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Mary's mantle

Superman has his red power cape. Elijah wore a cape to manifest his divine authority. Most famously, the Virgin Mary is usually portrayed wearing a cape-like garment known as a mantle, often blue and sometimes adorned with stars, to highlight her extraordinary role in history.
 
In the Church’s oldest Marian prayer we say, “Beneath your mantle we take refuge, O Mother of God.”
 
Medieval artists often depicted Mary under the title of Our Lady of Mercy, with her arms outstretched to reveal a crowd of tiny suppliants huddled in the folds of her mantle. All kinds of people found a place at Mary’s feet – from princes and pious nuns to slaves and peasants.
 
In The Virgin of the Navigators, a Spanish work, Our Lady’s mantle is full enough to envelope a whole armada of ships!
 
Through these paintings, whether they were seeking refuge from pirates or the
plague, medieval women and men expressed their faith in Mary’s motherly protection and powerful intercession.
 
Our Lady’s mantle had a special significance in the New World too. As Mary appeared to Juan Diego in Guadalupe, she assured him, “Do not let your countenance, your heart be disturbed. … Am I not here, I, who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? … Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Do you need anything more?”
 
Mary explained to Juan Diego that a sanctuary should be built on the hill of Tepeyac so that she could demonstrate her merciful concern for God’s people: “I will give Him to the people in all my personal love, in my compassion, in my help, in my protection,” she told him. “I am truly your merciful Mother, yours and all the people who live united in this land and of all the other people of different ancestries, my lovers, who love me, those who seek me, those who trust in me. Here I will hear their weeping, their complaints and heal all their sorrows, hardships and sufferings.”
 
The foundress of the Little Sisters of the Poor, St. Jeanne Jugan, was also known for her mantle, a black hooded cape that billowed in the Breton winds and under which she fingered her rosary beads as she traveled on foot seeking alms for the elderly poor to whom she had given a home. Perhaps finding inspiration in the traditional images of Our Lady of Mercy, several artists have portrayed Jeanne Jugan gathering the elderly under her mantle and holding them tightly to her breast.
 
I find solace imagining those I love and care for sheltered in the folds of Mary’s mantle or nestled close to the heart of St. Jeanne Jugan. But I also sense a challenge, and I believe that is why God has inspired me to contemplate these images, which manifest the powerful yet gentle and merciful love of God himself.
 
I believe that God is calling the Church today, and each of us, to open our arms, reach out and draw all those on the peripheries of society into our circle of love. “We are called to bring to everyone the embrace of God, who bends with a mother’s tenderness over us … stooped down in a gesture of consolation,” our Holy Father once said to consecrated women and men.
 
These words of Pope Francis can motivate all of us. This is how we will be missionary disciples who bring the joy of the Gospel to the field hospital of today’s world.
 
St. Jeanne Jugan’s feast day is celebrated on Aug. 30, and during these last weeks of summer we celebrate Mary’s Assumption and queenship, as well as her birthday. On these special days let’s ask Our Lady and St. Jeanne Jugan to teach us how to extend a mantle of compassion over wounded souls, creating – and becoming ourselves – sanctuaries of that powerful yet gentle love which animates the heart of Christ.
 
Sister Constance Veit is director of communications for the Little Sisters of the Poor.
 

Movie review: 'Dunkirk'

“Wars are not won by evacuations," British Prime Minister Winston Churchill famously observed. As writer-director Christopher Nolan's compelling historical drama "Dunkirk" (Warner Bros.) demonstrates, however, fine films can be made about them.
 
May and June 1940 were indeed, in Mel Brooks' sarcastic phrase, "Springtime for Hitler." Using blitzkrieg tactics and a surprise attack through the supposedly impassible Ardennes Forest, his forces rapidly defeated and encircled the British Expeditionary Force and its French allies. Eventually hundreds of thousands of troops were left trapped in a small pocket centered on the English Channel port of the title.
 
Though the Fuhrer called a halt on the land assault and assigned the Luftwaffe the task of finishing off the Allies from the air, the prospects for Britain remained dire. Were the vast bulk of its army to be taken prisoner in France, the outlook for defending against a Nazi invasion of Britain itself would be virtually hopeless.
 
In picking up the story at this point, Nolan takes an Everyman's view of the situation. Dividing the action into events on land, sea and air, he apportions story lines among an ensemble cast, with sometimes confusing and dramatically diffuse results.
 
Representing the cornered forces on the beach is a trio of ordinary soldiers, Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), Gibson (Aneurin Barnard) and Alex (Harry Styles). Among the few officers portrayed in the film are the senior naval representative on the scene, Cmdr. Bolton (Kenneth Branagh) and his army counterpart, Col. Winnant (James D'Arcy).
 
Embodying the many hundreds of British seafaring civilians who answered the call for fishing and pleasure craft to join in the rescue is small yacht owner Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance). Dawson is accompanied by his teen son, Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and by Peter's equally youthful friend, George (Barry Keoghan).
 
In the middle of the channel, they rescue an unnamed soldier, played by Cillian Murphy, whose shell-shocked condition and frantic determination not to return, however temporarily, to Dunkirk pose a fresh and distracting challenge for them, with ultimately grim results.
 
Up in the skies, a duo of RAF Spitfire pilots -- Collins (Jack Lowden) and his higher-ranking comrade, Farrier (Tom Hardy) -- battle the German fighters and bombers seeking to wreak havoc on both the hapless soldiers and the shipping below.
 
The perils of the desperate, against-the-odds operation are fully exploited for dramatic tension, with near-death experiences awaiting almost every character. The measures resorted to by some of them in their efforts to survive seem questionable -- at least as viewed from a comfortable theater seat.
 
Yet these ethical lapses are balanced by a general sense of heroic pluck and by incidents in which humane justice and generosity of spirit are upheld. The altruism motivating Dawson and others to risk life and limb for the sake of strangers also elevates the moral tone.
 
While "Dunkirk" is not for the fainthearted of any age, the movie's educational value and relative freedom from objectionable content makes it probably acceptable for older teens.
 
The film contains intense, stylized combat violence, brief gore, a couple of uses of profanity and at least one instance each of rough, crude and crass language.
 
The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
 
 

The single life

By Mary Rezac

(CNA/EWTN News).- From a young age, Catholics are taught to pray about and discern their vocations – whether they're called to marriage, to the religious life, to the priesthood or consecrated single life. 
 
This can leave the lay single person feeling that they are in a vocational limbo of sorts, and it's become a topic of much heated and emotional debate in the Catholic blogosphere: have these people missed their vocation? Is the lay single state, chosen or by default, a vocation?
 
But actually, at the end of the day – does it matter?
 
Father Ben Hasse is a vocations director for the Diocese of Marquette, Mich. He said addressing the topic of singleness in the Church can be difficult because of the emotions surrounding the issue.
 
“I have quite a few friends who would like to be married, so there's a much more emotional investment in the question because there’s more people who find themselves single” rather than having specifically chosen it, he said.
 
Recognizing the emotional weight of the topic,Father Hasse noted that there are many aspects to addressing the question of vocation and singleness that need to be taken into account, and that it can be difficult – and dangerous – to make generalizations about a population in the Church that is actually very diverse.
 
Being specific about singleness
 
Father Hasse said that he has found it’s helpful as a pastor to approach singleness very specifically – whether it's a college student who hopes to marry someday, or a widow who lost her husband last month, being single encompasses a wide variety of people and circumstances.
 
“Everybody will be single for at least part of their life. Nobody is born as a priest or married to someone or a consecrated religious, so everyone will pass through being single,” he said.
 
“It's important to distinguish between people who are single because that's kind of where you're at when you're 16, versus someone who has really felt God calling them to give their life in service to the Church as a single person,” or various other circumstances.
 
For example, a single 19-year-old college student is probably not necessarily living a vocation of singleness in any settled way, Father Hasse said, but a person in their 40s who finds joy in serving Christ in their everyday circumstances of work and life “is not someone I would say lacks a vocation.”
 
“It would be different from the way we usually use the word because it wouldn't be defined, and made concrete by vows or promises,” he said.
 
“But the single accountant or school teacher could certainly live their life and see the work of their hands as something they're offering to God, and live that in a very spiritually fruitful way, and I wouldn't say – now here's a person without a vocation.”
 
Your vocation is given at baptism
 
Jason Coito, coordinator of young adult ministry for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, told CNA that most of the debates surrounding singleness and vocation rely “on a very narrow definition of vocation, or confuses the term with what we refer to as 'states in life.'”
 
He said when we become fixated on discerning our state in life, referred to in the Church as the primary vocation, “...we become so focused on the ranking of them, rather than looking at each day or the bigger picture and saying, here are all of these components of my life, now how am I called to live the promise of my baptism and of my life, and how do these things work together?”
 
It can be helpful instead to refocus these debates and conversations on the universal vocation to holiness that each Christian receives at their baptism, Coito said.
 
“I think this helpfully reframes the conversation and then asks us, 'How is God calling me to make a response to Him and to my brothers and sisters from within the state in life in which I find myself?'”
 
This respects every vocation, because it's a question anyone can answer on any given day in their life, regardless of their state in life, he said. 
 
“You do have a vocation. All baptized Catholics are called to live their lives as disciples of Jesus. This is the foundational call of our lives as Catholics,” he said.
 
“If you feel deeply called to get married, and you have prayerfully discerned and confirmed this call, then until you meet the person you feel called to get married to, you continue to live out your baptismal call, open to the people and circumstances that God puts in front of you each day. For those who are married, we do pretty much the same thing, except that we do this out of the sacramental relationship we have with our spouse,” he said.
 
In “Lumen Gentium,” one of the principal documents of the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI wrote about the universal call to holiness each Christian has:
 
“Thus it is evident to everyone, that all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity; by this holiness as such a more human manner of living is promoted in this earthly society. In order that the faithful may reach this perfection, they must use their strength accordingly as they have received it, as a gift from Christ. They must follow in His footsteps and conform themselves to His image seeking the will of the Father in all things. They must devote themselves with all their being to the glory of God and the service of their neighbor. In this way, the holiness of the People of God will grow into an abundant harvest of good, as is admirably shown by the life of so many saints in Church history.”
 
Father Hasse reiterated the importance of the baptismal call to holiness, and said that this call is not something to “settle for,” but rather should be the primary focus of our lives as Christians.
 
“The call to holiness is not some second-string operation,” he said.
 
“It's not like – wow I really wish I had something important to work towards, but since I don't, sanctity will have to tide me over until the beatific vision.”
 
“So I think a reappropriation of the universal call to holiness, which is deeply, profoundly significant, it’s the one that matters in a sense, and we're all called to that,” he said.
 
The big lie: You are incomplete until you've made vows
 
Coito noted that one of the worst patterns of thinking that a Catholic can fall into when thinking about vocation is to believe that they are somehow less-than or incomplete until they are married, or are a priest or in a religious order.
 
When he taught high school religion, Coito said he would ask his students to recall the famous line from Jerry Macquire, when he tells his love interest (played by Renee Zellweger): “You complete me.”
 
“I would always tell them that from a Catholic perspective, that's ridiculous. It wasn't as though before marriage you were incomplete, or that a priest before his ordination is incomplete. God already made us whole and entire,” he said.
 
“We've been given everything as human beings that God intends us to have, so to begin to think of ourselves as somehow unfinished...we can joyfully be living out our vocation already right now.”
 
Part of this mentality has seeped in from the culture, he said, which tends to romanticize love and to view marriage as another achievement or milestone in life, rather than as a sacrament.
 
“I think it's important to address the mentality that if I'm not married or in a community or ordained that I’m this sort of 'Catholic arrested development' or 'suspended animation,'” he said.
 
The belief that marriage or religious life will also magically make us completely fulfilled is also a mentality that can set people up for disappointment, he noted.
 
“It ends up being a Disney sort of (mentality) of happily ever after, but it's much more Paschal mystery than happily ever after,” he said.  
 
Finding fulfillment: It's about self-gift
 
The reasons that there are more single people in the Church now than in other times in recent history are many and varied – an emphasis on education, a culture that values individualism, higher rates of divorce and economic factors are just some of the many reasons there are more singles in the pews.
 
But this doesn't mean that human nature has changed – we are still made for love, self-gift and service, Father Ben Hasse said.
 
“Trying to schedule events in our lives that will make us happy at some point that doesn't really work,” he said. “Happiness is richest and fullest kind of as a by-product of gifts of love and of service.”
 
“There's almost a way where you can attend to the basic dynamics of seeking to live a life of holiness, and that's the actually the path that’s going to leave you more and more disposed to receive his call,” he said.
 
In particular, acts of service can be a key way to find fulfillment regardless of one's state in life, he said.
 
 
“Look for opportunities to give of yourself,” he said. “It's also a good way to meet other people who have a similar disposition...doing that has very real potential to fill one's heart, and leaves you more and more receptive to (God's) call.”
 
Soley utilizing acts of service as a way to find a spouse would be unhealthy, Father Hasse added, but serving alongside like-minded people, and finding others who share your values is a good way to find authentic community, in whatever form that may take.
 
What the Church has to say about single people
 
Pope John Paul II, who wanted to be known as ‘the Pope of the family’, wrote in his familial document “Familiaris Consortio” that those without a family must be able to find their family within the Church. In fact, the entire final section of this document is dedicated to single people.
 
This is a subject with which John Paul II would have been intimately familiar – by the age of 20, all of his immediate family on earth had passed away, and he surrounded himself with good friends that essentially became his family.
 
In the document, he wrote: “For those who have no natural family the doors of the great family which is the Church - the Church which finds concrete expression in the diocesan and the parish family, in ecclesial basic communities and in movements of the apostolate - must be opened even wider. No one is without a family in this world: the Church is a home and family for everyone, especially those who 'labor and are heavy laden.'”
 
The Catechism of the Catholic also recognizes “the great number of single persons who, because of the particular circumstances in which they have to live – often not of their choosing – are especially close to Jesus' heart and therefore deserve the special affection and active solicitude of the Church, especially of pastors.” (CCC 1658).
 
Practical advice from single Catholics
 
Still, it can sometimes be difficult for single people to know where they fit in the Church. Parishes are often structured around family life, which can make it challenging for single people to find community.
 
Judy Keane is a 40-something single Catholic and author of “Single and Catholic,” a book in which she interviewed numerous single Catholics of a wide variety of ages, circumstances and backgrounds about their experiences in the Church.
 
“Mother Teresa once said that the greatest poverty is loneliness, and feeling discounted by society,” Keane said.
 
“So I would say (to married people in the parish): approach single people, connect with them, take that initiative to introduce yourself, not make them feel like because they don't have a spouse and children in the pew with them that they’re no less a member of the parish community,” she said.
 
MaryBeth Bonacci is a Catholic author and speaker who has often written on the topic of being a single Catholic. She said she loves it when people in her parish help her feel included in their families and lives. 
 
“Some people would say, 'Oh well she wouldn’t want to go to a 1-year-old's birthday party.' Yeah I would!” she said. “We don't have our exciting singles lives that you think we have, I'm at home eating cottage cheese and watching Simpsons reruns, it’s not that exciting.”
 
Bonacci said she's also had a friend at her parish who told her she was invited to her family's dinner any time. And she didn't wait to make good on the invitation – she followed up with Bonacci every day.
 
“She would call me every day at 3:00 and say, am I setting a place for you? And I didn't go every night...but she actually called every day, and said if you want to come, we'll set a place for you, and I cannot tell you how much I appreciated that.”
 
She added that she appreciates when parishes make an effort to create a cohesive community, rather than always segregating people into groups according to their states in life.
 
Both Bonacci and Keane said that they especially have noticed that there are many single elderly Catholics who are alone, whether they’ve never been married or have since lost their spouse.
 
“If you're having a family Sunday dinner, why not try to befriend an elderly single person who may have lost their spouse and say we’re having our family dinner, would you like to join us?” Keane said. 
 
It's also important to remember that God acts in unexpected says, and oftentimes frustration with one's state in life stems from a place of thinking about vocation or God’s will too rigidly, Father Hasse noted.
 
“If I'm talking to someone who says well most of my friends seem to have found their vocation and I haven’t, what do I do? I usually say man, the saints are people that God caught in all kinds of unexpected situations and places,” Father Hasse said.
 
“So there's lots of precedent for thinking God has passed me by or hasn't answered my prayers” but then he shows up in unexpected ways, he said.
 

Jesus, Mary and the rosary

There’s an old jewelry box at my house; it’s tucked away in the bottom drawer of my dresser, and it’s full of rosaries. Almost all of them have some sort of story attached to them, which is one of the reasons they are still with me – that and the fact that just about all of them have been blessed. They form a kind of spiritual anchor for me, and every once in a while I take them out and look at them, running my fingers over the different styles of beads and crucifixes, remembering who they came from or in what circumstances they came my way.
 
One of my earliest encounters with the rosary happened when I was four years old, and I’m sorry to say that it was less than devout. My mother, and many of the other women in the parish, belonged to the Legion of Mary; among other things, they used to do a “block rosary” once a week.  This meant that each member took a turn hosting the prayer at her house. I’m sure that coffee and dessert were also involved, but what sticks in my memory isn’t the food but rather that circle of women, all kneeling on someone’s living room rug, reciting the rosary together.
 
One of the weeks when the gathering was at our house, I was allowed to stay up way past my bedtime and pray with the ladies. This may have been a lapse of judgment on my mother’s part, because before the first decade was concluded, I decided it would be great fun to fall over sideways on the carpet. It was, in fact, so amusing that I did it a few more times before I finally stayed down for the count and fell sound asleep. Needless to say, I was tucked into bed long before the coffeecake was served.
 
Thankfully, as I grew older, my appreciation and respect for the rosary also grew.  When my CCD classmates and I made our First Communion, for instance, one of the gifts each of us received was a rosary, and one of the things that made it special was what it was made of. Rather than crystal or wood or something like that, these beads were white and glowed in the dark. That might not seem like a very big thing, except when you are seven and monsters have visited you in your dreams; then you could always find your rosary, glowing gently on the nightstand next to the bed. Many nights Mary lulled me back to peaceful sleep as I clutched the beads that protected me from things that went bump in the night.
 
I went through the rosary box recently, and it was like a visit with old friends. But mostly it was a reminder of how protected and loved I am. Life, on occasion, presents different “monsters” to me now, but praying the rosary reminds me that, no matter what happens, Jesus and Mary are never far away.
 
 Originally published in the Summer 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.
 

November saint: Albert the Great

Albertus Magnus, or St. Albert the Great, is the patron saint of scientists and philosophers. However, it might also be appropriate to dub him the “patron saint of the curious,” for he was known to pursue truth and wisdom wherever it could be found, even in places that might have appeared unconventional at the time in which he lived.
 
Albert was born in southern Germany about the year 1200, the son of a powerful and wealthy military nobleman. He came of age at a time when the Catholic Church had reached the zenith of its power and influence in the Middle Ages; not only was the papacy firmly in control of things both spiritual and temporal, but literature had produced such master works of Christian allegorical poetry as Dante’s “Divine Comedy.” The renewal of the Church (following the previous century’s controversy surrounding lay investiture) also inspired the founding of mendicant religious orders such as the Franciscans and the Dominicans.
 
Albert was an extremely well educated young man; at the University of Padua, he first encountered the writings of Aristotle, the study of which would greatly influence the intellectual trajectory of the rest of his life. About the year 1223, Albert apparently had an encounter with the Blessed Virgin, which inspired him, much against the wishes of his family, to enter the novitiate of the Dominican Order. From that point on, he took up the study of theology, first in Cologne and later in Paris.
 
As he had at Padua, Albert proved himself an excellent student. He soon became a lecturer for the order, and by 1245 became a master of theology. He taught at the University of Paris and was appointed chair of yheology at the College of St. James.  As famous as Albert was becoming, he would also become known for one of his more brilliant students – Thomas Aquinas, who, like his teacher, would go on to become both a saint and a Doctor of the Church.
 
Albert’s familiarity with the philosophy of Aristotle would pave the way for his protégé’s own studies. In 1248, the two of them returned to the city of Cologne, where they created a Dominican course of study that would include a curriculum for philosophy. So successful and influential was their work that it would survive to the present day as the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, also known as the “Angelicum” in Rome.
 
Albert’s intellectual interests did not stop there, however. He would become known for his extensive study of natural science, logic, rhetoric, mathematics, astronomy, ethics, economics, politics and metaphysics. It took him 20 years and eight volumes of writing to complete his explanation of his learning; so great was his erudition that, in his time, his work was considered to be on a par with that of Aristotle.  
 
Albert’s health began to fail in 1278, and he died on Nov. 15, 1280.  Beatified in 1622, he was canonized and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1931 by Pope Pius IX.  His feast day is Nov. 15.
 
Sources for this article include:
americancatholic.org
catholiconline.com
“Saint Albert the Great“. CatholicSaints.Info. 13 January 2017.
Schreck, Alan.  “Catholic Church History from A to Z”.  Michigan:  Servant Publications, 2002.
Schreck, Alan.  “The Compact History of the Catholic Church”.  Ohio:  Servant Books, 1995.
 
 

Blessed John Henry Newman

Known in later years as the “absent Father of Vatican II,” Cardinal John Henry Newman was one of the most profound thinkers and writers of Catholic theology in the 19th century.  His long life – he lived to be nearly 90 – was almost exactly divided between his early years as an Anglican and his final ones as a Roman Catholic.
 
John Henry Newman was born in London in 1801, the eldest of six children. Even as a youth, he was absorbed in a quest for religious truth and, following years of study at Oriel College at Oxford University, he was ordained as a priest in the Anglican Church in 1824.  From 1828 until 1841 he was vicar of the university church, St. Mary the Virgin, and his writing, published in eight volumes as “Parochial and Plain Sermons,” was a great influence on the religious life both there and throughout the country.
 
In 1833, he became very ill and, while spending time in the Mediterranean for his health, he composed what became one of his most famous poems, “Lead, Kindly Light.” He had also begun reading the Fathers of the early Church; their influence led to him becoming a prominent leader in the Oxford Movement, whose members questioned certain aspects of Anglicanism, both political and theological.  As he became more and more concerned about the orthodoxy of the Anglican faith, he found himself moving in the direction of Roman Catholicism. By 1841, he felt he could no longer function as vicar of St. Mary’s; he resigned his position and spent the next four years in prayer and seclusion. In 1845, he was received into full communion with the Catholic Church, and in 1847 he was ordained a Roman Catholic priest.
 
These moves did not come without personal cost. Many of his former friends, colleagues and even family members ostracized him. In spite of this, he joined the Congregation of the Oratory, which was begun by St. Philip Neri in 1575; Father Newman went on to found two more oratories and eventually became the rector of the Catholic University of Ireland. A prolific writer, he was the author of 40 books, and nearly 21,000 of his letters still survive.
 
Pope Leo XIII named John Newman a cardinal in 1879; he died 11 years later in 1890.  n 1893, three years after his death, the first Newman Center was founded on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania and, to this day, his name is linked to Catholic student centers at colleges and universities throughout the United States.
 
Perhaps one of his greatest contributions to an understanding of Catholic theology concerned the primacy of conscience and the role of the laity in the Church. Though viewed with some suspicion in his own time, his teaching had a profound influence on the shaping of the documents of Vatican II. Beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010, Cardinal Newman’s feast day is celebrated on Oct. 9.
 
 
Sources for this article include:
americancatholic.org
Barry, William. "John Henry Newman." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911.
“Blessed John Henry Newman". CatholicSaints.Info. 12 January 2017.
Schreck, Alan.  “Catholic Church History from A to Z”.  Michigan:  Servant Publications, 2002.

 

In the likeness of God

The human, unlike other creations, is distinctly made in the image and likeness of God (Gn 1:26-27). Though we can forever discuss exactly what that means, I propose that at least part of what that means is that in a way which is far more complex than in any other creature, the self-aware human being possesses the ability to make decisions informed by reflecting on the past and reasoning through the possible future. The presence of the human within the rest of the created world makes a huge difference because human beings can know the effect of our own existence.
 
What effect is humanity having on creation right now? No human has made a greater impact on the world of life (and death) than the Spirit made flesh, the human being called Jesus of Nazareth. Some may argue that glorifying all creation diminishes the significance of the Incarnation in the form of human flesh. But, the significance of the Incarnation is in no way lessened by glorifying all creation. In
fact, employing the capacities for reflection and self awareness that are indicative of humanity, we see that the Incarnation of God as human further supports glorifying creation in its entirety.
 
The Word made flesh manifested itself in the specific flesh of the human, but that human did not exist in a vacuum. That human existed in and among and in relation to the rest of the created world. Jesus “was able to invite others to be attentive to the beauty that there is in the world because he himself was in constant touch with nature, lending it attention full of fondness and wonder” (“Laudato Si’”).
 
By stating that God became human, one states that God became part of the intricate
web of life that exists on this planet and in which humanity takes part. God became
subject to the ecosystems and relationships of this world — whether they were in right relation or whether they were crooked, broken and disturbed. “One Person of the Trinity entered into the created cosmos, throwing in his lot with it, even to the cross” (“Laudato Si’”). Not only did God dwell among creation, but in the person of Jesus Christ, God became embedded in the genetic, scientific history of life on this planet.
 
Pope Francis reflects on the cosmic significance of Christ as exemplified in the Eucharist: “The Lord, in the culmination of the mystery of the Incarnation, chose to
reach our intimate depths through a fragment of matter … he comes that we might find him in this world of ours. In the Eucharist … is the living centre of the universe, the overflowing core of love and of inexhaustible life…. Indeed the Eucharist is itself an act of cosmic love. ... Thus, the Eucharist is also a source of light and motivation
for our concerns for the environment, directing us to be stewards of all creation” (“Laudato Si’”).
 
Motivated by our encounter with Christ in the Eucharist and in the world, we must utilize our unique, human “capacities of knowledge, will, freedom and responsibility” (“Laudato Si’”) to have an effect on the world that is truly life-giving. Being made in the image and likeness of God demands nothing less.
 

Fatima’s message still relevant

In 21st-century arrogance, some might say, “Seriously! You are bringing up Fatima when there is strife around the world; when there is incredible division in the country; when poverty and problems in the healthcare system abound! And moral standards are deplorable.”
 
Yes. That is right. Are we any different from the world a century ago toward the end of  “The Great War?” The message of Fatima, given to three children tending sheep in a town in Portugal beginning in May 1917, is really quite simple: Pray and repent; do penance. Without such a conversion, there would be another great and tragic war. That prophecy surely was fulfilled in World War II.
 
The world has not undergone the conversion that was called for at Fatima. In fact, conflict and hostility have grown. Terror attacks happen somewhere in the world almost daily. A number of nations now have at least some nuclear weapons capability. Sporadic use of chemical weapons has continued despite international treaties banning them. Conventional anti-personnel weapons have been directed at civilian populations. Multiple genocides have plagued the world over the last century. Disrespect for the sanctity of human life and human dignity abound in most parts of the world. Rather than an increase in prayer, repentance and conversion there has been a significant apostasy throughout the world, especially in the industrialized West.
 
Accompanying that apostasy have been pervasive exploitation of persons through social and economic systems that enrich a small segment of the world population and impoverish others. The natural environment has undergone significant devastation, increasing the burden on the poor.
 
So what does Fatima have to do with us today? In a word: Everything! And Fatima still beckons us, as a world, to repent. It will only be with prayer, repentance and conversion that the world will realize peace.
 
Questions of justice and peace were prominent themes in the prophets. Isaiah wrote, “Justice will bring about peace; right will produce calm and security” (Is 32:17). These themes appear throughout both the Old Testament and the New Testament, along with charity, truth and freedom.
 
Church teaching has repeatedly pointed out the inextricable links among truth, justice, charity, peace and freedom. Pope Paul VI said it very succinctly and directly: “If you want peace, work for justice.” (1)
 
Vatican Council II teaches, “The social order…must be founded on truth, built on justice and animated by love; in freedom it should grow every day.” (2) And the U.S. bishops have affirmed: “We are all called to be a Church at the service of peace, precisely because peace is one manifestation of God’s word and work in our midst.” (3)
 
Some, very properly, might ask what concrete things they can do to have a positive impact on a world in turmoil. I suggest four specific steps:
 
1. We can pray daily for peace, justice, truth and charity and for the conversion of sinners. We can do some penance, some sacrifice in reparation for our own sins and those of others.
 
2. We can model moral behaviors in our own lives through truthfulness, justice, love, peace and purity.
 
3. We can share our faith with others.
 
4. As citizens, we can communicate with our elected representatives, senators and other public officials regarding specific matters of justice, peace and the common good; and we should hold them accountable if they fail to deliver.
 
Finally, we need to bear in mind that it is 100 years since The Blessed Mother’s Fatima messages. God may bless us with a profound transformation in the direction of world peace or with a series of incremental improvements over a period of years, culminating in a more peaceful and secure world. Our participation in all of this simply requires that we remain true to our prayer and our other efforts.
 
Ultimately, the outcome is in the hands of God.
 
      _________
 
 
1 Message of His Holiness Pope Paul VI, for the Celebration of the Day of Peace, Jan. 1, 1972.
 
2 “Gaudium et Spes” #26.
 
3 “God’s Promise and Our Response,” U.S. Catholic Bishops, 1983

-- Originally published in the Summer 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.
 

An invitation to meet and grow

Imagine if the combined populations of Rutland City and Colchester Town – about 34,000 people – were forced suddenly to relocate from their Vermont communities due to an outbreak of war or an impending ethnic cleansing. This might sound like the storyline of a dystopian novel.
 
But tragically this exact number – 34,000 people per day – forcibly are displaced from their homelands, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. We are now witnessing the highest levels of human displacement on record, an unprecedented 65.3 million people worldwide.
 
This humanitarian crisis veers in and out of consciousness, confined mostly to heart-breaking images on our social media feeds. Despite your personal politics about how the U.S. immigration issue should be solved, the reality is that human beings with the “right to dignified life,” according to Catholic social teaching, are fleeing to survive.
 
A passage from Leviticus reminds Christians that “the stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” We recall that our own Holy Family roamed as refugees for a time, forced to skirt persecution by King Herod after Jesus’ birth.
 
Pope Francis weighed in on the refugee crisis recently saying, “Migration, if handled with humanity, is an opportunity for everyone to meet and grow.…The defense of human beings knows no barriers: We are all united in wanting to ensure a dignified life for every man, woman and child who is forced to abandon his or her own land.”
 
The pope’s characterization of an interaction with “the stranger” as an opportunity for meeting and growing heartens me. He articulates my own 13-year experience of walking alongside a Somali-Bantu family through the challenges of resettlement.
 
The ways in which I have stretched and grown are vast, but here are just two:
 
 I no longer take my privileged life for granted, even for a moment. The fact that I can close my eyes each night in a peaceful, safe neighborhood with no fear of violence above or around me is the greatest of gifts in an increasingly chaotic world. (In a Kenyan refugee camp, my Somali friends endured brutality, drought and food shortages.)
 
 I now see community and the experience of belonging as prime ingredients for my own emotional and social wellbeing. Many American families are largely self-sufficient today, making it easier to live solitary lives hyper-focused on the successes of nuclear family members. While financial stability is an admirable goal, it can have the unintended consequences of keeping us siloed in our comfortable worlds and less likely to embark on new and diverse relationships that enrich and enliven.
 
(New Americans depend on immigrants who came before them for information, childcare and even food, thus they exist within a vibrant, interconnected community that provides deep solidarity.)
 
As Vermont prepares to resettle more Syrian families this summer (and other immigrant groups continue to assimilate in the Burlington area), I remind us of Pope Francis’ invitation to step out of our comfort zones. We have robust gifts to offer these New American friends. In turn, they will offer us life-changing insights about what it means to live as authentic disciples of Christ.
 
-- By Marybeth Christie Redmond, a writer-journalist living in Essex.

-- Originally published in the Summer 2017 issue of
Vermont Catholic magazine.
 
 

The importance of Jackie Robinson

In the history of the modern American civil rights movement, three iconic moments are typically cited:
 
• May 17, 1954: The U.S. Supreme Court hands down its decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, declaring segregated — “separate but equal” — public schools unconstitutional.
 
• Aug. 28, 1963: Two hundred thousand Americans participate in the March on Washington and hear Martin Luther King Jr. proclaim his dream of a country in which his children will be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin; 10 months later, Congress enacts the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
 
• March 3, 1965: Civil rights marchers are assaulted by police tear gas and Billy clubs on the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Ala.; five months later, President Lyndon B. Johnson signs into law the Voting Rights Act, vindicating the Selma marchers’ cause.
 
These were noble moments, worth remembering; I certainly cherish my memories of encounters with Bayard Rustin, who organized the march that made Dr. King a national eminence.
 
But I believe there was a fourth iconic moment in America’s journey from a land fouled by segregation to the most racially egalitarian nation on the planet. The man at the center of that fourth dramatic moment was an American legend whose accomplishments should rank as high as anyone’s in the pantheon of civil rights heroes.
 
On April 15, 1947, the Brooklyn Dodgers opened their National League season against the Boston Braves at Ebbets Field. The Dodger first baseman that day was Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to play in a major league game since the infamous “color line” was drawn in the 1880s.
 
At UCLA in 1939-41, Robinson was perhaps the greatest amateur athlete in the country, a star in track and field, football and basketball.
 
After service as an Army officer in World War II, he was playing shortstop for the
Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League when he was signed to a minor
league contract by Branch Rickey, a cigar-chomping Methodist and the Dodgers’ general manager.
 
Rickey was determined to break the color line, and he deliberately chose Jack Roosevelt Robinson to do so.
 
And not because Jackie Robinson was a mild-mannered wallflower. Robinson was to be a warrior with a difference, however: Rickey, an adept psychologist who believed in the essential fairness of the American people, wanted a man with the courage not to fight back against the racist slurs, beanballs and spikings that were sure to come his way — except by giving an unforgettable performance on the field.
 
Which is what Jackie Robinson, the immortal Number 42, delivered.
 
Grainy black-and-white videos today remind us of a truth the baseball world learned 70 years ago: There has never been anything more exciting in baseball, including the majestic home run and the overpowering no-hitter, than 42 stealing a base, especially home. Rather than hollering back at bigots during his rookie year, Robinson beat them with games that helped lift the Dodgers to the National League pennant and brought them within one game of a World Series victory over the
Yankees (who didn’t sign an African-American player until Elston Howard in 1955).
 
It was a performance for the ages. And it changed America.
 
In this entertainment-saturated 21st century, it may be hard to recall the grip baseball had on the national emotions and imagination in 1947. But as the late
Columbia University cultural historian Jacques Barzun used to say, whoever wants to understand the heart and mind of America had better understand baseball.
 
On April 14, 1947, that nation-defining pastime still embodied the nation’s original sin. The next day, Jackie Robinson began to accelerate a change in America’s heart and mind. That change made possible Brown v. Board of Education, the Civil Rights
Act and the Voting Rights Act.
 
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the GW Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.
 
This article has been published in the summer 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.

 
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