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The World Seen From Rome
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Pope: The Church Must Open Without Fear

Fri, 02/23/2018 - 4:46 PM

Before returning to the Vatican on Friday, February 23, 2018, Pope Francis thanked Fr. José Tolentino Mendon, who preached the meditations during the February 18-23 spiritual exercises for the Holy Father and curia. Fr.Tolentino is a Portuguese priest and Biblical theologian and vice-rector of the Portuguese Catholic University in Lisbon.

The “thank you” to conclude the week was recorded on video and released on February 23 by the Vatican. In his remarks, Pope Francis stressed that the Church must open without fear.

Archbishop Follo on the Transfiguration

Fri, 02/23/2018 - 12:09 PM

Roman Rite – Second Sunday of Lent – Year B – February 25, 2018
Gen 22.1-2.9.10-13.15-18; Ps 116; Rom. 8, 31-34; Mk 9, 2-10

Ambrosian Rite
Dt 5, 1-2. 6-21; Ps 19; Eph 4, 1-7; Jn 4, 5-42
Sunday of the Samaritan – Second Sunday of Lent

1) Temptation and Transfiguration.

On the first Sunday of Lent, we have contemplated Christ overcoming the test of hunger. It was not just a corporal hunger. Like every human being Jesus had three hungers:

  1. hunger for life that tempts man to have and to acquire a disproportionate quantity of material goods. This is why the devil asked him to turn stones into bread;
  2. hunger for human relationships that can be friendship or power. The devil tempts Christ to satisfy this hunger by offering him power;
  3. hunger for omnipotence. This hunger pushes us to stifle the desire of God and the yearning for boundless infinity and freedom inducing the temptation to design one’s own existence according to the human criteria of ease, success, power and appearance, and to yield to the worship of the Liar (the devil) instead of to the adoration of the true providential Love.

The Messiah defeated the temptation of these three hungers using, as a criterion of discernment, the fidelity to the project of God to which he fully adhered and of which He is the Word made flesh to redeem us.

Let us imitate the example of Christ “using” the Word of God as the instrument available to understand the will of God and to overcome the temptation of the three hungers: the hunger of life, the hunger of love and power, and the hunger of relationships and of God. “When you are caught by the pangs of hunger – and we can also add of temptation – let the Word of God become your bread of life, let Christ be your Bread of Life” (St. Augustine of Hippo)

From the desert – the place of test, of rebellion and where the tempter and accuser lives (First Sunday of Lent) – let’s go to the mountain of the Transfiguration, the place of God’s manifestation, his revelation, and his holiness. This is the path that the second Sunday of Lent opens before us.

Today, from the desert, which recalls that human life is an exodus and a return home that passes through the desert, the place of trial and encounter with God, we arrive at Mount Tabor, the place of transfiguration. There, the shining truth of Christ is revealed to allow those who follow him to arrive at Easter not in spite of the Cross but through the Cross.

Jesus, in fact, tells us: “If anyone wants to come after me, he must deny himself, take his cross daily and follow me” (Lk 9:23). He tells us that, to arrive with him to the light and joy of the resurrection and to the victory of life, love, and good, we too must take the cross every day, as a beautiful page of the Imitation of Christ exhorts “Take therefore your cross and follow Jesus; thus you will enter into eternal life. He preceded you carrying his cross (Jn 19:17) and died for you so that you too may carry your cross and wish to be crucified. In fact, if you will be dead with him, with him and like him you will live. If you have been a companion in suffering, you will also be his companion in glory “(L. 2, paragraph 12, No. 2).

Therefore, let us meditate together the facts presented by these two Sundays because they anticipate the paschal mystery. The struggle of Jesus with the tempter anticipates the great final duel of the Passion, while the light of his Transfigured Body anticipates the glory of the Resurrection. On the one hand, we see Jesus fully man who shares with us even temptation. On the other, we contemplate him as Son of God who deifies our humanity.

2) Exodus of Transfiguration.

Today, the exodus, the path of liberation that we are called to fulfill, is the one of contemplation. Through contemplation, prayer becomes gaze, and our heart, which is the “center” of our soul, opens up to the light of Christ’s love.

In this way, we can understand the journey that the liturgy of this Sunday indicates to us: that of a pilgrim who carries out the exodus that leads him to the Promised Land: eternal Life with Christ.

It is a journey full of nostalgia, precariousness, and weakness, but also full of the hope of those who have the heart wounded by the beloved. It is full of light because “the ‘brightness’ that characterizes the extraordinary event of the Transfiguration, symbolizes its purpose: to illuminate the minds and hearts of the disciples so that they can clearly understand who their Master is. It is a flash of light that suddenly opens itself on the mystery of Jesus, and illuminates his whole person and his whole life “(Pope Francis).

It is true that to follow the Lord is to be crucified with Him. It is true that at every step the wounds of pain pierce our heart. Evil is true, sin is true, death is true. But the Transfiguration of everything is also true, and the beauty that surpasses and gives meaning to everything is true: “In the passion of Christ … the experience of beauty receives a new depth, a new realism. The One who is “Beauty in himself “ let himself be struck on his face, covered with spits, crowned with thorns … But in that disfigured face appears the authentic extreme Beauty of the Love that loves” to the end ” showing itself stronger than any lie and violence.

An example of how to grasp this transfigured beauty comes to us from the consecrated virgins. In a special way, these women testify to three specific aspects of the Christian.

The first is to give themselves in complete abandonment to Christ because they lovingly trust his Love, “who does not hesitate to undress from external beauty to announce the Truth of Beauty” (Joseph Ratzinger). With their consecrated virginity, these women announce precisely the crucified beauty, the transfigured beauty, his beauty which is our true beauty.

The second is that of witnessing, in their life lived as a virgin, the need to descend from the Mount to return to the evangelizing mission of the Lord, a mission that passes through the Cross and proclaims the Resurrection that is nothing else but the Transfiguration made eternal in the Humanity of the Lord.

The third is to show that listening is the main dimension of the disciple of Christ. Today’s Gospel tells: “This is my beloved Son: listen to him!” (Mk 9: 7).

In a world that has the habit of speaking so many words (it would be better saying: to chat), these women are constantly listening to the Word and, following the example of the Virgin Mary, become “virgins of listening and mothers of the Word”.

The Father asks each of us to be a listener of the Word, whose words are words of life because, through the Cross, they purify from every dead work and unite to God and to the brothers.

This Word needs a place (our heart). It needs to go deep in it and to die there like a seed, to put root, to grow, to sprout and to resist the storms and bad weather like a house built on the Rock.

For it to be heard, this Word needs attention, but also silence. Inner and outer silence are necessary for this word to be heard. This is a particularly difficult point for us in our time. In fact, ours is an age in which meditation is not encouraged; on the contrary, sometimes, one gets the impression that there is a fear of detaching himself, even for a moment, from the river of words and images that mark and fill the days.

The secluded life of the consecrated virgins shows how important it is to educate ourselves to the value of silence because with it we accept the Word of God in our personal and ecclesial life, valuing meditation and inner calm. Without silence one does not hear, one does not listen, one does not receive the Word and what it says. This observation of St. Augustine is always valid: Verba crescente, verba deficiunt – “When the Word of God grows, the words of man become less” (cf. Sermo 288: PL 38.1307; Sermo 120.2: PL38 , 677)

Patristic reading

Golden Chain

on Mark 9:14-29

Theophylact: After He had shewn His glory in the mount to the three disciples, He returns to the other disciples, who had not come up with Him into the mount; wherefore it is said, “And when He came to His disciples, He saw a great multitude about them, and the Scribes questioning with them.”
For the Pharisees, catching the opportunity of the hour when Christ was not present, came up to them, to try to draw them over to themselves.

Pseudo-Jerome: But there is no peace for man under the sun; envy is ever slaying the little ones, and lightning strike the tops of the great mountains. Of all those who run to the Church, some of the multitudes come in faith to learn, others, as the Scribes, with envy and pride.

It goes on, “And straightway all the people, when they beheld Jesus, were greatly amazed, and feared.”

Bede, in Marc., 3, 38: In all cases, the difference between the mind of the Scribes and of the people ought to be observed; for the Scribes are never said to have shewn any devotion, faith, humility, and reverence, but as soon as the Lord was come, the whole multitude was greatly amazed and feared, and ran up to Him, and saluted Him; wherefore there follows, “And running to Him, saluted Him.”

Theophylact: For the multitude was glad to see Him, so that they saluted Him from afar, as He was coming to them; but some suppose that His countenance had become more beautiful from His transfiguration and that this induced the crowd to salute Him.

Pseudo-Jerome: Now it was the people, and not the disciples, who on seeing Him were amazed and feared, for there is no fear in love; fear belongs to servants, amazement to fools. (p. 174)
It goes on: “And He asked them, What question ye with them?”

Why does the Lord put this question? That confession may produce salvation, and the murmuring of our hearts may be appeased by religious works.

Bede: The question, indeed, which was raised may, if I am not deceived, have been this, wherefore they, who were the disciples of the Saviour, were unable to heal the demoniac, who was placed in the midst, which may be gathered from the following words; “And one of the multitude answered and said, “Master, I have brought unto thee my son, which hath a dumb spirit; and wheresoever he taketh him, he teareth him: and he foameth, and gnasheth with his teeth, and pineth away.”

Chrys.: The Scriptures declare that this man was weak in faith, for Christ says, “O faithless generation:” and He adds, “If thou canst believe.”
But although his want of faith was the cause of their not casting out the devil, he nevertheless accuses the disciples.
Wherefore it is added, “And I spake to thy disciples that they should cast him out; but they could not.”

Now observe his folly; in praying to Jesus in the midst of the crowd, he accuses the disciples, wherefore the Lord before the multitude so much the more accuses him, and not only aims the accusation at himself, but also extends it to all the Jews; for it is probable that many of those present had been offended, and had held wrong thoughts concerning His disciples.

Wherefore there follows, “He answereth them and saith, O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you?” By which He shewed both that He desired death, and that it was a burden to Him to converse with them.

Bede: So far, however, is He from being angry with the person, though He reproved the sin, that He immediately added, “Bring him unto Me; and they brought him unto Him. And when He saw him, straightway the spirit tare him, and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming.”

Chrys.: But this the Lord permitted for the sake of the father of the boy, that when he saw the devil vexing his child, he might be brought on to believe that the miracle was to be wrought.

Theophylact: He also permits the child to be vexed, that in this way we might know the devil’s wickedness, who would have killed him, had he not been (p. 175) assisted by the Lord.

It goes on: “And He asked his father, How long is it ago since this come unto him? And he said, Of a child; and ofttimes it has cast him into the fire and into the waters to destroy him.”

Bede: Let Julian (ed. note: Julian was bishop of Eclanum in Campania; he was well known to St. Augustine, who before his fall speaks of him with great affection. On refusing, however, to agree to Pope Zosimus’ condemnation of Pelagius, he was deposed, and expelled from Italy. He wrote a great deal against St. Augustine, by whom he was refuted in works now extant. The opinion specially referred to in the text was, that Adam would have died, even though he had remained innocent, and therefore that death and sickness are not the consequences of original sin. He died in Sicily in great poverty, about A.D. 453.) blush, who dares to say that all men are born in the flesh without the infection of sin, as though they were innocent in all respects, just as Adam was when he was created.

For what was there in the boy, that he should be troubled from infancy with a cruel devil if he were not held at all by the chain of original sin? since it is evident that he could not yet have had any sin of his own.

Gloss.: Now he expresses in the words of his petition his want of faith; for that is the reason why he adds, “But if thou canst do anything, have compassion on us, and help us.”

For in that he says, “If thou canst do anything,” he shews that he doubts His power, because he had seen that the disciples of Christ had failed in curing him; but he says, “have compassion on us,” to shew the misery of the sons, who suffered, and the father, who suffered with him.

It goes on: “Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.”

Pseudo-Jerome: This saying, “If thou canst,” is a proof of the freedom of the will. Again, all things are possible to him that believeth, which evidently means all those things which are prayed for with tears in the name of Jesus, that is, of salvation.

Bede: The answer of the Lord was suited to the petition; for the man said, “If thou canst do any thing, help us;” and to this, the Lord answered, “If thou canst believe.” On the other hand, the leper who cried out, with faith, “Lord, if Thou will, Thou canst make me clean,” (Mt 8,2) received an answer according to his faith, “I will be thou clean.”

Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc.: His meaning is; such a plenitude of virtue is there in Me, that not only can I do this, but I will make others to have that power; wherefore if thou canst believe as thou oughtest to do, thou (p. 176) shalt be able to cure not only him, but many more. In this way then, He endeavored to bring back to the faith, the man who as yet speaks unfaithfully.

There follows, “And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.”

But if he had already believed, saying, “I believe,” how is it that he adds, “help thou mine unbelief?” We must say then that faith is manifold, that one sort of faith is elementary, another perfect; but this man, being but a beginner in believing, prayed the Saviour to add to his virtue what was wanting.

Bede: For no man at once reaches to the highest point, but in holy living, a man begins with the least things that he may reach the great; for the beginning of virtue is different from the progress and the perfection of it. Because then faith mounts up through the secret inspiration of grace, by the steps of its own merits, (ed. note: This sentence of Bede may be considered to be an exposition of our Lord’s words: “for he that hath not from him shall be taken even that which he hath.” The connection between grace and merit, as used by the Fathers, may be illustrated from St. Thomas, their faithful disciple. He defines a meritorious operation to be one the reward of which is beyond the nature of the worker; so that merit implies the infusion of a supernatural habit, that is, of grace, not only as its effect, but as its formal cause. Summa 1 Q62, Art 4) he who had not yet believed perfectly was at once a believer and an unbeliever.

Pseudo-Jerome: By this also we are taught that our faith is tottering if it lean not on the stay of the help of God. But faith by its tears receives the accomplishment of its wishes.

Wherefore it continues, “When Jesus saw that the multitude came running together, He rebuked the foul spirit, saying unto him, Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee come out of him, and enter no more into him.”

Theophylact: The reason that He rebuked the foul spirit, when He saw the crowd running together, was that He did not wish to cure him before the multitude, that He might give us a lesson to avoid ostentation.

Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc.: And His rebuking him, and saying, “I charge thee,” is a proof of Divine power. Again, in that He says not only, “come out of him,” but also “enter no more into him,” He shews that the evil spirit was ready to enter again, because the man was weak in faith, but was prevented by the commend of the Lord.
It goes on, “And the spirit cried, and rent him sore, and came out of him; and he was as one dead, insomuch that (p. 177) many said, He is dead.”

For the devil was not able to inflict death upon him because the true Life was come.

Bede: But him, whom the unholy spirit made like unto death, the holy Saviour saved by the touch of His hold hand; wherefore it goes on, “But Jesus took him by the hand, and lifted him up, and he arose.”

Thus as the Lord had shewn Himself to be very God by the power of healing, so He shewed that He had the very nature of our flesh, by the manner of His human touch. The Manichaean (ed. note: “Their fundamental maxim of the intrinsic evil of matter and the degraded state of mind, which their speculations on the birth after the flesh brought with it involved the denial of the Incarnation of our Lord and, as a consequence, of the reality of His whole life.” (Note a, upon St. Augustine‘s Confessions, Oxf. Tr. p. 325)) indeed madly denies that He was truly clothed in flesh; He Himself, however, by raising, cleansing, enlightening so many afflicted persons by His touch, condemned his heresy before its birth.

It goes on: “And when He came into the house, His disciples asked Him privately, Why could not we cast him out?”

Chrys.: They feared that perchance they had lost the grace conferred upon them; for they had already received power over unclean spirits.

It goes on: “And He said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing but by prayer and fasting.”

Theophylact: That is, the whole class of lunatics, or simply, of all persons possessed with devils. Both the man to be cured, and he who cures him, should fast; for a real prayer is offered up, when fasting is joined with prayer when he who prays is sober and not heavy with food.

Bede: Again, in a mystical sense, on high the Lord unfolds the mysteries of the kingdom to His disciples, but below He rebukes the multitude for their sins of unfaithfulness, and expels devils from those who are vexed by them. Those who are still carnal and foolish, He strengthens, teaches, punishes, whilst He more freely instructs the perfect concerning the things of eternity.

Theophylact: Again, this devil is deaf and dumb; deaf, because he does not choose to hear the words of God; dumb, because he is unable to teach others their duty.

Pseudo-Jerome: Again, a sinner foameth forth folly, gnasheth with anger, pineth away in sloth. But the evil spirit tears him, when coming to salvation, and in like manner those whom he would drag into his maw (p. 178) he tears asunder by terrors and losses, as he did Job.

Bede: For oftentimes when we try to turn to God after sin, our old enemy attacks us with new and greater snares, which he does, either to instill into us a hatred of virtue or to avenge the injury of his expulsion.

Greg., Mor. x., 30: But he who is freed from the power of the evil spirit is thought to be dead; for whosoever has already subdued earthly desires, puts to death within himself his carnal mode of life, and appears to the world as a dead man, and many look upon him as dead; for they who know not how to live after the Spirit, think that he who does not follow after carnal pleasures is altogether dead.

Pseudo-Jerome: Further, in his being vexed from his infancy, the Gentile people is signified, from the very birth of whom the vain worship of idols arose, so that they in their folly sacrificed their children to devils. And for this reason, it is said that “it cast him into the fire and into the water;” for some of the Gentiles worshipped fire, others water.

Bede: Or by this demoniac are signified those who are bound by the guilt of original sin, and coming into the world as criminals, are to be saved by grace; and by fire is meant the heat of anger, by water, the pleasures of the flesh, which melt the soul by their sweetness.

But He did not rebuke the boy, who suffered violence, but the devil, who inflicted it, because he who desires to amend a sinner, ought, whilst he exterminates his vice by rebuking and cursing it, to love and cherish the man.

Pseudo-Jerome: Again, the Lord applies to the evil spirit what he had inflicted on the man, calling him a “deaf and dumb spirit,” because he never will hear and speak what the penitent sinner can speak and hear. But the devil, quitting a man, never returns, if the man keep his heart with the keys of humility and charity, and hold possession of the gate of freedom (ed. note: of “fastness”.). The man who was healed became as one dead, for it is said to those who are healed, “Ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.”

Theophylact: Again, when Jesus, that is, the word of the Gospel, takes hold of the hand, that is, of our powers of action, then shall we be freed from the devil. And observe that God first helps us, then it is required of us that we do good; for which reason, it is said that Jesus “raised him;” in which is shewn the aid of God, and that “he arose,” in which is declared the zeal of man.

Bede: Further, (p. 179) our Lord, while teaching the Apostles how the worst devil is to be expelled, gives all of us rules for our life; that is, He would have us know that all the more grievous attacks of evil spirits or of men are to be overcome by fastings and prayers; and again, that the anger of the Lord, when it is kindled for vengeance on our crimes, can be appeased by this remedy alone.

But fasting, in general, is not only abstinence from food, but also from all carnal delights, yea, from all vicious passions. In like manner, prayer taken generally consists not only in the words by which we call upon the Divine mercy but also in all those things which we do with the devotedness of faith in obedience to our Maker, as the Apostle testifies, when he says, “Pray without ceasing.” (1Th 5,17) Pseudo-Jerome: Or else, the folly which is connected with the softness of the flesh, is healed by fasting; anger and laziness are healed by prayer. Each would have its own medicine, which must be applied to it; that which is used for the heel will not cure the eye; by fasting, the passions of the body, by prayer, the plagues of the soul, are healed.



Video View of the Pope on Spiritual Exercises

Fri, 02/23/2018 - 11:51 AM

A brief video released February 23, 2018, by the Vatican Press Office gives a view into the Holy Father on Spiritual Exercises:

Sunday afternoon, Feb. 18, 2018, Pope Francis departed the Vatican to participate in his annual Lenten Spiritual Exercises at Casa ‘Gesù Divin Maestro’ (the Divine Master House) in the town of Ariccia near Rome. Originally, the Spiritual Exercises took place in the Vatican, but Pope Francis moved them to the retreat house, 16 miles outside of Rome.

Fr. José Tolentino Mendon, who led the meditations, is a Portuguese priest and Biblical theologian and vice-rector of the Portuguese Catholic University in Lisbon.

Pope’s Spiritual Exercises: Beatitudes of Thirst, Thirst of Periphery

Fri, 02/23/2018 - 11:40 AM

Pope Francis returned to the Vatican on February 23, 2018, after the conclusion of the week’s spiritual exercise, but not before hearing challenges by Fr José Tolentino Mendonca, preacher of the retreat.

Echoing the Pope’s words, Fr. Tolentino urged those in the retreat to listen to the thirst of those living on the periphery, according to Vatican News.  In that way, “the Church will rediscover herself.”

In his talk the afternoon of February 22, Fr. Tolentino recalled that “the voice of God should always confront us with the primordial question: ‘Where is your brother’?”  And he reminded the retreatants that 30 percent of the world’s people do not have clean drinking water in their homes.

He suggested that “the periphery is in the DNA of the Christian.”  In fact, he pointed out that Jesus was born on the periphery, in Nazareth, “a name so insignificant that it is one of the rare places in Palestine that was never named anywhere in the Old Testament.”

In his final meditation, the morning of February 23, Fr. Tolentino spoke of the Beatitudes, calling them not just words or laws, but the key to Jesus’s life. In Jesus, we see a model of living out each of the beatitudes.

For Christians, the Beatitudes are a “self-portrait of the one who pronounced them,” according to Fr Tolentino. Jesus presents “an image of himself which he is constantly revealing to us and imprints on our hearts.” It gives us a model to “transform our own image.”

Sunday afternoon, Feb. 18, 2018, Pope Francis departed the Vatican to participate in his annual Lenten Spiritual Exercises at Casa ‘Gesù Divin Maestro’ (the Divine Master House) in the town of Ariccia near Rome. Originally, the Spiritual Exercises took place in the Vatican, but Pope Francis moved them to the retreat house, 16 miles outside of Rome.

Fr. José Tolentino Mendon, who led the meditations, is a Portuguese priest and Biblical theologian and vice-rector of the Portuguese Catholic University in Lisbon.

“Clericus Cup”: 12th Edition of the Clergy’s Soccer Championship

Fri, 02/23/2018 - 11:29 AM

The “Clericus Cup,” international soccer championship for seminarians and priests, is in its 12th edition: the kick-off will be this weekend, February 24-25, 2018, indicated a press release of the organizers of the Clericus Cup.

There is a novelty for those about to support the soccer engagement: for the first time, the referee will be a priest, Father Jordan Coraglia, 43, Italian priest of the diocese of Brescia.

“I’m honoured and I have the chance of being able to descend on this magnificent terrain, dominated by the cupola of Saint Peter’s,” said Father Coraglia. From now on, after years of being accustomed to wear two vests I say straightaway that the Gospel is my rule, but the regulation must not become gospel, because the first has given meaning to my life, while the rules of the game have often changed and are always perfectible.”

The event is organized by the Italian Sports Center (CSI), under the patronage of the National Bureau of Leisure, Tourism and Sport of the Italian Episcopal Conference, of the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Laity, the Family and Life and of the Pontifical Council for Culture. It will be presented to the press on Friday, February 23 at 10:45 am in the Marconi Room of the Palazzo Pio.

Besides Vittorio Bosio and Father Alessio Albertini, President and National Ecclesiastical Adviser, respectively, of the CSI, Monsignor Melchor Sanchez de Toca, Under-Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture and Dr Santiago Perez de Camino Gaisse , Director of the Bureau of the Church and of Sport of the Dicastery for the Laity, the Family and Life, will also be present.

Pope Francis Grateful for Spiritual Exercises

Fri, 02/23/2018 - 10:40 AM

Pope Francis on February 23, 2018, thanked the preacher of this year’s Lenten spiritual exercise for the Pope and Curia, the Reverend Jose Tolentino de Mendonca, Vice-Rector of the Catholic University of Lisbon and Consultor of the Pontifical Council for Culture, at the end of the Spiritual Exercises at Ariccia.

The Holy Father’s Words

[He turns to the Preacher] Father, on behalf of all, I would like to thank you for this accompaniment in these days, which today are prolonged with the Day of Fast and Abstinence for South Sudan, the Congo and also Syria.

Thank you, Father, for having spoken to us of the Church, for making us hear the Church, this small flock. And also for having admonished us not to make it “smaller” with our worldly bureaucracies! Thank you for reminding us that the Church isn’t a cage for the Holy Spirit; that the Spirit also flies outside and works outside. And with the quotations and things that you have said, you have made us see how He works in non-believers, in “pagans,” in persons of other religious confessions: He is universal, He is the Spirit of God, who is for all. Today also there are “Corneliuses,” “centurions,” “guardians of Peter’s prison, who live an interior search and are also able to distinguish when there is something that calls. Thank you for this call to open ourselves without fear, without rigidity, to be pliable in the Spirit and not mummified in our structures, which close us. Thank you, Father. And continue to pray for us. As the Mother Superior said to the Sisters: “We are men!” sinners, all. Thank you, Father. And may the Lord bless you.

© Libreria Editrice Vatican

[Original text: Italian]  [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]

Pope Sends Condolences for Victims of Tragic Road Accident in Peru

Fri, 02/23/2018 - 10:16 AM

Pope Francis sent condolences for the victims and families of the tragic road accident that killed 44 near Arequipa, Peru on February 21, 2018.

Here is a translation of the telegram sent in the Holy Father Francis’ name by the Cardinal Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin, to H.E. Monsignor Javier del Rio Alba, Archbishop of Arequipa.

* * *

The Telegram

Monsignor Javier del Rio Alba

Archbishop of Arequipa

After learning the sad news of a new traffic accident, which occurred near the city of Arequipa, the Holy Father wishes to express to Your Excellency and to all the children of that beloved nation, his closeness and affection in these harsh moments of grief.

His Holiness also raises his prayers to the Lord and entrusts very especially to His mercy the eternal rest of all the victims, as well as the wounded and their families. Invoking the maternal intercession of the Holy Mother of God, the Pope imparts to all his heartfelt Apostolic Blessing, as sign of Christian hope in the Resurrected Lord.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin

Secretary of State of His Holiness

© Libreria Editrice Vatican

[Original text: Spanish]  [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]



Father Cantalamessa’s 1st Lent Homily 2018

Fri, 02/23/2018 - 7:57 AM

Here is the first Lenten homily given this year by the preacher of the Pontifical Household, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa.

* * *

Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, ofmcap.

First Lent Sermon 2018


(Rom 12:2)

“Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom 12:2).

In a society in which everyone feels called to transform the world or the Church, this word of God breaks in inviting people to transform themselves: “Do not be conformed to this world.” After these words we would expect to hear, “but transform it!” Instead it tells us, “Transform yourselves!” Transform the world, yes, but the world that is within you before thinking you can transform the world outside of you.

This word of God, taken from the Letter to the Romans, introduces us to the spirit of Lent this year. As has been the case for some years now, we will dedicate this first meditation to a general introduction to Lent without entering into the special theme of this year, because of the absence of part of the habitual audience who are committed elsewhere for the Spiritual Exercises.

  1. Christians and the World

Let us first take a look at how the ideal of detachment from the world was understood and lived out from the beginning till our day. It is always useful to take into account the experiences of the past if we want to understand the requirements for the present.

In the Synoptic Gospels the word “world” (kosmos) is almost always understood in a morally neutral sense. In its spatial meaning, “world” indicates the earth and the universe (“Go into all the world”). In its temporal meaning, it indicates the present time or “age” (aion). It is with Paul, and even more with John, that the word “world” takes on a moral dimension and most often signifies the world as it became after sin and fell under the dominion of Satan, “the god of this world” (2 Cor 4:4). This is the meaning of “world” in Paul’s exhortation that we began with and in the almost identical exhortation of John in his First Letter:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world. (1 Jn 2:15-16)

Christians never lost sight of the fact that the world in itself, despite everything, is and remains God’s good creation, a creation that he loves and came to save, not to judge: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).

The attitude toward the world that Jesus proposes to his disciples is contained in two prepositions: to be in the world but not of the world. “Now I am no more in the world,” he says, addressing the Father, “but they are in the world. . . . They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (Jn 17:11, 16).

In the first three centuries, the disciples were quite conscious of their unique position. The “Epistle to Diognetus,” an anonymous writing at the end of the second century, describes the perception that Christians had of themselves in the world:

Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. . . . They follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign. And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them [to die]. They share their meals, but not their wives. They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh.[1]

Let us very briefly summarize what followed. When Christianity became a religion that was tolerated and soon after even protected and favored, the tension between Christianity and the world tended inevitably to subside since the world had become—or at least was considered to be—a “Christian world.” Then we witness a double phenomenon. On the one hand, groups of people, desiring to remain the salt of the earth that did not lose its savor, fled from the world, even physically, and withdrew to the desert. Monasticism was born under the banner of a motto that goes back to the monk Arsenius: “Fuge, tace, quiesce,” “Flee, be silent, be still.”[2]

At the same time, the pastors of the Church and some of the more enlightened people sought to adapt the ideal of detachment from the world for all believers, proposing not a physical but a spiritual flight from the world. St. Basil in the East and St Augustine in the West were familiar with Plato’s thinking, especially in the ascetic form it had taken with his disciple Plotinus. In this cultural atmosphere, the ideal of flight from the world was alive. It was related, however, to a flight that was vertical rather than horizontal, so to speak, a flight upward and not toward the desert. It consisted in raising oneself above the multiplicity of material things and human passions to unite oneself with what is divine, incorruptible, and eternal.

The Fathers of the Church, with the Cappadocians in the lead, proposed a Christian asceticism that responded to this religious need and adopted its language without, however, ever sacrificing the values of the gospel. To start with, the flight from the world that they recommended is a work of grace more than it is human effort. The fundamental step is not at the end of the road but at its beginning, in baptism. It is therefore not reserved to a few educated people but is open to all. St. Ambrose wrote a short treatise called “Flight from the World,” addressed to all the neophytes.[3] The separation from the world that he proposes is above all affective: “Flight,” he says, “is not to depart from the earth but to remain on earth, to hold to justice and temperance, to renounce the vices in material goods, not their use.”[4]

This ideal of detachment and flight from the world will, in diverse forms, accompany the whole history of Christian spirituality. A prayer in the liturgy summarizes this in the saying, “terrena despicere et amare caelestia”:“to despise earthly things and to love heavenly things.” (The same prayer in modern liturgy says: “to use with wisdom earthly things, always oriented to the heavenly goods”)

  1. The Crisis of the Ideal of “fuga mundi

Things changed in the period prior to ours. With regard to the ideal of the separation from the world, we went through, a period in which that ideal was “criticized” and looked at with suspicion. This crisis has distant roots. It begins—at least on the theoretical level—with Renaissance humanism that revived interest and enthusiasm for worldly values, at times with a pagan cast. But the decisive factor of the crisis is seen in the phenomenon of the so-called “secularization” that began in the Enlightenment and reached its peak in the twentieth century.

The most evident change concerns precisely the concepts of “world” and “age.” In all of the history of Christian spirituality, the word “saeculum” has had a connotation that tended to be negative, or at least ambiguous. It meant the present age that is subject to sin, as opposed to the future age or eternity. Within a few decades, its meaning underwent a transformation until it took on a decidedly positive significance in the 1960s and 1970s. Some titles themselves of the books that emerged during those years, like The Secular Meaning of the Gospel by Paul van Buren and The Secular City by Harvey Cox, highlighted this new optimistic meaning of “saeculum” and “secular.” A “theology of secularization” was born.

All of this contributed, however, to fuel an exaggerated optimism about the world for some people that does sufficiently not take into account its other face—the one which is “under the evil one” and is opposed to the spirit of Christ (see Jn 14:17). At a certain moment the traditional idea of flight “from” the world was substituted in the minds of many (including clergy and religious) with the ideal of a flight “toward” the world, that is, worldliness.

In this context some of the most absurd and delusional things that have ever come under the name of “theology” have been written. The first is the idea that God himself becomes secular and worldly when he lays aside his Godhead to become man. This is the so-called “Theology of the Death of God.” There also still exists a balanced theology of secularization in which secularization is not seen as something opposed to the gospel but rather as its product. However, that is not the theology we are talking about.

Someone has commented that the “theologies of secularization” referred to above were nothing but apologetic attempts meant “to furnish an ideological justification for the religious indifference in modern man”; they also fit with “the ideology that the Churches needed to justify their growing marginalization.”[5] It soon became clear that this was a blind alley. In a few years almost no one was talking about the theology of secularization, and some of its very promotors distanced themselves from it.

As always, to reach the bottom of a crisis becomes an occasion for going back to the “living and eternal” word of God. Let us listen to Paul’s exhortation again: “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

We already know from the New Testament which world not to be conformed to: it is not the world created and loved by God and not the people in the world whom we must always go out to meet, especially the poor, the downtrodden, and the suffering. “Blending in” with this suffering and marginalized world is, paradoxically, the best way of “separating” ourselves from the world because it means going in the direction from which the world flees as much as possible. It means separating ourselves from the very principle that rules the world, self-centeredness.

Let us focus for a bit on the significance of what follows: being transformed in the deep recesses of our minds. Everything in us begins in the mind, with thoughts. There is a wise maxim that says,

Watch over your thoughts because they become words.

Watch over your words because they become actions.

Watch over your actions because they become habits.

Watch over your habits because they become your character.

Watch over your character because it becomes your destiny.

Prior to our works, change must come, then, in our way of thinking, that is, in our faith. There are many causes at the origin of worldliness, but the principle one is the crisis of faith. In this sense the apostle’s exhortation is only repeating Christ’s exhortation at the beginning of his preaching: “Repent and believe”; repent, that is, believe! Change your way of thinking; stop thinking according to the “human way of thinking,” and start thinking according to “God’s way of thinking” (see Mt 16:23). St. Thomas Aquinas was right to say, “The first conversion consists in believing (prima conversio fit per fidem).”[6]

Faith is the primary battleground between the Christian and the world. It is through faith that the Christian is no longer “of” the world. When I read the conclusions that unbelieving scientists draw from their observations of the universe and I see the vision of the world that writers and filmmakers offer us—in which God is at best reduced to a vague and subjective sense of mystery and Jesus Christ is not even taken into consideration—I feel, thanks to faith, that I belong to another world. I experience the truth of these words from Jesus: “Blessed are the eyes which see what you see!” And I remain amazed in observing how Jesus foresaw this situation and gave us the explanation ahead of time: “You have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes” (Lk 10:23, 21).

The “world,” understood in its moral sense, are by definition those who refuse to believe. The sin that Jesus says the Paraclete will “convince the world” of is the sin of not having believed in him (see Jn 16:8-9). John writes, “This is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith” (1 Jn 5:4). In the Letter to the Ephesians we read,

You he made alive, when you were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience (Eph 2:1-2).

The exegete Heinrich Schlier has done a penetrating analysis of this “spirit of the world” whom Paul considers the direct antagonist to the “Spirit of God” (1 Cor 2:12). It plays a decisive role in public opinion…, and today it is literally the spirit “of the air” because it spreads itself electronically through the air. Schlier defines “the general spirit of the world” as

the spirit of a particular period, attitude, nation or locality. . . . Indeed, it is so intense and powerful that no individual can escape it. It serves as a norm and is taken for granted. To act, think or speak against this spirit is regarded as non-sensical or even as wrong and criminal. It is “in” this spirit that men encounter the world and affairs, which means they accept the world as this spirit presents it to them . . . . It is their [spirits’] nature to interpret the universe and human existence in their own way.[7]

This describes what we call an “accommodation to the spirit of the age.” That spirit operates like the legendary vampire. The vampire attacks people who are sleeping, and while he is sucking out their blood he simultaneously injects a sleep-inducing liquid into them that makes their sleep sweeter, so that they always sink into deeper sleep and he can suck out all the blood he wants. The world, however, is worse than the vampire because the vampire cannot make his prey fall asleep and can only approach those who are already asleep. The world, on the other hand, first puts people to sleep and then sucks out all their spiritual energy, injecting them with a kind of sleep-inducing liquid that makes them find sleep even sweeter.

The remedy for this situation is for someone to shout in the sleeper’s ear, “Wake up!” That is what the word of God does on so many occasions and what the liturgy of the Church makes us hear again precisely at the beginning of Lent: “Awake, O sleeper” (Eph 5:14); “it is full time now for you to wake from sleep” (Rom 13:11).

  1. The Form of This World Is Passing Away

But let us ask ourselves the reason that a Christian should not be conformed to the world. The reason is not ontological but eschatological. We do not need to distance ourselves from the world because matter is intrinsically evil and is an enemy of the spirit, as the Platonists and some Christians writers influenced by them thought. The reason is that, as Scripture says, “the form of this world is passing away” (1 Cor 7:31); “the world passes away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides for ever” (1 Jn 2:17).

All we need to do is stop for a minute and look around to be aware of the truth of these words.

Life is similar to what happens on the tv screen: programs, the so-called viewing lineup, follow each other rapidly, and each one cancels out the previous one. The screen remains the same, but the programs and the images change. It is the same with us: the world remains, but we leave one after the other. Of all the names, faces, and the news that fill newspapers and news broadcasts today, what will remain of them—of all of us—in a few years or decades? Nothing at all.

Let us think about what is left of the legends from 40 years ago and what will remain in 40 years from now of today’s legends and celebrities. We read in Isaiah that it will be “As when a hungry man dreams he is eating and awakes with his hunger not satisfied, or as when a thirsty man dreams he is drinking and awakes faint, with his thirst not quenched” (Is 29:8). What are riches, tributes, and glory if not a dream that vanishes at daybreak? St. Augustine describes a beggar who had a very lovely dream one night. He dreamed that a substantial inheritance fell into his lap. In the dream he is clothed in beautiful robes; he is surrounded by gold and silver and is the owner of fields and vineyards. In his pride he scorns his own father and pretends not to know him. . . . But he wakes up in the morning and finds that he had been asleep.[8]

Job says, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return” (Job 1:21). The same thing will happen to today’s multimillionaires with their money and to the powerful who make the world tremble at their power. A human being, outside of the context of faith, is nothing but a shape created by a wave on the shore of the sea that the next wave will cancel.

Today there is a new arena in which it is especially necessary not to conform ourselves to this world: images. The ancients coined this motto: “Fast from the world (nesteuein tou kosmou).”[9] We could apply that today as fasting from the images of the world. At one time fasting from food and drink was considered the most effective and required fast. That is no longer the case. Today people do such fasts for many other motives, especially to maintain a good figure. Scripture says no food is in itself unclean (cf. Mk 7:19), but many images are. They have become one of the favorite vehicles through which the world spread its anti-gospel. A hymn for Lent exhorts us,

Utamur ergo parcius                        Let us use sparingly

Verbis, cibis et potibus                     words, food and drink,

Somno, iocis et arctius                     sleep and amusements.

Perstemus in custodia.                      May we be more alert in the custody of our senses.[10]


To this list of things that we should use sparingly—words, food, drink, and sleep—we need to add images. Among the things that come from the world and not from the Father, St. John significantly adds, along with the lust of the flesh and the pride of life, “the lust of the eyes” (1 Jn 2:16). Let us recall how King David fell . . . . What happened to him as he looked down on the terrace of the house next door often happens today in opening up certain sites on the Internet.

If sometimes we are feeling troubled by impure images, either because of our own imprudence or because of the intrusiveness of the world that forcefully thrusts its images before our eyes, let us imitate what the Israelites did in the desert when they were bitten by snakes. Instead of wasting time on fruitless regrets or trying to find excuses in our loneliness and the incomprehension of others, let us look at a crucifix and go before the Holy One. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (Jn 3: 14-15). May the remedy enter where the poison entered, that is, our eyes.

With these proposals suggested by Paul’s word to the Romans, and above all with the grace of God, let us begin, Venerable Fathers, brothers, and sisters, our preparation for Holy Easter. To celebrate Easter, St. Augustine said, means “to pass from this world to the Father” (Jn 13:1), that is, passing over to what does not pass away! It is necessary to pass out of the world so as not to pass away with the world. Have a Happy and Holy Lent!

English Translation by Marsha Daigle Williamson

[1] “From a Letter to Diognetus: The Christian in the World,” Vatican website.

[2] See Selections from The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, trans. Benedicta Ward (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1975), p. 14.


[3] See St. Ambrose, “Flight from the World” [“De fuga saeculi”], 1, in Seven Exegetical Works, trans. Michael P. McHugh, vol. 65, The Fathers of the Church (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1972), 279-288; see also CSEL, 32, 2, p. 251.

[4] St. Ambrose, “Isaac, or the Soul,” 3, 6, Seven Exegetical Works, p. 14. See also Exposition on the Gospel of Luke, 9, 36.

[5] See Claude Geffré, “Sécularisation,” in Dictionnaire de Spiritualité, vol. 15, 1989, pp. 502ff.

[6] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I-IIae, q. 113, a. 4.

[7] Heinrich Schlier, Principalities and Powers in the New Testament (New York: Herder and Herder, 1961), pp. 31-32.

[8] See St. Augustine, “Sermon 39,” 5, Sermons on the Old Testament 20-50, vol. 2 (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 1990); PL 38, 242.

[9] The saying goes back to a non-canonical saying attributed to Jesus himself: “If you do not fast from the world, you will never discover the kingdom of God,” Gospel of Thomas, saying #27. See Clement of Alexandria, Stromati 111, 15 (GCS, 52, p. 242, 2); Alfred Resch, Agrapha, 48, TU, 30 (1906), p. 68.

[10] Translation from the Vatican website, “Message of His Holiness Benedict XVI for Lent 2009.”


Chile: Hospitalized, Monsignor Scicluna Is Grateful for the Support

Fri, 02/23/2018 - 7:47 AM

Hospitalized, Monsignor Charles J. Scicluna of the special College of Appeal — in the case of sexual abuse on minors by clergymen –, within the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, thanked on his Twitter page “all those who generously expressed their support and the offer of their prayers” for his recovery.

Sent by Pope Francis to investigate the case of Monsignor Juan de la Cruz Barros Madrid, Bishop of Osorno, in Chile, Monsignor Scicluna was urgently hospitalized on the evening of February 20, 2018, on the first day of his mission in the country, and underwent an operation of the gallbladder at the San Carlos de Apoquindo Hospital of the Catholic University of Santiago.

“It was a very small invasive surgical operation,” said Dr Rodrigo Miguieles Coconut, the surgeon who carried out the operation, reported Il Sismografo.””The prognosis is positive,” he added.

Monsignor Scicluna must stay in the Clinic until Friday or Saturday, according to Dr Rioseco, the Hospital’s Director. He also noted that he told the patient and his entourage that an inter-continental air trip in the next days isn’t advisable. Therefore, it’s almost certain that the Pope’s envoy will not return to Italy next Saturday, as initially foreseen.

Meanwhile, the investigation of Monsignor Barros continues: the meetings with victims are being followed at present by Father Jordi Bertomeu, who aids Monsignor Scicluna, reported Il Corriere della Sera. Previously, Monsignor Scicluna and Father Bertomeu had heard the testimony of Juan Carlos Cruz, on Fernando Karadima’s victims. The victims accuse Bishop Juan Barros of having been a witness of the priest’s violence and of having covered it up. After speaking with Monsignor Scicluna, Cruz said: “For the first time since 2009, I had the feeling of being heard.”

Monsignor Scicluna met two other victims of Karadima on Tuesday, James Hamilton and Jose Andres Murillo.

The investigation will also include the hearing of the testimonies of the Association of “the faithful of Osorno,” very involved in casting light on the Barros affair.

Jaime Coiro, spokesman of the Church of Chile, stressed that Monsignor Scicluna’s mission “concerns the situation of Monsignor Barros” and not “all the cases of sexual abuse of the Chilean Church,” while accusations are being brought against other Prelates.

INTERVIEW: How Catholic Priests Helped Build ‒ and Can Help Rebuild ‒ Western Civilization

Fri, 02/23/2018 - 2:53 AM

Catholic Priests helped build ‒ and can help rebuild ‒ Western Civilization ….

In an interview with Zenit, Fr. William J. Slattery, PhD, STL, explored this as he reflected on his new book Heroism and Genius: How Catholic Priests Helped Build ‒ and Can Help Rebuild ‒ Western Civilization, recently published by Ignatius Press.

Courtesy of Ignatius Press

Here is our interview to better understand his research, the findings, and how it can help priests and active Catholics in their ministry and faith during Lent.


ZENIT: Father Slattery, this is your recently published work, endorsed by various cardinals such as Cardinal Sarah, as well as by The New York Times best selling author, Thomas Woods. What inspired you to write this?

To encourage and invigorate all Catholics! Especially those who want to build a new Christian civilization. The story of the struggles of  the Catholic builders of a new civilization during the Dark Ages after the fall of the Roman Empire clearly shows the power of Catholicism to change the course of history. What we Catholics did once, we can do again!

ZENIT: Why are you interested in this theme? Perhaps due to your background?

While at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, during my PhD and STL studies, I became increasingly convinced that in the clash between the now dominant “Dictatorship of Relativism,”as Benedict XVI had referred to it, and Catholicism, Catholics want priests who are leaders because they go ahead in order to show the way. And that way is the unchanging and unchangeable, ever radiant and dynamic way of Catholic Identity. This was what shaped the genius and heroism of men like Leo the Great as he rode out on horseback to confront Attila the Hun; of Ambrose as he forbade Emperor Theodosius to enter the cathedral of Milan until he did penance; of Boniface as he daringly laid the foundations of the Faith in Germany! And of all the little known heroes and sub-creators that I refer to in Heroism and Genius.

ZENIT: How are you able to assert that Catholic priests helped build Western Civilization? 

By the evidence of stubborn facts! Augustine at his desk in Hippo writing “The City of God”, the book that would become the bedside book of Emperor Charlemagne; Gregory the Great expanding the rim of the future Christendom by turning his back on Byzantium in order to dramatically turn toward the North, toward the Barbarians, sending missionaries to England and the Lombards; Bernard, the mind behind the statutes of the new ideal of warriorhood embodied in the Templars; Abbot Suger, the founder of Gothic architecture; the Spanish priests of the School of Salamanca, the founders in many ways of free enterprise economics; Alcuin of York, the man whom Charlemagne called “my mentor”, the educator of an empire’s educators, the restorer of the tools of intellectual culture, and the initiator of the first program of universal education ever in world history.

And Heroism and Genius does not forget the men who are almost always overlooked in history books – the countless anonymous parish priests of the Dark Ages!  The quiet men who “mile by mile and almost man by man”, “without political machinery or public fame, worked at deathbeds and confessionals in all the villages of Europe and the vast system of slavery vanished” (Chesterton).

ZENIT: And how can they, as you say, ‘rebuild’ Western Civilization?

Proud Catholics make strong Catholics! Catholicism has nothing to be modest about! Yes, yes, yes, of course we are all aware of the corruption, scandals, and incompetence in our history! But that is not Catholicism! That is the sorry tale of individuals who use the name of Catholic!

So, to rebuild, remember! Remember, Catholic, who you are and what you once achieved; recall the crucially important social consequences of your Catholic identity; remember that the Catholic, by being truly Catholic and living in the fierce light of Eternity, changes society and builds Christian civilization—that he simply cannot fail to change the world by being a real Catholic!

And that is why we want to read books like Heroism and Genius!

ZENIT: What is in need of being rebuilt?

Catholic identity!  I won’t state here what is obvious to all! One very concrete institution that could be immediately rebuilt in every parish, school, and training program is Catholic apologetics. What a thunderous impact Catholics would have in the culture war if firstly they were to know why they stand for what they stand for; and, secondly, if they saw themselves as called to walk in the footsteps of giants who once triumphed in a millennial long culture war! And for that they want to open the pages of the ancient saga of Catholic creativity and heroism.

ZENIT: How can this book help priests and active Catholics in their ministries?

Firstly, Heroism and Genius can be a source of encouragement for priests and committed Catholics because although written in a popular style and illustrated with 100 images and maps that make for enjoyable reading, it is carefully documented (some 500 footnotes and some 170 entries in the select bibliography).

Secondly, Heroism and Genius can be a valuable resource for RCIA programs, new converts to the Church, apologetics programs, and for men discerning a vocation to the priesthood.

ZENIT: How do you see Heroism and Genius as a good Lenten resource?

As Lenten reading it can inspire Catholics unto life-changing decisions because its pages are filled with vivid memories of the pioneering Catholics who built a new society amid debris and darkness. Such memories will strengthen our resolve through pride of fellowship, pressure of high expectations, and support through invocation.

To purchase Heroism and Genius, go to Amazon.com https://www.amazon.com/Heroism-Genius-Build-Rebuild-Western-Civilization/dp/1621640140/ref=la_B01DF16ERS_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1519199703&sr=1-1


On the Holy Father’s Message for World Youth Day

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 10:55 PM

The Holy Father’s Message to young people in preparation for the 33rd World Youth Day 208 – celebrated at diocesan level on Palm Sunday – has as its theme: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God” (Lk 1: 30), explained a press release February 22, 2018, by the Dicastery for the Laity, Family, and Life.

It is the second Message that the Pope has addressed to the young during the journey of preparation for WYD in Panama, which will take place from 22 to 27 January 2019. The Holy Father wanted the young people to be accompanied by the Virgin Mary in this spiritual pilgrimage. Indeed, while last year’s Message was focused on the words of the Magnificat: “He Who is mighty has done great things for me” (Lk 1: 49), and next year’s will reflect on Mary’s answer to the angel: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Lk 1: 38).

This “Marian trilogy” is an expression of Pope Francis’ desire to offer to young people of all the world a theological vision of their existence: “I fervently hope that you young people will continue to press forward, not only cherishing the memory of the past, but also with courage in the present and hope for the future” (Message for WYD 2018). This path is linked with the Synod journey, which Peter’s Successor wanted to be lived in great harmony with the preparation for WYD. The next Synod of Bishops (October 2018) on Young people, faith, and vocational discernment also invites reflection on the situations in which the new generations live, on their life of faith and on the way in which they arrive at their fundamental decisions, which will forge their future and that of humanity.

It is significant that this Message, published on the feast of the Cathedral of Saint Peter, was signed by the Holy Father on February 11, memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lourdes, the day on which His Holiness opened registration for the WYD in Panama 2019.

The Full Text of the Holy Father’s Message

The Question That Brought the Pope to Tears

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 10:18 PM

Children can ask deep, difficult questions. Sometimes the questions they asked as so poignant as to bring the Pope to tears.

Pope Francis admitted as much in a January 4, 2018, audience with a group of Romanian youngsters, guests of an orphanage, aided by the NGO “FDP Protagonists in Education,” which has been operating in Romania for years.

It was the last of six questions submitted by the young people in the audience that struck an emotional chord with the Holy Father: “When I was two months old, my mother left me in an orphanage. I looked for my mother at 21 and stayed with her for two weeks, but she didn’t behave well with me, and so I left. My father is dead. What is my fault if she doesn’t love me? Why doesn’t she accept me?”

The Pope’s answer (in part): “When I read your question, before giving the instructions to write the discourse, I wept. I was close to you with a couple of tears. Because I don’t know; you’ve given me so much; the others also, but you caught me, perhaps, with my defenses down. When one talks of a mother there is always something…and at that moment you made me cry…It’s not a question of fault; it’s a question of adults’ great fragility, due in your case to so much poverty, so many social injustices that crush little ones and the poor, and also due to so much spiritual poverty. Yes, spiritual poverty hardens hearts and causes what seems impossible, that a mother abandon her child…Your mother loves you but doesn’t know how to do it, how to express it. She can’t because life is hard; it’s unjust. And she doesn’t know how to express that love that is within her, or how to caress you. I promise you that I will pray so that one day you will see that love. Don’t be skeptical; have hope.”

The earlier question may not have brought the Pope to physical tears, but all were moving:

  1. Why is life so difficult and why do we quarrel so often among ourselves? And we cheat? You priests tell us to go to church; however, no sooner we leave we err and commit sins. So, why did I go into the church? If I believe that God is in my soul, why is it important to go to church?
  2. Why are there parents that love healthy children and not those that are sick or that have problems?
  3. Last year, one of our friends, who stayed in the orphanage, died. He died during Holy Week, on Holy Thursday. An Orthodox priest said to us that he died a sinner and, therefore, would not go to Paradise. I don’t think that’s true.
  4. Why didn’t we have this good fortune? Why? What does it mean?
  5. It so happens that I feel alone and I don’t know what meaning my life has. My child is in foster care and some people judge me as not being a good mother. Instead, I believe my daughter is well and that I made the right decision, also because we see one another often.

The Pope responded with the love of God, pointing out the many “whys” that seem to have no answer but are unraveled over time. “Thus, little by little, God transforms our heart with His mercy, and He also transforms our life.” And he pointed out that some “whys” don’t have an answer.

He continued by admitting that priests make mistakes, we suffer from sin, parents are fragile, we need to overcome our egoism – but the encounter with Jesus heals.  No matter how much pain and suffering we face, God wants to bring healing, the Holy Father said.

FDP was set up in 1996 by Italian and Romanian volunteers, with the support of the Italian organization AVSI. The initial name of the organization was the Foundation for People’s Development.


Indonesia: Pope Names Bishop of Tanjung Selor

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 1:46 PM

The Pope has appointed as bishop of the diocese of Tanjung Selor, Indonesia, the Rev. Fr. Paulinus Yan Olla, M.S.F., currently rector of the M.S.F. Theological Studentate in Malang.

Rev. Fr. Paulinus Yan Olla, M.S.F.

The Rev. Fr. Paulinus Yan Olla, M.S.F., was born on June 22, 1963, in Seom-Eban, diocese of Atambua, West Timor. He attended the minor seminary in Laian, Atambua, and subsequently the major seminary in Yogyakarta. He completed his philosophical and theological studies at the Pontifical Weda Bhakti Faculty in Yogyakarta. He gave his perpetual profession on July 22, 1991, among the Missionaries of the Holy Family (M.S.F). He was ordained a priest on 28 August 28, 1992.

He has held the following offices: parish vicar of the Holy Family Parish in Banteng, Semarang (1992-1994); coordinator of the Commission for the Family of the archdiocese of Samarinda, Kalimantan (1993-2005); rector of the Don Bosco Minor Seminary in Samarinda (1995-1997); pastor of the Buna Maria parish in Banjarbaru, diocese of Banjarmasin, Kalimantan, director of the MSF Postulancy in Banjarbaru (1997-2000); studies for the degree in spiritual theology at the Theresianum in Rome (2000-2004); M.S.F. general assistant in Rome (2001-2007); M.S.F. general secretary in Rome (2007-2013); since 2013, rector of the M.S.F. Theological Studentate in Malang; and since 2014, coordinator of the Commission for the Family of the diocese of Malang, and professor of spiritual theology at the Widya Sasana Philosophical and Theological Higher Institute in Malang.



New Zealand: Pope Appoints Bishop for Dunedin

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 1:27 PM

Pope Francis has appointed Father Michael Dooley as the new Bishop of the Dunedin Diocese. Bishop-Elect Michael will be the seventh Bishop of Dunedin and succeeds Bishop Colin Campbell who has served in this role for almost 14 years.

The President of the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference (NZCBC) Bishop Patrick Dunn said, “Father Michael’s affinity with the people of the Dunedin Diocese and his long service to the region of Southland and Otago make him the ideal successor for this role.”

“I congratulate Bishop-Elect Michael on his appointment and my prayers are with him as he prepares to take up leadership of the diocese,” commented Bishop Dunn.

Born in Invercargill in 1961 to parents, Joseph Dooley and Mary Hogan, Michael was educated at Heddon Bush Primary School and Central Southland College.  After completing an engineering apprenticeship as a fitter and turner, he went on to do a Bachelor of Theology at Otago University and a Master of Theology at Melbourne’s College of Divinity.

Father Michael Dooley was ordained on 13 December 1989. From 1995, he has served as a member of the Priests Council and was a Parish Priest for over 10 years in Southland and Otago.  The Bishop-Elect was a Director at the Holy Cross Formation Centre in Mosgiel and held the role of Formator and Spiritual Director at Holy Cross Seminary in Auckland,

In 2016, Bishop Colin Campbell appointed the then Father Michael to the role of Vicar General for the Dunedin Diocese.

Bishop Campbell remarked, “I know that the people of the Dunedin Diocese will warmly welcome the announcement that they now have a new bishop. I have had the pleasure of working with Michael and am delighted with his appointment – his pastoral roles and extensive experience in serving God as a parish leader, formator and spiritual guide have prepared him well for the position. May God bless him and guide him as he takes up this role.”

On the announcement, Bishop-Elect Michael said, “I have been blessed to serve in ministry as a priest in the Diocese of Dunedin and I now take on this role as a bishop very aware of my need for God’s help and thankful for the support of so many wonderful people over the years and into the future.”

Bishop Campbell will continue on in the role of Administrator of the Diocese until the Ordination and Installation of Bishop-Elect Michael.

In recognizing Bishop Campbell role as Dunedin’s Bishop for almost 14 years, Bishop Dunn commented, “he has been a compassionate and selfless leader, very much loved by his clergy and people,” he said.

“I thank him for his untiring service and long-standing commitment to all those in his diocese. We bishops have also greatly appreciated his wisdom and experience at our conference meetings.”

Billy Graham: Religious Leaders Remember Evangelist

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 10:14 AM

Billy Graham, the well-known evangelist, died February 21, 2018, at the age of 99.

An ordained Southern Baptist Minister, Graham was popular among Christians of all denominations as well as those of other religions.  During a public ministry spanning more than half a century, he reached more than 180 countries and preached before more than 200 million people.  He was a spiritual advisor to several American presidents and numerous civic and political leaders.

Graham met several times with Saint Pope John Paul II and the two were frequent correspondents.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York released the following statement on Graham’s passing:


“As anyone growing up in the 1950’s and 1960’s can tell you, it was hard not to notice and be impressed by the Reverend Billy Graham.  There was no question that the Dolans were a Catholic family, firm in our faith, but in our household there was always respect and admiration for Billy Graham and the work he was doing to bring people to God.  Whether it was one of his famous Crusades, radio programs, television specials, or meeting and counseling the presidents, Billy Graham seemed to be everywhere, always with the same message: Jesus is your Savior, and wants you to be happy with Him forever.   As an historian, my admiration for him only grew as I studied our nation’s religious past, and came to appreciate even more the tremendous role he played in the American evangelical movement.  May the Lord that Billy Graham loved so passionately now grant him eternal rest.”



Pope Asks Youth: What are your Fears?

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 9:55 AM

“What are your fears?” That is the first question Pope Francis put to young people in his message for the 33rd World Youth Day, to be celebrated at the diocesan level on 25 March 2018, Palm Sunday, on the theme, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God” (Lk 1: 30).

The Holy Father’s answer: “not being loved, well-liked or accepted for who you are.”  Young people worry about their image and getting as many “likes” as possible. He said even people of faith are beset by these worries — perhaps because they fear not being able to follow God’s Will.

He recalled a key teaching of Jesus that the obstacle to faith is often not skepticism but fear. But he reminded young people that God knows their fears and challenges and offers them, like Mary, his favor and grace.

“In moments when doubts and fears flood our hearts, discernment becomes necessary. It allows us to bring order to the confusion of our thoughts and feelings, to act in a just and prudent way,” the Holy Father explained. “In this process, the first step in overcoming fears is to identify them clearly, so as not to find yourself wasting time and energy by being gripped by empty and faceless ghosts.”

Discernment is not only an individual, interior process, but involved a “call from above” and being open “to the Other who calls,” he continued.  “It is also important to dialogue with and encounter others, our brothers and sisters in the faith who have more experience, for they help us to see better and to choose wisely from the various possibilities…Open wide the doors of your life! May your time and space be filled with meaningful relationships, real people, with whom to share your authentic and concrete experiences of daily life.”

The Pope pointed out that God calls each of us by name and, like Mary, each receives the freely given love of God.  Like Mary, we need not be afraid.

“The main reason why Mary need not be afraid is that she has found favor with God. The word ‘grace’ speaks of love freely given, not owed,” the Pope explained. “How much we are encouraged to know that we do not have to earn the closeness and help of God, by presenting a ‘Curriculum Vitae of excellence’, full of merits and successes!

“The Angel’s words descend upon our human fears, dissolving them with the power of the Good News of which we are heralds: our life is not pure chance or a mere struggle for survival, rather each of us is a cherished story loved by God.”

Mary, like young people today, was young, the Pope recalled, claiming she was entrusted with such an important role “precisely because she was young.”  Her youth and strength were necessary for her important task.

“From the certainty that God’s grace is with us comes the strength to take courage in the present moment: the courage to carry forward what God asks of us here and now, in every area of our lives; courage to embrace the vocation which God reveals to us; courage to live out our faith without hiding or diminishing it,” the Holy Father concluded.




Pope’s Spiritual Exercises: God Gives Us What We Do Not Deserve

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 8:56 AM

Only mercy can redeem us…

According to Vatican News, during the Pope and Roman Curia’s spiritual exercises, Fr. José Tolentino Mendonça, who is leading the meditations, stressed this as he put the story of the Prodigal Son at the forefront of today’s morning meditation.

Meditations this year have been entrusted by the Pope to the Portuguese priest and Biblical theologian and vice-rector of the Portuguese Catholic University in Lisbon, who is leading the meditations on the theme: “Praise of Thirst.”

In this morning’s reflection, the priest discussed how the story of the prodigal son is not a parable, but a mirror, and moreover, is ‘our story.’

This parable, he noted, which shows the father offering mercy to the son who did not deserve it, is about each one of us.

“Within us,” Fr. Tolentino said, “are feelings that are suffocated, things that need to be clarified, pathologies, countless threads that need to be connected.”

Noting there are many aspects of our lives that need reconciliation, he said, Jesus wants to give us His Word, and transform conflicts and fear.

“Only mercy, that excessive love that God teaches us, is able to redeem us,” he said.

The older son’s behavior, the Portuguese priest noted, helps us understand God’s mercy even more.

“Mercy,” he underscored, “is offering to another precisely what they do not deserve. It is difficult to define mercy precisely because it does not encase itself in one definition.” Mercy can be understood only, he went on to say, if we allow it to “incarnate itself ” within us “so that we might touch it.”

Concluding his reflections, Fr Tolentino expresses the fact that mercy is always excessive. The moderate person, the person who wants to play it safe, will never understand the Gospel of Mercy. This is because, “The Gospel of Mercy requires that our love be excessive” like the Father’s in the parable who understands everything without saying much. The Father shows us that mercy is gratuitous, it is the art of healing and rebuilding, the experience of forgiveness, the completely unexpected expression of tenderness. In the end, it is an excessive gift.

Whereas on Wednesday afternoon, the Pope focused on Jesus’ own struggle with human weakness and temptation.

During that 7th meditation, he stressed that our poverty is where Jesus intervenes.@ The greatest obstacle to the spiritual life is not our fragility, but our rigidity and self-sufficiency,” he suggested, saying we therefore must learn from our own thirst.

Sunday afternoon, Feb. 18, 2018, Pope Francis departed the Vatican to participate in his annual Lenten Spiritual Exercises at Casa ‘Gesù Divin Maestro’ (the Divine Master House) in the town of Ariccia near Rome. For a week, the Holy Father will remain there praying with members of the Roman Curia. The retreat will conclude on the morning of Friday, Feb. 23. Until then, all of the Pope’s activities, including the weekly General Audience, Feb. 21, are suspended.

Originally, the Spiritual Exercises took place in the Vatican, but Pope Francis moved them to the retreat house, 16 miles outside of Rome.



FORUM: What Makes Hardened Atheists Believe in God?

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 7:47 AM

By Fredric Heidemann


Almost everyone will encounter a rigid atheist at some point. This kind of person rejects even the most compelling apologetics and is unpersuaded by the classic arguments for God’s existence. He or she dismisses everything colored with religious rhetoric and bristles at anything smacking even remotely of the pulpit. Yet, thanks to the internet and evangelization ministries, we can hear the encouraging testimonies of such people who have come to know God. Since I was once one myself, I am particularly interested in their stories. No two journeys are identical, but after discussing, watching, listening to, and reading about various conversions of hardened atheists, I have distilled the process into four general categories/stages.

1.     The Witness of Intelligent Believers

Many of those adhering to the rigid school of atheism think that “intelligent believer” is a contradiction in terms. Thankfully, absurd positions are easy to dispel. All one has to do is point to the battery of famed minds who were also believers to debunk it. Although any great mind can be effective, the safest bet is to stick with scientists since atheists universally respect scientific disciplines (the same cannot be said for philosophy or literature). Casually observing that nearly all the founding pioneers of modern science were devout individuals is a good tactic. Nicolaus Copernicus, Johannes Kepler, Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, Gottfried Leibniz, James Clerk Maxwell, and Michael Faraday all come to mind as good examples.

However, pointing solely to historical figures may not be enough. An atheist might admit that “back then” it was possible to be an intelligent believer but insist that belief in God now, with all our scientific advancements, is untenable. It’s a poor excuse since scientific advancements over the past 400 years have not substantially changed the core arguments for or against belief in God, and as early as the 17th century, atheists and skeptics were appearing in university circles using essentially the same arguments in vogue today. Many of the aforementioned scientists wrote extensively about the interplay between faith and science and responded to skeptics of their time. If anything, the Standard Big Bang Model of cosmic origins, under which time, space, and matter have a beginning, shifted the playing field in favor of the religious side. Name-dropping contemporary believers in the sciences can’t hurt either. I think here of John Polkinghorne, Stephen Barr, Francis Collins, and Jeremy England.

The best thing to dispel this prejudice, though, is the personal witness of intelligent believers here and now. I think of Leah Libresco Sargeant’s conversion, where she literally did not know a smart Christian until she met them in her debate club at Yale. And when she did, it changed how she framed Christianity before she considered it herself. It’s easy to dismiss a belief when you don’t respect anyone who holds it. When you sincerely respect someone, you also tend to respect his or her beliefs even if you’re not convinced by them.

2.     Appreciating the Role of Religion in Society

There is an immense difference between the atheist who believes religion is bad for society and the atheist who believes it is beneficial. Both may personally find religion preposterous, but the latter is far better disposed to religion than the former.

I distinctly remember a sense of unease in my atheist days when it slowly became apparent that the cultural riches of western civilization were either the direct product of, or profoundly influenced by, Christianity and especially Catholicism. Without Catholicism, there would be no Gothic or Baroque architecture, no Renaissance paintings, no classical music, no Shakespeare or Dante, no university, and hence, probably no empirical scientific method. Whether it’s art, music, architecture, literature, or education, there is a treasure trove of religious cultural wonders that the secular world simply cannot ignore.

Moreover, the devout in all social-economic strata suffer less from divorce, drug abuse, suicidedepression, and donate a higher percentage of their income to charity. For that reason, there is a fairly large cohort atheists that nevertheless acknowledge religion’s salutary effect, even its necessity. This group would agree with the 18th century skeptic Voltiare, who famously said, “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” Standing in stark contrast to the “anti-theism” peddled by hardliners like Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens, this stage is defined by the move from Ditchkins-like fundamentalism to a more tolerant, religion-friendly position.

This can be a real challenge and is often a slow, uphill battle. The hardliner’s view of religion is invariably colored by the kind of exaggerations, myths, cherry-picked facts, and downright poor research exemplified by John Cornwell’s book Hitler’s Pope, a scurrilous piece of ill-informed nonsense that has been so thoroughly discredited by professional historians that the book’s own author has largely admitted his errors. But myths like Hitler’s Pope persist in the minds of otherwise educated atheists. The antidote? Tell the truth. Plain and simple. Whether it’s Hitler’s Pope or widespread forced conversions in colonial Latin America, you don’t need clever arguments to prove anti-theists wrong on this score. All you need is honest, well-researched history from professional historians. Although this will successfully bust a lot of myths, it will also dig up some admittedly dark episodes in the history of religion. But it will dig them up truthfully and show them to be far more nuanced than the exaggerated smear jobs that often pass for history.

3.     The Pre-conversion

This is the critical turning point. It is where genuine doubts about atheism begin to emerge. What I call “pre-conversion” is the first effectual challenge to the atheist’s naturalist-materialist worldview. But be careful: the challenge usually has to come from a non-religious source, or at least one where the religious element is subtle enough to go unrecognized. Remember, this is a person who has already made up his or her mind not to believe, and anything with a whiff of apologetics will likely be laughed off as utterly unconvincing.

The trick is for the atheist to see the tensions and inconsistencies with his view of reality without muddying the waters by bringing God into it. The challenge to atheism must come from within the atheist’s own belief system. A few examples help illustrate how it works.

Well before he abandoned atheism, philosopher Ed Feser recognized that naturalistic explanations for language and meaning were untenable and that materialistic accounts of the mind didn’t add up. And it wasn’t theists who convinced him but the critiques of fellow naturalist/materialist philosophers. Not that those critiques turned him into a believer overnight; but once the crack in naturalistic materialism opens, it opens wide. Recognizing that mechanistic views of reality are not as convincing as he supposed, Feser began to re-evaluate theistic arguments he had previously dismissed (and, as is common with atheists, that he had never fully understood).

Jennifer Fulwiler’s unlikely conversion is another good example. Her inability to reconcile her belief that there was no real meaning to life with the sense of awe and transcendent love at the birth of her son was a turning point. It’s one thing for an atheist to dismiss that kind of experience as a psychological distortion when it’s happening to someone else; it’s altogether different when it’s you. We’re all human, and these experiences affect us. For Jen, the apparent meaninglessness of life collided with her unshakable sense of the transcendent, and the transcendent won.

I also think the work of Peter Singer is particularly effective in this stage. An atheist moral philosopher, Singer’s framework for understanding morality is predictably unsatisfying. Yet Singer’s work convincingly demonstrates how, if one assumes the basic tenets of naturalistic materialism, a consistent ethical system can’t accommodate the concept of inherent human worth. Thus, he argues that apes and pigs have a greater right to life than children with Down Syndrome and that babies with hemophilia should be killed outright and “replaced” by a healthier child. In the words of atheist convert Sarah Irving-Stonebreaker, Singer induces “a strange intellectual vertigo” that prompted her to recognize “that the implications of my atheism were incompatible with almost every value I held dear.”

4.     Beauty and Apologetics

Beauty and apologetics go side by side at this stage. On the one hand, beauty naturally evokes a sense of the transcendent, offering the atheist a glimpse of the joyful divine mystery. On the other hand, apologetics can be used to dislodge obstacles and address objections. Now that the atheist’s first instinct is to find the truth rather than debunk religion, apologetical works can be received with an open mind.

As a student of atheist conversions, I don’t think I can overstate the importance of beauty. Beauty is probably the closest thing to the spiritual experienced by a lifelong atheist. At the same time, beauty rarely carries any dogmatic baggage. And even when it does, the dogmatic element speaks for itself with no need for persuasion or even articulation. Beauty is, therefore, both a window into authentic religious life and a non-threatening invitation into it. I remember reading the account of an atheist journalist who walked into an Orthodox church in Moscow and was brought to the brink of belief by the beauty of the liturgy and the smell of incense. Despite my attempts at trying to recreate history through Google searches, I could not locate who this was or from what publication. But it’s burned into my mind as a powerful testament to the power of beauty. Without any words or analytical thoughts, a solidly secular atheist came within an inch of believing in God solely through an encounter with the beautiful. That’s powerful. And it’s a sentiment echoed in atheist conversions all over the place, including the stories of C.S. LewisHolly Ordway, and countless others.

Likewise, the importance of apologetics cannot be overstated. Former atheists invariably credit some kind of apologetical work or argument as essential to their conversion. At the same time, apologetics can fall flat if a person isn’t ready. You’ll notice that the steps in the progression reflect a movement from a “hard” atheist position to something softer. That is by design. At the conclusion of steps 1 through 3, we may still have an atheist on our hands, but not a hardened atheist. Merely getting an atheist interested in metaphysical questions is half the battle. Once that happens and enough prejudices have been eroded to make spiritual dialogue possible, that’s when the field is fertile. It is only at this stage that apologetics won’t be dismissed as useless church propaganda and can be utilized to full effect.

Atheist conversions are compelling precisely because they involve a tremendous change of perspective. Through no fault of their own, lifelong Christians often do not appreciate how mind-bending this transformation is for an atheist. The conversion process is scary, perplexing, and adventurous for anyone, and this is doubly true for atheists. What we call “conversion” is, for an atheist, actually several very slow and difficult mini-conversions stacked on top of each other. Thus, my advice to evangelists engaging atheists is to make everything as digestible as possible. This involves breaking down the constituent parts of Christianity into bite-size pieces and then offering them in a particular, palatable order. Based on my own conversion and the study of other atheist conversions, the phases identified above are my attempt to distill the complexity of moving from atheism to theism into a generic outline for evangelists. I hope you find them useful.


Link to Original Post on the ‘Word on Fire’ Blog of Bishop Barron of Los Angeles: https://www.wordonfire.org/resources/blog/what-makes-hardened-atheists-believe-in-god/5710/

Pope Francis’ Message for World Youth Day

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 7:19 AM

Here is the Vatican-provided text of the message Pope Francis sent to young people of the world on the occasion of the 33rd World Youth Day, to be celebrated at diocesan level on 25 March 2018, Palm Sunday, on the theme, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God” (Lk 1: 30).


“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God” (Lk 1:30)

Dear young people,

World Youth Day 2018 represents another step in preparation for the international WYD due to take place in Panama in January 2019. This new stage of our pilgrimage falls in the same year that the Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops will meet on the theme: Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment. This is a happy coincidence. The focus, prayer and reflection of the Church will turn to you young people, with the desire to receive and, above all, to embrace the precious gift that you are to God, to the Church and to the world.

As you already know, we have chosen to be accompanied on this journey by the example and intercession of Mary, the young woman of Nazareth whom God chose as the Mother of his Son. She walks with us towards the Synod and towards the WYD in Panama. If last year we were guided by the words of her canticle of praise – “The Almighty has done great things for me” (Lk1:49) – teaching us to remember the past, this year we seek, together with her, to listen to the voice of God who inspires courage and bestows the grace needed to respond to his call: “Do not be afraid, Mary, because you have found favour with God” (Lk 1:30). These are the words addressed by God’s messenger, the Archangel Gabriel, to Mary, an ordinary girl from a small village in Galilee.

1. Do not be afraid!

As is understandable, the sudden appearance of the angel and his mysterious greeting: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you” (Lk 1:28), strongly disturbed Mary, who was surprised by this first revelation of her identity and her vocation, as yet unknown to her. Mary, like others in the Sacred Scriptures, trembles before the mystery of God’s call, who in a moment places before her the immensity of his own plan and makes her feel all her smallness as a humble creature. The angel, seeing the depths of her heart, says: “Do not be afraid”! God also reads our inmost heart. He knows well the challenges we must confront in life, especially when we are faced with the fundamental choices on which depend who we will be and what we will do in this world. It is the “shudder” that we feel when faced with decisions about our future, our state of life, our vocation. In these moments we are troubled and seized by so many fears.

And you young people, what are your fears? What worries you most deeply? An “underlying” fear that many of you have is that of not being loved, well-liked or accepted for who you are. Today, there are many young people who feel the need to be different from who they really are, in an attempt to adapt to an often artificial and unattainable standard. They continuously “photo-shop” their images, hiding behind masks and false identities, almost becoming fake selves. Many are obsessed by receiving as many “likes” as possible. Multiple fears and uncertainties emerge from this sense of inadequacy. Others fear that they will not be able to find an emotional security and that they will remain alone. Many, faced with the uncertainty of work, fear not being able to find a satisfactory professional position, or to fulfil their dreams. Today a large number of young people are full of fear, both believers and non-believers. Indeed, those who have accepted the gift of faith and seek their vocation seriously are not exempt from fears. Some think: perhaps God is asking or will ask too much of me; perhaps, by following the road he has marked out for me, I will not be truly happy, or I will not be able to do what he asks of me. Others think: if I follow the path that God shows me, who can guarantee that I will be able to follow it through? Will I become discouraged? Will I lose my enthusiasm? Will I be able to persevere for the whole of my life?

In moments when doubts and fears flood our hearts, discernment becomes necessary. It allows us to bring order to the confusion of our thoughts and feelings, to act in a just and prudent way. In this process, the first step in overcoming fears is to identify them clearly, so as not to find yourself wasting time and energy by being gripped by empty and faceless ghosts. And so, I invite all of you to look within yourselves and to “name” your fears. Ask yourselves: what upsets me, what do I fear most in this specific moment of my life today? What blocks me and prevents me from moving forward? Why do I lack the courage to make the important choices I need to make? Do not be afraid to face your fears honestly, to recognize them for what they are and to come to terms with them. The Bible does not ignore the human experience of fear nor its many causes. Abraham was afraid (cf. Gen 12:10ff), Jacob was afraid (cf. Gen 31:31; 32:7), and so were Moses (cf. Ex 2:14; 17:4), Peter (cf. Mt 26:69ff) and the Apostles (cf. Mk 4:38-40; Mt 26:56). Jesus himself, albeit in an incomparable way, experienced fear and anguish (cf. Mt26:37; Lk 22:44).

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” (Mk 4:40). In admonishing his disciples Jesus helps us to understand how the obstacle to faith is often not scepticism but fear. Thus understood, the work of discernment identifies our fears and can then help us to overcome them, opening us to life and helping us to calmly face the challenges that come our way. For us Christians in particular, fear must never have the last word but rather should be an occasion to make an act of faith in God… and in life! This means believing in the fundamental goodness of the existence that God has given us and trusting that he will lead us to a good end, even through circumstances and vicissitudes which often bewilder us. Yet if we harbour fears, we will become inward-looking and closed off to defend ourselves from everything and everyone, and we will remain paralyzed. We have to act! Never close yourself in! In the Sacred Scriptures the expression “do not be afraid” is repeated 365 times with different variations, as if to tell us that the Lord wants us to be free from fear, every day of the year.

Discernment is indispensable when searching for one’s vocation in life. More often than not our vocation is not obvious or evident at first but rather something we come to understand gradually. Discernment, in this case, should not be seen as an individual effort at introspection, with the aim of better understanding our interior make-up so as to strengthen us and acquire some balance. In such instances the person can become stronger, but is still confined to the limited horizon of his or her possibilities and perspectives. Vocation, however, is a call from above, and discernment in this context principally means opening ourselves to the Other who calls. Prayerful silence is therefore required in order to hear the voice of God that resounds within our conscience. God knocks at the door of our hearts, as he did with Mary; he longs to establish friendship with us through prayer, to speak with us through the Sacred Scriptures, to offer us mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and to be one with us in the Eucharist.

It is also important to dialogue with and encounter others, our brothers and sisters in the faith who have more experience, for they help us to see better and to choose wisely from the various possibilities. When the young Samuel hears the voice of the Lord, he does not recognize it immediately. Three times he runs to Eli, the older priest, who in the end proposes the right response to give to the Lord’s call: “If he calls you, you shall say: ‘Speak Lord, for your servant hears.’” (1 Sam 3:9). In your doubts know that you can rely on the Church. I know that there are very good priests, consecrated men and woman and lay faithful, many of whom are also young, who can support you like older brothers and sisters in the faith. Enlivened by the Holy Spirit, they will help you to make sense of your doubts and understand the plan of your own vocation. The other is not only a spiritual guide, but also the person who helps us open ourselves to the infinite riches of the life that God has given us. It is important to create spaces in our cities and communities to grow, to dream and to look at new horizons! Never lose the enthusiasm of enjoying others’ company and friendship, as well as the pleasure of dreaming together, of walking together. Authentic Christians are not afraid to open themselves to others and share with them their own important spaces, making them spaces of fraternity. Dear young people, do not allow the spark of youth to be extinguished in the darkness of a closed room in which the only window to the outside world is a computer and smartphone. Open wide the doors of your life! May your time and space be filled with meaningful relationships, real people, with whom to share your authentic and concrete experiences of daily life.

2. Mary!

“I have called you by name” (Is 43:1). The first reason not to fear is the fact that God has called us by name. The angel, God’s messenger, called Mary by name. To God belongs the power to give names. In the work of creation, he calls into existence every creature by name. There is an identity behind a name, that which is unique in every single thing, in every single person; that intimate essence that only God truly knows. This divine prerogative was shared with man when God invited him to name the animals, the birds and also his own offspring (Gen 2:19-21; 4:1). Many cultures share this profound biblical vision; they recognize in a name the revelation of the profound mystery of life and the meaning of existence.

When God calls someone by name, he also reveals to the person his vocation, his plan of holiness and fulfilment, through which the person becomes a gift to others and is made unique. And when God wants to expand the horizons of life, he gives a new name to the person he is calling, as he did with Simon, whom he called “Peter”. From here comes the custom of taking a new name when entering a religious congregation, to indicate a new identity and mission. Since the divine call is unique and personal, we need the courage to disentangle ourselves from the pressure of being shaped by conforming patterns, so that our life can truly become an authentic and irreplaceable gift to God, to the Church and to all.

Dear young people, to be called by name is therefore a sign of our great dignity in the eyes of God and a sign of his love for us. God calls each one of you by name. All of you are the “you” of God, precious in his eyes, worthy of respect and loved (cf. Is43:4). Welcome with joy this dialogue that God offers you, this appeal he makes to you, calling you by name.

3. You have found favour with God

The main reason why Mary need not be afraid is that she has found favour with God. The word “grace” speaks of love freely given, not owed. How much we are encouraged to know that we do not have to earn the closeness and help of God, by presenting a “Curriculum Vitae of excellence”, full of merits and successes! The angel says to Mary that she has already found favour with God, not that she will obtain it in the future. And the same formulation of the angel’s words helps us understand that divine grace is continuous, not something passing or fleeting; for this reason, it will never fail. Even in the future, the grace of God will always be there to sustain us, especially in moments of trial and darkness.

The continuous presence of divine grace encourages us to embrace our vocation with confidence; our vocation demands a commitment of faithfulness that needs to be renewed each day. Our vocational path is not without its crosses: not only our initial doubts, but also the frequent temptations that crop up along the way. The feeling of inadequacy accompanies Christ’s disciple to the end. Yet he or she knows the help of God’s grace.

The Angel’s words descend upon our human fears, dissolving them with the power of the Good News of which we are heralds: our life is not pure chance or a mere struggle for survival, rather each of us is a cherished story loved by God. That we have “found grace in his eyes” means that the Creator sees a unique beauty in our being and that he has a magnificent plan for our lives. The awareness of this certainty, of course, does not resolve all our problems nor does it take away life’s uncertainties. But it does have the power to transform our life deeply. The unknown that tomorrow holds for us is not a dark threat we need to overcome, but a favourable time given to us for living out the uniqueness of our personal vocation, and for sharing it with our brothers and sisters in the Church and in the world.

4. Courage in the present moment

From the certainty that God’s grace is with us comes the strength to take courage in the present moment: the courage to carry forward what God asks of us here and now, in every area of our lives; courage to embrace the vocation which God reveals to us; courage to live out our faith without hiding or diminishing it.

Yes, when we open ourselves to God’s grace, the impossible becomes a reality. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom8:31). God’s grace touches the “now” of your lives, “takes hold” of you as you are, with all your fears and limits, but it also reveals his marvellous plans! You young people need to know that someone truly believes in you: please know that the Pope has confidence in you, that the Church has confidence in you! For your part, have confidence in the Church!

To the young Mary was entrusted an important task, precisely because she was young. You young people have strength as you go through a phase of your lives where energy is not lacking. Make use of this strength and this energy to improve the world, beginning with the realities closest to you. I want important responsibilities to be given to you within the Church; that there may be the courage to make space for you; and that you may be prepared to take on these responsibilities.

I invite you once again to contemplate Mary’s love: a caring, dynamic and concrete love. A love full of boldness and focused completely on the gift of self. A Church permeated by these Marian qualities will always be a Church going forth, one that goes beyond her own limits and boundaries to let the grace she has received overflow. If we allow ourselves to be truly touched by Mary’s example, we will live out authentically that charity which urges us to love God above all else and above ourselves, to love those with whom we share our daily life. And we will also love those who may seem hardly lovable in themselves. It is a love that is service and dedication, above all towards the weakest and poorest, love that transforms our faces and fills us with joy.

I would like to end with the beautiful words Saint Bernard used in a famous homily on the mystery of the Annunciation, words that express the anticipation of all humanity for Mary’s response: “You have heard, O Virgin that you will conceive and bear a son; you have heard that it will not be by man but by the Holy Spirit. The angel awaits an answer… We too, O Lady, are waiting for your word of compassion… In your brief response we are to be remade in order to be recalled to life… This is what the whole earth waits for, prostrate at your feet… Answer quickly, O Virgin” (Sermon 4, 8-9; Opera Omnia).

Dear young people, the Lord, the Church, the world are waiting for your answer to the unique call that each one receives in this life! As World Youth Day in Panama draws closer, I invite you to prepare yourselves for our gathering with the joy and enthusiasm of those who wish to participate in such a great adventure. WYD is for the courageous! Not for young people who are searching only for comfort and who withdraw whenever difficulties arise. Do you accept the challenge?

From the Vatican, 11 February 2018

VI Sunday of Ordinary Time,

Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lourdes


[Original text: English]

Pope’s Q & A With Romanian Young People and Children Aided by the NGO “FDP Protagonists in Education,” (January 4, 2018)

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 7:14 AM

This past January 4, 2018, the Holy Father Francis received in audience a group of Romanian youngsters, guests of an orphanage, aided by the NGO “FDP Protagonists in Education,” which has been operating in Romania for years.

Here is a ZENIT translation of the transcription of the Pope’s answers to the youngsters’ questions.

* * *

The Holy Father’s Answers

Dear Youngsters, dear Brothers and Sisters,

I thank you for this meeting and for the confidence with which you addressed your questions to me, in which the reality of your life is felt. I have your questions here, which I’ve already read. However, before answering you, I would like to thank the Lord with you for your being here, because He, with the collaboration of so many friends, has helped you to go ahead and to grow. And, together, we remember the many children and youngsters that have gone to Heaven: we pray for them, and we pray for those that live in situations of great difficulty in Romania and in other countries of the world. We entrust to God and to the Virgin Mother all the children, the boys and girls that suffer from sicknesses, wars and today’s slaveries.

And now I would like to answer your questions. I’ll do so if I can, because one can never answer completely a question that comes from the heart. In these questions the word you used most is “why?” There are many “whys?” I can give an answer to some of these “whys,” but not to others. Only God can give it. There are so many “why’s” in life, which we can’t answer. We can only look, feel, suffer and weep.

First question: Why is life so difficult and why do we quarrel so often among ourselves? And we cheat? You priests tell us to go to church; however, no sooner we leave we err and commit sins. So, why did I go into the church? If I believe that God is in my soul, why is it important to go to church?

Pope Francis: Your “why’s” have an answer: it’s sin, human egoism, that is why, as you say, we often quarrel,” we hurt one another, we cheat.” You yourself acknowledged it, that even if we go to church, we then err again; we always remain sinners.

And then you rightly ask: of what use is it to go to church? It is useful to put ourselves before God as we are, without putting on “makeup,” just as we are before God, without makeup. And to say: “Here I am, Lord, I’m a sinner and I ask you to forgive me. Have mercy on me.” If I go to church to feign that I’m a good person, this is futile. If I go to church because I like to hear the music or because I feel well, it’s futile. It’s useful if, when I enter the church, I can say: “Here I am, Lord. You love me and I’m a sinner. Have mercy on us. Jesus says to us that if we do this, we return home forgiven. Caressed by Him, more loved by Him, feeling this caress, this love. Thus, little by little, God transforms our heart with His mercy, and He also transforms our life. We don’t remain the same always, but we are “worked on.” God works on our heart. It’s He, and we are worked on as the clay in the hands of the potter, and God’s love take the place of our egoism. See why I think it’s important to go to church: not only to look at God, but to let oneself be looked at by Him. This is what I think. Thank you.

Second question: Why are there parents that love healthy children and not those that are sick or that have problems?

Pope Francis: Your question concerns parents, their attitude towards healthy children or towards those that are sick. I’ll say this to you: in face of others’ fragility, such as sicknesses, there are some adults that are weaker; they don’t have sufficient strength to endure fragilities.  And this <is so> because they themselves are fragile. If I have a large rock, I can’t put it in a cardboard box, because the rock will crush the carton. There are parents that are fragile. Don’t be afraid to say this, to think this. There are parents that are fragile. There are parents that are fragile, because there are always men and women with their limitations, their sins and the fragilities they bear inside  and, perhaps, they didn’t have the good fortune to be helped when they were small. And so they go on in life with those fragilities because they weren’t helped, they didn’t have the opportunity that we had to find a friendly person, who took us by the hand and taught us to grow and become strong to overcome that fragility. It’s difficult to get help from fragile parents and, sometimes, it’s we who must help them. Instead of lamenting life because it’s given me fragile parents and I’m not that fragile, why not change things and say thank you to God, thank you to life, because I can help a parent’s fragility so that the rock doesn’t crush the cardboard box. Do you agree? Thank you.

Third question: Last year, one of our friends, who stayed in the orphanage, died. He died during Holy Week, on Holy Thursday. An Orthodox priest said to us that he died a sinner and, therefore, would not go to Paradise. I don’t think that’s true.

Pope Francis: Perhaps that priest didn’t know what he was saying; perhaps that day that priest wasn’t well; he had something in his heart that made him answer that way. None of us can say that a person hasn’t gone to Heaven. I’ll tell you something that, perhaps, will astound you: we can’t even say or write it about Judas. You recalled your friend who died, and you remembered that he died on Holy Thursday. It seems very strange to me that what you heard is what that priest said; one would need to understand better, perhaps he wasn’t understood well. In any case, I say to you that God wants to take us all to Paradise, no one excluded, and that, in fact, we celebrate this during Holy Week: the Passion of Jesus, who, as a Good Shepherd, gave His life for us, who are His sheep. And if a sheep is lost, He goes to look for it until He finds it. It’s so. God doesn’t stay seated. As the Gospel makes us see, He goes; He is always on the way to find that sheep, and is not frightened when He finds us, even if we are in a state of great fragility, if we are soiled with sins, if we are abandoned by all and by life. He embraces us and kisses us. He could not have come, but the Good Shepherd came for us. And if a sheep is lost, when he finds it He puts it on His shoulders and, full of joy, takes it home. I can say something to you: Knowing Jesus, I’m sure, I’m sure that this is what the Lord did that Holy Week with your friend.

Fourth question: Why didn’t we have this good fortune? Why? What does it mean?

Pope Francis: You know, there are “whys” that don’t have an answer. For instance: why do children suffer? Who can answer this? No one. Your “why?” is one of those that doesn’t have a human answer but only a divine <answer>. I don’t know why you had “this fortune.” We don’t know the “why” in the sense of the motive. What did I do wrong to have this fortune? We don’t know. However, we know the “why” in the sense of the end that God wants to give your fate, and the end is healing — the Lord always heals – healing and life. Jesus says it in the Gospel when he meets the blind man from birth. And no doubt He asked himself this: “Why was I born blind?” The disciples asked Jesus: “”Why is he <blind>? Was it his or his parents fault?” And Jesus answers: “No, it’s not his fault or his parents’, but he is thus so that God’s works are manifested in him” (Cf. John 9:1-3). It means that, in face of so many awful situations in which we can find ourselves since we were small, God wants to heal them, restore them; He wants to bring life where there is death. Jesus does this, and Christians who are truly united to Jesus also do this. You have experienced it. The “why” is an encounter that heals the pain, the sickness, the suffering and gives a healing embrace. However, it’s a “why” for the after <life>; at the beginning it can’t be known. I don’t know the “why,” I can’t even think of it. I know that those “whys?” have no answer. However, if you have experienced the encounter with the Lord, with Jesus who heals, who heals with an embrace, with caresses, with love, then, after all the hurt you could have lived, at the end you found this. See “why.”

Fifth question: It so happens that I feel alone and I don’t know what meaning my life has. My child is in foster care and some people judge me as not being a good mother. Instead, I believe my daughter is well and that I made the right decision, also because we see one another often.

Pope Francis: I’m in agreement with you that foster care can be a help in certain difficult situations. What is important is that it all be done with love, with care for persons, with great respect. I understand that you often feel alone. I advise you not to close yourself, to seek the company of the Christian community: Jesus came to form a new family, His family, where no one is alone and we are all brothers and sisters, children of our Father in Heaven and of the Mother that Jesus gave us, the Virgin Mary. And we can all meet in the family of the Church, curing our wounds and overcoming the voids of love that are often in our human families. You yourself said that you think your daughter is well in the Family House, also because you know that they have the child there, and you too. And then you said: “We see one another often.” Sometimes a community of Christian brothers and sisters helps this way, entrusting ourselves to one another, not only the children. When one feels something in the heart, one entrusts oneself to a friend, and makes that pain come out of the heart. To entrust ourselves fraternally to one another, this is very beautiful and Jesus taught this. Thank you.

Sixth question: When I as two months old, my mother left me in an orphanage. I looked for my mother at 21, and stayed with her for two weeks, but she didn’t behave well with me, and so I left. My father is dead. What is my fault if she doesn’t love me? Why doesn’t she accept me?

Pope Francis: I understood this question well because you said it in Italian. I want to be honest with you. When I read your question, before giving the instructions to write the discourse, I wept. I was close to you with a couple of tears. Because I don’t know; you’ve given me so much; the others also, but you caught me, perhaps, with my defenses down. When one talks of a mother there is always something . . . and at that moment you made me cry. Your “why?” is like the second question, on parents. It’s not a question of fault; it’s a question of adults’ great fragility, due in your case to so much poverty, so many social injustices that crush little ones and the poor, and also <due> to so much spiritual poverty. Yes, spiritual poverty hardens hearts and causes what seems impossible, that a mother abandon her child. This is the fruit of material and spiritual poverty; fruit of an erroneous, inhuman social system, which hardens hearts, which makes us err so that we don’t find the right way. However, know that this will require time: you have sought something more profound in her heart. Your mother loves you but doesn’t know how to do it, how to express it. She can’t because life is hard; it’s unjust. And she doesn’t know how to express that love that is within her, or how to caress you. I promise you that I will pray so that one day you will see that love. Don’t be skeptical; have hope.

Simona Carobene (responsible for the initiative): I was struck by the Message on the occasion of the Day of the Poor. It jolted me because I asked myself: “how do I look at my youngsters?” Sometimes I realize that I’m prey to doing, and I forget why Jesus has put us together. So I must undertake a journey of conversion, and this journey is continuous and can never be taken for granted. Therefore, I continue to follow my youngsters because they are “my saints.” And I remain glued to Holy Mother Church through the charism of Father Giussani, which is the concrete way that made me love Jesus. However, at the same time, the appeal of your Message was very concrete. You spoke of true sharing. I began to ask myself if, perhaps, the moment had arrived to take a further step in my life, of hospitality and sharing. It’s a desire that’s being born in my heart and that I would like to verify in the next period, What are the signs to look for to understand what is the plan for me? What does it mean to live to the utmost the vocation of poverty?

Pope Francis: Simona, thank you for your testimony. Yes, our life is always a journey, a journey behind the Lord Jesus, who with patient and faithful love never ends educating us, to make us grow according to His plan. And sometimes He gives us surprises, to break our schemes. Your desire to grow in sharing and in evangelical poverty comes from the Holy Spirit: this can’t be purchased, rented, only the Spirit is able to do this, and He will help you to go forward on this path, in which you and our friends have done so much good. You have helped the Lord to carry out his works for these youngsters.

Thank you, again, to all of you. It has done me good to meet with you. I keep you in my prayers. And don’t forget, you also pray for me, because I need it. Thank you!

[Original text: Italian]  [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]