Friday, December 31, 2010

Verbum Domini

A while ago I had the pleasure of reading Pope Benedict XVI's Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church, entitled "Verbum Domini". There are innumerable treasures hidden in this large field, but I here present some few of them which are more easily reducible to sound bites:
"The word of God makes us change our concept of realism: the realist is the one who recognizes in the word of God the foundation of all things."
- Pope Benedict XVI, Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church "Verbum Domini", 10.

‎"As the word of God became flesh by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, so sacred Scripture is born from the womb of the Church by the power of the same Spirit."
- Pope Benedict XVI, "Verbum Domini", 19.

"Whenever our awareness of its inspiration grows weak, we risk reading Scripture as an object of historical curiosity and not as the work of the Holy Spirit in which we can hear the Lord himself speak and recognize his presence in history."
- Pope Benedict XVI, "Verbum Domini", 19.

"[S]ince Scripture must be interpreted in the same Spirit in which it was written, [...] the text must be interpreted with attention to the unity of the whole of Scripture."
- Pope Benedict XVI, "Verbum Domini", 34.

“Where exegesis is not theology, Scripture cannot be the soul of theology, and conversely, where theology is not essentially the interpretation of the Church’s Scripture, such a theology no longer has a foundation.”
- Pope Benedict XVI, "Verbum Domini", 35.

"[T]he word of God is living and addressed to each of us in the here and now of our lives."
- Pope Benedict XVI, "Verbum Domini", 37.

"As well as learning the original languages in which the Bible was written and suitable methods of interpretation, students need to have a deep spiritual life, in order to appreciate that the Scripture can only be understood if it is lived."
- Pope Benedict XVI, "Verbum Domini", 47.

“What is the distinctive mark of faith? Full and unhesitating certainty that the words inspired by God are true ... What is the distinctive mark of the faithful? Conforming their lives with the same complete certainty to the meaning of the words of Scripture, not daring to remove or add a single thing."
- Saint Basil the Great, Moralia, quoted in Pope Benedict XVI, "Verbum Domini", 48.

"Every saint is like a ray of light streaming forth from the word of God."
- Pope Benedict XVI, "Verbum Domini", 48.

"Christ’s body and blood are really the word of Scripture, God’s teaching. When we approach the [Eucharistic] Mystery, if a crumb falls to the ground we are troubled. Yet when we are listening to the word of God, and God’s Word and Christ’s flesh and blood are being poured into our ears yet we pay no heed, what great peril should we not feel?"
- St. Jerome, In Psalmum 147, quoted in Pope Benedict XVI, "Verbum Domini", 56.

"Generic and abstract homilies which obscure the directness of God’s word should be avoided, as well as useless digressions which risk drawing greater attention to the preacher than to the heart of the Gospel message. The faithful should be able to perceive clearly that the preacher has a compelling desire to present Christ, who must stand at the centre of every homily."
- Pope Benedict XVI, "Verbum Domini", 59.

In the Liturgy, "Preference should be given to songs which are of clear biblical inspiration and which express, through the harmony of music and words, the beauty of God’s word. We would do well to make the most of those songs handed down to us by the Church’s tradition which respect this criterion. I think in particular of the importance of Gregorian chant."
- Pope Benedict XVI, "Verbum Domini", 70.

‎"The Bishop, together with his priests and indeed like every member of the faithful, and like the Church herself, must be a hearer of the word. He should dwell ‘within’ the word and allow himself to be protected and nourished by it, as if by a mother’s womb”.
- Pope John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation "Pastores Gregis", quoted in Pope Benedict XVI, "Verbum Domini", 79.

“May the Lord himself, as in the time of the prophet Amos, raise up in our midst a new hunger and thirst for the word of God.”
- Pope Benedict XVI, "Verbum Domini", 91.

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Reformed Praise

Last month I was preparing to lead a group discussion on the Confessions of St. Augustine for a meeting of St. Titus Fellowship, which always starts with the singing of a hymn. I found myself wondering whether any of Augustine's reflections had ever been set to music (I could not recall ever having heard such a thing) , and so I set out for a bit of Googling to see what I could find. To my delight I found that such a hymn did indeed exist, but to my surprise it came not from the great heyday of English hymnody, from the late 18th century or thereabouts, but rather had been penned within the last ten years, and by a Baptist at that! Anyone familiar with the Confessions will recognize in "My Heart Has Found Its Rest in Christ" strong echoes of the saint's original words:

Before my restless heart was found,
To worldly treasures it was bound.
The will that seemed so free within
Availed me nothing but to sin.

The Word of God did set me free,
When I took up his book to read:
“Now arm yourself with Jesus Christ;
Be free from nature’s appetite.”

My heart has found its rest in Christ,
My God, My Life, My One Delight!

Obedience to his command
Came by the power of his hand.
What was the grace that he employed?
Compelling and triumphant joy!

How sweet it was at once for me
To from my fruitless joys be free.
The pleasures I once hoped would stay,
The Sovereign Joy did drive away!
My heart has found its rest in Christ,
My God, My Life, My One Delight!
All that he gives me by his grace
Will cause me more to seek his face.
No gift he gives will my love take,
Except to love it for his sake.

Until he calls me to my home,
Or comes again to claim his own,
With zealous tongue I will proclaim
That joy is found in Jesus’ name!

My heart has found its rest in Christ,
My God, My Life, My One Delight!
I was thoroughly impressed with what I saw, and knew at once that I would use this hymn to begin the evening's discussion. And indeed, the group immediately hailed it as a "new favorite." Later I returned to the website,, to see what other treasures might lie in wait, and I was not disappointed.

In their own words, "Reformed Praise is a music ministry dedicated to providing songs for corporate worship which are rich in theology, diverse in musical style, and centered on the gospel of grace, that our praise might be informed by Biblical truth." I, for one, enjoy hymns with actual content where we sing about Someone other than ourselves, and found their work refreshing. If you're interested, I'd direct you to either their apologia for Reviving the Hymns or to the page for their new CD, Merciful to Me. I'm not a regular listener to the "Contemporary Christian" genre, but these tracks were a lot better – a lot deeper – than what I've heard on Christian radio.

I've been in touch with Eric Schumacher, the Pastor of Northbrook Baptist Church in Cedar Rapids, IA and author of "My Heart Has Found Its Rest in Christ," and I have nothing but great things to say about these people and their project. They're unapologetically Protestant (as we Catholics prepare for All Saints' Day they'll be celebrating Reformation Sunday), but Christians of any stripe who use hymns in their liturgies or worship stand to benefit from paying a visit to their site.

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Monday, September 27, 2010

Summary of Pope Benedict's visit to the United Kingdom

Last week I read through all of the talks Pope Benedict delivered during his recent visit to the United Kingdom, and (as always) was struck by the profundity of much of what he had to say. The list that follows moves backwards chronologically.

Address to the Bishops:
The other matter I touched upon in February with the Bishops of England and Wales, when I asked you to be generous in implementing the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus. This should be seen as a prophetic gesture that can contribute positively to the developing relations between Anglicans and Catholics. It helps us to set our sights on the ultimate goal of all ecumenical activity: the restoration of full ecclesial communion in the context of which the mutual exchange of gifts from our respective spiritual patrimonies serves as an enrichment to us all. Let us continue to pray and work unceasingly in order to hasten the joyful day when that goal can be accomplished.

Beatification homily:
And indeed, what better goal could teachers of religion set themselves than Blessed John Henry’s famous appeal for an intelligent, well-instructed laity: "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it, who know so much of history that they can defend it" (The Present Position of Catholics in England, ix, 390). On this day when the author of those words is raised to the altars, I pray that, through his intercession and example, all who are engaged in the task of teaching and catechesis will be inspired to greater effort by the vision he so clearly sets before us.

Vigil of the Beatification:
In our own time, the price to be paid for fidelity to the Gospel is no longer being hanged, drawn and quartered but it often involves being dismissed out of hand, ridiculed or parodied.

Homily in Westminster Cathedral:
In the life of the Church, in her trials and tribulations, Christ continues, in the stark phrase of Pascal, to be in agony until the end of the world (Pensées, 553, éd. Brunschvicg).

And may this increase of apostolic zeal be accompanied by an outpouring of prayer for vocations to the ordained priesthood. For the more the lay apostolate grows, the more urgently the need for priests is felt; and the more the laity’s own sense of vocation is deepened, the more what is proper to the priest stands out.

I pray that ... you may join the ranks of faithful believers throughout the long Christian history of this land in building a society truly worthy of man, worthy of your nation’s highest traditions.

Address to school children:
I hope that among those of you listening to me today there are some of the future saints of the twenty-first century. What God wants most of all for each one of you is that you should become holy. He loves you much more than you could ever begin to imagine, and he wants the very best for you. And by far the best thing for you is to grow in holiness. ... When I invite you to become saints, I am asking you not to be content with second best.

Homily at the Mass for St. Ninian, addressing young people:
There is only one thing which lasts: the love of Jesus Christ personally for each one of you. Search for him, know him and love him, and he will set you free from slavery to the glittering but superficial existence frequently proposed by today’s society. Put aside what is worthless and learn of your own dignity as children of God. ... This is the challenge the Lord gives to you today: the Church now belongs to you!

From the in-flight press conference en route to the UK:
Q. – Your Holiness, the figure of Cardinal Newman is obviously very significant ... What are the aspects of his personality which you would like to give stronger emphasis to?

A. - ... I would say these three elements: the modernity of his existence, with all the doubts and problems of our existence today, his great culture, knowledge of the great cultural treasures of mankind, his constant quest for the truth, continuous renewal and spirituality: spiritual life, life with God, give this man an exceptional greatness for our time. Therefore, it is a figure of Doctor of the Church for us, for all and also a bridge between Anglicans and Catholics.

Q. - ... Can anything be done to make the Church as an institution, more credible and attractive to everyone?

A. - I would say that a Church that seeks to be particularly attractive is already on the wrong path, because the Church does not work for her own ends, she does not work to increase numbers and thus power. The Church is at the service of another: she serves, not for herself, not to be a strong body, rather she serves to make the proclamation of Jesus Christ accessible, the great truths and great forces of love, reconciling love that appeared in this figure and that always comes from the presence of Jesus Christ. In this regard, the Church does not seek to be attractive in and of herself, but must be transparent for Jesus Christ ....

This last bit is my favorite line of the whole collection. Trying to be "attractive" or "relevant" is not our business. Would that the Church in America would heed this message.

Finally (listed here out-of-sequence), worth reading to in its entirety is Benedict's Address to Parliament in Westminster Hall. It does not lend itself well to sound bytes, but is tremendous. Some snippets:

... [W]hat are the requirements that governments may reasonably impose upon citizens, and how far do they extend? By appeal to what authority can moral dilemmas be resolved? These questions take us directly to the ethical foundations of civil discourse. If the moral principles underpinning the democratic process are themselves determined by nothing more solid than social consensus, then the fragility of the process becomes all too evident - herein lies the real challenge for democracy.


[T]he world of secular rationality and the world of religious beliefneed one another ....

I also note that the present Government has committed the United Kingdom to devoting 0.7% of national income to development aid by 2013. ... Where human lives are concerned, time is always short: yet the world has witnessed the vast resources that governments can draw upon to rescue financial institutions deemed "too big to fail". Surely the integral human development of the world’s peoples is no less important: here is an enterprise, worthy of the world’s attention, that is truly "too big to fail".

All the Pope's speeches and homilies can be found in both text and video formats on the wonderful official site of the visit.

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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Gather Us In (Latin Translation)

This was the fruit of my resolution to keep up with the study of Latin this month, and also of my deep love of juxtapositions. The recording is rough, I know – think of it as a 'proof of concept.' Latinists: feel free to use the comments to offer your suggestions for improvements to the translation! (Original lyrics taken from this PDF.)

Hoc in loco lux lucens nova
Tenebrae nunc evanescuntur
Vide nostrorum metus somniaque
Lati tibi hoc aprico die.

Congrega nos, perditi et relicti
Congrega nos, caeci claudique
Voca nos et exsuscitabimur
Nomen sonatus tunc oriemur.

Juvenes quorum vitae occultae
Et senes qui quaeritamus te
Cantabamur per cunctam historiam
Et luci mundi vocati sumus.

Congrega nos, divites superbi
Congrega nos, qui contumaces
Da nobis cor humile miteque
Ut carmen audacter ingrediamur.

Hic vinum accepimus et aquam
Hic accepimus panem vitae
Vocabis filios filiasque
Vocati denuo sal terrae esse.

Dona vinum miserationis
Dona nobis panem quod es tu
Nutri bene et doce nos facere
Vitas sanctas atque corda vera.

Neque domi nec aliquo caelo
Spatium lucis longe annuae
Hoc in loco, lux radiens nova
Hodie regnum, nunc jam dies.

Congrega nos, et tene in saeculum
Congrega nos, et tui nos fac
Congrega nos, omne nationem
Ignis amoris in visceribus.

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Twenty and Four Years Have I Served Him

I was baptized twenty-four years ago today. God be praised for bringing me this far.

I have been traveling for most of the summer, first to Colombia for a Spanish Immersion program and then out West on a road trip with friends. As always, a picture is worth a thousand words, so please allow these photo albums to suffice for a description of what I've been doing.
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Friday, April 23, 2010

Our Lady of Peace, Geneva NY

Next year I will spend my Pastoral Year in Geneva at Our Lady of Peace parish, which consists of St. Francis deSales Church and St. Stephen Church. Praise God for this great placement! The parish has perpetual adoration, the people I've met from there are all wonderful, and the physical campus is absolutely gorgeous. A picture is worth a thousand words, so I'll direct you to the Flickr page for a visual feast. Here are some highlights:

Did I mention Perpetual Adoration?

The exterior of St. Stephen's. The parish was built in 1912, the rectory in 1924. This picture is currently my desktop background.

The high altar in St. Stephen. Trivia: the artist who made the wood carvings is the same one whose work can be seen in Blessed Sacrament in Rochester.

Just one of many examples of the beautiful stained glass windows.

This is the front door of the rectory. No, really! Can anyone identify the third figure in the top piece?

The dining room. The inscription reads:
"Manducate ex oblatis, quae dat vobis Deus gratis,
et si vobis non sint satis, mementote paupertatis",
which I translate:
"Eat from what has been offered, which God gives to you freely,
and if it should not be enough for you, be mindful of poverty."
Or perhaps, to preserve some of the original poetry,
"Eat you now what things are given, Which come to you from God for free;
Should you think them insufficient, Think you, then, on poverty."

A display case in the rectory. Notice in the upper right a picture of Fulton Sheen's visit to the parish. In the center, the breviary has been left open to the Feast of St. Stephen. Ah, detail: it's the little things that count!

Please pray for me and for the people of the parish. My assignment there begins September 1.

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Friday, April 2, 2010

Pearls of Wisdom: Insipidity

"Not Herod, not Caiaphas, not Pilate, not Judas ever contrived to fasten upon Jesus Christ the reproach of insipidity; that final indignity was left for pious hands to inflict. To make of His story something that could neither startle, nor shock, nor terrify, nor excite, nor inspire a living soul is to crucify the Son of God afresh and put Him to an open shame." — Dorothy L. Sayers, The Man Born to be King

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Homily for the Annunciation

Below is the text of a homily I authored for the preaching class in which I am currently enrolled. Enjoy!

Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.”

Who having heard, was troubled at his saying.

+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

These words of the Gospel are so very familiar to us because of their use in the “Hail Mary.” “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with thee.” We say these words so many times, it becomes easy to pass over them without thinking. And because of its presence in the Joyful Mysteries of the Holy Rosary, the entire feast of the Annunciation can sometimes seem so familiar to us that we miss the significance of it. I will be the first to admit my guilt in so often failing to marvel at what happened in that crucial moment in history. So let us consider more carefully the words of the Gospel.

The angel Gabriel was sent from God
to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,
to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph,
of the house of David,
and the virgin’s name was Mary.

Who was Mary? When we speak of Mary we often think of the Mother of God, the Mother of the Church, a heavenly intercessor, the first of the saints, the Queen of the Universe. That's who Mary is now; who was Mary then? She was none of that, yet. She was no queen, she was mother to no one; she was just a girl. A simple Jewish girl living in a small town. The fourth-century Protoevangelium of James tells us that she was sixteen years old when the Annunciation occurred. Sixteen. Imagine this teenager who, according to this tradition, was on her way to fill a pitcher with water from the well when suddenly hears a voice saying “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with thee.”

She was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

Why would Mary find this troubling? So far the angel has only told her two things: one, that she if full of grace, and two, that the Lord is with her. Hardly troubling statements! But Mary had good reason to be troubled. Why? Because she knew the Scriptures. Yes, Mary even from a young age knew the Old Testament thoroughly – in fact, the Magnificat, her famous canticle of praise, is what one might call a jazz improvisation on the canticle of Hanna found in the First Book of Samuel.

Mary was greatly troubled by the announcement that the Lord was with her because she knew that these words, “The Lord is with thee,” meant that God was about to do something tremendous!

In the time of the Judges, “The angel of the Lord appeared to [Gideon], and said: The Lord is with thee, O most valiant of men,” and after those words were spoken God used Gideon — the youngest of his family and a member of the smallest tribe in all Israel — God used Gideon to free Israel from the oppression of their enemy the Midianites.

At one point King David announces that he is about to build a great Temple to the Lord. David, the youngest son in his father's house and originally just a poor shepherd, is told by God's prophet Nathan, “Go, do all that is in thy heart: because the Lord is with thee.” David's dream of a great Temple to the Lord would be realized by his son Solomon, ushering in a new age in the history of Israel where God's people would now have a magnificent structure in which to worship their magnificent God.

The Spirit of God came upon the prophet Azarias, who told Solomon's great-grandson King Asa, “Hear ye me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin: The Lord is with you, because you have been with Him.” Asa would then usher in a period of reform, destroying many of the pagan idols in the land.

The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a little town in Galilee called Nazareth,
to a sixteen-year-old virgin whose name — was Mary.

The Lord is with thee, Gideon, O most valiant of men”

Go, David, do all that is in thy heart: because the Lord is with thee.”

Hear me, King Asa: the Lord is with thee.”

Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.”

When Mary heard those words come from the mouth of the angel, she knew she was standing on the threshold of a new era in human history. And indeed, she was!

Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,
and you shall name him Jesus.
He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,
and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,
and he will rule over the house of Jacob
And of his Kingdom there will be
- no - end.

Mary knew that immediately following her assent, everything would change, the whole world be turned upside-down.

... ... “Behold — I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

The Lord is with thee, O most valiant of men,” and Gideon freed Israel from their enemy. “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee,” and Christ destroyed the last enemy, death.

Go, do all that is in thy heart: because the Lord is with thee,” and David's son built a great Temple to the Lord. “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee,” and Mary's Son opened the great sanctuary of Heaven to all who believe.

Hear me, Asa, the Lord is with thee,” and the pagan idols were removed from the land. “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee,” and pagans from every land were removed from their former way of life, and brought to faith in the Son of God.

Truly the words of Scripture are deep beyond comprehension! May God grant us the grace always to consider these things as we meditate upon the mystery of the Annunciation in the Holy Rosary, and may He grant us also great fervor as we pray to this woman who knew God's word, who said “May it be done to me according to your word,” and through whom the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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Saturday, February 13, 2010


Nothing makes old buildings look nice quite like snow, eh?

Between the two blizzards of Snowmaggedon I ventured out to take some pictures around the campus of Catholic University. Above is the entrance to Caldwell Hall.
Theological College

Clearing snow behind McMahon Hall

A view from the front steps of Theological College: Gibbons Hall

The statue of Sedes Sapientiae (Our Lady Seat of Wisdom)

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Friday, January 15, 2010

St. Peter's, Harpers Ferry

Not wanting my fellow Rochesterian seminarian Peter VanLieshout to be the only one blogging about visiting beautiful old churches, I share with you today the historic chapel of St. Peter in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.

Built in the 1830s, this church was one of the few buildings in the area to survive the Civil War. During Stonewall Jackson's attack on Harpers Ferry in September of 1862 the young pastor, Fr. Michael Costello, flew the British Union Jack from the steeple so as to discourage the Confederates from firing on his parish. One imagines this must have wounded the pride of the good Irishman, but it saved his church from destruction!
In 1896 the original church was torn down and a slightly larger one was built atop the old foundation. If you look at the left part of the above image, you can see that the original brickwork was incorporated into the new edifice.
The approach to St. Peter's is a set of 44 stairs carved from the rock in 1810. (The handrail was not added until the 20th century.) When the church was used as a makeshift hospital during the war, these steps acquired the name "the bloody stairs" from the sanguineous trails leading to the doors of St. Peter's. (Having walked up them myself, I can imagine there might be another reason they acquired this name: they're downright treacherous!)

The interior of St. Peter's is quite beautiful. Here you can see the high altar and some of the stained glass. The freestanding wooden altar is moved aside when Mass is said in the Extraordinary Form.
Detail of the Carrera marble altar carved in Italy.

Located in the baptistery of the church is a rather memorable crucifix based on Italian original which was made to match the wounds found on the Shroud of Turin. I'm not a huge fan of artist Sharon Garvey's calligraphy for the Greek (does that look a little odd to anyone besides me?) but it is nice to see the full title on the cross once in a while.
Nearby St. Peter's is Jefferson Rock, where Thomas Jefferson once stood and proclaimed, "this scene is worth a voyage across the Atlantic." How much more, then, was it worth a stop on the way back to Washington!

Image of crucifix © ptpFlickr. Other images used under creative commons license from Teak's Pics or used by permission from Thomas Eichwald, seminarian for the Archdiocese of St. Louis

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