Another Christmas Gift Idea for Priests

I wrote last time that I have hesitated to respond publicly to requests that I occasionally receive from readers for gift ideas for priests. But since I already have the following item, I’m happy to recommend it here.

Recently I’ve noticed some search engine traffic leading folks to my blog on this topic. Christmas is in the air, folks are doing their shopping… So here is another suggestion.

Books are nice gifts for priests, but many people worry that the priest will already have the book they buy. Well, this is one that I suspect many priests will not have. And it is a gem.

Click the image to go to the publisher's web site.

Click the image to go to the publisher’s web site.

The book is A Man Approved, by Fr. Leo Trese. I have it, and I read it probably about five years ago, with great profit. It is really wonderful – the sort of book that will affirm your priest in his vocation, encourage him in it, make him proud (in a good way) of it, and challenge him also to be more faithful in it.

This book would also be stimulating reading for lay people.

Also, in the relatively rare case that your priest already has this book, I’m sure it will be his pleasure to share it with another priest or a seminarian.

Above, I link to the book on the publisher’s web site; it is cheaper there than on Amazon. The book is nicely and simply bound in cloth/hardcover. Go there for a full description. Rather than provide my own review here (which I don’t have the time to do), I will simply recommend it, and mention one little detail that might be of interest.

The detail is this: as I recall, the author refers a few times in the book to “black Masses”. He is not speaking about the satanic ritual which has recently been publicized widely in our country. Rather, he is referring to requiem Masses – that is, Masses for the dead. Before the changes to the Mass that took place in the late 1960s, it was not uncommon for priests to celebrate requiem Masses more frequently – and to wear the liturgical color black while doing so. The reasons for this were various; that’s a topic for another day. In any case, if anyone is puzzled when reading that phrase in this book, he’s referring to Masses for the dead.

Incidentally, I also recommend another book by this author, The Faith Explained. It would be great for any lay Catholic who wants to learn more about his or her faith, or wants to have a reference book to hand for occasional questions.

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Bishop Says: Let’s Face Christ Together

I have written various times on the topic of Mass celebrated “ad orientem”, or “facing liturgical East” – i.e., the way Mass was celebrated for the majority of the Church’s 2,000 year history. (See here, here, and here, for some samples of what I’ve written.)

So naturally my interest was piqued when I saw the news that an active bishop in the United States of America has mandated this liturgical posture in his own Cathedral, starting with the season of Advent. The Bishop is James Conley and the Diocese is Lincoln, Nebraska. This is exciting news!

Pope Francis celebrates Mass ad orientem, that is, "facing liturgical East".

Pope Francis celebrates Mass ad orientem, that is, “facing liturgical East”.

Since several other blogs have already reported on this, I merely mention it here. Please see a fuller write-up at the New Liturgical Movement for more on this great news. You can also read what the good bishop himself wrote in his diocesan newspaper.

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Getting Ready for Advent

Advent is nearly upon us. Are you ready? Here is a brief article on this topic, which I wrote for last week’s bulletin at St. Barnabas:

“Liturgical New Year” is just two weeks away – November 30th is the First Sunday of Advent.

Our highly commercialized culture makes it extremely difficult for us to live the season of Advent the way the Church intends. It is a penitential season. That is why the priest wears purple vestments. That is why there is also one Sunday, near the end, with “rose” (pink) colored vestments: to remind us that we should be joyful in the midst of penance, which is not an end in itself – and also to tell us that the time of penitential preparation will soon give way to celebration. We Catholics fast before we feast!

Today, instead, the message from our popular culture is only to feast. From “pumpkin spice” to “holiday cheer”, the period of roughly September to January can be summed up with a single word: INDULGE!

But Catholics have never been known to ride the wave of changing fashions. We have an identity all our own, and it is timeless. And that particular identity, which includes times of penance and times of feasting, is meant to prepare us for the timeless – for eternity.

So, how will your observance of Advent prepare you for the Feast of Christmas? In the midst of all of the anticipated Christmas celebrations (such as… our parish party on December 14!), how will you use the time of November 30 to December 24 to prepare for the real celebration of Christmas, which goes from the night of December 24 until January 11? (The Christmas season traditionally ends on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which in 2015 is Sunday, January 11.)

One possibility is to read daily from the Advent Companion booklets that will soon be made available. What about some extra time of prayer each day? What about giving up a food that you like (as we often do in Lent)? There are many little things that we could do. And not only will doing them help us to grow in discipline and holiness, but they will also make the Feast of Christmas all the more meaningful.

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I Do Refuse

I always enjoy reading interviews with and books by Bishop Athanasius Schneider, a great defender of the Holy Eucharist and orthodoxy; a great scholar; a great bishop. I have written about him in the past in conjunction with the topic of communion in the hand. So naturally I was eager to read his latest interview, which has been posted at the blog Rorate Caeli. It is spectacular. He is talking about all the political intrigue that happened at this year’s Extraordinary Synod on the family, including old heresies concerning marriage and family issues that forcefully have been re-asserted even by eminent Cardinals. It has been a scandal to Catholics and other people of good will throughout the world… but fortunately there have also been bishops who have courageously stood up and defended the truth – including Bishop Schneider, Cardinal Pell, and Cardinal Burke, to name just three from the circle of those who speak English.

There is one excerpt, in particular, that I would like to share from Schneider’s interview:

Cardinals, bishops, priests, Catholic families, Catholic young people have to say to themselves: I refuse to conform to the neo-pagan spirit of this world, even when this spirit is spread by some bishops and cardinals; I will not accept their fallacious and perverse use of holy Divine mercy and of “new Pentecost”; I refuse to throw grains of incense before the statue of the idol of the gender ideology, before the idol of second marriages, of concubinage, even if my bishop would do so, I will not do so; with the grace of God I will choose to suffer rather than betray the whole truth of Christ on human sexuality and on marriage.

And a question: Are you prepared to say these same words? Will you choose to suffer rather than betray Christ?

These words had a great impact on me when I first read them, and I keep coming back to them over these last few days. But I am happy to make them also my own.

With God’s grace, I do refuse to compromise on the truth; with God’s help, I will suffer rather than betray Christ!

Thank you, Bishop Schneider, for your inspiring example and teaching. I hope that many will listen and will repeat these words with you as well.

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The Heresy of Action, and Catholic Identity

The heresy of action, also sometimes called the “heresy of busy-ness”, is something about which Pope Pius XII wrote in his 1950 letter to clergy throughout the world on the topic of holiness in the priestly life. The document’s title is Menti Nostrae. Here is the relevant quotation, followed by some thoughts of my own. Keep in mind that, as is traditionally the case for the Supreme Pontiff, he writes with the “regal We”:

We cannot abstain from expressing our preoccupation and our anxiety for those who, on account of the special circumstances of the moment, have become so engulfed in the vortex of external activity that they neglect the chief duty of the priest, his own sanctification. We have already stated publicly in writing that those who presume that the world can be saved by what has been rightly called “the heresy of action” must be made to exercise better judgment. The heresy of action is that activity which is not based upon the help of grace and does not make constant use of the means necessary to the pursuit of sanctity given us by Christ. In the same way, nevertheless, We have deemed it timely to stimulate to the activities of the ministry those who, shut up in themselves and almost diffident of the efficacy of divine aid, do not labor to the best of their ability to make the spirit of Christianity penetrate daily life in all those ways demanded by our times.

These words, which bear repeating to priests in every age, I think also have a special significance for Catholic laity in our time. How easily we can all get caught up in a vortex of “good works” and neglect our own sanctification in the process!

I have especially been thinking about this “heresy” as regards the works that take place in our parishes (“our”, not just “those of which I have charge”). There are often many good works happening….. but not all of which are actually leading people closer to Christ and his Church.

A good litmus test we can apply to our various parish activities is: How is this activity or program distinctively Catholic? How is it leading those involved closer to Christ and his Church? Or, borrowing from the words of Pope Pius XII, How is this activity or program making the spirit of Christianity penetrate more fully into its participants and our local reality? Lots of people (other than Catholics) can do some of the things that we do. How, then, is our rich Catholic faith and tradition enriching what it is that I am doing?

In the words of the psalmist, “Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it” (Psalm 127). Our activity must flow from a profoundly Catholic identity, and serve to confirm us in it and lead others to it. Anything else is often just so much “busy-ness” – empty action, which keeps us (and others) occupied and distracted but might not be building up the Kingdom of God.

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Christmas Gift for Priest

Readers occasionally contact me to ask for gift ideas for priests. I usually avoid blogging about it, because I don’t want to give the impression that I am looking for something for myself. In this case, I already have this item, so I’m happy to recommend it for others.

A good gift for your priest this Christmas might be the Manual of Minor Exorcisms, by Bishop Julian Porteous (auxiliary bishop of Sydney in Australia). The Catholic Truth Society of London publishes it, and it’s rather hard to get in the United States, though I see that this online store has it, and for a good price, even.

This small/portable book contains a number of prayers that any priest can say without permission from his bishop, in ordinary circumstances, and is very useful for pastoral work today. It contains a helpful preface which, while concise, explains rather thoroughly when it is appropriate to use the prayers that are in the book and how to discern those situations. Bishop Porteous writes with a great deal of wisdom.

Exorcisms are a very serious matter. Major exorcisms are reserved to bishops and to those priests to whom they delegate them. No priest may do a major exorcism without a mandate from his bishop. However, minor exorcisms are much more common (for example, there is one in the Rite of Baptism), and any priest may celebrate them when appropriate. And I believe that, more and more today, there are many appropriate times when these can be used with great profit.

More priests need to know about this resource – and use it, when appropriate. Consider getting one for your priest for Christmas.

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May God Bless America

May God Bless America

Sorry for the lack of new material lately; I simply haven’t had much inspiration. Life has been hectic and when there is downtime, nothing has bubbled to the surface that is blog-worthy.

Anyway, on Tuesday we will have our biennial opportunity to exercise our right and obligation to vote. At the risk of sounding a bit brimstoney, might I add that we will have to answer to God for how we vote? On this feast of All Souls, I sort of wonder how many people are doing “extra time” in purgatory, in part because of bad voting decisions that they made? May they rest in peace! In any event, voting is a matter that we should take seriously.

Indeed, we should be grateful, in the first place, to live in a country where we can (still?) vote, and where we can make our voices heard. Then, with gratitude – even if we also feel a fair amount of cynicism about the current state of our politics – we should exercise our right and do our part to effect positive change. The other thing is, we need to be holier. Holiness can produce a lot more cultural change than political machinations. 

Fr. Frank Pavone has produced a helpful 10-step guide to “Voting with a Clear Conscience”, which I am happy to link to here [click here to download]. I also provide a link [HERE], for those who live in Alabama, to the Alabama Citizen’s for Life voting guide. If you are in another state, just search for “pro-life voter guide” for your state and chances are decent that someone will have posted something online.

WordPress also has some sort of Voter Information Tool, and I am taking the risk of embedding it in this post. If I find that it isn’t a reasonably impartial tool, I will edit this post to remove it. Here is their thing:

When we enter the voting booth it will be just us and our consciences – no more campaign ads, no more slogans, no friends or peers influencing our choices. We need to do the right thing. In this regard, I also am happy to link to this excellent resource from EWTN. Let’s all get informed and go out and vote this Tuesday!

Let us pray.

God, Almighty Father, at the moment of our conception you loved each of us into life. You loved Mary wondrously in her Immaculate Conception, preserving her from inheriting the sin of Adam through the foreseen merits of the Savior. You prepared Mary in her conception to be the Mother and partner of your Son and our loving mother. Give all people an ever deeper reverence for your presence and creative action in human conception. Help all to recognize the evil of abortion and contraception, and all sins which offend our Creator God. In Mary’s maternal embrace, may every American foster reverence for human life in our nation. We ask this through Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.

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What Can I Pray For?

I will be on retreat this coming week with the priests of the diocese. Do you have any special prayer requests for me to remember daily in prayer and Mass?

I have received a number of requests lately, which I will bring with me (having already prayed for them here at the rectory as well), and to them will add your new requests also.

Please pray for all of us priests as we make our annual retreat!

The model of St. Peter's Basilica at Ave Maria Grotto, on the grounds of the monastery where we'll be making our retreat. Photo taken by me on 3/26/05.

The model of St. Peter’s Basilica at Ave Maria Grotto, on the grounds of the monastery where we’ll be making our retreat. Photo taken by me on 3/26/05.

Your Prayer Request(s) – Be Concise and Focused

This form will be removed before mid-day on Monday, October 13

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Free Talk in Birmingham – This Coming Monday

This coming Monday, October 13, at St. Barnabas Catholic Church (7921 1st Ave. N., Birmingham, AL 35206), acclaimed speaker Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers will give a dynamic talk at 7:00pm on the first black diocesan priest in the United States, Father Augustine Tolton. A cause for Fr. Tolton’s sainthood is open and recently made significant progress. The talk is entitled “From Slave to Priest” and will last about an hour. Entrance is free (a free-will offering will be taken to support the Deacon’s ministry).

St. Barnabas is easily accessible from all parts of Birmingham, being just off highway I-59 (and visible from it). Click here for a Google Map, to be able to calculate directions from your starting point. Parking is behind the church.

Here is the flyer for the talk (click the image to download it in a printable PDF format):

Click the image to download in PDF format.

Spread the word using the sharing buttons below! Let’s have a good turnout for this inspiring and informative talk!

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A Prayer for Protection

A certain prayer book for priests that I have indicates that the following prayer is suitable also for lay people. I think it is quite appropriate, given the state of our world today and the challenges that we face.

A Prayer for Protection and Deliverance

Heavenly Father, I praise and thank you for all you have given me. Please cover me with the protective, Precious Blood of your Son, Jesus Christ, and increase your Holy Spirit in me with His gifts of wisdom, knowledge, understanding, hunger for prayer, guidance, and discernment to help me know your will and surrender to it more completely.

Father, please heal my negative emotions and any wounds in my heart and spirit. Send the sword of your Holy Spirit to sever and break all spells, curses, hexes, voodoo, and all negative genetic, inter-generational, and addictive material – past, present, or to come; known or unknown – against me, my relationships, and family, finances, and possessions.

Father, I forgive and I ask forgiveness for my sins and failings, and I ask that my whole person – body and mind, heart and will, soul and spirit, memory and emotions, attitudes and values – be cleansed, renewed, and protected by the Most Precious Blood of your Son, Jesus.

In the name, power, blood, and authority of Jesus Christ, I bind and break the power and effect in or around me of any and all evil spirits who are trying to harm me in any way; and I command these spirits and their companion spirits, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, to leave me peacefully and quietly and go immediately and directly to the Eucharistic presence of Jesus Christ in the closest Catholic Church tabernacle, to be disposed of by Jesus and never again return to harm me.

Dear Holy Spirit, please fill up any void in me to overflowing with your great love. All this, Father, I pray in the name of Jesus Christ, by the guidance of your Holy Spirit. Immaculate Heart of Mary, spouse of the Holy Spirit, please pray for me and with me. Amen.

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A Gift of Spiritual Renewal

As part of our 125th Anniversary Celebration at Holy Rosary Parish, I petitioned the Apostolic Penitentiary for a special indulgence for the parish. Their swift response – the entire process was conducted over email – far exceeded my expectations: the Major Penitentiary, Mauro Cardinal Piacenza, conceded a Jubilee Year to the parish with a number of opportunities for gaining a plenary indulgence throughout the year.

The Decree, naturally, was in Latin. Here is the fairly literal English translation that I prepared (closely mirroring the Latin structure of the original text):

Click the image to load a larger version for easier reading.

Click the image to load a larger version for easier reading.

This decree follows a standard template: the first part is a summary of my original petition, re-presented as if I had made it directly to the Pope (hence, the address, “Most Blessed Father”). Then follows the reply from the Apostolic Penitentiary, written “by mandate of the Most Holy Father”. As you can deduce, I had to send a letter from one of our Vicars General giving consent to my request along with my original petition; hence, his being mentioned in the Decree.

The wonderful thing about indulgences is that they are incentives and helps to our growth in sanctity. The Church incentivizes those prayers and works that should make up a normal part of any healthy Catholic spirituality, so as to purify us of the effects of our past sins and so help us along the path of holiness. I think that a key to internalizing the spirituality of indulgences is recognizing the fact that indulgences are gifts attached to works and prayers that good Catholics are supposed to be doing anyhow!

If we structure our spiritual life around the obtaining of indulgences, we will develop good general habits of prayer, use of the sacraments, and charitable works. We will also be purified of the temporal punishment due to sin that we have accrued over our lives. We will thus grow in holiness, and this will have an effect on others.

Get indulgences – everyone wins!

For those in the Birmingham area, an article will soon be published in our diocesan newspaper further explaining this decree and how the indulgences mentioned in it can be gained. Anyone who has questions is free to contact me also.

On this feast of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, I give thanks to God for my parish, and for the gifts that His Church has lavished upon it! I pray that this Jubilee Year that has so graciously been given us will indeed be a time of spiritual renewal for us all.

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Catholic Doctor in Liberia UPDATES

I recently posted about a faithful Catholic doctor (and deacon), Rev. Dr. Timothy Flanigan, who has gone on a mission to Liberia to help provide training and healthcare for those fighting the deadly Ebola virus.

In the meantime, the hospital that I mentioned in that post has been closed – because the Director and eight of its staff members died of Ebola. (May they rest in Christ’s peace!)

Now there are efforts under way to re-open that hospital so that the many people who need healthcare can obtain it there again. Please read more information here.

Also, the Bernardine Franciscan Sisters, whom I mentioned in the previous post, have shifted their efforts to their other missions, and so no longer need our support for this particular project. Thank you to all who helped them.

Please see if you can help support the re-opening of St. Joseph’s Hospital. (CLICK) Also, please continue to pray for Dr. Flanigan and for all those who are helping to fight this deadly epidemic! Read the latest updates on his blog: Dr. Timothy P. Flanigan

Pallets of supplies shipped to Liberia by the Bernardine Franciscan Sisters, thanks to your help!

Pallets of supplies shipped to Liberia by the Bernardine Franciscan Sisters, thanks to your help!

Original Post Here

Don’t forget to pray the Memorare, a prayer all should know!

The Memorare

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary,
that never was it known
that anyone who fled to thy protection,
implored thy help, or sought thy intercession
was left unaided.
Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee,
O Virgin of virgins, my mother!
To thee do I come, before thee I stand,
sinful and sorrowful.
O mother of the Word Incarnate,
despise not my petitions,
but in thy mercy hear and answer me.

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