Monday, October 31, 2016

November universal prayer intentions of the Holy Father


Universal: Countries Receiving Refugees
That the countries which take in a great number of displaced persons and refugees may find support for their efforts which show solidarity.

Evangelization: Collaboration of Priests and Laity
That within parishes, priests and lay people may collaborate in service to the community without giving in to the temptation of discouragement.

November begins with All Saints Day; a holy day of obligation

All Saints' Day

All Saints' Day is a solemn holy day of the Catholic Church celebrated annually on November 1. The day is dedicated to the saints of the Church, that is, all those who have attained heaven. It should not be confused with All Souls' Day, which is observed on November 2, and is dedicated to those who have died and not yet reached heaven.
Although millions, or even billions of people may already be saints, All Saints' Day observances tend to focus on known saints --that is those recognized in the canon of the saints by the Catholic Church.
All Saints' Day is also commemorated by members of the Eastern Orthodox Church as well as some protestant churches, such as Anglican, Lutheran and Anglican churches.
Generally, All Saints' Day is a Catholic Holy Day of Obligation, meaning all Catholics are required to attend Mass on that day, unless they have an excellent excuse, such as serious illness.
Other countries have different rules according to their national bishop's conferences. The bishops of each conference have the authority to amend the rules surrounding the obligation of the day.
All Saints' Day was formally started by Pope Boniface IV, who consecrated the Pantheon at Rome to the Virgin Mary and all the Martyrs on May 13 in 609 AD. Boniface IV also established All Souls' Day, which follows All Saints.
The choice of the day may have been intended to co-opt the pagan holiday "Feast of the Lamures," a day which pagans used to placate the restless spirits of the dead.
The holy day was eventually established on November 1 by Pope Gregory III in the mid-eighth century as a day dedicated to the saints and their relics. The May 13 celebration was subsequently abandoned.
In Ireland, the Church celebrated All Saints' Day on April 20, to avoid associating the day with the traditional harvest festivals and pagan feasts associated with Samhain, celebrated at the same time.
Following the establishment of the Frankish Empire, and following the reign of Charlemagne, the holy day, which was already celebrated on November 1, became a holy day of obligation by decree of Pope Gregory IV and Louis the Pious, who was king over a portion of Charlemagne's former empire.
Following the Protestant Reformation, many Protestants retained the holy day, although they dismissed the need to pray for the dead. Instead, the day has been used to commemorate those who have recently died, usually in the past year, and to remember the examples of those who lived holy lives.
The Catholic practice however, celebrates all those who have entered heaven, including saints who are recognized by the Church and those who are not.
Holy day customs vary around the world. In the United States, the day before is Halloween and is usually celebrated by dressing in costumes with themes of death commonly associated. Children go door-to-door in costume, trick-or-treating, that is soliciting candy from their neighbors. The holiday has lost much of its connection to its religious origins.
Although nearly everyone celebrates Halloween for the fun of the secular holiday, the following religious solemnity, is not widely practiced or acknowledged by most Americans unless they are Catholic.
In other countries, such as Portugal, Spain and Mexico, traditional practices include performance of the play, "Don Juan Tenorio" and offerings made to the dead. All Saints' Day occurs on the same day as the Mexican "Dide los Innocentes" a day dedicated to deceased children.
Across much of Europe, the day is commemorated with offerings of flowers left on the graves of the dead. In Eastern Europe, candles are lit on graves instead of offerings of flowers.
In some places, such as the Philippines, graves can be painted and repaired by family members. Many of these practices blur the distinction between All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day.
These celebrations often blur the distinction between All Saints' Day, which is properly dedicated to those who are in heaven, and All Souls' Day, on which prayers are offered for all those who have died, but have not yet reached heaven.
In Mexico, the Day of the Dead holy days extend from October 31 through November 2.
It is important to remember these basic facts:
Halloween is a secular holiday that comes the night before All Saints' Day.
All Saints' Day is on November 1, and it is a Holy Day of Obligation.
All Souls' Day in on November 2, and it is NOT a Holy Day of Obligation.

A great big blogging thank-you

Tonight, while the world is trick or treating, I want to reflect on blogging and offer a big thank you.  As many of you know I blog because I am a Catholic Deacon.  I blog because I figured out how to do it although there is little sophistication to my blogging.  I love to share my homilies and reflections and I really like to offer daily features like Saint of the Day and updates from Pope Francis and all things about the diaconate.

Last year in March my monthly reach topped 10,000 views per month and I am very pleased that monthly reach has remained over 10,000 ever since.  In fact last month we topped 20,000 and this month we will be above 25,000.  I want to thank everyone who takes the time to read my blog.

Someone asked me why you titled it abitadeacon?  Perhaps another name would garner more national attention but I wanted to pay homage to the community of Abita Springs where my beautiful home parish church, St. Jane de Chantal, is the very center of the community.  Also, my wife pointed out something when I established the blog that I had never noticed before.  When I was assigned to St. Jane, even though I live about 8 miles northeast of the church, my mailing address indeed is Abita Springs.  Before I came along there were already three deacons assigned to St. Jane, 2 living much closer than I do.  Yet all of the other deacons had mailing addresses for other cities, Mandeville, Covington and Bogalusa to be specific.  My wife told me, you are the only Abita Deacon; thus the name.

I would like to ask one favor.  I really would love to have more followers on my blog.  When you log in here at you can sign in as a follower.  If you would be so kind, please take a few minutes to sign up.  And always remember you can find me at the link previously provided or check out my facebook page also titled abitadeacon.

And most of all, thank you for your readership.  For now, I continue to just keep blogging away!

The joint statement signed today by the Pope and the leader of the LWF

Pope and President of LWF sign Joint statement

Pope Francis and Bishop Mounib Younan sign the Joint Statement in Lund's Cathedral - AP
Pope Francis and Bishop Mounib Younan sign the Joint Statement in Lund's Cathedral - AP


(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis and Bishop Mounib Younan, President of the Lutheran World Federation signed a Joint Statement on Monday in which Catholics and Lutherans pledged to pursue their dialogue in order to remove the remaining obstacles that hinder them from reaching full unity. They also stressed their commitment to common witness on behalf of the poor, the needy and the victims of injustice. The Declaration was signed during the ecumenical prayer service held in Lund’s Lutheran Cathedral on the first day of the Pope’s visit to Sweden.
Please find below the full text of the Statement:
on the occasion of the Joint Catholic-Lutheran Commemoration of the Reformation
Lund, 31 October 2016

«Abide in me as I abide in you.  Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me» (John 15:4).
With thankful hearts
With this Joint Statement, we express joyful gratitude to God for this moment of common prayer in the Cathedral of Lund, as we begin the year commemorating the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation.  Fifty years of sustained and fruitful ecumenical dialogue between Catholics and Lutherans have helped us to overcome many differences, and have deepened our mutual understanding and trust.  At the same time, we have drawn closer to one another through joint service to our neighbours – often in circumstances of suffering and persecution.  Through dialogue and shared witness we are no longer strangers.  Rather, we have learned that what unites us is greater than what divides us.
Moving from conflict to communion
While we are profoundly thankful for the spiritual and theological gifts received through the Reformation, we also confess and lament before Christ that Lutherans and Catholics have wounded the visible unity of the Church.  Theological differences were accompanied by prejudice and conflicts, and religion was instrumentalized for political ends.  Our common faith in Jesus Christ and our baptism demand of us a daily conversion, by which we cast off the historical disagreements and conflicts that impede the ministry of reconciliation.  While the past cannot be changed, what is remembered and how it is remembered can be transformed.  We pray for the healing of our wounds and of the memories that cloud our view of one another.  We emphatically reject all hatred and violence, past and present, especially that expressed in the name of religion.  Today, we hear God’s command to set aside all conflict.  We recognize that we are freed by grace to move towards the communion to which God continually calls us.
 Our commitment to common witness
As we move beyond those episodes in history that burden us, we pledge to witness together to God’s merciful grace, made visible in the crucified and risen Christ.  Aware that the way we relate to one another shapes our witness to the Gospel, we commit ourselves to further growth in communion rooted in Baptism, as we seek to remove the remaining obstacles that hinder us from attaining full unity.  Christ desires that we be one, so that the world may believe (cf. John 17:21).
Many members of our communities yearn to receive the Eucharist at one table, as the concrete expression of full unity.  We experience the pain of those who share their whole lives, but cannot share God’s redeeming presence at the Eucharistic table.  We acknowledge our joint pastoral responsibility to respond to the spiritual thirst and hunger of our people to be one in Christ.  We long for this wound in the Body of Christ to be healed.  This is the goal of our ecumenical endeavours, which we wish to advance, also by renewing our commitment to theological dialogue.
We pray to God that Catholics and Lutherans will be able to witness together to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, inviting humanity to hear and receive the good news of God’s redeeming action.  We pray to God for inspiration, encouragement and strength so that we may stand together in service, upholding human dignity and rights, especially for the poor, working for justice, and rejecting all forms of violence.  God summons us to be close to all those who yearn for dignity, justice, peace and reconciliation.  Today in particular, we raise our voices for an end to the violence and extremism which affect so many countries and communities, and countless sisters and brothers in Christ.  We urge Lutherans and Catholics to work together to welcome the stranger, to come to the aid of those forced to flee because of war and persecution, and to defend the rights of refugees and those who seek asylum.
More than ever before, we realize that our joint service in this world must extend to God’s creation, which suffers exploitation and the effects of insatiable greed.  We recognize the right of future generations to enjoy God’s world in all its potential and beauty.  We pray for a change of hearts and minds that leads to a loving and responsible way to care for creation.
One in Christ
On this auspicious occasion, we express our gratitude to our brothers and sisters representing the various Christian World Communions and Fellowships who are present and join us in prayer.  As we recommit ourselves to move from conflict to communion, we do so as part of the one Body of Christ, into which we are incorporated through Baptism.  We invite our ecumenical partners to remind us of our commitments and to encourage us.  We ask them to continue to pray for us, to walk with us, to support us in living out the prayerful commitments we express today.
Calling upon Catholics and Lutherans worldwide
We call upon all Lutheran and Catholic parishes and communities to be bold and creative, joyful and hopeful in their commitment to continue the great journey ahead of us.  Rather than conflicts of the past, God’s gift of unity among us shall guide cooperation and deepen our solidarity.  By drawing close in faith to Christ, by praying together, by listening to one another, by living Christ’s love in our relationships, we, Catholics and Lutherans, open ourselves to the power of the Triune God.  Rooted in Christ and witnessing to him, we renew our determination to be faithful heralds of God’s boundless love for all humanity.

Pope in Sweden seeking unity with Lutherans

Pope in Sweden: Our Separation Has Enabled Better Understanding of Some Aspects of Faith
Says world expects from Christians a united testimony
Pope in Sweden. Ecumenical service.
© PHOTO.VA - Osservatore Romano
Half a millennium after the Reformation, Catholics and Lutherans have a “new opportunity to accept a common path,” says Pope Francis.
The Pope said this today in Sweden, where he is on an ecumenical journey to commemorate the start of the Reformation by focusing on the 50 years of dialogue that have highlighted the points of unity between Catholics and Lutherans.
We cannot be “resigned to the division and distance that our separation has created between us,” he said. “We have the opportunity to mend a critical moment of our history by moving beyond the controversies and disagreements that have often prevented us from understanding one another.”
Speaking of God the Father as the vinedresser who tends and prunes the vine to make it bear more fruit, the Bishop of Rome said there should be recognition that “our division distanced us from the primordial intuition of God’s people, who naturally yearn to be one, and that it was perpetuated historically by the powerful of this world rather than the faithful people.”
“Certainly, our separation has been an immense source of suffering and misunderstanding, yet it has also led us to recognize honestly that without [Jesus] we can do nothing; in this way it has enabled us to understand better some aspects of our faith,” he said.
The Pope said that with gratitude we can “acknowledge that the Reformation helped give greater centrality to sacred Scripture in the Church’s life.”
He also said that Martin Luther, “with the concept ‘by grace alone,’” reminds us that God “always takes the initiative, prior to any human response, even as he seeks to awaken that response. The doctrine of justification thus expresses the essence of human existence before God.”
The Pope then reiterated the need for unity in order to give witness to our faith.
We pray, he said, “‘Grant us the gift of unity, so that the world may believe in the power of your mercy.’ This is the testimony the world expects from us. We Christians will be credible witnesses of mercy to the extent that forgiveness, renewal and reconciliation are daily experienced in our midst. Together we can proclaim and manifest God’s mercy, concretely and joyfully, by upholding and promoting the dignity of every person. Without this service to the world and in the world, Christian faith is incomplete.”

On ZENIT’s Web page:
Full text:

Pope Francis now in Sweden

Pope Francis Kicks Off Apostolic Visit to Sweden
Francis Travels for Ecumenical Commemoration of 500th Anniversary of Reformation, to Meet Catholic Community
Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 4.08.34 PM
Pope outside Papal Flight - screenshot

Pope Francis has arrived in Sweden.
At about 8:30 this morning, the papal flight, Alitalia A321, carrying the Pope, his entourage and journalists, took off from Rome’s Fiumicino Airport.
The Holy Father’s visit to Sweden, for the joint Lutheran-Catholic commemoration of the Reformation, marks his 17th international Apostolic Trip, and his 26th nation visited.
After about 2 hours 40 minutes of flying, Pope Francis arrived, slightly early, at Malmö’s International Airport at approximately 11 a.m. local time, where a welcoming ceremony was held.
During his intense itinerary today, the Pope will partake in joint ecumenical prayer gathering in the Lutheran cathedral of Lund, and in an ecumenical event in the Malmö Arena, where he will conclude the day by meeting with the ecumenical delegations.
Tomorrow morning, before departing, he will celebrate Holy Mass in Malmö for Swedish Catholics.
Before leaving Italy, Pope Francis sent President of the Italian Republic, Sergio Mattarella, a telegram in which he explains that his trip to Sweden is for “the ecumenical commemoration of 500th anniversary of the Reformation and to meet the nation’s Catholic community.” He also extended his “respectful greetings” to President Mattarella and imparted his apostolic blessing to the Italian people.
As is customary, the Pope sent telegrams to the Heads of States of the countries he flew over, including Austria and Germany, in which he extended similar wishes in English.

Yes indeed we Catholics celebrate All Hallows Eve; the secular corrupted Halloween

It's Time for Catholics to Embrace Halloween
by Fr. Steve GrunowOctober 27, 2014

As we near All Hallows Eve, aka Halloween, we fired some questions at the walking encyclopedia that is Father Steve Grunow, and he responded with everything you ever wanted to know about Halloween and its deeply Catholic roots.
QUESTION: I always figured that Halloween had pagan roots, but you are telling me they are Catholic. Huh? How so?
Fr. Steve: The origin and traditional customs associated with Halloween require no other explanation than that they are examples of the kinds of festivity that served as a means of celebrating the various holy days of the Catholic Liturgical Year. This includes everything from masquerades, feasting, and the associations of a given day of the year with supernatural or spiritual truths.
I would draw a distinction between the violent, macabre imagery that characterizes the modern appropriation of Halloween as a kind of secular celebration and the more traditional customs that are characteristic of a Catholic cultural ethos. The descent of Halloween into the madness of an annual fright fest is a relatively recent development, but the true substance of Halloween belongs to the Church. Halloween (or “All Hallows Eve”) is the festive precursor to the celebration of the Church’s public commemoration of All Saints Day.
There has been an appropriation of the festivities of Halloween by modern pagans, but please understand that modern paganism is precisely modern and should be distinguished from the cults of ancient religions. The origins and practices of the modern paganism do not extend farther back than the late nineteenth century. Also, remember, the term “pagan” is a slippery one. What does it mean? The worship of the gods and goddesses from long ago? Those cults have long since passed away with the cultural matrix that once supported the world views that were the conditions for their possibility. You can’t just reinvent those cults without the culture that supported them.
The paganism that exists today is a romantic and very selective attempt at a re-appropriation of an ancient religious ethos, but it isn’t and cannot be the same thing that paganism was in its original cultural expressions. I think that the practitioners need to justify their beliefs by insisting on an association with what they are doing and ancient forms and styles of worship. This gives the impression that the modern pagan élan has more gravitas (especially in relation to Christianity) but it doesn’t make it the same thing as the ancient cults. The association that modern paganism makes between itself and the forms and styles of ancient culture is more about desire than it is about reality.
I think that the association of Halloween with paganism has much more to do with the Protestant Reformation than anything else. The Protestant reformers were concerned about the practices of medieval Christianity that to them seemed contrary to what they believed the Church should be. They knew that these practices had clear precedents in the history of the Church, but insisted that they represented a corruption of the original form of Christianity that had become degraded over time. The degradation was explained as a regression into cultural forms that the Protestants described as pagan.
I realize popular religiosity is a complex phenomenon and the Church in Europe did intentionally assimilate many cultural practices that were more ancient than it’s own practices, but it did so selectively and with a keen sense of discernment. The end result was not simply that a veneer of Christianity was placed on top of an ancient pagan ethos, but that a new cultural matrix was created, one that was Christian to its core. It is a gross mischaracterization and oversimplification to assert that you can just scratch the surface of medieval Christianity and what rises up is paganism.
And yet this perception endures in contemporary culture. You see it, for example, in works of fiction like Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, which appropriates ideas from a lot of spurious, pseudo scholarship that permeated British intellectual culture throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Unfortunately, this has become a standard and widely accepted narrative of how Europe became Christian. It is a modern myth born of the prejudices and propaganda of the Protestant reformation that mutated into the secular critique of Catholicism. As an ideological construct it represents the simultaneous fascination and aversion to Medieval culture in general and Catholicism in particular. The reality is far more complex and interesting.
Protestantism was and is proposing what its adherents believe to be an alternative to Catholicism. This means that Protestantism will distinguish itself from the forms and styles of religious life that preceded their own culture and that this culture will be presented as a purified form of Christian faith and practice. One argument that is advanced to justify Protestant distinctiveness is that the beliefs and practices of the Catholic Church are pagan.
Placing all this in an American cultural context, the United States set its cultural roots in forms of Protestantism that were keenly aware of the distinction between themselves and a Catholic Europe that they had rejected and whose influence they had hoped to leave behind. Remember, the Puritans left Protestant England for the New World because England wasn’t Protestant enough! The Puritans detested the residual forms of Catholicism that they believed remained in the state church of England.
The arrival of Catholic immigrants to the shores of Protestant America was a source of great cultural consternation. The public festivals of the Catholic Faith were characterized as a corrupting and dangerous form of paganism. Halloween with all its carousing and shenanigans was especially problematic, as it represented the incursion of a specifically Catholic cultural form into a public life that was supposed to be Protestant. Everything associated with these Catholic festivities was caricatured as pagan and the association stuck with even the Catholics internalizing the critique and believing that their own customs were holdovers from paganism.
As a result, the distinctly Catholic nature of Halloween became more and more muted and it was Catholics pulling back from their own festival that gave rise to the contemporary version of Halloween. The goulish version of the festival that we have today is in many respects a result of Catholic accommodation to a Protestant culture. And in a another strange twist in the history of Halloween, most everything that the devout Protestant detests about Halloween have become all the more pronounced as a result of their protests.

Many more questions here:

Sunday, October 30, 2016

The perfect Saint for Halloween Day

St. Wolfgang

Image of St. Wolfgang


Feastday: October 31
Death: 994

Wolfgang (d. 994) + Bishop and reformer. Born in Swabia, Germany, he studied at Reichenau under the Benedictines and at Wurzburg before serving as a teacher in the cathedral school of Trier. He soon entered the Benedictines at Einsiedeln (964) and was appointed head of the monastery school, receiving ordination in 971. He then set out with a group of monks to preach among the Magyars of Hungary, but the following year (972) was named bishop of Regensburg by Emperor Otto II (r. 973-983). As bishop, he distinguished himself brilliantly for his reforming zeal and his skills as a statesman. He brought the clergy of the diocese into his reforms, restored monasteries, promoted education, preached enthusiastically, and was renowned for his charity and aid to the poor, receiving the title Eleemosynarius Major (Grand Almoner). He also served as tutor to Emperor Henry II (r. 1014-1024) while he was still king. Wolfgang died at Puppingen near Linz, Austria. He was canonized in 1052 by Pope St. Leo IX (r. 1049-1054). Feast day: October 31.

I am not ready to say goodbye to October

Good Lord what the heck happened to October 2016. After waiting patiently for the first full month of fall to get here, there she goes.  In a little over 30 hours October goes away and we will arrive at November.  And then there is the problem with the weather.  Yes October finally gave us our first cold front and we did have almost one week of high 40/low 50 mornings and 75 to 80 afternoons.  But that was almost one week only.  Before that and since then it's been way too hot and humid.  Today feels like 90.  And while October is traditionally dry, we have had no rain in a month; maybe one brief shower that was more like a spit.

October did provide us with all the usual fall stuff, football was hot and heavy and our local teams are not doing so well.  LSU transitions to life after Les Miles and has looked much better since the change.  Still, LSU is only ranked 15th as Alabama comes to town.  It will be an exciting week and a more exciting day next Saturday in Baton Rouge.  Tulane is the same mess they always are, now sitting at 3-5 with more losses to come.  The Saints salvaged October today with a very exciting victory over Seattle but still stand at 3-4.  I believe the jury is still out and I do now believe they can do better than the 6-10 record I predicted.  But I'm skeptical because I need to see so much more from this organization as the losing seasons pile up.  Today though was an exciting win for the Saints. 

October was super busy for ministry and all things "deacon".  October brought the first ever Deacon Convocation for the Archdiocese of New Orleans as Archbishop Aymond spent an entire day with all the Permanent Deacons and those wives who were able to attend.  This is a great milestone for us and we all appreciated the time with the Archbishop and the knowledge we gained to be able to better serve the church.  In addition to the convocation October brought two full weekends of preaching, several special visits with the men at Rayburn Prison, the continuing weekly Bible studies and a nice opportunity to interview some young people preparing for confirmation.

November will bring a very busy month from All Saints Day to First Friday and a big retreat at Rayburn this Saturday.  I will be worn out by the end of the first weekend in November.  I also am looking forward to a special prayer service I'm participating in at my former assigned parish, Most Holy Trinity then of course our Thanksgiving liturgy.  Of special note, the end of the Jubilee of Mercy will soon be upon us and just like that we begin Advent. 

November of course will bring to an end this nasty ugly election year.  Sadly, I do not believe the election will end the divisiveness and the nasty.  I hope I'm wrong.  But in any event, at least the election will be done in just about 10 days.

So I am sad to see October go but very happy to welcome November and to always rejoice that each and every day, each change of month and each change of season all belong to God.  May we all experience a grace filled November!

Homily 31st Sunday Ordinary Time

For me, it was a pecan tree in my grandmother's back yard.  It was a massive tree and I could climb high enough to spend lots of time in the perfect resting place.  I loved the view from way up high and passed a great deal of my childhood there with my hopes and dreams.  It would only be later in life that I realized that to fulfill those hopes and dreams I had to climb down.
Zacchaeus found a sycamore tree.  Scripture tells us that the unpopular tax collector was short in stature and needed to climb that tree just to catch a glimpse of Jesus who was passing through Jericho on his way to Jerusalem, where He one day, would hang upon a tree. 
As a tax collector Zacchaeus cooperated with the Roman officials and made his money by charging extra to the hard-working tax payers.  The people did not like Zacchaeus and certainly did not care that he could not see Jesus as the crowd pushed him further back.  The crowd would be shocked then when Jesus, spotting Zacchaeus up that sycamore tree called to him , told him to climb down and invited Himself to stay at his house.  Jesus sought out the sinner, Jesus sought out the most despised man in the community.  Why would Jesus do this?  Scripture tells us that Jesus came to save those who are lost.  As we say in the penitential rite at the beginning of Mass, Lord Jesus, you came to call sinners.
I knew a sinner named Woody; an inmate at Rayburn Prison.  Like Zacchaeus, Woody was short and small in stature.  He was the oldest man in our Catholic Community at this state run prison.  He was also the first inmate who made a real effort to make me feel comfortable on my first few visits to Rayburn as a Catholic Chaplain.  I would learn from Woody that he was very smart, very well read and imprisoned a very long time.  He never denied the fact that he had committed a crime and would remain in prison for the rest of his life.  But while in prison, he climbed his own sycamore tree and caught a glimpse of Jesus.  He could hear Jesus invite him to climb down that tree and spend time together.  Woody experienced a complete change of heart and devoted all his time in prison to serving Christ by serving others.  He became a tutor to the younger prisoners and helped them earn a GED and even an associate degree in several instances.  He was a shining example to others at church, he was a song leader and always proclaimed the responsorial psalm.  He invited others to Mass, went to confession monthly and prayed daily.  When a retreat was planned for mostly hard-core, unbelieving inmates, Woody was selected to attend as an example to others of what a faithful, sycamore climbing Christian looked like!  He helped the retreat team encourage others to climb their own sycamore trees and many not only climbed the tree but climbed down and spent time with Jesus.  Seven days after the retreat ended, so did the life of my friend Woody.  Suddenly and unexpectedly, Woody died in prison, felled by a stroke.  Died on the concrete floor because not enough medical help was available that day.  A week later, in the chapel at Rayburn prison, where most nights 50 men gather for mass, more than 200 were there for Woody's memorial service.  The warden came, many of the guards too; they came to honor Woody who became the hands and feet and voice of Jesus to many others.
In the week ahead, I would like for all of us to think about Woody and Zacchaeus and consider too that sycamore tree.  Thanks to the words of a brother Deacon allow me to share the following:
the sycamore tree provided a means for Zacchaeus to see Jesus when others, the crowd, prevented him from doing so.  Many people in our world today, like Zacchaeus and Woody before their conversions, have still not seen Jesus. Our society today is full of materialism, hatred and distraction.  We are witnessing a war of words, a nasty political battle, attacks on religious liberty, laws that supress expression of faith while promoting the killing of unborn children.  Society has become the crowd that blocks the view of Jesus for those who need to see Him.  But we, each of us here, can be less like the crowd that blocks others from seeking Jesus and more like that sycamore tree that lifts others high, to see Jesus, to hear his invitation to conversion, to bring others to salvation.
So I ask us gathered here today, who will you be a sycamore tree for this week?  How will we witness to others as my friend Woody did everyday in prison? How will we show others that Jesus is glorified in us, and us in Him and invite others to climb down and share in His joy?

Good information ahead of Pope Francis trip to Sweden to remember the "reformation"

Questions and Answers about Pope Francis' Visit to Sweden

Image: Questions and Answers about Pope Francis' Visit to Sweden
Sunday, 30 Oct 2016 06:51 AM

STOCKHOLM (AP) — Pope Francis is traveling to Sweden to join Lutheran leaders for a joint commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.
The anniversary of monk Martin Luther's challenge to Catholic dogma may not seem like an event to celebrate from the Vatican's perspective, but Francis' participation is part of the Vatican's wider efforts to mend ties with other Christians.
For history's first Jesuit pope, the visit is particularly significant given the Jesuits were founded to defend the Catholic faith from Protestant reformers.
Here are some questions and answers about the pope's visit:
A: The Protestant Reformation started in 1517 when German theologian Martin Luther nailed 95 theses on a church door in the town of Wittenberg, denouncing what he saw as abuses of the Catholic Church. Luther objected to the practice of selling indulgences to reduce the punishment for sins and challenged the pope's authority.
Pope Leo X excommunicated Luther, but the church couldn't stop his teachings from spreading throughout northern Europe. Religious wars erupted, including the Thirty Years War in 1618-48, one of Europe's bloodiest conflicts.
Protestantism became one of three major forces in Christianity, together with Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy. Lutheranism is one of the main Protestant branches.
A: One of Francis' main priorities as pope has been to promote what he calls a "culture of encounter" in which people of different faiths, especially Christians, walk, talk and pray together.
He joined the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians to meet with refugees in Lesbos, Greece. He prayed for martyred Catholics and Anglicans in Uganda. And he asked forgiveness for the Catholic Church's persecution of the small evangelical Waldensian Church in Italy.
He says he wants to bring that message of "coming together" to Sweden and its Lutheran Church.
Not all his advisers approve, however.
The Vatican's doctrine czar, German Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, said in a book interview that Catholics have "no reason to celebrate" the anniversary "which brought about the fracture of Western Christianity."
A: Following the Reformation, Protestants were denounced as heretics and persecuted in Europe's Catholic countries.
The Lutheran Scandinavian countries, on their part, enacted strict anti-Catholic laws to prevent their former faith from making a comeback. A ban on Catholic convents in Sweden wasn't lifted until 1977.
Dialogue between the Vatican and the Lutherans improved relations in recent decades and led to a landmark 1999 joint declaration on the doctrine of justification concerning God's forgiveness of sins. That had been one of the main stumbling blocks in their relations.
Theological divisions remain, however, and Francis is using the trip to encourage other ways the two churches can work together, particularly on humanitarian initiatives.

A: As rector of a Jesuit seminary in Argentina, the former Jorge Mario Bergoglio gave a 1985 speech 1985 in which he tore to shreds the theology and philosophy underlying Luther and Calvin, denouncing the heresy and schism that resulted and which his Jesuit order was founded to fight. He was chastised by Lutheran friends for other "offensive" comments.
He has since changed his tune.
This summer, Francis told reporters Luther was a reformer whose intentions weren't wrong since the Catholic Church of the time was "corrupt, worldly, attached to money and power."
The pope has gone so far with his own reform agenda that conservatives accuse him of "Protestantizing" the Catholic Church.
A: Francis' main event is an ecumenical service Monday with the Lutheran World Federation at the Lund Cathedral to commemorate the Reformation and give thanks for improved relations. Afterward, he travels to nearby Malmo, the largest city in southern Sweden, for another ecumenical event featuring testimonies by refugees as well as the bishop of besieged Aleppo, Syria.
On Tuesday he will preside over Mass in Malmo's soccer stadium in front of more than 15,000 people. A Lutheran delegation plans to attend.
Why Lund, population 80,000? The Lutheran World Federation was founded there in 1947.
A: The Catholic Church counts about 113,000 members in Sweden, the most since the Reformation. Most are migrants, though about 100 Swedes convert each year.
Francis originally planned a one-day trip for the Lutheran event and resisted doing anything special for local Catholics to preserve the ecumenical nature of the visit. But after the Catholic community protested, Francis scheduled a second day so he could celebrate a public Mass, even though it meant missing a major feast day in Rome.
The most famous Swedish Catholic is St. Bridget, the 14th century mystic who founded the Bridgettine order. But Sweden's latest saint has particular relevance for the visit: St. Elizabeth Hesselblad, a Lutheran convert to Catholicism who hid Jews in her Rome convent during World War II. Francis canonized her in June.
Winfield reported from Rome.
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Read more: Questions and Answers about Pope Francis' Visit to Sweden

Pope Francis at today's Angelus

ANGELUS ADDRESS: On Zacchaeus ‘the Tax Collector’
‘God behaves this way with all of us: He is not blocked by our sin, but overcomes it with love and makes us feel nostalgia for the good.’
Pope Francis during the Angelus of 23 august 2015
Here is a ZENIT translation of the address Pope Francis gave today before and after praying the midday Angelus with those gathered in St. Peter’s Square.
Before the Angelus
Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!
Today’s Gospel presents an event that happened at Jericho, when Jesus reached the city and was received by the crowd (cf. Luke 19:1-10). Zacchaeus, the head of the “publicans,” that is, of the tax collectors, lived in the city. Zacchaeus was a wealthy collaborator of the hated Roman occupiers, an exploiter of his people. He also, out of curiosity, wished to see Jesus, but his condition of public sinner did not allow him to approach the Master; moreover, he was small in stature, so he climbed up a sycamore tree, along the street where Jesus was to pass.
When Jesus arrived close to that tree, He looked up and said: “Zacchaeus, come down quickly,
for today I must stay at your house.” (v. 5). We can imagine Zacchaeus’ astonishment! But why did Jesus say I “must stay at your house”? What was His duty? We know that His supreme duty was to carry out the Father’s plan for humanity, which was fulfilled at Jerusalem with His condemnation to Death, Crucifixion and, on the third day, Resurrection. It is the plan of salvation of the Father’s mercy. And, in this plan, there is also the salvation of Zacchaeus, a dishonest man scorned by all and, therefore, in need of conversion. In fact, the Gospel says that, when Jesus called him, “they began to grumble, saying, ‘He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.’ (v. 7). The people see in him a villain, who has enriched himself on the skin of his neighbor. And if Jesus had said: ‘Come down, exploiter, betrayer of the people! Come to speak with me to settle the accounts!’ No doubt the people would have applauded. Instead, they began to murmur: “Jesus goes to his house, that of a sinner, of an exploiter.
Led by mercy, Jesus, in fact, sought him. And when He entered Zacchaeus’ house, He said: “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost” (vv. 9-10). Jesus’ gaze goes beyond sins and prejudices – and this is important! We must learn this. Jesus’ gaze goes beyond sins and prejudices; He sees a person with the eyes of God, who does not stop at past evil, but perceives the future good; Jesus is not resigned to closures but always opens, always opens new areas of life; He does not halt at appearances but looks at the heart. And here, He looked at this man’s wounded heart: wounded by the sin of greed, by the many bad things Zacchaeus had done. He looks at that wounded heart and goes there.
Sometimes we seek to correct and convert a sinner by reprimanding him, reproaching him his mistakes and his unjust behavior. Jesus’ attitude with Zacchaeus shows us another way: that of showing one in error his value, that value that God continues to see despite everything, despite all his mistakes. This can cause a positive surprise, which makes the heart tender and drives the person to bring out the goodness he has in himself. It is about giving individuals confidence, which makes them grow and change. God behaves this way with all of us: He is not blocked by our sin, but overcomes it with love and makes us feel nostalgia for the good. We have all felt this nostalgia for the good after a mistake. And God Our Father, thus acts, and then Jesus acts. There is no person who does not have something good. And God looks at this to bring him out of evil.
May the Virgin Mary help us to see the good there is in the persons we meet every day, so that all are encouraged to have emerge the image of God imprinted in their heart. And so we are able to rejoice over the surprises of the mercy of God! Our God, who is the God of surprises!
[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT] After the Angelus  
Dear brothers and sisters, proclaimed Blessed yesterday at Madrid were Jose Anton Gomez, Antolin Pablos Villanueva, Juan Rafael Mariano Alcocer Martinez and Luis Vidaurrazaga Gonzalez, martyrs, killed in Spain in the last century, during the persecution against the Church. They were Benedictine priests. We praise the Lord and entrust to their intercession the brothers and sisters that unfortunately, yet today, are persecuted for their faith in Christ in several parts of the world.
I express my closeness to the populations of Central Italy affected by the earthquake. There was a strong tremor also this morning. I pray for the wounded and for the families that have suffered great damages, as well as for the personnel involved in rescue and assistance. May the Risen Lord give them strength and may Our Lady protect them.
I greet affectionately all the pilgrims of Italy and of various countries, in particular those from Ljubliana (Slovenia) and from Sligo (Ireland). I greet the participants in the world pilgrimage of hairdressers and beauticians, the National Federation of Historical Processions and Games, the youth groups of Petosino, Pogliano Milanese, Carugate and Padua. I also greet the pilgrims of UNITALSI of Sardinia.
In the next two days, I will undertake an Apostolic Journey to Sweden, on the occasion of the commemoration of the Reformation, which will see Catholics and Lutherans gathered together in remembrance and prayer. I ask you all to pray so that this journey is a new stage on the path of fraternity to full communion.
I wish you a happy Sunday – there is a beautiful sun … — and happy Feast of All Saints. And please, do not forget to pray for me. Have a good lunch and see you soon!

Major earthquake strikes Italy; Basilica of St. Benedict practically destroyed

"There are no towns", says one official, after Italy's most powerful quake in 36 years devastates entire communities.
The destroyed Basilica of St Benedict in Norcia. Picture: @monksofnorcia

People were pulled injured from the rubble in towns across central Italy after buildings collapsed when a 6.6 magnitude earthquake hit "like a bomb".
The earthquake struck at the heart of a region already struggling to rebuild after being devastated by a series of quakes, including one in August that left 298 people dead and two massive tremors four days ago.
Buildings weakened by those seismic shocks finally collapsed when the quake hit at 7.40am local time on Sunday.
Injured people were pulled from the rubble in a number of towns, but so far no deaths have been reported.

Video: Buildings destroyed by Italian quake
The magnitude was recorded at 6.6, with a depth of 10km, and if that stands, it would make it the most powerful earthquake to hit the country in 36 years.
In the town of Norcia, near Perugia, in the region of Umbria, nuns and monks fled into the street as a cathedral and a church, which had been left standing after the recent earthquakes, crumbled.
They joined residents to pray in the town square where a firefighter appealed to the priest to keep panicking residents calm, saying: "We have to keep people calm. Prayer can help. I don't want people to go searching for family members."
The Monks of Norcia said the 14th century Basilica of St Benedict had been "flattened" in the quake. Some knelt in the rubble of the landmark, which attracts 50,000 pilgrims each year, deeply upset by the loss of the building they tended.
Rescue workers help a nun in Piazza San Benedetto in Norcia
Image Caption: Rescue workers help a nun in Piazza San Benedetto in Norcia
St Mary Argentea church, known for its 15th century frescoes, and the town's ancient walls were also seriously damaged. The town hall clock tower appeared perilously close to collapse.
Norcia city assessor Giuseppina Perla said: "It's as if the whole city fell down."
The town's deputy mayor, Pierluigi Altavilla said: "It was like a bomb went off. We are starting to despair. There are too many quakes now, we can't bear it any more."
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi pledged to rebuild all of the homes and churches destroyed by the latest earthquake.
Priests have been told not to hold masses in churches in the region because of the risk and have been advised to hold All Saints Day celebrations outdoors in village towns and squares.
In Cascia, 13 miles south of Norcia, a hospital was being evacuated and children in some towns were being told schools would not open on Monday.
Aleandro Petrucci, the mayor of Arquata del Tronto, another of the towns battered by the series of quakes, declared: "There are no towns left. Everything's come down."
Even in Rome, more than 100 miles away, cracks appeared in buildings and the underground train network was shut for structural checks.
Around 1,300 residents in towns in the Umbria and Marche regions had already fled to the coast after being struck four days ago by a 6.1 magnitude and 5.5 magnitude earthquake.
Those who had not left had been sleeping in their cars. One of them was the Mayor of Ussita, Marco Rinaldi. He said: "Everything collapsed. I can see columns of smoke, it's a disaster, a disaster.
"I was sleeping in my car. I saw hell break out."
The quake was felt as far away as Rome
Image Caption: The quake was felt as far away as Rome
Rescuers confirmed that a handful of farmers and elderly people who had refused to leave the small village of Casali after last week's strikes had been found and they were considering forcing them to move out.
Italy's emergency services said there was serious damage across towns and villages in the regions of Marche and Umbria.
Civil Protection chief Fabrizio Curcio said: "We know of about ten injured persons, but they are slightly injured, except for a person who is in a more severe condition."
The US Geological Service measures the earthquake at 6.6 with its epicentre three miles north of Norcia