Educators in Prayer

PARENTS: EDUCATORS IN PRAYER

By reason of their dignity and mission, Christian parents have the specific responsibility of educating their children in prayer, introducing them to a gradual discovery of the mystery of God and to a personal dialogue with Him: “It is particularly in the Christian family, enriched by the grace and the office of the sacrament of Matrimony, that from the earliest years children should be taught, according to the faith received in Baptism, to have a knowledge of God, to worship Him, and to love their neighbor.”

The concrete example and living witness of parents is fundamental and irreplaceable in educating their children to pray. Only by praying together with their children can a father and mother – exercising their royal priesthood – penetrate the innermost depths of their children’s hearts and leave an impression that the future events in their lives will not be able to efface.

Let us again listen to the appeal made by Paul VI to parents: “Mothers, do you teach your children the Christian prayers? Do you prepare them, in conjunction with the priests, for the sacraments that they receive when they are young: Confession, Communion and Confirmation? Do you encourage them when they are sick to think of Christ suffering? To invoke the aid of the Blessed Virgin and the saints? Do you say the family rosary together? And you, fathers, do you pray with your children, with the whole domestic community, at least sometimes? Your example of honesty in thought and action, joined to some common prayer, is a lesson for life, an act of worship of singular value. In this way you bring peace to your homes: Pax huic domui. Remember, it is thus that you build up the Church.”

— Pope John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, 60

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John Paul I on Indissolubility

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During his brief 33-day papacy, Pope John Paul I also taught on the indissolubility of marriage, a topic which I just posted on a short time ago.

Here is an excerpt from his address to Bishops of the United States of America, on September 21, 1978:

Our own ministry is so vital: to preach the world of God and to celebrate the Sacraments. It is from them that our people draw their strength and joy. Ours too is the role of encouraging families to fidelity to the law of God and the Church. We need never fear to proclaim all the exigencies of God’s word, for Christ is with us and says today as before: “He who hears you hears me”. In particular, the indissolubility of Christian marriage is important; although it is a difficult part of our message, we must proclaim it faithfully as part of God’s word, part of the mystery of faith. At the same time we are close to our people in their problems and difficulties. They must always know that we love them.

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More papal and other quotations on this important theme to come.

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The Indissolubility of Marriage

The Wedding Feast at Cana

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Pope John Paul II:

It is a fundamental duty of the Church to reaffirm strongly… the doctrine of the indissolubility of marriage. To all those who, in our times, consider it too difficult, or indeed impossible, to be bound to one person for the whole of life, and to those caught up in a culture that rejects the indissolubility of marriage and openly mocks the commitment of spouses to fidelity, it is necessary to reconfirm the good news of the definitive nature of that conjugal love that has in Christ its foundation and strength.

(Familiaris Consortio # 20, 1981)

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Pope Benedict XVI:

You have reason to uphold firmly, even at the cost of opposing prevailing trends, the principles which constitute the strength and the greatness of the sacrament of marriage. The Church wishes to remain utterly faithful to the mandate entrusted to her by her Founder, her Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. She does not cease to repeat with him: “What God has joined together, let not man put asunder!” (Mt 19:6). The Church did not give herself this mission: she received it. To be sure, none can deny that certain families experience trials, sometimes very painful ones. Families in difficulty must be supported, they must be helped to understand the greatness of marriage, and encouraged not to relativize God’s will and the laws of life which he has given us. A particularly painful situation, as you know, concerns those who are divorced and remarried. The Church, which cannot oppose the will of Christ, firmly maintains the principle of the indissolubility of marriage, while surrounding with the greatest affection those men and women who, for a variety of reasons, fail to respect it.

(Address to Bishops in Lourdes, France, September 2008)

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Pope Francis, indirectly, via his Prefect for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal-Elect Müller:

Above all, it was his controversies with the Pharisees that gave Jesus occasion to address this theme. He distanced himself explicitly from the Old Testament practice of divorce, which Moses had permitted because men were “so hard of heart”, and he pointed to God’s original will: “from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and … the two shall become one flesh. What therefore God has joined together let not man put asunder” (Mk 10:5-9; cf. Mt 19:4-9; Lk 16:18). The Catholic Church has always based its doctrine and practice upon these sayings of Jesus concerning the indissolubility of marriage. The inner bond that joins the spouses to one another was forged by God himself. It designates a reality that comes from God and is therefore no longer at man’s disposal.

(“Testimony to the Power of Grace“, published in L’Osservatore Romano, October 2013)

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Pope Francis, today, speaking to Engaged Couples in St. Peter’s Square (my translation):

Dear engaged couples, you are preparing yourselves to grow together, to construct an edifice [of love], in order to live together forever. You do not wish to build it upon the sand of feelings that come and go, but upon the rock of true love – the love that comes from God… Just as God’s love is stable and lasts forever, we want the love upon which a family is built to be stable and to last forever. Please, we must not let ourselves be conquered by the “throwaway culture”! This culture, which today inundates us all – this throwaway culture – it doesn’t work!

(Address to Engaged Couples, February 2014)

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Ex Votos and Double Negatives

I was having a geeky discussion with a friend and colleague this morning about double negatives. In some languages, such as Italian and Spanish, they exist and are quite normal and correct for expressing something in the negative (for example, in Spanish, the correct way to say “I don’t have anything” is to say “I don’t have nothing”). In other languages, such as Latin and English, they are (generally) wrong and cancel each other out – that is, following traditional grammar rules: obviously in some English dialects they are commonly used (“I ain’t got nothin’!”)… but this is bad.

Anyway, during the course of this terribly consequential exchange, it dawned on me that my favorite Baroque Mass – which was written as an ex voto (!) – demonstrated very nicely Latin’s rules for double negation.

There is the line near the end of the Creed, “his kingdom will have no end”; in Latin this is “cuius regni non erit finis“. You can see the “non” in there, making it a negative phrase.

cujusregni

The great Czech composer, Jan Zelenka, found it convenient in his composition of the Creed to have the singers repeat that word “non” several times, so to put emphasis on it – a fine idea. But he also knew his Latin grammar rules, and so whenever the singers repeat the word “non” they do so an odd number of times – either three, or on the last occasion, seven. Thus Zelenka skillfully avoids the heresy of denying the eternity of God’s kingdom. You can listen to it from 2:22–2:52 in this video:

 
Zelenka, as I said, wrote this Mass – which he entitled the “Missa Votiva” – as an ex voto. He had been seriously ill for about ten years and had promised God that if he recovered he would write a Mass as a thank-offering. He was healed, so he wrote the Mass. If you listen to the whole thing and pay attention to the various phrases that he emphasizes in the composition, his gratitude and joy at being healed becomes all the more evident.

A monument of beauty from a bygone Catholic culture!

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Cyril and Methodius

Today is the feast day of the brothers, Saints Cyril and Methodius, the great Apostles to the Slavic peoples.

The 50 Crown banknote from Slovakia, featuring our two saints. The Crown is no longer in use there; they have since (unfortunately) switched to the Euro.

I will let you go here to read a more complete (short) biography of these great saints, so beloved in the Slavic lands (some of which, such as Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Poland, I have been fortunate to visit). However, I wanted to share this excerpt from the document by Pope John Paul II entitled “Apostles of the Slavs” (Slavorum Apostoli):

In order to translate the truths of the Gospel into a new language, they had to make an effort to gain a good grasp of the interior world of those to whom they intended to proclaim the word of God in images and concepts that would sound familiar to them. They realized that an essential condition of the success of their missionary activity was to transpose correctly Biblical notions and Greek theological concepts into a very different context of thought and historical experience. It was a question of a new method of catechesis. […]

Previously, Constantine [Cyril] and his fellow workers had been engaged in creating a new alphabet, so that the truths to be proclaimed and explained could be written in Old Slavonic and would thus be fully comprehended and grasped by their hearers. The effort to learn the language and to understand the mentality of the new peoples to whom they wished to bring the faith was truly worthy of the missionary spirit. Exemplary too was their determination to assimilate and identify themselves with all the needs and expectations of the Slav peoples. Their generous decision to identify themselves with those peoples’ life and traditions, once having purified and enlightened them by Revelation, make Cyril and Methodius true models for all the missionaries who in every period have accepted Saint Paul’s invitation to become all things to all people in order to redeem all. And in particular for the missionaries who, from ancient times until the present day, from Europe to Asia and today in every continent, have labored to translate the Bible and the texts of the liturgy into the living languages of the various peoples, so as to bring them the one word of God, thus made accessible in each civilization’s own forms of expression.

Statues of the saints at a Czech monastery. Photo source.

Saints Cyril and Methodius, pray for us!

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Final Public Mass

On this day, February 13th, one year ago – which was Ash Wednesday – Pope Benedict XVI celebrated his final public Mass. As I mentioned in my previous retrospective post, I was fortunate to be among the clergy who distributed ashes during that Mass.

Very memorable.

At the conclusion of the Mass, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who at that time was the Vatican’s Secretary of State and had been a very close and loyal collaborator with Pope Benedict over the years, read a statement of farewell on behalf of all gathered, to thank the Holy Father.

Here is an excerpt – read the whole thing here.

The Eucharist is thanksgiving to God. We want to thank the Lord this evening for the journey the whole Church has made under your guidance, Your Holiness. And from the depths of our hearts we want to say to you with deep affection, feeling and admiration: thank you for giving us the shining example of a simple and humble worker in the Lord’s vineyard, a worker, however, who was able at every moment to do what is most important: to bring God to men and women and to bring men and women to God. Many thanks!

Following which, the entire – packed – Basilica broke out in extended applause.

The applause was for over 2 1/2 minutes, and was a very emotional moment for all.

Here is a video of the conclusion of the Mass. For the first three minutes, Cardinal Bertone delivers his words of thanks; if you fast-forward to the 3:00 mark you will get it right before the applause begins. After over two and a half minutes of applause, the Holy Father said, “Thank you! Let us continue to pray.” and then he gave the final blessing.

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A Creative Minority

Perhaps it has seemed a bit odd that I have been posting news about France here recently: Is it just one of Father’s personal interests, or does this have anything to do with us?!

The answer is: It has something to do with us all. France, which used to be known as the “Eldest Daughter of the Church”, having been a profoundly Catholic country that produced countless saints, eventually also became one of the most secularized countries in the West. Since then, Islam has been making inroads and the country is in a very bad state indeed. What happens in France should be of interest to us all – because it could happen to us also (I would say that it is already happening).

Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photographed by me in November 2013.

In this regard I would like to direct your attention to a good post on the blog Rorate Caeli about the advances that France’s conservative creative minority have recently made in winning back the French culture. Here is the link to that article.

I think it’s safe to say that if you told someone 10 years ago about what would happen with these citizen protest movements, and how they would stop the radically progressive and secular government from moving forward with its agenda, they would have laughed in disbelief. But it is happening.

The phrase, “creative minority”, may even be a bit inaccurate. It might not truly be a minority. Frequently, it’s quite the opposite: with the patronage of the media, a radically liberal minority is made to seem like it’s the majority; it is made to seem like it’s speaking for everyone. The recent pro-family peaceful demonstrations in Paris show that the number of people who are concerned about what’s happening is actually quite formidable (especially when you consider how many people may NOT have been there due to: inability to travel, sickness, lack of courage, having to work, not wanting to be out in the cold weather, etc.).

Those who are fighting for the traditional family and traditional moral values in France still have a long battle ahead of them; they have recently had a victory but there will likely be future setbacks and in any case, they still have a lot of ground to cover. But they have shown us all that it is possible.

We must live out our Catholic faith in a public manner and take a stand for what we believe. We must engage our culture. Annual gatherings, like the national March for Life, and also, now, the local Marches for Life, are very important and we should all participate to the extent that we are able. But we also need to live out our faith in a daily, public manner, to have an effect on our peers and our community.

We cannot be silent; nor should we ever fall into discouragement about the direction our country is headed, almost as if to concede defeat. We do not believe in fate!

Look at what is happening in France and take courage: live your Catholic faith and make a difference!

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Piazza del Popolo

Here’s a very impressive square in Rome, which I suspect a lot of people never see when they come. It’s a bit on the edge of things: if you’re going to the Villa Borghese, you might pass through it; if you ride the subway, you might pass under it. But otherwise unless it’s on your itinerary you might never see it. It’s called Piazza del Popolo (the People’s Square).

The “twin” churches (fraternal twins?), for all their external similarity, are quite different on the inside. Both have images of Our Lady above the main altar. But the church on the left, even though it looks a bit smaller, at least feels much larger when you go inside.

The obelisk in the center of the square – a familiar sight in Rome’s piazzas – is from Ancient Egypt; it was brought to Rome in 10 BC and was originally erected at the Circus Maximus (which you can still visit) – it’s always amazing to think about how they managed to transport these massive stone monuments from Egypt to Italy back then. It was placed in this square by Pope Sixtus V in 1589.

At the base of the obelisk are four fountains in the form of Egyptian lions, which were added in 1818.

This fountain originally was a source of fresh water for the local residents; today they remain as things of beauty and charm, even as they still spew forth fresh water.

On the opposite side of the square – i.e., behind me as I took these photographs – is the famous “Porta del Popolo” or “People’s Gate”, one of the main entrances to the ancient city. Beyond it there is a metro stop and the entrance to the beautiful Villa Borghese.

But right next to the gate is the ancient Basilica-Parish of Santa Maria del Popolo (Our Lady of the People), a beautiful place to pray that contains art by the likes of Bernini, Raphael, Caravaggio, and Bramante.

The original church on this site was built in 1099; this current one dates to 1477.

Here is a photo of the main altar, with its precious image of “Our Lady of the People”:

Low light conditions and no tripod do not make for very clear photography.

To the left of the sanctuary is a chapel that contains some of the church’s renowned art. On the side walls of this chapel – in which no photography is allowed – are two very famous paintings by Caravaggio. Look for this chapel, which is hard to miss for the crowd that is usually gathered there. You have to put a Euro in the machine to turn the lights on.

If you’re lucky, there’ll be a tour guide inside the chapel explaining things in English when you visit.

One final impression of Santa Maria del Popolo: I noticed this beautiful memorial plaque in the rear of the church, placed in honor of the Italian princess Maria Eleonora Boncompagni Ludovisi († 1745 at the age of 59). The edifying Latin inscription talks about how she spent herself in service to the poor.

In fact, her young death was caused by an illness she contracted during hospital visits.

I have more photos that I could post, but I just wanted to provide a sampling of Piazza del Popolo and encourage you to visit it if you come to Rome. A good way to get to it is by walking from the Spanish Steps down the street called Via del Babuino (translation: Baboon Street. Seriously). It’d be about a 5 minute walk at a faster pace, or 10-20 minutes’ stroll. It’s a nice street.

Then, after you are done with your visit to the square, you could walk down Via del Corso (the street between the “twin” churches), which runs for a mile from Piazza del Popolo to the famous Piazza Venezia (where the so-called “wedding cake” monument is). Via del Corso is largely a pedestrian zone (motor traffic is heavily restricted for about half of it), so there are usually a lot of people, but there are also a lot of high-end stores to window-shop. There’s also about five interesting churches along the way.

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Recent Mass

On Monday, the Feast of St. Scholastica – sister of St. Benedict – I was fortunate to have the opportunity to celebrate Mass at the altar of Our Lady, Protectress of the Roman People (Madonna “Salus Populi Romani”) in the Basilica of St. Mary Major. This large and opulent chapel is known alternatively as the “Pauline Chapel”, “Borghese Chapel”, or the “Salus Populi Romani Chapel”.

I reserved the altar for a visiting priest, and we concelebrated. Since I don’t speak his language and he doesn’t speak mine, we concelebrated in Latin.

This particular ancient image icon of the Madonna and Child has always been special for Pope Francis who, before being elected Pope, always paid a visit to this chapel whenever he came to Rome. Since his papal election, he has visited this chapel at least three times to pray:

You will note that this altar “faces Christ“; they have never done the architectural, liturgical, and visual violence of installing a new altar in front it that “faces the people”.

This chapel was constructed during the years 1606-1614. Read more about this famous and important Marian image at this site.

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Our Lady of Lourdes

In the midst of our remembrances of Pope Benedict XVI’s historic resignation, let’s not forget that today is also the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.

PRAYER TO OUR LADY OF LOURDES

O holy Virgin, in the midst of your days of glory, do not forget the sorrows of this earth. Cast a merciful glance upon those who are suffering, struggling against difficulties, with their lips constantly pressed against life’s bitter cup. Have pity on those who love each other and are separated. Have pity on our rebellious hearts. Have pity on our weak faith. Have pity on those we love. Have pity on those who weep, on those who pray, on those who fear. Grant hope and peace to all. Amen.

Here are some impressions from my visit to Lourdes, in December 2013.

The famous, miraculous grotto, with its image of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, as pilgrims visit it during the day. It was cold.

Click to enlarge.

Here is the same grotto at night, during the candlelight procession. This was on the vigil of the 80th anniversary of the Canonization of St. Bernardette Soubirous, who had the visions of Our Lady in this place as a young girl.

Everyone customarily raises their candles at the beautiful singing of the “Gloria Patri” (Glory Be prayer) in Latin.

Here is a smaller-scale replica of the famous bronze statue of St. Peter – the original is in St. Peter’s in Rome. The faithful traditionally touch his feet as they ask for his intercession, hence they are really worn down (the feet, hopefully not those who are praying). It seems that this statue was placed in honor of the declaration of the Dogma of Papal Infallibility at the First Vatican Council in 1870, given the prayer that is inscribed on its base. I translate the prayer at the bottom of this post – be sure to have a look, and say it. This is part of our faith.

The original statue in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome is either 800 or 1600 years old (give or take), depending on which scholar’s opinion you prefer. In any case, I believe that its feet have been replaced at various times over the centuries, given how much they have been worn down. I could be wrong about that, but I thought I read it somewhere.

Finally, one of my favorite things to find in old churches, and something that is particularly beloved in France: some ex votos. These were in the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception (the big church above the grotto of Lourdes).

The French one right below the central English ones says “Thank you to Our Lady for my healing”.

Here is my translation of that prayer on the St. Peter statue base:

ACT OF FAITH
in the Dogma of Papal Infallibility.

Lord Jesus: cover, with the protection of your Sacred Heart, our Holy Father the Pope, in the infallibility in which we firmly believe.

“He who hears you hears me.” – St. Luke 10:16

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One Year Ago

One year ago today, at the exact time this post is going live – 11:46am Rome time – Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation from the Office of Supreme Pontiff. Here is the video of his announcement, which he made in Latin. You can read the official translation into English here.


Even though he had spoken about the possibility of papal resignation on various prior occasions, and even had made a pilgrimage to the tomb of Pope St. Celestine V (who had resigned the papal office in 1294), the announcement caught us all very much by surprise.

Pope Benedict XVI visits the tomb of Pope St. Celestine V in 2009.

For me, the papal resignation was certainly the type of historic event that one does not simply remember as a blip on one’s personal timeline; one also remembers where he was and what he was doing when it happened – sort of like the Challenger Disaster in 1986, or 9/11.

In fact, I was sitting at my desk here in Rome and checking Facebook, when I got the news from someone back home. “Fox News is reporting that Pope Benedict has resigned!” It was about noon time – i.e., about 15 minutes after it had happened. Immediately I checked a local media outlet here and, sure enough, they also were reporting it. Funny that I heard it from someone in the States first!

Most of us simply felt numb by the news. I still have very mixed emotions about it, even if, a year thence, I understand it a little better. The weeks that followed, between the February 11th announcement and the February 28th effective date of the retirement, were really quite emotional. This famous scene, from the Pope’s final Sunday Angelus Address, captured well one aspect of the emotion:

Memorable.

I was privileged to be able to help with the distribution of ashes at the Popes’s final public Mass, on Ash Wednesday 2013.

Second from the left, closest to the camera.

At that Mass there was sustained applause for the Holy Father at the very end, which Pope Benedict very graciously accepted, even though he had written so many times about how Holy Mass is no place for applause and accolades.

Grazie, Santo Padre.

There is much more that could be said, and maybe I’ll say some of it over the next couple of weeks as we approach the one year anniversary of the papal resignation’s taking effect. That’s it, for now.

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Sacred Heart of Jesus

Here is the gilt statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus that sits high atop the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, just behind the main train station in Rome. Pope Francis recently visited this church.

Photographed by me today with my 20x zoom lens.

PRAYER TO THE SACRED HEART OF JESUS

O most holy Heart of Jesus, fountain of every blessing: I adore you, I love you, and with a lively sorrow for my sins, I offer you this poor heart of mine. Make me humble, patient, pure, and wholly obedient to your will. Grant, good Jesus, that I may live in you and for you. Protect me in the midst of danger; comfort me in my afflictions; give me health of body, assistance in my temporal needs, your blessing on all that I do, and the grace of a holy death. Within your Heart I place my every care. In every need let me come to you with humble trust saying: Heart of Jesus, help me! Amen.

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