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Hungering for Justice: Homelessness and hunger in Vermont

The Gospel clearly states where Jesus was born – in Bethlehem in a hastily improvised shelter. A place where animals were kept: a stable, in fact. Yet that night, that humble space became the birthplace of the King of Kings. After the visits from the shepherds and the Magi, Joseph was forewarned, in a dream, of Herod's plan to kill the child. He was instructed to flee Bethlehem with the child and his mother to Egypt, where they remained for about two years.

As a carpenter Joseph expected to be able to find work in Nazareth. But, relocating a family then was probably no more comfortable or secure than it is for families today. No doubt Mary and Joseph experienced a period of uncertainty with homelessness and hunger.

Homelessness and hunger continue to plague society. Here, in Vermont, the needs of the poor and working poor have become commonplace. Some communities have worked tirelessly to cope and address these issues while others are working to catch up. Some resist efforts to address the fact that people are without basic human needs: shelter, food and warmth.

First the good news: Vermont Catholic Charities, Inc. is actively engaged in assisting the homeless and those who seek emergency aid, along with providing counseling for individuals and families. In many cases such counseling is an essential component of enabling someone to overcome the severe adversity they are confronting.

Burlington area residents have organized and operated the Committee on Temporary Shelter for years. That has required a great deal of collaboration on the part of numerous people. It has required the support of the city government. And it has required financial support that residents have willingly given. Part of the success of the COTS program is a function of the size of the Burlington area population and the social conscience that the Queen City community exhibits.

Other Vermont towns have implemented services on a smaller scale while relying on social service agencies to arrange lodging for the homeless at local motels.

Sadly, some communities have resisted efforts to address the problem out of complacency or fear that the homeless may cause an adverse impact on businesses in town, property values, public safety, etc.

The reality is that Vermont, naturally beautiful as it is, can be dangerously cold. With average winter temperatures in the low 20s and snowfall totaling 120 inches, we can be certain that people unable to stay warm and dry would succumb to these life-threatening conditions.

The issue of hunger is being addressed by many religious and secular organizations. Numerous churches operate their own food shelves and collaborate with other churches or agencies to maintain a food shelf in the community. This is supplemented by efforts of such agencies as the Vermont Food Bank and regional community action and anti-poverty agencies funded by state or federal support.

In some towns, there are soup kitchens and hot meal programs operated by one church or another. In St Johnsbury, a "community meal" is provided three days per week on a rotating basis at three different churches. St. John the Evangelist supplements that with a once a month community soup, bread and fruit meal, of course topped off with desserts. (Soup and desserts are courtesy of generous and talented cooks in the parish.) And the Sunday morning coffee hour after Masses is open to the broader community.

The St. Johnsbury community has launched a temporary homeless shelter during the winter months. The shelter operates at a facility supported by the hospital; it is also supported with professional and volunteer staff from Northeast Kingdom Community Action. Included in the program is a counselor who will offer assistance to clients to help them find permanent housing and develop plans to emerge from homelessness.

In this Year of Mercy, the Catholic community needs to prayerfully examine its response to the problems of homelessness and hunger. Parishes and individual Catholics would do well to expand their response. Stepping up efforts to support the local food shelf is an excellent starting point. Efforts to support a soup kitchen, community meal or a homeless shelter are other important steps. It would be important for all of us, individually and as the Church, to stretch to see how much we really can help. But merely wishing the hungry and homeless well is not acceptable. (See Jas 3:15-16.)

Deacon Pete Gummere, M.S., M.A. lives in St. Johnsbury and serves at Corpus Christi Parish. He is a bioethicist and an adjunct faculty member at Pontifical College Josephinum, where he teaches courses in medical morality and moral theology in the Josephinum Diaconate Institute.

 

Living the Word: The Epiphany of the Lord, Jan. 3, 2016

Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72; Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5,6; Matthew 2 1-12

They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. (Mt 2:11)

While the world has quickly moved away from Christmas to the next holiday, the Church only began its celebration at sundown Dec. 24 and will conclude the Christmas season next Sunday, Jan. 10, with the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. The Catholic faith is truly countercultural, and these Christmas season feasts in January prove that assertion. Today's feast, the Epiphany, follows the Magi from the East as they come to adore the newborn child. Having escaped the clutches of Herod, the Magi enter the home of Mary to bring their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the newborn savior of the world.

The beauty of these feasts after Christmas Day is that the faithful can take a step back and really feel the meaning of the birth of Jesus Christ. The gift giving is done, the Christmas trees are either put away or added to the mulch pile, and all are lamenting that they ate far too much during the Christmas season. So with all of the commercial festivities of Christmas now complete, the faithful can now follow the example of the Magi of today's feast. They can make the journey to the newborn child. They adore the Word made flesh. Finally, they offer him the very gift of self. Ah, the true meaning of Christmas!

Throughout Advent Christians journeyed to the newborn child of Christmas. Time was spent in prayer. The candles of the Advent wreath were slowly and patiently lit. Christians sought meaning, purpose, and salvation in the word of God made flesh in Jesus. On Christmas day, the faithful symbolically arrived at the manger scene. In the life of Jesus, there are four important stops that are crucial to the faith of the Christian: the manger scene, the upper room where the Last Supper was shared by Jesus and his companions, the foot of the cross, and the empty tomb of the Resurrection. The place of Jesus' birth, the first Eucharist, the death of Jesus, and his Resurrection remind the faithful that Jesus came to guide God's people to eternal life.

Today, with the Magi, the faithful stand in awe and wonder at what God has done. Unlike the words of this column that will disappear, God's Word became flesh and will live forever. God has been born in time and space, to real parents and in a real community. Living among humanity, God took on human flesh to bring hope and salvation to all. That's what we see lying in that manger! Born humble, homeless, and poor, this newborn will be the salvation of all. With the Magi we stop at the spot of the birth of the son of God to adore this Christ child. Our journey will not stop there; it must continue to the other important stops along Jesus' journey. But today, in silence the faithful kneel in adoration at the crib of Jesus, this infant wrapped in swaddling clothes, who is the Way, Truth, and Life.

The Magi offer the newborn child and his mother Mary gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They made that long journey across the desert to adore the child, and then to offer all they had. Beware stopping at the manger! When the faithful come to adore the Christ child, he demands a response, and not a halfhearted assent to some obscure theological truth. No, this infant demands the total giving of self to his and our Father. He demands commitment to faith and obedience to the will of God the Father. Once the faithful have stopped at the manger, there is no going back! One's life will be changed forever at the realization that this child is the Word made flesh, as God has joined the human family in the person of Jesus, so now the human person is swept up into the life of God through Jesus' divinity. Redemption is now at hand. Come let us adore, that we, too, are redeemed and saved. Come let us give of ourselves to him, that in him we will know God. Thus is the true meaning and mystery of Christmas!

Questions for private reflection . . .

What do you see when you look into that manger? What affect does Jesus, the newborn child have on your life?

Say a prayer at the manger asking God to help and inspire you to live the Christian life fully in following this infant in swaddling clothes through his Last Supper, cross, and Resurrection.

Msgr. Bernard Bourgeois is the principal of Rice Memorial High School in South Burlington. Msgr. Bourgeois may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
 

'Pray with Me: Seven Simple Ways to Pray with Your Children'

"Pray with Me: Seven Simple Ways to Pray with Your Children"

By Grace Mazza Urbanski. Indiana: Ave Maria Press, 2015. 160 pages. $14.95 paperback, $11.99 Kindle, $10.49 Nook.

This beautiful little book should be among the items any new Catholic mother receives at her first baby shower. Urbanski, herself the mother of five children, outlines in gentle terms just how parents can convey a love of prayer to their children, even if those same parents start out feeling uncomfortable or inadequate to the task. As the author states in her introduction, "We think a prayerful person should also be a perfect person," an expectation which is precisely the opposite of what many parents feel on any given stressed-filled day. However, that is not a prerequisite for helping children form a prayerful relationship with God. Instead, she says, "Jesus invites us to focus on the beautiful hope he plants deep in our hearts, our fundamental desire for our children's good."

Urbanski approaches praying in seven different ways, some which may be familiar and others which may show a new way of relating to God. Her first chapter, Spontaneous Prayer, speaks of praying from the heart and from the "stuff" of everyday life. "Like an enthusiastic best friend, God loves to hear from us about even the most mundane details of our lives," she says. "Nothing is omitted. Spontaneous prayer invites God into the fullness of each day." In the second chapter, Praying from Memory, she explores the area most of us think of when we "say our prayers" – those beautiful words we learned so thoroughly and so long ago that they spring to our minds and lips almost without thinking. (The appendix of the book is, in fact, "A Treasury of Memorized Prayer"). In the face of differing thoughts (mostly in educational settings) about the value of memorization, she points out another way of looking at it: "Memorized prayer," she notes, "can become robotic, but consider another phrase we use to describe memorization: learning by heart." It is the heart which allows such prayer to nourish us.

In chapters three and four, Urbanski urges parents and children to pray both with Scripture and song. Chapter three essentially explores Lectio Divina on a child's level (with a good dose of St. Ignatius thrown in), while even the most "can't carry a tune in a bucket" parent may be amazed at the science behind the value of music for the human mind, heart and soul. "Biologically, singing releases chemicals in the brain that make us happier, more hopeful, and more trusting," Urbanski notes. "Spiritually, lifting our voices in sung prayer opens our hearts as well." And if the idea of singing seems intimidating, she reminds us that "like any activity that is a little new, singing together gets easier when we do it every day."

"Silence takes practice" the author tells us in the next chapter, but it is in silence that we most often hear the voice of God. In a world in which we are all – children included – bombarded by constant noise, cultivating the ability to find quiet time leads us to God, and then naturally to what Urbanski discusses in chapter six, Reflection. "Reflective prayer," she says, "invites us to see ourselves as we truly are: unique, beloved children of God." Finally, she talks about the Apostleship of Prayer, the Morning Offering, and praying with the Pope. "Faithfully remembering the pope's prayer intentions each month expands a child's worldview," she concludes. "By the end of a calendar year, children have considered 24 diverse groups of people and global issues."

This is an encouraging book, one that not only shows parents how to pray with their children, but how to pray better themselves. Highly recommended.

 

The Sword of the Spirit: Something too good to be told

It was Bishop Robert Barron, in one of his marvellous film reviews, who pointed out that the key to understanding Terrance Malik's movie "The Tree of Life," is the Book of Job. The movie, made in 2011, won the Palme D'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Unusually, it was hated by most of the critics; probably a good sign. However Roger Ebert called it "one of the greatest movies of all time" – critics are given to superlatives. It is a strange film; it requires patience, but as Barron suggested, the clue to the entire film is given by the fact that it opens with the words of God to Job: "where were you when I laid the foundations of the Earth … when the morning stars sang together and all the Sons of God shouted for joy?"

The movie spends the first fifteen minutes, with no speaking, showing images of creation – volcanoes, the sea, nature – probably why critics hated it and movie renters pressed pause and went to get a stiff drink. The movie tackles the enigma of innocent suffering – and so much more.

Chesterton regarded the Book of Job as the most important book in the Bible. He said it was both the most interesting of ancient books and the most interesting of modern books. "The patience of Job" is a phrase everyone with a modicum of education once knew, along with many other biblical phrases. Now that "nones" – those who claim no religious affiliation, are the largest group in the 18 to 35 age group, both in the U.S. and the UK, quoting anything from the Bible is likely to be met with a blank stare – far better to use a line from Star Wars.

Chesterton makes the point in his introduction to an edition of the Book of Job, published in 1916, that the book, "stands apart from most of the books in the Old Testament." He argues that the central idea of the Old Testament is what he calls, the "personality of God," almost to the point of the impersonality of man – "unless this gigantic cosmic brain has conceived a thing, that thing is insecure and void; man has not enough tenacity to endure its continuance." Job, he asserts, stands alone because it asks, "But what is the purpose of God?"

Job suffers, unjustly, undeservedly. He laments – he stands as an exemplar for all innocent suffering – but even more – he had been prosperous and successful, a sign, the ancients thought, of God's blessing. His famous lament is a questioning of God's purposes but, as GKC said, what makes the book so splendid is that "God asks questions!"

A central question of the book, Chesterton asserts, is whether God "invariably punishes vice with terrestrial punishment and rewards virtue with terrestrial prosperity." If that is the case, then the great danger, exemplified by the so-called "prosperity Gospel" of the likes of Joel Osteen, will be that if "prosperity is regarded as the reward of virtue it will be regarded as the symptom of virtue."

Yet when God speaks, when He questions Job, something changes. Job was "comfortless before the speech of God and is comforted after it." God has not explained anything – He has not justified Job's suffering or given reasons for it. The "refusal of God to explain His design is itself a burning hint of His design." Job experiences what Chesterton calls, in a sentence of mystical elegance, the "terrible and tingling atmosphere of something which is too good to be told."

Chesterton, it has been argued persuasively by Father Robert Wild, is a mystic, and may even be canonized for his theology of wonder. The Book of Job, GKC wrote, comforts, not by answering the questions, but is a "psalm or rhapsody of wonder." This is the reason Malik's film opens with scenes of the creation and God's awesome and poetic question to Job: "where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth … when the morning stars sang together and all the Sons of God shouted for joy?"

A Christian does not answer the question of innocent suffering, but they do experience the "terrible and tingling atmosphere of something which is too good to be told." We were not there when the sons of God were shouting with joy, or when the morning stars were singing. We all suffer and question, but we know know what St. Paul called the "hope in which we are saved." Jesus Christ, and God's unconditional love revealed in the Paschal Mystery, is the thing almost "too good to be told."

Benedict XVI wrote in his encyclical on hope, 'Spe Salvi,' that "if this absolute love exists," we will have hope, the knowledge of redemption, the experience of the Good News. Life, said Pope Benedict, "in its totality is a relationship with Him who is the source of life. If we are in relationship with Him who does not die – who is Life Itself – then we are in Life – then we live."

"The secret of God," said Chesterton, "is a bright and not a sad one." The mystery of the redemption is intuited by Job in his comforting and not in his patience. The story "too good to be told" is the Gospel.

Father Benedict Kiely is pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Stowe, director of Continuing Education for Clergy for the Diocese of Burlington, and Burlington Police Department chaplain.

Copyright 2016, Father Benedict Kiely

 

Communion of Saints: St. Valentine, Feast day Feb. 14

Although his name is very well known (especially in the greeting card, candy and flower industries), the actual identity of St. Valentine is not as clearly defined. In fact, there are three Valentines associated with February 14th who are mentioned in the early martyrologies; however, some scholars believe that two of them, one described as a priest and another as a bishop, may actually have been one and the same person.

What we can say about this saint is that he was likely an Italian who suffered martyrdom in the second half of the third century. According to one account, he was arrested for providing aid to imprisoned Christians; it has also been said that he converted his jailor by restoring sight to that man's blind daughter.

How the feast of an early martyr became associated with love and lovers is unclear, but some have speculated that Valentine may have been martyred as part of the "entertainment" provided during the Roman celebration of Lupercalia, in which young men and women paired up to honor the fertility goddess, Februata Juno. However it happened, there is no question that Valentine's name has been associated with romantic love at least since the Middle Ages, a custom which continues down to the present day.

Sources for these articles include:

www.americancatholic.org

www.catholiconline.com

"Saint Valentine of Rome." CatholicSaints.Info. 1 July 2015.

"Saint Scholastica." CatholicSaints.Info. 2 July 2015.

Shreck, Alan. "Catholic Church History from A to Z." Ann Arbor, Michigan: Servant Publications, 2002.

Thurston, Herbert. "St. Valentine." The Catholic Encyclopedia, 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912.

 

St. Scholastica: Feast Day Feb. 10

It is certainly not unusual for siblings to develop similar interests or to spend time, either together or apart, pursuing the same activities. This is particularly true when the siblings are twins; such was the case with St. Scholastica and her twin brother, St. Benedict. Between the two of them, they found the tradition of Western monasticism – he for men and she for women – that persists in the Church to this day.

Scholastica and Benedict were born into a wealthy Italian family in the town of Nursia in 480, and while twins are often close, the fact that their mother died in childbirth may have strengthened the bond between them even further. Little is known of the details of Scholastica's early life, but she and her brother were raised together in their father's house until Benedict left for Rome to pursue his studies.

In Scholastica's social class, young women often lived in their father's home until they either married or entered religious life. We do know, thanks to the writings of Pope St. Gregory the Great, that she was dedicated to God from an early age, and may even have gathered some like-minded young women around her while still living in Nursia. Whatever the circumstances, she remained in that house until her father's death.

When Benedict subsequently left the "worldliness" of Rome to live a more ascetic life at Monte Cassino (which is located between Rome and Naples), Scholastica relocated as well. Adhering to her brother's monastic Rule, she established what has become known as the first Benedictine convent either at Plumbariola, which is about five miles from Monte Cassio, or in a group of buildings at the foot of Monte Cassino itself.

Though brother and sister lived physically very close to one another, they only met in person once a year at a farmhouse near the monastery (the Benedictine Rule prevented Scholastica from entering the monastery building itself). During these rare meetings, they would spend the day praising God and discussing spiritual matters.

Very near the very end of her life, in 543, Scholastica and her brother were meeting as they usually did; when night drew on, however, she begged Benedict to stay with her until the next day, as she sensed that her own death was imminent. Because the Benedictine Rule stipulated that a monk must not spend a night away from his monastery, her brother at first refused. It is said that, at that point, Scholastica folded her hands on the table, lowered her head, and began to pray. Suddenly, a thunderstorm broke out that was so severe that neither Benedict nor the monks accompanying him could safely leave the convent.

Benedict then cried out, "God forgive you, Sister. What have you done?" Scholastica replied, "I asked a favor of you and you refused. I asked it of God and He granted it." Realizing that this was God's will, Benedict remained talking to his sister until the next morning, at which time they parted. It was the last time in this world that they saw each other; three days later, as he was praying, Benedict saw a dove rising to heaven and knew that it was his sister's soul returning to God. He announced her death to the other monks and instructed them to bring her body back to the monastery. There he laid her in a tomb that he had prepared for himself. He, in turn, died seven years later, in 550.

Scholastica, whose feast day is Feb. 10, is the patron saint of nuns; she is also invoked against severe storms and heavy rain.

Hungering for Justice...of Human Dignity


What is Marriage? Marriage is a sacrament: an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace. Marriage is the commitment pledged, freely given before God and community, of a man and a woman to live faithfully – one to the other – for life.

Catholic teaching on marriage is one of the most inspiring parts of all of our theology because it is a part of our very existence. It is through marriage that lives are created in love and families are formed. In a sacramental marriage the couple commits to welcoming children, raising them in the faith, as they strive to be examples of Catholic life.

The Church rejoices when couples seek a sacramental union and recognizes that marriage as a vocation often reaches highs and lows that present great joys and difficult challenges. Marriages are oftentimes tested daily with family strife, job advancements or losses, problems with the children, illnesses, financial strain and deaths of extended family members. A marriage may be imperfect and yet, couples seek to endure and remain faithfully committed to each other and to their divinely decreed purpose.

In contrast, abusive relationships are not built upon respect for the inherent dignity of the other person, but upon domination and fear. These relationships are anything but supportive of the human person. They involve emotional abuse or physical violence. Hardly a day goes by when we do not read, hear or view reports of domestic abuse. The relationship involves an abusive partner member, typically the man. Victims so used to being abused may even be unable to recognize the need for protection from the danger in which they live. The abuser may apologize manipulatively after an episode of abuse, promising "never" to repeat it. And yet, they do.

The Church neither ignores the reality of domestic violence nor minimizes the human tragedy in those relationships. We all have an obligation to care for the vulnerable. Clergy and others trained in family ministry, in particular counselors at Vermont Catholic Charities, Inc., assist marital/domestic abuse victims by offering help to rebuild damaged self-esteem, as well as to secure other forms of additional assistance.

Beyond the physical and emotional pain, social and economic hardships are inflicted as well. The isolation to which the abuser subjects the victim prevent her from maintaining healthy friendships with others. Such actions serve to increase the victim's vulnerability and increase their reliance upon the abuser.

A victim leaving the abusive situation is often without a place to turn, even a place to live and to focus on moving ahead. In fact, about 25 percent of all homeless individuals are victims of domestic abuse attempting to start over again.

Throughout Vermont social service agencies work with abuse victims. Most of these agencies are able to provide a "safe house" on short notice. This is an excellent resource for people trying to escape abuse.

A key step towards helping victims is to recognize signs of domestic violence and emotional abuse. These go far beyond an unexplained bruise. They usually include chronic isolation. There may be verbal hints of being belittled or needing permission from their abuser to do anything.

Long term resources are often needed to help a victim to get settled and to make a fresh start. As a Church, we need to consider carefully what more we can do to assist victims. Are there resources such as vacant housing that could be deployed to help on an interim basis? Are there other resources that can be deployed to minister to victims?

There is a world of difference between a happy, holy and fulfilling marriage and an abusive marriage or domestic relationship. The difference is respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.

Can we more effectively proclaim the message of human dignity both to adults and to young people? Prevention through effective education is a powerful deterrent. Long before they are ready to date, children need to know that emotional and physical abuse of another is gravely wrong and cannot be tolerated.

We should ponder this during the upcoming celebration of National Marriage Week, Feb. 7-14 and World Marriage Day on Feb. 7. The result of this reflection should be a positive and engaged response as the only merciful response.

Deacon Pete Gummere, M.S., M.A. serves at Corpus Christi Parish. He is a bioethicist and an adjunct faculty member at Pontifical College Josephinum, where he teaches courses in medical morality and moral theology in the Josephinum Diaconate Institute.

 

Living the Word


Living the Word
Ash Wednesday, February 10, 2016

By Msgr. Bernard Bourgeois

Joel 2:12-18; Psalm 51; 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2;

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

"Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God." (Jl 2:13)

For the task-oriented personality, Lent is a relatively easy season. The rules are simple. The faithful are asked to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. On the Fridays of Lent, one is to abstain from eating meat. Otherwise, the practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are pretty much left up to the individual to decide how in his life he can live these important Lenten traditions. Overall, there is very little in Lent that requires any real work, if the person so interprets Church practices in that way. Today's reading from Joel moves the person away from a checklist of Lenten rules, and more toward the conversion of one's heart.

Lent is the season of internal preparation for that great event of the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the most important moment of human history in which God definitively handed the human race salvation through his son, Jesus Christ. He suffered and died that he might identify fully with the suffering and death of humanity. To his cross, the person takes all of his sin and suffering in the search for redemption, forgiveness, and salvation. Jesus breaks the bonds of sin, suffering, and death in his resurrection. While not eliminated from the human race, sin, suffering, and death will not have the final say. Light, peace, and eternal life will be the final chapter! That is the power and glory of the death and resurrection of Jesus, a mystery which should bring tears to the eyes of those who believe. This is what Jesus has done for you. Is there anything more important than salvation? To the foot of the cross, the faithful bring their sin, suffering, and death. To the cross Jesus takes it all. The faithful go there as there is no where else to go. Only in Jesus will they find salvation and hope. The motto of the Holy Cross Fathers says it all: "Hail the Cross, Our Only Hope."

On this Ash Wednesday, the prophet Joel advises his people to "rend [their] hearts…" Change them, make them new, start fresh. These are all possible interpretations of "rending" one's heart. The faithful are asked to do so specifically in prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, or generosity. Rending one's heart is real work. A true Lenten journey is not for the faint of heart. In other words, let's make it real!

Prayer is the chief activity of Lent. It is accompanied by fasting and generosity. In fasting, one goes without food or activities in order to realize that it is only Christ who can fill the human person. In giving away time, talent, and treasure, one realizes that Christ and service to his people supersedes everything else. It all leads back to prayer. Fasting and almsgiving will open up time and space for Christ in prayer, if done wholeheartedly.

In conclusion, here are two suggestions for your Lenten prayer. First, spend some time in prayer, very quietly, simply gazing upon a crucifix. See your savior and your Lord on that cross. Know he did this for you. It is for your sin, suffering, and death that he suffered, died, and rose that you might have life. With eyes of faith, see through the cross to the empty tomb. Second, pray over and read the passion and death of Jesus as recounted in the Gospels of Palm Sunday (Lk 22:14- 23:56) and Good Friday (Jn 18:1-19:42). Keep looking at that crucifix while you read the story of the death of Jesus. Read it over and over, slowly and deliberately. In doing so, you will "rend" your heart, and be one with your Lord as he suffered, died, and rose from the dead for you. You will be ready to celebrate the joy of Easter, because you have understood and felt the death of Jesus, which leads up to that great feast. So, let's make this Lent real!

For private reflection …

In addition to the prayer activities mentioned in the column, think of ways your fasting and almsgiving can go beyond the minimum standard so as to aid in your life of Lenten prayer.

Msgr. Bernard Bourgeois is the principal of Rice Memorial High School in South Burlington. Msgr. Bourgeois may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

Book review: 'Bringing Lent home with Pope Francis'


Book Review
Kay Winchester
'Bringing Lent Home with Pope Francis'

By Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle. Indiana: Ave Maria Press, 2015. 96 pages. Cost: $3.50 paperback, $3.32 Kindle, $3.49 Nook

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle is no stranger to anyone who tunes in regularly to EWTN. A wife and mother of five, she is the host of "Everyday Blessings for Catholic Moms" and "Catholic Mom's Café," as well as being a frequent guest on "EWTN Bookmark." "Faith and Family Live" (now incorporated into Catholic Digest) named her one of the Top Ten Most Fascinating Catholics in 2009.

O'Boyle is also a prolific author, having written some 20 books on faith and family, including "Rooted in Love" and "The Kiss of Jesus." Invited to the Vatican in 2008 to participate in an international congress for women, which marked the 20th anniversary of the Apostolic Letter Lulieris Dignitatem (On the Dignity and Vocation of Women), she has received an Apostolic blessing on her books from both St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.

One of the things she treasures most is her friendship with Mother Teresa of Calcutta. They met more than a dozen times and shared a correspondence that spanned a period of 10 years, which inspired her to become a Lay Missionary of Charity. You can find out more about O'Boyle at her web site, www.donnacooperoboyle.com.

Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle has written a new book of Lenten reflections for families, and, like her other books in this series – "Bringing Lent Home with Mother Teresa," (Ave Maria Press), "Bringing Lent Home with St. Therese of Lisieux," (Ave Maria Press) and "Bringing Lent Home with St. John Paul II," (Ave Maria Press) this one also invites the reader to contemplate the season through daily "prayers, reflections and activities." Each of the day's meditations is based on the three traditional pillars of Lent – prayer, fasting and almsgiving – as well as the life and words of a particular spiritual guide; this year, that guide is, appropriately enough, Pope Francis.

The format of the book is designed to be easy for families to use; as O'Boyle says in her introduction, " … simply gather your family and move page-by-page, day-by-day, forging your way through Lent." She suggests gathering wherever people are comfortable, and then using her words as a springboard to what works best for each family's individual circumstances.

The basic structure remains the same each day; first, there is a quote from Pope Francis which sets the tone for all the rest. Each one is taken from such diverse sources as his homilies, remarks at his general audiences, and even his comments on Twitter. Although some are longer than others, they all bring one particular thought into focus and are incorporated into the opening prayer, which can be led by either a parent or an older child. Then there is a brief story from the pope's life (by the end of Lent, the reader is taken from the day he was born in 1936 until the present), followed by a suggestion for daily "fasting," which can be anything from "Today, fast from wanting things to go your way" to "Today, fast from too much busyness as well as technology." (In fact, one of the real strengths of this book is that most of the "fasting" suggested is often from attitudes or habits, although food is occasionally mentioned as well.)

The daily meditation ends with an idea for "almsgiving" which, like the fasting suggestion, moves beyond just material goods to things like "Make a point to place emphasis on others' good words and accomplishments" or "Show mercy and forgiveness today." The final prayer, which incorporates daily intentions as well as the familiar Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be, brings everything to a close. The fact that the rhythm of the book is simple and very adaptable to the circumstances of most families makes it a good resource for Lent.

The only caveat I would mention is that this book is probably best saved for families of school-aged children; even at that, some of the material will need some extra explanation on the part of the parent (there is a daily parent reflection to help with this, which O'Boyle suggests be read ahead of time.) I found this especially true in the telling of the pope's life; while adults might appreciate what is going on, very few little ones will understand the intricacies of things like "the solidarity campaign for the bicentenary of the independence of Argentina." (Some adults may want to do a little extra research on some of these things as well!) In fact, I found I identified more with O'Boyle's telling of Francis' life once he became pope; at that point her chronicling seems move from mostly facts to an emphasis on the pope's message.

This book can be used with any cycle of Lenten readings, and so can be revisited in another year as well. The last page, which is Francis' prayer to "Mary, Undoer of Knots," can be prayed any time.

Carrie Handy is the Respect Life Coordinator for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington.

Project Rachel

Retreats 2016

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Day of Hope and Healing

(Burlington Area)

Friday-Sunday, April 8-10, 2016

Rachel's Vineyard Retreat Weekend

For more information about these retreats or to speak confidentially to a trained Project Rachel professional, please contact: (802) 658-4118 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

Confessions of an 'elitist'

The term "elitist" has been bandied about so promiscuously in this election cycle that it's become virtually content-free. Yet "elitist" is also being weaponized as a scare-word to prevent legitimate criticism of ideas, attitudes, and behaviors once thought beyond the pale, even in the rough-and-tumble of politics (which, as Mr. Dooley reminds us, "ain't beanbag"). That kind of bullying is bad news for an already degraded political culture.

So let me offer these "Confessions of an Elitist" in the hope that they might encourage others to push back against the "anti-elitist" thought police – and in so doing, to help rescue American public life from terminal moral trivialization.

I believe that intelligence is superior to emotion, and reason better than anger in making political arguments and choices: in political debate as in curry, heat doesn't necessarily make things better.

I believe that the systematic rhetorical degradation of political opponents betrays a coarseness of mind and spirit corrosive of the norms of civility essential to democratic politics.

I believe that there are some things worth losing for, and that losing in defense of them doesn't make anyone a "loser."

I believe that the reduction of political argument to 140-character tweets is ruinous to democracy.

I believe that incitements to political violence are despicable, no matter what their source, alleged purpose, or putative justification.

I believe that a sense of honor is essential in a political leader and includes commitments to telling the truth (no matter how discomforting) and to doing one's duty (irrespective of political risk). I believe that a knowledge of history and an openness to learn from it are essential qualities in any public official who proposes to bend the curve of history in a more humane and just direction. I believe that politicians who ignore the danger of unintended consequences inevitably make matters worse rather than better.

I believe that, in politics, prudence is the greatest of the cardinal virtues, closely followed by courage (which prevents prudence from decomposing into expedience).

I believe that a legislator or president owes constituents his or her best judgment, and that the legislator or president who imagines himself or herself a mere channel of constituent passions is going to do a lot of damage to the common good. I believe that politicians who refuse to acknowledge their errors of judgment in the face of massive empirical evidence that they got it wrong display a narcissism that is inherently dangerous.

I believe that former public officials who accept obscenely large honoraria for (usually vacuous) speeches are reprehensible; that the people who pay those fees are either star-struck fools impressed with celebrity or inveiglers soliciting future access; and that both the payer and the payee in these tawdry transactions contribute to the further debasement of our politics into a sub-set of "entertainment."

I believe that any morally serious notion of "national interest" includes a concept of national purpose, informed by the classic ends of politics: freedom, justice, security, the common good, and the peace of public order.

I believe that a mass media facilitating a serious debate over complex issues, rather than playing "gotcha" games, would fulfill its ambition to be the fourth estate and be applauded by serious citizens.

I believe that political parties exist to achieve certain political purposes; that no party has a claim to exist in perpetuity; and that when parties abandon the noble ideas and purposes to which they once subscribed, party loyalty has no further claims to make on a thoughtful citizen.

I believe that tribalism – be that the ethnic tribe, the racial tribe, or the gender tribe – is inimical to democratic pluralism.

I believe that kowtowing to political correctness and indulging in identity politics are signs of low intelligence, cowardice, or both.

I believe that a "value-neutral" democracy is a contradiction in terms and that the attempt to create such a chimera in the name of false ideas of "fairness" and "tolerance" inevitably results in coercive state power being deployed to impose relativism on an entire society.

I hope you believe these things, too. If you do, welcome to the ranks of elitists. Wear the label with pride, and help rescue our political culture from the vulgarians.

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