Archive for the ‘holy’ Category

Father Cantalamessa Analyzes Relationship

ROME, OCT. 4, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is the text of a commentary written by Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the Pontifical Household, on the relationship between Sts. Francis and Clare.

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It has become commonplace to speak of the friendship between Clare and Francis in terms of falling in love. In his essay “Falling in Love and Loving,” the sociologist F. Alberoni says that “the relationship between St. Clare and St. Francis has all the characteristics of falling in love, sublimated or transferred to the Godhead.”

Francis, like any man even if he is a saint, may well have experienced the attraction of woman and the call of sex. The sources tell us that in order to overcome a temptation of this kind the saint once rolled around in the snow in the depths of winter.

But it was not Clare who was the object of the temptation! When a man and woman are united in God, this bond, if it is authentic, excludes all attraction of an erotic kind, without even a struggle. He or she is, as it were, sheltered. It is another kind of relationship. Between Clare and Francis there was certainly a very strong human bond, but it was paternal or fraternal in kind, not spousal. They were like two trees joined by their foliage, not by their roots.

The extraordinarily profound understanding between Francis and Clare, which features so strongly in the Franciscan epic, does not come from “flesh and blood,” like that between Eloise and Abelard, or Dante and Beatrice (to quote two equally famous examples). If it had done so, it might have left some trace in the literature, but not in the history of sanctity. In one of Goethe’s well-known expressions, we could call the friendship of Francis and Clare an “elective affinity,” as long as we understand “elective” not only in the sense of people who have chosen each other, but who have made the same choice.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote that “being in love does not mean looking at each other, but looking together in the same direction.” Clare and Francis really didn’t spend their whole lives gazing at each other and feeling good together. They exchanged the fewest of words, probably only those reported in the sources. There was a tremendous reserve between them, so much so that at times the saint was affectionately chided by his brothers for being too harsh with Clare.

Only at the end of his life do we see this rigor in the relationship soften, and Francis visits his “little plant” more and more frequently in search of comfort and confirmation. As death draws near and sickness consumes him, San Damiano becomes his refuge, and it is at her side that he intones the Canticle of Brother Son and Sister Moon, with its praise of “Sister Water,” “useful, humble, precious and chaste,” which might have been written with Clare in mind.

Instead of looking at each other, Clare and Francis looked in the same direction, and we know what “direction” that was in their case. Clare and Francis were like two eyes always looking in the same direction. Two eyes are not just two eyes, I mean, not just one eye repeated. Neither of the two eyes is just an extra or a spare eye. Two eyes looking at an object from different angles give depth and relief to the object, enabling us to enfold it in our gaze. That is how it was for Clare and Francis.

They looked at the same God, the same Lord Jesus, the same crucified one, the same Eucharist, but from different “angles,” each with their own gifts and the sensitivity proper to a man and a woman: masculine and feminine. Together, they understood more than two Francises or two Clares could have done.

Recently, a good television film was made, called “Francis and Clare,” produced by Fabrizio Costa. It will run on Channel 1 of Italian Television (RAI Uno) on Oct. 6 and 7, and will soon be seen on English-language television, as it was originally shot in English. Better than Franco Zeffirelli’s “Brother Sun and Sister Moon,” it manages to avoid the romantic charm of a human love story.

In the past there was often a tendency to present the personality of Clare as too subordinate to that of Francis, exactly like a “sister Moon” who lives in the reflected light of “brother Sun.” The latest example of this is John M. Sweeney’s study “Light in the Dark Age: the Friendship of Francis and Clare of Assisi.”

All the more praiseworthy, then, the fact that the authors of this television fiction have chosen to present Francis and Clare as two parallel lives, interweaving and unfolding synchronically, with equal space given to the one and the other. This has never been done in this form before, and it echoes the sensitivities of today and contemporary efforts to highlight the important presence of women in history. But in this case, it is not a matter of ideological spin, but a portrayal of reality.

Watching the preview of the film “Francis and Clare,” what struck me most was the symbolic opening scene. Francis is walking through a meadow and Clare follows him, almost playfully putting her feet in the footsteps left by Francis. He, asks her: “Are you following in my footsteps?” She replies brightly: “No, much deeper ones.”



Interview With Postulator of Cause

ROME, SEPT. 25, 2007 (Zenit.org).- News that relics of Pope John Paul II are for sale through the Internet is entirely false, says Monsignor Slawomir Oder, the postulator of the Pontiff’s cause of beatification.

The relics have been made available to the public for free, but the selling of religious objects is a sacrilegious act, the priest told ZENIT in this interview.

Monsignor Oder began by saying: I would like to clarify that the distribution of objects or elements from objects belonging to candidates of the altar, to saints or blessed, is an ancient practice in the Church, and is something that accompanies every process of beatification together with the spreading of the knowledge of the spirituality and the life of the candidate to the altar. 

Holy cards are distributed, explaining how to pray for an intention and to ask for their intercession. And the same holds true for the process of the Servant of God John Paul II. These holy cards contain prayers. And pieces of his clerical clothing are distributed by the office of postulation; but we are speaking of an entirely free distribution.

Q: Why is the sale of relics considered sacrilegious?

Monsignor Oder: It is absolutely a sacrilege; it is something which goes against the tradition of the Church, and against logic, recalling what Jesus said: “What you have freely received, you must also freely give.” The sale of relics therefore would be offensive to God, to the saint or blessed, to the candidate to the altar.

Q: What is a relic? 

Monsignor Oder: Relics are part of the logic of the Incarnation, of concrete history. They are a sign of the presence of a saint in history. 

I like the expression used by Monsignor Marco Frisina, director of the Liturgical Office of the Vicariate of Rome, in an article we published in our bulletin Totus Tuus, which follows the process of beatification, and in which we have clarified the meaning of relics: When we touch the body of a saint we touch the temple of the Holy Spirit, when we touch an object that belonged to a saint we touch a monument of the presence of grace and God’s mercy in the life of that person. 

This is how we must view objects called relics, the memories, the things that remain of the life of the saint. They are the realities that hearken back to the work of grace in the life of the saint.

Q: [So you can give] a clear denial of the report on the sale of objects or fragments of objects that belonged to John Paul II?

Monsignor Oder: I am troubled by this and do not understand the reason for this report. A false report. I repeat: The sale of relics would be a sacrilege.

We have been distributing holy cards containing pieces of the vestments of the Holy Father John Paul II for some time now. People from all over the world have asked for hundreds of these holy cards. 

It is an activity that accompanies the process [of beatification] and expresses the great worldwide devotion to John Paul II — a great renown for holiness that accompanies this process.



Father Cantalamessa Analyzes Attack on Religion

ROME, SEPT. 24, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is the text of a commentary written by Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the Pontifical Household, in response to an essay on religion and evolution written by Christopher Hitchens.

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CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS AND THE END OF EVOLUTION

A few weeks ago an anonymous benefactor saw to it that I received a free Italian edition of an essay by the Anglo-American journalist Christopher Hitchens, titled “God Is Not Great,” subtitled “How Religion Poisons Everything” (Giulio Einaudi, Turin/New York 2007).

I’m quite sure his aim was not to provoke me, but to help me out of the deception I find myself in as a believer and as a TV commentator on the Gospel.

Let me say at once that I’m grateful to my unknown friend. Many of the author’s reproaches against believers of all religions — the book treats Islam no better than Christianity, which shows considerable courage on the part of the author — are well founded, and must be taken seriously so that the same errors of the past are not repeated in the future. The Second Vatican Council states that the Christian faith can and should benefit even from the criticisms of its attackers, and this is certainly one of those cases.

But Hitchens, in my view, makes a mountain out of every molehill. He claims to follow the Gospel principle of judging the tree by its fruits, but as for the tree of religion, he only considers the rotten fruits, never the good ones. The saints, the geniuses and benefactors given to humanity by the faith or nourished by it, count for nothing.

Using the same principles — I mean, by considering only the dark side of an institution — one could write a “black book” about any of the great human realities: the family; medicine (just think what it was used for at Auschwitz); politics and science, and about the author’s own profession, journalism (how many times has it been, and still is, in the service of tyrants and serving the interests of powerful groups!).

No one is exempt from his criticisms. Francis of Assisi? “A mammal who was said to have preached to birds!”

Mother Teresa of Calcutta? “An ambitious Albanian nun” made famous by the book “Something Beautiful for God,” written about her by Malcolm Muggeridge. In other words, Mother Teresa is just one of many products of the media age!

Pascal concludes his account of his discovery of the living God with the words: “Joy, joy, tears of joy.” And C.S. Lewis describes his conversion as being “surprised by joy,” but for Hitchens “there is something dreary and absurd” in these two authors, as in all believers: a fundamental absence of happiness. (“Why does such a belief not make its adherents happy?”)

Dostoyevsky is one of the main witnesses for religion, but the arguments put into the mouth of the rebel atheist Ivan are given more attention than those of the pious Alysosha who, as is well known, reflects much more closely the thought of the author himself.

Tertullian becomes a “church father” so that his “credo quia absurdum” — I believe because it is absurd — can be interpreted as the thought of Christianity as a whole, whereas it is well known that when he wrote these words (here interpreted outside of their proper context and in an inexact way) the Church considered Tertullian a heretic.

Strange that the author should criticize Tertullian, because if there is one apologist he resembles, like a reversed reflection in a mirror, it is precisely the African: The same energetic style, the same will to triumph over his adversary by burying him under a mass of apparently — but only apparently — insuperable arguments: quantity replacing quality of argument.

An English reviewer (J. Cornwell of The Tablet) has compared the author of this book to “a tired old prizefighter throwing weary punches at an inert punching-bag while the true champ he’d like to duff up is absent from the gym.”

He does not demolish the true faith, but a caricature of it. Reading the book, I was reminded of the sport of clay pigeon shooting: The ready-made targets are hurled into the air, and the marksman, aiming his shots with fine precision, blasts them to bits effortlessly.

Hitchens attacks the various religious fundamentalisms with an opposite kind of fundamentalism. In the Italian secular newspaper La Repubblica, Renzo Guolo wrote: “Hitchens’ work looks like the militant manifesto of a world that appears polarized between the disturbing champions of fundamentalism, with their crazy projects for new, totalitarian ethical states, and the supporters of an integral neo-secularism which undervalues the search for meaning on which many are engaged in this age of the ‘end of the narratives.'”

Hitchens shows signs of another kind of fundamentalism too: Although with the opposite intention, he reads Scripture, especially the Old Testament, in exactly the same way as certain biblical fundamentalists of the American evangelical variety — literally, without any effort to contextualize or interpret the text historically. This enables him to speak of “the nightmare of the New Testament.”

But Christopher Hitchens is an intelligent man. He foresees that religion will survive even his attack, just as it has survived countless others before it, and he goes to the trouble of providing an explanation for this embarrassing fact.

“Religious faith,” he writes, “precisely because we are still-evolving creatures, is ineradicable. It will never die out, or at least not until we get over our fear of death, and of the dark, and of the unknown, and of each other.”

Religion is only a provisional, intermediate state, connected with the situation of man as “an evolving being.” Thus the author tacitly assumes the role of one who has single-handedly broken through this barrier, anticipating the end of evolution and “returning” to earth, like Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, to enlighten poor mortals about the way things really are.

I repeat: One cannot fail to acknowledge the author’s extraordinary erudition and the relevance of some of his criticisms. The pity is, by trying to win the argument hands down, he fails to convince.



Debate Continues Over Euthanasia

By Father John Flynn, L.C.

ROME, SEPT. 24, 2007 (Zenit.org).- The issue of euthanasia came to the forefront of news again recently, with the publication of a note Sept. 14 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The statement, written in reply to questions sent to the Vatican by U. S. bishops, stipulated that providing nutrition and liquids to people who are in what is often termed the vegetative state is, with rare exceptions, morally obligatory.

 

After the fierce debate over the 2005 Terri Schiavo case in Florida, news came from Arizona a few months ago about a man who unexpectedly woke up from a coma. Jesse Ramirez suffered brain injuries in a May 30 car crash, reported the Arizona Republic newspaper June 27.

On June 8 his wife, Rebecca, had asked his doctors to remove the tubes providing him with food and water. Jesse’s parents objected and obtained a court order to reconnect the tubes. Subsequently, Jesse suddenly woke up from his coma.

Earlier this year another case was reported, from Denver, Colorado. Christa Lilly had been in coma since the mid-’80s in the wake of a heart attack and stroke. In the past, Lilly had woken up for brief periods, but until this year the last time was on Nov. 4, 2000, reported the Denver Post newspaper March 8.

According to the article, a neurologist from the University of Colorado Hospital, James Kelly, thinks that Lilly might have been in a “minimally conscious state” during these years, as opposed to a persistent vegetative state.

Killing machines

Euthanasia came up for debate in Germany recently, after the announcement by Roger Kusch, ex-justice minister in Hamburg, that he has designed a machine to help people commit suicide.

According to a report in the Sept. 9 edition of the Italian newspaper Il Corriere della Sera, a simple push of a button injects a lethal solution into the terminally ill patient. German federal law prohibits helping someone commit suicide, but does not make illegal the actual act of suicide by the person involved. So with his machine Kusch hopes to avoid any legal difficulties in helping people die.

News of the invention drew immediate criticism, both from politicians and Archbishop Werner Thissen of Hamburg. Kusch is a candidate in Hamburg’s October elections.

Meanwhile, in Switzerland, protests by residents in a Zurich suburb have forced the assisted-suicide group Dignitas out of its premises, according to a July 13 report on the Web site of the German magazine Spiegel Online.

Since 1998, around 700 people have come to the Dignitas center to put an end to their lives. According to the article, the largest group of clients is from Germany, with Britain in second place.

Earlier, in June, the Swiss Senate called on the government to draft a law aimed at improving controls of organizations offering assisted suicide. The National Commission on Biomedical Ethics, a government advisory panel, has also recommended increased state supervision of organizations such as Dignitas.

July also saw a court in the Swiss city of Basel sentence Peter Baumann to three years in prison for having helped three people with psychological problems commit suicide, the agency Swissinfo reported July 6.

Baumann, a retired psychologist, helped the people die between January 2001 and January 2003. According to the court, Baumann acted out of egoistic motives, hoping to obtain public recognition of his methods. The judges, however, defined his conduct as “inhuman,” and criticized his behavior as negligent.

Care, not death

During his trip to Austria, Benedict XVI raised the issue of euthanasia in his Sept. 7 speech to members of government and the diplomatic corps. Saying that the issue was of “great concern” to him, the Pope added that he feared tacit or explicit pressures on the elderly and ill to put an end to their lives.

“The proper response to end-of-life suffering is loving care and accompaniment on the journey toward death — especially with the help of palliative care — and not ‘actively assisted death,'” the Pontiff stated. He also called for reforms in the social welfare and health systems in order to assist people who are terminally ill.

Some of Canada’s bishops also addressed euthanasia earlier this year. In April the Ontario episcopal conference published a brochure titled “Going to the House of the Father: A Statement on the Dignity and Destiny of Human Life.”

“It seems a cruel twist of history that societies with such great medical capabilities are turning against the disabled and sick — with lethal results,” the introduction stated.

The bishops insisted that protecting life is not just a Christian or religious argument, but a basic human right. “To permit the killing of the disabled, frail, sick or suffering, even if motivated by a misplaced compassion, requires a prior judgment that such lives are not worth living,” they said. “No one forfeits the right to life because of illness or disability.”

“Unless the right to life is secure, there can be no sure foundation for any human rights,” they added.

The statement also explained that there is a difference between deliberately causing death and unduly prolonging life. We are not morally obliged, the bishops said, to prolong life if the means used are unduly burdensome or cause additional suffering and when there is little hope of recovery.

The bishops also recommended that Christians not neglect the soul and that they should draw comfort from the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection. Suffering and death for Christians, they continued, is not only a matter for medicine.

Disabled concerns

Another source of opposition to euthanasia comes from groups representing disabled people, as the Los Angeles Times reported Aug. 6. According to the article, one of the reasons why legislative proposals to allow medically assisted suicide have failed in California in the past few years is the hostility of the disabled’s rights movement.

A combination of legalized euthanasia and pressure to cut increasing costs in the health care system could lead to the withdrawal of treatment for the disabled. The Los Angeles Times quoted a number of disabled people, active in groups who have fought against assisted-suicide proposals.

“The conditions I have are expensive to treat, and it would be a lot cheaper for the health care system to just let my health go to the point where I would want to die,” said Los Angeles activist Laura Remson Mitchell, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, kidney disease and diabetes.

Legal leniency

Other concerns arise from the increasing reluctance by some courts to punish family members who help a sick relative commit suicide. The application of the law in Britain in recent years has been eroded to the point where courts are reluctant to punish those who say they help kill someone out of love, commented Robert Verkaik, law editor for the British newspaper the Independent in an article published May 8.

Among other examples, Verkaik noted a case from October 2006, when a man who helped his terminally ill wife to die was set free with just a nine-month suspended sentence.

Earlier, in March, a French court convicted a doctor for poisoning a terminally ill cancer patient, reported the Associated Press on March 15. In spite of his guilt, the tribunal in southwestern Perigueux sentenced Laurence Tramois to just a one-year suspended prison sentence for his role in the Aug. 25, 2003, death of Paulette Druais in the nearby town of Saint-Astier.

Misguided compassion seems destined to lead to the deaths of still more people as pressures to ease restrictions on assisted suicide continue.



A Light in the 21st Century’s “Dark Night”

By Elizabeth Lev

ROME, AUG. 30, 2007 (Zenit.org).- As a respected Boston lawyer once remarked of recent biographies, “It’s tough times for the dead.” A case in point was the cover of last week’s Time magazine. Splashed across the front page ran the headline “The Secret Life of Mother Teresa,” accompanied by the gloomiest picture you ever saw of the saintly nun.

With its sensationalist title, Time magazine not only descended to the level of tabloid journalism, but betrayed a woeful ignorance of the meaning of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta’s spiritual journey.

Capitulating to the fad of finding the sordid behind the glitter, where titles like “Britney’s Breakdown” or “Lindsay in Crisis” are guaranteed to boost sales, the article itself feeds into the mentality that things are never as pretty as they seem. In our age of masking our own shortcomings by pointing out the flaws in others, it suggests that Mother Teresa’s joyous love of the poor hid a darker, almost sinister side.

Recent interest in the extraordinary founder of the Missionaries of Charity stemmed from the recently published book “Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light.” Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, postulator for the cause of canonization of the saintly nun who died in 1997, compiled her letters and writings, including a number that revealed Teresa’s spiritual trials.

By releasing these documents, Father Kolodiejchuk sought to grant readers a window into the intimate spiritual life of Mother Teresa, and to offer inspiration and hope by recounting her challenges in following Christ.

Instead, some have twisted her doubts about her faith, which she confided in letters to her spiritual director, into an indictment of her sincerity and personal holiness. Time author David Van Biema writes, “Perpetually cheery in public, the Teresa of the letters lived in a state of deep and abiding spiritual pain.”

These terms relate Mother Teresa’s life to that of a comic actor, suggesting that her professional persona and her private self were separate. Yet Teresa did more than just smile for cameras; she demonstrated joyous love, through her every action, gesture and expression.

The predatory glee with which news services leapt upon word of Mother Teresa’s “dark night of the soul” resembled the same relish with which they report celebrity arrests. Questions such as, “Can she still be made a saint?” demonstrated an utter lack of knowledge regarding the Church’s idea of sanctity while attempting to sow division by casting doubts on her holiness.

As a side note, Mother Teresa of Calcutta is blessed, which means that she is officially recognized by the Church as being in heaven. When she becomes a saint, worldwide devotion to Mother Teresa will be permitted, i.e. church dedication, invocation during the liturgy etc.

A different standard

The standards of the media are not those of saints. While Teresa herself feared falling into a sort of spiritual hypocrisy, the fact was that she, like many saints, possessed an especially keen sensitivity to how she fell short of Christ’s example.

Celebrated atheists leapt to recruit the nun to their cause. Christopher Hitchens, who penned a vicious biography of Mother Teresa, was quoted extensively in the article. Seizing the opportunity to reach millions, Hitchens eagerly made his bid to turn Teresa into a poster child for nihilism.

Time also consulted psychologists to posthumously analyze Mother Teresa from her letters. It seems strange that so many people who do not believe in the soul felt themselves qualified to probe that of Mother Teresa’s.

Although many have already rushed to quell these sparks, Mother Teresa obviously needs no defense. Happily situated in heaven along with other doubters like, well, St. Thomas, she is probably beseeching Jesus with her characteristic compassion to forgive Hitchens and the others “for they know not what they do.”

Paradoxically, the divisive aspect of the stories has done what many Church synods couldn’t. Liberal and traditional Catholics have joined forces to correct the record and to recognize Mother Teresa as an example for all people who suffer spiritual loneliness.

Her doubts and suffering, far from being a source of shame for those who love and admire this great woman, should make us proud to discover that she is an even greater hero than we thought.

For anyone seriously interested in the cause of Teresa, her spiritual difficulties come as no surprise. They were made known after her beatification in 2003. Discussing the subject at Roman dinner tables at the time, people spoke with awe of Mother Teresa’s exceptional perseverance in the face of what would have crumbled anyone less attuned to God’s grace.

Mother Teresa’s experiences are not scandal, but a mirror of our own lonely age. While people today try to dispel feelings of loneliness with analysts, medications or pop spirituality, Teresa embraced her loneliness and clung to her faith in Jesus, which, though often devoid of feelings, was solid and profound. What many have failed to notice, in fact, is that a good number of her expressions of solitude are addressed to Jesus himself.

“Feeling it”

Carole Zaleski in “First Things” wrote that Teresa converted “her feeling of abandonment by God into an act of abandonment to God.”

In many ways, her own sense of marginalization from God helped Mother Teresa to recognize loneliness in others. She proclaimed that there was “more hunger in the world for love and appreciation than for bread.” She realized that rejection and abandonment was not only the province of lepers, but present even in the inner life of those who appear to be successful and privileged.

How many times have we gone to Mass, not “feeling it,” as modern speak would put it. Our lips moving, our gestures mechanical, but we remain distant from the reality of God and his love for us. In that emptiness, temptation raises its head, suggesting that rather than practice this “hypocrisy,” we should forego Mass and go out for a round of golf instead.

Mother Teresa lived her doubts, not for an hour on Sunday, but every day as she tended the poor and dying in utter, relentless squalor. Her example reaches across from Christians to non-Christians.

Benedict XVI, as Father Joseph Ratzinger, made the interesting point in his 1963 “Introduction to Christianity” that “both the believer and the unbeliever share each in his own way, doubt and belief.” That led him to notice that doubt could be a possible “avenue of communication” between the two.

Time and time again, saints show us that when they suffer, the solution is to look outside oneself, not further within. St. Alfonso Liguori and St. John of the Cross both overcame their own troubles by focusing on their calling. As one religious sister acutely observed, when Teresa couldn’t find Jesus in her prayer life, she found him in the faces of her fellow human beings.

Teresa eventually came to give a meaning to her trials. She saw them as a privilege, the gift of sharing in Christ’s loneliness on the cross.

In his film “The Passion,” Mel Gibson painted a wrenching image of Christ’s agony in the garden of Gethsemane. Amid oppressive darkness, the sight of Jesus, abandoned by his apostles, struggling to continue with his mission, confronts viewers with the sense of desolation that accompanied his sacrifice.

Saints like Blessed Teresa, who faced loneliness in their self-sacrifice, experienced a unique sharing in the mystery of Christ’s passion. Like the purest gold, they have been forged in hotter fires.

Particularly in our era that gives more weight to feelings than facts and to sensation rather than sense, Mother Teresa teaches the world to persevere through doubt, pain and loneliness. In the dark spiritual night of the 21st-century, Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s example is a shining beacon to us all.