The Pope's Monthly Intentions for 2023
We pray that parishes, placing communion at the center, may increasingly become communities of faith, fraternity and welcome towards those most in need.
reflections, updates and homilies from Deacon Mike Talbot inspired by the following words from my ordination: Receive the Gospel of Christ whose herald you have become. Believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach...
We pray that parishes, placing communion at the center, may increasingly become communities of faith, fraternity and welcome towards those most in need.
St. Brigid of Ireland
Feastday: February 1
Patron: of Ireland, dairymaids, cattle, midwives, Irish nuns, and newborn babies
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.
Saint Brigid Hearth Keeper Prayer
Courtesy of SaintBrigids.org
Brigid of the Mantle, encompass us,
Lady of the Lambs, protect us,
Keeper of the Hearth, kindle us.
Beneath your mantle, gather us,
And restore us to memory.
Mothers of our mother, Foremothers strong.
Guide our hands in yours,
Remind us how to kindle the hearth.
To keep it bright, to preserve the flame.
Your hands upon ours, Our hands within yours,
To kindle the light, Both day and night.
The Mantle of Brigid about us,
The Memory of Brigid within us,
The Protection of Brigid keeping us
From harm, from ignorance, from heartlessness.
This day and night,
From dawn till dark, From dark till dawn.
(OSV News) — The experience of the Sacrament of Penance in the Roman rite will be slightly different this Lent, thanks to approved changes in the English translation set to take effect in a few weeks.
Starting Ash Wednesday — which takes place this year on Feb. 22 — the prayer of absolution will include three modifications, so that the revised version will read as follows:
“God, the Father of mercies,
through the death and resurrection of his Son
has reconciled the world to himself
and poured out [formerly “sent”] the Holy Spirit for [previously “Holy Spirit among us for”] the forgiveness of sins;
through the ministry of the Church
may God grant [instead of “give”] you pardon and peace.
And I absolve you from your sins
in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
The new text was adopted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops during its Spring 2021 meeting, with the Vatican’s Dicastery (then-Congregation) for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments approving the text in April 2022. As of April 16, 2023, the Second Sunday of Easter known also as Divine Mercy Sunday, the revised formula for absolution is mandatory.
“The essential part of the absolution formula has not changed,” said Father Andrew Menke, executive director of the USCCB’s Secretariat for Divine Worship, during an Oct. 25, 2022, webinar co-sponsored by his office and the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions.
During his presentation, Father Menke admitted the bishops had debated whether the minor changes were worth undertaking. However, he said the consensus favored striving for a more accurate translation from the Latin.
Father Menke noted penitents “who can be a little scrupulous” might panic if priests — many of whom “have said this prayer literally thousands of times” — inadvertently use the old form of absolution.
“They might be concerned (that absolution) doesn’t count,” he said. Yet he stressed that “the heart of the sacrament” remains intact, and the absolution is still valid.
While not a major alteration, the update to the text nonetheless offers “a wonderful opportunity to reiterate and teach the importance of the sacrament of penance as a staple for living the Christian life,” Father Dennis Gill, director of the Office for Divine Worship at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, told OSV News ahead of a Jan. 31 webinar he plans to give on the topic. “It’s also a wonderful opportunity to catechize about the sacrament itself.”
Father Menke noted in his October 2022 webinar that the updates are part of a broader effort by the Vatican to ensure accuracy in the translation of liturgical texts.
“It’s not due to anything against the Latin texts,” he said. “It’s based on the fact that the Holy See instructed the bishops of the world at the beginning of the 21st century that our translations needed to be more accurate.”
Liturgical texts have been revised throughout Church history under papal direction: St. Pius V modified both the breviary and the missal in response to the Council of Trent, while St. Pius X, Pope Pius XII and St. John XXIII, who convened the Second Vatican Council, all significantly furthered such efforts.
Noting several difficulties in the practical application of Vatican II’s liturgical reforms, St. John Paul II stated in his 1998 apostolic letter “Vicesimus Quintus Annus” the need “to remedy certain defects or inaccuracies, to complete partial translations … (and) to ensure respect for the texts approved.”
The 2001 document “Liturgiam authenenticam,” issued by the Vatican’s then-Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, developed the scope of the project, which first resulted in the 2011 full retranslation of the Roman Missal.
Since then, “we’ve dutifully been going through the books one by one with the assistance of ICEL (the International Commission on English in the Liturgy) and preparing new editions of these books,” said Father Menke in his presentation.
So far, he said, new English translations of liturgical books have been completed for confirmation (2015), matrimony (2016), exorcism (2017), the dedication of a church (2018), the blessing of oils (2019), the baptism of children (2020) and ordination (2021).
The updates do not imply that “the (older versions) are heretical,” Father Menke told OSV News Jan. 30. “It’s just that Church authorities have determined we might do better.”
The translation process is a rigorous one, with plenty of opportunities for bishops to review and reconsider the proposed updates, he added.
ICEL contracts with translators who prepare texts for consideration by the 11 bishops’ conferences that are full members of the commission: Australia, Canada, England and Wales, India, Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines, Scotland, South Africa, and the U.S.
The bishops representing those conferences in ICEL then evaluate the translators’ work and, once approved, texts are then provided to the various bishops’ conferences for evaluation by all of their members.
Each bishops’ conference decides whether to implement and publish the eventual final version, Father Menke told OSV News.
As the translations are completed, he looks forward to a slightly slower work pace.
“There’s been this (ongoing) change for the last 10 years or so, with new books coming out,” said Father Menke. “I hope 10 years from now we’ll start a period of stability that will last a long time.”
Gina Christian is a national reporter for OSV News.
By Lisa Zengarini
In his first speech upon his arrival to the Democratic Republic of Congo, on Tuesday, Pope Francis decried the conflicts that continue to ravage the country, and the reckless exploitation of its immense natural resources by foreign forces.
Meeting with government authorities, civil society, and the diplomatic corps in the garden of the “Palais de la Nation” in Kinshasa, after his courtesy visit to Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi, the Pope urged the Congolese people to take their destiny into their own hands by rejecting violence and hatred.
He explained that his visit is born from his desire to bring them “the closeness, the affection and the consolation of the entire Catholic Church”, and that he is coming “as a pilgrim of reconciliation and peace”.
Likening the DRC to a diamond, one of the many riches of the country, the Pope noted that the Congolese people are “infinitely more precious than any treasure found in their fruitful soil.”
He remarked that beyond the abundance of natural resources, they also have a "spiritual wealth” to be found in their hearts from where “peace and development are born”, for which, he said, every Congolese should “feel called to do his or her part.”
“May violence and hatred no longer find room in the heart or on the lips of anyone, since these are inhuman and un-Christian sentiments that arrest development and bring us back to a gloomy past.”
Pope Francis went on to lament the exploitation that DRC and the whole African continent continue to endure today in the form of “economic colonialism” which, he said, is “equally enslaving”, making the Congolese people “foreign” to their own land.
“The poison of greed has smeared its diamonds with blood,” the Pope denounced, calling on the world acknowledge the “catastrophic” injustices committed in the past, and for an end to the ongoing plundering of its natural resources.
“Hands off the Democratic Republic of the Congo! Hands off Africa! Stop choking Africa: it is not a mine to be stripped or a terrain to be plundered. May Africa be the protagonist of its own destiny!”
Pope Francis then turned to the international community which, he said, “has practically resigned itself to the violence devouring” DRC, calling for a renewed effort to support development and peace in the African nation.
“The current peace processes, which I greatly encourage, need to be sustained by concrete deeds, and commitments should be maintained,” said the Pope.
He expressed immense gratitude to the countries and the organizations that are providing substantial aid in this regard, helping to combat poverty and disease, supporting the rule of law and promoting respect for human rights.
“Room needs to be made for diplomacy that is authentically human, for a diplomacy where peoples are concerned for other peoples, for a diplomacy centred not on control over land and resources, expansionism and increased profits, but rather on providing opportunities for people to grow and develop.”
Going back to the image of the diamond, Pope Francis noted that the richness of the Congolese society stems from its “polyhedral” character, which must be therefore preserved “avoiding any form of regression to tribalism and hostility.”
“The problem," he remarked, recalling a Congolese proverb, "is not the nature of ethnic and social groups, but the way in which they choose to live together: their willingness or not to encounter one another, to be reconciled and to start anew makes the difference between the grimness of conflict and a radiant future of peace and prosperity.”
In this regard, Pope Francis emphasized the crucial role that religions and civil society are called to play in contributing to this richness by committing to building peace and of fraternity in DRC.
Continuing with the metaphor of the diamond, Pope Francis focused on transparency in civic and political life, noting that what “dims the light of goodness in a society is often the darkness of injustice and corruption.”
In this regard, he underscored the crucial importance of promoting transparent and credible elections and greater participation in the peace processes and of pursuing the common good and people’s security, rather than personal or group interests.
Also, he said, the presence of the State in every part of the territory should be strengthened and the many refugees and displaced persons should be cared for.
Pope Francis went on to stress the urgent need to invest in education in order to make the “its most precious diamonds shine”. He lamented in this regard that all too many Congolese children still do not attend school and are instead exploited and subjected to servile labour in the mines.
“Children, young girls and all young people represent hope for the future: let us not allow that hope to be stifled, but instead cultivate it with passion!”
Pope Francis concluded by urging the Congolese people not to give in to “discouragement” and “resignation”, but to engage in “courageous and inclusive social renewal” of their country.
“[ In the name of Christ, who is the God of hope, the God of every possibility, who always gives us the strength to begin anew, in the name of the dignity and worth of the most precious diamonds of this splendid land, which are its citizens, I would like to encourage everyone to undertake a courageous and inclusive social renewal. ] ”
The current conflicts and challenges in DRC were also the focus of President Felix Tshisekedi’s address to the Holy Father, in which he thanked him, on behalf of all the Congolese people, for the interest he has always shown for the situation in the country, and for “fervently praying for peace in its eastern provinces”. He also expressed gratitude for his willingness to meet a delegation of internally displaced persons from these provinces.
By Peter Pinedo
Washington D.C., Jan 30, 2023 / 17:15 pm
The Biden administration Monday announced a proposal to eliminate employers’ ability to object to the Obamacare contraceptives mandate on moral grounds.
This change only proposes rescinding the moral objection exemption, not the religious exemption. The 2020 Supreme Court case Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania guaranteed that religious employers objecting to contraceptives on religious grounds would not be forced to provide birth control in contradiction to their beliefs.
The Health and Human Services (HHS) Department estimated that the proposed rule change would impact more than 100 employers and 125,000 employees, CNN reported.
While retaining the religious exemption policy, the Biden administration proposal would create a new way for employees of religiously objecting employers to obtain contraception with no out-of-pocket costs.
The Biden administration's proposal states that workers of employers with religious objections will be able to obtain contraception “without any involvement on the part of an objecting entity.” Under the proposal, an insurance provider providing free birth control services would be “reimbursed for its costs by entering into an arrangement with an issuer on a Federally-facilitated Exchange or State Exchange on the Federal platform.”
The pathway to obtain free contraception also will be available to students at universities with religious objections, the proposal states.
Under the Trump administration, the Obamacare policy was amended to allow employers with religious or moral objections to contraception to opt out of offering it in their insurance policies without penalty.
The Biden administration's change won't take effect until the completion of a 60-day public comment period, which is set to begin Feb. 2 once the proposal is filed in the Federal Register.
Kristi Hamrick, chief media and policy strategist for the pro-life group Students for Life of America, told CNA that the proposal was part of “a vicious cycle with life-and-death implications” and that the Biden administration is “ignoring Constitutional rights of conscience that should be protected.”
“Students for Life of America does not take a position against birth control per se,” she said. “We oppose forcing people to buy or fund drugs and devices against their beliefs, such as nuns, and we oppose forcing people to pretend that abortifacients mislabeled as contraception should also be paid for.”
The rule proposal comes as the Biden administration has vowed to expand access to both birth control and abortion in the wake of the Dobbs v. Jackson decision, which overturned nationwide legalized abortion, freeing states to regulation abortion as they see fit. On Monday, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services tweeted that it “is committed to protecting & expanding access to reproductive health care, including abortion & contraception.”
Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 30, 2023 / 16:09 pm
Pro-life lawmakers and activists are celebrating after a jury acquitted pro-life activist Mark Houck Monday on federal charges stemming from an altercation with a volunteer escort outside a Planned Parenthood facility in Philadelphia.
Although Houck, a Catholic father of seven, acknowledged he shoved the volunteer twice, he said he only did so because the person was harassing his 12-year-old son. Local law enforcement refused to file charges against him, but the Department of Justice (DOJ) dispatched a team of FBI agents to arrest him at gunpoint in front of his family.
He could have served up to 11 years in prison if he had been found guilty on two counts of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, better known as the FACE Act.
Several lawmakers praised the legal victory but chastised the DOJ for filing charges in the first place.
Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Arizona, tweeted that the news “marks a win” for the pro-life community. He also alleged that the charges were brought to intimidate pro-life advocates.
“[President Joe] Biden’s DOJ raided Mark’s home — in front of his children — on sham charges. They treated Mark like a domestic terrorist because of his faith. This type of intimidation has no place in America.”
Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, echoed some of those concerns.
“Mark Houck never should have been prosecuted, let alone treated like a terrorist in an early-morning FBI raid with a SWAT team,” Cotton tweeted. “[Attorney General] Merrick Garland should be ashamed for using [the] DOJ as a political weapon to target pro-life activists.”
Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Kentucky, also congratulated Houck on his legal victory and warned that this case demonstrates how politicized the DOJ has become.
“Some folks might mistakenly interpret this as an embarrassing loss for the politicized DOJ, but that would be ignoring their modus operandi, which is to punish people by putting them and their families through this process,” Massie tweeted. “In any case, congrats to Mr. Houck for prevailing.”
Many pro-life activists also expressed excitement about the win along with concerns about the power of the DOJ.
The pro-life group 40 Days for Life, which organizes peaceful protests outside abortion clinics, hailed the verdict as a “major win.” Shawn Carney, the founder of 40 Days for Life, called the case a “well-deserved embarrassment for the FBI and DOJ and an abuse of power by the Biden administration.”
“Being pro-life is not illegal,” Carney noted.
Lila Rose, the founder and president of the pro-life group Live Action, also reacted to the verdict.
“Pro-life father and sidewalk advocate Mark Houck has been found NOT GUILTY of violating the FACE Act,” Rose tweeted. “Last [fall] he was raided at gunpoint by the Biden FBI in front of his 7 children & faced up to 11 years in prison.”
Ryan Bomberger, a pro-life activist and speaker, called it “great news” that Biden’s Justice Department “fails to carry out its injustice.”
“Peaceful pro-life father, Mark Houck, is found NOT GUILTY of violating ridiculous #FACE Act,” Bomberger tweeted.
By Xavier Sartre - Kinshasa, DRC
Archbishop Ettore Balestrero has been the Apostolic Nuncio to DR Congo since 2018. He previously served in South Korea, Mongolia and the Netherlands before working in the Secretariat of State. In 2009, he was promoted to the position of Under-Secretary for Relations with States before being appointed Nuncio to Colombia in 2013. In 2018, he returned to Kinshasa where he succeeded Archbishop Luis Mariano Montemayor.
Speaking to Vatican News' Xavier Sartre, the Archbishop describes the organisation behind the Pope's Apostolic Journey to DRC. He says that despite the numerous challenges, "the joy of the faithful is so great that everything becomes easier: The dream has become reality," he adds.
Noting that the country is in a crisis and that the Pope will be meeting with victims of the violence in the country, "this is an important moment to invite the Congolese to turn the page, to be reconciled."
Urging people to make space for God in their own lives is one of the messages the Pope is bringing to the DRC, Archbishop Balestrero continues. Another important message, he continues, is to all Congolese, saying that "change is in their hands".
Then, the Archbishop adds, "there is also an important message for the international community, to whom he will no doubt say, 'You cannot forget the Democratic Repoublic of Congo, because there is a moral urgency: people cannot be neglected and cannot be forgotten.'"
"The Congolese are waiting for a message that can guide them in living their faith," continues the Archbishop.
He notes that the country Pope Francis will find is a very different one to the one visited by Pope Saint John Paul II 37 years ago.
"Measures must be taken" in order to reconcile, but mostly, "the river of hatred, the river of revenge, must flow into a much larger ocean, like the Congo River flows into the Atlantic Ocean. And it is the ocean of reconciliation that allows people to look at each other with different eyes, to build together with respect for each other. The future is to be shared in good and in bad," says the Archbishop.
Speaking about the difficulties the Church in DRC is facing, Archbishop Balestrero notes that "the main difficulty is to ensure that we have a real, personal relationship with Jesus Christ, that He enters into the life of each person, that He is not just a theoretical reference or a kind of superstition."
The Church in DRC, he adds, can share a host of gifts "on several levels" with the universal Church.
"First of all," he says, "at the level of the faithful, it teaches us that we can live on the cross without despairing, without dramatising and discovering faith, not as an anaesthetic, but as the true answer to overcome the dramas that crucify us: the Church in Congo can teach the universal Church the joy of expressing faith, especially in the liturgy," he explains.
He notes that this Church also teaches us "to be concrete, not to get lost in polemics fat from the real needs of life, of faith and of joy."
Bringing his interview to a close, the Apostolic Nuncio to the Democratic Republic of Congo highlights the devastating reality surrounding the violence in the country, and in particular, in the Goma region.
"The tragedy is that there are 500,000 displaced people, 250,000 of whom live around Goma," says Archbishop Balestrero. "They need food, they need clothes. Many of them are on the road and have died. There are diseases that are developing, such as a cholera epidemic."
The Archbishop assures that even in this dreadful context, "the Church remains there, the priests and the sisters do not abandon their posts."
Finally, the Archbishop bears witness to the wonderful work done by religious men and women in the area.
In particular, he recalls the determination of a group of sisters living and working in an area now controlled by milita group M23. Despite being asked to evacuate and abandon the hospital they were working in so as to take refuge, they stayed.
Archbishop Balestrero praised the nuns for saying, "'If we leave the hospital, people here will die because there are women who need to give birth, there are patients who need to be treated.' This community is made up of a Polish sister, Sister Agnes, a Congolese sister and a Rwandan sister," recalls the Archbishop.
"The three of them are a prophecy for the Congo, because they are doing together what the Congolese are not able to do," he says.