30 April 2008

Looking at Hebrews

I'm glad to be getting back to teaching the parish scripture study this evening. We've been going verse by verse through the epistle to the Hebrews, a book which fascinates me, and it was frustrating to have to stop during my illness. We're getting to the section which discusses Melchizedek and the High Priesthood of Jesus Christ. To see the unity of God's revelation as we move from the old covenant to the new, from worship in the temple to its fulfillment in the Mass -- I find it a most wonderful epistle, and it's a joy to unpack its mysteries.

28 April 2008

Deo gratias...

Heck, I didn't know I was going to be out of commission long enough for the magnolias to come into bloom! I managed to return to a partial schedule yesterday, and noticed this gorgeous little magnolia tree along the walkway at the church, sporting its beautiful flowers. It was such a joy to be back at the altar for three of the Sunday Masses, and I was able to celebrate today's Masses, too. There's still that unpleasant burning sensation in my lungs to contend with, and I feel short of breath... but I'm making progress and I look forward to getting back to more and more of my normal activities. Thanks to so many of you for writing and e-mailing, and I'm grateful for your continued prayers.

23 April 2008

I'm getting sick of this...

Ok, I don't look as bad as this poor fellow, but I surely feel it. I fully expected to be on the steady mend, and back into everything by this time. The spirit is more than ready, but the flesh is definitely holding back. In fact, I've been feeling steadily worse, so I went to a pulmonary specialist today. After examining x-rays and doing a lot of listening, he's treating me for pneumonia and has given me an arsenal of strong antibiotics.

Anyway, thanks so much for all the prayers. I've had tons of cards, notes, e-mails, and calls from parishioners, students, and friends far and wide. I can't adequately express my appreciation, and I hope to be back full-steam very soon.

21 April 2008

Your prayers, please

I'm only just beginning to crawl out of my sick bed, after several days of some sort of respiratory/bronchial/"help-I-can't-breathe" nightmare. Of course, for the first several days I was convinced that I'd feel better soon, but when it reached the point where I couldn't say Mass on Saturday morning, I knew it was serious. Fortunately, we've had a visiting priest who's frequently around, so he was able to step in. And step in he had to! I got up on Sunday morning to get ready for the day's Masses, and in no time I was gasping for air, unable to even stand. I went straight back to the rectory, and eventually to one of the medical centers nearby, where they gave me a treatment to open the bronchial tubes so I could at least get some air. Whatever this sickness is, the doctor said it will probably be a couple of weeks before I'm feeling back to normal -- but I do plan on getting back on some sort of partial schedule long before that!

I did manage to see most of the Holy Father's visit, albeit through the haze of coughing and gasping! I'm looking forward to reading the texts of his various talks and homilies.

I'd appreciate your prayers. I don't have the patience to be a very good patient.

15 April 2008

The Pope's Private Chapel

Concelebrating the Mass with Pope John Paul II in this chapel was by far the most moving and memorable experience of my priestly ministry.

It was in November of 1983. Ordained only three months before, I was at the Vatican as a member of the Special Commission working on the Book of Divine Worship. An unexpected invitation was extended to join the Holy Father at Mass in his private chapel. How does one describe such an experience? To stand with the successor of St. Peter, to pray intimately with Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, to share the Sacred Host and the Precious Blood with the Vicar of Christ, is almost beyond description.

Upon arriving in the chapel, after vesting for Mass, I was privileged to kneel immediately to the right of the praying Pope. After some twenty or so minutes of praying before the tabernacle, we began the Mass. Including the Holy Father, there were five of us concelebrating, and the congregation consisted of members of the papal household staff. The Mass was celebrated in Latin according to the Missal of Paul VI (now known as the Ordinary Form), and the Holy Father preached a brief homily.

After the Mass was concluded we returned to our places for prayer, and once again I had the privilege of an extended time of prayer immediately next to him. One would think it would be difficult to pray in such a situation, that one constantly would be thinking, "I'm kneeling next to the Holy Father!" But not at all. I found that the time flew by as I offered up prayers of thanksgiving and petition for my family, for my parishioners, and for the one by whose side I was kneeling.

Tu es Petrus

Our Holy Father has arrived, and over the next several days he'll be speaking to us, so let's pray for all of us here in America, that we have "ears to hear."

Lord God Almighty, who hast made all the peoples of the earth for thy glory, to serve thee in freedom and in peace: Give to the people of our nation a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with thy gracious will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The Pope's Coat of Arms

This explanation of the Holy Father's Coat of Arms comes from the official website of the Papal visit:

Pope Benedict revealed who he is in designing his papal coat of arms. He dispensed with the image of the three-tiered tiara that traditionally appeared at the top of each pope's coat of arms and replaced it with the pointed miter. He also added the pallium, the woolen stole symbolizing a bishop's authority, to the elements surrounding the shield. “Benedict XVI has chosen a coat of arms that is rich in symbolism and meaning, so as to put his personality and his papacy in the hands of history," said Italian Archbishop Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo, an expert on heraldry and creator of Benedict XVI's new insignia.

"For at least the past eight centuries, popes have had their own personal coats of arms in addition to the symbols of the Apostolic See," the archbishop said in the Vatican newspaper. While each papal shield is unique, the elements surrounding it had more or less remained the same for centuries -- until now. Gone is the beehive-shaped crown whose actual use in important ceremonies was abandoned during the papacy of Paul VI.

For Pope Benedict's ensign, the more modest and recognizable miter has taken its place. But the silver miter has three gold stripes to mirror the symbolism of the papal tiara's three tiers: "order, jurisdiction and magisterium," said Archbishop Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo. A vertical gold band connects the three stripes in the middle "to indicate their unity in the same person," he said. The white pallium with black crosses draped below the shield “indicates the (bishop's) role of being pastor of the flock entrusted to him by Christ," wrote Archbishop Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo.

What has not changed and has been part of papal emblems for centuries is the Holy See's insignia of two crossed keys, which symbolize the powers Christ gave to the apostle Peter and his successors. The gold key on the right represents the power in heaven and the silver key on the left indicates the spiritual authority of the papacy on earth. The cord that unites the two keys alludes to the bond between the two powers. Nestled on top of the keys lies the unique shield of Pope Benedict, which is based on his coat of arms as archbishop of Munich and Freising, Germany, and is particularly rich in personal and spiritual symbolism, wrote Archbishop Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo.

The shield is divided into three sections -- each of which has its own symbol. The central element on a red background is a large gold shell that has theological and spiritual significance for the pope, the archbishop said. The shell recalls a legend in which St. Augustine came across a boy on the seashore who was scooping water from the sea and pouring it into a small hole he had dug in the sand. When the saint pondered this seemingly futile activity, it struck him as analogous to limited human minds trying to understand the infinite mystery of the divine.

"The shell reminds me of my great master Augustine, of my theological work and of the vastness of the mystery which surpasses all our learning," wrote then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in his 1997 memoirs Milestones. Archbishop Cordero di Montezemolo wrote that the shell has long symbolized the pilgrim, "a symbolism Benedict XVI wants to keep alive" after Pope John Paul II, "the great pilgrim." The shell is also present in the coat of arms of the Schotten monastery in Regensburg, Germany, to which the pope "feels very spiritually close," the archbishop said.

The upper left-hand section of the shield depicts a brown-faced Moor with red lips, crown and collar; it is a symbol of the former Diocese of Freising dating back to the eighth century. Though it is not known why the Moor came to represent Freising, in Milestones, the pope said for him "it is an expression of the universality of the church which knows no distinctions of race or class since all are one in Christ."

Finally, a brown bear loaded with a pack on his back lumbers up the upper right-hand section of the shield. The bear is tied to an old Bavarian legend about the first bishop and patron saint of the Diocese of Freising, St. Corbinian. According to the legend, when the saint was on his way to Rome, a bear attacked and killed his horse. St. Corbinian punished the bear by making him carry the saint's belongings the rest of the way to Rome. Archbishop Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo said the bear symbolizes the beast "tamed by the grace of God," and the pack he is carrying symbolizes "the weight of the episcopate."

The pope said in his memoir, “I have carried my pack to Rome and wander for some time now through the streets of the Eternal City. When release will come I cannot know. What I do know is that I am God's pack animal, and, as such, close to him."

Biography of Pope Benedict XVI

Here is a biography of His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, as it appears on the Vatican web site:

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI, was born at Marktl am Inn, Diocese of Passau (Germany) on 16 April 1927 (Holy Saturday) and was baptised on the same day. His father, a policeman, belonged to an old family of farmers from Lower Bavaria of modest economic resources. His mother was the daughter of artisans from Rimsting on the shore of Lake Chiem, and before marrying she worked as a cook in a number of hotels.

He spent his childhood and adolescence in Traunstein, a small village near the Austrian border, thirty kilometres from Salzburg. In this environment, which he himself has defined as "Mozartian", he received his Christian, cultural and human formation.

His youthful years were not easy. His faith and the education received at home prepared him for the harsh experience of those years during which the Nazi regime pursued a hostile attitude towards the Catholic Church. The young Joseph saw how some Nazis beat the Parish Priest before the celebration of Mass.

It was precisely during that complex situation that he discovered the beauty and truth of faith in Christ; fundamental for this was his family’s attitude, who always gave a clear witness of goodness and hope, rooted in a convinced attachment to the Church.

During the last months of the war he was enrolled in an auxiliary anti-aircraft corps.

From 1946 to 1951 he studied philosophy and theology in the Higher School of Philosophy and Theology of Freising and at the University of Munich.

He received his priestly ordination on 29 June 1951.

A year later he began teaching at the Higher School of Freising.

In 1953 he obtained his doctorate in theology with a thesis entitled "People and House of God in St Augustine’s Doctrine of the Church".

Four years later, under the direction of the renowned professor of fundamental theology Gottlieb Söhngen, he qualified for University teaching with a dissertation on: "The Theology of History in St Bonaventure".

After lecturing on dogmatic and fundamental theology at the Higher School of Philosophy and Theology in Freising, he went on to teach at Bonn, from 1959 to1963; at Münster from 1963 to 1966 and at Tübingen from 1966 to 1969. During this last year he held the Chair of dogmatics and history of dogma at the University of Regensburg, where he was also Vice-President of the University.

From 1962 to 1965 he made a notable contribution to Vatican II as an "expert"; being present at the Council as theological advisor of Cardinal Joseph Frings, Archbishop of Cologne.

His intense scientific activity led him to important positions at the service of the German Bishops’ Conference and the International Theological Commission.

In 1972 together with Hans Urs von Balthasar, Henri de Lubac and other important theologians, he initiated the theological journal "Communio".

On 25 March 1977 Pope Paul VI named him Archbishop of Munich and Freising. On 28 May of the same year he received episcopal ordination. He was the first Diocesan priest for 80 years to take on the pastoral governance of the great Bavarian Archdiocese. He chose as his episcopal motto: "Cooperators of the truth". He himself explained why: "On the one hand I saw it as the relation between my previous task as professor and my new mission. In spite of different approaches, what was involved, and continued to be so, was following the truth and being at its service. On the other hand I chose that motto because in today’s world the theme of truth is omitted almost entirely, as something too great for man, and yet everything collapses if truth is missing".

Paul VI made him a Cardinal with the priestly title of "Santa Maria Consolatrice al Tiburtino", during the Consistory of 27 June of the same year.

In 1978 he took part in the Conclave of 25 and 26 August which elected John Paul I, who named him his Special Envoy to the III International Mariological Congress, celebrated in Guayaquil (Ecuador) from 16 to 24 September. In the month of October of the same year he took part in the Conclave that elected Pope John Paul II.

He was Relator of the V Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops which took place in 1980 on the theme: "Mission of the Christian Family in the world of today", and was Delegate President of the VI Ordinary General Assembly of 1983 on "Reconciliation and Penance in the mission of the Church".

John Paul II named him Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and President of the Pontifical Biblical Commission and of the International Theological Commission on 25 November 1981. On 15 February 1982 he resigned the pastoral governance of the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising. The Holy Father elevated him to the Order of Bishops assigning to him the Suburbicarian See of Velletri-Segni on 5 April 1993.

He was President of the Preparatory Commission for the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which after six years of work (1986-1992) presented the new Catechism to the Holy Father.

On 6 November 1998 the Holy Father approved the election of Cardinal Ratzinger as Vice-Dean of the College of Cardinals, submitted by the Cardinals of the Order of Bishops. On 30 November 2002 he approved his election as Dean; together with this office he was entrusted with the Suburbicarian See of Ostia.

In 1999 he was Special Papal Envoy for the Celebration of the XII Centenary of the foundation of the Diocese of Paderborn, Germany which took place on 3 January.

Since 13 November 2000 he has been an Honorary Academic of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

In the Roman Curia he has been a member of the Council of the Secretariat of State for Relations with States; of the Congregations for the Oriental Churches, for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, for Bishops, for the Evangelization of Peoples, for Catholic Education, for Clergy and for the Causes of the Saints; of the Pontifical Councils for Promoting Christian Unity, and for Culture; of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, and of the Pontifical Commissions for Latin America, "Ecclesia Dei", for the Authentic Interpretation of the Code of Canon Law, and for the Revision of the Code of Canon Law of the Oriental Churches.

Among his many publications special mention should be made of his "Introduction to Christianity", a compilation of University lectures on the Apostolic Creed published in 1968; "Dogma and Preaching" (1973) an anthology of essays, sermons and reflections dedicated to pastoral arguments.

His address to the Catholic Academy of Bavaria on "Why I am still in the Church" had a wide resonance; in it he stated with his usual clarity: "one can only be a Christian in the Church, not beside the Church".

His many publications are spread out over a number of years and constitute a point of reference for many people specially for those interested in entering deeper into the study of theology. In 1985 he published his interview-book on the situation of the faith (The Ratzinger Report) and in 1996 "Salt of the Earth". On the occasion of his 70th birthday the volume "At the School of Truth" was published, containing articles by several authors on different aspects of his personality and production.

He has received numerous "Honoris Causa" Doctorates, in 1984 from the College of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota; in 1986 from the Catholic University of Lima; in 1987 from the Catholic University of Eichstätt; in 1988 from the Catholic University of Lublin; in 1998 from the University of Navarre; in 1999 from the LUMSA (Libera Università Maria Santissima Assunta) of Rome and in 2000 from the Faculty of Theology of the University of Wrocław in Poland.

Basilica di San Pietro in Vincoli

The Basilica of St. Peter in Chains is one of our "must visit" sites when we go on pilgrimage to Rome, and we have celebrated the Mass here several times. The basilica has been on this site from the 5th century, although it was renovated and rebuilt many times over the centuries.

It was built to house the relic of the chains with which St. Peter was bound when he was imprisoned in Jerusalem. The chains were a gift to Pope Leo I from the Empress Eudoxia. When he saw them, the Pope put them near the chains with with which St. Peter had been bound in the Mamertine Prison in Rome, and the story is that they were miraculously fused together. And there they are to this day, in a reliquary at the high altar of this basilica.

San Pietro in Vincoli is famous also for being the home of Michelangelo's magnificent statue of Moses. Sculpted in 1515 and intended originally to be one of forty statues comprising the tomb of Pope Julius II, the huge project was never finished. Instead, this single statue with its surrounding carvings serves as the memorial to the pontiff who was a major benefactor to the great artist.

The basilica underwent major renovations over the past several years, and on each visit we were able to follow the progress. On our last two visits we have been able to see it in all its splendor.

14 April 2008

Pray for his safe journey...

Almighty and eternal God, whose glory fills the whole creation, and whose presence we find wherever we go: Protect our Holy Father as he travels; surround him with your loving care; protect him from every danger; and bring him in safety to his journey's end; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

13 April 2008

His excellent Excellency

Here's an interesting and informative article about our archbishop, the Most Reverend José H. Gomez, which appeared in the San Antonio Express-News:

For 25 years, the extroverted son of Mexican migrant workers led the Archdiocese of San Antonio. He was celebrated for fighting racism and economic injustice and giving latitude to the laity in an era of experimentation in the Catholic Church. His successor, while also of Mexican heritage, is the reserved and highly educated son of a doctor who grew up in the prosperous city of Monterrey. He has politely but firmly pushed doctrinal conformity to the forefront.

That shift, demonstrated in both style and substance, by Archbishop José Gomez is a marked contrast to Archbishop Emeritus Patrick Flores, who stepped down three years ago.

The traditional wing of the church sees Gomez as someone who's correcting what they consider liberal inroads made over many years in the nearly 700,000-member archdiocese. (Read the whole article.)

Church of the Holy Miracle

About forty-five miles north of Lisbon, and not far from the Shrine of Fatima, is the village of Santarém. A church is there which is the site of a miracle, and what a wonderful miracle it is. Originally dedicated to St. Stephen, because of what happened there it is now known as the Church of the Holy Miracle.

The story has all of the elements of high drama -- an unfaithful husband, a desperate wife, a sorceress, and a wicked plan to bring the philandering husband to his senses. It took place in the 13th century. Desperate to save her marriage, the woman went to a sorceress, who exacted her price if help was wanted: the wife was to steal a consecrated Host and bring it to this wicked woman. In desperation, she did it. The next time the poor wife received Holy Communion, she removed the Host from her mouth and wrapped it in a cloth. She took no more than a few steps, when the Sacred Host began to bleed, so much so that those around her thought she had cut her hand. The woman fled to her house and hid the bleeding Host in a trunk in the bedroom. Her husband, out late as usual, finally came home. In the middle of the night there was a bright light coming from the trunk. Nearly out of her mind with fear, the woman told her husband the whole story, and they spent the remainder of the night kneeling before the Host, both filled with repentance for their respective sins.

The next day they confessed to the priest what had happened. Unsure what he should do, the priest placed the Host in a beeswax container and placed it in the tabernacle. But this wasn't the full extent of the miracle. When he next opened the tabernacle, the priest saw the final stage of the drama. The wax container was broken into pieces, and the wax along with the miraculous Host was solidly encased in seamless crystal, as it remains to this very day.

When our pilgrimage visited the Church of the Holy Miracle, after we celebrated the Mass, we climbed the stairs leading up behind the tabernacle to visit the reliquary containing this miracle. How humbling and inspiring it was, having just received our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, to then be able to pray before the same Lord Jesus Christ present in this miraculous Host, consecrated some seven hundred years before.

12 April 2008

St. Casimir Church, Swinice Warckie

"Where?" you ask. This is the church in which Helena Kowalska -- St. Faustina -- was baptized. When we were on pilgrimage in Poland a few years ago we ventured to the little village of Swinice Warckie, the provincial seat of Lodz, and there we found the simple country church.

We got terribly lost trying to find it, but an extremely kind and generous couple offered to show us the way. We didn't want to inconvenience them; however, they insisted. How little did we know just how much of a sacrifice they were making! We had gotten so lost that we had to follow them for what must have been an hour out through the countryside. And not content just with getting us there, they attended Mass so that they could lead us safely back to more familiar surroundings, since we were there long after the sun had set. I shall never forget those sweet and generous people.

It was cold in Swinice Warckie. And when I say cold, I mean way below freezing. The holy water was frozen solid in the stoup. As we breathed it was as though fog was surrounding us. The locals didn't seem to think it was that bad, but I don't think I've ever been as cold as I was on that occasion.

But the Holy Sacrament warmed us inside, and it was beautiful to be in the place where little Helena, the future St. Faustina, received the grace of Holy Baptism.

Good Shepherd Sunday

On Good Shepherd Sunday, please remember to pray for all our clergy, and for those whom they serve.

Almighty and everlasting God, from whom cometh every good and perfect gift: Send down upon our bishops, and other clergy, and upon the congregations committed to their charge, the healthful Spirit of thy grace: and, that they may truly please thee, pour upon them the continual dew of thy blessing. Grant this, O Lord, for the honor of our Advocate and Mediator, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Basilica of the Four Crowned Martyrs

Now the home of a community of Augustinian contemplative nuns, we celebrated Mass here on one of our Academy pilgrimages almost by accident. Whenever we are on pilgrimage we offer the Mass daily, of course. On this particular trip a few years ago we didn't have any particular place reserved on one of our days, so our guide (who has worked with us for many years) suggested the Basilica of Santi Quattro Coronati. I had never heard of it before, but it sounded interesting, so we went.

What a treat is was! The nuns were wonderfully welcoming, and were eager to show us around after the Mass. This is actually the "new" basilica. The first one was started in the 4th century, and was on the site of an elaborate villa. It was added to over the centuries, and was all but completely destroyed during the Norman Sack of Rome in 1084. A new, smaller basilica was rebuilt, using the original apse, and it was consecrated in 1116.

Who were the Four Crowned Martyrs? We don't know their names, although different traditions have assigned various names to them. According to The Passion of St. Sebastian, they were four unnamed soldiers, Christians all, who refused to offer pagan sacrifices and so were killed under the Emperor Diocletian. Their bodies are in the crypt, each in its own ancient sarcophagus.

Over the centuries there have been beautiful frescoes added, including some dating back to the 13th century. The basilica is on the Caelian Hill, and it's a marvellous place to visit.

11 April 2008

Grotto of the Betrayal

The wicked kiss given by Judas to our Lord happened here, or very near here. It would seem that such an act would curse the place forever, but some years ago, when we offered Mass in this cave, it seemed that we were helping to bring comfort to Christ, who had endured such an unspeakable crime.

It's an odd feeling, being in this place. It made me remember that as much as I despise Judas' act, too often I also have betrayed the Lord Jesus through my own sin. And too, by praying here and offering the Holy Sacrifice in this place, there is a real sense of making reparation for sins done and injuries inflicted.

I've visited this grotto on only one of our pilgrimages to the Holy Land. But I think I want to visit it again when we're there this next January.

Oratory of San Francesco Piccolino

Several of you have written to me, telling me how much you enjoyed the posts about various churches. I've decided that ten isn't enough, so I'll write about a few more. I've had the great blessing of travelling to many places and have been able to offer Mass in lots of beautiful and interesting churches. I enjoy remembering them, and I hope you enjoy reading about them. So here's one I especially like:

A very short distance from Chiesa Nuova in Assisi, off an alley leading to the Basilica of Santa Chiara, is a tiny oratory marking the place which tradition has as the birthplace of St. Francis. The original building was a stable, part of a complex of buildings which likely belonged to St. Francis' father, Pietro di Bernardone.

The story is that St. Francis' mother, Lady Pica, was finding her labor to be particularly difficult. Her husband was abroad in France on one of his business trips, and she was at home with only her household staff in attendance. Whether it was her idea, or another's, the thought came that perhaps a walk would be good, and so she set out a short distance to the nearby stable. Apparently it did the trick. The baby hastened his entrance into the world, and ended up being born in the stable.

Whether this is historically accurate, or is simply a pious legend, we can never know for certain. After the death of St. Francis there was an effort (done with the best of motives) to look at his life and to see a certain conformity with the life of Christ. Of course, many aspects of St. Francis' life were very much like those of our Lord's life -- his poverty, his preaching of divine love, his receiving of the stigmata. The list could go on.

So, does this story reflect the reality of his birth? Or does it, perhaps, represent a pious attempt to make the saint's life conform that of Christ in every detail? I don't know for certain, although I tend to believe the tradition attached to this oratory. It would be just like God to work things out like that.

On one of our pilgrimages we offered Mass in San Francesco Piccolino because we were few enough to fit inside. I remember thinking, "If this isn't the place, it should be."

Two great blessings...

Each of us has memories of Pope John Paul II, and one of my own great experiences was the blessing of meeting him and speaking with him when I was but a young priest newly-ordained. Even seeing him at a distance was a wonderful thing, and I often think about the times we would have groups of our students and other parishioners at the General Audience, trying to get as close to him as possible.

Peggy Noonan has an excellent column in the Wall Street Journal, where she says:

At the open-air mass in St. Peter's on April 2, the third anniversary of the death of John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI spoke movingly – he brought mist to the eyes of our little group of visiting Americans – of John Paul's life, and the meaning of his suffering. "Among his many human and supernatural qualities he had an exceptional spiritual and mystical sensitivity," said the pontiff, who knew John Paul long and intimately. (Those who hope for swift canonization please note: "supernatural." Benedict the philosopher does not use words lightly.)

He spoke of the distilled message of John Paul's reign: "Be not afraid," the words "of the angel of the Resurrection, addressed to the women before the empty tomb." Which words were themselves a condensed message: Nothing has ended, something beautiful has begun, but you won't understand for a while.

Benedict was doing something great leaders usually don't do, which is invite you to dwell on the virtues of his predecessor.
(Read more)

10 April 2008

Our new Auxiliary Bishop

A new Auxiliary Bishop has been named for the Archdiocese of San Antonio, and the announcement was made today. The following is his biography as posted on the website of the archdiocese.

Rev. Oscar Cantú, STL was born December 5, 1966, in Houston, TX, the son of Ramiro and Maria de Jesus Cantú, natives of small towns near Monterey in Mexico. He is the fifth of eight children, five boys, and three girls. Father Cantú is a product of Houston’s Catholic Schools, attending Holy Name Catholic School and St. Thomas High School. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Dallas, Dallas, TX. He then received his Masters in Divinity and Masters in Theological Studies from the University of St. Thomas in Houston. He continued the Pontifical Gregorian University, located in Rome Italy where he earned his S.T.L. in Dogmatic Theology. He currently is completing his work for a doctorate in Dogmatic Theology. Father Cantú was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Houston on May 21, 1994. He has spent his priestly career working in parishes throughout the Houston metropolitan area. His first assignment following his ordination was as parochial vicar at St. Christopher Parish in Houston. Since 2003, he has taught at University of St. Thomas in Houston. He also has taught at St. Thomas at St. Mary’s Seminary. Father Cantú is fluent in Spanish, Italian, and French.

Currently he is serving as Pastor at Houston’s Holy Name Parish, his childhood parish where, in the early 60’s, his parents became close friends with a young priest, Father Patrick Flores, who went on to become the Archbishop of San Antonio. Fr. Cantú’s father immigrated to the United States as a young man. He worked in Chicago where he leaned to be a machinist. Tired of the cold weather and the long distance from his native country, he moved his wife and two children to Houston. While Mr. Cantú only received a 6th grade education, his life of hard work taught him to place a high value on education. Seven of his eight children attended Catholic schools in Houston at a great financial sacrifice for the family, four of them went on to college, three of them have attained their master s degrees.

While still a seminarian, Father Cantu worked on a committee made up of diocesan leaders and chaired by Laredo’s Bishop James Tamayo. Its purpose was to develop, promulgate, and promote a plan for Hispanic ministry. Since his ordination, Father Cantú has participated in number of ministries and movements in Houston. He was involved in the Christian Family movement, a national network of parish/neighborhood small groups of Catholics and their families who come together to reinforce their Christian values and are encouraged to reach out to others. He conducted three retreats per year with the youth of the CFM movement in the Galveston‐Houston Archdiocese. Father Cantu worked with those preparing for marriage through the Engaged Encounter ministry. From 20004 to 2007 Father Cantú co-hosted an interfaith radio show in Houston called “Show of Faith.” His co-hosts included a Jewish rabbi and a protestant minister. The program discussed issues from the perspective of their individual faith traditions. Father Cantú has also been involved in The Metropolitan Organization (TMO). Its mission is to publicly address important social issues in the community such as fair housing, immigration, education and many others.

Father Cantú will be ordained a bishop in a ceremony in the Archdiocese of San Antonio on June 2, 2008.

We give thanks to God for this appointment, and we will keep Father Cantú very much in our prayers.

Almighty God, who by thy Son Jesus Christ didst give to thy holy Apostles many excellent gifts, and didst charge them to feed thy flock; Give grace, we beseech thee, to all Bishops, the Pastors of thy Church, that they may diligently preach thy Word, and duly administer the godly Discipline thereof; and grant to the people, that they may obediently follow the same; that all may receive the crown of everlasting glory; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

08 April 2008

Meme mission accomplished...

There you have ten of my favorite churches posted, not that there couldn't be fifty more added to the list. So we have Salisbury Cathedral, San Miniato al Monte, Sarum St. Thomas Becket, Bristol Cathedral, Chapel of St. Jerome, Duomo di Orvieto, San Fernando Cathedral, Basilica of St. Francis, Basilica of the Transfiguration, and Monte Cassino.

I hope you enjoy this look at some of the places my journeys have taken me.

Monte Cassino

Setting foot on Monte Cassino today, you'd never know it was the site of a horrible bombing during World War II, with great loss of life and the destruction of the monastery. Founded by St. Benedict in 529 after moving from Subiaco, it was here that he wrote his famous Rule, which would become the model for monastic rules throughout the Church.

It's a wonderful place to visit, and when we do we always celebrate Mass in the Crypt Chapel where the saintly twins, Benedict and Scholastica, are buried.

The last time we were here we had many of the members of our Upper School Honors Choir with us. The chapel grew more and more full as visitors in the main church found their way down to the crypt where we were celebrating Mass, enchanted by the music.

Basilica of the Transfiguration

They say getting there is half the fun. Unless, of course, you're talking about the top of Mt. Tabor, the site of our Lord's transfiguration. I'm sure the taxi drivers have great fun at the pilgrims' expense, and no matter how many times I make the trip, taking hair-pin turns at break-neck speed is nerve-wracking. When you finally get to the top, the terra is reassuringly firma, and the walk to the basilica is a joy. The only dark cloud is remembering that what goes up must come down... that pesky return trip! No wonder St. Peter wanted to build three booths and stay there.

This basilica, built in 1924 over the ruins of more ancient churches, marks the traditional site of the transfiguration of Christ in the presence of Peter, James and John, along with the appearance of Moses and Elijah. There are depressions in the shape of two footprints in the rock. I'm not sure if this was the work of Jesus, or of some over-eager monks in an earlier age.

But Mt. Tabor is the spot. It's been attested to from the earliest days of the Church. It's an inspiring place to visit and a most peaceful place to pray.

Basilica of St. Francis

Visit Assisi, then die in peace! I've lost count of how many times I've been to this wonderful place. Although I've singled out the Basilica of St. Francis as a "favorite church," there are lots of other churches in Assisi which would qualify to be on the list.

We've had many parish pilgrimages which have included Assisi, and we take groups of our academy students there regularly.

Construction on the basilica began almost before St. Francis had drawn his last breath. Well, not really. He died in 1226, was canonized in 1228, and in that very same year the cornerstone was laid by Pope Gregory IX. The land was known originally as Collo d'Inferno (Hill of Hell) because it was the place where criminals were executed. After the basilica was started it became known as the Hill of Paradise.

The Lower Basilica was completed in 1230, and the body of St. Francis was interred there. Immediately it became a major destination for pilgrimages.

I've had the privilege of offering Mass on three different occasions at the tomb of St. Francis in the Crypt Chapel. At other times we've celebrated Mass in the Lower Basilica, or in other chapels. But each time it's a spiritual treat, allowing us to draw closer to the Little Poor Man through the one Sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ.

San Fernando Cathedral

San Fernando Cathedral in San Antonio, Texas was where I was ordained to the Sacred Priesthood on 15th August 1983, so of course it has to be on my list of favorite churches.

The original church, which is the sanctuary today, was built between 1738 and 1750. In 1868 the church was enlarged, with the neo-Gothic nave being added. In 2004 it was Richard Vosko-ized, but even he couldn't completely destroy the old girl. I swear, that man must have spent his childhood trying to force square pegs into round holes.

The only unfortunate part of the redesign was the attempt to make the long nave into a round space. Happily, nothing in that project is irreversible, so when we regain our senses the building can be put back to its intended orientation. Right now, it's a little bit like seeing the Queen of England showing up in a pantsuit. But it could be worse.

A gorgeous and recent addition to the cathedral is the retablo, which was crafted in Mexico, and installed by artisans who travelled to San Antonio. An added bonus is that it incorporates the tabernacle in the center, right where it should be. Now if we can just get the altar moved back to its proper position in front of it...

07 April 2008

Duomo di Orvieto

This great cathedral in the Umbrian city of Orvieto is dedicated under the title of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, but it was built to house a linen corporal. In 1264 a priest (who doubted the doctrine of transubstantiation) was saying Mass in the nearby city of Bolsena. At the fracture of the Sacred Host, blood began flowing out, staining the linen. Needless to say, the priest had a corrective nudge in his thinking, and the Church had a marvellous relic for the edification of the Faithful. Alas, the Bolsenians didn't hang on to it, or they might have had their own magnificent Duomo. Instead, the corporal was brought to Orvieto, and the bishop wasn't about to give up the prize. Instead, he built this exquisite cathedral in which to keep it, the pilgrims started arriving, and the rest -- as they say -- is history.

As is evident in these pictures, the façade is a riot of colorful mosaic work, with intricate carving and a multitude of statues. Our Italian pilgrimages often include an afternoon in Orvieto, and I never tire of looking around the cathedral and spending time in prayer before the Miraculous Corporal.

Chapel of St. Jerome

Ok, it's not a church, it's a chapel. And this is supposed to be a list of my favorite churches. So sue me. This is the Chapel of St. Jerome, the cave where he lived in Bethlehem and where he did much of his work as a translator of Holy Scripture. Each time I've taken pilgrims to the Holy Land, I have celebrated Mass in this chapel, and each time I am astonished at the privilege of offering the Holy Sacrifice where St. Jerome spent so much time.

It's not beautiful when compared to the magnificent basilicas and cathedrals of the world. But it is beautiful when one remembers the man and the work which this place witnessed. My love for the Scriptures was instilled in me from the days of my protestant childhood, and that love influenced me to complete my undergraduate degree in Biblical Studies. When I'm in this little chapel I find myself glancing into the corners, hoping for a brief vision of an old man at his work.

Bristol Cathedral

Actually, the full name is the Cathedral Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, although before that it was called the Abbey of Saint Augustine. The building was started in 1140, and it was in 1542 that King Henry VIII (sometime between divorces and beheadings and multiple marriages) declared it to be the Cathedral for the Diocese of Bristol. It was added to over a period of more than seven hundred years, and there are bits and pieces of various architectural styles to be found there, although the main Gothic-revival nave was completed in the latter part of the 19th century, giving it an overall harmony.

I was ordained as an Anglican deacon in this cathedral in 1975. There were two times in the year that ordinations took place: Petertide and Michaelmass. I was in the Petertide class. Maybe that was partly what put my feet on the path which led me to the Barque of Peter... who knows?

I wish I could say I remember the ordination ceremony in every detail, but I'd be untruthful. I can remember the anticipation. I can remember the incredibly long processional, since there were about forty of us being ordained that day. And I can remember how strange it felt to be wearing a clerical collar, although most of us kept our chins held very high to make sure everyone could see. Ah, youthful pride.

One other item of interest connected to this very lovely cathedral: the sometime Dean was Samuel Crossman, who wrote one of my favorite hymn texts, "My Song is Love Unknown."

My song is love unknown,
My Saviour’s love to me;
Love to the loveless shown,
That they might lovely be.
O who am I, that for my sake
My Lord should take frail flesh and die?

He came from His blest throne
Salvation to bestow;
But men made strange, and none
The longed-for Christ would know:
But O! my Friend, my Friend indeed,
Who at my need His life did spend.

Sometimes they strew His way,
And His sweet praises sing;
Resounding all the day
Hosannas to their King:
Then “Crucify!” is all their breath,
And for His death they thirst and cry.

Why, what hath my Lord done?
What makes this rage and spite?
He made the lame to run,
He gave the blind their sight,
Sweet injuries! Yet they at these
Themselves displease, and ’gainst Him rise.

They rise and needs will have
My dear Lord made away;
A murderer they save,
The Prince of life they slay,
Yet cheerful He to suffering goes,
That He His foes from thence might free.

In life, no house, no home
My Lord on earth might have;
In death no friendly tomb
But what a stranger gave.
What may I say? Heav’n was His home;
But mine the tomb wherein He lay.

Here might I stay and sing,
No story so divine;
Never was love, dear King!
Never was grief like Thine.
This is my Friend, in Whose sweet praise
I all my days could gladly spend.

St. Thomas Becket, Salisbury

I know, I know. It appears that I have a fixation on Salisbury, first with the Cathedral, and now St. Thomas Becket. But I love this church. It was built in 1220 by the builders of the cathedral, so they'd have a place to worship while working on the cathedral. That always struck me as a beautiful thing, to know that these stonemasons and laborers and craftsmen were men of faith. And it's interesting to remember that St. Thomas had been martyred only fifty years before, so when this church was dedicated to him, he was rather a "new" saint.

The Church of St. Thomas is actually prettier from the outside than this picture shows. This is a side view, and doesn't show the façade or the full tower. The present building is actually an extensive expansion and renovation of the original, and is built in the Perpendicular style, which was the very latest architectural fashion in the 1300's, allowing for huge expanses of glass windows. Although I used to go here often to pray, my strongest memory is both fond and terrifying. This was the place where I first officiated at Evensong as a young theological student. Those of us at the Theological College used to have to go out to preach or officiate at Morning or Evening Prayer, all as part of our practical training. Several of the churches around Salisbury had to endure this, and when my turn came it was Sarum St. Thomas that drew the short straw.

You can scarcely see it in this picture, but there is one of the finest examples of a Doom painting over the arch of the sanctuary. It had been whitewashed over for the duration of several generations, but was finally uncovered and restored. Christ the Judge is the central figure, with lots of figures of the saved and of the damned. One of the more amusing aspects of this is that the painting apparently was given by a wealthy merchant. There are plenty of bishops amongst the damned, but there's not a single merchant headed to hell!

San Miniato al Monte

On one of the highest points overlooking the city of Florence, the Basilica of San Miniato is usually the first stop we make when we take groups of pilgrims to Italy. After a long coach trip, usually from Rome, it's an ideal spot to get a panoramic glimpse of this gorgeous city.

The story of St. Minas has all the ingredients of one of those first-class stories of the saints -- an Armenian prince serving in the Roman army under the Emperor Decius, who leaves his soldiering to become a hermit, but who is then arrested for being a Christian and is thrown to the wild beasts, but of course the beasts won't attack him and so he's beheaded, and not to be thwarted, Minas picks up his head and walks across the River Arno, as would be expected of any self-respecting saint.

A small shrine was built on this spot in the 8th century, but by the beginning of the 11th century construction on the large church was begun. The wonderful marble façade was started in the late 11th century and finished in the 12th century.

I always enjoy visiting San Miniato because it marks the beginning of what invariably turns out to be a memorable visit to a remarkable city.

Favorite churches - Salisbury Cathedral

Fr. Longenecker over at Standing On My Head has listed his ten favorite churches, and has invited me to do the same, so here goes...

My first favorite is the Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Salisbury, Wiltshire. We lived in the shadow (literally) of the cathedral for two years while I was studying at Salisbury & Wells Theological College, back in the early 1970's. Our flat was on the third floor of the Archdeaconry, and our windows looked at out the full north side of this magnificent pile of stone.

During the summers, I used to give tours of the Cathedral -- probably to the disappointment of the American tourists. I'm sure they wanted someone with a posh accent to be showing them around. Instead, they got a farmer's kid from Connecticut. Oh well, I'm sure my love for the place came through nonetheless. Also, I had the privilege of substituting for the great organist, Richard Seale, from time to time. Talk about feeling powerful, when the fabulous Father Willis organ was cranked up to its capacity! This was also the place where I served as an Anglican deacon for the first time, so it has that sweet memory for me, too.

It's probably most famous for having the tallest spire in England (404 feet), and its remarkable architectural unity is due to the fact that it was built in a relatively short time. It was begun in 1220, and completed (except for the spire) in 1258.

05 April 2008


I love the story of Jesus with His disciples at Emmaus, and that will be the subject of this week's sermon.

O God, whose blessed Son did manifest himself to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open, we pray thee, the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

04 April 2008

For my friends up north...

Here's a picture of some of the roses in bloom around the church. We've planted dozens of bushes, and they're really looking beautiful.

For those of you still enduring near freezing temperatures, sorry about that!

Well done!

The members of our Upper School Honors Choir outdid themselves this past weekend, when they performed at the Texas Private Music Educators’ Association (TPSMEA) Concert and Sight Reading contest. This event, which took place in Houston, was the culmination of several months of preparation. Our students competed with choral ensembles from all over the state of Texas and were awarded a “Superior” rating by the panel of judges.

In the first portion of the competition, the students performed three prepared pieces of contrasting styles. In the second (and more nerve-wracking!) portion, students were escorted into a room and were presented with a piece of music that they had never before sung. They were given approximately six minutes during which time, with the help of student section leaders, they analyzed the piece and determined the notes of their voice part using solfege names (Do-Re-Mi, etc). They then sang through the piece two times, once with piano accompaniment and once unaccompanied. The judges were impressed with the performance of our students, particularly as this was their first time participating in this event.

An added bonus to the weekend was that it provided us with an opportunity to bond with our “sister” Anglican Use Church, Our Lady of Walsingham in Houston. The clergy, staff and parishioners of OLW graciously provided us with rehearsal space on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning. Following the contest on Saturday afternoon, the choir returned to Our Lady of Walsingham to sing for the Vigil Mass in their beautiful church. After Mass, the students enjoyed a wonderful meal provided by the parishioners of OLW, and then loaded into the vehicles for the drive back to San Antonio.

We owe special recognition and appreciation to Mrs. Chalon Murray, Assistant Director of Music, for her coordination of the weekend’s events and for leading the Upper School Honors Choir to victory.

Bright spots...

This is the year when we'll be graduating our first class of seniors from The Atonement Academy. There'll be a lot of "firsts" that go along with that. With that in mind, the above picture shows our first Valedictorian (left), Clare McDonough, and our first Salutatorian (right), Mary Spalding. In case you couldn't figure it out, that's me in the center.

We're very proud of these two young ladies -- as we are of our whole graduating class.

03 April 2008

Papal wheels

Well, it's no sedia gestatoria, but here's the Popemobile being transported in preparation for the Holy Father's visit...

02 April 2008

"Watch with Me..."

I just received this picture of the Altar of Repose from Maundy Thursday, which was in the Chapel of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. When the picture was taken the Blessed Sacrament had not yet been brought here, but all was prepared for the Vigil with Our Lord.

Also keeping vigil with us were the Apostles themselves, through their relics which were placed beside the altar. This reliquary contains relics of the Eleven, St. Matthias, St. Paul and St. Barnabas.

As I receive more pictures from Holy Week and Easter, I'll select some to be posted.

Rest eternal grant unto him...

In thanksgiving
for the holy life of
Pope John Paul the Great.

18 May 1920


2 April 2005

I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in me, shall never die.

I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth; and though this body be destroyed, yet shall I see God; whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not as a stranger.

For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. For if we live, we live unto the Lord; and if we die, we die unto the Lord. Whether we live, therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.

Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord; even so saith the Spirit, for they rest from their labors.

St. Francis of Paola

It would be ungrateful of me if I neglected to pay homage to St. Francis of Paola on this, his feast day. He is, in a sense, one of our parish patrons, since we were meeting in the Church of San Francesco di Paola when our parish was canonically erected in 1983.

This is the Italian parish in San Antonio, founded by immigrants from the Calabria region of Italy, dedicated to their local and beloved saint. The 15th century founder of the Franciscan Minims, St. Francis of Paola was one of the great and holy hermits in the history of the Church. He was given the task by the Pope to prepare King Louis XI of France for a holy death.

The story of this Calabrian saint couldn't be much further from our Anglican roots, but nonetheless he was a great spiritual patron to us in our early days, and I look forward each year to offering the Mass in his honor.

Here is a picture of the church dedicated to him here in San Antonio.

It was our spiritual home for the first few years of our existence, and those of us who were part of those "early days" remember with fondness and with gratitude the hospitality we were shown.