All posts by techdecisions

Jun 23 – St Joseph Cafasso, Priest of the Gallows (1811-1860 AD)

St Joseph Cafasso

Born with a deformed spine, and into a wealthy peasant family; he was short in stature and crippled throughout his life.  St. Joseph Cafasso was born on the 15th of January, 1811, at Castelnuovo d’ Asti, in the Province of Piedmont about twenty miles from Turin in the north of Italy.  Even as a young man, Joseph loved to attend Mass and was known for his humility and fervor in prayer.

He was ordained a priest in 1833, at the age of twenty-two. Upon ordination he entered the college at Turin that had been established for the training of young priests. When he completed his studies after three years, he was appointed professor of moral theology in the college and soon became famous for his learning and sanctity. He was then made rector, the position he held for twenty-four years until the time of his death.  There he worked especially against the heresy of Jansenism, an excessive preoccupation with sin and damnation.

Perhaps the most noted part of his public life were the entire days that he spent in the prisons—–preaching, comforting, instructing the unfortunates detained there, and hearing their confessions.

One day he went to a prison in order to prepare the prisoners for the celebration of a feast in honor of Our Lady, and had spent a whole week instructing them and exhorting them. This he did in a large room in which there were forty-five of the most noted criminals. Almost all had promised to go to Confession on the vigil of the feast. But when the day came, none of them could make up his mind to go to Confession. Joseph renewed his invitation, recapitulated what he had said during the week, and reminded them of the promise that they had made. But, now, none of them would to go to Confession.

With a smile on his face he went over to the man who appeared to be the biggest and strongest and most robust among the prisoners, and without saying a word, he caught hold of his luxurious long beard. The man, thinking that Don Cafasso had acted through jest, said to him as courteously as could be expected, “Take anything else from me you like but leave me my beard!”

“I will not let you go until you go to Confession,” replied Don Cafasso.

“But I don’t want to go to Confession,” said the prisoner.

“You may say what you like, but you will not escape from me; I will not let you go until you have made your Confession,” said Cafasso.

“I am not prepared,” said the prisoner.

“I will prepare you,” said Cafasso.

Certainly, if the prisoner had wished, he could have freed himself from Don Cafasso’s hands with the slightest effort; but whether it was respect for the holy man’s person, or rather the fruit of the grace of God, the fact is that the man surrendered and allowed himself to be led to a corner of the room. Don Cafasso sat down on a bundle of straw and prepared his friend for Confession. But In a short time there was commotion; the strong man was so moved by Don Cafasso’s exhortation that his sighs and tears almost prevented him from telling his sins.

This prisoner then went to his companions after it was finished and told them that he had never been so happy in his life. He became so eloquent in exhorting them that he succeeded in persuading them all to go to Confession.


“A single word from him – a look, a smile, his very presence – sufficed to dispel melancholy, drive away temptation and produce holy resolution in the soul. “
-Saint John Bosco, writing about his friend, Saint Joseph Cafasso

“We are born to love, we live to love, and we will die to love still more.”
-Saint Joseph Cafasso


“Who is this man who in the world is called an ecclesiastic, a priest? Who is this personage whom some bless and others curse? Who is he whom the whole world talks about and criticizes, and who is the subject of discussion by all pens and all tongues? What is the significance of that name which resounds in every corner of the world? What is a priest? In order to define clearly what he is, I shall avail myself of the distinctions that Saint Bernard made concerning ecclesiastics and shall consider him in his nature, in his person, in his habits. Quid in natura, quis in persona, qualis in moribus! In his nature he is a man like others. In his person, his dignity is above that of all other men in the world. In his conduct and habits, he should be a man totally different from all others as he is by his dignity and office. These are the three points which I propose for your consideration.”
-Saint Joseph Cafasso



Optional celibacy for the Catholic ordained?

Catholic positions are very often easily and quickly misunderstood and misinterpreted by the media, by society at large, and even loyal, well-educated, faithful people.  It is difficult to synthesize down 2k years of divine revelation + 2k years lived experience of the Faith, known by Catholics as Tradition, into a thirty second sound bite.  

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” aka, “Einstein’s razor” correlating to “Occam’s razor”.  Used when oversimplification leads to false conclusion.
-“On the Method of Theoretical Physics” The Herbert Spencer Lecture, delivered at Oxford (10 June 1933); also published in Philosophy of Science, Vol. 1, No. 2 (April 1934), pp. 163-169., p. 165.

And, the Church, does a LOUSY job of explaining itself in a sound-bite world, as if it was truly concerned about that.  Maybe it should be concerned
“a little” bit more.  It would make it easier for everyone.  Exceedingly few are going to achieve the academic credentials necessary to understand the Church the way the Vatican naturally expresses itself.  Hence, the critical need for Catechist/Apologists.  Of which, yours truly, makes his poor, amateurish attempts!  I am, however, a certified Catechist of the Archdiocese of Chicago!  I have papers to prove it!  Bless the Lord, O my soul!  

Thus, there are truly greater and lesser “truths” and doctrinal assets/assents in Catholicism.  Ask a VERY well trained and normatively orthodox priest where your particular truth in question does fall.  (You know the joke…”Line up 100 priests and keep asking until you get the answer you want!”  The downer of the joke is the number necessary keeps shrinking.  Obviously, the closer it gets to one, the more we are in trouble!  It’s been trending downward of late.)  

Celibacy among the clergy is one of those “lesser” truths.  It is a “discipline”, not a doctrine.  Because the rule of celibacy is an ecclesiastical law and not a doctrine, it can, in principle, be changed at any time by the Pope.  Nonetheless, both the present Pope, Benedict XVI, and his predecessors, have spoken clearly of their understanding that the traditional practice was not likely to change.

The earliest textual evidence of the forbidding of marriage to clerics and the duty of those already married to abstain from sexual contact with their wives is in the fourth-century decrees of the Council of Elvira and the later Council of Carthage. According to some writers, this presumed a previous norm, which was being flouted in practice.

Council of Elvira (c. 305 AD)
(Canon 33): It is decided that marriage be altogether prohibited to bishops, priests, and deacons, or to all clerics placed in the ministry, and that they keep away from their wives and not beget children; whoever does this, shall be deprived of the honor of the clerical office.

Council of Carthage (390 AD)
(Canon 3): It is fitting that the holy bishops and priests of God as well as the Levites, i.e. those who are in the service of the divine sacraments, observe perfect continence, so that they may obtain in all simplicity what they are asking from God; what the Apostles taught and what antiquity itself observed, let us also endeavour to keep… It pleases us all that bishop, priest and deacon, guardians of purity, abstain from conjugal intercourse with their wives, so that those who serve at the altar may keep a perfect chastity.

“In a 2010 study commissioned by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate compared the increase of Catholics in the U.S. with the decline in the number of priests from 1965 until 2025. In 1965, the report noted, there was one priest for approximately every 780 Catholics. By 2010, there was one priest for every 1,640 Catholics. If the CARA projection remains consistent, in 2025—less than 15 years from now— there will be one priest for every 6,150 Catholics.

The declining number of priests and the burgeoning growth of the Catholic population, coupled with the closing and combining of parishes, ensures that fewer and fewer Catholics will have regular access to the Eucharist in coming years.

Lack of access to the Eucharist is not just a crisis, it is a disaster. Thus far, the only solution that the American bishops have offered for this disaster is to close and combine parishes and convert aging and already stressed priests into circuit riders.

Is there any way to turn this disaster around within the context of current canon law (the law of the Church)?

The answer is “yes” if the American bishops have the will and the courage to ask the Vatican for the right to ordain married Catholic men. They could do so using the same “Pastoral Provision” procedures that have allowed the ordination in the Catholic Church of married former Anglican, Lutheran and Episcopalian clergy.

Canon 1042 states that it is a simple impediment to ordination if a man has a wife. But Canon 1047 states that the Apostolic See can grant dispensations from this simple impediment on a case-by- case basis. Indeed, the See has used this latter canon to ordain married formerly Anglican, Episcopalian, and Lutheran clergy as priests in the Latin Rite.

In addition, several American Bishops have successfully appealed to the Vatican for rescripts to ordain married clergy formerly from other denominations such as Methodists, Lutherans, Baptists and Presbyterians.

These actions demonstrate clearly that the existence of ordained married men in the priesthood is acceptable to the Vatican, at least for those originally approved as ministers of other Christian denominations. Surely Catholic married men are no less deserving of such consideration. ”

“Studies show that half of the 19,302 active diocesan priests plan to retire by 2019. We are ordaining about 380 new diocesan priests each year. If the rate of ordinations remains constant, as it has for more than a decade, we will have only 13,500 active diocesan priests to serve our 18,000 parishes in just eight years.”

Shall we game the system?  Commit heresy/schism.  Become married/ordained.  You pick the order.  Reunification?  Is this what the US Catholic bishops are encouraging?  Technically possible.  Still recognized as “gaming the system” by all.

Let us pray, “Veni, Sancte Spiritus! – Come, Holy Spirit!” give us the wisdom as Your Church to know what to do.


it doesn’t sing – trouble with the New Roman Missal


-by Rita Ferrone, Commonweal

“Beginning in Advent of this year, the language of the Mass will be very different. A new translation of the Roman Missal—the book of prayers used in the Mass—will be put into use in all Catholic churches in the English-speaking world. Some who have read the new prayers are pleased with the changes. Others are gravely concerned.

In recent months, priests in Ireland, Australia, the United States, and elsewhere have voiced objections, saying this translation is not what the church needs—and that it will be divisive. What is it about the new translation that has caused such an uproar?

We come to you, Father,
with praise and thanksgiving,
through Jesus Christ your Son.
Through him we ask you to accept and bless
these gifts we offer you in sacrifice.
We offer them for your holy catholic Church….

So begins the first Eucharistic Prayer of the Roman Missal as it has been prayed by English-speaking Catholics since 1973. When the new Missal goes into effect in November, Catholics throughout the English-speaking world will hear these words instead:

To you, therefore, most merciful Father,
we make humble prayer and petition
through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord:
That you accept
and bless + these gifts, these offerings
these holy and unblemished sacrifices
which we offer you firstly
for your holy Catholic Church.

The current translation is simple and direct. It follows the speech patterns and rhythms of contemporary spoken English. It flows easily off the tongue. Its meaning is clear. The new translation, on the other hand, is mannered and complex. We arrive at the subject of the sentence only after we have heard the dative “to you”; the conjunction “therefore”; a superlative adjective “most merciful”; and a noun in apposition, “Father.” The new translation is wordy. In place of “these gifts,” we offer “these gifts, these offerings, these holy and unblemished sacrifices.”

Having offered these gifts, offerings, holy and unblemished sacrifices firstly for the church, you might be thinking there is a secondly coming along in a paragraph or two. If so, you would be wrong. There is no secondly. So what does firstly mean in this context? It’s not clear that it means anything at all.

Different words, same prayer? Both are translations of the same Latin text, yet the results are quite different. Change the words and you change the prayer.

The Problem of Clarity

Clarity and intelligibility were principles of liturgical renewal specifically named by the fathers of the Second Vatican Council in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. Until 2001, those who translated liturgical texts into English placed a high priority on the council’s mandate for clarity and intelligibility.  Those were essential guiding principles of liturgical reform, not secondary considerations.

Since the publication of the new Vatican instruction on translation Liturgiam authenticam in 2001, however, other principles are deemed more important. They include: the exact rendering of each word and expression of the Latin, the use of sacral vocabulary remote from ordinary speech, and reproduction of the syntax of the Latin original whenever possible. When a choice must be made, those principles trump the principles of clarity and intelligibility. The result has been, not surprisingly, a translation that is filled with expressions not easily understood by English speakers. It has resulted in prayers that are long-winded, pointlessly complex, hard to proclaim, and difficult to understand.

There are many places in the new translation where the words simply don’t make sense in English. On the First Sunday of Advent, we pray that we may “run forth with righteous deeds.” What does that mean? Many expressions sound pompous: “profit our conversion,” “the sacrifice of conciliation,” “an oblation pleasing to your almighty power.”

Some prayer texts are simply bewildering, such as this one from Preface VIII for Sundays in Ordinary Time:

For when your children were scattered afar by sin,
through the Blood of your Son and the power of the Spirit,
you gathered them again to yourself,
that a people, formed as one by the unity of the Trinity,
made the Body of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit,
might, to the praise of your manifold wisdom,
be manifest as the Church.

What is the main point? It is hard to tell. We are wandering in a dense forest of theological and biblical allusions here. There are traps for the unwary, too. If the speaker is not careful to separate the first line from the second and join the second with the third, separating them from the first, he ends up suggesting that the Blood of Christ and the power of the Spirit are instrumental in scattering God’s children. Even read well, this prayer will likely lose all but its best-educated and most highly attentive hearers.

The new translation includes sentence fragments, odd locutions, opaque expressions, and redundancies. There are also historical oddities preserved for no good reason. Here is an example from EucharisticPrayer I: “For them and all who are dear to them / we offer you this sacrifice of praise / or they offer it for themselves / and all who are dear to them….” Enrico Mazza, in his magisterial work The Eucharistic Prayers of the Roman Rite, explains that this mid-eighth-century addition (“or they offer it for themselves…”) was originally a rubric, providing alternative wordings depending on whether those who requested the Mass were present or absent. The translators of the 1973 translation (and the 1998 version) spared us the useless puzzlement caused by such a text. The translators
of the text we are about to receive did not. Why? Each word of the Latin had to be accounted for.

Not every passage Catholics will hear exhibits such strict adherence to the literal meaning of the Latin, however. In the second Eucharistic Prayer, the Latin text says quite clearly that we “stand in your presence.” The Latin word astare means to stand. It doesn’t mean anything else. The translation was changed by Vox Clara, the Vatican committee formed to advise the Holy See on the approval of liturgical texts. It was feared that use of the verb “to stand” would imply it is acceptable for the people to stand during the Eucharistic Prayer. (In fact, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal assumes that the common posture for the Eucharistic Prayer is standing, even though some individual bishops conferences have decreed otherwise.) The English now reads “be in your presence.”

Other changes introduced by Vox Clara lack evident rhyme or reason. For example, the Latin word profusis, which appears at the conclusion of every preface of the Easter Season, is translated as “overcome.” Profusis means “overflowing.” When the world is described as overflowing with paschal joys, as the 2008 translation had it, one imagines graceful scenes from Botticelli. When reference is made to being overcome, one imagines smelling salts. This is one of an estimated ten thousand changes Rome made in the Missal after the bishops approved the translation in 2008.

The Problem of Length

The current translation is not without problems. At times it is simple to the point of banality. The richness of imagery and the theological depth of the Latin original does not always come through. The first retranslation of the Missal, which was approved by all the conferences of English-speaking bishops in 1998, addressed most of these problems quite effectively. Yet the Vatican judged that it did not go far enough. Now, with the 2010 translation, we have swung to the opposite extreme. The new translation is mired in long-winded complexity.

Overall, the length of the sentences in the new translation is staggering. The longest sentence of the Eucharistic Prayers has 82 words, the second longest, 72. All but one of the sentences in Eucharistic Prayer I are more than 40 words long. The current translation of that prayer has 18 sentences before the consecration. The new translation has 8.

The average number of words per sentence in the new Eucharistic Prayers is 35.4, compared to 20.6 at present—an increase of 78 percent. Are spoken texts in liturgy generally so wordy? Pope Benedict is not averse to using long, complex sentences. Yet his Ash Wednesday homily averaged 23.2 words per sentence. Certainly Scripture offers long sentences, especially in the writings of St. Paul. Yet the beloved eighth chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Romans has an average sentence length of only 27.38. This final example provides the closest comparison, yet the new Missal far surpasses it.

In texts for oral proclamation, the length of sentences matters. When reading a text on paper, one can go back and examine it again. Not so for spoken prayers, especially those spoken on one particular day of the liturgical year, rather than those repeated throughout the year or liturgical season. A collect such as this one, which follows the Isaiah 54 reading in the Easter Vigil, offers a good example of what the new translation will bring us:

Almighty, ever-living God,
surpass for the honor of your name
what you pledged to the patriarchs by reason of their faith
and through sacred adoption increase the children of your promise
so that what the saints of old never doubted would come to pass
your Church may now see in great part fulfilled.

That 53-word sentence makes sense if one has the leisure to study it and perhaps to draw a diagram. But the person in the pew does not have that luxury. She or he will hear this prayer once a year at most. An individual word or phrase may ring a bell. But the essential meaning of the prayer will be lost. As an act of oral communication, a text such as this cannot but fail for the vast majority of Catholics. Like so many of the newly translated prayers, it will come across as theo-babble, holy nonsense.

There are already formidable challenges to oral comprehension built into the pastoral situations in which the liturgy is celebrated. International priests make up 22 percent of the active diocesan priesthood in the United States today. Accented English can make even our current translation difficult to understand. Many parish communities include a significant number of people whose first language is not English. They will be asked to digest sentences that even native English speakers will have a hard time comprehending. Children and youth and those who are less educated will also be placed at a great disadvantage.

Some Texts Heard at Every Mass

Several texts that are a regular part of every Mass are going to change. Not all the changes will be for the worse. For example, in the preface dialogue (which appears at the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer), the people will answer “It is right and just” in place of the familiar “It is right to give him thanks and praise.” The phrase “It is right and just” comes from a Roman acclamation of public approval. It entered the liturgy at an early date. It is crisp, and easily understood in English. Furthermore, many of the prefaces that follow it begin “It is truly right and just….” The rhetorical force of this construction is blunted if one removes “It is right and just.” Its reintroduction also happily avoids the tangle over inclusive language, which has divided assemblies into some who say “right to give him thanks and praise” and others who say “right to give God thanks and praise.”

Despite such occasional bright spots, however, the overall picture is deeply discouraging. Here are a few examples.

And with your spirit

This response will replace the familiar “And also with you.” The new text will remove a common element from the ecumenical consensus regarding liturgical texts. English-speaking Catholics, Protestants, and Anglicans have collaborated over the years to produce common liturgical texts as a way forward on the path to Christian unity. The greeting “The Lord be with you / And also with you” is an example of one such shared liturgical text. Yet, our dialogue partners have been completely excluded from the making of this new translation. “And with your spirit” exemplifies Rome’s decision to “go it alone.”

For you and for many

No longer will the Mass proclaim that Christ’s sacrifice was offered “for all, so that sins may be forgiven.” Rather, we will hear that it was offered “for many.” Much attention has been paid to this change (see “All In?” by Toan Joseph Do, Commonweal, December 19, 2008); we do not need to rehearse all the arguments here. Suffice it to say that this little phrase is what one might call a “false friend”—an expression you’re sure you understand, until you find out it means the opposite of what you were sure it meant. In normal English, many does not mean all. It means many. In the Mass, however, in our new sacral language, we have to remember that many means all. We can’t say Christ died for all, because that’s not what it says in the Latin. But we have to mean all because that is our Catholic theology.

Enter under my roof

When I first learned that the words of the Centurion were going to appear in the new translation, my expectations were positive. I remembered from my childhood this lovely acclamation: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof. Speak but the word and my soul shall be healed.” I loved its poetry and rhythm. It sang.

Alas, the translation we are about to receive is clunky. “Enter under” doesn’t sing. It plods. It’s also not idiomatic English. One has to stop and puzzle over the idea that the Lord is entering something or someplace by means of passing under my roof. I’ve found that not a few Catholics have assumed that the word roof refers to “the roof of my mouth.”

He took the precious chalice in his holy and venerable hands

The new translation aims at creating a sacral language used only in church. The fact that a word is arcane or uncommon is no barrier to its usage. In fact, such words are sometimes preferred to those that have everyday usage. Thus the Latin word calix has been translated as “chalice,” rather than “cup.” The demand to translate every Latin word in the new translation has also resulted in the use of multiple adjectives. Yet English is especially effective when plain and unadorned. Multiple adjectives weaken a text rather than strengthen it. When adjectives pile up, the results seem stagy or false. English speakers are accustomed to hearing “When supper was ended, he took the cup.” Such spare language is forceful. The new translation, by comparison, is fussy.

An especially unfortunate effect is created in this instance because it transforms Jesus into a priest saying Mass in a church. A chalice is put into the hands of Jesus at the Last Supper. Of course chalice is a word never used in modern English except to describe our sacred vessel in the Mass. The holy hands of the priest at Mass, so much a staple of the mystique of ordination, provide the template for how to describe the hands of Jesus. This sort of language is jarringly anachronistic. It compromises Jesus’ historicity in order to exalt the clergy.

Because prayer engages the heart and the imagination, differences on the affective level are highly significant. The image of the assembly’s relationship to God and the emotional tone accompanying that relationship will not be the same come November. The old is marked by an attitude of reverence, joy, and trust. God is great and we are small, but the relationship is one of love. As a child might run to a parent with unaffected gladness, so we come into the presence of our God (“We
come to you, Father…”).

Not anymore. Now we come before God as a suppliant might address a monarch, with flattery and self-abasement. Because we are sinners, it is necessary to ingratiate ourselves with him. We do this by courtly address (“We make humble prayer before you”). This change is underlined in the Confiteor in the Penitential Act that takes place at the beginning of Mass. This moment will become an occasion to beat our breast and say “Through my fault, through my fault, through my most
grievous fault.”

All these dispositions—joyful trust, fear of the Lord, consciousness of sin—are part of the Christian life. But the dominant note will change. Will this change be welcomed? Or will it be greeted with incomprehension and confusion? The presumption that God prefers courtly language in prayer, a settled presumption of the Latin text, has had more than forty years to recede from public consciousness. Will its sudden reintroduction invite the faithful into more authentic worship, or will it merely distance them from the God whom Scripture calls “my joy, my delight” (Ps. 43:4)?

Where is this new translation taking us? It is important to realize that negative responses to the new translation reflect both dismay at the wording of the text and disagreement with the principles that guided its production. Yet the conflict goes deeper than an argument over theories of translation. That the new translation of the Roman Missal should come to us replete with embarrassing gaffes, nonsensical passages, and a near-total lack of accountability is as clearly a symptom of the misuse of authority as it is the fault of the questionable set of translation principles enunciated in Liturgiam authenticam. Yet even the misuse of authority is not the root cause of the immense disquiet and even outrage that this translation has aroused.

Beneath the words of the new translation, one senses a drive to minimize the practical effects of Vatican II. The reforms of Vatican II prized clarity and intelligibility in the liturgy; they gave priority to the work of ecumenism and evangelization; they respected the local work of bishops conferences; they invited aggiornamento and engagement with the world. This vital heritage is being eclipsed by another agenda. We are seeing a wooden loyalty to the Latin text at the price of clarity and intelligibility. We are seeing a retreat from advances already made in ecumenism. We are seeing the proper role of local bishops and bishops conferences increasingly taken over by the authorities in Rome. We are seeing the liturgy reimagined as an event taking place in some sacral space outside of our world, rather than the beating heart of a world made new.

Yes, we can get used to the new translation of the Roman Missal. But we shouldn’t. The church can do better, and deserves better, than this.”



-“Allegory of Virtue”, Corregio
File:Efez Celsus Library 2 RB.JPG
-classical virtue, Ephesus
-“Virtue coming to the aid of Christian Faith”, Titian

-traditional Chinese symbols for virtue

“A virtue is an habitual and firm disposition to do the good. It allows the person not only to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself. The virtuous person tends toward the good with all his sensory and spiritual powers; he pursues the good and chooses it in concrete actions.” 

-Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1803

For I agree with you that there is a natural aristocracy among men. The grounds of this are virtue and talents.
-Thomas Jefferson, to John Adams from Monticello, Oct. 28, 1813

Watermelon Catholicism


What is “works” without “faith”? -MPM


-Bishop Anthony Fisher O.P., Bishop of Parramatta, Australia, World Youth Day 2011 Catechesis, Madrid



A recent English survey found many people had never heard of Moses or the Magi, thought miracles were magic and that the cross is a piece of jewellery. You probably know people like that. Many who still identify as Christian have little personal faith, don’t really know much about it, and live as practical atheists, that is, as if there were no god. Others, though baptized, no longer even identify with any religion.

While we’ve been away a census was held in my country. About a quarter of the people or more will probably have said ‘No religion’ or else just left the religion question blank. Things might be different in your country: they might even be worse.

Now, most of these no-religion and blank-religion people are not ‘pagans’ in the traditional sense: they are not people who’ve never heard of Christ or Christianity. Most of them were Christened. They grew up in nominally Christian families and may even have gone to Catholic schools. Their surrounding culture was ostensibly Christian or at least had a long Christian heritage. But now they inhabit a world without God.

As Pope Benedict has observed, secularism marginalizes God by promising a ‘paradise’ without Him. Yet experience suggests that a godless world is not a heaven but a hell: ‘filled with selfishness, broken families, hatred between individuals and nations, and a great deficit of love, joy and hope’ (Benedict XVI, Message for the 26th World Youth Day, 3). All too often our media, educational, cultural and political institutions conspire against the civilization of love and truth, of respect and communion, and against our best efforts to share our Faith with the world.

Sometimes we bring it on ourselves. Some aspects of our lives can be a real ‘turn off’ for others: Christian ‘faithful’ whose faith is lukewarm or angry or hypocritical; families that neglect to encourage the practice of the Faith in each other; schools that fail to present it fully or attractively; pastors whose terrible misconduct undermines people’s faith; parishes that are unwelcoming; liturgies that are uninspiring; injustices and uncharities that are ignored.

Rather than passing on the Faith we can actually inoculate people to it. You probably had vaccinations as a child or when first you travelled. They work by giving people small doses of dead or impotent examples of that to which they will build immunity. Sometimes I think we build up resistance to the Faith in people by injecting them with a weak or dying religion.

One example of this is what I call Watermelon Catholicism. What do I mean by that? I mean a sweet but watery and even seedy kind of religion, with plenty of green-and-red moralising about ecology and justice but with no goal of a deeper conversion of hearts, a richer relationship with God and His Church. As Edinburgh philosopher, John Haldane, has observed, this focus on important ethical, social or political issues can ultimately amount to no more than ‘mere echoes of notions acceptable to the secular world, and familiar because of it.’ (‘The Waiting Game’, The Tablet, 5 Feb 2005, p. 9) Watermelon Catholicism apes secular modernity and reduces faith to morality, morality to a few politically correct causes, devotion to quaint customs, and Catholic identity to good citizenship. But Evangelising Catholicism should challenge our culture and ourselves, always calling us to more and better – to the communion of saints with God in this life and the next.

The last few popes have talked a lot about evangelization. Not all Catholics are comfortable with that. The word can conjure up images of televangelists after your money, soap-boxers predicting with relish that most people are damned, or door-knockers with dire warnings about the evils of the Popish Church. The idea can seem intolerant of other religions, which after all are other people’s paths to God. Some years ago, a UK survey found that evangelists were regarded as ‘better than tax inspectors but worse than prostitutes’ (The Tablet, 26 Oct 2002, p. 37). But evangelization need not be so scary.

Put simply, evangelization means proclaiming the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ. It seeks to bring people to faith through a personal encounter with Him. Before he died the Father of World Youth Day, Blessed John Paul II, said that the time had come to commit the Church’s energies to a new evangelization in previously Christian communities that are falling away from the Gospel in the face of secularization and other cultural change (Novo Millenio Ineunte 40; Crossing the Threshold of Hope, pp. 113-4). The same might be said about formerly Christian institutions, families and individuals.

So concerned is our present Holy Father about the decline of faith in some places that he’s called for a Synod on the New Evangelization next year and established a permanent Vatican department to work on this. As a conversation starter the working document for the synod (‘lineamenta’) has already been published on the net. It reminds us that our proper concern to be tolerant must never blunt our ‘sense of boldness in proclaiming the Gospel’. We must grasp every opportunity to respond to people’s thirst for God. We must purify ourselves of fear, laziness, weariness or retreat into the self, embracing wholeheartedly our baptismal mission to communicate Christ to the world (Lineamenta for the Synod on the New Evangelization 5). Ask yourself: what is it that’s holding me back from proclaiming Christ crucified and Risen for all humanity?

So the new evangelisation is not just a job: it’s a whole ‘frame-of-mind’ (Lineamenta 6) or mind-set, a way of looking at God, ourselves and the world, of making sense of those things, and of understanding our own place and destiny. As we rediscover it for ourselves, we also help ‘weary and worn-out communities [to] rediscover the joy of the Christian experience’, to ‘find again the love they once had but lost’ (Lineamenta 6). So as the Lineamenta put so directly: “‘Being Christian’ and ‘being Church’ means being missionary; either one is or one is not. Loving one’s faith implies bearing witness to it, bringing it to others so they can participate in it. Lack of missionary zeal is lack of zeal for the Faith.’ (Lineamenta 10) If you imagine you can be a ‘spiritual’ Catholic without the ‘institutional’ Church or that you can be a Church-going Catholic without being missionary, you are not really a Catholic! But when Catholics are Church-connected and truly missionary they build up the Church as ‘the community of witnesses’, ‘the community of hope’, ‘the community of brotherly love’. Our world today needs that kind of testimony to Christ, that kind of communion with the saints, those kinds of reasons to believe, to hope and to love (cf. Lineamenta 17).

A young woman recently challenged me: I liked what you said about my generation being called to evangelise – but I’m not sure how. Her concern was a very practical one. Theologians and bishops can tell us a lot about the big picture, but what am I to do in my particular world? So in answer to her plea, here are my 10 commandments for the new evangelisation. Pope Paul once said ‘Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.’ (Paul VI, Address to the Council for the Laity, 2 October 1974) It’s a very important point. How often have you been impressed by someone’s personality or example more than any speeches they gave; conversely, how often have you been turned off by someone’s failure to practice what they preach. The Church evangelises by being real. No pretence, no tricks. We tell it like it is. We live what we tell.

Thus my first commandment for witnesses is St Augustine’s: Christian, become what you are. Be proud of being a Catholic, live your faith honestly, with obvious joy, not ashamed to speak up when you have the chance but more importantly speaking with those silent but powerful words that are the living a fully Christian life, a holy life. There’s nothing more seductive than that, nothing more likely to allure and persuade and convert others.

Yet as the old adage goes, nemo dat non quod habet: you can’t give what you ain’t got. If you’re going to have any good ideas, anything interesting to say to the world, you need inspiration. So commandment number 2: Get inspiration from the best places. Go to God in adoration and prayer. Go to the Word of God in the Scriptures and the living tradition of the Church, told in documents like the Youth Catechism for World Youth Day.

If after WYD you have a hunger for more, do a good course on your faith, read some good books, iPod the great apologists, Google and YouTube what will really enrich your faith. Today I am so very honored to speak to you only inches away from the relics of St Therese of Lisieux; above me are statues of St Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross. Read the lives of the saints and develop a relationship with them: they’ve struggled with issues like yours and by God’s grace came out on top. Above all, develop a relationship with Jesus Christ through those most privileged encounters with Him in Confession and Holy Communion.

Third commandment: Be open to God’s call. Some of you here are being called, right now, to give your lives to Christ, full time, in the sacred ministry as priests or religious. ‘Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you now are,’ says the bishop to the newly ordained deacon. ‘Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you preach.’ That powerful charge sums up the evangelical purpose of clerical and religious life. If you have a nagging sense that you could be a herald of the Gospel, that that might be how you could do most for God and the world, that that might be what would make you most happy, have the courage to take the plunge and give ‘a vocation’ a go.

Fourthly: Let God lead you down new paths. Ask yourself: how will I be different when I go home from this big spiritual wow that is WYD? In what new ways will I contribute to the Church and the world, or with what new passion will I continue to contribute? As the Pope said yesterday, your parishes need you! So have a good look at the things they do and ask how your youthful energy, vision and creativity might help.

Fifth: Dare to be creative. What new thing might you try for God? After WYD in Cologne a young woman decided to start a thing called ‘Night Fever’. Young people now gather on a Saturday night once a month in inner-city churches across Germany and beyond, to adore Christ in Eucharistic exposition, with gentle chants and candles in the darkness; others roam the streets, pubs and nightclubs inviting people to come and spend a few minutes with the Lord. It works: many come.

A sixth commandment: Make ordinary life your first field of evangelization – family, fellow students, work colleagues, friends. The mission today is not so much to a foreign land as to the non-Catholics and nom-Catholics (nominal Catholics) right where you are. Make your life in those places into a Gospel where people may read of Christ.

Seventh: Take a genuine interest in people, when approaching them to raise matters of faith. They are not just numbers in some conversion competition, not just evangelical projects. They are people, searching for answers like you are. They are persons, unique images of God in our world. So listen to them, befriend them, find common ground with them. Only then will deep conversations begin.

My eighth commandment: Give personal testimony about how encounters with God have changed your life. As Pope Paul said, it’s witnesses contemporary people are interested in more than experts. Don’t just give arguments and scripture quotes, important as apologetics is. Let them see that it really matters to you, that faith is what makes you tick, makes you interesting, makes you happy.

Ninthly: Focus on the basic proclamation of salvation in Jesus Christ. If you do that, you will then be able to range around the whole field of Christian faith and worship, morals and prayer, past history and future dreams, as the Catechism does.

And finally: Seek the support of wise friends, whether they are in a movement or youth group or wherever. It can be tough, lonely or emotionally exhausting at times, standing up for God in a culture, amongst people, maybe even friends and family, who don’t share your faith. So make sure you have a good support group.

There was once a lad named Tom who was big and slow and rather shy. His mates at Paris Uni called him ‘the Dumb Ox’ because he was so strong but taciturn. His teacher, whom they perversely called ‘Big Al’ because he was small, could tell that Tom had a lot of potential. ‘He might be quiet at the moment, but one day you’ll hear this ox bellow,’ Al said. So he taught him well, gave him every opportunity and made sure he got his chance to speak. And speak he did. He roared. They both became stars in what was then a new ecclesial movement devoted to a new evangelization: the Dominicans. They both more or less followed the 10 commandments of evangelization that I have outlined this morning.

The student ended up being the greatest theologian in history, St Thomas Aquinas; the teacher, Albert the Great, also was canonized in the end. Both inspired lots of other young people to take up the adventure of preaching the Gospel. By the time Thomas died they were calling him ‘light of the Church’ and painting a glowing sun on his chest in iconography to highlight his divine wisdom. Albert ended up patron saint of science and scientists. But he rightly thought young Tom was his greatest achievement. He’d encouraged young Tom to tell the world about Christ. Your generation must likewise support and encourage each other to be witnesses.

Will you be part of the great adventure that is witnessing to Christ in the 21st Century? I trust that by God’s grace you will.”

-Most Rev Anthony Fisher, O.P., Bishop of Parramatta, Australia

Mary the Dawn

Mary the dawn, Christ the Perfect Day;
Mary the gate, Christ the Heavenly Way!
Mary the root, Christ the Mystic Vine;
Mary the grace, Christ the Sacred Wine!
Mary the wheat, Christ the Living Bread;
Mary the stem, Christ the Rose blood-red!
Mary the font, Christ the Cleansing Flood;
Mary the cup, Christ the Saving Blood!
Mary the temple, Christ the temple’s Lord;
Mary the shrine, Christ the God adored!
Mary the beacon, Christ the Haven’s Rest;
Mary the mirror, Christ the Vision Blest!
Mary the mother, Christ the mother’s Son
By all things blest while endless ages run.

I am an adult Catholic


I am an adult, committed, thinking Christian in the Roman Catholic tradition.

I am committed to Gospel living, justice, love of neighbor, and my God.

I love my Church, its history, traditions, teaching, richness, diversity, and believe it, ultimately, a force for good in the world.

I am committed to understanding, in an adult way, the issues, challenges, and problems my Church faces, and commit myself to improving the situation for her benefit.

Therefore, I believe my Church worthy of my best effort. When my brothers and sisters question why I am doing what I am doing and say they don’t understand my actions, I am happy to try and explain.

I respect ecclesial authority when that authority manifests itself in actions in harmony with Gospel values.

As an adult and aware that sin exists in the world, I am well acquainted with human failings, in myself and others, to live up to those Gospel values.

My God calls me to forgive and I do. I can recognize the distinction between justice and injustice. I can tell when injustice is rooted in institutional structures.

As a Christian, I know, because my Church teaches me so, it is my duty and obligation to resist and to try to change, with all my strength and to invoke the aid of God, those structures which result in injustice.

I cannot stand by while the weakest and most vulnerable among us are afflicted.

I seek to return my Church to its often held moral leadership in society, for the benefit of society, myself, and my neighbor.

I believe this is God’s will for me.

I am an adult Catholic.

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men”
-Frederick Douglas

(c) 2009, Matthew P. McCormick
All rights reserved.

Satan’s tools

There is a story about Satan selling some of his tools at a garage sale he was giving. There on tables grouped by importance were his bright, shiny but deadly trinkets.

One could find tools that made it easy to tear others down.  And for those who had big egos, there were lenses for magnifying one’s own importance, but if you looked through them the other way, you could also use the lens to belittle others.

An unusual assortment of gardening implements stood together with a guarantee to help your pride grow by leaps and bounds.  Also in prominence was the rake of scorn, the shovel of jealousy for digging a pit for your neighbor, tools of gossip and backbiting, of selfishness and apathy.

All of these were pleasing to the eye and came complete with great promises and guarantees of prosperity.  The prices, of course, were steep but a sign declared “Free Credit Extended” to all.  “Take at least one home, use it.  You don’t have to pay until later!” old Satan cried rubbing his hands in glee.

One prospective buyer was looking at all the things offered when he noticed two well-worn, non-descript tools standing in one corner.    Not being nearly as tempting as the other items, he found it curious that these two tools had price tags higher than any other.

When he asked why, Satan just laughed and said, “Well, that’s because these two are more useful to me than the others.  I can pry open and get inside a person’s heart with these when I cannot get near them with my other tools. Once I get inside, I can make people do what I choose. They are badly worn because I use them on almost everyone, since very few people know that they belong to me.”

Satan pointed to the two tools, saying, “You see, I call that one Doubt and the other Discouragement. Those will work when nothing else will.”

“I raise my eyes toward the mountains. From whence will my help come?
My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth.”  Ps 121:1-2


Prayer to the Teenager Jesus

Jesus, you were a teenager.
You know what it’s like to struggle with identity, authority, sexuality.
You know what it’s like to want to figure it all out; what it’s like to not be sure, to live with uncertainty.
You know what it’s like to want freedom and respect.
You know what it’s like to struggle to accept responsibility.
You know what it’s like to feel and to actually be awkward and what that feels like.
You know what it’s like to be humble enough to learn from and respect Mary and Joseph.
You know what it’s like when Joseph and Mary drove You crazy, and You made them crazy, too.
You know what it’s like to work hard to make wise choices.
You know what it’s like to forgive Yourself when You don’t.
You know what it’s like to want to be liked, to be popular.
You know what it’s like to be made fun of when you’re not, because You were different.
You know what it’s like for your body to change, to suffer zits.
You know what it’s like to be embarrassed, when Your voice changes.
You know what it’s like to like someone else, and the hurt of not being liked in return.

Jesus, You know all these things.
You know where I’m coming from.
Help me to ask You to be my friend.
Help me to realize my friendship with You is very much like my friendship with any other teenager.
That it grows with the time we spend together.

Help me to find the time to get to know you better, Lord; to spend time with You and Your Word, especially in prayer.
Help me to know how to pray, and that it’s ok if sometimes I don’t.  You’re cool with it.
Help me to trust You, Lord.
Help me to be patient, Lord, with You, with myself, with my parents, my brothers and sisters, my friends, my teachers.
Keep me safe from all the dangers I see, hear about, or encounter at school, when I’m hanging out with my friends, or on the internet.
Help me to remember I probably really don’t completely understand how much my parents love me; and that they always do, even if they don’t always tell me directly, or especially when they’re mad at me or I’m mad at them.
Help me to understand it’s hard for my parents to put into words how much they love me, just like when it’s hard for me to put into words how I feel when I have strong emotions.
Help me to remember how much they and You love me when I’m at a party and everybody’s drinking.
Help me to remember how much they and You love me so I won’t drink and drive.
Help me to remember how much they and You love me so I won’t accept a ride when someone else has been; to call home instead for a ride, even if I’ll get in trouble, but that that’s way better by far, and someday I’ll understand why.
Help me to remember how much they and You love me when some kid wants to sell me or give me drugs in the locker room or behind school.
Help me to remember not everyone on the internet, especially someone I don’t know, really wants what’s best for me.
Help me to remember while having fun and sharing with my friends on the internet, that not absolutely everything about me must be posted, that a little mystery makes me more interesting and safer.
Give me the courage, Lord, to say “no” even when other people may not think that’s cool.
Help me to wonder and to choose what You think would be cool and to do that instead.
Help me to know that if we’re best friends and I choose to do what You think is cool, it really doesn’t matter what other people think
about me.  That’s what being best friends is all about.
Help me to know it’s not me setting the timing, but You, Lord.
Help me trust You, Lord, that You are Who everyone says You are, the best friend I could ever have.
Help me to be patient enough to allow that to happen.
I do believe that is Your will for me.


(c) 2008, Matthew P. McCormick.  All rights reserved.