Archive for the ‘Catholic history’ Category


“As he showed them real hands and a real side, he really ate with his disciples; really walked with Cleophas; conversed with men with a real tongue; really reclined at supper; with real hands took bread, blessed and broke it, and was offering it to them. ..Do not put the power of the Lord on the level with the tricks of magicians, so that he may appear to have been what he was not, and may be thought to have eaten without teeth, walked without feet, broken bread without hands, spoken without a tongue, and showed a side which had no ribs.” (St Jerome, from a letter to Pammachius against John of Jerusalem 34, 5th century)

In a few weeks, they went from a broken group of disappointed men and women, hiding behind locked doors in an upper room, to fervent evangelists, ready to proclaim their faith out loud in the synagogue and the marketplace, and to die for it if they needed to do so.

To me, this seems strong evidence that they believed they had witnessed everything that Jerome talks about above. Their belief in the resurrection makes sense of the survival of Christianity past its early start as a persecuted minority favoured by the lowest classes. Does this ‘prove’ the resurrection? No, of course not. You are free to believe with the disciples or not to believe. Does it explain the reason for the resurrection? No, again. For that, we look to the Church, and 2000 years of meditation from devout, thoughtful, and intelligent men and women.

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36e7vzLast week, we had a combox discussion about what in the Church needs reform. David Schutz, in a thoughtful post on the reform of the Curia, reminds us that reform can’t stop in one place, and that – in Church history – those in most need of reform have usually been those most resistant.

Read the whole post for gems like this:

Don’t think that the Curia can reformed without the whole Church being reformed; and don’t think that the Church can be reformed without YOU (and me) being reformed.

…and this:

…it isn’t a “liberal vs conservative” thing, it is an “inward vs outward” thing. The Counter-Reformation was, of necessity, “inward”. But the time for “inward” is gone, and the time for “outward” – Evangelisation – is here. Yet a characterisation of both the old fashioned dyed-in-the-wool liberals and new Rad Trads is that they both share the view of an “inward looking”, aka, “self-referential” Church.

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db_26-Cross_of_the_Holy_Week2Two of our grandchildren came with us to the Passion Day Mass yesterday. We’d been talking over the weekend about peer pressure, fair weather friends, and the dangers of posting anything in a digital format that you wouldn’t want to have to show your grandmother.

I found myself using the long double-Gospel of the Mass as an object lesson. See? One weekend you’re king for the day, and everyone cheers. The crowd are out in the streets laying down palms for your donkey to walk on. Five days later, the same people are in the same streets baying for your blood. Who, then, are your friends?

The New York Times had an article recently about the power of family stories to build resilience. The article talks about the research of a couple of Americans, who were interested in the observation that children who knew more about their families coped better in a crisis:

They developed a measure called the “Do You Know?” scale that asked children to answer 20 questions.

Examples included: Do you know where your grandparents grew up? Do you know where your mom and dad went to high school? Do you know where your parents met? Do you know an illness or something really terrible that happened in your family? Do you know the story of your birth?

Dr. Duke and Dr. Fivush asked those questions of four dozen families in the summer of 2001, and taped several of their dinner table conversations. They then compared the children’s results to a battery of psychological tests the children had taken, and reached an overwhelming conclusion. The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned. The “Do You Know?” scale turned out to be the best single predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness.

“We were blown away,” Dr. Duke said.

And then something unexpected happened. Two months later was Sept. 11. As citizens, Dr. Duke and Dr. Fivush were horrified like everyone else, but as psychologists, they knew they had been given a rare opportunity: though the families they studied had not been directly affected by the events, all the children had experienced the same national trauma at the same time. The researchers went back and reassessed the children.

“Once again,” Dr. Duke said, “the ones who knew more about their families proved to be more resilient, meaning they could moderate the effects of stress.”

Duke talks about three different themes in family narrative – the ascending theme (we came from nothing and built an empire), the descending theme (we used to have everything, and we lost it all), and the oscillating theme.

‘Dear, let me tell you, we’ve had ups and downs in our family. We built a family business. Your grandfather was a pillar of the community. Your mother was on the board of the hospital. But we also had setbacks. You had an uncle who was once arrested. We had a house burn down. Your father lost a job. But no matter what happened, we always stuck together as a family.’ ”

Dr. Duke said that children who have the most self-confidence have what he and Dr. Fivush call a strong “intergenerational self.” They know they belong to something bigger than themselves.

Fascinating stuff. As those who’ve followed this blog for a while know, I’ve suggested (slightly tongue in cheek, but my recent readings around AI (artificial intelligence) just reinforce the opinion) that we should be called Homo Narrans – that our identifying characteristic as an animal is our ability to make sense of our environment by making a story out of it, and to then pass that story on to others. My master’s research methodology was based on the power of narrative to build cohesiveness into groups. Surely much of the strength of Christianity to endure and survive lies in the power of the Christian narrative. Passion Sunday’s epic readings take us from triumph through hope to agony and despair. We can’t not know that the resurrection follows. For us, even the descending narratives of the daily readings of this Holy Week – taking us step by step closer to the betrayal, the denial, and the cross – are coloured by the ultimate in plot switches of Easter morning.

Our Christian narrative is an oscillating narrative. I find it hard to believe that a descending narrative – one in which the leader died, betrayed by a close friend and deserted by all but one of his other friends – would have had any survival value for the nascent group. Did they pull themselves together enough to come up with a lie that would keep the crowds coming? Improbable, I would have thought. And the improbable is vastly less likely than the impossible. In this case, the impossible (the resurrection) simply means something happened that we don’t understand. The improbable means that people behaved in a way that is outside of human nature.

We belong to something bigger than ourselves, and – no matter what happens – we’ll survive; we’ll stick together as a family.

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Joan of Arc being questioned in prison

I was going to post on St Joseph’s Day, and I’ll still do that later. But this quote that Chris offered for my previous post deserves to be elevated from the comment stream, I think. It’s from an interview Pope Francis gave in 2007, quoted in Chiesa.

 Thanks, Chris.

“Jonah had everything clear. He had clear ideas about God, very clear ideas about good and evil. On what God does and on what He wants, on who was faithful to the Covenant and who instead was outside the Covenant. He had the recipe for being a good prophet. God broke into his life like a torrent. He sent him to Nineveh. Nineveh was the symbol of all the separated, the lost, of all the peripheries of humanity. Of all those who are outside, forlorn. Jonah saw that the task set on him was only to tell all those people that the arms of God were still open, that the patience of God was there and waiting, to heal them with His forgiveness and nourish them with His tenderness. Only for that had God sent him. He sent him to Nineveh, but he instead ran off in the opposite direction, toward Tarshish”.

“Running away from a difficult mission…” said the interviewer.

“No. What he was fleeing was not so much Nineveh as the boundless love of God for those people. It was that that didn’t come into his plans. God had come once… ‘and I’ll see to the rest’: that’s what Jonah told himself. He wanted to do things his way, he wanted to steer it all. His stubbornness shut him in his own structures of evaluation, in his pre-ordained methods, in his righteous opinions. He had fenced his soul off with the barbed wire of those certainties that instead of giving freedom with God and opening horizons of greater service to others had finished by deafening his heart. How the isolated conscience hardens the heart! Jonah no longer knew that God leads His people with the heart of a Father”.

“A great many of us can identify with Jonah”, the interviewer remarked.

Bergoglio: “Our certainties can become a wall, a jail that imprisons the Holy Spirit. Those who isolate their conscience from the path of the people of God don’t know the joy of the Holy Spirit that sustains hope. That is the risk run by the isolated conscience. Of those who from the closed world of their Tarshish complain about everything or, feeling their identity threatened, launch themselves into battles only in the end to be still more self-concerned and self-referential”.

“What should one do?”

Bergoglio: “Look at our people not for what they should be but for what they are and see what is necessary. Without preconceptions and recipes but with generous openness. For the wounds and the frailty God have spoken. Allowing the Lord to speak… In a world that we can’t manage to interest with the words we say, only His presence that loves us, saves us, can be of interest. Apostolic fervor renews itself in order to testify to Him who has loved us from the beginning”.

Last question: “For you, then, what is the worst thing that can happen in the Church?”

Bergoglio: “It is what De Lubac calls ‘spiritual worldliness’. It is the greatest danger for the Church, for us, who are in the Church. ‘It is worse’, says De Lubac, ‘more disastrous than the infamous leprosy that disfigured the dearly beloved Bride at the time of the libertine popes’. Spiritual worldliness is putting oneself at the center. It is what Jesus saw going on among the Pharisees: ‘You who glorify yourselves. Who give glory to yourselves, the ones to the others’”.

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Darfur-WomenLa Stampa has collected some comments from influential women on the conclave, and on what they’d like to see during the new papacy.

Sister Maria Barbagallo, as the General Superior of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, has tackled many thorny issues. “If I had been able to talk during the congregations, I would have said that women are essential to the new evangelization started by Benedict XVI”, she explains. And adds: “We feel we are a living part of the Church even when our role is recognized. Women are freer from powers and special interests. We do not chase after positions of power”. In fact, “our service to the Church is qualified but not self-interested: I would have wanted to say to the Cardinals that women in the Church can do more”. Not only at the pastoral level, in preaching and charity, but also at the decision-making level. “We can bring Evangelical ferment with a female sensibility in order to intuit the spirit of the times”.

In fact, “Jesus always had women around, Hildegard of Bingen confronted popes, bishops and abbots”. In the US, Saint Francesca Cabrini overcame the sexist prejudices of the Church. “Still, today, if there were women in positions of power there would be fewer scandals in the Church: whether child abuses or Vatileaks”. With a maternal sense “we defend the rights of life”. Although “we can become the President of the Republic but not the Pope, we offer innovative contributions in the philosophical, spiritual, and mystical spheres”. Men often walk around problems, “we jump over the bureaucracy”. So, “the world must be looked at with the serenity of a God who is father and mother”. And she recalls: “Up until the Council, we were structured according to a monastic organization, where the vocation was measured according to the ability to obey and observe strict rules”. They were rules that, with some permits, could sometimes be changed, but “our life was still very disciplined. Vatican II introduced the crucial distinction between monastic life and apostolic life. Those indications arrived as a wind, even with a certain violence, driven primarily by North American nuns.

Lucetta Scaraffia, Professor of contemporary history at the “Sapienza” university, is responsible for the female insert of the Vatican’s daily newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano.  “In our monthly inset we give voice to those who work in various roles in the Church,” she says. “In view of the conclave, the opinion of women was not formally accepted because in the General congregations it is not permitted by the statutes, and to let women talk would require a change to the laws of the Church”. For the next conclave “it would be opportune if the Cardinals could listen to abbesses, to the general superiors of orders and to the most influential lay women”. In the Synod Room the role of women was addressed. “In society there is confusion between women’s empowerment and women’s liberation from her biological maternal destiny, while the Church has continued to defend the female specificity, that of motherhood,” she stresses. Until the twentieth century, the Church has given women more opportunities for development than the rest of society: just think of Saints or the founders of active lifestyle congregations who travelled freely and managed great amount of funds”. Then, in the last century, “the situation has been reversed and the Church today does not recognize the equality of women within it. Yet in the defence of women the Church is always at the forefront”.

And [she] adds: “The Billings method of birth control is perfectly ‘feminist’ because it is totally managed by the woman and it does not harm her health”. The changes in Western societies that have opened to women spaces that were reserved for men have caused “a revolution in the configuration of sexual roles, introducing the issue of expanding the role of women, even for the Catholic Church”.  It is a problem of equality that “the Christian tradition has seen very clearly from the very beginning, bringing it to start a revolution against the concept of sexual difference”. This radical change “is the origin of contemporary women’s revolution”.

Sister Giuliana Galli, Vice President of the Compagnia di San Paolo, has always spoken clearly to Cardinals and bankers. “The social and religious framework is shaky,” she underlines. “There is the need for certainties that do not arise from human and divine knowledge”. The Gospel is always confronted with the real world. “You cannot perpetuate the image a society from two-thousand years ago when women were ignorant, yes, but it is not that the Apostles were luminaries either”. She appeals to the Bible: “God created man and woman”. The woman is the carrier of life in the long run, “without her there would be no evolution”.

So, more than the traditions, it is the word of God that counts: “The Word became flesh”. And it became flesh through a woman. “It was women who took care of corpses; they mended the sheet and prayed on the Shroud”. Yet society and the Church “still find it hard to enhance the role of women”. Indeed, “the most reactionary and closed environments towards female participation are the Church and finance”. But a house without woman falls into disrepair, it is cold, it doesn’t breathe”. A ban on speaking to the congregations is “crystallized on who-knows-what tradition”. So the female contribution to the Church is “like good wine forgotten in the cellar”. Evangelization is fullness of life. “And who better than a woman could be witness to this fullness which brings life?” Certainly at the congregations “I wouldn’t have made ‘sentimental’ speeches: we speak of love too much these days”.  In fact, “a colossal hypocrisy has defaced the meaning of this word in the private dimension of relationships and in the public one of institutions, of the Church and of communication”. Maybe the time has come not to mention it any further, to let it be.  There is the urgent need of a lay “eleventh commandment”. That is: “Though shalt not mention love in vain to retrieve the radicalness of meaning of an abused and mistreated word”. Charity “is not a substitute for justice. It is a better dress than justice, which is a part of charity. Women know this”.

Sister Maria Trigilia, world delegate of the Salesian co-operators, sees “a problem of appropriation of the female identity”.  Although women do not enter into the conclave, “the Cardinals should also be bearers of women’s demands”. She hopes that “they will listen to the teaching of recent Popes about the ‘genius’ of women”. Religious women participate “in round-tables and meetings for the processing of ideas: the conclavists have to take this into account”. The template is there and is a half a century old. Vatican II had the appearance of a “sexist” Conference, actually after the Council nothing was like before even for the feminine universe. The 23 women who were accepted in the proceedings by Paul VI starting in 1964 were auditors, and historical research has realized the weight that these women, who were allowed into the room with a black veil on their heads and that the Synod Fathers called “mothers”, exercised in urging the Vatican II to examine the real problems of the status of women and of women’s rights. “It is also because of this that in the Catholic Church nowadays there are female theologians: thanks to the Council the male monopoly on theology ended,” she explains. I would have reminded the Cardinals that Joseph Ratzinger has delineated the presence of women. The woman’s mark is more central and fruitful than ever”. This depends on the Church’s identity, which it receives from God and accepts in faith. “It is this mystical, profound, essential identity that has to be kept in mind when thinking about the respective roles of men and women in the Church”.

Ratzinger’s lesson has to be remembered: looking at Mary and imitating her doesn’t mean orienting the Church towards a passivity based on an outmoded concept of womanhood and condemning it to a dangerous vulnerability in a world where what matters most is primarily domination and power. “The way of Christ is neither that of domination nor the one of power as it is understood by the world”. This “passivity” is actually the path of Love, it is a royal power that defeats all violence, and it is passion that saves the world from sin”.

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I was late picking my patron for this year. I suddenly noticed dear St Dominic still sitting there in the right menu bar, so went off to Jennifer Fulwiler’s nifty patron saint generator to pick me a new one.

For more about this devotional practice, see my 2011 post.

catherine_1768994bThis year, the generator gave me St Catherine of Siena, about whom the Catholic Encyclopaedia says:

The 24th child of a wool dyer in northern Italy, St. Catherine started having mystical experiences when she was only 6, seeing guardian angels as clearly as the people they protected. She became a Dominican tertiary when she was 16, and continued to have visions of Christ, Mary, and the saints. St. Catherine was one of the most brilliant theological minds of her day, although she never had any formal education. She persuaded the Pope to go back to Rome from Avignon, in 1377, and when she died she was endeavoring to heal the Great Western Schism. In 1375 Our Lord give her the Stigmata, which was visible only after her death. Her spiritual director was Blessed Raymond of Capua. St, Catherine’s letters, and a treatise called “a dialogue” are considered among the most brilliant writings in the history of the Catholic Church. She died when she was only 33, and her body was found incorrupt in 1430.

The St Catherine of Siena Academy describes its patron like this:

St Catherine webCaterina di Giacomo di Benincasa was born on the feast of the Annunciation, March 25th, 1347, in the Fontebranda district of Siena, Italy, the twenty-fourth of twenty-five children. Her father was a dyer and her mother was the daughter of a local poet. Catherine was known as an imaginative, idealistic, and outgoing child who was fiercely independent. She began to have personal revelations early in her childhood. Catherine consecrated her virginity to Christ at the age of seven and began wearing the Dominican Tertiary’s habit at the age of sixteen, taking the Vows of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience. She took care of the sick, especially those with the most repulsive diseases, served the poor, and dedicated her life to the conversion of sinners. She lived in a century when chaos ruled the Church and society. Early on, her passion to know the truth took precedence over every other pursuit in her life. Her profound love of God and the clarity with which she expressed this love transformed the society around her and the wider culture in a very practical way. St. Catherine died in Rome, in 1380, at the age of thirty-three.

St. Catherine of Siena was canonized by Pope Pius II in 1461, and named Patron Saint of Italy on May 5, 1940 by Pope Pius XII. She was given the title of Doctor of the Church in 1970 by Pope Paul VI. She is simultaneously the Patron Saint of Siena, the Patron Saint of Italy, and the Patron Saint of Europe, as proclaimed by Blessed John Paul II in October 1999. Today, the body of Catherine is in a tomb in the Basilica di Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome, and her head is enshrined, incorrupt, in San Domenico Church in Siena, Italy.

St. Catherine of Siena is one of only three female “Doctors” of the Roman Catholic Church (St. Teresa of Avila and St. Therese of Lisieux are the other two). She is known as the Doctor of Unity for bringing about the union of the Papacy and returning it to Rome after nearly a century in France. St. Catherine dictated, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, four treatises called “The Dialogues.” She also wrote nearly four hundred letters and a series of prayers.

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Brendan Malone offers a survival guide for the weeks before we have a new pope.

Headline points: ignore the media hype; be wary of the Catholic hype; don’t get caught up in the St Malachy prophesy hype; the Church has been through far worse – and survived; don’t forget the coming papal election is not a political one; remember, this is a moment of great joy.

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