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Synod-2015 Revisited

As I write, just before Thanksgiving, it's been over a month since Synod-2015 finished its work. Yet there is still no official translation of the Synod's Final Report into the major world languages from the original Italian (a language regularly used by 8/10 of one per cent of the world's population). That's a shame because, in the main, the "Relatio Finalis" is an impressive, often-moving statement of the Church's convictions about chastity, marriage, and the family: biblically rich, theologically serious, pastorally sensitive, and well-crafted to meet the challenge of the cultural tsunami responsible for the contemporary crisis of marriage and the family, which has left a lot of unhappiness in its wake.

It's also a shame because the unavailability of the Final Report in the weeks after the Synod has led to all sorts of spinning about its contents, and thus to no small amount of confusion, even consternation.

So while it's impossible to do full justice to the "Relatio Finalis" in a single column, let me address some of those confusions through eight bullet-points, based on the original Italian text and informed by my experience of the discussions throughout Synod-2015:

1 The Final Report reaffirms the classic teaching of the Church on the indissolubility of marriage and the conditions for worthiness to receive holy Communion, both of which are based on divine revelation and are thus not subject to change.

2 The Final Report does not endorse what has become known as the Kasper Proposal, i.e., the readmission to eucharistic communion, after a penitential period, of divorced and civilly remarried Catholics whose prior marriage has not been granted a decree of nullity by an ecclesial court.

3 In reaffirming these classics of Catholic faith and practice, the "Relatio Finalis" affirms that there can be no wedge driven here between "doctrine" and "pastoral practice," for the traditional discipline of the Church is based on the conviction that what is at stake is the integrity of individuals before the Lord: in other words, worthiness to receive holy Communion is a matter of living in the truth.

4 In its now widely-controverted paragraph 85, the Final Report emphasizes that "pastoral accompaniment" of the divorced and civilly remarried by a priest in the "internal forum" must always be undertaken "according to the teaching of the Church." Those seven words were inserted in the "Relato Finalis" in the last 24 hours of the Synod and provide the necessary anchor for any truly pastoral accompaniment in the case of the divorced and civilly remarried (or indeed in any other case). For in pastoral life, as in the gospels, truth and mercy work together.

5 The Final Report urges the Church's pastors to provide whatever canonical/legal help they can in resolving difficult and painful situations of marital breakdown. It also underscores the importance of effective marriage-preparation programs, which are urgently needed in situations where the ambient public culture's understanding of "marriage" and the Church's understanding of "marriage" are often dramatically different. Which is to say, marriage preparation should be seen as an integral part of the New Evangelization, and an important ecclesial mission of mercy among the walking wounded who are sifting through what Pope Francis has described as the post-battlefield wreckage of contemporary culture.

6 The Final Report, like Cardinal Péter Erdő's opening address to the Synod as its Rapporteur- General, makes clear that there is no analogy at all between the Church's understanding of marriage and other living arrangements among consenting adults.

7 The "Relatio Finalis" (unlike the Synod's working document) celebrates children as a great blessing, praises large families, and urges support for families with special-needs kids.

8 In all of this, the Final Report emphasizes that the Church reads the "signs of the times" through the lens of divine revelation (in this case, the unambiguous teaching of the Lord Jesus and St. Paul). The "signs of the times" do not judge the deposit of faith, although the most challenging of those "signs" can highlight the Church's failures in teaching and witnessing to the truth.

For more, see my article, "What Really Happened at Synod 2015," available at www.firstthings.com.

George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

 

Communion of Saints: St. Hyacintha of Mariscotti

Feast day January 30

Often, the stories of the saints inspire by showing us, not so much the holiness they eventually attained, but the very human obstacles they overcame to get there. St. Hyacintha of Mariscotti is one such example; although indulging in a luxurious, spoiled existence – even in the midst of convent life – God found a way to soften her heart and reform her ways, so that it was her humility and penitential heart that eventually inspired those who lived with her.

Hyacintha was born in 1585 near Viterbo, Italy, and entered the Convent of St. Benardine after her hopes for marriage did not come to pass. For 10 years, however, she virtually ignored her vows, using her family's wealth to provide herself with rich foods and luxurious clothes. It was only when a serious illness forced her confessor to bring Communion to her in her cell that he observed her manner of life; he advised her most strongly to cease what she was doing and cultivate a life of humility instead. Inspired by his words, Hyacintha changed completely; by the time she died in 1640, she had become a model of humble service to others and an inspiration to all.

St. Hyacintha's feast day is Jan. 30.

Sources for these articles include: www.americancatholic.org

Butler, Edward Cuthbert. "St. Anthony." The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907.

Mershman, Francis. "St. Hyacintha Marisco_i." The Catholic Encyclopedia, 7. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910.

"Saint Anthony the Abbot". CatholicSaints.Info. 1 July 2015.

"Saint Hyacintha of Mariscotti". CatholicSaints.Info. 29 January 2013.

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

 

St. Anthony of Egypt: Feast Day Jan. 17

Feast day January 17

It is interesting that someone who once hoped to be a martyr would instead live to be 105 years old – thus it was with St. Anthony (or Antony) of Egypt. Born in the year 251, he would not only live through the last of the persecutions of Christians by the Roman Empire, but he would then go on to fight the heresy of Arianism and eventually become known as "the father of monasticism."

Anthony was born in Coma, Egypt, to affluent parents who died when he was only 20 years old. Left with a substantial material inheritance, it would be the spiritual foundation that his family had impressed upon him which would have the greatest influence on his life. Not long after their death, Anthony heard a Gospel reading at church that he felt was spoken directly to him: "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven." (Mt 19:21)

Much like St. Francis of Assisi, Anthony took this Scripture passage quite literally; after providing for a younger sister, he gave up all his material belongings and began to live a life of self-denial and asceticism. Unlike Francis, however, Anthony went on to live the majority of his life in solitude, devoting himself to prayer and contemplation of the bible.

Anthony began his spiritual journey not too far from his home, in an empty tomb where he remained apart from the world for 15 years. During this time, St. Athanasius, whose Life of St. Anthony is the source for much of what we know of the saint, tells us that he did battle with demons, which often came to him in the guise of wild beasts. Not only did they torment him spiritually, but physically as well, occasionally leaving him nearly dead.

At about the age of 35, Anthony felt God calling him to even greater solitude, and so he moved into the desert, occupying an abandoned fortress there for the next 20 years. During that time, which was filled with intense prayer, further battles with demons, and the overwhelming presence of God, it is said that he never saw the face of another human being. When Anthony finally emerged from solitude, it was not as an emaciated, damaged man, but rather as one who was robust, healthy, and on fire with the love of Christ.

Despite his desire for solitude, Anthony's reputation for holiness and joy had a_racted others to him, and he soon found himself providing them with spiritual guidance and even physical healing. Many of them wanted to follow the same kind of vocation as Anthony, and so the solitary saint organized a "monastery" of sorts, composed of individual cells scattered around his retreat, where monks could live their lives in prayer and contemplation. For about six years, this "desert father" ministered to them, and it was for this reason that he became known as the father of the "eremitical" life – that is, the life of a hermit.

Although the persecution of Christians by the Roman Empire ended in 313 with the Edict of Milan, the Church would go on to endure an even greater threat – the Arian heresy. At the age of 88, Anthony became a vigorous opponent of this teaching, which maintained that, although Jesus is Lord and Savior, he is not equal to the Father, but instead is merely the highest creation of God.

Anthony spent the last years of his life as a hermit but, unlike his earlier withdrawal from the world, he did meet periodically with the pilgrims who came to seek his advice. He died in solitude in the year 356, at the age of 105. His feast day is Jan. 17.

Articles written by Kay Winchester Vermont Catholic staff writer

 

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.

 
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