Assisi: A place of living history

Basilica of St. Francis, Assisi

Basilica of St. Francis, Assisi

Perched on the side of a mountain in the central Italian province of Umbria is the historic town of Assisi, best known as the hometown of St. Francis, one of Christianity’s most revered saints.

I’ve spoken to many visitors to Assisi over the past few years – especially since Cardinal Bergoglio was elected pope and took the name of St. Francis – and they all seem to describe the little town in the same way: perfectly magical.

You can imagine my excitement and expectation then, when I discovered I would be living in Assisi for five weeks to study Italian at the Language Academy!  In my brief but fully immersed time here, I have experienced what many of those visitors preached.

Despite its compact layout, Assisi is home to seven major ecclesial sites including two basilicas dedicated to St. Francis and St. Clare, where their remains can be found for veneration.

Town of Assisi

Assisi, Italy

It is a hustling and bustling place; a mix of locals and tourists.  But this doesn’t seem to affect the quaint atmosphere.  The old stone buildings that make up the town, and the many narrow streets, stairways and shortcuts transport the visitor back to the 13th century when it first became a place of pilgrimage after Francis’ death.

This feeling of history, which is really a living history, makes Assisi one of those few places in the world where the past encounters the present and sparks the imagination.  Medieval history as we know it is often conceived from the perspective of those centers of the world that once composed ‘Christendom:’ Rome, Paris or Aachen or any number of places once dominated by the movers and shakers of that history.

Assisi is quite different, and yet is as historically significant.  It was never the center of major temporal power struggles or cultural battles.  It was, and is, a little town perched on the side of a mountain.  It is ‘off the beaten trail’ and ‘out of the way’ and all the more enticing for it.

It was only two years after Francis of Assisi died that he was declared a saint.  The foundations of the basilica built in his name that now dominates the Assisi skyline on the edge of the town were laid only a few decades later.  The countless pilgrims and visitors to Assisi over the centuries experienced what we experience: a small, charming town that is home to two of the most widely reverenced and highly respected individuals in Christian history.  It’s a place where your imagination can run free, as St. Francis’ did eight hundred years ago.

Hong Kong Bishop Ordinations

Hong Kong Bishop Ordinations

On Saturday, August 30, there will be three auxiliary bishops ordained in the Diocese of Hongkong. They are Mgr Michael Yeung Ming-cheung, vicar general of the diocese and a member of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum; Mgr Stephen Lee Bun Sang, vicar of Opus Dei for East Asia; and Fr. Joseph Ha Chi-shing, a former superior of the Franciscan Order of Friars Minor in Hong Kong.

This ordination of the three Chinese auxiliary bishops will be remembered as one of the most significant events in the history of Catholic Church in China. The most obvious reason is that after August 30, there will be two Cardinals and three bishops serving the 400,000 Catholics in Hongkong: Cardinal John Tong, Bishop of Hongkong, and Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, SDB, Bishop emeritus, along with the three new bishops.

It is puzzling for Catholics and non-Catholics from outside of the region, especially us in Canada and the US, to understand reasoning behind the Holy Father’s decision to appoint three auxiliary bishops at once, and have five bishops serving a city diocese that does not seem to have a mass number of Catholics. However, it will be much easier to understand the motivation of the Holy Father when we think of the Church in China with 15 million plus Catholics who are under severe persecutions by the government and many bishops and priests are still in jail in under house arrests.

The Diocese of Hongkong has always been in unique position especially after the British handed over the sovereignty to the Communist Chinese in 1997. This is one of the only two Catholic dioceses in Communist China that are not being controlled by the Central Government, or does not belong to the government controlled Catholic Patriotic Association. (The other one is the small diocese of Macau. The city was handed over by the Portuguese to the Chinese in 1999.) In other words, the diocese of Hongkong (along with Macau) is the rare one that can preach freely the Good News of the Lord while in full Communion with the Holy Father, the Bishop of Rome.

The Hongkong Diocese has played a significant role in confronting the persecutions of the Catholic Church in China. It has sent priests, theology scholars, Bibles in Chinese, books and other much needed resources for the needs of the Catholics in China, the priestly formation, and to serve as communication channels between the Under Ground Church and Rome. The Diocese also works in good faith with the state controlled Catholic Patriotic Association (which does not recognize the Pope as the successor of Peter and leader of the Catholic Church) in hope of converting their political stand against the Pope’s supremacy in the matter of faith and moral and loosening the state control in religious matters.

The future of the Church in China and Hongkong are of one. As the Chinese government becomes more aware of the need to connect with the developed countries that value religious freedom and human rights, the role of the Diocese of Hongkong will become more important for it has all of the advantage to serve as a bridge between the Church in China and the rest of the Universal Church.  I urge you all to pray for the Church in China as what Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has taught us to pray to Our Lady of Sheshen. Sheshen is a mountain outside of Shanghai where a basilica was built and consecrated to Our Lady for her protection of Christians during riots. In 2008, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has declared May 24 as the World Day of Prayer for the Church in China.

I wish the three newly ordained bishops be full of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ for all the challenges that they will face in their new roles.

Bosco Chan, MTS (St Michaels’ College)

Aug 29, 2014

Perspectives Daily – Pope Francis Shuffles the Leadership of the Spanish Church

Today on Perspectives, Pope Francis makes major changes to the leadership of the Church in Spain naming new bishops for Madrid and Valencia. In doing so, he leaves a major vacancy at the head of a Congregation at the Vatican.

Daily Perspectives – Pope Francis warns against jealousy

Tonight on Perspectives: Pope Francis warns against jealousy in Christian communities, hunger and panic spread in Western Africa as government officials try to stop the spread of Ebola, and S+L launches onto ROKU TV.

Perspectives Daily – Tue. August 26, 2014

Former Nuncio to the Dominican Republic Josef Wesolowski does not have diplomatic immunity. Cardinal Fernando Filoni returns from Iraq

Perspectives Daily – Mon. August 25, 2014

Today on Perspectives, Pope Francis’ weekly Angelus and in response to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, an Iraqi bishop levels a challenge of his own.

Who the hell is the devil (Part 3)?

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So far we’ve looked at what the Scriptures and tradition tell us about the “prince of darkness”. But is this whole “devil” thing something of the past?

I remember watching the film The Exorcist and thinking that the whole scenario didn’t seem real to me. I don’t think demons sit around behind a tree waiting for some poor little girl to go by so they can jump out to posses her. I think that people have to cooperate with evil. You have to be really far away from God for the devil to be able to attack you like that.

According to Matt Baglio, author of The Rite, possession is the result of a person moving far away from God. He says that over a period of time, if you move far enough away, you make it possible for demons to step in. It’s not hard to move away from God. We may think that we are “religious” but if in our actions and deep beliefs we refuse to give up control of any aspect of our lives to God or have a continue pattern of sin, no matter how small (and remember sin is merely saying no to God), we are, in effect moving away from God. We don’t have to specifically dedicate ourselves to evil or play with Ouija Boards to invite the devil in. However, adds Baglio, if you’ve already begun distancing yourself from God, then playing with the occult will make possession easier.

I remember the first time I baptized a child I noticed that one of the prayers during the Rite of Baptism is called “exorcism”. This of course, does not mean that we believe the child is possessed, but it does mean that we acknowledge that there is evil in the world. During that prayer, the Priest or Deacon commands any impure spirits who might be present to depart from the person to be baptised. Also, remember that Baptism removes our original sin (for more on Baptism read, What is Baptism? and in this prayer we ask that Original Sin be removed:

“Almighty and ever-living God, you sent your only Son into the world to cast out the power of Satan, spirit of evil, to rescue man from the kingdom of darkness, and bring him into the splendor of your kingdom of light. We pray for this child: set him (her) free from original sin, make him (her) a temple of your glory, and send your Holy Spirit to dwell with him (her). We ask this through Christ our Lord.”

So obviously the Church believes in the existence of the devil as real. And if you still have doubts, I’m sure you’ve been around some time when you’ve had to make a “question-and-answer” style profession of Faith, (it happens during the rite of Baptism and during Confirmation – if you’ve been to an Easter Vigil you’ve done it). After we profess our Faith, the priest asks: “Do you reject Satan and all that is evil?” (And the correct answer is “I do” in case you’re wondering.)

Not only does the Church teach that Satan is real, but we believe in demonic possession. In fact, the Catholic Church is the only Christian denomination that prayers or rituals that have to do with expelling demons. I don’t know how common exorcisms are, but I’ve read that one in 5000 cases of reported demonic possession are actually cases of real possession.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines an exorcism:

“When the Church asks publicly and authoritatively in the name of Jesus Christ that a person or object be protected against the power of the Evil One and withdrawn from his dominion, it is called exorcism. Jesus performed exorcisms (Mk l:25f.) and from him the Church has received the power and office of exorcising (Mk 3:15: 6:7, 13: 16:17). In a simple form, exorcism is performed at the celebration of Baptism. The solemn exorcism, called ‘a major exorcism,’ can be performed only by a priest and with the permission of the Bishop. The priest must proceed with prudence, strictly observing the rules established by the Church. “Exorcism is directed at the expulsion of demons or to the liberation from demonic possession through the spiritual authority which Jesus entrusted to his Church. Illness, especially psychological illness, is a very different matter: treating this is the concern of medical science. Therefore, before an exorcism is performed, it is important to ascertain that one is dealing with the presence of the Evil One, and not an illness (cf. Code of Canon Law, can. 1172).” (CCC 1673)

In 1998, The 1614 Catholic Rite of Exorcism was updated and now includes a stipulation that no exorcism is to be performed until all other avenues have been exhausted. We have to be careful that we’re not dealing with a mental illness or some other psychological problem. That means that doctors, psychiatrists, and psychologists must be consulted first in order to eliminate all medical causes before an exorcism can be considered.

One of the first books I read that had anything to do with exorcisms was M. Scott Peck’s People of the Lie. Peck was a psychiatrist who actually became a Christian after he could not medically nor scientifically explain some of his patient’s behaviours or symptoms. In fact Scott Peck diagnosed some of his patients with “demonic possession”. (Another good book by Scott Peck on this topic is Glimpses of the Devil.)

The Roman Ritual of Exorcism lists the criteria for determining whether someone is possessed and requires an exorcism: “Speaking many words in unknown languages or understanding them; revealing distant or hidden things; displaying strength beyond one’s condition, together with a vehement aversion to God, Our Lady, the saints, the cross and sacred images.”

The Church takes possession very seriously. Every Diocese has to have an official exorcist. However, in most cases this is either the bishop or the bishop can appoint a priest as the diocesan exorcist.

It’s easy to get caught up with the drama of possession or exorcisms; however, the real danger of evil is not demonic possession, but rather in being deceived. Remember, Satan is a liar and deceiver. Possession is too obvious. Satan wants to work undetected and is trying really hard to make people believe he is not real. That is probably one of his biggest triumphs. Remember he is a liar.

He also likes to confuse, like making you think that something is good, when in fact it isn’t. A good example of this is making you think that it’s OK not to go to Mass because you need to spend time with your family – and God is really a loving and merciful God who wants you to spend time with your family (which is true and a good thing) and He doesn’t really care if you go to Mass or not (which is not true) – when in fact, going to Mass is very important. (The devil is good a half-truths; things that sound true or are partly true but are not completely true, in order to confuse.)

In short, Satan always wants us to pick something good at the expense of what God has promised… which is always something better.

When thinking about evil we must remember the fact that Jesus’ death defeated Satan forever. “Why is he still around?” you may ask. Maybe we are living what the Book of Revelation says about Satan being allowed to deceive the nations for a little while (Rev 20:7-8). Scott Peck liked to say that the devil has been defeated; we’re just in the clean-up operation.

I don’t know if Satan is on the run. It doesn’t matter. As long as there is God; people can choose “not God”. As long as there is Goodness, Truth and Beauty, people can choose the opposite of those. There is light, but we can always choose the darkness. And sometimes we end up choosing the darkness without really knowing what we are doing.

All of us can choose God or choose the absence of God, which is evil.  But if we choose God, Satan has no real power over us. It is a battle, but in this battle, God is on our side.

That’s why Pope John Paul II asked us to add the Prayer to St. Michael to our daily prayers:

“St. Michael, Archangel defend us in battle.

Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.

May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,

and do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Hosts,

by the power of God, cast into hell Satan and all evil spirits

who wander through the world seeking the ruin of souls.”

Feast of Mary, Queen of Heaven

queen

August 22: Feast of Mary, Queen of Heaven
Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B.

One week after the Solemn Feast of Mary’s Assumption into heaven, the church celebrates the Mother of God as Queen of Heaven.  In the fourth century St. Ephrem called Mary “Lady” and “Queen.” Later Church fathers and doctors continued to use the title. Hymns of the 11th to 13th centuries address Mary as queen: “Hail, Holy Queen,” “Hail, Queen of Heaven,” “Queen of Heaven.” The Dominican rosary and the Franciscan crown as well as numerous invocations in Mary’s litany celebrate her queenship.

It was Pope Pius XII who established this feast in 1954. But Mary’s queenship has roots in Scripture. At the Annunciation, Gabriel announced that Mary’s Son would receive the throne of David and rule forever. At the Visitation, Elizabeth calls Mary “mother of my Lord.” As in all the mysteries of Mary’s life, Mary is closely associated with Jesus: Her queenship is a share in Jesus’ kingship. We can also recall that in the Old Testament the mother of the king has great influence in court.

In his 1954 encyclical To the Queen of Heaven, Pope Pius XII points out that Mary deserves the title because she is Mother of God, because she is closely associated as the New Eve with Jesus’ redemptive work, because of her preeminent perfection and because of her intercessory power.

Taken up into heaven, Mary shows us the way to God, the way to heaven, the way to life. She shows it to her children baptized in Christ and to all people of good will. She opens this way especially to the little ones and to the poor, those who are dear to divine mercy. The Queen of the world reveals to individuals and to nations the power of the love of God whose plan upsets that of the proud, pulls down the mighty from their thrones and exalts the humble, fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich empty away (cf. Lk 1:51-53).

Mary’s earthly life is a journey of faith, hope and love, an exemplary way of holiness which began with the enthusiasm of her “fiat”, the exultation of the “Magnificat”, contemplative reflection in everyday life, perseverance in the dark night of the Passion until she could share in the joy of her divine Son in the radiant dawn of the Resurrection.  She is an outstanding model for each of us, and her Assumption into heaven reminds us that there is hope for you and me… what happens to the Virgin daughter of Nazareth at the end of her earthly pilgrimage will happen to each of us if we are faithful and obedient as she was.

We believe that because of the obedience and fidelity of the Blessed Virgin MaryQueenship of Mary 2jpeg, at the end of her earthly life, she was assumed both body and soul into heavenly glory.  The glory of the Mother of the Savior is a cause of immense joy to all her children, a joy that knows the far-reaching resonance of the sentiment that is typical of popular piety, even though it cannot be reduced to it. It is, so to speak, a theological joy, firmly rooted in the paschal mystery. In this sense, the Virgin is “causa nostrae laetitiae — the cause of our joy”.

Catholics believe that after her Assumption into heaven Mary was crowned as Queen of heaven and earth.  What kind of queen is she?  How does she manifest the kingdom of God in her reign?  As we remember Mary, Queen of heaven, we also think of earthly kings and queens.  So often we are caught up in and confused by their power, seeming successes and riches.  Today we will consider how we view power and success.  If God chooses the lowly to fulfill His plan, how then should we think of those who are far from the corridors of earthly power?  Let us pray for the grace to value humility and obedience above fame and authority, and seek to imitate Mary’s lowliness of heart.  Let us look for opportunities to serve those less fortunate than we are.  Let us meditate on the virtues of Mary, our Queen.  She was not proud or grand; she humbly and patiently received God’s word and surrendered her life to His plan, not her own.  Let us ask God to grant us those same heavenly virtues that will allow Him to guide and direct our path in life.

“She who was lowest in her own eyes says without tremor that she was highest in God’s eyes. She was glad because he was glad of it and for no other reason.” Thomas Merton

Holy Mary, Queen of heaven, pray for us.

Latin Text of the Salve Regina

Salve, Regina, Mater misericordiae,
vita, dulcedo, et spes nostra, salve.
ad te clamamus exsules filii Hevae,
ad te suspiramus, gementes et flentes
in hac lacrimarum valle.
Eia, ergo, advocata nostra, illos tuos
misericordes oculos ad nos converte;
et Iesum, benedictum fructum ventris tui,
nobis post hoc exsilium ostende.
O clemens, O pia, O dulcis Virgo Maria.

V. Ora pro nobis sancta Dei Genetrix.
R. Ut digni efficiamur promissionibus Christi.

Traditional English Translation

Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy,
our life, our sweetness and our hope.
To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve;
to thee do we send up our sighs,
mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.
Turn then, most gracious advocate,
thine eyes of mercy toward us;
and after this our exile,
show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.

V. Pray for us O holy Mother of God,
R. that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Perspectives Daily – Wed. August 20, 2014


Pope Francis in General Audience

Today on Perspectives, Pope Francis’ weekly general audience where he recounts his trip to Korea, talks about the recent tragedy in his family and meets his favourite soccer team.

Perspectives Daily – Tues. August 19, 2014

Today on Perspectives, Pope Francis holds a press conference on his flight home from his Apostolic Journey to Korea, the Catholic Near East Welfare Association rushes emergency air to Iraq and terrible tragedy in the Bergoglio family in Argentina.