Sunday, January 31, 2016

February begins with one of Ireland's patron Saints

St. Brigid of Ireland

Image of St. Brigid of Ireland


Feastday: February 1
Patron of Ireland, dairymaids, cattle, midwives, Irish nuns, and newborn babies
Birth: 451
Death: 525

Saint Brigid was born Brigit, and shares a name with a Celtic goddess from whom many legends and folk customs are associated.
There is much debate over her birthparents, but it is widely believed her mother was Brocca, a Christian baptized by Saint Patrick, and her father was Dubthach, a Leinster chieftain. Brocca was a slave, therefore Brigid was born into slavery.
When Dubthach's wife discovered Brocca was pregnant, she was sold to a Druid landowner. It is not clear if Brocca was unable to produce milk or was not present to care for Brigid, but legend states Brigid vomited any food the druid attempted to feed her, as he was impure, so a white cow with red ears sustained her instead.
Many stories of Brigid's purity followed her childhood. She was unable to keep from feeding the poor and healing them.
One story says Brigid once gave her mother's entire store of butter, that was later replenished after Brigid prayed.
When she was about ten-years-old, Brigid was returned to her father's home, as he was her legal master. Her charity did not end when she left her mother, and she donated his possessions to anyone who asked.
Eventually, Dubthach became tired of her charitably nature and took her to the king of Leinster, with the intention of selling her. As he spoke to the king, Brigid gave his jeweled sword to a beggar so he could barter it for food for his family. When the king, who was a Christian, saw this, he recognized her heart and convinced Dubthach to grant her freedom by saying, "Her merit before God is greater than ours."
After being freed, Brigid returned to the Druid and her mother, who was in charge of the Druid's dairy. Brigid took over and often gave away milk, but the dairy prospered despite the charitable practice, and the Druid eventually freed Brocca.
Brigid then returned to Dubthach, who had arranged for her to marry a bard. She refused and made a vow to always be chaste.
Legend has it Brigid prayed that her beauty be taken so no one would want to marry her, and the prayer was granted. It was not until after she made her final vows that her beauty was restored.
Another tale says that when Saint Patrick heard her final vows, he accidentally used the form for ordaining priests. When the error was brought to his attention, he simply replied, "So be it, my son, she is destined for great things."
Little is known about Saint Brigid's life after she entered the Church, but in 40 she founded a monastery in Kildare, called the Church of the Oak. It was built above a pagan shrine to the Celtic goddess Brigid, which was beneath a large oak tree.
Brigid and seven friends organized communal consecrated religious life for women in Ireland and she founded two monastic institutions, one for men and one for women. Brigid invited a hermit called Conleth to help her in Kildare as a spiritual pastor.
Her biographer reported that Brigid chose Saint Conleth "to govern the church along with herself."
She later founded a school of art that included metalwork and illumination, which Conleth led as well. It was at this school that the Book of Kildare, which the Gerald of Wales praised as "the work of angelic, and not human skill," was beautifully illuminated, but was lost three centuries ago.
There is evidence that Brigid was a good friend of Saint Patrick's and that the Trias Thaumaturga claimed, "Between St. Patrick and Brigid, the pillars of the Irish people, there was so great a friendship of charity that they had but one heart and one mind. Through him and through her Christ performed many great works."
Saint Brigid helped many people in her lifetime, but on February 1 525, she passed away of natural causes. Her body was initially kept to the right of the high altar of Kildare Cathedral, with a tomb "adorned with gems and precious stones and crowns of gold and silver," but in 878, during the Scandinavian raids, her relics were moved to the tomb of Patrick and Columba.
In 1185, John de Courcy had her remains relocated in Down Cathedral. Today, Saint Brigid's skull can be found in the Church of St. John the Baptist in Lumiar, Portugal. The tomb in which it is kept bears the inscription, "Here in these three tombs lie the three Irish knights who brought the head of St. Brigid, Virgin, a native of Ireland, whose relic is preserved in this chapel. In memory of which, the officials of the Altar of the same Saint caused this to be done in January AD 1283."
A portion of the skull was relocated to St. Bridget's Church and another was sent to the Bishop of Lisbon in St. Brigid's church in Killester.
Saint Brigid's likeness is often depicted holding a reed cross, a crozier, or a lamp.

A Prayer for the end of human trafficking

A Prayer for the End of Human Trafficking,As shared by the Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth, Convent Station, N.J.

God of freedom, beauty and truthwe believe that your deepest desire,your most powerful energy, is that all creation might know abundant life.

 We raise our voices in anguished prayerfor our sisters and brothers,women and girls, men and boys,who are modern day slaves;They are your beloved daughters and sons,exploited sexually or forced to workbecause of human violence and greed.

 Fill us with your holy anger and your sacred passionthat those who are trafficked might know healing and justice;that traffickers will come to repentance and conversion;that all of us might live in such a waythat others are not made to pay the pricefor our comfort and convenience.

 Hasten the coming of the day when all peopleand our precious Earth itselfwill be treated, not as a commodity,but as radiant images of your freedom, beauty and truth.Amen. May it be so.

Welcome to February and one of the earliest Lent's ever

Yep tomorrow we start writing month 2 on all our correspondence.  If the years are starting to fly by all too quickly, so are the days and weeks within these quickly moving years.  It really, truly feels like we just celebrated Christmas and beginning to get used to the new days of the new year.  And yet here we sit on the eve of February.

After February dawns we will also be waking up to just a week and a half until Lent.  Now down here in south Louisiana, just a quick hour away from New Orleans, this means everything right now is Mardi Gras.  Fortunately, I have outgrown Mardi Gras for sometime now and do not get caught up in all that Mardi Gras foolishness.  If it is your cup of tea, I'm happy for you.  Having done the Mardi Gras thing for the first 40 years of my life, I am no longer sure what the attraction is.  Yet it is a cultural thing for us down here and it is just one small ingredient in the giant gumbo pot of New Orleans.  Many would be surprised to know that Mardi Gras is supposed to be a preparation for Lent.  The season of prayer, fasting and almsgiving begins this year on February 10th.  Soon we will see the ashes of Ash Wednesday, the purple of the liturgical season and the meatless Fridays which also means KC Friday Fish Fry's to get us ready for Friday Stations of the Cross!

Before we get to Lent I am excited that the week ahead brings one preliminary event that reminds me that my daughter Elizabeth's wedding will now be just 2 months away, and another big event has our Archbishop Gregory Aymond coming to spend an entire evening with his Permanent Deacons.

February brings lots of change, we still might get some winter temps but we all know that slowly we begin transitioning to spring, baseball returns to the college sports calendar and Lenten devotions and practices become an important part of our lives.

So be prepared, month #1 of 2016 is behind us now; let #2 begin!

Pope Francis' prayer intentions for February

February 2016

UniversalCare for Creation
That we may take good care of creation–a gift freely given–cultivating and protecting it for future generations.

That opportunities may increase for dialogue and encounter between the Christian faith and the peoples of Asia.

Sunday Angelus Address on God coming to meet us

Angelus Address: On God Coming to Meet Us
“No human condition can be a motive for exclusion from the heart of the Father”
angelus 3
Here is a ZENIT translation of the address Pope Francis gave today before and after praying the midday Angelus in St. Peter’s Square:
* * *
Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!
The account of today’s Gospel brings us again, like last Sunday, to the synagogue of Nazareth, the town in Galilee where Jesus grew up as part of a family and where everyone knew him. He has returned for the first time after having gone out to begin his public life shortly before this, and he presents himself to the community, which is gathered together in the synagogue on the Sabbath.
He reads that passage from the Prophet Isaiah that speaks of the future Messiah, and at the end he declares, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk 4:21).
His fellow townspeople, at first surprised and admiring, afterward begin to question and to gossip among themselves and to say, why does this man who claims to be the Consecrated of the Lord not repeat here the works and miracles that he did in Capernaum and the other nearby towns? And Jesus then declares, “no prophet is accepted in his own native place” (v 24) and recalls the great prophets of the past, Elijah and Elisha, who worked miracles for the pagans in order to denounce the lack of faith of their people.
At this point, those present feel offended, they rise in indignation, drive Jesus out of the town and want to thrown him over a precipice. But Jesus, with the strength of his peace, “passed through the midst of them and went away” (v 30). His hour had not yet come.
This account of the Evangelist Luke is not simply the story of a fight within a community, like can sometimes happen in our neighborhoods, caused by envy and jealousies. Rather it brings to light a temptation that a religious person is always vulnerable to — all of us are vulnerable to it — and which we must decidedly avoid. What is this temptation? It is the temptation to think of religion as a human investment and consequently, to begin to “negotiate” with God, seeking our own interests. Instead, the true religion is about receiving the revelation of a God who is Father and who is concerned with each one of his creatures, also with the smallest and most significant in the eyes of man.
This is precisely what Jesus’ prophetic ministry consists of: announcing that no human condition can be a motive for exclusion — no human condition can be a motive for exclusion — from the heart of the Father, and that the only privilege in the eyes of God is that of not having privileges. The only privilege in the eyes of God is that of not having privileges, of not having protectors, of abandoning oneself in his hands.
“Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). The “today” proclaimed by Christ that day applies to every day; it resounds as well for us in this Square, reminding us of the present-day importance and necessity of the salvation brought by Jesus to humanity. God goes out to meet the men and women of all times and places in the concrete situations in which they find themselves. He also comes out to meet us. He is always the one who takes the first step. He comes to visit us with his mercy, to lift us from the dust of our sin. He comes to reach out his hand to lift us from the abyss in which we’ve fallen with our pride and he invites us to welcome the consoling truth of the Gospel and to walk along the paths of righteousness. He always comes to find us, to seek us.
Let’s go back to the synagogue. Certainly that day in the Nazareth synagogue, Mary, the Mother, was also there. We can imagine her heart pounding, a small anticipation of that which she would suffer beneath the Cross, seeing Jesus, there in the synagogue, first admired and then challenged, then insulted and later threatened with death. In her faith-filled heart, she guarded each thing. May she help us to turn from a god of miracles to the miracle of God, which is Jesus Christ.
[Angelus Domini …] Dear brothers and sisters,
Today we celebrate World Leprosy Day. This disease, despite being in regression, unfortunately still affects the poorest and most marginalized. It’s important to maintain solidarity with these brothers and sisters, left incapacitated after this illness. We assure them of our prayers and we assure our support to those who help them. Good laypeople, good sisters, good priests.
I greet you all with affection, dear pilgrims from various parishes of Italy and of other countries, as well as the associations and groups.
In particular I greet the students of Cuenca and those of Torreagüera (Spain). I greet the faithful of Taranto, Montesilvano, Macerata, Ercolano and Fasano.
I greet the boys and girls of Catholic Action of the Diocese of Rome. Now I know why there was so much noise in the Square! Dear young people, this year again, accompanied by the Cardinal Vicar and by your assistants, a great number has come at the end of your “Caravan of Peace.”
This year, your testimony of peace, animated by faith in Jesus, will be even more joyful and purposeful, because it is enriched by the gesture you just made, of passing through the Holy Door.
I encourage you to be instruments of peace and mercy among your peers!
Let us listen now to the message that your friends, who are here beside me, are going to read to you.
[Message and the release of balloons] I wish all of you a good Sunday and a good lunch. And please, don’t forget to pray for me! See you soon!

In this Jubilee of Mercy do we know the works of Mercy?

Works of Mercy




The Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy are actions we can perform that extend God’s compassion and mercy to those in need.
Corporal Works of Mercy

The Corporal Works of Mercy are these kind acts by which we help our neighbors with their material and physical needs.

feed the hungry
give drink to the thirsty
clothe the naked
shelter the homeless
visit the sick
visit the imprisoned
bury the dead

Spiritual Works of Mercy

The Spiritual Works of Mercy are acts of compassion, as listed below, by which we help our neighbors with their emotional and spiritual needs.

counsel the doubtful
instruct the ignorant
admonish sinners
comfort the afflicted
forgive offenses
bear wrongs patiently
pray for the living and the dead

Saturday, January 30, 2016

From the archives: Homily for this weekend originally offered in 2013; all about Love!

Homily for the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time
In the aftermath of the 9-11 terrorist attacks, the great country & western superstar Alan Jackson recorded the song: Where were You.  His lyrics to this profound song included these:

I'm just a singer of simple songs
I'm not a real political man
I watch CNN but I'm not sure I can tell you
The difference in Iraq and Iran
But I know Jesus and I talk to God
And I remember this from when I was young
Faith hope and love are some good things he gave us
And the greatest is love

Love indeed is that great gift from God because after all, God is Love!  (1 John 4:8).

As people of faith we are called to proclaim God is Love and we are called to love like God!!

How can we possibly love as God loves?  Today there are more than subtle hints in the Scriptures to show us the way.  Jeremiah, one of the great Old Testament prophets, in this very opening chapter of the book that bears his name, tells us: Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet I appointed you.  This relationship that God has with Jeremiah is intimate, personal and loving.  By the way, that is the kind of relationship He has with you & me.  And it is because God is Love!

Now God did not intend this love to be reserved for a few.  Back in the day of today's Gospel, that was the prevailing belief among the Jewish people.  Despite being faithful to God and the Law, the Jews, including the religious leadership of that day, only wanted to hear that God loves us; the rest of you, not so much.  It's like that old running joke that the Smothers Brothers made famous some 40 years ago when one of them always told the other, mom loved you best!  Well here we have Jesus, coming back home, to His local synagogue, to let the people know He is the Messiah and He wants them to know that God loves everyone; not just the Jewish people.  Jesus uses two examples from the Old Testament, Elijah with the widow of Zarephath and Elisha with the Syrian called Naaman.  We should recall these stories too.  The widow, about to starve along with her son, uses her meager supply of flour and oil and feeds Elijah and she is blessed by God and hungers no longer.  Elisha, in a time of great leprosy among the people was present as only one, a foreigner, was made clean and blessed by God.  This teaching in the synagogue, in His very own home town, made the locals mad and they drove Jesus out of town, to the edge of a hill, intending to do Him great harm.  Yet, he escaped from their midst.

This is the great teaching of "comfort the afflicted and, when necessary, afflict the comfortable".  These people from the Gospel were comfortable in their own blessings as long as they had a God that not only blessed them,but withheld His blessings from others; especially others that they did not like, or care for, or agree with.

And this begs the question, if God is Love, and He is, why do we , His creatures, not love the same?  St. Paul was confounded by this too as he wrote to the people in Corinth.  This second reading should be recognized by many of us, if we have ever attended a Catholic wedding.  Having witnessed many a wedding now as a Deacon, I can tell you that nine out of ten couples select this reading for their wedding, and it is beautiful to hear.  Understand though, St. Paul did not write these beautiful words of love for some romantic reasons.  No, St. Paul wanted to share with the Corinthians, and ultimately all of us, that we the Body of Christ (remember last week's second reading about the body and it's many parts?) must Love like the Body of Christ; to reflect "God is Love"in who we are and what we do.  St. Paul goes to great lengths to tell us one and all, what Love is and what Love is not.

So naturally we ask, what does this all mean for us this week and in our lives?  How can I take today's readings and grow in intimate relationship with God and be a person of Love, with both God and my brother and sister?  Let's read that second reading and change one word a few times over.  Say this out loud during the week, over and over again:

I am patient, I am kind.  I am not jealous, I am not pompous, I am not inflated, I am not rude, I do not seek my own interests, I am not quick-tempered, I do not brood over injury, I do not rejoice over wrongdoing, I rejoice with the truth.  I bear all things, I believe all things, I hope all things, I endure all things.  Why?  Because Love never fails = God never fails!!  Can we pray with this all week, throughout our lives?  Can we pray with this when we celebrate our love for our spouse, say on an anniversary or special occassion or any day for that matter?  Yes, we can because Love never fails!

And it goes without saying that fortified by these readings and God's intimate Love for us, can we make an extra effort to reflect that Love today, this week, in our lives, to those we encounter, those we live with, and even those who are perfect strangers?  Can I focus this week on reflecting God's Love to pray and care for the unborn, the elderly, the poor, the homeless, the forgotten, the prisoner, the spiritually lost?  Yes, we can because Love never fails!

Remember way back at the beginning of this homily and Alan Jackson?  Well, I know Jesus and I talk to God and I remember this from when I was young: faith, hope and love are some good things He gave us, and the greatest is Love!

Year of Mercy highlights we must not lose the sense of sin

Year of Mercy Makes Sense Only if You Haven’t Lost the Sense of Sin  

COMMENTARY: In The Name of God Is Mercy, Pope Francis provides a catechesis on sin so we can truly appreciate God’s mercy.

– Shutterstock

During his 2013 interview returning home from World Youth Day Rio — hijacked by the famously taken-out-of-context “Who am I to judge?” remark — Pope Francis made an observation overlooked by the media. The Holy Father mentioned the importance of a “theology of sin” to understanding the truth about God’s mercy.
His recently published book-length interview with journalist Andrea Tornielli, The Name of God Is Mercy, gives insight into Pope Francis’ theology of sin — which provides us, in turn, with an invaluable resource to help us observe this special Jubilee of Divine Mercy.
Pope Francis highlights the difficulty facing pastors and people when discussing the reality of sin and God’s merciful offer of forgiveness. In particular, he talks about two types of people — those who’ve lost the sense of sin and those who’ve lost a sense of God’s mercy. Both attitudes are harmful because they stop us from encountering the healing grace of God’s merciful forgiveness.
Early in his interview with Tornielli, Pope Francis refers to a fundamental problem that has been identified and considered by many popes since Venerable Pope Pius XII — the crisis of the loss of a sense of sin. Pope Francis says: “Pius XII, more than half a century ago, said that the tragedy of our age was that it had lost its sense of sin, the awareness of sin.”
Pope Francis also shares Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI’s concern about the influence of relativism on our sense of sin: “Relativism wounds people too: All things seem equal; all things appear the same.” In a homily, Pope Francis has said the devil seeks to deaden our consciences so we can’t tell right from wrong, which is the hallmark of relativism:
“The man ends up destroyed by the well-mannered method the devil uses, by the way the devil convinces him to do things, with relativism: ‘But it is not ... but it is not much ... no; relax; be calm.’”
Furthermore, Pope Francis — again, like his immediate predecessors — warns about the disastrous influence of this loss of the sense of sin in the Church. He distinguishes between sinners, who retain a deep sense of sin, and the corrupt, who have lost their sense of sin.
The corrupt are those individuals who arrogantly deny or reject their need for repentance and God’s forgiveness and who make their sin a habit and way of life. The corrupt mistake their sin for “true treasure,” justifying themselves and their behavior. They pretend to be Christian, masking their vices with “good manners, always managing to keep up appearances,” leading double lives. Pope Francis gives a shocking example of this:
“We cannot be arrogant. It reminds me of a story I heard from a person I used to know, a manager in Argentina. This man had a colleague who seemed to be very committed to a Christian life: He recited the Rosary, he read spiritual writings and so on. One day, the colleague confided, en passant, as if it were of no consequence, that he was having a relationship with his maid. He made it clear that he thought it was something entirely normal. He said that ‘these people’ — and by that he meant maids — were there ‘for that, too.’ My friend was shocked; his colleague was practically telling him that he believed in the existence of superior and inferior human beings, with the latter destined to be taken advantage of and used, like the maid. I was stunned by that example; despite all my friend’s objections, the colleague remained firm and didn’t budge an inch. And he continued to consider himself a good Christian because he prayed, he read his spiritual writings every day, and he went to Mass on Sundays. This is arrogance.”
However, even though such individuals have hardened their hearts, Pope Francis doesn’t consider the corrupt beyond the mercy of God. Though they are ordinarily immune to contrition and remorse, the Holy Father has observed that God attempts to save them through “life’s great ordeals,” which break their hard hearts, opening them to God’s grace.
The other group particularly identified by Pope Francis is made up of Christians who don’t seek God’s mercy even though, unlike the corrupt, they have a painful awareness of their sin and woundedness. These all share in common the failure to seek God’s mercy due to losing touch with the true Christian sense of God’s merciful love for sinners.
According to Pope Francis, there are Christians who don’t want God’s mercy because they suffer from a “narcissistic illness,” clinging to their woundedness because it gives them the unhealthy pleasure of bitterness:
“Or maybe you prefer your wounds, the wounds of sin, and you behave like a dog, licking your wounds with your tongue. This is a narcissistic illness that makes people bitter. There is pleasure in feeling bitter, an unhealthy pleasure.”
Another group of Christians don’t seek God’s mercy because they make the error of believing their sins are so evil God will not forgive them: “Today we add further to the tragedy by considering our illness, our sins, to be incurable, things that cannot be healed or forgiven.” Pope Francis refers to these people as those who have come to the erroneous conclusion that they are too great of sinners to encounter Jesus.
One of the key messages of Pope Francis’ The Name of God Is Mercy is there is no sin, there is no habit of sin, and there is no relapse into sin that is beyond the mercy of God:
“There are no situations we cannot get out of; we are not condemned to sink into quicksand, in which the more we move the deeper we sink. Jesus is there, his hand extended, ready to reach out to us and pull us out of the mud, out of sin, out of the abyss of evil into which we have fallen. We need only be conscious of our state, be honest with ourselves, and not lick our wounds. We need to ask for the grace to recognize ourselves as sinners.”
Another theme that runs throughout The Name of God Is Mercy is Pope Francis’ candid admission that he is a sinner. From the beginning of his pontificate, when he was asked, “Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?”  by Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro in an interview, Pope Francis hasn’t been shy about identifying himself as a sinner:
“I do not know what might be the most fitting description. ... I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.”
The Holy Father encourages us — sometimes gently, sometime forcefully — to seek the grace to make the same honest and frank admission, because he knows from personal experience that knowing and admitting we are sinners will liberate and transform our lives.
In answer to Andrea Tornielli’s question, “How do we recognize that we ourselves are sinners? What would you say to someone who doesn’t feel like one?” Pope Francis answered:
“I would advise him to ask for the grace of feeling like one! Yes, because even recognizing oneself as a sinner is a grace. It is a grace that is granted to you. Without that grace, the most one can say is: I am limited; I have my limits; these are my mistakes. But recognizing oneself as a sinner is something else. It means standing in front of God, who is our everything, and presenting him with ourselves, which are our nothing — our miseries, our sins. What we need to ask for is truly an act of grace” (p. 30).
Sinners are those individuals who have the humility and sense of woundedness to admit they are weak and in need of God’s mercy and forgiveness. Pope Francis believes one can be a great sinner but not fall into corruption. Pointing to the examples of Zacchaeus, Matthew, the Samaritan Woman at the Well and Nicodemus, the Holy Father says their sinful hearts were open to God’s mercy:
“Their sinful hearts all had something that saved them from corruption. They were open to forgiveness, their hearts felt their own weakness, and that small opening allowed the strength of God to enter. When a sinner recognizes himself as such, he admits in some way that what he was attached to, clings to, is false.”
In order to place us in a position to admit our attachment to what is false, Pope Francis undertakes a basic catechesis on the nature of sin. This is urgently needed in Western culture — so heavily influenced by Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung to be in a state of denial about the objective reality of sin and dangerously attracted to embracing the demonic shadow.
It shouldn’t surprise us that as a consequence of his formation as a Jesuit, Pope Francis has no problem talking in stark and explicit terms about the evil represented by our sins.  The first week of St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises commences with a meditation on the catastrophic damage caused by angelic and human sin. Pope Francis, likewise, wants us to truly look at the dark reality of sin in the light of God’s mercy, because without God’s mercy such knowledge would be overwhelmingly harmful. He wants us to take responsibility for our sin.
When asked why we are sinners, Pope Francis answers very simply: “Because of original sin,” our nature “is wounded by original sin”:
“It’s something we know from experience. Our humanity is wounded; we know how to distinguish between good and evil, we know what is evil, we try to follow the path of goodness, but we often fall because of our weaknesses and choose evil. This is a consequence of original sin ... something that actually happened at the origins of mankind.”
The Holy Father doesn’t pull his punches about the evil nature of our sin compared to the goodness of God. Our sins not only wound us and damage our relationships — our sins also “displease God,” and we should be displeased with what displeases God. Quoting the Church Fathers, Pope Francis writes that knowing our sins displease God should shatter our hearts:
“The Church Fathers teach us that a shattered heart is most pleasing to God. It is the sign that we are conscious of our sins, of the evil we have done, of our wretchedness and of our need for forgiveness and mercy.”
This is why Pope Francis views our sin from the perspective of the ancient tradition of the Easter Exultet, with its shocking praise of Adam and Eve’s catastrophic sin as a felix culpa (“happy fault”). The Holy Father knows that an honest knowledge of our sin and our need for God’s mercy will lead us to experience the love of “so great, so glorious a Redeemer.”
Deacon Nick Donnelly is a contributor to EWTN Radio’s Celtic Connections program.

Read more:

Salesian founder who ministered to neglected boys and the needy poor

Image of St. John Bosco


Feastday: January 31
Birth: 1815
Death: 1888

What do dreams have to with prayer? Aren't they just random images of our mind?
In 1867 Pope Pius IX was upset with John Bosco because he wouldn't take his dreams seriously enough. Nine years earlier when Pope Pius IX met with the future saint who worked with neglected boys, he learned of the dreams that John had been having since the age of nine, dreams that had revealed God's will for John's life. So Pius IX had made a request, "Write down these dreams and everything else you have told me, minutely and in their natural sense." Pius IX saw John's dreams as a legacy for those John worked with and as an inspiration for those he ministered to.
Despite Scripture evidence and Church tradition respecting dreams, John had encountered skepticism when he had his first dream at the age of nine. The young Bosco dreamed that he was in a field with a crowd of children. The children started cursing and misbehaving. John jumped into the crowd to try to stop them -- by fighting and shouting. Suddenly a man with a face filled with light appeared dressed in a white flowing mantle. The man called John over and made him leader of the boys. John was stunned at being put in charge of these unruly gang. The man said, "You will have to win these friends of yours not with blows but with gentleness and kindness." As adults, most of us would be reluctant to take on such a mission -- and nine year old John was even less pleased. "I'm just a boy," he argued, "how can you order me to do something that looks impossible." The man answered, "What seems so impossible you must achieve by being obedient and acquiring knowledge." Thenthe boys turned into the wild animals they had been acting like. The man told John that this is the field of John's life work. Once John changed and grew in humility, faithfulness, and strength, he would see a change in the children -- a change that the man now demonstrated. The wild animals suddenly turned into gentle lambs.
When John told his family about his dream, his brothers just laughed at him. Everyone had a different interpretation of what it meant: he would become a shepherd, a priest, a gang leader. His own grandmother echoed the sage advice we have heard through the years, "You mustn't pay any attention to dreams." John said, "I felt the same way about it, yet I could never get that dream out of my head."
Eventually that first dream led him to minister to poor and neglected boys, to use the love and guidance that seemed so impossible at age nine to lead them to faithful and fulfilled lives. He started out by learning how to juggle and do tricks to catch the attention of the children. Once he had their attention he would teach them and take them to Mass. It wasn't always easy -- few people wanted a crowd of loud, bedraggled boys hanging around. And he had so little money and help that people thought he was crazy. Priests who promised to help would get frustrated and leave.
Two "friends" even tried to commit him to an institution for the mentally ill. They brought a carriage and were planning to trick him into coming with him. But instead of getting in, John said, "After you" and politely let them go ahead. When his friends were in the carriage he slammed the door and told the drive to take off as fast as he could go!
Through it all he found encouragement and support through his dreams. In one dream, Mary led him into a beautiful garden. There were roses everywhere, crowding the ground with their blooms and the air with their scent. He was told to take off his shoes and walk along a path through a rose arbor. Before he had walked more than a few steps, his naked feet were cut and bleeding from the thorns. When he said he would have to wear shoes or turn back, Mary told him to put on sturdy shoes. As he stepped forward a second time, he was followed by helpers. But the walls of the arbor closed on him, the roof sank lower and the roses crept onto the path. Thorns caught at him from all around. When he pushed them aside he only got more cuts, until he was tangled in thorns. Yet those who watched said, "How lucky Don John is! His path is forever strewn with roses! He hasn't a worry in the world. No troubles at all!" Many of the helpers, who had been expecting an easy journey, turned back, but some stayed with him. Finally he climbed through the roses and thorns to find another incredible garden. A cool breeze soothed his torn skin and healed his wounds.
In his interpretation, the path was his mission, the roses were his charity to the boys, and the thorns were the distractions, the obstacles, and frustrations that would stand in his way. The message of the dream was clear to John: he must keep going, not lose faith in God or his mission, and he would come through to the place he belonged.
Often John acted on his dreams simply by sharing them, sometimes repeating them to several different individuals or groups he thought would be affected by the dream. "Let me tell you about a dream that has absorbed my mind," he would say.
The groups he most often shared with were the boys he helped -- because so many of the dreams involved them. For example, he used several dreams to remind the boys to keep to a good and moral life. In one dream he saw the boys eating bread of four kinds -- tasty rolls, ordinary bread, coarse bread, and moldy bread, which represented the state of the boys' souls. He said he would be glad to talk to any boys who wanted to know which bread they were eating and then proceeded to use the occasion to give them moral guidance.
He died in 1888, at the age of seventy-two. His work lives on in the Salesian order he founded.

Philippine Cardinal addressed 51st International Eucharistic Congress

Eucharist must create culture that welcomes all, says Manila cardinal

  • Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila speaks at a session of the 51st International Eucharistic Congress in Cebu, Philippines, Jan. 28. (CNS/Katarzyna Artymiak)
Cebu, Phillippines
The Eucharist is supposed to create a new culture, one that is welcoming and only sees the flaws and failures of others as a reminder of one's own need for God's mercy, said Philippine Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle.
The Eucharist is the Lord's meal and "when the Lord hosts the meal, be prepared to be with surprising 'others,'" Tagle told participants at the 51st International Eucharistic Congress Jan. 24-31.
"In the meal hosted by the Lord, persons recognize a close neighbor, a fellow sinner, a sister, a brother with a place at the table," he said. "In each one, I see myself ... sinful but loved, undeserving but invited, shamed but embraced, lost but trusted."
Looking at culture in concrete, simple terms -- such as seating arrangements or how parish property is organized -- should help people make "individual and corporate examinations of consciences," he said.
The Manila cardinal pointed to the eucharistic congress itself as an example. In a mock haughty tone, the prelate pointed at the front rows of the pavilion, then to the faithful far in the back.

"The venerable cardinals, bishops here. And then those there ... I could not see [them] anymore," he said. "What culture is being lived out here?" After a moment of uncomfortable silence, he made a peace sign and was greeted with laughter and applause.
If a parish has a huge parking lot and no classroom space, that says something about its culture, the cardinal said, as does the distance from the first pew to the altar in the church.
"I see many of my brother priests here. Look at your room. Does it reflect a celibate culture? The way you arrange your beds and your things. You are celibate. Your bed should be single, not double," he exclaimed to wide applause.
He had opened his presentation on "the Eucharist and the dialogue with cultures" by greeting the packed pavilion with "good morning" in multiple languages, including the Cebuano dialect, Italian, Mandarin and sign language.
For Frankie Berry of Deaf Village Ireland in Dublin, the greeting meant a lot.
"Straight away, I warmed to him. His use of everyday words helped," she told Catholic New Service through hastily written notes.
Tagle referred to the atmosphere of "eucharistic fervor" in the room of more than 12,000 delegates from 71 countries, calling it "climate change at its best."
"The climate of unity of peoples of different nations, tongues, cultures becoming one body in Jesus Christ: what warmth, what joy, what love," he said.
The same culture of unity should be found in every parish, he said, insisting that Jesus created a new culture by breaking from cultural norms. He "offered a new way of living, thinking and acting" and used space in a way that let children come close, allowed a woman known to have sinned to anoint him, touched a leper. While he "ate a lot," Jesus was always sharing those meals with people who would never be invited to dine at anyone's table, said Tagle.
"Do the wounded, lost, shamed, humiliated and despised find a family in our community?" he asked.
John Glenn Avila, a seminarian "on regency," a period for discerning further whether the priesthood truly is for him, noted the cardinal's reference to "the culture of isolation," which Jesus broke through by welcoming the unwanted. Avila said one of the most memorable highlights of the cardinal's talk was how the culture of isolation could be broken, starting with the family.
"Restore the family meals," Tagle emphasized. "The basic unit of the family meal is the common table. Nowadays the basic unit of the meal is 'my plate. And if I have my plate with food on it, I can go anywhere and eat it by myself.' But that is not a meal. That is just eating."
The cardinal hit on the pope's warnings about the "throwaway culture," one in which people buy things for the sake of buying them and then simply discard them.
"In the Eucharist, we propose the culture of gift," he said.
He pointed out that the Bible is filled with "people who are thrown away," including David under threat of being discarded by King Solomon, Joseph and Mary "thrown away to the manger," and Jesus thrown away by jealous leaders and finally tossed aside by friends who denied him. But God took all of them "in his gentle hands" and gave them as gifts to the faithful.
"Gifts that are given are not to be thrown away," Tagle said. "This culture of communion and gift-sharing will make a eucharistic community, a real, a credible presence of Christ in the cultures of the world and provide the world a reason to hope."

How cool is this: In the Philippines 5,000 children received 1st Holy Communion

5,000 kids in Cebu receive First Communion at IEC


Cebu Archbishop emeritus gives a young boy his First Holy Communion during the 51st International Eucharistic Congress at Cebu City Sport Complex (photo by Roy Lagarde)
Cebu Archbishop Emeritus Ricardo Cardinal Vidal gives a young boy his First Holy Communion during the 51st International Eucharistic Congress at Cebu City Sports Complex (photo by Roy Lagarde)
CEBU City, Jan. 30, 2016 – The Cebu City Sports Complex was filled to capacity Saturday as 5,000 Catholic boys and girls marked a milestone in their spiritual lives by receiving their First Communion.
“I’m happy and glad [to be in this event],” said eight-year old Maryst Norña Donque of Cebu South, one of thousands of little ladies dressed in white for the special occasion, when asked how she felt like as she was about to have what St. Thérèse of Lisieux called the first “kiss of love” with the Lord.
“I’m glad that the First Communion of my daughter is during the 51st International Eucharistic Congress (IEC),” commented Marsyt’s father, Marbien, an instructor at the Holy Trinity College.
“It took 79 years and it [IEC] went back to the Philippines. Before it was Manila. This time it’s Cebu. We’re Cebuanos are proud,” he added.
Meanwhile, Christopher Rago, the father of third-grader John Chrismar Rago, another communicant, of Brgy. Pamutan, was thankful Cebu is hosting the IEC, and that his son was finally having his First Communion.
“We are so happy we are able to come here,” the multi-cab driver added.
Presiding over the “Children’s Mass” was no less than Cebu Archbishop Emeritus Ricardo J. Cardinal Vidal, who due to his frail health had to be wheeled in to the venue.
In his opening greeting, the 84-year old prelate recalled having been a boy of six when he himself first accepted the Body of the Eucharistic Lord in a similar ceremony held at Luneta, Manila in 1937.
“I know very well the feeling of these children here …. I was one of those children who received First Communion during Children’s Day at Luneta. I was amazed at the beauty of the priest and the many people. I was even more amazed at the papal legate looking like a king with his long red robe. But above all as a young boy I felt very big,” he shared to the applause of the crowd.
The children went on to renew the promises their godparents had recited on their behalf on their baptismal day.
“Viva Jesus, Bread of Life …  Viva Jesus, life-giving food … Viva Jesus, hope of our glory,” this new generation of Catholics said in chorus.
The well-attended religious event capped a series of activities lined up on Day 7 of the ongoing 51st International Eucharistic Congress.
Witnessing the First Communion were IEC Eucharistic pilgrims from all over the world.
Besides the Archdiocese of Cebu, other episcopal sees in the Philippines were represented in the event as well through the communicants’ parents
These were: Pasig, Novaliches, Ilagan, Talibon, Dumaguete, Calbayog, Naval, Pagadian, Malaybalay, Palo, and the Military Ordinariate. (Raymond A. Sebastián / CBCP News)

Special Saturday Papal Audience for Jubilee of Mercy

Mercy and mission go hand-in-hand, Pope says

Pope Francis greets pilgrims in St. Peter's Square during the Wednesday General Audience, May 21, 2014. Credit: Daniel Ibáñez.
Pope Francis greets pilgrims in St. Peter's Square during the Wednesday General Audience, May 21, 2014. Credit: Daniel Ibáñez.
.- Mercy and the Christian responsibility to be missionaries are closely connected, Pope Francis said Saturday, kicking off the first in a series of special audiences for the Jubilee Year of Mercy.
“As Christians, we have the responsibility to be missionaries of the Gospel,” the Pope said during the Jan. 30 audience, which centered on the “close link between mercy and mission.”
The pontiff explained how mercy received from the Father is not meant as a “private consolation” for us, but a tool whereby “others can receive the same gift.”
“There is a wonderful interplay between mercy and mission. Living mercy makes us missionaries of mercy, and being missionaries allows us to grow ever more in the mercy of God,” he said.
“Therefore, we take our Christian lives seriously, and we should strive to be faithful, for only in this way can the Gospel can touch the hearts of people and open them to receive the grace of love, to receive this great mercy of God which welcomes everyone.”
Saturday's gathering in St. Peter's Square was the first in a monthly series of audiences for the Holy Year of Mercy.
The Jubilee of Mercy is an Extraordinary Holy Year that officially commenced December 8 – the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception – with the opening of the Holy Door in St. Peter's Basilica. It will close Nov. 20, 2016 with the Solemnity of Christ the King.
“We go every day to the heart of the Holy Year of Mercy,” and the Lord guides us through the Holy Door in order to be close to us, “despite our failings and our contradictions,” the Pope said.
“Let us never tire of feeling the need of His forgiveness, because when we are weak, his closeness makes us strong and enables us to live with greater joy our faith.”
Pope Francis quoted the words of his predecessor, St. John Paul II, saying that the "Church lives an authentic life when she professes and proclaims mercy and when she brings people close to the sources of mercy.”
Speaking on the responsibility of Christians to be missionaries, the Pope said we tend to want to share the good things in our lives.
“When we receive good news, or when we live a good experience, it is natural that we feel the need to share it with others,” he said.
“We feel within us that we can not hold back the joy that was given to us and we want to expand it.”
It is this very joy which “drives us to communicate” what we have received, and the same applies when we encounter the Lord, the pontiff said: “the joy of this encounter, of his mercy, communicating the mercy of the Lord.”
“In fact, the concrete sign that we have really met Jesus is the joy we feel when conveying this to others,” he said.
This sharing of what is received is not “proselytizing,” the Pope stressed. Rather, it is giving a gift: “I give to you that which gives me joy.” 

The Pope reflected on the Gospel account of Andrew immediately sharing his experience encountering Jesus with his brother Peter, and likewise Philip with Nathanael.
“Meeting Jesus equals to meeting with his love,” the Pope said. “This love transforms us and enables us to pass on to others the strength that it gives to us.”

Today is also the Feast Day of a Pope

St. Felix IV

Image of St. Felix IV


Felix IV Elected pope in 526, St. Felix IV was the candidate of Emperor Theodosius, whose widow Amalasuntha allowed the pope to judge clergy who were accused of misconduct. Felix turned a pagan temple into the church of Sts. Cosmas and Damian. In 529, he sent twenty-five chapters on grace and free to Cćsarius of Arles. The Second Council of Orange accepted them as a condemnation of semi-Pelgianism and as a confirmation of the teachings of St. Augustine. Felix died in 530 and was buried in the portico of St. Peter's.

Don't think human trafficking is real? Just look to I-20 and the state of Alabama

The ‘Sex Trafficking Superhighway’ most Alabamians don’t even realize runs through their state

(Video above: “I-20: The Sex Trafficking Superhighway”)
Anna* grew up in what she describes as a “middle-to-upper class family” in Alabama. On her sixteenth birthday, her parents got her a Honda Accord.
“I had my wheels, I had my freedom,” she says.
But like many American teenagers, Anna’s relationship with her parents was sometimes frayed over things like what clothes she was allowed to wear and what time she had to be home on weekends.
She expressed her frustrations to a friend named Maggie*.
“I confided in her that I needed a job to pay for my car insurance and more clothes,” recalls Anna. “And she told me about her job and how easy the money was.”
The “job,” as Maggie described it, was basically to “go on dates with some guys to make some easy money.”
“I met this guy and he introduced me to a whole new world,” Anna says. “He bought me… anything I wanted. And I loved him. This guy was ‘The One.’ He convinced me to leave home and I guess I was willing to do anything, so I did.”
Three months later life as Anna knew it was over.
Anna knows now that her friend Maggie — the one who introduced her to this dreamy older guy — was what is known as a “Bottom Girl,” someone sex traffickers use to lure girls into their trap.
The Well House, an Alabama-based ministry for victims of prostitution and sex trafficking, explains how it happens:
The Bottom Girl introduces the girl to a new friend at a party. This new “friend” quickly wins the admiration of the victim through different means, typically lavish gifts and the promise of “grown-up” life experiences.
Through this enticing, trusting relationship, the trafficker entices the teen to run away from home. And he or she will put them up in an apartment. Once the trap has been set, there’s no easy means of escape.
And so enters I-20, the perfect means of transportation for this valuable “product.”
“I didn’t even see it coming,” says Anna.
And she is not alone.
“You’ll have these girls running up to you at a rest area asking you if you need any company,” says Harold*, an eighteen-wheeler driver and a member of Truckers Against Trafficking. “I-20 is a growing problem… A day doesn’t go by when I don’t see 15, 20, 30 girls working these truck stops… The only thing law enforcement has done about it (in some places) is put ‘no parking’ signs on some of the side streets…. It’s sad.”
I-20 is a 1,513 mile stretch of highway that runs halfway across America, from West Texas to South Carolina.
The stretch of I-20 between Atlanta, Georgia, and Birmingham, Alabama, which is used by over 10 million people each year, has the unenviable title of being the Sex Trafficking Superhighway, “America’s number one road for human sex trafficking.”
And business along I-20 is booming. Sex trafficking is the world’s fastest growing illegal activity. It is a $13 billion per year business in the United States alone, and 75% of the victims are being trafficked as sex slaves.
Shockingly, in 2013, four times the amount of people were sold as slaves in America than the year before the Civil War.
“It isn’t what you think it is,” says Jen*, who was sucked in after answering an ad for what she thought was a legitimate modeling agency. “(It’s not) some troubled girl running from an abused family life. It’s clean and it’s nice. These pimps are altering their techniques to snare vulnerable girls any way they can. It could be anybody — some new friend you made on Facebook; some awesome guy you met at the beach or the mall. It could even be your best friend.”
Next week, Alabama leaders will meet in Montgomery for the 2015 Alabama Human Trafficking Summit.
“The reason people are so unaware of this is it takes place in the shadows of society,” said Alabama State Rep. Jack Williams (R-Vestavia Hills), who chairs the Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force. “The purpose of our meeting next week is to heighten awareness. We want law enforcement, first responders, former victims, even folks in the medical profession to help people to know what to look for and inform them about what resources are available to victims of trafficking. We’ll also share some success stories about how some people have been able to overcome this type of victimization.”
For more information on the event, visit
*Names have been changed, but the stories are real.

Some great suggestions for focusing on awareness of human trafficking

25 things to do instead of social media and texting:

  1. Pray for an end to Human Trafficking.
  2. Write a note to a friend with words of encouragement.
  3. Ask a co-worker or friend how their day is going
  4. Look up, water the plant on your desk or tidy your space
  5. Get up and walk around the room.
  6. At lunch, read a few pages of a book or magazine
  7. Drink a glass of water.
  8. Stretch or do a few pushups
  9. Doodle
  10. Make a list
  11. Go to daily Mass or spend a few minutes in Adoration. To find a church near you head to
  12. Think of something fun to do this weekend and plan it.
  13. Write down a task you might forget (home or work related)
  14. Check for upcoming events on your calendar.
  15. Take five deep breaths.
  16. Clean or help out in tidying the break room at your office.
  17. Thank God for another day.
  18. Write down three things you’re grateful for.
  19. Plan an evening with the family where everyone helps to cook, clean and play games afterward.
  20. Think of a habit you want to start
  21. Listen to your favorite song.
  22. Try this 3-minute retreat here.
  23. Call your parents or a relative you’ve been meaning to call.
  24. Memorize your favorite quote.
  25. Read the daily readings for today.

Let's all become more aware of the evil of human trafficking

On Monday the Archdiocese of New Orleans is focusing on awareness of the awfulness, the sinfulness of human trafficking.  We may remember a very powerful campaign to increase awareness here in New Orleans during the hosting of the Super Bowl here a few years back. 

Part of the Archdiocese plan is to encourage us all to avoid social media that day and instead focus our time on praying for an end to human trafficking and to increase our own awareness.  Here is an article from the USCCB website to help us gain that further awareness:


Anti-Trafficking Program


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Creating a world where immigrants, refugees, migrants, and people on the move are treated with dignity, respect, welcome and belonging.

—Migration and Refugee Services Vision Statement

In the News

Child Victims of Human Trafficking-  A new study by USCCB, June 2015
"USCCB Brings Awareness Workshop to Houston" -Texas Catholic Herald, February 10th, 2015
"Catholics Called to do Everything in Their Power to End Trafficking" - Catholic News Service, February 9th, 2015
"A Call to Fight Human Trafficking" - Arlington Catholic Herald, November 12th, 2014

Who We Are

The mission of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Anti-Trafficking Program (ATP) is to educate on the scourge of human trafficking as an offense against fundamental dignity of the human person; to advocate for an end to modern day slavery; and to provide training and technical assistance on this issue.

What We Do

Each year, an estimated 17,000 vulnerable men, women and children are trafficked across our borders and then forced into slavery. Many are fleeing terrible situations in their home countries, and come to the United States to find a better life. Unfortunately, the nightmare often begins when they reach our shores. For over a decade, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has been a national leader in advocacy and education to eradicate sex and labor trafficking. For six years, USCCB and our partners provided intensive case management services to victims of human trafficking, assisting more than 2,232 survivors of trafficking and over 500 of their family members. Currently, we are concentrating our efforts on training and technical assistance so that victims can be identified and brought into safety. Hopefully one day, we can eradicate the horrible crime of modern day slavery.

Programs and Awareness Raising

Visit our program pages below to learn more about what we currently do.
Trafficking Victim Assistance Program
Become a Shepherd 
The Amistad Movement
February 8th: International Day of Prayer and Awareness Against Human Trafficking
If you would like more information about our past programs and work, click here.

Catholic Fund Against Human Trafficking


Help us in our fight against human trafficking by making a contribution.  If in New York, Florida, or the District of Columbia, donate online.. . .   If in another state, please go to the Catholic Fund against Human Trafficking.

How You Can Help

Be Part of the Solution.
Learn More About Human Trafficking:
Click to find out more about the issue of human trafficking and to learn about the Catholic Church's teaching on this subject.
Learn about our Become a Shepherd program.

Be observant.Identify victims in your community and respond appropriately. Use our Red Flags and Screening Questions to Identify Victims and then Take Action.     
Spread the word.
Help us distribute posters and other resources in your community.  For resources or to request technical assistance, training or consultancy services, contact Anti-Trafficking Services / 202.541.3357.
Be informed.
Sign up for our mailing list.