superabundant goodness of God, that man is able to exult in such a treasure. Mary is his true Mother, Christ is his brother. God is his father." (Sermon. Christmas, 1522)
"Mary is the Mother of Jesus and the Mother of all of us even though it was Christ alone who reposed on her knees...If he is ours, we ought to be in his situation; there where he is, we ought also to be and all that he has ought to be ours, and his mother is also our mother." (Sermon, Christmas, 1529).
"Whoever possesses a good (firm) faith, says the Hail Mary without danger! Whoever is weak in faith can utter no Hail Mary without danger to his salvation." (Sermon, March 11, 1523).
"Our prayer should include the Mother of God.. .What the Hail Mary says is that all glory should be given to God, using these words: "Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus Christ. Amen!" You see that these words are not concerned with prayer but purely with giving praise and honor.. .We can use the Hail Mary as a meditation in which we recite what grace God has given her. Second, we should add a wish that everyone may know and respect her...He who has no faith is advised to refrain from saying the Hail Mary." (Personal Prayer Book, 1522).
"A new lie about me is being circulated. I am supposed to have preached and written that Mary, the mother of God, was not a virgin either before or after the birth of Christ..." (That Jesus Christ was Born a Jew (1523)
"Scripture does not say or indicate that she later lost her virginity...When Matthew [1:25] says that Joseph did not know Mary carnally until she had brought forth her son, it does not follow that he knew her subsequently; on the contrary, it means that he never did know her...This babble...is without justification...he has neither noticed nor paid any attention to either Scripture or the common idiom. (Ibid.)
"Men have crowded all her glory into a single phrase: The Mother of God. No one can say anything greater of her, though he had as many tongues as there are leaves on the trees." (From the Commentary on the Magnificat)

John Calvin:
"Elizabeth called Mary Mother of the Lord, because the unity of the person in the two natures of Christ was such that she could have said that the mortal man engendered in the womb of Mary was at the same time the eternal God." (Calvini Opera [Braunshweig-Berlin, 1863-1900], Volume 45, 35)
"Helvidius has shown himself too ignorant, in saying that Mary had several sons, because mention is made in some passages of the brothers of Christ." (Bernard Leeming, "Protestants and Our Lady", Marian Library Studies, January 1967, p.9)
"It cannot be denied that God in choosing and destining Mary to be the Mother of his Son, granted her the highest honor." (John Calvin, Calvini Opera [Braunshweig-Berlin, 1863-1900], Volume 45, 348)
"To this day we cannot enjoy the blessing brought to us in Christ without thinking at the same time of that which God gave as adornment and honour to Mary, in willing her to be the mother of his only-begotten Son." (John Calvin, A Harmony of Matthew, Mark and Luke (St. Andrew's Press, Edinburgh, 1972), p.32)

Ulrich Zwingli:
"It was given to her what belongs to no creature, that in the flesh she should bring forth the Son of God." (Ulrich Zwingli, In Evang. Luc., Opera Completa [Zurich, 1828-42], Volume 6, I, 639)
"I firmly believe that Mary, according to the words of the gospel as a pure Virgin brought forth for us the Son of God and in childbirth and after childbirth forever remained a pure, intact Virgin." (Ulrich Zwingli, Zwingli Opera, Corpus Reformatorum, Volume 1, 424)
"I esteem immensely the Mother of God, the ever chaste, immaculate Virgin Mary." (E. Stakemeier, De Mariologia et Oecumenismo, K. Balic, ed., (Rome, 1962), 456)
"Christ ... was born of a most undefiled Virgin." (Ibid.)
"It was fitting that such a holy Son should have a holy Mother." (Ibid.)
"The more the honor and love of Christ increases among men, so much the esteem and honor given to Mary should grow." (Ulrich Zwingli, Zwingli Opera, Corpus Reformatorum, Volume 1, 427-428)

Heinrich Bullinger (Zwingli's successor):
"In Mary, then, everything is extraordinary and even more majestic, because it has sprung from the purest faith and burning love for God." (Sermon on Mary)
"Therefore we believe that the most pure chamber of the Bearer of God and Temple of the Holy Spirit, the Virgin Mary, that is her holy body, was carried to heaven by angels." (Das Marianlob Der Refermatorum)

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Despelling the Lie Against Christianity & War

Western leaders are still hesitant to condemn Islam for the terrorist attacks that have been perpetrated against us, although for many Americans, the connection between terror and Islam is abundantly clear. For many, especially atheists, this fuels their hatred and bias against religion. For many irreligious Christians, this reinforces their belief that organized religion is the main cause of war. There is no doubt that Mohammed taught his followers to spread his religion by the sword and through terror, but is it fair to say that all religion is responsible for most of the world's armed conflicts? And let's be honest here - you only usually hear this charge against religion made by atheists and irreligious Christians and the target is usually against Christianity. Is it true to say that Jesus Christ - the Way, the Truth, and the Life (Jn 14:6) - founding a Church on the rock of Peter (Mat 16:18) - doesn't want us to have "organized religion"? Do the followers of the Prince of Peace (Is 9:6) use his name to start wars?

Unlike the rest of the modern world, I do not consider the Crusades as a religious war, even though they were fought between Christians and Muslims (and once in a while, against Christians and Christians). It is very important that we rediscover philosophy and that words mean something - we must be accurate. Although Christians and Muslims were fighting, it wasn't a war of religion, it was a war of territory and safety. Up until the time of the first Crusades, it was Islam that was spreading its religion by murder, by force, by intimidation, by slavery, and by invasion. The African slave trade became an industry because of Muslim Africans selling their captives to other Africans and eventually to wealthy Europeans. Islam had conquered all of the Middle East and northern Africa, which were devout Catholic nations, kingdoms, and tribes (although much of the Arabian peninsula remained pagan up to Mohammed's time). Christianity, meanwhile, left things alone. We had the pagan invaders from the lands of the barbarians to worry about. Eventually, though, Islam would rear its ugly head as it made war against the land evangelized by St. Paul - the future Turkey - and threatened the eastern capital of the Roman Empire, Constantinople. Coupled with that threat, the "highways" for pilgrimages to the Holy Land were cut off by the Muslims and Christian pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem were being robbed, beaten, and sometimes even slaughtered by the Muslims. Finally, after about 400 years, Christian Europe had enough and fought a war to liberate Palestine from Muslim control - not in the name of Christ, per se, but so that Christians who want to visit the holy sites can do so without fear or harm. It was for territory. It was for safety.

Eventually, however, Original Sin rears its ugly head and Christian turns on Christian, but was it motivated by religion, or by greed? Constantinople makes another cry for help and promises that if an army from Western Europe comes to its rescue that they would be rewarded handsomely. A large Western army arrives, but Constantinople doesn't pay them - the result? The sacking of Constantinople, which involved horrific crimes against humanity and the humiliation of their religious way of life. But, was this war one of religion? No, it was greed. The army wanted to be paid - when they weren't, they robbed the city blind and destroyed whatever was left. It was greed, not religion.

Time continues and eventually the Reformation happens. The only reason why the Reformation succeeded in northern Europe (as in, the only reason why it wasn't dispelled and forgotten) was because many kings and princes - especially in Germany - were eager to get their hands on Church land. Again, greed showed up at the door. Kingdom after kingdom, principality after principality, seized Church land. Monasteries were destroyed. Any money or property they held went to the king. All over northern Europe, this is how it played out. Kings and princes converted to Protestantism, with many doing so because the people - roused by their rejection of Roman power - would eagerly fight to rid their land of what they saw as paganism and heresy. Religion became a big factor here, but it was used as a tool to encourage the people to fight in order to protect their families and nation from eternal damnation. Religion was being used, but not for religion's sake - not for Christ's sake - but it was being used by the powers that be for....once again, greed.

So, for a posting that supposedly wants to exonerate Christianity for the charges made against it, that religion (especially Christianity) is responsible for the wars of the world, I'm not doing a very good job at it, am I? Well, not exactly - I cannot ignore the fact that Christians have fought Christians and have committed horrible acts, crimes against humanity - any opinion I have would be immediately discredited if I ignored this fact, of which I don't. However, I will show that, now that I've admitted our horrible crimes (which for the most part aren't religiously motivated), I will put all of that into perspective, using only the 19th and 20th Centuries as examples.

Ancient wars were numerous and deadly - the Mongol invasion of Russia and Europe alone killed 30 million people - but, as I said, we'll only look at fairly recent history. Were any of the wars fought by the United States religious wars? Let's look just at our wars (and police actions). Believe it or not, in the American Revolution - if you consider all the dead and wounded of the US, our allies, Britain and her allies, and the civilians, there were roughly 116,700 casualties. In the War of 1812, there were roughly 23,100 casualties. The war with Mexico - 29,000 casualties. The US Civil War - 1.5 million casualties. The war with Spain - 63,500 casualties. World War 1? 38 million casualties. World War 2? 60 million casualties. Korean War? 3.8 million casualties, mainly civilians. Vietnam? 1.14 million casualties. The First Persian Gulf War? Over 116,000 casualties (in a conflict that lasted only 6 months). The war with Serbia? Over 19,000 casualties, again, mostly civilian. Our second war with Iraq (2003-2011) - over a million casualties (although many experts believe this amount is underestimated). How about in the current insurgency? Nearly 163,000 casualties. The war in Afghanistan? Roughly 149,000 (so far).

So, just in the wars the US has been involved in (which covers a span of only 239 years), we're talking over 106 million casualties. Now, add to that the amount of people killed in the name of atheistic communism - that's another 300 million. How about the genocide in Khmer Rouge? That's another 1.7 million killed.

So, if we're taking the war casualties committed JUST during the lifetime of the US (and ONLY including conflicts the US fought in - we all know that wars rage across the globe throughout all history) and if we include in that total the major pogroms fought in the name of nationalism, atheism, communism, then our number has expanded to roughly 408 million casualties in only 239 years of world history - nearly all of which can be called non-religious in nature.

Let's compare that to how many deaths occurred at the hands of Christians in the name of their religion. According to the extensive research performed by the history department of Baylor University, all the wars in the name of Christ have resulted in roughly 5 million deaths.

5 million deaths over several centuries versus nearly half a BILLION deaths in just over 200 years. And when you add into the equation one of the "lies of Russia" - abortion - that number climbs from 408 million deaths to 1.5 BILLION non-religious casualties.

Let's be honest with ourselves. Religion, for the most part (the small amount of militant Muslims and radical Christians excluded) does NOT result in countless wars. The statistics are irrefutable, especially in the course of JUST the 20th Century's events. The leading cause of war is NOT religion and certainly not Christianity; it's a lack of religion; it's due to the lack of hope in the spiritual, as you fool yourself into thinking that a perfect Utopia can be created here on earth. Religion as the cause for most wars is a lie that unrepentant people like to tell themselves. The truth of the matter is that irreligion - atheism - and greed are the causes of most wars. Simply put, Original Sin is the cause of most wars. And the Gospel of Christ is the solution of - not the cause of - war and conflict. Jesus Christ was, is, and always will be the answer. And his Church subsists in the Catholic Church.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

So This Is.....Advent

I have too much time on my hands; if I didn't, then I wouldn't have been thinking about how I wanted to celebrate Advent this year. Most people - Catholic or otherwise - don't bother with Advent; the secular culture shoves Christmas down our throats earlier and earlier each year. This year the Christmas sale season (rather, the holiday sale season) showed up before Halloween. A few days before Halloween, I visited a local supermarket and walked down the aisle with all the Halloween candy and as I got to the end of the aisle, the candy slowly morphed into candy for Christmas and Hanukkah.

I was driving to the church the other day and lo and behold, there were THREE houses nearby that were already decorated for Christmas. I watched a cartoon that I enjoy - the episode aired on Nov 15 - and it was their CHRISTMAS episode. I got my hair cut yesterday and what was playing on the radio? Yep. Christmas music.

So, why bother with Advent? Most American Protestants don't have a history with Advent (although some Lutherans, Presbyterians, and members of the Anglican Communion certainly do) and Advent doesn't exist in the traditions of the Orthodox (they mark the season with St. Philip's Fast); coupled with the secular push for Christmas, Advent seems to be easily forgotten and never truly missed. I think there needs to be a great effort by theologians and the Catholic Church herself, truly rededicating herself to Advent; part of the liturgical renewal of the Mass of Blessed Paul VI was to give Advent a deeper presence in the lives of Catholics - it didn't really work.

In 1966, Blessed Paul VI expanded the forms of penance for the Fridays of the year (so often misinterpreted that "Catholics didn't have to abstain from meat on Fridays anymore"). The backstory is that there was a very big push after the Second Vatican Council (1961-1965) to end the "Eurocentric" attitude of the Curia, acknowledging the reality that a majority of practicing Catholics now live in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Therefore, when they reformed the Latin Martyrologium (the "saint of the day") there arose many more saints from these other areas instead of focusing on saints from the early Latin church, who were mostly Roman, and nearly always European. Being conscious of the catholicity (universality) of the Church, Blessed Paul VI wrote in Paenitemini about the history of penance, about its importance, and about how it was practiced around the Church. Understanding that so many Catholics misunderstood "meatless Fridays", and knowing that meatless Fridays made no sense to cultures that were vegetarian, Blessed Paul VI encouraged the bishops of each nation to address this issue and devise something that made sense for their culture (thereby lifting the requirement of "meatless Fridays", while at the same time reaffirming that Fridays always have been - and always will be - a day of penance in the life of a Catholic).

So, the US bishops released a statement on November 18, 1966 addressing times of the year for penance and how American Catholics should respond to the Pope's gesture. Addressing particular times of the year when the Church takes on a penitential mood (Advent being one of those times) they said, in part:

Changing customs, especially in connection with preparation for Christmas, have diminished popular appreciation of the Advent season. Something of a holiday mood of Christmas appears now to be anticipated in the days of the Advent season. As a result, this season has unfortunately lost in great measure the role of penitential preparation for Christmas that it once had. Zealous Christians have striven to keep alive or to restore the spirit of Advent by resisting the trend away from the disciplines and austerities that once characterized the season among us. Perhaps their devout purpose will be better accomplished, and the point of Advent will be better fostered, if we rely on the liturgical renewal and the new emphasis on the liturgy to restore its deeper understanding as a season of effective preparation for the mystery of the Nativity... If in all Christian homes, churches, schools, retreats and other religious houses, liturgical observances are practiced with fresh fervor and fidelity to the penitential spirit of the liturgy, then Advent will again come into its own. Its spiritual purpose will again be clearly perceived. A rich literature concerning family and community liturgical observances appropriate to Advent has fortunately developed in recent years. We urge instruction based upon it, counting on the liturgical renewal of ourselves and our people to provide for our spiritual obligations with respect to this season.

I enjoy Advent. I remember years ago at the Presbyterian church we attended, there was always a family that would come up on the Sundays of Advent and they'd place another figure in the manger scene; I remember doing this one year, but I was really young - I don't remember how old. And there was the lighting of the Advent wreath. When I started to attend an Episcopal parish, they also had their Advent wreath; still, I didn't know anyone who had an Advent wreath in their home until I became a Catholic - a lot of families will have Advent wreaths and/or Advent calendars in their homes. This gave me the inspiration to buy my own Advent wreath, which I light every year (but because I'm cheap, I only light the candles on Sundays and leave them burning for only 20 minutes or so).

Zealous Christians have striven to keep alive or to restore the spirit of Advent by resisting the trend away from the disciplines and austerities that once characterized the season among us. When I read that line for the first time, I thought, "Ok....what ARE 'the disciplines and austerities that once characterized the season'?" One thing I definitely wanted to do was reconnect with our Catholic roots, so I found THIS book, which gives Advent and Christmas reflections from the Church Fathers. I also looked a little outside of Catholic circles in order to explore how other Christians celebrate Advent. Some Lutherans encourage fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays, but now that I'm diabetic, I probably shouldn't fast. Additionally, it seems that from the US bishops' point of view, the penance offered during Advent is more liturgical in nature: "Advent (like Lent) includes an element of penance in the sense of preparing, quieting and disciplining our hearts for the full joy of Christmas. This penitential dimension is expressed through the color purple, but also through the restrained manner of decorating the church and altar." So, perhaps another form of penance proper to the season is simply resisting the push to jump ahead to Christmas before the day has arrived.

Lutheran, Catholic, and Anglican resources all encourage finding more time for deep prayer and reading the Scriptures. They also encourage keeping an Advent calendar, putting up a creche (manger scene), or lighting an Advent wreath. Catholic resources also encourage keeping a Jesse tree, especially if there are young children in the house. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops explains, "A Jesse Tree depicts the relationship of Jesus with Jesse and other biblical figures who were the ancestors of Jesus. Jesse was the father of King David and is often looked upon as the first person in the genealogy of Jesus...at the beginning of Advent and every day a new ornament can be added to it. These ornaments represent individual figures or stories from the Old and New Testaments." I proooooobably won't be doing that, but I can definitely see the value of having one if you have children.

I think observing Advent is important in the renewal of our spiritual lives, myself especially. The Incarnation is the most earth-shaking event in history up to that point (I think only being surpassed by his resurrection and ascension). God Himself, the creator of all that is - visible and invisible - came to earth as a baby. He that is timeless entered time. The Catechism explains the Incarnation:

The Word became flesh for us in order to save us by reconciling us with God, who "loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins": "the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world", and "he was revealed to take away sins"...The Word became flesh so that thus we might know God's love (CCC, 458)...The Word became flesh to be our model of holiness (CCC, 459)...The Word became flesh to make us "partakers of the divine nature" (CCC, 460).

I think we take this for granted now (especially myself). Critics always like to challenge the accuracy of our dating for the year of Christ's birth instead of contemplating the great mystery that the invisible God became man. The Catholic Church, with a deeper appreciation for the Old Testament than what is typically found in the Evangelical/Fundamentalist worlds, can liturgically highlight this significance, comparing the Light of Christ with the time of hope and expectation that is within the pages of the Old Testament.

Borrowing from a variety of resources, Protestant and Catholic, here are some ways to contemplate the mystery and spirituality of Advent:

During this season we have a dual focus in worship. On one hand, we anticipate the celebration of Christ’s historical advent or birth in Bethlehem . On the other hand, we anticipate Christ’s final advent as the world’s Lord and Judge at the end of history...We spend this season most fruitfully not by counting down the days to December 25 but by preparing ourselves to celebrate the Incarnation of the Son of God and by amending our lives in the anticipation of his promised return. Advent is a season to slow down, to reflect and to meditate on the great mercies of God...The Message of Advent is to “prepare.” The Lord is coming whether the world is ready or not. For those unprepared, his coming means judgment. For those ready for his coming, it means salvation.

The mood of Advent is expressed in the liturgical color, purple. It depicts a feeling of quiet dignity, royalty and repentance. Purple was the traditional color of a king’s robe; the coming Christ is King of kings. Advent, like Lent, is a time for solemn and sober thought about one’s sins, leading to repentance. It denotes a quiet time for watching, waiting and praying for Christ to come again, personally and universally...Advent stresses not so much fulfillment as anticipation of fulfillment: the Lord is coming! Christians have great expectations of Christ’s coming again. As a family looks forward to a son returning from a war and as a bride anticipates her wedding day, so a Christian looks forward with joy to Christ’s coming. In the quiet joy of anticipation and not the joy of celebration of a past event.

The Four Last Things – Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell – have been traditional themes for Advent meditation. The characteristic note of Advent is therefore expectation, rather than penitence, although the character of the season is easily coloured by an analogy with Lent. The anticipation of Christmas under commercial pressure has also made it harder to sustain the appropriate sense of alert watchfulness, but the fundamental Advent prayer remains ‘Maranatha’ – ‘Our Lord, come’ (1 Corinthians 16.22).

In Advent we expectantly wait for the One who has already come. We anticipate the promised justice of God’s new world, yet we praise God who raised the “righteous branch” to rule with justice and righteousness. We hope for the restoration of the afflicted, the tormented, and the grieving, yet we delight that healing has come in Christ. We long for the beating of swords into plowshares, yet we rejoice that the Prince of Peace has appeared. We yearn for the barren deserts of our inner cities to flourish, yet we laud the desert Rose that has bloomed. We dream of the land where lions and lambs live in harmony, yet we acclaim the child born to lead us into the promised land.

Our Advent discipline is a discipline of watching and waiting. Watching for and waiting for the presence of Christ in our lives and in our world. Watching and waiting in the midst of all that the world throws at us, for the Advent discipline is not about engaging in, as they used to say, “pie in the sky when you die.” Rather it is about recognizing that the coming of Christ is transformational for our world and our lives.

Advent teaches us to wait in anticipation of the good, to not give up, but to have hope in God. Advent teaches us to wait for the good to appear, for justice to prevail, for wisdom to emerge...In the end, learning to wait for the Spirit of God to move in our midst, in our culture, family, in me. Anticipate the good, to be open, receptive, and mindful of divine wisdom and love.

The Liturgy frequently celebrates the Blessed Virgin Mary in an exemplary way during the season of Advent. It recalls the women of the Old Testament who prefigured and prophesied her mission; it exalts her faith and the humility with which she promptly and totally submitted to God’s plan of salvation; it highlights her presence in the events of grace preceding the birth of the Savior. Popular piety also devotes particular attention to the Blessed Virgin Mary during Advent, as is evident from the many pious exercises practiced at this time, especially the novena of the Immaculate Conception and of Christmas...There can be no doubt that the feast of the pure and sinless Conception of the Virgin Mary, which is a fundamental preparation for the Lord's coming into the world, harmonizes perfectly with many of the salient themes of Advent. This feast also makes reference to the long messianic waiting for the Savior’s birth and recalls events and prophecies from the Old Testament, which are also used in the Liturgy of Advent...The approach of Christmas is celebrated throughout the American continent with many displays of popular piety, centered on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe (12 December), which dispose the faithful to receive the Savior at his birth. Mary, who was "intimately united with the birth of the Church in America, became the radiant Star illuminating the proclamation of Christ the Savior to the sons of these nations."

Popular piety perceives that it is impossible to celebrate the Lord's birth except in an atmosphere of sobriety and joyous simplicity and of concern for the poor and marginalized. The expectation of the Lord's birth makes us sensitive to the value of life and the duties to respect and defend it from conception. Popular piety intuitively understands that it is not possible coherently to celebrate the birth of him "who saves his people from their sins" without some effort to overcome sin in one's own life, while waiting vigilantly for Him who will return at the end of time.

I hope that we've been able to rediscover some of the theology behind the Advent season and how it can benefit us spiritually. So, how do we follow the guidance of our bishops in order "to keep alive or to restore the spirit of Advent"? Perhaps by adopting the Advent wreath and creche starting the first Sunday of Advent. There are CDs out there with hymns for Advent, most notably the Benedictines of Mary Queen of Apostles' album Advent at Ephesus. The bishops also advised that we "rely on the liturgical renewal and the new emphasis on the liturgy" by participating in the Mass (why not daily?). Following the encouragement of the Second Vatican Council and taking the liturgical renewal to the next step, perhaps use Advent to pray the Morning and Evening Prayers every day (along with the O Antiphons). Something that I like to do from time to time is to watch the beginning of the masterpiece Jesus of Nazareth, just until his birth (then, during Christmastide, watch from his birth until his baptism).

The hardest part of giving Advent time is suppressing Christmas - all the Christmas music is on the radio and all the Christmas shows are on television. Many suggest to keep the old tradition of putting the Christmas tree up on Christmas Eve (or leaving it undecorated until then) and leaving it up until at least the Baptism of the Lord, which is celebrated the first Sunday after January 6 (usually). There are some who recommend keeping the decorations up until the end of Christmastide (Feb 2), but that might be too much for me! Some have recommended to at least leave the Creche set up until Feb 2, which I could do. It might also be a great time to just pray a bit more, contemplate Scripture a bit more, and maybe visit the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.

Advent is an amazing time of year that deserves it's space on the calendar. I hope this posting at least plants some seeds in your heart so as to take advantage of the spiritual richness in this liturgical season. Advent is very deep and rich and valuable to our spiritual life and I pray that the Western Church can embrace this amazing and nurturing time of year.

A blessed Advent to you and yours!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Where in the Bible is Hanukkah?

Hanukkah is coming. We can see in the Bible where God instructs the Jewish people to celebrate Passover, for instance. But where is Hanukkah? It's in the Catholic (and Orthodox) versions of the Bible (that is, the Greek Old Testament, also called the Septuagint), contained in the books of 1 & 2 Maccabees, two of the books Martin Luther removed from his translation of the Bible; ironically enough, these books are not included in the Jewish Scriptures, either, because (in part) they were originally written in Greek.

The New Testament in John 10:22-39 mentions Hanukkah by the name of "the feast of the Dedication [of the Temple]": It was the feast of the Dedication at Jerusalem; it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon... This is Biblical evidence that Jesus celebrated Hanukkah since he was there at the Temple during the feast (which *should* lend some credence to the books of Maccabees). Let's look at the "meat and potatoes" of the story by examining the original story (in the same books of the Bible that contain Scripture encouraging prayers and offerings for the dead in Purgatory).

1 Macc 1:11-15 says, "In those days lawless men came forth from Israel, and misled many, saying, “Let us go and make a covenant with the Gentiles round about us, for since we separated from them many evils have come upon us.” This proposal pleased them, and some of the people eagerly went to the king. He authorized them to observe the ordinances of the Gentiles. So they built a gymnasium in Jerusalem, according to Gentile custom, and removed the marks of circumcision, and abandoned the holy covenant. They joined with the Gentiles and sold themselves to do evil.

At that time, King Antiochus of Greece conquered Egypt and then "went up against Israel and came to Jerusalem with a strong force. He arrogantly entered the sanctuary and took the golden altar, the lampstand for the light, and all its utensils. He took also the table for the bread of the Presence, the cups for drink offerings, the bowls, the golden censers, the curtain, the crowns, and the gold decoration on the front of the temple; he stripped it all off. He took the silver and the gold, and the costly vessels; he took also the hidden treasures which he found. Taking them all, he departed to his own land" (1 Macc 1:20-24).

After a couple of years, the king forced the Jews to pay an oppressive tribute, and then he arrived to the city with a great military force, subduing the people with false talks of peace, "but he suddenly fell upon the city, dealt it a severe blow, and destroyed many people of Israel. He plundered the city, burned it with fire, and tore down its houses and its surrounding walls. And they took captive the women and children, and seized the cattle. Then they fortified the city of David with a great strong wall and strong towers, and it became their citadel. And they stationed there a sinful people, lawless men" (1 Mac 1:30-34).

It became an ambush against the sanctuary, an evil adversary of Israel continually. On every side of the sanctuary they shed innocent blood; they even defiled the sanctuary. Because of them the residents of Jerusalem fled; she became a dwelling of strangers (1 Mac 1:36-38)...

Israel embraced the pagan beliefs of the Greeks. "Many even from Israel gladly adopted his religion; they sacrificed to idols and profaned the sabbath. And the king sent letters by messengers to Jerusalem and the cities of Judah; he directed them to follow customs strange to the land, to forbid burnt offerings and sacrifices and drink offerings in the sanctuary, to profane sabbaths and feasts, to defile the sanctuary and the priests, to build altars and sacred precincts and shrines for idols, to sacrifice swine and unclean animals, and to leave their sons uncircumcised. They were to make themselves abominable by everything unclean and profane, so that they should forget the law and change all the ordinances. “And whoever does not obey the command of the king shall die.” In such words he wrote to his whole kingdom. And he appointed inspectors over all the people and commanded the cities of Judah to offer sacrifice, city by city. Many of the people, every one who forsook the law, joined them, and they did evil in the land; they drove Israel into hiding in every place of refuge they had."

Jesus and the Prophet Daniel have spoken about the "abomination of desolation" and the Fathers of the Church believe that this refers to the actions of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes, for he went so far as to desecrate the temple of God. "...they erected a desolating sacrilege upon the altar of burnt offering. They also built altars in the surrounding cities of Judah, and burned incense at the doors of the houses and in the streets. The books of the law which they found they tore to pieces and burned with fire. Where the book of the covenant was found in the possession of any one, or if any one adhered to the law, the decree of the king condemned him to death. They kept using violence against Israel, against those found month after month in the cities. And on the twenty-fifth day of the month they offered sacrifice on the altar which was upon the altar of burnt offering. According to the decree, they put to death the women who had their children circumcised, and their families and those who circumcised them; and they hung the infants from their mothers’ necks" (1 Mac 1:54-61).

The story shifts to Mattathias and his five sons, including Judas Maccabeus. They openly defied the orders of the king and vowed to die before betraying the God of Israel. The next several chapters describe the battle between faithful Jews of Israel and the Gentiles and their followers. By 1 Mac 4, Judas and his followers had chased the enemy away and in celebration were determined to cleanse and rededicate the Temple.

"He chose blameless priests devoted to the law, and they cleansed the sanctuary and removed the defiled stones to an unclean place. They deliberated what to do about the altar of burnt offering, which had been profaned. And they thought it best to tear it down, lest it bring reproach upon them, for the Gentiles had defiled it. So they tore down the altar (4:42-45)..."

Early in the morning on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month...they rose and offered sacrifice, as the law directs, on the new altar of burnt offering which they had built. At the very season and on the very day that the Gentiles had profaned it, it was dedicated with songs and harps and lutes and cymbals. All the people fell on their faces and worshiped and blessed Heaven, who had prospered them. So they celebrated the dedication of the altar for eight days, and offered burnt offerings with gladness; they offered a sacrifice of deliverance and praise. They decorated the front of the temple with golden crowns and small shields; they restored the gates and the chambers for the priests, and furnished them with doors. There was very great gladness among the people, and the reproach of the Gentiles was removed. Then Judas and his brothers and all the assembly of Israel determined that every year at that season the days of the dedication of the altar should be observed with gladness and joy for eight days, beginning with the twenty-fifth day of the month of Chislev (1 Mac 4:52-59).

The feast of Hanukkah is reiterated in 2 Maccabees 1:18: "Since on the twenty-fifth day of Chislev we shall celebrate the purification of the temple, we thought it necessary to notify you, in order that you also may celebrate the feast of booths and the feast of the fire given when Nehemiah, who built the temple and altar, offered sacrifices."

Lastly, the famous story of the Hanukkah celebration where the oil for the lamp lasting for eight days can be found in the Jewish Talmud. Knowing the story in the Books of Maccabees helps put this story from the Talmud into context:

Commencing with the twenty-fifth day of the month of Kislew [Chislev, Kislev] there are eight days upon which there shall be neither mourning nor fasting. For when the Greeks entered the Temple, they defiled all the oil that was there. It was when the might of the Hasmonean dynasty overcame and vanquished them that, upon search, only a single cruse of undefiled oil, sealed by the High Priest, was found. In it was oil enough for the needs of a single day. A miracle was wrought and it burned eight days. The next year they ordained these days a holiday with songs and praises."

As our Jewish brethren celebrate Hanukkah this year, let us remember the valiant efforts of these heroes of the People of God, of whom we are a part, as baptized Christians. As they celebrate the rededication of the Temple, let us think of our Lord - the New Temple - and contemplate what must have gone through his mind as he "was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon" in celebration of the feast. During this 'festival of lights', let us honor Jesus, the "light of the world". As it is written in the Psalms, "Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path." Glory be to God in the Highest.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Praying for the Exoneration of Venerable Pope Pius XII

There is a lot of controversy regarding Pius XII. Many people believe he silently watched as Jews around Europe were being carted off to death camps. Books, plays, and movies have been written about the subject. When I was considering becoming a Catholic, I had already heard how the Church did very little for the Jews in World War II, so I was concerned about Pius XII; how could I defend such inaction? How can I join a church that did so little for Jews? As God would have it, I was drawn to a book from the library entitled The Myth of Hitler's Pope: Pope Pius XII And His Secret War Against Nazi Germany, written by Rabbi David G. Dalin. I thought that since I've already heard one side of the Pius story, let's give the other side a shot; and the fact that it was written by a Rabbi stood out to me because I honestly cared about what Jewish people thought about the rumor. As it turns out, the best way to learn about someone with a controversial story is to look at his or her contemporaries. How did they perceive the Pope's actions, or lack thereof?

This is not an exhaustive writing, to say the least, but just an attempt to skim the surface and encourage an open debate about this passionate subject.

Prior to becoming Pius XII, he was known as Eugenio Maria Giuseppe Giovanni Pacelli, born March 2, 1876 and died October 9, 1958. He worked a tremendous amount of time in the Congregation for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs, which was a sub-office of the Vatican's Secretary of State; therefore, he did a LOT of diplomatic work around the world. He was eventually made the Apostolic Nuncio of Germany, which is the Church's version of the role of Ambassador; here is where many anti-Pius people think he got cozy with Germany and Nazism, but we shall see Germany's horrified reaction to Cardinal Pacelli's election to the papacy in a little bit.

During his time in Germany, he saw the rise of Nazism firsthand. Being concerned about this, the pope at the time - Pius XI - worked with Cardinal Pacelli in the release of one of the Church's only papal letters NOT to be released in Latin - it was released in German in 1937 and was directed at the German people, informing them that the principles of Nazism are incompatible with Christianity. Hans Dieckhoff, an official in the German Foreign Ministry, wrote that the "Encyclical contains attacks of the severest nature upon the German Government, calls upon Catholic citizens to rebel against the authority of the State, and therefore signifies an attempt to endanger internal peace."

With Pius XI's death, Pacelli was elected to the papacy in 1939, taking the name of Pius XII. Germany was very unhappy. Two days after Pacelli's election, Joseph Goebbels wrote in his diary: "Midday with the Führer. He is considering whether we should abrogate the concordat with Rome in light of Pacelli's election as Pope." The Germans were the only government to not send representatives to Pius' coronation ceremony. According to the Jewish Chronicle in London on March 10, quoting an anti-Nazi speech Pacelli delivered in Lourdes in April 1935 and reporting on the hostile statements expressed about him in the Nazi press, the Chronicle said, "It is interesting to recall... on January 22 [1939], the Voelkischer Beobachter published pictures of Cardinal Pacelli and other Church dignitaries beneath a collective heading of 'Agitators in the Vatican against Fascism and National Socialism.'" The Chronicle also reported that upon the election of Pacelli, the "Vatican received congratulatory messages from the Anglo-Jewish Community, the Synagogue Council of America, the Canadian Jewish Congress, and the Polish Rabbinical Council." When Pius XII appointed Luigi Cardinal Maglione as the Vatican's new Secretary of State, the Zionist Review in London said that the Cardinal's appointment "confirms the view that the new Pope means to conduct an anti-Nazi and anti-Fascist policy."

Jimmy Akin writes: Dr. Joseph Lichten, a Polish Jew who served as a diplomat and later an official of the Jewish Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, writes: "Pacelli had obviously established his position clearly, for the Fascist governments of both Italy and Germany spoke out vigorously against the possibility of his election to succeed Pius XI in March of 1939, though the cardinal secretary of state had served as papal nuncio in Germany from 1917 to 1929. . . . The day after his election, the Berlin Morgenpost said: ‘The election of cardinal Pacelli is not accepted with favor in Germany because he was always opposed to Nazism and practically determined the policies of the Vatican under his predecessor.’ " Hermann Goering, in explaining the need to crush the Church, said, "Catholic believers carry away but one impression from attendance at divine services, and that is that the Catholic Church rejects the institutions of the Nationalist State." Hitler condemned Pius XII as "a Jew lover".

Former Israeli diplomat and now Orthodox Jewish Rabbi Pinchas Lapide wrote "Of the forty-four speeches Pacelli gave in Germany as papal nuncio between 1917 and 1929, forty denounced some aspect of the emerging Nazi ideology." In 1935, Pacelli wrote a letter to the bishop of Cologne and described the Nazis as "false prophets with the pride of Lucifer," and as "bearers of a new faith" who were attempting to create "a mendacious antimony [false dichotomy] between faithfulness to the Church and the Fatherland". In his address at Lourdes in 1935, Pacelli said in front of 325,000 pilgrims, "The Church will never come to terms with Nazis as long as they persist in their racial philosophy." In 1937, at Notre Dame in Paris he named Germany as "that noble and powerful nation whom bad shepherds would lead astray into an ideology of race." According to Joseph Bottum, Pacelli in 1937 "warned A. W. Klieforth, the American consul to Berlin, that Hitler was "an untrustworthy scoundrel and fundamentally wicked person," and called Hitler "diabolical" in a talk with the French ambassador.

Two months after Hitler's invasion of Poland and the start of World War II, Pius XII released the letter Summi Pontificatus, which condemned totalitarian, racist and materialistic theories of government. The head of the Gestapo, Heinrich Mueller, commented that the encyclical was “directed exclusively against Germany.” The American Israelite in Cincinnati praised the Pope's letter, "In decrying totalitarianism, Pope Pius XII called the individual 'the end' and the state 'the means' of bringing out the fundamental equality of men, because men are endowed with reason...This concept of democracy is reiterated in the Pope's Encyclical, stressing again the inviolability of the human person as a sacred being..."

In 1940, the Jewish Advocate in Boston reported that on the Pope's orders, Vatican Radio broadcast about the atrocities being committed in Poland. "Jews and Poles are being herded into separate ghettos, hermetically sealed and pitifully inadequate for the economic subsistence of the millions designed to live there." The Allied forces continued to deny that this was happening; only the Vatican was reporting it at the time. Later in 1940, Hitler sent Joachim von Ribbentrop to Rome in an attempt to intimidate the Pope into lying down in the face of Nazi brutality and might. "Von Ribbentrop...went into a lengthy harangue on the invincibility of the Third Reich, the inevitability of a Nazi victory, and the futility of papal alignment with the enemies of the Führer. Pius XII heard von Ribbentrop out politely and impassively. Then he opened an enormous ledger on his desk and, in his perfect German, began to recite a catalogue of the persecutions inflicted by the Third Reich in Poland, listing the date, place, and precise details of each crime. The audience was terminated; the Pope’s position was clearly unshakable." The New York Times' headline read JEWS’ RIGHTS DEFENDED and the article remarked, "The Pontiff, in the burning words he spoke to Herr Ribbentrop about religious persecution, also came to the defense of the Jews in Germany and Poland."

In the December 23, 1940 issue of Time Magazine (p.38), Albert Einstein is quoted saying, "Being a lover of freedom, when the revolution came in Germany, I looked to the universities to defend it, knowing that they had always boasted of their devotion to the cause of truth; but, no, the universities immediately were silenced. Then I looked to the great editors of the newspapers whose flaming editorials in days gone by had proclaimed their love of freedom; but they, like the universities, were silenced in a few short weeks...Only the Church stood squarely across the path of Hitler's campaign for suppressing truth. I never had any special interest in the Church before, but now I feel a great affection and admiration because the Church alone has had the courage and persistence to stand for intellectual truth and moral freedom. I am forced thus to confess that what I once despised I now praise unreservedly."

In 1942, in his address for Christmas, Pius XII continued to condemn what the Nazis were doing to Jew & Gentile throughout Europe, and he continued to call for peace. The New York Times reported: "This Christmas more than ever Pope Pius XII is a lonely voice crying out in the silence of a continent. The pulpit whence he speaks is more than ever like the Rock in which the Church was founded, a tiny island lashed and surrounded by a sea of war... When a leader hound impartially to nations on both sides condemns as heresy the new form of national state which subordinates everything to itself; when he declares that whoever wants peace must protect against 'arbitrary attacks' the 'juridical safety of individual'; when he assails violent occupation of territory, the exile and persecution of human beings for no reason other than race or political opinion; when he says that people must fight for a just and decent peace, a 'total peace'--the 'impartial' judgment is like a verdict in our high court of justice." The California Jewish Voice reported on his address, "Religious persecution and oppression of minorities must have no place in the world of the future, declared Pope Pius XII in his annual Christmas Eve message." Reich Central Security Office responded: "In a manner never known before, the Pope has repudiated the National Socialist New European Order.... Here he is virtually accusing the German people of injustice toward the Jews and makes himself the mouthpiece of the Jewish war criminals."

As a former diplomat, Pius XII was conscious of the repercussions that may occur due to something that a leader might say; therefore, he desired that the Vatican, bishops, and clergy work behind the scenes in efforts to save Jews and other persecuted minorities from Nazi oppression and death. This fear of reprisal was realized in the vicious persecution of Jews in Holland after the Archbishop of Utrecht openly condemned Nazism after the Vatican requested silence. Nazi orders came down swiftly and even Jews that had converted to Catholicism were swept up and ushered into the death camps; this is when Carmelite nun St. Edith Stein met her doom, since now even monasteries and convents were busted open to look for Jews.

Even though the Vatican was militarily powerless to stop Nazi atrocities, they did what they could to tend to the needs of the victims. Rabbi Naftali Adler and Dr. Max Pereles, the representatives of thousands of Jewish refugees interned at the Ferramonti concentration camp in southern Italy, wrote the Pope to thank him for sending an abundant supply of clothing and linen to the camp for the children. "This noble and generous gift proves anew what the whole world knows and admires that Your Holiness is... also the paternal guardian and promoter of the ideal of humanity for all mankind." Pius XII lifted cloister restrictions, allowing religious houses throughout Europe to offer refuge for Jews. He allowed the issuance of false baptismal certificates to Jews, delivered food to ghettos, and encouraged clergy around Europe to do what they could to save lives. In the fall of 1943, the Jewish communities of Chile, Uruguay, and Bolivia sent letters to Pope Pius XII, and thanked him for assisting Jews.

In July 1944, American Hebrew in New York published an interview with Chief Rabbi Israel Zolli of Rome. "The Vatican has always helped the Jews and the Jews are very grateful for the charitable work of the Vatican, all done without distinction of race." After the war, Rabbi Zolli converted to Catholicism, taking the name "Eugenio" — the Pope’s given name — as his own baptismal name.

Many Catholics, clergy and lay, worked to save Jewish lives. Irena Sendler, a devout Polish Catholic, would sneak into the ghettos for humanitarian efforts, but would always leave with children smuggled out in tool boxes, crates, and false compartments in ambulances; she was severely beaten for her efforts, but remained silent about what she was doing, saving all the records in a jar buried in her yard so that after the war the children could be matched up again with their parents. In Croatia, Pius XII gave all the help he could when requests were made to save Jewish lives. Chief Rabbi Freiberger appreciated "the limitless goodness that the representatives of the Holy See and the leaders of the Church showed to our poor brothers." The future Pope St. John XXIII, saved thousands of Jewish lives while serving as apostolic nuncio to Turkey during World War II, creating false documents and papers for Jewish refugees seeking to escape into Palestine. He formed a network of other Church officials and neutral politicians whom he enlisted to assist him in his efforts to save and protect the Jewish people. Rabbi Pinchas Lapide records that "in Rome we saw a list of 155 convents and monasteries...mostly extraterritorial property of the Vatican, which sheltered throughout the German occupation some 5,000 Jews in Rome. No less than 3,000 Jews found refuge at one time at the Pope’s summer residence at Castel Gandolfo; sixty lived for nine months at the Jesuit Gregorian University, and half a dozen slept in the cellar of the Pontifical Bible Institute." Thirty-six Jewish babies were born in the Pope's apartment, and even in his own bed at Castel Gandolfo! None of this could have been done without the Pope's knowledge and approval.

But to today's eye and ears, the perceived silence from the Vatican is a deafening condemnation; however, contemporaries understood the "silence". Catholic Answers writes: "A Jewish couple from Berlin who had been held in concentration camps but escaped to Spain with the help of Pius XII, stated: "None of us wanted the Pope to take an open stand. We were all fugitives, and fugitives do not wish to be pointed at. The Gestapo would have become more excited and would have intensified its inquisitions. If the Pope had protested, Rome would have become the center of attention. It was better that the Pope said nothing. We all shared this opinion at the time, and this is still our conviction today."

Jean Bernard, Bishop of Luxembourg, who has detained at Dachau, later wrote, "The detained priests trembled every time news reached us of some protest by a religious authority, but particularly by the Vatican. We all had the impression that our warders made us atone heavily for the fury these protests evoked."

There are too many reports to list here, but you get the idea - there is Jewish, Catholic, and secular proof that Pius XII condemned Nazism and that Germany saw him as no friend of Hitler or the Nazi cause. Throughout the war, the pope tried to contact Hitler in attempts to encourage peace. Von Ribbentrop at the Nuremburg war trials, said, "I do not recollect [how many] at the moment, but I know we had a whole deskful of protests from the Vatican. There were very many we did not even read or reply to."

When Pius XII died, the Jewish leaders of the time mourned his passing and praised his efforts. Israeli Foreign Minister Golda Meir said, “When fearful martyrdom came to our people in the decade of Nazi terror, the voice of the Pope was raised for the victims. The life of our times was enriched by a voice speaking out on the great moral truths above the tumult of daily conflict. We mourn a great servant of peace.” Alexander Shafran, Chief Rabbi of Bucharest, wrote: "It is not easy for us to find the right words to express the warmth and consolation we experienced because of the concern of the Supreme Pontiff, who offered a large sum to relieve the sufferings of deported Jews.... The Jews of Romania will never forget these facts of historic importance". Dr. Raphael Cantoni, a leader in Italy's Jewish Assistance Committee said, "The Church and the papacy have saved Jews as much and insofar as they could Christians. Six million of my co-religionists have been murdered by the Nazis... but there would have been many more victims had it not been for the efficacious intervention of Pius XII." Nahum Goldmann, president of the World Jewish Congress, wrote: "With special gratitude we remember all he has done for the persecuted Jews during one of the darkest periods in their entire history."

Upon his death, an outpouring of compliments and sympathy came from such organizations as the World Jewish Congress, the Anti-Defamation League, the Synagogue Council of America, the Rabbinical Council of America, the American Jewish Congress, the New York Board of Rabbis, the American Jewish Committee, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the American Jewish Committee, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the National Conference of Christians and Jews and the National Council of Jewish Women. The Chief Rabbis of London, Rome, Jerusalem, France, Egypt, Argentina and many other Jewish newspapers also paid tribute to the late Pope.

So, what happened? Why, forty to fifty years later, does most of the Western world condemn Pius XII? It's partly due to the fact that there's not much research done these days. Another reason is because people have an already biased view of the Church and can only see through those lenses. A third reason is because modern man has a knack for viewing past generations with contempt thanks to the very haughty benefit of "hindsight". This is why I instead turned towards the contemporaries of Pius XII. Even in Protestant and secular eyes, the Church was doing a lot to save the Jews and oppose Hitler.

The big "scandal", though didn't come until the 1960s when a Communist German Protestant named Rolf Hochhuth published the play The Deputy, where Pius XII was portrayed as "a cigarette-smoking dandy with Nazi leanings." The movie Amen is based on this play, showing Pius XII as "an icy, cynical and uncaring" pontiff "more interested in Vatican investments than human lives." Historian Robert Graham said that Hochhuth actually admitted that "on the level of action, Pius XII generously aided the Jews to the best of his ability." However, there was an agenda and that was to discredit the Church's moral voice in her opposition to Communism. John Cornwell, author of the discredited, but still scathing attack on Pius XII entitled Hitler's Pope, wrote of The Deputy that it was, "historical fiction based on scant documentation…(T)he characterization of Pacelli (Pius XII) as a money-grubbing hypocrite is so wide of the mark as to be ludicrous."

Despite all of that, today's generation believes the lies because it's taken completely out of context. Pius' role in World War II is not talked about and the negative reaction to the play is often unheard of. Instead, it's all taken as fact and none of the charges are challenged...until today! I am thankful that so many websites, organizations, and books have been written - along with releases of information from the Vatican archives - in the attempt to clear this good and holy Pope's name. Our Lady of Fatima warned that the lies of Russia could spread, and the lie about Pius XII is proof of that. The Soviet Union tried its best to silence the Church, even going so far as to attempt the assassination of St. John Paul II; it's only fitting that he credited his survival to Our Lady of Fatima. I pray to Our Lady of Fatima that, if it be God's will, may the scornful lies about Pius XII - and, by extension, about the Catholic Church - be refuted so that many may come to believe. On my own faith journey, had I discovered that it was indeed true that the Church turned a blind eye to the Holocaust, I don't know if I could have entered full communion. How could I listen to the Church's moral authority when it had failed so catastrophically? That's what the Communists want us to think, which is why we need to work at exposing the truth behind the lies. The Church is the voice of the oppressed and the voice of Truth. By God's good graces, I was blessed with learning the truth behind Pius XII. It is my prayer that, thanks in part to this writing, you may be inspired to seek the Truth and shake off the lies of the world, of the Evil One, and come to the Truth.