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If you want to be a nice person, what you believe matters

December 29th, 2011 Posted in Uncategorized


By Father Robert Barron

A team of sociologists, led by Catholic University professor William D’Antonio, recently published a survey that has gotten quite a bit of media attention, for it shows that many Catholics disagree with core doctrines of their church and yet still consider themselves “good Catholics.” For instance, 40 percent of the respondents said that belief in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is not essential to being a faithful Catholic. Perhaps the most startling statistic is this: fully 88 percent of those surveyed said “how a person lives is more important than whether he or she is a Catholic.” In a follow up piece in the Chicago Sun-Times, a reporter asked a number of people on the street for their reaction to these findings. One man said, “I’m a very good Catholic because I follow what’s in my heart, more than what the church tells me to do…”

As even the most casual student of societal trends knows, this sort of cavalier attitude toward doctrine is rampant, at least in the West. I dare say that most people in Europe or North America would hold some version of the following: as long as, deep down, you are a good person, it doesn’t much matter what you believe.
The intellectual pedigree of this popular idea can be traced back at least to the 18th century German philosopher Immanuel Kant, who held that religion is fundamentally reducible to ethics. All other forms of religious life and practice — dogmas, rituals, liturgies, sacraments — are meant, Kant thought, simply to contribute to upright moral behavior. In the measure that they fulfill this purpose, they are acceptable, but in the measure that they contribute nothing to ethics, they become irrelevant, even dangerous.

Fr. Robet Barron

I would argue that what is truly dangerous is precisely the bifurcation between doctrine and ethics that Kant inaugurated and that has become so ingrained in the contemporary imagination. For though we rarely aver to the fact, so many of the ethical norms that we take for granted are deeply rooted in very definite doctrinal claims of the Judeo-Christian traditions. When the dogmas are ignored or declared irrelevant, the normativity of the moral claims is, sooner or later, attenuated.

I would imagine that, if pressed, most people in our society would characterize “being a good person” as treating others with love, honoring the dignity, freedom, and inherent worth of their fellow human beings. And most would agree that ethical violations — stealing, lying, sexual misbehavior, infidelity, cheating, doing physical harm — are correctly seen as negations of love.
But what is love? Love is not primarily a feeling or an instinct; rather, it is the act of willing the good of the other as other. It is radical self-gift, living for the sake of the other. To be kind to someone else so that he might be kind to you, or to treat a fellow human being justly so that he, in turn, might treat you with justice is not to love, for such moves are tantamount to indirect self-interest.
Truly to love is to move outside of the black hole of one’s egotism, to resist the centripetal force that compels one to assume the attitude of self-protection. But this means that love is rightly described as a “theological virtue,” for it represents a participation in the love that God is. Since God has no need, only God can utterly exist for the sake of the other. All of the great masters of the Christian spiritual tradition saw that we are able to love only inasmuch as we have received, as a grace, a share in the very life, energy, and nature of God.

So far we’ve looked at the subjective side of love. But what of its object? Why, precisely, are we convinced that our fellow human beings are in possession of rights, endowed with dignity, and of inherent worth? This conviction has become so ingrained in us, so taken for granted, that we forget how peculiarly theological it is. Every human being, regardless of considerations of race, education, intelligence, strength, or accomplishment is a subject of inestimable value because he or she has been created by God and destined by God for eternal life. Take God out of the equation, and human dignity rather rapidly evanesces.
If you doubt me on this score, I would invite you to look to societies in which belief in a Creator God was not operative. In classical Greece, the society of Plato and Aristotle, only a certain handful of people —aristocratic, virtuous, propertied, and well-educated — were seen as worthy of respect. Everyone else was expected to do as he or she was told; infants deemed imperfect could be exposed; and a startlingly large number of people were consigned to slavery. And in the secular totalitarianisms of the last century, societies in which God was systematically denied, human dignity was so little respected that the piling up of tens of millions of corpses was seen as an acceptable political strategy, Lenin’s “cracking of some eggs to make an omelette.”

In our commitment to love and to human dignity, we are, whether we know it or not, operating out of a theological consciousness. When the doctrines and practices that support religious consciousness are dismissed—as they so often are in contemporary secularism—the moral convictions born of that consciousness are imperilled. This is the massively important point missed by those who so blithely say, “it doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you’re a nice person.”

Father Robert Barron is the founder of the global ministry, Word on Fire, and the Francis Cardinal George Professor of Faith and Culture at University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein. He is the creator of a new10- episode documentary series called “Catholicism” airing on PBS stations and EWTN. Learn more about the series at www.CatholicismSeries.com

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Pew study estimates global Christian population at 2.18 billion

December 29th, 2011 Posted in Uncategorized


According to a new study, there are currently 2.18 billion Christians in more than 200 countries around the world, representing nearly a third of the estimated 6.9 billion 2010 global population.

The study, conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, found Christians to be so geographically widespread that no single continent or region can indisputably claim to be the center of global Christianity.

The Pew study, “Global Christianity: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Christian Population,” cites that 100 years ago, two-thirds of the world’s Christians lived in Europe but today only about a quarter of all Christians live there. More than one-third of Christians reside in the Americas; about a quarter live in sub-Saharan Africa and 13 percent live in Asia and the Pacific.

The data indicates that during the past 100 years, the number of Christians around the world has more than tripled from historical estimates of approximately 600 million in 1910 to more than 2 billion today. But the world’s overall population has also risen rapidly, from an estimated 1.8 billion in 1910 to 6.9 billion in 2010. As a result, Christians make up about the same portion of the world’s population in 2010 (32 percent) as they did a century ago (35 percent).

The study also reveals that although Europe and the Americas are still home to a majority (63 percent) of the world’s Christians, that share is much lower than it was in 1910 when it was 93 percent. In the past 100 years, the number of Christians grew significantly in sub-Saharan Africa and the Asia-Pacific region.

The study also breaks down where Catholics — numbering 1.1 billion worldwide and half of the global Christian population — reside.

Brazil, with 134 million Catholics, has the world’s largest Catholic population, which totals more than the number of Catholics in Italy, France and Spain combined. Other countries with the highest percentages of Catholic populations include: Mexico, the Philippines and the United States. The 10 countries with the largest number of Catholics contain more than half of the world’s Catholics.

The rest of the global Christian population breaks down to: Protestants 37 percent; Orthodox Christians 12 percent; other Christians such as Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses 1percent.

Christians are by far the world’s largest religious group. Muslims, the second-largest group, make up a little less than a quarter of the world’s population, according to previous studies by the Pew Forum.

Although Christianity began in the Middle East-North Africa, that region today has both the lowest concentration of Christians — about 4 percent — and the smallest number of Christians (about 13 million) of any major geographic region.

The study provides data on the world’s Christian population by region, country and tradition and is based on about 2,400 sources, including census figures and nationally representative population surveys. It is part of the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures project funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts and the John Templeton Foundation to analyze religious change and its impact on societies around the world.

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Analysis: Catholic trends in marriage mirror society, but vision is different

December 22nd, 2011 Posted in Uncategorized


Catholic News Service

Like the number of marriages among Americans in general, the number of marriages performed in the Catholic Church has been in decline over the past few decades.

“Since 1972, the number of marriages celebrated in a Catholic church has fallen nearly 60 percent” in the U.S., said Sheila Garcia, associate director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, citing a study conducted for the secretariat by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University and released in 2008.

In 1972, there were 8.6 marriages in the church per 1,000 Catholics, but last year the figure was 2.6 church marriages for every 1,000 Catholics, she said.

A priest presides at a Catholic wedding. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

That trend is among the reasons that led the bishops to launch their National Pastoral Initiative for Marriage in 2004 and the related “For Your Marriage” website to help people better understand the Catholic viewpoint on marriage and to strengthen the bonds of couples, whether they are Catholic or not, married in the church or not.

“What we have said is that you need three things to support marriage — a vision, skills and a supportive community,” Garcia told Catholic News Service. “The church clearly offers a vision for marriage. We believe you can have a marriage that is faithful, permanent and open to children. We believe with God’s grace that can be achieved.”

Through practical articles on such topics as finance and communications, the website at http://foryourmarriage.org offers tools to help couples strengthen their marriages. A campaign involving television and radio spots, print ads and billboards works to communicate the message that “the church cares about marriage as an institution and cares about your marriage,” Garcia said. “You can turn to the church for support.”

The 2008 CARA report found that 53 percent of adult Catholics in the U.S. were married, 25 percent had never married, 12 percent were divorced, 5 percent widowed, 4 percent living with a partner and 1 percent separated from their spouse.

A new report from the Pew Research Center analyzing Census Bureau data offered similar statistics. It found that only 51 percent of Americans 18 and over were married in 2010, 28 percent had never been married, 14 percent were divorced or separated and 6 percent widowed. The Pew report did not include a figure for those living with a partner.

But the Pew study also found that 39 percent of the respondents said marriage was becoming obsolete — an opinion that Brian R. Barcaro said the vast majority of the 300,000 users of CatholicMatch.com would dispute. Barcaro co-founded CatholicMatch.com with two others in June of 1999 and said there have been “thousands and thousands” of marriages resulting from the service since then.

“Overall our members would not be very similar” to the average single person surveyed by Pew, Barcaro said. “Their attitudes would be much more positive toward marriage than in the Pew study.”

He said “98, 99 percent” of CatholicMatch.com members “come with the idea that they want to meet someone that could be a future spouse.” The remaining 1 or 2 percent just want a community experience that can provide “perspectives on living life as a single Catholic,” he added.

But Barcaro said “one of the myths” about single people today is that they are all “college-age kids, 20somethings.”

“We do have a number of members in that age group,” he said, “but the majority are in their very late 20s or 30s or 40s.” Many of them have found themselves 10 or 15 years out of college and discovered that “things did not happen the way I thought they would” in terms of finding a spouse, Barcaro said.

“If you don’t meet the love of your life in college, then you get into a job and career and that impacts your social circles,” he added. “In college there are lots of natural social circles, but afterward it becomes much more difficult.”


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“Tintin” and other Christmastime movie reviews

December 22nd, 2011 Posted in Uncategorized


“The Adventures of Tintin” is A-1 family entertainment

By Adam Shaw

Catholic News Service

“Great snakes!” The characteristic exclamation of the titular hero of “The Adventures of Tintin” may also be the cry of surprised audience members taken aback both by the high-quality animation, and the exhilarating plot, of what might otherwise have turned out to be yet another chapter in mediocre translations from page to reel. Parents as well will nod appreciatively at the messages of self-sacrifice, friendship and determination on offer.

This is not the first time the characters drawn by Belgian illustrator Herge (real name Georges Remi), and first published in the Belgian Catholic newspaper “Le Vingtieme Siecle” in 1929, have been featured in motion — a highly successful TV series spawned from the books ran on HBO during the early 1990’s. But it is the first time the curiously coiffed reporter known as Tintin (voiced by Jamie Bell) and his terrier sidekick Snowy have made it to the big screen.

Captain Haddock, voiced by Andy Serkis, and Tintin, voiced by Jamie Bell, are seen in the animated movie "The Adventures of Tintin." The Catholic News Service classification is A-I –- general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG –- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children. (CNS photo/Sony)

Directed by Steven Spielberg from a script by Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish — and co-produced by the illustrious Peter Jackson of “Lord of the Rings” fame — the film manages to combine an original vision with faithfulness to the enormously popular source material.

Our chipper junior journalist finds himself drawn into a centuries-old mystery via the purchase of a hobby model ship, and consequently marked for elimination by deliciously evil villain Ivan Ivanovitch Sakharine (voice of Daniel Craig). Aiding Tintin, as best he can, is excessively tippling Scottish seaman Captain Haddock (voiced by Andy Serkis). A kindly lost soul searching for redemption at the bottom of a whisky bottle, Haddock’s ancestors and family destiny are bound up with the miniature vessel.

Haddock’s quest for renewal is a central and consistent theme, and the film highlights the vital role of companionship in overcoming one’s individual weaknesses. The need for fortitude in the face of difficulty is also exemplified. These lessons will likely please both parents and viewers of faith.

The project is ambitious, and makes the most of the latest in performance-capture technology — a technique that transposes the facial and bodily movements of the actors onto their animated counterparts — as well as top-flight 3-D rendering, Mix in a thrilling score by cinema maestro John Williams, and the result is a sumptuous visual and aural feast that takes the viewer on an action-packed adventure from Tintin’s humble home in a retro (yet timeless) Belgium to the beauteous deserts of North Africa.

There are a few instances of fist fighting and nongraphic gunplay. And in one scene a ship’s crew are bound and made to walk the plank. But the movie is, by and large, a family-friendly affair, which will not only afford vigilant moms and dads a chance to relax, but the opportunity to be entertained as well.

The film contains occasional stylized violence. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I — general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

Capsule reviews by Catholic News Service of more holiday films

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (O, R)

This piercingly violent and sordid crime thriller, based on the first book in Swedish writer Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium Trilogy,” follows a journalist (Daniel Craig) and a talented computer hacker (Rooney Mara) as they investigate a wealthy clan’s role in the murder of a female member of the family 40 years prior. Director David Fincher’s unflinching adaptation is faithful to the often disturbing source material, which includes scenes of heinous physical abuse. Although skillfully — if exhaustingly — executed, his film portrays a world seemingly devoid of moral coordinates. The transgressions endured by the title character, and the choices she makes in response, both undermine her quest for justice and render the proceedings inappropriate for all. Excessively graphic violence, including rape, torture and maiming; images of women sadistically murdered; antireligious undertones; strong sexual content, including explicit lesbian and nonmarital encounters and frequent nudity; and much crude and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. ”

Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked (A-1, G)

This weak, slapstick-laden — but not unwholesome — third entry in the Chipmunks series has the titular rodent rap stars (voiced by Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler and Jesse McCartney) and their distaff counterparts the Chipettes (voices of Amy Poehler, Anna Faris and Christina Applegate) misbehaving on a cruise ship and winding up on a remote Caribbean island, where they help another castaway (Jenny Slate) and learn some lessons in maturity and responsibility. As he blends animation and live action, director Mike Mitchell piles on the pratfalls — along with references to other similarly themed media offerings, from the TV show “Lost” to Tom Hanks’ 2000 big-screen drama “Cast Away.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-I — general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is G — general audiences. All ages admitted.

Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol

(A-III, PG-13)

This dizzying roller-coaster ride of an espionage thriller propels viewers from the depths of urban sewers to the top of the world’s tallest building, and throws in outer space for good measure. The leader (Tom Cruise) of a team of agents for the elite Impossible Missions Force is framed for a terrorist bombing of the Kremlin. Driven underground, and pursued by the Russian police, his associates (most prominently Paula Patton and Simon Pegg) join him in the struggle to stop the actual bomber (Michael Nyqvist) before he can unleash global nuclear war, an effort in which they’re eventually joined by another operative (Jeremy Renner), whose motives are not entirely clear. In his live-action debut, established animation director Brad Bird oversees spectacular cinematography (especially in Imax), with the camera swooping and soaring with each death-defying stunt. Intense action violence, including gunplay, some rough language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

(A-III, PG-13)

Sprawling, brawling adventure sequel — set in 1891 — in which Robert Downey Jr.’s he-man Holmes and his recently wed sidekick Dr. Watson (Jude Law) battle a conspiracy by evil genius Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris) to destabilize European politics and bring on a general war. The iconic pair is aided in their struggle by a Gypsy fortuneteller (Noomi Rapace) and by Holmes’ bon vivant older brother (Stephen Fry). Director Guy Ritchie’s second take on the classic detective fiction of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle downplays old-fashioned sleuthing in favor of a constant flow of confrontations, escapades and escapes. Still, adults with a high degree of tolerance for stylized violence will likely find the proceedings diverting enough. Constant action violence, including a suicide, torture and some glimpses of gore; partial rear and implied full nudity; fleeting sexual humor; and a few crass terms. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.










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Pope asks Christians to highlight religious meaning of Christmas

December 22nd, 2011 Posted in Uncategorized


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI asked Christians to highlight the real meaning, the religious meaning, of Christmas as they celebrate the holidays.

“Celebrate a truly Christian Christmas,” he said, one marked by “the joy of knowing that God is close and wants to walk with us on our journey through life.”

“Let us make sure that even in today’s society our Christmas greetings do not lose their profound religious meaning and the celebration is not absorbed by exterior aspects,” the pope said Dec. 21.

Archbishop John G. Vlazny of Portland, Ore., and U.S. Cardinal William J. Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, visit the Nativity scene prior to Pope Benedict XVI's general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican Dec. 21.

With about 5,000 pilgrims and visitors gathered for his weekly general audience Dec. 21, the pope said he knows people today sometimes find it hard to begin a relationship with God, who they cannot see, and to truly celebrate the birth of Jesus, an event that occurred 2,000 years ago.

Yet the Christmas liturgy proclaims, “Today a savior is born for us,” he said.

The liturgy’s use of “today,” he said, means that “today, right now, God offers us — me and each one of you — the possibility of knowing him and welcoming him as the shepherds of Bethlehem did. He is born into our lives, renews them and transforms them with his grace and his presence.”

Christmas and Easter are closely connected in the life of faith, he said. Christmas celebrates the fact that God entered into history to bring humanity back to God, while his death and resurrection celebrate the fulfillment of his mission to vanquish death and sin.

“On Christmas, we encounter the tenderness and love of God who bends down over our limits, our weaknesses, our sins, and lowers himself down to us,” the pope said. Christmas is “a prelude to his lowering himself at his passion, the culmination of the story of love between God and human beings, which passes through the manger at Bethlehem and the tomb in Jerusalem.”

Among those at the audience were U.S. Cardinal William J. Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and his classmates who were celebrating the 50th anniversary of their ordinations to the priesthood Dec. 20, 1961, in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Before the audience, Cardinal Levada and Archbishop John G. Vlazny of Portland, Ore., the cardinal’s classmate, visited the Nativity scene in the audience hall and greeted members of a mariachi band from the University of Queretaro, Mexico.


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Commentary: Extreme sports and opportunities to evangelize



Picture the scene: Skaters clad in helmets and pads, racing down a winding ice hill at speeds up to 40 mph, while tens of thousands of cheering spectators line the course with the Cathedral of St. Paul serving as a picturesque backdrop.

“Ice cross downhill” is one of the newest extreme sports gaining popularity around the world, and it’s coming to downtown St. Paul next month as part of the Red Bull Crashed Ice World Championship competition.

Fun and exciting to watch?

For sure.

An opportunity to practice the “new evangelization” that Pope Benedict XVI says is so urgently needed in today’s world?

Maybe — at least in one small way that shouldn’t be overlooked.

A survey a few years ago found that the percentage of Americans who professed no religion nearly doubled between 1990 and 2008 – jumping from 8.2 percent of the population to 15 percent. Some researchers estimate that “former Catholics” make up roughly 10 percent of the U.S. population.

These people — which include older teens and young adults — simply don’t see the relevance of religion for their day-to-day lives. Raised in an American culture that preaches materialism, moral relativism and pleasure above nearly all else, they often have a false perception of religion in general, and Catholicism in particular, as being too stodgy, too judgmental, too scandal-ridden and not at all fun.

They likely wouldn’t accept an invitation to attend a class about the catechism or hear a talk by a prominent Catholic speaker. But they might be enticed to attend an event like Crashed Ice — and here there is an opportunity to extend a further invitation.

The Cathedral of St. Paul isn’t a sponsor of the competition, but it’s allowing race organizers to use some of its property in the interest of being a good neighbor. The event also presents an opportunity to ratchet up hospitality efforts for any of the thousands of spectators who might want a closer look at this magnificent church that frames the race’s backdrop.

You might call it a “soft-sell” approach to evangelization, but it can be an effective way to make a connection with people who rarely, if ever, set foot inside a church door.

It’s not that much different than the community spirit and good image that’s cultivated by parish festivals, church-sponsored art exhibitions and concerts, and lavish feast day celebrations — like the Dec. 12 feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which, at many parishes, in addition to prayer, features festive songs, mariachi bands, dancers and delicious food.

These are places where churches could extend a further invitation to new faces in the crowd — perhaps to attend parish faith-sharing groups, book or movie discussion clubs, or question-and-answer sessions that help explain what Catholicism really means and that invite participants to enter more deeply into the faith and learn the beauty of what the church teaches.

All of these efforts can help dispel false notions that the church has nothing relevant to offer for living a fuller, better life and they would go a long way toward clearing up misperceptions of the church as stodgy and not at all fun.

Catholics like to have a good time and share the joy with others. Here’s how veteran Catholic reporter John Allen described it in a recent interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

“I don’t think the Catholic Church gets enough credit for being … a lot of fun. There’s great warmth and laughter in most Catholic circles, a rich intellectual tradition, a vast body of lore, an incredible range of characters, a deep desire to do good, an abiding faith against all odds, an ability to go anywhere and feel instantly at home, and even a deep love of good food, good drink and good company. All that is part of the tapestry of Catholic life, but it rarely sees the light of day in commentary and reporting that focuses exclusively on crisis, scandal, and heartache.”

We need to invite more people — including fallen-away Catholics and inactive Catholics as well as teens and young adults absent from our churches — to experience the beauty and joy at the heart of our faith life. We need to show how our churches and other Catholic groups continue to enrich the local community. And, we need — when they are ready — to teach them again about the value in living a Catholic Christian life.

Those goals require creating more opportunities for evangelization and outreach as well as taking advantage of more unique opportunities — like Crashed Ice — that occasionally come racing into our neighborhoods.

This editorial appeared in the Dec. 8 edition of the Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. It was written by editor Joe Towalski. 


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Ursuline, Sallies students address distracted driving

December 13th, 2011 Posted in Our Diocese, Uncategorized, Youth


Students launch safe-driving campaign

WILMINGTON — Students from Ursuline Academy and Salesianum School have launced a modern-day campaign to promote safe driving among their peers.

This bumper sticker is part of a safe-driving campaign initiated by students from Ursuline and Salesianum.

Thirteen students from the Art Forum class, which includes both schools, presented a marketing campaign consisting of four elements to combat the use of cell phones while driving. The visual reminders of the dangers of distracted driving include a cell phone pouch, a bumper sticker, a warning ticket and a music video.

The pouch is designed to conceal a driver’s phone, making it less tempting to use it while driving. The bumper sticker includes the popular phrase “LOL,” but instead of standing for “laugh out loud,” it is short for “loss of life.” The warning ticket reads, “a warning from someone who cares” and reminds drivers not to operate a vehicle while “inTEXTicated.” Finally, the video includes lyrics written by Ursuline senior Lindsay Henzes and set to the tune of the television show “Kim Possible.” The lyrics tell the story of why driving and texting is dangerous.

A pilot program with these elements will kick off in January in collaboration with SmartDrive, a nonprofit driver education reinforcement program aimed at students who already have their license.

The video can be seen below.

No texting and Driving

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Vatican thanks KOC for restoring tomb


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — With help from the Knights of Columbus, the only papal tomb transferred from the old to the new St. Peter’s Basilica has been restored.

Cardinal Angelo Comastri, archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica and president of the office responsible for the basilica’s upkeep, rededicated the tomb of Pope Innocent VIII during a brief ceremony attended by leaders of the knights Dec. 5.

Read more »

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Sunday Mass is the family meal for Catholics

December 2nd, 2011 Posted in Uncategorized


 The following article on the importance of Sunday Mass attendance is an excerpt from Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley’s Nov. 20 pastoral letter “Jesus’ Eager Desire: Our Participation in the Sunday Mass.” While it was written for the Catholics of the Boston archdiocese, the cardinal’s perspective on Sunday Mass as the family meal of Catholics applies to all the faithful.

Jesus’ Eager Desire: Our Participation in the Sunday Mass


Pastoral Letter – 
Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley
November 20, 2011 – Solemnity of Christ the King


A. Introduction: Family Meals

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is the busiest travel day of the year. Every year so many of us willingly endure highway traffic jams and overcrowded airports because we want to be with family members on Thanksgiving, even when we know the turkey might be overcooked, the stuffing barely edible, and the conversation boring. Why? We go because we know our presence matters to our parents, siblings, family and friends — and we love them. We each witness to this love for each other when we are present at table for Thanksgiving and other milestones such as birthdays, anniversaries, baptisms, first holy Communions, weddings and funerals. Our presence is a sign to each other of the gift and the importance of family in our lives.

As a young priest preparing couples for marriage, I always stressed the importance of the family meal. I look back at my own childhood and recall how we gathered each evening for dinner — the children, my parents and my grandmother who lived with us.  It was a time of lively exchange when we recounted both the sad and funny things that may have happened during the day. We shared ideas and aspirations. But most importantly, it was a time to share ourselves. Prayer was always part of the gathering with grace before meals and often the Rosary afterwards. As a child, I would rather have been many places, such as playing outside or visiting friends. And, as for the food, well, as they say, the shortest book in the world is the Irish cookbook: boil everything and serve the potato with it! Looking back, however, I realize that those dinners with the O’Malley clan are where we discovered our identity and forged bonds that have lasted a lifetime. There we shared our own stories, and our individual stories were woven in to a history that we shared together.

B. Jesus’ Eager Desire – Do This in Remembrance of Me

The Thanksgiving meal of our Catholic family occurs every Sunday. The word Eucharist comes from the Greek word (eucharistia), which means “thanksgiving.” Jesus himself instituted this family tradition on the night before He died. When he gathered the disciples in the Upper Room for the Last Supper, he told them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover meal with you.”1

He taught them the importance of humble service through washing their feet.  Then he took bread, blessed it, broke it, and through his divine power transformed it into his own body, blood, soul and divinity.  He told them, “Whoever eats this bread and drinks this blood will have eternal life.”  He then instructed them to, “Do this in memory of me.” Since that day almost 2,000 years ago, the church has carried out Jesus’ command.

Jesus’ eager desire is to celebrate this thanksgiving meal with every one of us each Sunday. We pray in many good and helpful ways but none equals the prayer that is the Sunday Mass. It is the one that Jesus implored us to do in his memory. As St. Paul wrote to the 1st century Christians of Corinth, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes.”

We live at a time when many people state that they are “spiritual but not religious.” If this is the way that you see your relationship with God, I am grateful that you are reading this letter. You recognize your hunger for God and want to have a relationship with God because he created you, redeemed you and loves you. Perhaps you have drifted over time from the regular practice of our faith or possibly you have made a conscious choice not to join our family each Sunday. Please know that you are missed. Jesus instituted the Eucharist and founded the church to gather his chosen people and to foster communion with him, and through him, communion with each other.

Our culture today promotes an unhealthy individualism that has certainly crept into the way some members of our Catholic family practice their faith. But Christian discipleship is never a solo flight; it is a lifelong family pilgrimage. At the heart of that adventure is the Eucharistic banquet where the Last Supper and Calvary become present.

Pope Benedict describes what happens at Mass in this way:

At the celebration of the Eucharist, we find ourselves in the ‘hour’ of Jesus. . . [and] this ‘hour’ of Jesus becomes our own hour; His presence in our midst. . . By making the bread into His Body and the wine into His Blood, He anticipates His death, He accepts it in His heart, and He transforms it into an action of love.  What on the outside simply brutal violence — the crucifixion — from is within becomes an act of total self-giving love. . . In their hearts, people always and everywhere have somehow expected a change, a transformation of the world.  Here now is the central act of transformation that alone can truly renew the world. . . Jesus can distribute His Body, because He truly gives Himself. . .  The Body and Blood of Christ are given to us so that we ourselves will be transformed in our turn. We are to become the Body of Christ, His own Flesh and Blood. We all eat the one bread, and this means that we ourselves become one. 

Some people say, “Mass is boring” or “I don’t get anything out of it” or “I pray in my own way.” Consider for a moment how parents would feel if their children said similar things about the family celebration of Thanksgiving or a birthday party. “I don’t get anything out of the celebration” or “it’s boring” or “I’ll celebrate your birthday in my own way.” We would feel disappointed, incomplete, and certainly hopeful that the family would be fully reunited at the next gathering.  Similarly, Jesus’ eager desire is to have us all present each Sunday for his thanksgiving meal.

C. Sunday Mass: A Great Hunger Throughout the Ages

The Eucharist is Jesus’ great gift to us, and the fulfillment of his promise to be with us always until the end of time. It is a central part of God’s saving plan of infinite love for us.

Many Catholics today seem to take the gift of the Sunday Mass for granted. It is a great sadness to me as spiritual leader of the Archdiocese of Boston to note that, on any given Sunday, so many Catholics choose to be absent from Mass. It was not that long ago that almost all Catholics went to Sunday Mass unless they were sick or incapacitated.

In the early days of the Church, Christians did not enjoy the freedom of religion that we do today in the United States. They were regularly persecuted by the Roman authorities for attending Mass. Pope Benedict XVI often tells the story of the martyrs of Abitene (in modern-day Tunisia).  In 303, 49 Christians suffered torture and martyrdom because they defied the Roman Emperor Diocletian’s order not to celebrate the Eucharist on Sunday. When asked why they had disobeyed the emperor, one of them said, “Sine dominico non possumus” — “Without Sunday, we cannot live.”

In fact, for nearly 2,000 years Christians have risked their lives to participate in Sunday Mass.  During the Reformation in England, priests were martyred when caught offering Holy Mass for English Catholics.  Courageous lay people who gave their homes over as places of Catholic worship, and who harbored priests, suffered torture and death.

The witness of saints in our own lifetime testifies to the tremendous price paid by some of our Catholic family for celebrating the Sunday Eucharist. In the past century, Catholics in former Communist countries like the Soviet Union or Vietnam were persecuted for practicing their faith. Today in places such as Egypt, China, North Korea, Iraq, Sudan and countless other areas, Catholics risk their lives and travel for hours to attend Sunday Mass. We give thanks to God that we do not have to put our lives in jeopardy to attend Mass at our local parish. We rejoice that, unlike those in poor areas, we do not have to walk for miles, over hills or on inadequate dirt roads to attend. The vast majority of us can walk safely down the street or make a short drive to arrive at our beloved parish. But the ease, convenience, and legality of the Mass should not cause us ever to lose sight that the Mass is so precious that many of our Catholic brothers and sisters around the world are braving great inconvenience and persecution to receive what we, by God’s love, have available near us.

In his first Holy Thursday letter to priests, Blessed Pope John Paul II touchingly recalled situations of the faith triumphing over persecution from his own personal experience of living under religious oppression:

Sometimes it happens that [the lay faithful] meet in an abandoned shrine, and place on the altar a stole which they keep, and recite all the prayers of the Eucharistic liturgy: and then, at the moment that corresponds to the transubstantiation a deep silence comes down upon them, a silence sometimes broken by a sob … so ardently do they desire to hear the words that only the lips of a priest can efficaciously utter.

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta often spoke about how precious each Mass is.  Frequently she would instruct newly ordained priests to “celebrate each Mass as if it is your first Mass, your last Mass and your only Mass.”  In other words, she implored priests never to take the celebration of the Mass for granted and let it become routine.  I ask the same of every Catholic in the archdiocese.  Just as we should be grateful for each day God grants us, let us anticipate and participate in each Mass as if it could be our last or our only Mass. Let us never take for granted the wonder that is the encounter we have with God each Sunday that we celebrate the Eucharist together.

D. Why Catholics Come to Mass

Sometimes we become fixated on the reasons Catholics give for skipping Sunday Mass. These are important and the church needs to hear these concerns and respond. However, it is equally important to focus on and share the many reasons why Catholics throughout the church’s history have come, and continue to come, with eager anticipation.

1. We desire to respond to God’s love 

“God so loved the world that he sent his only son so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  Jesus’ love for us led him to offer himself on the cross for our salvation.  The same saving love of Jesus leads him to continue to give himself through the gift of the Eucharist.

The word “love” in English, particularly today, has been stripped of much of its beauty and meaning. It often is reduced to a “feeling.”  In Greek, there are seven words for love and the word for the love God has for us, agape, connotes action, a self-gift. The love we want to have for God is a self-gift in return, of our time, energy, worries, hopes and joy. The Mass is the best place to thank God for the gifts besides Himself that He gives us — especially life, family, friends, faith and love.

2. We desire to encounter Christ in the most profound way possible

At Mass, eternity and time intersect. It is part of God’s plan of salvation that we would be able to meet him directly and receive his grace through the sacraments. Because he is all loving and truthful, we believe him when he and the church he founded teach that he is really present with us in the celebration of the Mass.

The Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy explains that Christ is present to us in four ways during the celebration of Mass: (1) in the community celebrating; (2) in the Word proclaimed; (3) in the priest presiding; and (4) in the Eucharist.10   Dr. Tom Curran elaborated on these four forms of Christ’s presence at Mass in a way that is very helpful.

First, we encounter Christ in the community of the faithful. Each one of us is made in God’s image and likeness. The kindness we show each other in Jesus’ name is a way we show kindness to Jesus Himself. Also, by joining in the community of the faithful, we are included in Jesus’ prayer of thanks and praise to God the Father. It is a holy encounter with Jesus and with our fellow communicants.

Second, we encounter Christ in his Word. The readings proclaimed from sacred Scripture are truly the words of everlasting life and the letter from a loving God to his people.  What is truly amazing is that, if we pray before Mass for guidance in a decision and we intently listen to the proclamation of Scripture and the homily, God will often speak to us in words we most need to hear.

Third, we encounter Christ in the priest. Jesus chose to have His sacrifice re-presented on the altar by an ordained priest or bishop.  When the priest speaks in the first person during the Consecration, and says, “Take this, all of you and eat of it, for this is my body,” Jesus is speaking through him.  He stands in the person of Christ, the Eternal High Priest. Through the priest, we are able to participate in the greatest event in history, the one that saved us from our sins and opened up the possibility of spending eternal life with God in heaven.

Fourth, and most importantly, we encounter Christ in the Eucharist. We take Jesus’ body and blood within us, and Jesus transforms us. We become one with him by receiving him in holy Communion, and through him, with each other.12

Because of these direct encounters with Christ at Mass, we seek to be active participants — not passive spectators — in listening to his Word, sharing in the Offertory, joining in the singing, and proclaiming a reverent “Amen” (“truly, I believe”) when we worthily approach to receive Jesus in the Eucharist.

3. We desire to gather and pray with our parish family

The celebration of Mass, like life, has vertical and horizontal dimensions. This parallels the great commandment, which instructs us to love God and then to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Christian life is a pilgrimage we make with our brothers and sisters in Jesus.  Jesus set the example by gathering all the Apostles at the Last Supper instead of having a dozen individual meals. God foresaw from all eternity that we would be placed in our particular community at this particular time and that discipleship is lived in friendship and fraternity with those for whom and with whom we pray at each Sunday Mass.  Our presence to each other is a symbol of our solidarity and unity with God and with each other.  It is the fullest expression of our Christian identity.

Liturgy means, “work of the people.” The greatest work we will do each week is to worship God and pray for, and with, our parish family.

4. We desire to strengthen our particular family

Father Patrick Peyton, the great “Rosary Priest,” instructed us, “The family that prays together, stays together.”  He advocated praying a family rosary daily. In the same way, I recommend that attending and praying at the Sunday Mass together will strengthen your family to confront the various challenges today that often tear families apart.

During the sacrament of baptism, parents are reminded that they are called to be the first and best teachers of their children in the ways of faith.  Knowing that the Mass is Catholicism’s central prayer and that it is the source and summit of Christian life, we teach our children and grandchildren one of the most important lessons of all when we attend Mass with them.

Recently I attended a dinner at which the principal of one of our local Catholic high schools was being honored.  In his remarks he said: “I grew up in a family where going to Mass on Sunday was about as optional as breathing.” Many of us in the audience could identify with those words — it was not a matter of authoritarian parents or social pressure, but rather a sense of how important the Sunday Eucharist was for our family identity and survival. To miss Mass is to stop breathing; it is the sure path to a spiritual asphyxiation.

The rest of Cardinal O’Malley’s pastoral letter on Sunday Mass participation can be found at  www.bostoncatholic.org/Pastoral-Themes/Feature-Story.aspx?id=22302

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Commentary: Advent lesson from Broncos’ quarterback Tim Tebow

December 1st, 2011 Posted in Uncategorized


Broncos’ quarterback Tim Tebow, shown when he played for the University of Florida, is under scrutiny for the way he publicly proclaims his faith. (CNS)

A lot of ink is being spilled on Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow. Sports pundits are incredulous that this less-than-stellar passer has helped to turn his team into a contender for the NFL playoffs. Unlike most other football players, however, Tebow has also come under scrutiny for the way he publicly witnesses to his Christian faith — something he references in nearly every interview and public appearance.

This open embrace of faith, by all accounts, has been ingrained in Tebow for a long time, although it received a great deal of national attention for the first time when the former star quarterback for the University of Florida and Heisman Trophy winner appeared in TV ads with a pro-life message during the 2010 Super Bowl.

As a member of the Denver Broncos, he occasionally takes a knee in prayer — a phenomenon now known, and sometimes spoofed, as “Tebowing.” He started a recent postgame news conference by thanking “my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.” The son of former missionaries, he works with a foundation that bears his name to help sick and orphaned children around the world. That foundation is now teaming up with another organization to build a children’s hospital in the Philippines.

Like him or hate him, Tebow seems nothing but sincere about his beliefs — a fact his coach, John Fox, acknowledged in a recent online story about the quarterback. “He’s real,” Fox said. “He walks the walk. A guy like that in today’s society, in my mind, ought to be celebrated, not scrutinized to the level that he is.”

But Tebow is scrutinized because, to some, his public displays of faith are irksome, bothersome, too “in your face.” These critics often have no problem with his beliefs, they just wish he would keep them private and not wear them on his sleeve to the extent he does.

Those critics should be more concerned, however, about the antics of others that are as public but certainly not worthy of emulation: athletes guilty of unsportsmanlike conduct on and off the field, coaches and politicians caught in scandals, celebrities whose commitment to marriage lasts a whopping 72 days.

With Tebow you get something genuine — a role model. What you see on the outside is what’s on the inside, particularly when it comes to his spiritual life.

In the same story in which his coach was quoted, Tebow had this to say: “That’s the thing about my faith: It’s not just something that happens when you’re at church or happens when you’re praying or reading the Scripture. It’s a part of who you are, as a person, as a player, in your life and everything. And it should be who you are because you’re not just a Christian or a believer at church. That’s who you are everywhere, and it shouldn’t matter what situation or what setting you are in. Hopefully, you’re the same guy everywhere.”

And, therein, is a lesson for all of us this Advent season: to spend this season of waiting to welcome Christ once again by synching our everyday lives with our beliefs, to translate our words and prayers into action, to live out what we profess on Sunday during the other days of the week — at home, at work, at school and in our communities.

Advent isn’t about Black Friday or Cyber Monday or buying ever more stuff that other people don’t need or, frankly, often don’t want. It isn’t about office parties. It’s about making room for Jesus in our lives and bringing the hope and peace of Christ into the lives of others.

We celebrate Advent when we make a deeper commitment to prayer in our lives. To spending more time with loved ones who need our presence more than our presents. To bringing hope to the poor and lonely through service and financial contributions that will improve their lives by helping them meet basic needs.

Advent is about living out what we believe and not being afraid to share and show our faith to the rest of the world, even if someone gives us grief about it.

That’s an Advent lesson for us, courtesy of Tim Tebow.

This commentary was published in the Nov. 30 online issue of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. It was written by Joe Towalski, The Catholic Spirit’s editor.


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