Prayers for Peace

September 6th, 2013

The Holy Father has made an urgent plea to all the people of the world to set aside tomorrow, Saturday, Sept. 7, as a day of prayer and fasting for a peaceful solution to the crisis in Syria. Here is his statement.  Cardinal Dolan has added his own request to the family of the Archdiocese of New York.

If you are a director or coordinator of a parish religious education program that meets on Saturday, please invite those in your program and their families  to offer their prayers as well.

For those of you who will be in midtown Manhattan tomorrow, Archbishop Francis Chullikatt, the Holy See’s  ambassador to the United Nations, will offer a Mass at 5:30 pm at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Please come and, by all means, invite your family and friends to join you there.

 

 

Augustine and his views about women

August 27th, 2013

August 28 is the feast of one of Christianity’s greatest philosophers, St. Augustine of Hippo. However, these days he’s getting a bit of bad rap, particularly when it comes to women. Granted, he did believe and write that women were subordinate and therefore should be obedient to men. But he was a product of his time and culture.  No one thought women were equal to men.

Augustine and his Christian contemporaries read the Bible, including the Book of Genesis, literally and as an historical document.  They did not know of evolution. They did not understand human biology as we of the 21st century do. As far as Augustine and every other Christian knew, the first woman was formed from the first man’s rib (Gen.2:21-23). Because she was formed from the male, she and all the women who followed her must be subordinate.

But let’s be fair here.  The man died in 430 AD, 1,583 years ago. To pick and choose quotations from Augustine’s huge body of work, pull them out of their historical context, including the scientific knowledge and scriptural interpretation of the time, and then use them to support or debunk a viewpoint of today is not fair. It’s also not good scholarship.

So what did Augustine really think of women? For help in answering this question, I turned to my good friend, Father Allan D. Fitzgerald, O.S.A., director of the Augustinian Institute at Villanova University in Pennsylvania. He has provided this excerpt from an article about Augustine and women by the late Tarcisius Van Bavel, O.S.A. (1923-2007), a highly respected modern scholar of Augustine. Van Bavel was the director of the Augustinian Historical Institute in Heverlee, Belgium, and was professor of Theology at the Catholic University of Leuven, also in Belgium.

I hope that you will take a few minutes to read this piece.  You might find a surprise or two in the last paragraph. And be sure to check out Villanova’s Augustinian Institute for more about the fascinating bishop of Hippo.

“From the study of Augustine’s texts, it appears undoubtedly that the man occupies the central place in social life. The woman is always compared to and measured by the man. We must admit that Augustine’s view is androcentric. Woman is the weaker sex, subordinate to the man and owing him obedience. In the question of subordination of women, Augustine is not only influenced by the social ideas of his time, but also — and perhaps more — by the Bible. He read the paradise story in a historical way: the first human beings lived in a perfect paradisial situation; only later they degraded because of sin. Augustine starts from an idealized picture of the first human couple, whereas we modern people expect human perfection to come only in the future. What he read as a story about the beginning, we read as a story about the end. Modern science tells us that human beings began on a very primitive level, and that they developed only slowly in a long process of evolution. For Augustine it was more or less the opposite. This implies considerable differences in view and evaluation. Augustine had to base himself on the science of his day, and could not know or realize how much the biblical narratives were socially and culturally conditioned, in general and in particular regarding the relationship between male and female. For this reason it was difficult for him to consider libido as something belonging originally to human nature. However, he was not completely mistaken in his observation of libido. Many psychologists, especially of the psychoanalytic school, would agree with him in seeing sexual libido as an ambiguous force. To consider libido simply as a good would be naive; it is also a source of evil. On this point Augustine was more realistic than Julian of Eclanum.

      We should not be blind for the positive aspects of Augustine’s view. More than once he breaks through traditional Christian opinions, opening new perspectives and instigating further evolution. It is a pity that some of his ideas have had no greater influence on posterity. Some of these positive elements of his thought are taken over from his predecessors; others are corrections of the opinions of his predecessors. The idea of the moral superiority of women is borrowed from the best of Christian tradition.  In the question of woman as the image of God, he corrects the opinion of several theologians who wrote before him. Woman is created in the image of God; she is the image of God by nature; and not only through Christ’s grace conferred in baptism. The same must be said regarding the presence of the female body and sex in the resurrected state of the human being. This had been denied by influential authors before him. An important point is further his protest against the discrimination of women by civil law. In doing so he assailed social injustice in his own day. He criticized vehemently and intrepidly this kind of discrimination. Augustine’s own and most important contribution to a change within the relationship between husband and wife is, according to me, his emphasis on love in married life, and even more his interpretation of the conjugal relationship as friendship. In the Christian tradition before him this was seldom or never done.”

Augustine’s View on Women, Augustiniana 39 (1989) 5-53.

Welcome and dignity for immigrants

July 9th, 2013

Whenever I pass St. Patrick’s Cathedral, I am reminded of the 19th century Catholic immigrants, who helped to build it with the sweat of their brows and whatever they could give of their paltry economic resources.

For them, the Cathedral was more than a magnificent church building. It was a symbol of their right to make a life for themselves and their families in the United States, and of their resistance to the Nativist movement that tried to prevent them from doing so.

The Catholic Church is on the side of the immigrant and that is why it is important for religious educators and others to be knowledgeable on this topic, particularly these days as the Congress considers immigration reform.  This is part of the church’s social teaching.

Here in the United States, the Church’s support for immigration reform is demonstrated in this statement by Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, archbishop of Los Angeles and chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, on June 28 during a telephone press conference with the USCCB leadership. Archbishop Gomez commended the U.S. Senate for its passage of a comprehensive immigration reform bill and called for the House of Representatives to do likewise.

Pope Francis himself provided a powerful witness in actions and words in his visit yesterday (Monday) to the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa. During his mass for those migrants who lost their lives trying to reach this refuge, he addressed the plight of all migrants and their conditions.

“‘Where is your brother?’ the voice of his blood cries even to me, God says. This is not a question addressed to others: it is a question addressed to me, to you, to each one of us.  These our brothers and sisters seek to leave difficult situations in order to find a little serenity and peace, they seek a better place for themselves and for their families – but they found death. How many times do those who seek this not find understanding, do not find welcome, do not find solidarity! And their voices rise up even to God!”

Here is the entire text from Vatican Radio.

The website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has a host of other resources for catechists (including the primary catechists of children, their parents) and others interested in learning more about Catholic Social teaching on immigrants and migration.

By the way, your knowledge and articulation of Catholic teaching on immigration will demonstrate that the Catholic Church is certainly not “a one-issue Church” as some have sought to portray us. Justice for the immigrant is now and always will be a high priority for our community of believers in this nation of immigrants.

Summer with Scripture

June 26th, 2013

Whew! What a great day Saturday, June 22, was for the Archdiocesan Catechetical Office and our friends at the American Bible Society. The fourth annual New York Catholic Bible Summit brought a record 600 people to Cathedral High School for a day of enlightenment on Sacred Scripture. Thanks to Cardinal Dolan for the inspiring opening Liturgy and to all our presenters and volunteers, who made this wonderful experiences happen.

Special thanks to Sr. Joan Curtin, CND, director of the Archdiocesan Catechetical Office; to Mario Paredes, presidential liaison for Catholic outreach at the American Bible Society; and to my super co-chair, Oscar Cruz, director: Catechumenate / Family Catechesis / Formation of Adult Catechesis Leaders.

Let’s keep the great momentum going. Summer is for most people a slightly less pressured time, a time to sit and reflect. What better could there be to reflect on than the Word of God as given to us in the Bible! Here are some resources to get you started. Some of them come from our great Bible Summit presenters. Best of all, they are available electronically so you are not hauling huge big tomes around or weighing down your luggage with them. You can take any of these on a plane, on a train, on a cruise, to the beach, to the mountains or wherever you go to chill out.

Lectio Divina. This form of prayerful reading and meditation on passages from Sacred Scripture is becoming more and more popular because of its accessibility. Take as little as a much time as you need with it. The website I’ve linked to is at the American Bible Society.

Together on Retreat: Meeting Jesus in Prayer. This is an e-book by Father James Martin, SJ, who gave a demonstration of  an e-retreat during his Bible Summit keynote address. You can get it on Amazon.com Kindle or Barnes & Noble Nook, and then take it to the beach on your iPad, your iPhone, your Android or your e-reader. Just remember to use your sunscreen, however, because you’ll become very engrossed in this and might lose track of the time.

Bible to go. Just surf the web for the online Bible that you prefer and load that onto your e-reader. I have the New American Bible on mine.  Or just go the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ New American Bible website.

Jesus of Nazareth: What he Wanted, Who He Was by Gerhard Lohfink, published in hardcover and also available in e-formats from Amazon.com Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook.

Take some time with Scripture this summer. You won’t regret it.

About the saint who just found your keys

June 12th, 2013

June 13 is the feast of St. Anthony of Padua

How many times this week have you turned in desperation to St. Anthony to find your house keys, your car keys,  your eyeglasses (my specialty),  your mobile, your Metro Card, your wallet…the list goes on.  His fame as a finder of misplaced or lost items transcends the Roman Catholic population.  Everybody, it seems, knows of and prays to St. Anthony.  He is one very busy saint. But how in the world did this great Franciscan friar and teacher become the rescuer of distracted people?

According to some information I found at americancatholic.org, a website of St.  Anthony Press, the origins of Anthony’s special gift lie not with absentmindedness but, rather, with a bit of lightfingered-ness on the part of an errant novice.

Anthony had a book of Psalms in which he had inscribed many notes and other items of interest. He used this Psalter to teach his students in the Order.  One of those students decided to leave and he swiped the Psalter. When Anthony discovered what happened, he simply prayed that it would be returned.  The novice had second thoughts. He returned the Psalter…and himself. The Order accepted him back.  What a great story of sin, remorse, forgiveness and another chance.

St. Anthony is also the saint of missing persons, not surprisingly, and of sailors, travelers and fisherman.  Again, there’s a personal connection.  Anthony was a great missionary and went all the way to Morocco to preach the Gospel. He became seriously ill on the voyage, prayed for God’s help, and recovered.

Finally – and this is often overlooked about Anthony – he is a Doctor of the Universal Church, so declared by Pope Pius XII back in 1946 in recognition of his great skill as a teacher and preacher. He could take the Word of God and apply it to ordinary situations, to make it more “real” to people.  Kind of reminds you of our wonderful new pope,  doesn’t he?

Just thought you’d like to know who’s finding your stuff for you.

Two opportunities to explore the Bible

May 28th, 2013

This coming Saturday, June 1, the New York Catholic Bible School, which is sponsored by the Archdiocesan Catechetical Office, will hold a graduation ceremony  at the Church of St. Margaret of Antioch in Pearl River, N.Y.  Thirty men and woman will each receive a Certificate of Basic Bible Study. This means that they have completed a two-year course of study in Sacred Scripture.  I am happy to report that most, if not all, are going on to complete the entire four-year cycle, during which they will read, pray on, and reflect on every book of the Bible. Hopefully, they will go back to their parishes to encourage and perhaps lead Bible study group themselves.

As you can imagine, preparing for class and meeting every week, usually at the end of a work day, requires a great deal of dedication.  People from every walk of life and educational background are enrolled What is it about Sacred Scripture that brings these men and women back week after week, year after year? They have found the Word of God and they are finding themselves, too.

Perhaps you might be interested in studying the Bible,  learning how to read it, reflect on it, and pray on it. Here’s a suggestion.  Spend a day with the Bible.

On Saturday, June 22, the Archdiocesan Catechetical Office and the American Bible Society will sponsor their fourth annual New York Catholic Bible Summit at Cathedral High School in the New York Catholic Center, 350 East 56th Street, Manhattan. This year’s theme, very appropriate for the Year of Faith, is “Preach the Gospel to the Whole of Creation.”

As always, the day will begin with the Sacred Liturgy in the Church of St. John the Evangelist, also in the Catholic Center on the 55th Street side.  Timothy Michael Cardinal Dolan will be the principal celebrant.

There will be two complete tracks in English and Spanish. Rev. James Martin, SJ, author and editor-at-large for America Magazine, will give the English keynote. Father Martin’s new e-book, Together on Retreat — Meeting Jesus in Prayer, will help you to pray with Scripture. The Spanish language keynoter is Jesús Rubén Cardinal Salazar Gómez, Archbishop of Bogota, Colombia, and vice president of the Latin-American Conference of Catholic Bishops.  Check here for a full listing of our presenters, along with details on registration. Don’t wait until the last minute to register, however.

A day with the Bible. Who knows? Your next step might be the New York Catholic Bible School.

The Patron Saint of Plan B

May 14th, 2013

One of the many reasons I love these days of the liturgical year is that we get to revisit the Acts of the Apostles, not just on Sundays, but throughout each week as well. Even if you are unable to go to Mass every day, look at the readings from the Acts. You can find them at the U.S. Bishops’ website.

Attributed to the author of the Gospel of Luke, this book is fascinating and should provide a measure of comfort to those who worry about today’s Church. Right from the beginning, the Church – the community of believers – faced and overcame many obstacles and challenges, both external and internal.

Today’s reading shows us how the disciples of Jesus found themselves making decisions after his ascension. This is the feast of the apostle Matthias who, according to Msgr. Robert Ritchie, rector of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, should be known as “the patron saint of Plan B.” If you read Acts 1-15-17, 20-26, you’ll see why.

Judas, who had been selected  by Jesus as one of the 12 apostles, betrayed the Lord and hanged himself.  Peter knew he had to find a replacement and brought this to the brothers and sisters.  Jesus wasn’t going to make this appointment directly, so they had to come up with an alternate plan. They nominated two candidates, all prayed, and then they cast lots. “The lot fell upon Matthias, and he was counted with the eleven apostles.” Plan B.

Certainly Msgr. Ritchie is dealing with Plan B himself these days during the Cathedral’s restoration. He’s probably on Plan K. We in the Archdiocesan Catechetical Office certainly find ourselves having to change plans, too.  In fact, everybody has to go to Plan B or beyond at some point in his or her life.

The next time you find yourself in such a position, don’t forget to ask St. Matthias for help.

Francis and Ignatius: connections

April 30th, 2013

This post  from Thinking Faith, the British Jesuits’ website, is very timely and not just because our Jesuit pope took the name of St. Francis of Assisi.  You may already know that Ignatius of Loyola esteemed Francis of Assisi.   Father James Hanvy, S.J., explains that affinity through his examination of  the philosophies of these two great saints and the communities they established.  I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.

Father Hanvy’s article has a particular relevance for me because of a place where I was yesterday.  I wish you could have been there.

I’ve just returned from a wonderful experience at Mt. Alvernia in Wappingers Falls, N.Y. This spirituality center, situated south of Poughkeepsie, is a ministry of the Franciscan Friars of the New York Province of the Immaculate Conception and offers a range of retreats and other spiritual experiences in the Franciscan tradition. The retreats are primarily for Catholics but those of other beliefs are warmly welcomed.

While I was at Mt. Alvernia, I had the pleasure of spending the day with my colleagues and with Fr. Roch, the retreat director, who led us through Francis’ Canticle of the Sun. It really opened my mind to Francis and how his relationships with his brothers and with Clare, with all of creation actually,  enriched his life and ministry. I began to see the origins of the Ignatian call to find God in all things.  The more Fr. Roch spoke of Francis, the more I understood why Ignatius was drawn to him and why our new Bishop of Rome chose his name.

I had to leave early and could not stay another day but when I returned home, I checked the Mt. Alvernia website.  I suggest you take some time and do likewise. There are retreats upon retreats. Some are overnights. Some are one-day experiences.  There is an experience for almost every need, all delivered with the matchless Franciscan hospitality.  As the Franciscans say, peace and good.

“From Ashe to Amen” at the Museum of Biblical Art

April 15th, 2013

The recent Tiffany exhibit at the Museum of Biblical Art on Broadway and 60th Street, in the headquarters of the American Bible Society, was enthusiastically received by New York art critics. As they say in another art form, it was tough act to follow.

However, MOBIA, as the museum is familiarly known, has come up with another  beautiful and inspiring show, this time examining the religious art of African Americans and its relationship to Sacred Scripture.  The exhibit is called “From Ashe to Amen: African Americans and Biblical Imagery” and will be open until May 26.  The term ashe is a Yoruba word from Nigeria and is familiar to Africans and African Americans; it means inspiration. However, someone else used an even more descriptive definition: an inner eye. Amen, of course, means “so be it.”

The exhibit features about 60 pieces, among which are some that especially fascinated me.  Horace Pippin’s “The Holy Mountain” appears at first to be a depiction of the peaceable kingdom in a lush green forest.  A closer examination reveals that hidden in the trees are tanks and other symbols of war and violence against people.  It is startling and disturbing. Pippin, a World War I veteran, painted this in 1945 at the close of the Second World War.

Clementine Hunter’s “Baby Jesus and the Three Wisemen” re-imagines the Magi’s visit in Louisiana.  Another piece, a magnificently carved door, also features the Magi, who are carrying gifts of a more practical nature than gold, frankincense and myrrh, but also inspired by Scripture.

Joan M.E. Graham’s “My Spiritual Family” contains over a hundred small portraits on a mixed media quilt.  Charles Alston’s “Midnight Vigil,” painted in 1936, is a deathbed scene with a community raising prayers to heaven for the dying person.

The pieces and media, including video, are so varied that it would be hard to pick a favorite but, if pressed, I might opt for a beautiful fan, the mainstay of  women in the days before churches were air conditioned. The fan features the face of the great jazz singer and song writer, Billie Holiday.

One of the most appealing aspects of the Museum of Biblical Art is that its size, one large gallery room, almost guarantees that every piece in an exhibition is going to be special. There’s room only for the best of the best.  A visitor can take in an exhibit during an evening after work or on a few lunch hours.  Of course, it would take more than single lunch hour to enjoy the current exhibit. Unlike most of other museums in the city, it is free.  You can read more about MOBIA and its exhibits here.