Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Divine Office

For many Catholics, the existence of the Divine Office is something they've never known, but one of the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) was to encourage its use amongst the people of God. "Pastors of souls should see to it that the chief hours, especially Vespers, are celebrated in common in church on Sundays and the more solemn feasts. And the laity, too, are encouraged to recite the divine office, either with the priests, or among themselves, or even individually" (SC, 100). Unfortunately, this is a reform of the Council that has barely been realized, nor has it really been talked about in the parishes.

The Divine Office is "the voice of the Church, that is of the whole mystical body publicly praising God" (SC, 99); it is seen as "the official prayer of the Church" (LC). Coming from Jesus Christ, the Office is seen as "that hymn which is sung throughout all ages in the halls of heaven" (SC, 83). The Church believes that she should be "ceaselessly engaged in praising the Lord and interceding for the salvation of the whole world" and that this is done "not only by celebrating the eucharist, but also in other ways, especially by praying the divine office" (SC, 83). The Divine Office "is truly the voice of the bride addressed to her bridegroom; it is the very prayer which Christ Himself, together with His body, addresses to the Father" (SC, 84).

The Office is a "tradition going back to early Christian times" and "is devised so that the whole course of the day and night is made holy by the praises of God" (SC, 84). Many attribute its earliest form in the way that devout Jews would recite the psalms, day and night, in praise of the Lord and that the Office is the Christianization of that practice. The praying of the Office is to make holy the entire day: Seven times a day I praise thee for thy righteous ordinances (Ps 119:164). Always rejoice. Pray without ceasing. In all things give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you all (1 Thes 5:16-18). Obviously, the praying of the Office isn't meant to replace our heartfelt prayers to God, but that they supplement our prayers through the offering of the psalms, prayers, and Scriptures to Almighty God. "[A]ll who render this service are not only fulfilling a duty of the Church, but also are sharing in the greatest honor of Christ's spouse, for by offering these praises to God they are standing before God's throne in the name of the Church their Mother" (SC, 85).

As a future Oblate of St. Benedict, praying the Divine Office (also called the Daily Office, the Office, the Breviary, the Hours, and the Liturgy of the Hours) is part of my spiritual expression. St. Benedict, who called the Office the Opus Dei (the Work of God), spent many chapters of his Rule explaining how the Office should be offered by his monks, reminding them that "nothing is to be preferred to the Work of God" (43:3). Even before I ever knew I wanted to be an Oblate, I already knew that I wanted to pray the Office once I learned of its existence; I never lost that original love for Scripture that was nurtured in my days as a Protestant.

There are many Office versions out there and everyone has their preference; however, I always desired to pray with the Church in a way where I felt like I wasn't lost in a time machine - plus, the older Offices can be quite burdensome (for instance, in the Office that was in use in the 1960s, all 150 psalms were prayed weekly, which meant praying all the Hours of the day, including the ones designated for during the middle of the night). Realizing that this was burdensome for the laity, and desiring that all the people of God celebrate the Hours, the Second Vatican Council suppressed the Hour of Prime and changed the Hour of Matins (now called the Office of Readings), authorizing the Office of Readings to be prayed at any time during the day instead of just in the middle of the night, and they went to a four-week psalter, which meant less psalms per day. I truly enjoy the Office of Readings because of the second reading, which is usually the writings of a Saint or a Father of the Church.

For the laity, the Church advised us that the "two hinges" of the Office were Morning Prayer (Lauds) and Evening Prayer (Vespers), so for many of the faithful, due to how busy life can get, they limit themselves to praying these two Hours; in keeping with Anglican tradition, these are the Hours I normally pray, and on most days I also pray the final Hour, which is called Compline. When Thomas Cranmer became the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, he revised the Mass and Hours, creating the Book of Common Prayer, which would allow clerics and laity to pray the worship service and the prayers together in the common language of the people; wanting to make things simpler (and more likely to be done by the laity, who were busier than we are today) the "minor/lesser Hours" throughout the day were removed, leaving behind only Morning (called Mattins) and Evening Prayer (called Evensong); the Ordinariate Office returns these Hours.

Obviously, the laity are not bound to pray the Hours like the clerics and religious orders are, but the laity (myself included) often get very enthusiastic about the Hours and try to pray them with their whole heart. It was God's providence that he led me to joining the Anglican Ordinariate. Although I enjoyed the current version of the Liturgy of the Hours, I wasn't feeling a great draw to them; there was something missing. As a member of the Ordinariate, my priest told me I could privately pray the Book of Common Prayer (1928 edition), but with the Readings of the Book of Divine Worship (a Catholic revised version of the Book of Common Prayer promulgated by St. John Paul II in 1983).

THIS is what was missing for me, as the BCP not only contained the psalms and beautiful prayers, but also contained readings from the Old and New Testaments; through the daily praying of the Office, using the BCP, one can work through the entirety of the Protestant version of the Bible, along with the psalms. In the new version of the Daily Office, soon to be released by the Anglican Ordinariate, the Office contains Scripture from the entire Catholic version of the Bible (like the Book of Divine Worship), but in the beautiful English found in the 1928 version of the BCP; it also contains many traditional prayers and intercessory prayers of the saints that had been taken out by the Anglicans, and so as to not be stuck in a time machine, there are many intercessory prayers for many of our modern saints, such as St. John Paul II and St. Padre Pio, in keeping with the reforms called for by the Second Vatican Council.

It was the hope that the liturgical renewal of the Second Vatican Council, authorizing more Scripture readings in the Mass and the reform of the Hours, "will bring about a continuous meditation on the history of salvation and its continuation in the life of men" (LC). Pope Blessed Paul VI, in authorizing the release of the reformed Liturgy of the Hours, along with the Second Vatican Council's desire for the laity to participate in the Hours, said "By means of this new book of the Liturgy of the Hours...let there resound throughout the Church a magnificent hymn of praise to God, and let it be united to that hymn of praise sung in the courts of heaven by the angels and saints. May the days of our earthly exile be filled more and more with that praise which throughout the ages is given to the One seated on the throne and to the Lamb" (LC).

Amen! It is my hope and desire that, through the praying of the Anglican Ordinariate's Daily Office, I may join my voice to that hymn of praise on earth and in heaven, to the One seated on the throne and to the Lamb.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Ember Days in the Ordinariate

Ever since I learned about the Ember Days, I've wanted to practice them (although I haven't done a good job with that). For those unaware, the Ember Days are three days at four times a year, coinciding with the changing of the seasons, where we pray for God's blessings on the bounty of the earth, as well as for those to be ordained (or contemplating the priesthood) that we may receive more workers for God's True harvest.

The Ordinariate continues to form, finding itself; one of the challenges is to resist the urge to be just an English version of the Extraordinary Form. We must remember that our "job" is to preserve Anglican patrimony within the Catholic Church; this can trace itself to practices that existed prior to the reforms of the Second Vatican Council - some things can be traced to practices that existed prior to the Council of Trent! Either way, regarding the Ember Days, I wanted to observe them according to our Patrimony, if that differed from the way that those who practice the Extraordinary Form observed them. Writing a man who is "in the know", this is what I've received from him:

On the recommendation of the Governing Council, the Bishop has decreed that Ember Friday in Advent [and in September] will be kept as obligatory days of abstinence.

The Whitsun Ember Days fall in the Octave of Pentecost which is ordinarily a time of feasting, though voluntary, individual abstinence, even fasting, is certainly allowable as a personal rule.

Ember Friday in Lent is a day of abstinence anyway by the OF norms of the modern Roman Rite.

So, all the Ember Fridays of the year are days of abstinence, with those of Lent, September, and Advent being obligatory for the Ordinariate, as the minimum requested.

What about the Ember Wednesdays and Saturdays?

...fasting or abstinence on Ember Wednesdays and Saturdays is up to you.

This person, as an Anglican, abstained from meat on all the Wednesdays and Fridays of Lent and fasted on the Ember Days, but acknowledged that Anglican customs varied a lot, quite often following the practices of the Roman rite in this case.

So, there you have it. Ember Fridays of the year = abstaining from meat (at least), while the other Ember Days are (as of now) voluntary days of abstaining (as well as fasting, if desired); let us not forget that, at least in the Office, we also have collects for the Ember Days, which assist in their observance.

So, as personal practice (as of the moment), I will observe the twelve Ember Days as days of abstaining from meat (and, in keeping with the request from our Ordinary Emeritus, which I do not think has been rescinded, I continue to abstain from meat on all Fridays of the year, except on the very rare occasion, such as the Friday after Thanksgiving, where I abstain from something else). Perhaps one day I'll be able to add fasting to the observance, as a personal act, as well as in keeping with tradition, but as of now, abstaining from meat on the Ember days will be how I observe them (except in the cases of feasts and solemnities, like this Wednesday), in keeping with the bishop's request.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Is This the Final Form?

I've often posted about my struggles with weight and all the plans I have in combating it, but nothing ever works. I pray constantly for relief, but by the end of the day - and a pizza or two later - my lifestyle never changes. I entertain weird and challenging ways of eating, like going vegan or crafting my meals according to the liturgical calendar, but to no avail.

I've been led, I believe, to be simple, embracing the Rule and going into this in a simple, prayerful manner. And I believe it's from God because no matter what I try, my heart and mind always return to this simple plan - if it finally works, I hope to share it with others who struggle with their addictions.

Simply put...

1) Stop ordering out: This is the biggest killer of any efforts to lose weight or save money.

2) Fast with the Church: I always try to go above and beyond, such as trying to fast on both Wednesdays and Fridays. How to run when I can barely crawl? No, I shall fast on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and on the Ember Days - let's learn to crawl first.

3) Exercise: I'll never lose weight and keep it off without exercise; and since it's a struggle for me, and nowhere near enjoyable, I offer my exercise to the Lord for the conversion of sinners and for relief of the souls in purgatory.

4) Rare treats: I'll never quit junk food for good, no matter how much I want to, because I know it's going to be a struggle. So, I promise myself to never buy junk food again (except for popcorn for the air popper, which really isn't junk food). However, my parents always have junk food in the house - if the mood strikes, I'll enjoy a treat at their house, but never in mine. With God's graces, I'll resist the urge over there, as well, but one step at a time.

5) Don't sweat the booze: I only have one or two drinks a week - I'm not going to worry about its impact.

6) Eating natural foods: My heart keeps going back to this. I'm not going to do anything extreme, although I *might* replace some of my dairy with other things, like almond milk or flax milk, but for the most part, I'm not going to obsess over organic vs poison-filled, or vegan/vegetarian vs meat and fish - I'm just going to enjoy the Lord's harvest and blessings and be thankful. Yes, my meals will continue to be mainly vegetarian, but I won't worry about the meat (unless it's Friday) and fish. Since South Beach, my meats have been mainly poultry and when it's been red meat, it's been very lean; and since my marriage, I'd say at least half my meals, if not 75%, are vegetarian. Truthfully, if I could just stop ordering out or buying junk food, the pounds would fall off!

So, that's it. No big crazy challenges or extreme penance - just trying to do this in a simple manner, offering it up to God, and begging him for the graces to believe that I'm worth being healthy. And I made goals for myself: Short term, I pray that I'll be down one pants size and one shirt size by New Year's. Long term, by this time next year I pray to be off all my medications.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Happy All-Hallow's-Reformation-Eve-ween Day

He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin. It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins. -- 2 Maccabees 12:43-46

Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison; truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny. -- Matthew 5:25-26

Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” -- Matthew 18:32-35

And whoever says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. -- Matthew 12:32

If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. -- 1 Cor 3:14-15

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Halloween is soon to be upon us; All Hallow's Eve, the vigil of the Solemnity of All Saints Day. As I've written in the past, Halloween is a Catholic celebration that's been divorced from its origin, first by Protestants who wanted to make fun of our dressing up as Saints by dressing up as ghosts and demons, and then by the secular world, whose celebration of the day has devolved into how many "sexy" versions of costumes they can convince women to wear.

October 31 is known by many as Reformation Day, the day when Martin Luther supposedly nailed his 95 Theses on the door of the local church in Wittenberg; I am currently reading a very good biography on Luther which denies that this is where the Theses were posted, but the story has lasted for 500 years and will probably stick around forever. One cannot understand Luther's desire for reform unless we understand what was happening in Germany in his day and age.

There was great corruption and abuse in the German church. In those days, it was rare for a priest to ever go to seminary, because barely any of them existed, and sometimes bishops were appointed by secular leaders in order to have a friend in the Church, instead of having a good shepherd for the flock. In Germany, the quality of priest and bishop was either hot or cold - while holiness existed, so did great corruption - most notably with the selling of indulgences. The Church, having the power to bind and loose (Mat 18:18), has been led by the Holy Spirit to offer indulgences to the faithful; an indulgence relieves the temporal punishment associated with forgiven sins. Let's use an example from our world: Your son broke the neighbor's window while playing baseball. He apologizes to the neighbor and the neighbor forgives him, but the window still needs to be replaced and paid for. We see it in Scripture, as well, when David sent Bathsheba's husband to the front in battle and made the troops fall back so that he'd be killed, just so David could then take Bathsheba as his wife; God forgave his sin, but took the life of his son and threw Israel into a great civil war as punishment (2 Sam 11-12). Our sins may be forgiven, but that doesn't mean we don't have to pay for those sins; an indulgence releases us from some or all of that punishment.

The Church, in her mercy, also allows us to gain indulgences for the dead, in keeping with Sacred Tradition, as well as the words of Scripture, especially 2 Maccabees (which is a main reason why Luther had that book removed from his version of the Bible). We can pray for the souls in Purgatory every day of the year, as well as offering indulgences to God on their behalf, but there are special indulgences that can be obtained only between November 1st and 8th, which includes visiting a graveyard to pray for the dead; this is one of the reasons why the Church desires that cremated remains be buried or interred in a Catholic cemetery or mausoleum - in doing so, they will be prayed for by visitors in a very special way.

The problem that Luther was witnessing was a German church that had some dishonest priests and bishops who were lying to people, telling them that if they gave money and possessions to them, that their loved ones would be let out of Purgatory. This is a horrible abuse and a sin, condemned by the Church, but in a day without seminaries or a Catechism, the people trusted these demonic priests and bishops; Luther saw this abuse, coupled with some superstition, and condemned it, which we can all agree on. Sadly, he threw the baby out with the bathwater, though, and taught his disciples to reject Purgatory altogether. You can read the official Catholic teachings on Purgatory here and indulgences here in order to clear up any misconceptions about them.

We can see that Lutheranism is based on the life of the man, Luther, just as much as it's based on that man's personal interpretation of Scripture. The poor guy suffered from a terrible struggle with scrupulosity, always fearing God's impending punishment, so he never felt any relief after Confession - his solution was getting rid of Confession. He was a friar at an Augustinian friary that was near heretical in its obsession over the necessity of good works - his solution was that good works are unnecessary. He saw the horrible abuses by the clergy in relation to prayers for the dead and indulgences, so he got rid of those things, as well as the books of Scripture that clearly backed up the practice. I don't think he was trying to be sinister or underhanded - I think he struggled greatly and that the Christian life in parts of Europe lagged to such an extent that his brand of Christianity resonated with the faithful (and with the kings and princes who could take advantage of a divided Church by taking her property and power).

We mourn the fact that the abuses in Germany and elsewhere made the land ripe for the Reformation, a division that still exists - and multiplies - for the last 500 years. The Church agreed that she needed reform, so in response to the Reformation, the Council of Trent was called to dispel erroneous teachings and superstition, to refute the new theology of Luther, to reaffirm the original canon of Scripture (72 books, as opposed to Luther's 66 books), and to make positive changes, such as writing a Catechism and making seminary formation mandatory. Still, the damage has been done and Western Christianity finds herself divided; however, many Christians are remembering Christ's prayer and Paul's plead for unity. Lutherans and Catholics have continued to grow closer through the last 60 years, with many hoping that a reconciliation might be forthcoming. The booklet From Conflict to Communion documents all the progress achieved between Catholics and Lutherans regarding our mutual understanding of justification, grace, works, and other issues; it also documents the great amount of work yet to be done in reconciling our divisions. Truth be told, in some ways we're closer in doctrine with the Lutherans than we are with the Anglicans/Episcopalians.

In a few days, Pope Francis will be traveling to Sweden to take part in an interfaith prayer service with Lutherans, who invited him; just the fact that the pope, whom Luther called the antichrist, is invited to a Lutheran church for prayers for unity on the day observed as Reformation Day, is miraculous. To many fundamentalist Protestants and Catholics, this is offensive; some Catholics will use the occasion to condemn Protestants, and some Protestants will use the day to restate their hatred of Catholicism (many insist that Christian unity is the "one world church" of the antichrist). I choose to see the day in the same light as From Conflict to Communion:

223. As members of one body, Catholics and Lutherans remember together the events of the Reformation that led to the reality that thereafter they lived in divided communities even though they still belonged to one body. That is an impossible possibility and the source of great pain. Because they belong to one body, Catholics and Lutherans struggle in the face of their division toward the full catholicity of the church. This struggle has two sides: the recognition of what is common and joins them together, and the recognition of what divides. The first is reason for gratitude and joy; the second is reason for pain and lament.

224. In 2017, when Lutheran Christians celebrate the anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation, they are not thereby celebrating the division of the Western church. No one who is theologically responsible can celebrate the division of Christians from one another.

An article on the internet stated: "The joint commemoration is a witness to the love and hope we all have because of the grace of God," [Lutherans] Bishop Younan and Rev. Junge stated in the joint press release. The prayer service will be followed by a public event at Malmo Arena, which can host up to 10,000 people and will be open to the public. The event, the press release stated, "will be the stage for activities focusing on the commitment to common witness and service of Catholics and Lutherans in the world."

There's no telling what others will do this Halloween/Reformation Day, or what next year's will look like (on the 500th anniversary of the fracturing of Western Christianity), but at least on this Halloween, Catholics, Lutherans, and other Christians will be gathered together as brothers and sisters - although still divided - and worship our Lord with one voice, which should give us all hope. May these seeds that are being planted blossom into the fruits of reconciliation and unity, so desperately needed in a world that doesn't believe.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

What the World Needs Now, is Philosophy, Sweet Philosophy

One of the main draws to Catholicism for me was how reasonable it is; what we teach and what we believe about God, the world, the Scriptures, justice, sexuality, etc. is just plain reasonable to me, and I see a world that is becoming largely devoid of reason. Sure, I didn't always think this way, but through research, prayer, dialog, and contemplating the alternatives, I continue to be drawn deeper into the truths of the faith and find them brilliant, as well as perfectly reasonable.

When Benedict XVI spoke about the necessity of faith and reason at Regensburg, the world fixated on a quote he used from a medieval Byzantine emperor, showcasing his point that the world is becoming increasingly fundamentalist in two opposing directions; fundamentalism in religion strips reason away, and we see that in Christians who proclaim that “God hates fags” or that the world is 6,000 years old and that there was no such thing as dinosaurs; we can see it in Islam with the barbarity of ISIS, or in Hinduism with the many gang rapes occurring in India, or in Israel where Orthodox Jews are burning down churches, vandalizing monasteries, and demanding Muslims and Christians to leave the Holy Land. On the other side, we see militant atheism and militant secularism, removing from life any belief in eternal consequences, living life for the moment, refusing to acknowledge simple truths (such as there being two genders); instead of engaging in discussion with other points of view in order to discern the truth, they insist that either they’ve discovered all the truth they need regarding the afterlife, or the other group insists that there ARE no truths to discern, that truth is in the eye of the beholder.

The Catholic faith (and our Orthodox brethren) embrace faith and reason; as St. John Paul II said in his encyclical of the same name, “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.” The Catholic Church has a proud heritage in the sciences, such as helping to develop the Big Bang Theory (Fr Georges LemaĆ®tre), working with space exploration (there are over 30 craters on the moon named after Catholic priest-scientists), and developing the field of genetics (Augustinian friar and abbot Gregor Mendel). St. Albert the Great, a Dominican priest from the thirteenth century, founded Germany’s oldest university and in the thirty-eight volumes of his collected writings he wrote extensively on logic, theology, botany, geography, astronomy, astrology, mineralogy, alchemy, zoology, physiology, phrenology, justice, law, friendship, Scripture, and love. St. Hildegard of Bingen, a Benedictine abbess from Germany, wrote many volumes on theology, Scripture, natural medicine for curing ailments, and botany (as well as writing music, prayers, sermons, poems, and developing an artificial language).

Reason – science – is not foreign to Christianity, but since the “enlightenment”, atheist philosophers have put it into the minds of Westerners that the greatest scientific achievements occurred once universities and laboratories were ripped out of the hands of churchmen; that’s just not true – during the golden age of the medieval period, great strides in these fields were developed by devout Catholics – clergy, Religious, and laity – because it was all in order to discover God through his Creation, as well as what he let us understand through our reason. Sadly, once Western Christianity was severed by the Reformation and many colleges and universities became secular, a wedge was driven between faith and reason, a wedge that continues to grow wider and wider with each passing generation. We now live in a country where a significant portion of our youth in college had no religious upbringing and they see religion mainly as an impediment to progress and learning. Sadly, for many, their exposure to Reformation theology and its limitation to the Bible alone has caused them to reject Christianity as an unenlightened religion; they see the philosophy contained in Buddhism or the peaceful meditation of the New Age as more appealing that Christianity; it is a sad testimony to what has happened to Western intellectual thought since our divisions of the 1500s.

In my mind, you cannot have faith without reason – when faith becomes unreasonable, you get fundamentalism – and when your faith is fundamentalism, you breed atheism; it’s very simple. A return to philosophy and theology, and a rediscovery of the rich scientific achievements made by the Catholic world, is in order, especially when having to discuss things with atheists who only want to listen to scientific arguments. It’s not all science, of course – faith and grace are incredibly vital – but in order to get the discussion going, you meet people where they are. Archbishop Sheen showed us how dynamic our evangelization is if we’re schooled in rhetoric and philosophy. Being Christian is about having a relationship with Jesus Christ and from there we grow in love for our neighbor and in desire for virtue; many have discounted formal theology and schooling (especially since so many have betrayed the Church in the name of education and theology), but knowing the faith is vital. “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet 3:15).

Believing in God is reasonable. The Catholic faith is reasonable. Relativism is not reasonable. Atheism is not reasonable. Abortion, "gender fluid", androgyny, and feminism are not reasonable. Philosophy, theology, Scripture study - all guided by the Catholic Church - are the most reasonable things that I've ever come across in my entire life.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Finally - My Favorite Time of Year Returns

I tend to feel more joy this time of year; once we pass the autumn Ember days (mid-September), the days start getting cooler, the leaves start changing, the bugs start dying, the air starts to fill with chimney smoke at night, and the constellations start to change (my buddy Orion is coming back). As autumn is in full force, the warmer clothes and blankets come out. No more air conditioning and there are more nights and days of open windows and fresh air. I start making more "cool weather" recipes, like soups, stews, and my South Beach oven-roasted nuts recipes (many of which are my favorite recipes).

Columbus Day arrives, a day which I continue to honor, as it brought the Catholic faith to the Western Hemisphere. As we proceed through October, the houses all around start to be decorated for the holidays. I love Halloween - not just because of all the holiday programs and the happy memories of homemade costumes and trick-or-treating, but also because it is All Hallow's Eve, the vigil of All Saints Day.

All Saints Day is followed by All Souls Day and the month (November) dedicated specifically for prayers for the souls in Purgatory. Indulgences for the souls are granted to us through praying in a cemetery (what's more Halloween than that?). Autumn decorations abound, with houses dressed in scarecrows, pumpkins and gourds, stalks of indian corn, and (at least for now) imagery of pilgrims and Native Americans. Thanksgiving is falling out of fashion, due to the guilty conscience of progressive Americans, but as a Christian, I still believe it's important to give thanks to God for our bounty; also, thank God we have a four day weekend!

When growing up, we always waited until Thanksgiving weekend to decorate the house for Christmas. As a Catholic, I've tried to embrace the season of Advent, using the time to meditate on the prayers of the season and the writings of the Church Fathers as we anticipate the Nativity of Our Lord (as well as the second coming of Christ); I also own a CD of beautiful hymns of the Advent season. Houses get decorated with lights, Nativity scenes, and Christmas (or winter) decorations. Christmas shows are on tv and Christmas (or winter) music is on the radio and playing in the stores. The weather starts to turn very cold and if we're lucky, we'll get to see a little snow. The nights are dark, turning into nightfall as early as 5pm. I usually set up the Nativity set the first Sunday of Advent (it is traditional that you refrain from placing the baby Jesus in the set until Christmas Eve, but most times I'm lazy and put him in the scene the day I set it up). I've always said that if I do put up a tree (tree lots have popped up everywhere), I would wait until after the third Sunday of Advent, known as Gaudete Sunday (and if I really wanted to push it, I would refrain from decorating the tree and apartment until the fourth Sunday of Advent, although that's in a perfect world).

Christmas comes, my favorite holy day and season. As I've mentioned elsewhere, in the Catholic Church we celebrate the "day" of Christmas for eight days; we celebrate Christmastide for 12 days (the 12 Days of Christmas), and the season of Christmas until February 2. I love the "classic" Christmas songs (like Rudolph, Frosty, Jingle Bells, Deck the Halls, etc.) but I can't stand most of the Christmas music on the radio (most of which never mention Christmas unless it's the day of when the singer is proposing to get together with their love). Of course, I love the Christmas carols we're all familiar with (the ones sung in Church); I had bought a radio several years ago that allows me to plug in my ipod (which has since died) specifically so that I could play Christmas music in my living room.

Although New Year's approaches quickly after Christmas, for me it's more of a celebration of the eighth day of Christmas and the day where we mark both the Holy Name of Jesus, and the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God. Through January and into the first days of February, we mark the visit of the Magi, the circumcision of our Lord, the baptism of our Lord, and the purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

It's all about anticipation: autumn points to winter, which points to spring. Advent points to Christmas, which points to Easter. This time of year reminds me of all my happy childhood memories, of which they are innumerable. It also reminds me of the days and life to come. I can't help but enjoy this time of year, every year, and look forward to the life to come when every day will be eternal rest and joy.

The Preservation of English Christianity

Without excluding liturgical celebrations according to the Roman Rite, the Ordinariate has the faculty to celebrate the Holy Eucharist and the other Sacraments, the Liturgy of the Hours and other liturgical celebrations according to the liturgical books proper to the Anglican tradition, which have been approved by the Holy See, so as to maintain the liturgical, spiritual and pastoral traditions of the Anglican Communion within the Catholic Church, as a precious gift nourishing the faith of the members of the Ordinariate and as a treasure to be shared.

---- Anglicanorum Coetibus

September 24th is the feast day of Our Lady of Walsingham, which is the patronal feast of the US' Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. For more information about this oft forgotten apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary, please click here to read more.

The approach of this holy day coincided with the latest numbers of the health of the Episcopal Church, and this gave me pause, allowing me to meditate on the Ordinariate and what that means for Anglicanism. The Episcopal Church in the United States is going to disappear, as is Anglicanism in Canada and elsewhere. New numbers released show that in the United States the average amount of Episcopalians showing up at their parish for Sunday worship is a mere 58 people. 71% of the Episcopal Church's parishes report less than 100 people attending on any given Sunday; less than 4 percent attract 300 people or more. All in all, the Episcopal Church has seen a 26% drop in attendance since 2005.

Church attendance is shrinking across the board - no one is immune - but these numbers are devastating. To give a comparison, as of 2015 there were 17,337 Catholic parishes in the United States; there are only 6,500 Episcopalian ones. There are 81.6 million Americans who identify themselves as Catholic; there are less than 1.8 million Episcopalians in this country - in Canada, 1.6 million Canadians identify themselves as Anglican (compared to 12.7 million Canadian Catholics).

This had to have gone through Benedict's mind when he was establishing the Anglican Ordinariate. There is no doubt that English Christianity has left its imprint on the world, thanks in part to the United Kingdom's worldwide empire over the last few centuries, leaving Anglican/Episcopal churches on nearly every continent and giving the world the grand English prose of the Book of Common Prayer and the King James Version of the Holy Scriptures. To this day, at least in the US, the most beautiful churches I've been to have been Episcopal churches. They took many things that were Catholic and put an English spin to it, creating something that was - and still is - truly unique and beautiful. While there is a great deal of variety within Anglicanism, the parts of it that remain connected to her Catholic past allow us to see a beauty connected to her past, as well as speaking to us in the present; many prayers in the BCP are English translations of prayers from the liturgies of England prior to the liturgical reform of Pope St. Pius V (d. 1572), so they are a window into a past that even the Extraordinary Form of the Roman rite (the "old Latin Mass") doesn't reach.

This is an ANGLICAN parish in Kent, England.

Benedict XVI, knowing the faith of those Anglicans/Episcopalians who desperately wanted to keep these beautiful traditions and spirituality, which although planted by the Catholic Church nearly 1,500 years ago, was reformed outside of communion with Rome into something that still gave the world an expression of faith and a deep love of Christ - the pope had to have known the decline of that denomination. Gone were the days of hope in the late 60s and early 70s when millions believed they would see a reunification between Rome and Canterbury within their lifetime; now are the days when the staunchest Anglicans/Episcopalians seem to be the most progressive or the most traditional - and neither group is interested in communion with Rome. However, out of that small group in the middle, there were men and women who longed for faith, morals, and tradition built on rock instead of the shifting sands of popular culture; this group appealed to the Pope for an opportunity to be Catholic, but hoped to keep the things about Anglicanism (and English Christianity in general) that weren't opposed to Catholic teaching, and the Pope gladly complied with the petition of the faithful. We now have three Ordinariates: in the US and Canada, in England and Wales, and in Australia, with rumors of there being another one day in South Africa (although that remains to be seen).

As a member of the Ordinariate, I've been tasked with keeping English Christianity alive. I'm encouraged to worship according to the traditions of Anglicanism as approved by Rome. I'm challenged by Rome to reach out to my separated brothers and sisters in the Episcopalian/Anglican tradition, to bring them home to Rome. The Ordinariate is not just so that we can continue to have pretty liturgy in English; it is to preserve Anglicanism and English Christianity; it is to be a tool in the reunification of Christians. Rome has said this; we have our marching orders. Right now we're in the early days of the Ordinariate and much can happen, good and bad.

There are some schools of thought that see the Ordinariate as "the place" where tradition-minded Protestants may come as Catholics, experiencing liturgy and traditions that they may find familiar; other schools of thought see the Ordinariate as the template for other denomination-based Ordinariates, like the much-whispered about "Lutheran Ordinariate" that I heard mentioned several years ago - if Presbyterians or Lutherans or other denominations came to believe in the Catholic faith and saw Presbyterian Ordinariates or Lutheran Ordinariates, keeping their faith traditions alive while preserving a unity of faith as found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, that might be something to think about. And it's all thanks to the forward thinking, wisdom, and generosity of Pope Benedict XVI, prompted by the Holy Spirit, and in response to the heartfelt requests from concerned, faithful Anglicans and Episcopalians; what St. John Paul II started, Pope Benedict built upon with great hope and faith. It is up to us and future generations to continue building upon this foundation.

Justin Welby, the (Anglican) Archbishop of Canterbury, said something very true and powerful when he traveled to Assisi, Italy, for an interfaith prayer meeting with Pope Francis, Patriarch Bartholomew, and members of many non-Christian faiths, including Jews, Muslims, and Hindus. Archbishop Welby said:

"Mercy begins with the mercy that each of us experiences in the sacrament of reconciliation; the knowledge that we ourselves are accepted...[Mercy is the] engine of reconciliation [and] the source of our capacity for the evangelization of the world in which we live...The failure of ecumenism [Christian unity] imprisons mercy and prevents its liberation and its power with one another...If we do not suffer together, we do not know the meaning of the ecumenism of mercy...When they kill us, they do not ask if we are Anglican, Presbyterian, Catholic or Orthodox; we are one in Christ for them. So why are we divided when they are not killing us? [By not reconciling with each other] our worship is diminished and our capacity to grow close together with God is reduced. [Evangelization] depends on the world seeing visibly that we belong to one another and that we love one another. Without that, we have nothing to say to a world that is incapable of resolving its own differences."

Amen. This is why I believe in Christian unity, "that the world may believe" that the Father has sent the Son. And this is why it's important that the Catholic Church has chosen to give a home to the unique and beautiful traditions of Anglicanism, shrinking at an alarming rate, but now always existing in the Church founded on the rock of Peter, "and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it" (Mat 16:18).

Friday, September 9, 2016

Moderation: Let's Try This Again

I keep trying to tie my appetite/habits to the liturgical calendar and seasons, while also trying to live out the Rule of St. Benedict, as well as some of what Pope Francis talked about in Laudato Si' - it really feels right, like it's a way to find moderation, to tie it to seeking virtue, and uniting my efforts to the cross. Here's another try, making it simple to the best of my ability.

Seafood: They recommend eating seafood at least three times a week; to the best of my ability, I'll eat seafood on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. My attempt to have fresh fish on those days proved too expensive at this time, so I've purchased frozen fish and am trying to make some recipes other than a fillet with veggies on the side.

Vegetarian meals: Under normal circumstances, my lunch is usually a salad, but dinner on Tues, Thurs, and Sat (when not a feast or Solemnity) shall also be vegetarian (either another salad or a vegetarian meal). I have several cookbooks and websites that offer wonderful and creative vegetarian meals. Plus, I'll allow myself to enjoy a pasta meal as a vegetarian meal, no more than twice a month (because I always overdo things - it's very easy to eat WAY too much pasta).

Wednesdays & Fridays: Fast days; as the Church recommends, on these days only one full meal and two smaller meals, that when taken together, do not exceed the size of the full meal. Additionally, these days are ones of abstinence (no meat). For better use of my time, I also fast from social media on these days. The same will be conducted on Ember days.

Waste Not, Want Not: I have a cupboard absolutely filled with ingredients - dried and canned beans, brown rice, bouillon, seasoning, herbs - and it continues to sit there, month after month, as I spend, spend, spend on new ingredients. For once, I'm going to be a real home cook and prepare the stuff I have at home; to be creative, and to use what I have on-hand (perhaps I might run to the store for an onion or broth or something like that, but until I cook it all, I'm not buying anything else on a grand scale). Starving people would kill to have what I ignore in my pantry.

Solemnities (including Sundays) & feast days: Days to eat meat during one of my meals, and to enjoy alcohol (other than wine, which is consumed daily with dinner); no junk food. Ever. Even on Solemnities. No.

Snacks & Dessert: Most modern "diet" plans recommend eating every two or three hours so as to keep blood sugar/insulin levels level, which helps in weight loss and in regulating hunger; I've found all of these things to be true, so I will continue to do this. I usually take unsalted nuts, fruit, string cheese, yogurt, and Organic Protein from Stoneyfield Farms - stuff like that. Dessert will continue to be mainly sugar-free Jello or some sweet fruit.

Eat/drink according to season: I want to live closer to the cycle of seasons, to enjoy a deeper relationship with Creation. One of the ways I hope to do that is to incorporate more products of the season into my diet; for instance, since autumn is starting soon, I'll try to make some meals that use squash, which is more abundant this time of year. Also, there are particular beers that are brewed in particular seasons and on the rare times I choose to have a beer, they will stay within that seasonal range.

Quality of products: My dream is to eat organic foods, and foods that are as natural (the least processed) as possible. Sadly, I just can't afford that kind of lifestyle right now - perhaps in a few months, after changing some of my purchasing habits. In the meantime, I'll continue to buy some organic and non-GMO products. Also, I will continue to eat whole grains over "white" foods.

Holidays/vacations: These are the rare times during the year, even though it may not be a Solemnity or feast, where I enjoy meat on a non-meat day (except Fridays) or have a few extra beers or a slice of cake or something. I'm talking about things like a person's birthday, July 4, Memorial Day, the day or two after Thanksgiving, or the rare times I'm on vacation; so we're only talking about a couple weeks' worth of days scattered over the course of a year. Every realistic "diet" plan suggests that you don't cut yourself completely off from these "naughty" snacks because (especially since I suffer from an addiction to overeating) you'll find yourself obsessing over having them until you explode and gorge. If it turns out I cannot handle having these things, then I'll have to use prayer and support in order to avoid them forever (kind of depressing, isn't it?).

Exercise: My least favorite part of all of this, but a necessary part. Right now I try to get 10,000 steps a day, mainly through my normal activities at work and in the home, as well as walking in the park for some fresh air. However, that's not enough to help me lose weight and burn off excess blood sugar; it kills me, but I'll probably have to rejoin a gym or buy some home exercise equipment sometime soon. In the meantime, I'll do my best to...

Get outdoors: Mentally speaking, I need to get out more often. Walks in the park, trips to the beach, star-gazing, fishing, visiting local parts, hiking, perhaps camping. I'd like to do this kind of stuff at least once a week. I can't spend my whole life indoors being lazy, and being out in nature will help me orient my life to caring for Creation, as set out by Pope Francis in Laudato Si' (carrying on what was started with St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI).

I try to do these things because I've never cared about my health for me. Whenever I lost weight, it was for someone or something else: to stay in shape for a loved one, to get into shape in order to attract someone, and other such reasons - it's never been because I deserve to be healthy or because our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit that should be treated with dignity and respect, especially since we're made in the image and likeness of God. So, I have a lot of self-image stuff to work on, to see my health as important, that I deserve to live a healthy life, because that's what God intended for me. I want to get off the medication, get my life in order, and live for the Lord and my neighbor to the best of my ability - I cannot do that while sitting on the couch, too sore to move, too full to stay awake, and too focused on myself.

I know God loves me no matter what my size, but the proof that God doesn't intend for us to be obese is the fact that obesity leads to hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, bad joints, and all sorts of other health issues. I used to disregard my health because I never cared about my appearance, seeing such a thing as vanity, plus convincing myself that I wanted people to only care about what was on the inside. Lastly, I have never been interested in living a long time - to this day, as long as I have been to confession, the Lord can take me anytime because I believe in him and believe that he is faithful to his promises. This world sucks. I long for the day when Jesus triumphantly throws Satan, his demons, and even death into the pit so that Creation is fully renewed and we once again live in the loving presence of God forever and ever. Why would I want to delay my part in that plan by trying my best to live as long as possible? No, I want to live forever, but not in this world - in the next. How could I not? Just watch the death and destruction, hate and violence, on the news and then look at just some of the promises God has made to us:

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall feed; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The sucking child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Is 11:6-9).

...and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more (Is 2:4).

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a great voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away" (Rev 21:1-4).

All these bad reasons for losing weight, plus dealing with what I believe is a lifetime of food addiction, I never cared about my health. However, meditating on the Rule of St. Benedict, becoming an oblate, praying the Daily Office, trying my best to go to daily Mass, continuing my education, and reading the writings of the saints (and our recent popes), my conscience is being challenged to live a life that's a bit more meager, offering to others, the less-fortunate, what I don't use on myself; it also keeps my mind more focused on the next life instead of just on this one. Lastly, it helps me remember how much I'm loved by God, even on those days when I'm frustrated, or angry, or depressed, or sinful. That's why I cannot give up on myself - because God never gives up on me.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Colin Kaepernick

Much has been made by the media and others over Colin Kaepernick's choice to not stand for the national anthem. While I think Kaepernick is a bit misguided (with his pro-Castro shirt as proof), I think I can understand and support what he's doing.

#1, I don't worship America. I see many Americans treating the flag as if it were a holy relic and the anthem as if it were a glorious hymn. We are a great nation with tremendous blessings, but we also engage (or have engaged) in great evils, such as ethnic cleansing of our Natives, slavery, abortion, eugenics, pornography, and perpetual warfare. While I love this country and am proud of her achievements, I do not think she is a "shining city on a hill" or a utopia; she is flawed and has saints as well as sinners in her ranks, and she is often in need of reform. There is nothing wrong or unpatriotic about saying that.

#2, Kaepernick is in a position to make such statements. Many look up to him. Unlike many punks I knew in high school who thought they were pretty badass to not stand for the pledge, Kaepernick (because of his position) is doing something that people are actually noticing; he is using his position to promote a dialogue about what he perceives as an injustice. While it's true that many blacks are reaching pinnacles of prestige and power that previous generations could only dream of, there are still millions and millions who live lives of poverty in neighborhoods of violence, drugs, and corruption.

#3, politicians don't care. Just like abortion, drugs, immigration, and war, politicians refuse to solve any of the major problems facing America because to do so would reduce our need for them, which would eliminate their power, careers, and income. They don't want to solve any of the problems.

#4, this is no different than when those on the Right hang up a "Don't Tread on Me" flag or insist that they will fight the government in the streets if they have to in order to protect the country. How is his protest against the system unpatriotic, while the protest of those on the Right are somehow making our Founding Fathers smile from above?

#5, there are injustices in America, especially in the black community. There are. It's one of America's biggest blights. We enslaved them. Then, after we freed them, North and South discriminated against them for 100 years (the North covertly, while the South openly). Then, all the industrial jobs of the cities - jobs that would help blacks - were shipped overseas. Then, the nation cared more about reality television than the fact that black-on-black crime continues to skyrocket, all the while with many cops (not most, but many) abuse their power (against whites and blacks, but disproportionately against blacks). Blacks are disproportionately imprisoned, their sentences are longer, those sentenced to death are disproportionately black, they get sub-par representation in court, their schools are allowed to rot, a majority of blacks are born in single-parent households, and a majority of abortion clinics are put in minority neighborhoods in order to continue the eugenic policies of the founders of the American birth control/abortion industries. America yawns when these things happen, to the point where the only time we'll listen or pay attention is when there are riots in the streets.

I'm not a fan of Kaepernick as a player - never have been - and his insinuation that Castro's Cuba is somehow a haven for equality shows how little he knows about Cuba. But he does know about being black in America, and being a famous African-American doesn't make a person immune to prejudice and injustice. And as a man in a public position, he wants to do some good and make America focus on helping all of us succeed. There's nothing wrong with that. There's nothing unpatriotic about that. He's tired of seeing one major segment of the population continue to languish, generation after generation, and all Americans - especially Christian ones - should share his concern and outrage. Many African-Americans are baptized Christians, members of the Body of Christ, and as St. Paul told us, "If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together" (1 Cor 12:26).

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Original Sin is to Blame, Not God

I was perusing the Daily Mail to see photos of the aftermath of the terrible earthquake in Italy when I made the mistake of reading the comments section underneath the article; if anyone wants to lose hope in mankind, I suggest reading the comments under any news article. In the comments, nestled amongst ones blaming the quake on a super-weapon developed by the United States, I saw a comment that is familiar to our ears whenever anything terrible happens: "thanks a lot, god"

Of course, 'god' has to be lowercase, which signifies the writer either as an atheist or severely uneducated (since the sentence began with a lowercase letter, as well). But it's a true sentiment of many people when something overwhelmingly terrible happens - we blame God. Many of us have our faith shaken, because we know God to be loving and we cannot explain how such a loving God could allow things like natural disasters, sexual abuse, and torture to happen - especially to those who love him. We hear all the time that nothing happens unless God permits it to happen, so to the unbeliever, that's all the more reason to hate God, for that means he permits predators to rape children and for natural disasters to destroy the lives of millions. But is that really what is happening? Can we blame God for evil? Of course not.

For the Christian, the devil is responsible for evil; in his foolish rebellion against God, Satan and his angels in their pride have chosen to take on God, with us in between. With Christ's victory on the cross, Satan has lost the war - battles still rage, but the war is over. God has won, for he has given us a way out, a way to find sanctuary in his presence. But Satan, as prince of this world, remains in "power" a little while longer.

So evil continues to exist: pride, jealousy, murder, rape, abuse, slavery, pornography, abortion, natural disasters, war. This is the world under Satan. People blame God because they either cannot believe that he wouldn't stop these things from happening (they expect God to be an overbearing chess player with mankind as pawns), or they blame him for being powerless (that God is distant, uncaring, or doesn't exist).

But we have only ourselves to blame. Through the actions of our first parents, sin and death entered the world: "Cursed is the ground because of you...In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return" (Gen 3:17, 19). And mankind has been demented ever since, committing unspeakable acts up to this very day and beyond. We were created in perfect unity with God and one another, but all of that was destroyed when we chose evil over good, when we chose Satan's will over God's will. "For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now..." (Rom 8:19-22). We can see here in the writings of St. Paul that due to our sin, Creation has been groaning, subjected to futility (think of our buildings constantly destroyed by natural disasters or our crops destroyed by drought or floods), and that Creation is in bondage to decay.

WE did this. WE caused this. All of this is a result of our sinful actions. This is the world - the universe - without God, in a sense. This is a foretaste of life apart of him, a warning of the world to come if we die outside of his friendship. We think we can get along fine without God - look around to the evils of the world and see a world created in the image of fallen man; even Creation groans and decays because of us; the fact that we can even experience climate change is due to the fact that we're fallen and in need of God's restoration. Natural disasters and the evil actions of others are our daily reminders that we're not in charge, that a world we try to build without God is a world of futility, and that it is to the NEXT world which we are to look, not this world. All too often, we think of making this world our utopia, but it's the next world - the restored Creation - that will give us everything we could ever hope for. That's not to say that we shouldn't try to make this world a better place; after all, how would we evangelize to others about the goodness of God if we accepted the evil of this world? But we should always remember that this world is passing away and that any evil we see is caused by the man in the mirror, thanks to our first parents when they chose to listen to Satan over God; the only way to combat this is to listen to the New Adam (Jesus) and the New Eve (Mary) and hope for the new Creation that is to come: "And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away...And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new" (Rev. 21:1, 5).

The Seven Joys of the Blessed Virgin Mary

From CatholicCulture.org:

The Franciscan Crown Rosary, properly known as "The Franciscan Crown of Our Lady's Joys" dates back to approximately the year 1422. According to tradition, as related by the famous Franciscan historian Father Luke Wadding, a very pious young man who had been admitted to the Franciscan Order in that year was saddened and had decided to return to the world and quit the cloister. Before his entry into the Order, it was his custom to adorn a statue of the Blessed Virgin with a wreath of fresh and beautiful flowers. Now, he was unable to continue his act of piety and devotion to the Blessed Virgin.

Our Lady appeared to him and prevented him from taking such a step as he had planned. "Do not be sad and cast down, my son," she said, "because you are no longer permitted to place wreaths of flowers on my statue. I shall teach you to change this pious practice into one that will be far more pleasing to me and more meritorious to your soul. In place of the flowers that soon wither and cannot always be found, you can weave for me a crown from the flowers of your prayers that will always remain fresh and can always be had." When Our Lady had disappeared, the overjoyed Novice at once began to recite the prayers in honor of her Seven Joys, as she had directed. While he was deeply engrossed in this devotion, the Novice Master happened to pass by and saw an angel weaving a marvelous wreath of roses. After every tenth rose, he inserted a golden lily. When the wreath was finished, the angel placed it on the head of the praying Novice. The Novice Master demanded the Novice tell him the meaning of this vision. The joyful Novice complied. The good priest was so impressed that he immediately made it known to his brethren. Thus, the practice of reciting the Franciscan Crown of Our Lady's Joys soon spread as a favorite devotion of the Friars.

The Joys of Mary remembered in the devotion are these:

The Annunciation of the Angel to Mary
The Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth
The Nativity of Our Lord
The Adoration of the Magi
The Finding of Jesus in the Temple
The Resurrection of Our Lord
and The Crowning of Our Lady, Mary, in Heaven as Queen

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

St. Bartholomew, Pray for Christian Unity

By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
-- John 13:35

Quite often an event in history occurs in which we look back and shudder over the actions of others; today is one such day. On the eve of today, St. Bartholomew's feast day, a massacre began in France between French Catholics and French Calvinists. All too often, we like to blame religion for many of the problems that occurred between Catholics and Protestants, but the truth is that most of the time, any mistrust or antagonism between Catholics and Protestants was flamed into an inferno by selfish, power-hungry political leaders; this is one of those many cases.

Calvinists in the heyday of the Reformation had no qualms about "cleansing" churches of what they saw were idols: smashing statues, destroying icons, breaking stained glass windows, dismantling pipe organs. City after city was being "cleansed" in this way and as the movement came to France, Catholics were rightly concerned. However, the Queen - Catherine d'Medici - also saw this as a possible challenge to her power, since a lot of this "reforming" was done with the blessing of local rulers in exchange for gaining wealth and property from seized Church and monastery property. Now a crowd of Calvinists, many of them noblemen, were coming to Paris to celebrate a royal wedding between a Catholic princess and a Catholic prince.

Catherine, fearing the power of Calvinist Admiral Coligny at the head of this crowd, tried to have him assassinated; it failed. Angered at this attempt on his life, his supporters promised 4,000 cavalry to ride into Paris in order to seize the Louvre (at this time, not a museum but a royal palace) and kill all who were involved in the assassination plot. Fearing for her life and her power, she and her underage son - the king - ordered the royal guards to attack the invading force. In their frenzy, they - and Catholic residents of Paris - butchered between 2,000 & 5,000 French Protestants, even women and children.

Propaganda circulates to this day that the Pope celebrated this massacre due to the fact that he ordered a Te Deum to be prayed in celebration of the Catholic victory, however it was the victory that was being celebrated, not the means to that end. Once the Pope learned of the details of what happened, he said, "I am weeping for the conduct of the king, which is unlawful and forbidden by God." Spanish ambassador Zuniga said the pope was "struck with horror" and wept for those murdered. When the ringleader of the Catholic mob, Maurevert, visited the Pope, he refused to see him. And yet, the pope was a man of his times, and still wrote a bull that celebrated the deaths of the Protestant leaders (but not the innocents caught in the middle).

It's all a scandal and un-Christian. It's a sad reminder that we've failed the Lord's prayer for our unity and that we love one another; instead of dying for each other, we've murdered each other. I'm deeply sorry for anything I've done in my life to keep our divisions going, and I'm horrified at the un-Christian conduct of Catholics and Protestants, which feeds atheism and the "Jesus without a church" movement making its way through some Christian circles. We've betrayed our Lord and on every St. Bartholomew's Day, may we pray for the souls of those who died, and take the opportunity to pray for our unity.

Our Lady, Health of the Sick

Our Lady Health of the Sick shrine is in the diocese of Michoacan, to the west of Mexico City. It was erected by the first bishop, the famous Vasco de Quiroga. The Indians of Michoacan, the Tarascans, were nomadic and impatient of all restraint.

The bishop, in whose hands the entire project of civilizing the people was placed, set up the means and paraphernalia of civilization: the Church, hospital, asylums, workshops and tools, and the framework of administration. He laid out a hundred towns in a planned economy. He took every precaution to assure equity and justice, and he worked to develop their love of one another as children of God. He taught them about their Holy Redeemer and about His blessed mother. He erected the shrine of Our Lady of Health, through whose intercession they were to strive for health of soul and health of body. Every advance they made in virtue, every effort toward decent habits of hygiene and sanitation they were to offer as flowers in a garland to La Purisima.

The statue which represented Our Lady of Health came from Europe. The Indians cherished it. They dressed it in elegant robes. They decorated it. They placed it in a chapel shrine. They duplicated it in the wood they carved out of trees. She became a favorite Madonna in western Mexico and northward into the United States. In many places throughout this great extent of territory she is still a favorite Madonna. In some places her title has changed: In Chihuahua, Mexico, she is Our Lady of Chihuahua; in New Mexico, she is Our Lady of Santa Fe. The name has changed but the devotion and the statue are the same.

Monday, August 22, 2016

America the Broken

I love my country, but I’m starting to get sick and tired of the hypocrisy in this land. First off, we have the largest incarcerated population in the world – more than in China – and with each passing day, there are more laws to take away our rights or tax the Middle Class into oblivion, so “the land of the free” we are not, at this time in our history. Secondly, the way Americans reacted when Gabby Douglas didn’t put her hand over her heart during the anthem, or the way we fawned over the pole vaulter stopping in mid-run to stand at attention for our anthem, is ridiculous – it is the heresy of Americanism at its best. We are the world’s leading distributor of pornography. Our mainstream movies are some of the most violent ever made. We force other countries to legalize abortion, contraception, euthanasia, homosexual “marriage”, and now transgender “rights”, else they not get food, medicine, or money to help build schools and water treatment plants. American Protestant missionaries, instead of taking advantage of our nation’s wealth and some of our Christian desire to convert the nations to Christ, will send countless missionaries to Catholic countries instead of to the nations of those who haven’t heard the Gospel yet; in doing so, sowing seeds of discontent, confusion, and sometimes even anger and violence – lands which once praised Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and had towns named after saints now have mobs of iconoclast Protestants smashing statues, screaming that the Pope is the antichrist, and slandering the name of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We operate the world’s largest military network, possibly in world history no less, having 662 bases in 38 different countries, all to keep the world safe (and yet the world has never been in more chaos) as we fund and arm radicals to keep civil wars going and kill countless civilians with drone strikes. We waste the most food. We use the most energy. We have the largest homes. Our materialism keeps industrial and agricultural slavery alive in the US and around the world. We continue to abort and contracept ourselves into a demographic winter, and then get upset when our government asks immigrants to help fill in all the empty spaces left by our selfish indifference. Our thirst for narcotics keeps the drug war going. Our children are committing suicide, murder, and rape. Boyfriends are killing girlfriends after breakups; husbands are killing their wives and children after divorces (and wives aren’t immune to doing this, either). Every day there’s another article about a married teacher – usually a woman – having sex with multiple students who are barely teenagers. We have an entire political party promising to discriminate against an entire race, as well as an entire religion; we have another political party dedicated to the culture of death to such extremes that it would rather die than to let go of abortion and the homosexual agenda. Most of the African-American communities in the US is forgotten about, having to live with a lack of education, economic opportunities, the destruction of their families, and unspeakable violence in their neighborhoods – and when they can’t take it anymore, when they’ve seen yet another one of their children die at the hands of gangs, drug dealers, thugs, or even police officers – and they finally erupt in anger because no one has cared or noticed – then we gather around to talk about how unruly they are, those free-loading welfare recipients.

This is a broken country. We are in terrible need of conversion, but if you say anything, you’re being negative, judgmental, or mean. Instead, we’ll continue to speak in vague generalities. We’ll continue to wave our little American flags at the appropriate times. We’ll continue to sing patriotic songs at Mass when it’s Memorial Day weekend or July 4 weekend. We’ll continue to say “God bless America” at the end of every speech. All the while, our churches – Catholic and Protestant – continue to empty. Faithful Christians will continue to be spit on and fought by heretical Christians. Atheism will continue to grow. Satanic Masses in the name of “freedom of religion” will continue to be the norm; most Christians will yawn and change the channel to watch what other crazy stuff Kim and her sisters will get into this week.

I love my country, and because I love Jesus Christ more, I love my country enough to desire her conversion. And this year I refuse to vote for Clinton or Trump, because both are indicative of the sickness that is in the US right now – we think as sheep we have to elect one wolf to protect us from the other wolf. And we choose to live through the lens of whichever political party we support, instead of living by the Scriptures and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Until we embrace the Bible and the Catechism, and live to be saints and martyrs, this nation will continue to burn and Christians will only have themselves to blame.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Prayer Before an Office

OPEN, O Lord, my lips to praise thy holy Name; cleanse also my heart from all vain, evil, and wandering thoughts; enlighten my understanding and kindle my affections; that I may worthily, attentively and devoutly say this Office and so may be heard before the presence of thy divine Majesty; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

O Lord, in union with that divine intention wherewith thou, whilst here on earth didst thyself praise God, I offer this Hour to thee.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Our Lady of the Angels

From Catholic Culture:

From the earliest days of the Church. Mary has held the title Our Lady Queen of Angels. At the Annunciation, at the Nativity, at her Assumption into heaven, and finally at her Coronation as Queen of Angels and Men, angels have been associated with Our Lady. There are a number of famous shrines dedicated to Mary under this title, including the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli at Assisi, where the great St. Francis recognized his vocation; the church in Rome which was designed and executed by Michelangelo on ruins from the time of Diocletian; the shrine of St. Mary of the Angels in Engeberg, Switzerland; Notre Dame des Anges near Lurs, France; the shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Angels at Boulogne, France; the church of Our Lady of the Angels in London, England; and the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Other Religions

While at work the other day, I overheard a coworker giving a non-practicing Catholic advise on how to incorporate New Age practices into their daily life so that they can improve themselves. We always tease each other, so I made a silly comment that no matter what he does, life stinks and he'd better get used to it. Hushing her voice, she commented that "the man who just spoke" is a really devout Catholic and people who are Catholic look at New Age stuff as voodoo (no, we don't - it's from the devil, like voodoo, but it's different from voodoo). She then said how Christians tend to think that God is in control of our lives (yep) and that if we do good things, he'll give us rewards (nope - at least Catholics don't think this; it sounds like Joel Olsteen stuff, or actually karma, which isn't Christian). She then went on, like so many others who don't know what they are talking about, preaching about how religion always gets in the way of us loving each other because we're trying to control each other and blah, blah, blah. She then started saying how she believes in all religions - the young man she was speaking to, having an analytical mind, said to her, "How can that be? A lot of religions contradict each other," to which she replied, "That's true - but if they all have things in common, like loving your neighbor and not killing and things like that, then that stuff is all true and there's nothing wrong with believing the truth, no matter what religion is preaching it."

She'd be shocked to learn that the Catholic Church preaches that same message.

We don't shy away from the fact that Jesus Christ is Lord and Saviour and that he is in charge of everything, but because we know he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, as Author of All Truth, then what is true in other religions must be from this same Author. We believe that in the times of ancient Israel, God was preparing the Gentile world (especially through Greece and her influence on the Mediterranean peoples) for the arrival of the Messiah; this is why there can be found in Hellenism so much truth, which St. Thomas Aquinas used in his theology, even though it was pagan in origin.

In the Second Vatican Council's declaration on the relation of the Church to non-Christian religions, the Council gave credit and words of praise to Judaism and Islam, citing the many things we have in common, encouraging the end of bigotry and violence towards Jews, and encouraging members of all religions to work towards peace and the common good by uniting with each other in those areas where we have similarities of belief. "In [the Church's] task of promoting unity and love among men, indeed among nations, she considers above all in this declaration what men have in common and what draws them to fellowship" (NA, 1).

The Church goes on the highlight several of the major religions and their own struggle to contemplate God and his creation. [In] Hinduism, men contemplate the divine mystery and express it through an inexhaustible abundance of myths and through searching philosophical inquiry. They seek freedom from the anguish of our human condition either through ascetical practices or profound meditation or a flight to God with love and trust. Again, Buddhism, in its various forms, realizes the radical insufficiency of this changeable world; it teaches a way by which men, in a devout and confident spirit, may be able either to acquire the state of perfect liberation, or attain, by their own efforts or through higher help, supreme illumination. Likewise, other religions found everywhere try to counter the restlessness of the human heart, each in its own manner, by proposing "ways," comprising teachings, rules of life, and sacred rites. The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions.

There you go. We reject nothing that is true and holy in these religions. There are many Catholics who reject this document, though, citing that it encourages syncretism, a conglomeration of religions, or the idea that all religions are the same; there are many fundamentalist Protestants who use the Church's respect for other religions as "proof" that the Pope is trying to establish the antichrist's "one world religion". For the human, it's very hard to "hate the sin, but love the sinner," so quite often you'll see people loving the sinner by respecting - even encouraging - their sinful behaviour (like with homosexuality). Or, if you respect another person's religion, that somehow you are not believing in your own, or you're quietly saying that the other person's religion is equal to yours; the Church rejects that simplistic idea.

Jesus Christ is Lord and his Church, which subsists in the Catholic Church, was established by Christ for the salvation of all men; there is no debate. However, the Church believes that we have a God of mercy. "Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience" (LG, 16).

Through our love for all people, our love should evangelize the world to the truths of Love Itself, and all peoples will flock to the Church - however, until that happens, if God wills it to happen, we should still strive to work together towards the common good. The Catholic Church has established the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, which works to promote mutual understanding, respect and collaboration between Catholics and the followers of others religious traditions; to encourage the study of religions; and to promote the formation of persons dedicated to dialogue. The Church also established the Commission of the Holy See for Religious Relations with the Jews, as well as the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, in the hopes that through religious dialogue, Catholics and other people of good will can work together to promote peace, justice, the common good, charity, and solidarity with all those around us. It is only through knocking down the walls of prejudice and misconception that we can see that we're all not that scary, but that we have so much in common - again, not to say that there is no need to come to Christ, but that long before that day hopefully comes, we can still embrace each other as brethren and work together to create a world of peace, justice, and charity.

So, the Church actually teaches what my New Age coworker thinks is the idea of enlightened irreligious people. "[The Church] regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men. Indeed, she proclaims, and ever must proclaim Christ "the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6), in whom men may find the fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to Himself. The Church, therefore, exhorts her sons, that through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, carried out with prudence and love and in witness to the Christian faith and life, they recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among these men" (NA,2).

On my bookshelves, packed with Bibles, Catechisms, school books, and oodles of Catholic books, you'll find the Bhagavad Gita, books on Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism, Islam (even the Quran), and other introductory books on Eastern religions, as well as books on the Protestant founders - not to say that all religions are the same, but in order to learn more about the people around me so that we can bond with our commonalities, end the prejudice between us, and work towards ridding the world of injustice, hunger, poverty, war, and other evils that Satan sows between men. The Church encourages this. We don't look at others like they practice voodoo. We don't reject everything other religions say because we refuse to listen to others or because we are trying to control the thoughts of others. Since becoming a Catholic, I've been blown away by how much the Church encourages dialogue with others - even to a fault - and we know dialogue is a two-way street where listening is just as important as speaking.

That's what the Church teaches. I only wish all these non-Catholic "experts" of the Catholic faith would just learn what we teach before complaining about what they think we teach - the world would be a better place.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Vote for Joe Schriner

The Democrats are the party of abortion and slavery; the Republicans are the party of war and corporate handouts. But third parties are mainly a waste of time; I've learned that first-hand - most states make it impossible to even appear on the ballot.

NJ is a blue state, which means no matter who I vote for, Hillary is winning NJ. So, if I vote for anyone else, it won't matter because anyone BUT Hillary would be a wasted vote. But I'll never vote for Hillary, a woman that should be in jail. A lady who is unqualified. A lady who is in the pocket of most of this nation's major banks and corporations. A lady who has never met an immoral stance she hasn't supported. A woman who gets an award named after the white supremacist who founded Planned Parenthood and calls the reward the greatest honor. A woman who will continue to destroy this country and base our foreign aid on which nations legalize gay "marriage", abortion, sterilization, and transgender policies.

Of course, you couldn't pay me enough to vote for Trump, the man who wants to discriminate against Muslims and Latinos, who makes fun of disabled people, who never speaks in specifics, but only generalities, who has promised to expand torture, who has promised to commit war crimes, who has promised to increase the amount of nations with nuclear weapons, who has mismanaged his corporate money enough to go bankrupt several times but insists he'll make the right economic decisions as president, and who has suggested the suspension of several Constitutional rights to the thunderous applaud of his supporters.

So, since I consider myself "whole life" instead of just pro-life, I have found a "whole life" candidate I can support: Joe Schriner. Yes, it's a "wasted vote", but it's a vote I can live with. He's a "whole life" candidate, thoroughly motivated by his devout Catholic faith, and he continues the Catholic belief that government is there to protect people's dignity and allow them to be truly free to worship God and live without attacks to their rights, freedom, or dignity; as the Catechism teaches, "[Government authority] is necessary for the unity of the state. Its role is to ensure as far as possible the common good of the society...Authority is exercised legitimately only when it seeks the common good of the group concerned and if it employs morally licit means to attain it. If rulers were to enact unjust laws or take measures contrary to the moral order, such arrangements would not be binding in conscience. In such a case, authority breaks down completely and results in shameful abuse...The common good concerns the life of all. It calls for prudence from each, and even more from those who exercise the office of authority. It consists of three essential elements: First, the common good presupposes respect for the person as such...Second, the common good requires the social well-being and development of the group itself...Finally, the common good requires peace, that is, the stability and security of a just order....The common good is always oriented towards the progress of persons: "The order of things must be subordinate to the order of persons, and not the other way around." This order is founded on truth, built up in justice, and animated by love."

His positions show him as a true candidate of social justice, from conception until natural death, which would best institute policies for the common good and in a Christian light.

So, that's that. I'll write his name in on the ballot on Election Day. True, it won't make a difference because Hillary will win NJ, and he doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell of winning, but at least I won't be cooperating with evil or voting against my conscience. And God help America, because whoever wins this year, we're going to be in deep [blank].

Sunday, July 24, 2016

And What Holiday Might That Be?

The marketing agents for Western companies are so opposed to offending people and are so dedicated to ignoring their Christian history - it makes my head spin. Every December we get to see commercials filled with jingle bells, Christmas trees, gifts being exchanged, houses decorated in Christmas lights, Santa Claus, reindeer...and then they say "Happy Holidays." And which holiday might that be? Or an even bigger insult, "Our Winter Event..."

I understand - and am sympathetic - towards the fact that there are others in the West who aren't Christians and others who aren't religious at all, but Christians continue to give up ground (again, I attribute this to our divisions). First we lost Halloween and now they are nearly done stealing Christmas away. I am fine with telling someone, "Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays," but I will never leave it at just "Happy Holidays." If I believe Jesus Christ is Lord and that he reigns now and forever, then I'm not going to deny that - I want to share that with everyone.

What made me finally complain is when I saw a Stella Artois commercial the other day; the beer was named after the Christmas star. The commercial stated, "Originally brewed to celebrate the holidays..." and one of the commercials showed the brewer noticing a shooting star - no, it wasn't a shooting star, but the Christmas Star.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Prayer for Fallen-Away Catholics to Come Home

After hearing about yet another person who used to be Catholic, but is now much happier as a Protestant, I couldn't help but feel moved by the Spirit to write a quick prayer for people such as this:

O Lord, Divine Mercy Itself, have mercy on those fallen-away Catholics that have left full communion; perhaps they've become Protestant, or schismatic, or left Christianity altogether. Please look into their hearts and forgive them, for surely they know not what they do, for had they learned of the great truth, depth, mercy, joy, love, hope, and beauty that is the Catholic faith, nothing in this world or the next could have ever moved them from the safety of her bosom. Please unite your Church and give peace and reconciliation to those whom have left. May we who are still faithful to the Church embrace those who left, always giving a warm welcome to our brothers and sisters. Open their hearts, and ours, that we may be one just as you prayed. All of this we pray in Jesus Christ's name, through Our Blessed Mother's intercession. Amen.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

A Plan of Life

I've always been meaning to craft a way of life that centers around the liturgical calendar, however I always find silly reasons not to follow through. I get these daily emails from Opus Dei that contain wisdom from St. Josemaria Escriva and yesterday's was all about establishing a plan of life. Now, as a Benedictine Oblate candidate, that is sort of my plan of life; Father Benedict, in his wisdom and moved by the Holy Spirit, made his Rule in a way that gave guidelines so that there could be a bit of wiggle room, depending on time, space, conditions, etc. So, I plan on continuing to integrate the Rule into my daily life, but seeing as how so much of the Rule is dedicated to how to run a monastery and how to pray the Office, I need to find other ways to fine tune what I'm learning through the Rule. In steps St. Josemaria Escriva; let's hear what he has to say...

The first danger is that following a Rule or a plan of life seems so...routine, which sucks, I know. And St. Josemaria councils us by saying, "This tying of one's life to a plan, to a timetable, you tell me, is so monotonous! And I answer: there is monotony because there is little Love." This is true; like with anything you do for the religious life, if you do it just to do it, as a form of discipline for instance, than it's destined to fail because it's not done out of love for Christ. Love has to be the main reason for any of this, if not the only reason for any of this.

"You should not let them become rigid rules, or water‑tight compartments. They should be flexible, to help you on your journey you who live in the middle of the world, with a life of hard professional work and social ties and obligations which you should not neglect, because in them your conversation with God still continues. Your plan of life ought to be like a rubber glove which fits the hand perfectly." The problem I've always gotten myself into is that I make things too strict, like a military order, and then I spend more time trying to track the way I live instead of just living my life. I do this very often with diets, for instance, where I make things so restrictive (no carbs, for instance, or counting points) and then I wind up spending most of my time policing myself instead of learning how to live within a boundary. It's as if instead of just playing in the backyard, I spend the whole time measuring the property line to make sure I don't venture out too far.

"Please don’t forget that the important thing does not lie in doing many things; limit yourself, generously, to those you can fulfill each day, whether or not you happen to feel like doing them. These pious practices will lead you, almost without your realizing it, to contemplative prayer. Your soul will pour forth more acts of love, aspirations, acts of thanksgiving, acts of atonement, spiritual communions. And this will happen while you go about your ordinary duties, when you answer the telephone, get on to a bus, open or close a door, pass in front of a church, when you begin a new task, during it and when you have finished it: you will find yourself referring everything you do to your Father God." Another mistake I always make, filling my day with way too many activities and prayers, which is always destined to fail. I need to be flexible, try my best, and not overload my day. But, as he explains, even the mundane things of our day - inspecting parts at work, the commute, trying to get 10,000 steps for exercise - all of that can be offered to God as prayer. Every aspect of our life can be liturgical, an offering to God, and not just those moments when we pray or sit in adoration (important as those things are).

So, here's a new attempt at having a plan of life:

Meals and snacks: As I've mentioned before, these will be the least processed as possible - organic, natural, real food. That shouldn't be that hard - basically most things in life are on my "to eat" list, with only some things being off limits - anything I buy in a box must also be organic, if a version is available (like organic mac and cheese, for instance). In keeping with the liturgical calendar, and trying to reduce my impact on the environment (and my wallet), I will stick with vegetarian meals throughout the week (except for fish in three meals a week, more than likely just adding tuna fish to my salads); the only exception is on a Solemnity or major feast day (like St. Benedict's) - because it is a special day, it calls for a special celebration, so that's when I'll enjoy some meat or poultry (although I won't go out of my way - perhaps I'll "celebrate" by going out for a meal instead of cooking something). Lent and Advent will be times of penance, so maybe the meals will get very simple or just be salads, with Sundays being very subdued (perhaps just a fish meal on Sundays and no meats). I'll figure that out as I go along. Either way, I'll use the liturgical calendar to assist me in crafting my meal plans and moderating my consumption of luxuries that I often take for granted.

Fasting: In keeping with the practice of my monastery, I will continue to improve my fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays and follow according to the law of the Church, with one full meal and two smaller meals as a way to fast. For these meals, I will, of course, abstain from meat. Obviously, I'll make changes when a Solemnity falls on a Wednesday or a Friday, as well as when Lent begins.

Drinking: I love a good beer. Or five. Again, I will do my best to save my drinking for Solemnities and major feast days, with the rest of the week enjoying water, tea, juice, and healthier stuff like that; although, as is recommended by many doctors, I will try to have a glass of organic red wine every day, if possible. This won't be that hard, due to the fact that these days I prefer to drink in public, so beer usually winds up sitting in my fridge for weeks on end. As for harder stuff, I will try to drink that even less (no more than one drink of any particular spirit in a couple days' time), only because it can't be that healthy for you.

Smoking: I still don't want to turn this occasional pleasure into a bad habit, so I continue to limit myself to just one day a week (tops) to enjoy a cigar or pipe.

Prayer: In keeping with my practice as an Oblate (and perhaps one day as a deacon), I will do my best to pray the Daily Office in the Morning and Evening; because Sundays are Solemnities, I will try to also pray Compline on Sundays and other Solemnities and major feast days. I also do my best (but don't obsess) to pray the rosary and Divine Mercy chaplet daily.

Mass: I've always wanted to attend daily Mass and, due to my new work schedule, I've lost all the flexibility I once had; basically, my best shot at going to daily Mass is at a little parish a few towns over, every night at 7pm. I will do my best to start this next week, but again, I'll be flexible about it. I still do my best to attend my Ordinariate parish at least two Sundays a month.

Adoration: Countless saints, popes, and theologians have written volumes about the benefits of spending time with the Lord, especially when he's exposed for Adoration in the Blessed Sacrament. Life is very busy and although I've always wanted to adore him for an hour daily, that just can't happen right now (perhaps later on in life, especially if I become a deacon). For now, I've had an inspiration to adore him on Thursdays, since we believe it was on Holy Thursday when our Lord asked his disciples, "Could you not spend one hour with me?" So, for now, I will do my best starting next week to spend one hour adoring our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.

Exercise: I'm horribly out of shape and need to lose the weight. I'm limited, though, and can only do so much now due to terrible foot pain and body aches. So, I got a Fitbit and have tried to get through 10,000 steps a day, which is what is recommended as a minimum by the American Heart Association. I've nearly always failed, though, getting just around 4-5,000 steps a day during the weekdays and not even 2,000 steps a day on the weekends. So, I will do better and will start today, actually, to go out when it's not 10 billion degrees and humid and try to get 10,000 steps. Every day.

I think that's it. That's liveable. It's a routine, it's a plan of life, it's following the Rule, and it's not very overwhelming or restrictive - it is however a boundary I'm trying to draw around my life. Every step on my walk, every time I choose vegetables over meat, every time I pray the Office, every time I inspect a part at work, each moment is an offering to God, a prayer of the body. My meal plan, my exercise, my school work, my commute in horrible traffic - all an offering to God, all a prayer, to God through Mary. Holy Mary, Mother of God; St. Benedict; St. Josemaria Escriva: please guide me on this plan of life and the Rule of St. Benedict, that I may learn moderation and how to offer my life - my work and my prayer - to God with steadfast love and devotion. All this I pray in Jesus Christ's most glorious and holy name. Amen.