Sunday, December 31, 2006

Christmas wrap-up: "Why did God become man?"


Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, OFMCap, Pontifical Household Preacher on the readings from the liturgy of Christmas: Isaiah 52:7-10; Hebrews 1:1-16; John 1:1-18 . via

Let us go right to the apex of the prologue of John's Gospel, which is read at the third Mass on Christmas day.

In the Credo there is a line that on this day we recite on our knees: "For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven." This is the fundamental and perennially valid answer to the question -- "Why did the word become flesh?" -- but it needs to be understood and integrated.

The question put another way is in fact: "Why did he become man 'for our salvation?'" Only because we had sinned and needed to be saved?

There is a vein of the theology inaugurated by Blessed Duns Scotus, a Franciscan theologian, which loosens a too exclusive connection to man's sin and regards God's glory as the primary reason for the Incarnation. "God decreed the incarnation of his Son in order to have someone outside of him who loved him in the highest way, in a way worthy of God."

This answer, though beautiful, is still not the definitive one. For the Bible the most important thing is not, as it was for Greek philosophers, that God be loved, but that God "loves" and loved first (cf. 1 John 4:10, 19). God willed the incarnation of the Son not so much as to have someone outside the Trinity that would love him worthily as to have someone to love in a way worthy of him, that is, to love without measure!

At Christmas, when the child Jesus is born, God the Father has someone to love in an infinite way because Jesus is together man and God. But not only Jesus, but us together with him. We are included in this love, having become members of the body of Christ, "sons in the Son." John's prologue reminds of this: "To those who welcomed him he gave the power to become sons of God."

Therefore, Christ did descend from heaven "for our salvation," but what moved him to come down for our salvation was love, nothing else but love.

Christmas is the supreme proof of God's "philanthropy," as Scripture calls it (Titus 3:4), that is, of God's love (philea) for man (anthropos). John too responds to the why of the Incarnation in this way: "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that whoever should believe in him would not die but have life everlasting" (John 3:16).

So, what should be our response to the message of Christmas? The Christmas carol "Adeste Fideles" says: "How can we not love one who has so loved us?"

There is much that we can do to solemnize Christmas, but the truest and most profound thing is suggested to us by these words. A sincere thought of gratitude, a feeling of love for him who came to live among us is the best gift we can give to the child Jesus, the most beautiful ornament in the manger.

To be sincere, however, love needs to be translated into concrete gestures. The simplest and most universal -- when it is pure and innocent -- is the kiss.

Let us kiss Jesus, then, as we desire to kiss all children just born. But let us not just kiss the statue of plaster or porcelain but the child Jesus in flesh and blood. When we have kissed those who are wretched, suffering, we have kissed him!

To kiss someone, in this sense, is to help in a real way, but it is also to speak a good word, to give encouragement, to pay a visit, to smile, and sometimes -- why not -- to give an actual kiss. These are the most beautiful candles that we can light in our manger.


Christmas wrap-up: Pope's message

As the Christmas season wraps-up, check out Pope Benedict's Midnight Mass homily:

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Friday, December 29, 2006

Idiot's Guide to Prayer Part II - Awareness of God's indwelling

This is a very nice article from the Cukierski Family Apostolate [ ]--an apostolate "specializing in sacramentals of healing and protection." Part of their apostolate is to send spiritual articles via email (free). This is a great article to read during this Christmas season where we focus on the Incarnation--Emmanuel--"God with us." Enjoy.

Where to Find Heaven!
By the late Father Kilian McGowan, C.P. Used withpermission, from the Passionist Priests, to help spiritually guide the layman.

The thin, gray-haired penitent hunched over a rough table as he slowly penned a letter to his sister. Looking at him now, you'd never dream that he had been a French Army officer, an explorer, a member of the Foreign Legion, and even a Trappist. His wild life had caused his expulsion from the Legion, but now he was leading a life more penitential than a Trappist!

"God is in us," the ex-Trappist wrote, "in the depths of our soul, He listens to us-advises us to converse with Him. Train your children to chat freely with this Divine Guest. And may you do likewise. In performing your duties, God will perform them with you. Gradually, you will become accustomed to this sweetCompanion-to this God of your heart."

It was the truth of the Divine Indwelling that had transformed the life of [Blessed] Charles de Foucald [pictured at top left]. He knew by experience what our Lord means when He promised: "If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and My Father will love him and We will come to him." (John 14:23). De Foucald was constantly aware of the Indwelling of God by grace.

We all envy this wonderful trait. And we often wish that we could be more conscious of the nearness of God. We know that a profound appreciation of this truth alone could refashion our daily lives.

Why aren't we like de Foucald? Perhaps we really aren't convinced that God is anxious to be invited to our interior home-and to be entertained in the depths of our hearts. Listen then to the author of the Imitation [of Christ] : "God pays frequent visits to the interior man. He speaks to him with kindness. He grants him amazing familiarity, an abundant peace, an astonishing familiarity. Oh, grant Him a place there."

For your enjoyment, God decorated the heavens with the sun, moon, and stars. For you, He clothed the earth with the flowers and the fields, the streams and the mountains. But amidst all these wonders and in all the vastness of the universe, there is but one place He designed for His occupancy-and that is yourheart.

A young French Carmelite of the past century also centered her spiritual life on this dynamic truth. Writing to her sister, Sister Elizabeth [of the Trinity] said: "It seems to me that this is the secret of holiness, and how simple it is. We bear life within us and our life is an anticipated heaven...I have found my heaven on earth, for heaven is God-and God is within my soul."

At another time, writing to a married sister, she said: "This heaven is in the inmost center of the soul. Is not this a simple and consoling thought? In th midst of your cares as a mother and housewife, you can always withdraw into this solitude. When you are distracted by your many duties, you can-if youwill-refresh yourself by descending into the depth where your Divine Guest has His dwelling."

There are four ways especially to build up your awareness of God's dwelling inyour soul:

1) Attention. Be thoughtful enough to recall His Presence often. An interior glance takes but a moment; a short prayer, a moment more.

2) Conversation. Speak to your indwelling God frequently. But speak to Him as present. Speak to Him in your own words. Be spontaneous and simple.

3) Renunciation. Firmly resolve to renounce absolutely whatever would evict your Divine Guest. Mortal sin desecrates His Temple and drives God away.

4) Imitation. As imitation is the highest form of praise, strive to be more Godlike in all things. The spiritual life is above all else a loving friendship with the Blessed Trinity. Imitation is the proof of love. Yes, anyone can find his heaven on earth, because Heaven is God-and God is in your soul!

For more information on Blessed Charles De Foucault and his spirituality, see, for example:

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A Bishop takes aim at pornography

A recent pastoral letter by Diocese of Arlington, Virginia bishop Paul S. Loverde has garnered some attention as an important attempt to tackle a real world problem.

Check it out:

Pornography and the Attack on the Living Temple of God : A Pastoral Letter by Bishop Paul S. Loverde

Pope John Paul II is famous for saying of pornography that its fault lies not in showing too much of the human person... but too LITTLE. (in objectifying women, their true person is concealed)
For more insights into the late Pope's theology of the body, check out:

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Why do Catholics become Evangelicals?

This is an interesting article from Homiletic and Pastoral Review (that I found via This concerns, in particular, the reasons why many Catholics have gone to Evangelical Fundamentalist churches in Latin America.

Check it out:

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Homilies for the Third Sunday of Advent

PREACH IT! Check out Scott Hahn's St. Paul Center for a biblical reflection on the Mass readings for the 3rd Sunday in Advent (Dec. 17):

The Preacher to the Papal Household, Fr. Cantalamessa also has some good homilies (though, his are not published on the web until after they are given):


Bite-size Wisdom (you are a profitable zero)

Cast away that despair produced by the realization of your weakness.
It's true: financially you are a zero, and socially another zero,
and another in virtues, and another in talent...
But to the left of these zeros is Christ...
And what an immeasurable figure it turns out to be!

St. Josemaria Escriva, The Way, #473


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Vocation Spotlight: Is Priestly Celibacy BIBLICAL?

It has been a hot-button issue for some time now: should the Holy See waive the centuries old discipline of celibacy for those to be ordained as priests within the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church? Many bring this question up because they believe that it might encourage more men to step forward for priestly ordination and thus alleviating the current priest shortage that is dramatically effecting so many parishes in the United States.

There are many ways to tackle this issue. First, we should ask—is there any biblical evidence that celibacy is of any spiritual value?

Celibacy in the Bible (all citations from the NAB)

Isaiah 56:3-5: Let not the foreigner say, when he would join himself to the LORD, "The LORD will surely exclude me from his people"; Nor let the eunuch say, "See, I am a dry tree." For thus says the LORD: To the eunuchs who observe my sabbaths and choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant, I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name Better than sons and daughters; an eternal, imperishable name will I give them.

The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (a modern historical-critical commentary) has the following note for this verse: “Eunuchs: Such were refused admission “into the assembly of the Lord” (Lev. 22:24; Deut 23:2), because it seemed improper for a person, deprived of the power of transmitting life, to associate with the God of life. Some Israelites were castrated for working within the harem of Israelite or foreign kings (1 Sam 8:15; etc.). Trito-Isaiah urges their full readmission among God’s people (Wis. 3:14). Their contribution to Israel’s vibrant religious life will be their ‘monument and name,’…”

This same Commentary states that Isaiah 56 here gives the Old Testament background for Jesus’ key remark concerning celibacy “for the kingdom” as well as other important New Testament references to celibacy:

Matthew 19:9-12 (NAB): I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery." [His] disciples said to him, "If that is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry." He answered, "Not all can accept [this] word, but only those to whom that is granted. Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it."

If celibacy were somehow against God’s will—why would the Son of God, God incarnate, live his earthly life as a celibate?

Some critics of the Church’s discipline will point to the fact that Peter (the first “Pope”!) was (gasp!) … married (citing references to Peter’s “mother-in-law”, Mark 1:30)! Perhaps they forget that Peter—speaking for all of the apostles—also makes a reference to an act of renunciation—the renunciation of possessions. In His reply, Jesus also relates the renunciation of a “wife” to the general call of abandonment for the Gospel (I include a few preceding verses for context):

Luke 18:29-30 (NAB): For it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." Those who heard this said, "Then who can be saved?" And he said, "What is impossible for human beings is possible for God." Then Peter said, "We have given up our possessions and followed you." He said to them, "Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God who will not receive (back) an overabundant return in this present age and eternal life in the age to come."

Even if Peter did not choose to leave his family in order to follow Jesus (he could have been a widower), still at some point, he had to make a break with wife and family in order to travel with Jesus, take upon the responsibility of the chief apostle, and eventually (as tradition tells us) be martyred.

Further on in Matthew 19 we learn that renunciation leads to a divine reward—including eternal life:

Matthew 19:27-30: Then Peter said to him in reply, "We have given up everything and followed you. What will there be for us?" Jesus said to them, "Amen, I say to you that you who have followed me, in the new age, when the Son of Man is seated on his throne of glory, will yourselves sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life.

And this seems to relate to the fact that we are called to place the supernatural love of Christ above the natural loves for family, etc.:

Matthew 10:37-38: "Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.

The beauty of virginity and celibacy is that it more perfectly anticipates what life will be like in heaven. In heaven, we will not “marry nor [be] given in marriage”. Why is that? Because marriage is a sacrament that is supposed to symbolize the union between Christ and the Church. It is a sacrament that is supposed to give a man and a woman the grace to be configured to Jesus Christ and grow in intimacy with God through their mutual love for one another and for their children. When we are before God in heaven… there will be no need for sacraments because we will be in the presence of God himself!:

Matthew 22:30: Now at the resurrection, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had been married to her." Jesus said to them in reply, "You are misled because you do not know the scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like the angels in heaven.

Other key passages in the New Testament related to celibacy:

Matthew 8:20-22: some disciples are called to follow Christ just as He tread the earth in ministry—with “nowhere to lay his head.”

And the great St. Paul—himself apparently a celibate—gives perhaps the most complete endorsement of celibacy as a prime way to serve the Kingdom:

1 Corinthians 7:17, 25-35: Only, everyone should live as the Lord has assigned, just as God called each one. I give this order in all the churches. … Now in regard to virgins, I have no commandment from the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord's mercy is trustworthy. So this is what I think best because of the present distress: that it is a good thing for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek a separation. Are you free of a wife? Then do not look for a wife. If you marry, however, you do not sin, nor does an unmarried woman sin if she marries; but such people will experience affliction in their earthly life, and I would like to spare you that. I tell you, brothers, the time is running out. From now on, let those having wives act as not having them, those weeping as not weeping, those rejoicing as not rejoicing, those buying as not owning, those using the world as not using it fully. For the world in its present form is passing away. I should like you to be free of anxieties. An unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord. But a married man is anxious about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and he is divided. An unmarried woman or a virgin is anxious about the things of the Lord, so that she may be holy in both body and spirit. A married woman, on the other hand, is anxious about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. I am telling you this for your own benefit, not to impose a restraint upon you, but for the sake of propriety and adherence to the Lord without distraction.

In short, celibacy is not natural—rather, it is “supernatural.” To live a life of consecrated celibacy is to live a life in imitation of Jesus, a life which requires reliance upon God’s grace. Celibacy is the offering of something good—marriage—to God as a gift… an act of renunciation so that a man can serve the kingdom in a unique and demanding way… and also so that he can attain a certain intimate union with Christ. Celibacy in no way denigrates marriage.

Holy matrimony is also a demanding and beautiful sacrament. The Church, in her wisdom, has determined that the norm for the Latin rite is that only celibate men would be ordained to the priesthood. There are exceptions of course: married clergymen who convert from the Anglican or Lutheran communities have been admitted to holy orders in some cases. I have known a few of such priests and they are outstanding! However, the wisdom of the Church has seen that the discipline of mandatory celibacy as the norm better serves the needs of the Church.

This is a discipline—not a doctrine. It could be changed. However, a change does not seem imminent at this time. We must also question what difference such a change would make in the pastoral ministry of priests and also the number of priestly ordinations. For my part, I will continue to trust Holy Mother Church. She knows best!


For more apologetic articles defending priestly celibacy (including answers to objections that some anti-Catholics find in the Bible [Gen 1:28; 1 Cor 7:2; 1 Tim 3:2, 4-5) see the following link:

An article from Fr. Cantalamessa, preacher to the papal household, “Virginity, a Positive Approach to Celibacy”:

For coverage of the sad Archbishop Milingo affair [the recently excommunicated Archbishop of the Zambian capital of Lusaka who has been ordaining married men to the priesthood], see:

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Feast of the Immaculate Conception: Honoring Mary, the New Eve and Mother of the Redeemer!

This evening we celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

From the new Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

96. What does the “Immaculate Conception” mean?

God freely chose Mary from all eternity to be the Mother of his Son. In order to carry out her mission she herself was conceived immaculate. This means that, thanks to the grace of God and in anticipation of the merits of Jesus Christ, Mary was preserved from original sin from the first instant of her conception.

God freely chose Mary from all eternity to be the Mother of his Son: Did you ever think that maybe Mary was just randomly selected at a young age to be the mother of the Incarnate Son of God? Not likely. Just like us, God the Father chose Mary “before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless before him in love” (Ephesians 1:3-4). God had predestined all of us for some role in his plan of salvation. He knew us before we were created (Ps 139). If God also would have chosen a woman to freely say “yes” to his plan of salvation… don’t you think that He would have put a great deal of thought into how this woman would be created? How beautiful would you create a woman who was to be “the mother of the Savior”?

In order to carry out her mission she herself was conceived immaculate: Mary’s mission was to be the one who would say “yes” to God’s plan of salvation. Remember, God never forces his love upon the creatures that he made free. I once heard it put rather bluntly—God would not “rape” humanity. He would not force the incarnation against our will. He desired our free assent. It was in the disobedience of Eve (which led to the disobedience of Adam) that led to the first Fall. In order to redeem the human race, God posed the question of his Incarnation to a New Eve...a new representaive for the entire human race.

It is because Mary said “yes” (her “fiat”—"let it be done to me according to your word") that Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God (and “the New Adam” see Romans 5:12-21), entered the world, and eventually redeemed the human race by his obedience to the Father on the Cross (reversing the disobedience of Adam).

Once again, in order to be most free to say yes or no, God created Mary free from the stain of Original Sin. Without such a burden she was completely free in her will to obey God… she was not a slave to concupiscence (the tendency that we all have towards sin—even after baptism).

“thanks to the grace of God and in anticipation of the merits of Jesus Christ": If Mary was created free from the stain of Original Sin does that mean that she still needed a savior? Yes, without a doubt! The Immaculate Conception was a unique and extraordinary GRACE from God… a gift to Mary. And, it was given “in anticipation of the merits of Jesus Christ.” This is tricky for us to contemplate, but remember that God is eternal—outside of time. There is no past, present, or future with God. He sees everything as an eternal now. God could apply graces won by Jesus on the Cross to Mary at the time of her conception (before the sacrifice on the cross occurred in history). He is God—He is not limited by categories of time as we are.

Scriptural evidence

The Scriptures that are mentioned most in relation to this dogma of the Immaculate Conception are Luke 1:28 where Mary is addressed by a name (which expresses a characteristic quality, an identity) as “full of grace” (Greek: kecharitomene). [this is a better translation than what you find in the New American Bible, for example, “favored one”]. In addition, the Church points back to the proto-evangelium (first announcement of the Gospel) in Genesis 3:15: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.’ This is directed to the devil and Eve. However, it also points forward to the woman who whose offspring (Jesus) would do battle with the devil and his offspring. For this woman to be at total enmity (hatred) with the devil, she had to be completely free from the stain of Original sin.

The Bible also has other clues to the Immaculate Conception. The Ark of the Covenant also is a “type” that foreshadows and points ahead to Mary who is the "New Ark of the Covenant" (compare Luke 1:26-44 with Exodus 40:34-35 and 2 Sam 6:9-16). The Ark of the Covenant was the holiest object in the Old Testament. It was beautiful box created of precious materials… it was to be spotless in construction. [See Exodus 25 where God gave meticulous instructions for constructing the Ark: it was to be made of acacia wood—supposedly incorruptible—plated inside and outside with pure gold, it had to be kept free from all impurity and profanation. In 2 Samuel 6:6-7 God struck Uzzah dead because he dared to touch the Ark!.]

The Ark held the tablets of the 10 Commandments (the Word of God), the manna (bread from heaven) that fed the Israelites in the desert, and Aaron’s staff. Mary was the spotless carrier of Jesus—the Word of God Incarnate, and the Bread of Life (John 6). If such care was taken in the creation of a pure and perfect Ark of the Covenant, how would Mary the Mother of God be created? How pure would God create the woman who would bear the Divine Redeemer?

Do not forget to be familiar with the dogma of the Assumption of Mary:

What did the ancient Church fathers teach about Mary's holiness?: and

More notes on how to explain and defend belief in the Immaculate Conception:

St. Anselm on the Immaculate Conception:

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Who are the "Church Fathers"?

Have you ever heard anyone make reference to the "early Church Fathers?" These were the great theologians of the first 8 centuries or so. They were noted not only for their orthodoxy and theological brilliance, but also for their holiness.

To read the Church fathers is to embark upon an incredible journey. Always reflecting upon Scripture and the Tradition of the Church, they have written treatises of great detail on subjects ranging from the sacraments to prayer, lengthy commentaries on Scripture and rebuttals to current heresies. If you can think of any subject of interest to Christians, the Fathers most likely tackled it. If you want to know what Christians have believed throughout history, start with the Bible and continue with the Fathers.

Joseph A. Gallegos has written a nice (brief) introduction to the Fathers, you can read it at:

Corunum Apologetic website: Learn what early Christians writers (“Church Fathers”) taught about the Christian faith

Read entire treatises of the Fathers at:

A good book for beginning to read the Fathers:

Image of a famous Church father: St. Ambrose (340-397) [bishop of Milan and the teacher of St. Augustine]

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Friday, December 01, 2006

Advent: links for celebrating and catechizing

Here are some links from the web that might help you celebrate and teach about this wonderful season...


The history of Advent:

Try making a Jesse tree in your class:

From (Advent index)

From (includes Advent crossword, Advent bingo, Jesse Tree, etc.)

From (Mass worksheets for Advent) [scroll down]

Extend your lessons by putting on a play based on the Sunday Gospel (these could even be used for a Christmas pageant) [PDF file]:

Advent resources from Finding God site (Loyola Press)

Animated Advent Calendar on Poverty (from US Bishops website, Catholic Campaign for Human Development)

CATHOLIC TRADITIONS (for families… and classroom):

Catholic Traditions for Advent and Christmas:

History of the Advent wreath

The “O” Antiphons

Advent prayers and devotions

A song with “hidden meanings” teaches the Catholic Faith:
The symbolism of “The Twelve Days of Christmas


Meet the saints of December! (St. Nicholas, Juan Diego, Our Lady of Guadalupe, etc.)

The premier Our Lady of Guadalupe site (or so I am told)

Meet the real St. Nick!

A new Public Television documentary on artistic images of the Blessed Virgin Mary
(to air on Dec. 24 @ 1:00pm in Iowa):


Scriptural reflections for the First Sunday of Advent


“Christmas, Christians, and Christ” by Fr. Frank Pavone

“Advent Dynamism”

Reviews of the new movie The Nativity Story:

From Catholic Exchange:

From US Bishops Conference:

But does the film portray Mary from a Protestant perspective?

From American Papist:


Ancient Catholic customs can control Christmas materialism (This Rock magazine)

Will Christ Soon Return? (This Rock) PART I

Will Christ Soon Return? (This Rock) PART II

Listen to some beautiful Advent music from the Vatican website:


A cyber-retreat for Advent

An opening and closing prayer for Advent

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