Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Msgr. Vincent Topper celebrates 75th Ordination Anniversary

Monsignor Vincent Topper, the oldest and longest-serving priest in the Diocese of Harrisburg, today celebrates the 75th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood with a Mass and dinner at St. Catherine Laboure Parish in Harrisburg, where he lives and works.  Msgr Topper is 98 years old and continues to be active in the parish: celebrating Mass and attending parish functions.  Just a few weeks ago, at the parish's 40 Hours closing, Msgr Topper was the celebrant.

Msgr. Topper has been pastor at four parishes and assistant pastor at two.  In 1936, Msgr. helped to found the parish of Holy Infant in York Haven.  Among his other assignments were: assistant pastor at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, Mount Carmel, from 1943 to 1948;  pastor at St. Joseph Church, Milton, from 1950 to 1957;  and pastor of St. Columba Church, Bloomsburg, from 1957 to 1963.  He retired in 1977 from Saint Joseph Church  in Springettsbury Township.  
During Monsignor Topper's lifetime, there have been nine popes of the Catholic Church and eight bishops of the Diocese of Harrisburg. He became interested in the priesthood while he was in the second grade.

At 98, the native of Hanover is the the oldest and longest-serving Catholic priest in our 15-county Diocese.

Bishop Joseph P. McFadden and Archabbot Douglas R. Nowicki of St. Vincent Archabbey are expected at Tuesday's celebration at St. Catherine Laboure. 

Back in 2006, the York Daily Record did a profile on Msgr. Topper.  In that article, he discussed how the Church and Catholics have changed during his, now, 75 years of service as a priest.  That article follows: 
Jun 29, 2006 — In 1936, a Hanover native christened Vincent Topper helped found a little mission church across the Susquehanna River from Bainbridge.  Seventy years later, counting on his age-spotted fingers, Topper still remembers exactly how many Catholic families then lived in and nearby Saginaw, Mount Wolf, Manchester and York Haven: Just enough to fill nine pews.

"It was the days of the Great Depression," said Msgr. Topper, who takes his time telling stories.  "No cars back then.  So I would go and pick them up and bring them back home."

The nine-pew mission later became Holy Infant Church in York Haven.  Today, the parish is home to more than 1,600 Catholics. Topper carries the title "monsignor" and, pushing 94, [now approaching 99] is the oldest and longest-serving priest in the 15-county Diocese of Harrisburg.

The tall, balding clergyman seems surprised by that fact.  After serving as pastor at four parishes and as assistant pastor at two, Topper expected to die not long after his retirement in 1977 from St. Joseph Church in Springettsbury Township, he said. His mother and father died young, as did several siblings.  Instead, the math whiz spent 10 years as diocesan auditor, then substituted for vacationing or ill clergy at parishes around the diocese.  He continues to celebrate Mass most Sundays at St. Catherine Labouré Parish in Harrisburg, where he shares a two-story residence with other priests.

"Haven't died yet," he said matter-of-factly.  In relatively good health, he recently passed a physical that enables him to keep driving,  Topper said. His memory is long-armed, recalling nine popes and eight bishops worth of Catholic Church history.  Catholics have multiplied in the region since Topper's first priestly assignment took him to St. Mary's Church in York.  His early assignments were small enough for him to know and visit everyone in the parish.  "If you weren't in church on Sunday, I was in your home on Monday," he said.

By 1963, when he arrived at St. Joseph Church, visiting parishioners wasn't as easy.  There were too many for him to make it to every home.  More often, no one answered the doorbell because both parents were working.  "Every place you go, you get to love the people," he said. "The joy of the priesthood is the love you have for the people and the love the people have for you."

Msgr. Topper laments how fewer parishioners revere the "beauty and sacredness" of the Mass today.  "When you watch them going to Communion and watch how they dress at times, you wonder if they truly believe that's the Body and Blood of Christ."  Partly to blame is the decline of religious education, Msgr. said, who founded St. Joseph School in Springettsbury Township and several other schools.  "I always made sure the children got a Catholic education - that determines the way people live.  That's the problem today. You can't say God in school. We're raising little pagans."

Msgr. Topper received a thoroughly Catholic education, skipping several grades and graduating early.  As a young boy, he attended Mass daily and twice on Sundays with his mother.  His younger sister, Judy McKim, said family is dear to him. "I can't get over - for a man his age -  how active he is," said McKim, of Conewago Township, Adams County.  Msgr. Topper certainly doesn't sit still for long.

He's taken 49 cruises since retiring. In August [of 2006], he headed to Alaska, and, in January, the Panama Canal.  "I'm still happy," he said.

Reach Melissa Nann Burke at 771-2024 or mburke@ydr.com


Name: Vincent Topper
Born: 1912
Raised in: Hanover
Education: St. Vincent Seminary in Latrobe
Lives: at St. Catherine Labouré Church in Harrisburg
Retired: 1977

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day 2011

Culturally speaking, this last weekend of May might mark the unofficial start of summer... but lest we forget, our freedom to enjoy it owes itself to the sacrifice of thousands over the centuries -- and, indeed, even into our time.

Their number increased by over 6,000 just in the last decade, in appreciation both of those who gave their lives that the rest of us might have ours, not to mention all those who've risked (and still risk) the same for the good of the rest, between our barbeques and beach-trips over these days, let's pause for a Memorial Day tribute to "The Glorious Dead" -- remembering that all our military men & women gave some, but that some gave all...

...and here is the "Prayer for [this] Nation" and its nascent church, written and first delivered in 1791 by the Father of American Catholicism -- John Carroll of Baltimore, the heroic founding shepherd of this faithful on these shores:
We pray, Thee O Almighty and Eternal God! Who through Jesus Christ hast revealed Thy glory to all nations, to preserve the works of Thy mercy, that Thy Church, being spread through the whole world, may continue with unchanging faith in the confession of Thy Name.

We pray Thee, who alone art good and holy, to endow with heavenly knowledge, sincere zeal, and sanctity of life, our chief bishop, Pope Benedict, the Vicar of Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the government of his Church; our own bishop, N., all other bishops, prelates, and pastors of the Church; and especially those who are appointed to exercise amongst us the functions of the holy ministry, and conduct Thy people into the ways of salvation.
We pray Thee O God of might, wisdom, and justice! Through whom authority is rightly administered, laws are enacted, and judgment decreed, assist with Thy Holy Spirit of counsel and fortitude the President of these United States, that his administration may be conducted in righteousness, and be eminently useful to Thy people over whom he presides; by encouraging due respect for virtue and religion; by a faithful execution of the laws in justice and mercy; and by restraining vice and immorality. Let the light of Thy divine wisdom direct the deliberations of Congress, and shine forth in all the proceedings and laws framed for our rule and government, so that they may tend to the preservation of peace, the promotion of national happiness, the increase of industry, sobriety, and useful knowledge; and may perpetuate to us the blessing of equal liberty.

We pray for his excellency, the governor of this state, for the members of the assembly, for all judges, magistrates, and other officers who are appointed to guard our political welfare, that they may be enabled, by Thy powerful protection, to discharge the duties of their respective stations with honesty and ability. We recommend likewise, to Thy unbounded mercy, all our brethren and fellow citizens throughout the United States, that they may be blessed in the knowledge and sanctified in the observance of Thy most holy law; that they may be preserved in union, and in that peace which the world cannot give; and after enjoying the blessings of this life, be admitted to those which are eternal.

Finally, we pray to Thee, O Lord of mercy, to remember the souls of Thy servants departed who are gone before us with the sign of faith and repose in the sleep of peace; the souls of our parents, relatives, and friends; of those who, when living, were members of this congregation, and particularly of such as are lately deceased; of all benefactors who, by their donations or legacies to this Church, witnessed their zeal for the decency of divine worship and proved their claim to our grateful and charitable remembrance.

To these, O Lord, and to all that rest in Christ, grant, we beseech Thee, a place of refreshment, light, and everlasting peace, through the same Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior. Amen.
* * *
Yet lastly, as ever -- but especially given the campaigns of recent years -- Memorial Day brings into a particular ecclesial focus the precious work of the DC-based archdiocese for the Military Services, whose global turf encompasses some 1.5 million American Catholics in uniform; a flock upon which "the sun never sets," comprising roughly a quarter of the nation's entire Forces, at home and abroad alike.

Long keeping today's observance for its lead annual gathering as a local church, the Archdiocese for Military Services has posted the Memorial Mass homily of the our Archbishop Timothy Broglio -- a reflection on the Good Shepherd, with a nod to an earlier pastor who wore combat boots: New Orleans' celebrated Archbishop Philip Hannan, a World War II chaplain who (even despite recent health scares) remains the Crescent City's first citizen and "Energizer bunny" ten days into his 99th year.

That said, the Military church faces a dire shortage of Catholic chaplains these days -- some 275 clerics in all for a sprawling five-branch flock... so, along those lines, his priests stretched to its limit trying to provide for the pastoral care of all the Catholics in the military, the Archbishop sounded a clarion call for more help to his brother bishops at last November's USCCB plenary, outlining the unique challenges the AMS and its pastors face:

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Rome's exorcist finding Blessed John Paul II effective against Satan

.- The chief exorcist of Rome is seeing a rising number of young people coming under the influence of evil, but he has found in recent years that Blessed John Paul II is a powerful intercessor in the battle for souls.

A small, unassuming office in south-west Rome seems a rather ordinary setting in which to play out a grand battle between good and evil. It is here, though, that Father Gabriele Amorth has carried out most of his 70,000 exorcisms over the past 26 years.

“The world must know that Satan exists,” he told CNA recently. “The devil and demons are many and they have two powers, the ordinary and the extraordinary.”

The 86-year-old Italian priest of the Society of St. Paul and official exorcist for the Diocese of Rome explained the difference.

“The so-called ordinary power is that of tempting man to distance himself from God and take him to Hell. This action is exercised against all men and women of all places and religions.”

As for the extraordinary powers used by Satan, Fr. Amorth explained it as how the Devil acts when he focuses his attention more specifically on a person. He categorized the expression of that attention into four types: diabolical possession; diabolical vexation like in the case of Padre Pio, who was beaten by the Devil; obsessions which are able to lead a person to desperation and infestation, and when the Devil occupies a space, an animal or even an object.”

Fr. Amorth says such extraordinary occurrences are rare but on the rise. He's particularly worried by the number of young people being affected by Satan through sects, séances and drugs. He never despairs though.
“With Jesus Christ and Mary, God has promised us that he will never allow temptations greater than our strengths.”

Hence he gives a very matter-of-fact guide that everybody can use in the fight against Satan.

“The temptations of the Devil are defeated first of all by avoiding occasions (of temptation), because the Devil always seeks out our weakest points. And, then, with prayer. We Christians have an advantage because we have the Word of Jesus, we have the sacraments, prayer to God.”

Not surprisingly, ‘Jesus Christ’ is the name Fr. Amorth most often calls upon to expel demons. But he also turns to saintly men and women for their heavenly assistance. Interestingly, he said that in recent years one man – Blessed Pope John Paul II – has proved to be a particularly powerful intercessor.

“I have asked the demon more than once, ‘Why are you so scared of John Paul II and I have had two different responses, both interesting. One, ‘because he disrupted my plans.’ And, I think that he is referring to the fall of communism in Russia and Eastern Europe. The collapse of communism.”

“Another response that he gave me, ‘because he pulled so many young people from my hands.’ There are so many young people who, thanks to John Paul II, were converted. Perhaps some were already Christian but not practicing, but then with John Paul II they came back to the practice. ‘He pulled so many young people out of my hands.’”

And the most powerful intercessor of all?

“Of course, the Madonna is even more effective. Ah, when you invoke Mary!”
“And, once I also asked Satan, ‘but why are you more scared when I invoke Our Lady than when I invoke Jesus Christ?’ He answered me, ‘Because I am more humiliated to be defeated by a human creature than being defeated by him.”

The intercession of the living is also important, though, says Fr. Amorth. He reminds people that exorcism is a prayer and, as such, Christians can pray to liberate a soul or place from the Devil. However, three things are needed.

“The Lord gave them (the Apostles) an answer that also for us exorcists is very important. He said that overcoming this type of demon, you need much faith, much prayer and much fasting. Faith, prayer and fasting.”

“Especially faith, you need so much faith. Many times also in the healings, Jesus does not say in the Gospel it is me who has healed you. He says, you are healed thanks to your faith. He wants faith in the people, a strong and absolute faith. Without faith you can do nothing.”

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Is May 21 (today) REALLY Judgment Day and the Rapture?

I'm sorry to say that I didn't know anything about this until I was in Philadelphia yesterday for Steven Arena's graduation from St. Charles (I'll post some photos of that soon).  It was all the BUZZ in Philly - but I hadn't heard anything about it - I feel like such a bad pastor - not having prepared you for this cataclysmic event...

The End off the World prediction for May 21st is spreading all over the internet, but it is not what you think it is.  The May 21st End of the World prediction only applies to those who will be saved on Judgment Day 2011 in the Rapture.  Those who aren’t saved in the May 21 Rapture will suffer a different fate, and an End of the World date 5 months after May 21st.  May 21st Judgement Day is going to be the decisive day when Jesus returns for the Rapture.  True believers will be brought to Heaven, and that will be the End of The World for the approximately 3,000,000 people will be saved, according to Harold Camping.
Well, allow me to correct my neglectful ways of not preparing you for the "Rapture" by telling you about the so-called "rapture." It seems this idea started a while back, when a small Christian group from Oakland, CA stated that May 21st, 2011 would be the end of the world.  The prediction was based on their founder, Harold Camping (mentioned above), and his creative Biblical mathematics in which he calculated the exact date of the “Rapture” (we’ll get to this in a minute) and God’s judgment.  Interestingly enough, this was his second pass at the math test—he had predicted the world would end back in 1994 as well.

Since the prediction a handful of other independent groups have gotten on board with the prediction and are now encouraging their followers and anyone who will listen to repent and turn to God before it is too late. 

This man and this group are not the first to predict the world’s end and they will not be the last.  There are other groups (working off a Mayan calendar) predicting the end to be in December 21st, 2012.  (You may have seen a laughably poor movie called 2012 that depicted a similar storyline (for me the movie had WAY too much plot and not nearly enough destruction!).  So, this is what a very few Christians are saying, but…

What did Jesus say about the end?

None of us know for sure when Jesus is coming back.  While on earth Christ did, however, make two things quite clear about His return:
“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” – Matthew 24:35-36

“You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” – Luke 12:40
Jesus clearly and solemnly declared that “only the Father knows” – not even the Son or the angels knew the time.  For any human being to declare they have “figured it out” with certainty is anti-Scriptural and, more to the point, asserts that they are greater than the heavenly host. 

Additionally, Jesus is teaching us to live every day as though it’s our last day.  He’s telling us – as the Boy Scouts say – to “be prepared.”  If you always think that tomorrow will come, you’re more likely to be disappointed when it doesn’t.

Our energies shouldn’t be spent on fear or apocalyptic mathematics, but on loving and serving those around us as we wait for Him to return in glory.  Today is the first day of the rest of your life in Christ.   Live for Him and make it count.   We should be so enraptured by the love of Christ that we are actually looking forward to His return.

So what is this “Rapture” thing, anyway?

You may have heard some of your (non-Catholic) Christian friends talk about a belief called “the Rapture.”  It’s an idea that gained a lot of steam in the past couple decades thanks to a popular series of books (and a  movie starring Kirk Cameron) entitled Left Behind.   Basically, this belief holds that prior to Jesus’ Second (or “final”) Coming, He will come “secretly” (a “secret coming”) and carry “true Christians” away to spare them the trials and sufferings that will precede the final judgment.  (By the way, the English word “rapture” comes from the Latin root raptura, which means “seizing” or “snatching.”  This is how many people envision how the Rapture will happen.)

Basically, what’s happened is that a relatively small number of (mostly fundamentalist) Christians have misinterpreted a few New Testament passages (most notably, 1 Thess 4:17 and 2 Cor 12:4) that speak about the faithful being taken up into heaven.  From this false interpretation, they have come up with the Rapture doctrine.  The group we mentioned earlier believes that on May 21st (TODAY!), the Rapture will happen along with great earthquakes and natural disasters that will lead to the end of the world, itself, on October 21st of this year.

As Catholics, we believe that Christ will indeed return, though only once—in the Second Coming.  Catholics, Orthodox, and most Protestants do not believe Jesus will first come “secretly” to rapture Christians.  In fact, (here’s an interesting side note) regarding Biblical translation – there is no reference to the word “rapture” anywhere in the Greek translation of Scripture.  In fact, the word itself first appears only in St. Jerome’s Latin translation called the “Vulgate” and then it is only found in the two verses I listed above.

If you want to read more on the Catholic understanding of the Book of Revelation "LifeTeen" has a T3 Revelation Bible Study about it.  Even better, check out the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 1038—1050, which deal with the Church’s teachings on the end of the world. I think you will find them enlightening, as well.

Most importantly – do not be afraid!

Jesus reminds us to live each day like it’s our last, and not by taking stupid chances or by surrendering to sin, but by following God with a reckless abandon.  If you’re living for Christ and are not immersed or enslaved by serious sin, you have nothing to worry about.   Live like Christ is coming back today, and live in such a way that the idea of His return fills you with joy and not with fear.
The Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel in Rome

Monday, May 16, 2011

Vocations and Good Shepherd and May

A parishioner shared this with me yesterday - I share it with you...

Sunday, May 15, 2011

On World Day of Prayer for Vocations - Parish Announces 2 New Seminarians

As we celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday, we also recall that today is World Day of Prayer for Vocations.  The Holy Father, reflecting on a theme for the celebration, suggested: "Proposing Vocations in the Local Church."
"The Shepherd calls his own sheep by name...they recognize his voice...and follow Him."  cf John 10:1-10
The Lord, our Good Shepherd, is constantly calling some to a vocation as a priest or consecrated religious (sister or brother).  He is always calling - but we are not always responding.

Our Diocese is doing... well, OK at the moment - but it is tight.  But in the next few years it is going to get VERY tight.  For example, this year alone, 2 priests are retiring, another priest died just yesterday - we are only ordaining one priest this year - leaving a net loss of 2 priests.  Somewhere we need to find priests to take the place of 2 others!  We have more young men in the seminary than we have in years, but the process of discernment and study takes many years - so while relief is coming, it is a long way off.

However, our parish is certainly doing its part to provide vocations for our local Church.  We all know that our parish has one seminarian - Steven Arena -who graduates from Saint Charles College Seminary on Friday, and then begins a new phase of his formation and discernment toward priesthood.  But, on this Good Shepherd Sunday, I'm very thrilled to announce that our parish has two more seminarians!
  • Last week, Joey Barvir met with the Diocesan Seminary Review Board and was officially accepted as a seminarian for the Diocese of Harrisburg.  (Joey is on the right - holing the pole to the canopy - looking upward)
  • Another young man, Andrew Hartung, while living in Virginia, will be applying to our Diocese and calling our parish "home."  (Andrew is on the left in the photo - holding the thurible - or incense)
  • But that's not all!  There's a third young man who is seriously discerning priesthood, but also discerning if this is the right moment to enter or not.
So, our parish now has 3 (almost 4) seminarians studying for the priesthood in the Diocese of Harrisburg!  God is hearing and answering our prayers!
One question, though... Where are the young ladies discerning a vocation as a religious sister?! 

Friday, May 13, 2011

May 13 - Our Lady of Fatima & Blessed John Paul II

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the attempted assassination of Blessed John Paul II in Saint Peter's Square in Rome.  It was during his usual Wednesday General Audience, as he was going through the crowd in the open air "Popemobile" that shots rang out...

Mehmet Ali Agca, a trained sniper from Turkey, shot four bullets into the Holy Father's body from point-blank range.  One bullet missed the Pope's main abdominal artery by a fraction of an inch.  The Holy Father credited Our Lady of Fatima for re-directing the bullets and saving his life.  He would later say: "One hand fired, another guided the bullet."

Many people were surprised the Pope so easily and quickly forgave the man that wanted him dead.  Just days after the shooting, he said, "I pray for that brother of ours who shot me, and whom I have sincerely pardoned.  United with Christ, Priest and Victim, I offer my sufferings for the Church and for the world.  To you, Mary, I repeat: 'Totus tuus ergo sum.'" (I am totally yours.)

For John Paul II, it was no coincidence that his life was saved on the feast of Our Lady of Fatima.   Our Lady had appeared to three children in Fatima, Portugal on May 13, 1917.  She warned the children about a world at war and asked them to: "Pray the Rosary every day to obtain peace for the world!"

Mary continued to appear to the three children on the 13th of each month until October of that year when, at the final apparition, 70,000 people gathered for what had been promised to be the proof and sign of her message.  As the people gathered in the rain, they witnessed what has been called the "Miracle of the Sun."  This is an eyewitness account of the event, given by Dr. Jose Maria de Almeida Garrett, professor at the Faculty of Sciences of Coimbra, Portugal:
"It must have been 1:30 p.m when there arose, at the exact spot where the children were, a column of smoke, thin, fine and bluish, which extended up to perhaps two meters above their heads, and evaporated at that height. This phenomenon, perfectly visible to the naked eye, lasted for a few seconds. Not having noted how long it had lasted, I cannot say whether it was more or less than a minute. The smoke dissipated abruptly, and after some time, it came back to occur a second time, then a third time
"The sky, which had been overcast all day, suddenly cleared; the rain stopped and it looked as if the sun were about to fill with light the countryside that the wintery morning had made so gloomy. I was looking at the spot of the apparitions in a serene, if cold, expectation of something happening and with diminishing curiosity because a long time had passed without anything to excite my attention. The sun, a few moments before, had broken through the thick layer of clouds which hid it and now shone clearly and intensely.
  "Suddenly I heard the uproar of thousands of voices, and I saw the whole multitude spread out in that vast space at my feet...turn their backs to that spot where, until then, all their expectations had been focused, and look at the sun on the other side. I turned around, too, toward the point commanding their gaze and I could see the sun, like a very clear disc, with its sharp edge, which gleamed without hurting the sight. It could not be confused with the sun seen through a fog (there was no fog at that moment), for it was neither veiled nor dim. At Fatima, it kept its light and heat, and stood out clearly in the sky, with a sharp edge, like a large gaming table. The most astonishing thing was to be able to stare at the solar disc for a long time, brilliant with light and heat, without hurting the eyes or damaging the retina. [During this time], the sun's disc did not remain immobile, it had a giddy motion, [but] not like the twinkling of a star in all its brilliance for it spun round upon itself in a mad whirl.
"During the solar phenomenon, which I have just described, there were also changes of color in the atmosphere. Looking at the sun, I noticed that everything was becoming darkened. I looked first at the nearest objects and then extended my glance further afield as far as the horizon. I saw everything had assumed an amethyst color. Objects around me, the sky and the atmosphere, were of the same color. Everything both near and far had changed, taking on the color of old yellow damask. People looked as if they were suffering from jaundice and I recall a sensation of amusement at seeing them look so ugly and unattractive. My own hand was the same color.
"Then, suddenly, one heard a clamor, a cry of anguish breaking from all the people. The sun, whirling wildly, seemed all at once to loosen itself from the firmament and, blood red, advance threateningly upon the earth as if to crush us with its huge and fiery weight. The sensation during those moments was truly terrible.
"All the phenomena which I have described were observed by me in a calm and serene state of mind without any emotional disturbance. It is for others to interpret and explain them. Finally, I must declare that never, before or after October 13 [1917], have I observed similar atmospheric or solar phenomena."
Today our world is scarred by abortion, war, terrorism, political unrest, and so much more.  Our Lady of Fatima's call to pray the Rosary for peace is as urgent today as it was 94 years ago! She thwarted the plans of John Paul II's assassin,.  Surely she will come to our aid in redirecting the many bullets aimed at destroying peace in our world. 

Several days ago, I asked, in a post, "I do.  Do you?"  One of you replied, "yes."  I hope that, with me, you are praying the Rosary daily and, if possible today, praying it for peace in our world, peace in our nation, peace in our families, peace in our hearts.

Our Lady of Fatima, we are all yours!  Pray for us!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

First Holy Communion

 I always love First Communion Day!  I remember Sr. Corde Marie, when I was in 2nd grade CCD at Good Shepherd in Camp Hill: she told us - "You will remember your first communion day like it was yesterday." She was right.  Such a wonderful gift that God gives to us - to receive Him, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity...  And first communion day is a wonderful opportunity for us all to remember the excitement of that First Holy Communion - and to try to recapture that same excitement - realizing what we receive when we receive Holy Communion.

Congratulations to our young people who received their First Holy Communion on Saturday!

The biblical foundation for Holy Communion is what Christ Himself did at the Last Supper.  As narrated by St. Matthew, Jesus first offered the apostles what He was about to change, then changed the bread and wine, and then gave them Communion.
And while they were at supper, Jesus took bread and blessed and broke and gave it to His disciples and said, "Take you and eat, this is my Body."  And taking the chalice He gave thanks and gave it to them saying, "Drink you all of this.  For this is my Blood of the New Testament which shall be shed for many unto remission of sins." (Matthew 26:26-28)
St. John, who does not give us the narrative of the institution of the Eucharist, devotes a whole chapter to Christ's promise of giving His followers His own flesh to eat and His own blood to drink.  What Christ emphasizes is the absolute necessity of being nourished by His Body and Blood if the supernatural life received at Baptism is to be sustained.
I tell you most solemnly, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you will not have life in you.  Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life and I shall raise him up on the last day.  For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.  He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in Him.  As I, who am sent by the living Father, myself draw life from the Father, so whoever eats me will draw life from me.  This is the bread come down from heaven; not like the bread our ancestors ate.  They are dead, but anyone who eats this bread will live forever. (John 6: 53-58)
Throughout the gospels and St. Paul, Christ uses words like "take," "eat," "drink," always clearly indicating that the Eucharist is to be taken into the mouth and consumed.  No less, and far more, than material food and drink are necessary to sustain the natural life of the body, so Holy Communion must be received to support and nourish the supernatural life of the soul.

Effects of Holy Communion

Since the earliest times, the benefits of receiving the Body and Blood of Christ were spelled out to encourage frequent, even daily, Holy Communion. 

Thus, St. Cyril of Jerusalem (died 387) said that reception of the Eucharist makes the Christian a "Christbearer" and "one body and one blood with Him" (Catecheses, 4,3).  St. John Chrysostom (died 407) speaks of a mixing of the Body of Christ with our body, "…in order to show the great love that He has for us.  He mixed Himself with us, and joined His Body with us, so that we might become one like a bread connected with the body" (Homily 46,3).  These and other comparisons of how Communion unites the recipient with Christ are based on Christ's own teaching, and St. Paul's statement that, "the bread which we break, is it not the partaking of the Body of the Lord?  For we, being many, are one bread, all that partake of this bread." (I Corinthians 10:16-17). 

So, too, the Church officially teaches that "Every effect which bodily food and bodily drink produce in our corporeal life, by preserving this life, increasing this life, healing this life, and satisfying this life - is also produced by this Sacrament in the spiritual life" (Council of Florence, November 22, 1439). Thus:
  1. Holy Communion preserves the supernatural life of the soul by giving the communicant supernatural strength to resist temptation, and by weakening the power of concupiscence.  It reinforces the ability of our free will to withstand the assaults of the devil. In a formal definition, the Church calls Holy Communion "an antidote by which we are preserved from grievous sins" (Council of Trent, October 11, 1551).
  2. Holy Communion increases the life of grace already present by vitalizing our supernatural life and strengthening the virtues and gifts of the Holy Spirit we possess.  To be emphasized, however, is that the main effect of Communion is not to remit sin. In fact, a person in conscious mortal sin commits a sacrilege by going to Communion.
  3. Holy Communion cures the spiritual diseases of the soul by cleansing it of venial sins and the temporal punishment due to sin.  No less than serving as an antidote to protect the soul from mortal sins, Communion is "an antidote by which we are freed from our daily venial sins" (Council of Trent, October 11, 1551).  The remission of venial sins and of the temporal sufferings due to sin takes place immediately by reason of the acts of perfect love of God, which are awakened by the reception of the Eucharist.  The extent of this remission depends on the intensity of our charity when receiving Communion.
  4. Holy Communion gives us a spiritual joy in the service of Christ, in defending His cause, in performing the duties of our state of life, and in making the sacrifices required of us in imitating the life of our Savior.
Mass in the Holy Last last summer
On Christ's own promise, Holy Communion is a pledge of heavenly glory and of our bodily resurrection from the dead (John 6:55).  St. Irenaeus (died 202) simply declared that, "when our bodies partake of the Eucharist, they are no longer corruptible as they have the hope of eternal resurrection" (Against the Heresies, IV, 18,5).

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Beatification of John Paul II - Summary from CatholicCulture.org

Pope John Paul II “restored to Christianity its true face as a religion of hope,” Pope Benedict XVI said at the May 1 beatification of the Polish Pontiff. 
Well over 1 million people crowded into St. Peter’s Square, and spilled over into the surrounding streets of Rome, for the May 1 beatification. Six years earlier, an even larger congregation had broken into shouts of Santo subito! at the conclusion of the funeral for the beloved Pontiff. Now the people burst into warm applause as Pope Benedict recited the formula of beatification, and a huge tapestry depicting Blessed John Paul II was unfurled from the balcony of the Vatican basilica. 

In his homily Pope Benedict alluded to the popular demands for the prompt beatification of his predecessor. At the time of the funeral in April 2005, he said, “we perceived the fragrance of his sanctity, and in any number of ways God’s People showed their veneration for him.” It was because of that clear popular sense of veneration, the Pope said, “with all due respect for the Church’s canonical norms, I wanted his cause of beatification to move forward with reasonable haste.” 

Pope Benedict went on to note that the date of the beatification provided an ideal time for honoring John Paul II. May 1, he pointed out, is the first day of the month dedicated to the Virgin Mary, to whom the late Pontiff had such a deep devotion. On the ordinary liturgical calendar it is also the feast of St. Joseph the Worker, and thus recalls not only the early years of Karol Wojtyla as a manual laborer in wartime Poland, but also the efforts of the Pope to promote greater understanding of the dignity of human labor. And in 2011, May 1 was the 2nd Sunday of Easter, the feast of Divine Mercy: a feast that Pope John Paul II had proclaimed for the universal Church. As a final indication that the date was unusually appropriate, Pope Benedict reminded the congregation that his predecessor had died on the eve of the feast of Divine Mercy in 2005, shortly after the singing of Vespers for the feast. 

The Vatican reported that 87 countries had sent formal delegations to attend the beatification. There we 16 heads of state in attendance, including the presidents of Poland and Italy, and 7 prime ministers. The hotels of Rome were almost completely booked for the weekend of the beatification, with some hotels commanding prices more than double their usual rates. Church-run hostels were also full, and hundreds of pilgrims apparently spent Saturday night on the streets in Rome, waiting for the earliest opportunity to claim a spot in St. Peter’s Square when it was opened early Sunday morning. For the tens of thousands of people who could not squeeze into St. Peter’s Square, giant television screens were set up at the Circus Maximus and at other public places around Rome. 

The Circus Maximus had been the scene of the first major public event celebrating the beatification, on Saturday evening, April 30. About 200,000 people participated in a vigil of music, testimony, and prayer honoring John Paul II. Interspersed with hymns and poetry, and videos recalling different aspects of the life of John Paul II, the crowd heard from several speakers whose lives were entwined with the life of the late Pontiff.
  • Joaquin Navarro-Valls, who the former director of the Vatican press office, remarked that in beatifying John Paul II, the Church would not be making him a saint, but acknowledging his sanctity, since “one is a saint in life, or never will be.” The longtime papal spokesman said that he had an indelible memory of the late Pope’s “respect for the transcendent character of the person, who is at risk of being treated as a thing, as an object.” Navarro-Valls said: “And this respect is something that, once experienced alongside someone like him, one can never forget.” Navarro-Valls went on to illustrate the late Pope’s dedication to other people, reporting that Pope John Paul II regularly received requests for prayers from all over the world. “I saw him on his knees for hours in his chapel with these messages in his hands,” he said.
Sister Marie Simon-Pierre
  •  Sister Marie Simon-Pierre, the French nun whose miraculous cure from Parkinson’s disease cleared the way for the beatification, was the next featured speaker. She told the crowd that she had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease—the same malady that had ravaged John Paul II—in 2001. As the symptoms became more intense, on June 2,2005 she told her superior that she was too exhausted to continue work. The entire religious community prayed for a cure, through the intercession of the recently deceased Pope. On the night of June 3, Sister Simon-Pierre said, she woke suddenly and went to the chapel to pray. “A great peace came over me, a sense of well-being,” she recalled. Gradually she became aware that she was able to walk freely, and an arm that had been effectively paralyzed was not working normally. From that time forward, she said, she was lived a normal life, with no medical treatment for the condition that had threatened her life. Sister Simon-Pierre said that she was grateful for the cure and delighted that John Paul II could be honored “so that life might be respected and that all who work in service of life might be fortified.”
  • The next testimony at the Circus Maximus came from Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow, who had served for years as the private secretary to Cardinal Wojtyla and continued in that capacity after the Polish prelate became John Paul II. Cardinal Dziwisz offered a different perspective on the man he had served, highlighting the serenity that John Paul II displayed. “To be with John Paul II meant to love his silence.” The Polish cardinal told the crowd that while the beloved Pontiff had been taken from the world by death, he is “now restored to us” by the beatification, since the faithful can seek his intercession.
  • Cardinal Agostino Vallini, the vicar of the Rome diocese, remarked that the Polish Pope had been “witness to the tragic age of big ideologies, totalitarian regimes, and from their passing John Paul II embraced the harsh suffering, marked by tension and contradictions, of the transition of the modern age toward a new phase of history.”
The crowd at the Circus Maximus then joined in reciting the Rosary, using the Luminous Mysteries bequeathed to the Church by John Paul II. During his phase of the evening’s ceremony, the group in Rome was linked by video feeds to crowds in five Marian sanctuaries around the world: in Lagiewniki, Poland; Bugando, Tanzania; Hariss, Lebanon, Guadalupe, Mexico; and Fatima, Portugal. Each of the groups at these shrines was assigned a decade of the Rosary, for an intention that had been central to the prayers of John Paul II. Before each decade, the crowd saw videos of the late Pope, speaking about these intentions. 

The evening’s formal program concluded with another video message, this time from Pope Benedict XVI. The Holy Father closed the vigil with a blessing, and a prayer to the Virgin Mary: “Help us always to account for the hope that is in us, with trust in the goodness of humanity created by God in His image and in the Father's love.” 

However, even after the crowd left the Circus Maximus, the prayer surrounding the beatification ceremonies continued. Scores of young volunteers from the Rome diocese patrolled the streets of the city, urging pilgrims to join in Eucharistic adoration at any one of eight churches that were opened all night for that purpose. Priests were also available to hear confessions at those churches late into the night. 

On Sunday morning, St. Peter’s Square was packed by 9 o’clock, when the Divine Mercy devotions were scheduled. At 10, Pope Benedict presided as Mass was celebrated. Following the penitential rite, Cardinal Vallini—joined by Msgr. Slawomir Oder, the postulator for the late Pope’s cause—formally asked the Pontiff to proceed with the beatification. Cardinal Vallini then read a brief biography of John Paul II, and the stage was set for the act of beatification. 

''The longed-for day has come,'' said Pope Benedict. ''It came quickly because this was pleasing to the Lord. John Paul II is blessed.” 

In his homily, Pope Benedict drew attention to several salient aspects of his predecessor’s spirituality and his teaching. He mentioned the late Pope’s motto, “Totus tuus,” which was “drawn from the well-known words of St. Louis Marie Gignion de Montfort in which Karol Wojtyla found a guiding light for his life,” and a key to his Marian devotion. 

Pope Benedict also cited the words of another Polish prelate, Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, who said at the conclave of October 1978: “The task of the new Pope will be to lead the Church into the 3rd millennium.” Pope John Paul II took up that challenge with vigor, Benedict XVI observed, and devoted much of his papal ministry to the preparation for, and celebration of, the Jubilee Year 2000. 

Another key to the understanding of John Paul II, Pope Benedict said, is the recognition that “he brought with him a deep understanding of the difference between Marxism and Christianity, based on their respective visions of man.” Pope John Paul lived to see the collapse of Soviet Communism, the Pope said, and he strove to place Christian faith in the vacuum left by the downfall of atheistic materialism. “He rightly reclaimed for Christianity that impulse of hope which had in some sense faltered before Marxism and the ideology of progress.” 

Later, after the conclusion of the Mass, Pope Benedict spoke again about the example set by his predecessor. At his Regina Caeli audience, Pope Benedict prayed in French that “the life and work of Blessed John Paul II be the source of a renewed dedication to the service of all persons and all humankind.” He offered similar prayers in English, Spanish, and Polish, before closing in Italian with a word of thanks to all those involved in planning the beatification ceremonies. 

When he finally left St. Peter’s Square at the end of the lengthy ceremony, Pope Benedict stopped to pray in the Vatican basilica at the coffin of Blessed John Paul II, which had been placed in front of the Altar of Confession. During the afternoon and late into Sunday night, an estimated 250,000 people filed past the coffin to venerate the remains of the newly beatified Pontiff.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Vatican Responds to death of Osama Bin Laden

Today the Vatican's spokesman, Federico Lombardi, S.J., released this statement on the death of Osama Bin Laden.

"Osama bin Laden, as we all know, bore the most serious responsibility for spreading divisions and hatred among populations, causing the deaths of innumerable people, and manipulating religions for this purpose.

"In the face of a man's death, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibilities of each person before God and before men, and hopes and works so that every event may be the occasion for the further growth of peace and not of hatred."

It certainly is a measured and careful response from the Vatican.  I've had a number of people approach me and ask if this death was justified.  To be honest, it's a very difficult question.

One thing I can say is that I feel very uncomfortable watching people rejoice in the streets of Washington and New York.  As the Vatican statement said, "a Christian never rejoices in the face of a man's death."  In fact, these videos remind me of the ones we saw immediately after 9/11 - as people who do not support or understand the United States were rejoicing after the Twin Towers fell in New York - aren't we supposed to be better than that?

I've been trying to apply the "Catholic Just War Theory" to the situation.  I found this video - I wish I could discover who he is - which describes the Just War Theory and asks some questions for personal reflection.

I'll continue to pray and discern - and talk to others - about the death of Osama and keep you informed.  Until then, may God have mercy on his soul...