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Pope Francis’ Prayer Intentions for May 2015


Join us in prayer for the intentions entrusted to us by Pope Francis. For April 2015, we join the Holy Father in praying for:

  • Care for the suffering. That, rejecting the culture of indifference, we may care for our neighbors who suffer, especially the sick and the poor.
  • Openness to mission. That Mary’s intercession may help Christians in secularized cultures be open to proclaiming Jesus.

Daily Offering Prayer
God, our Father, I offer You my day. I offer You my prayers, thoughts, words, actions, joys, and sufferings in union with the Heart of Jesus, who continues to offer Himself in the Eucharist for the salvation of the world. May the Holy Spirit, Who guided Jesus, be my guide and my strength today so that I may witness to your love. With Mary, the mother of our Lord and the Church, I pray for all Apostles of Prayer and for the prayer intentions proposed by the Holy Father this month. Amen.

Traditional Daily Offering of the Apostleship of Prayer
O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer You my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world. I offer them for all the intentions of Your Sacred Heart: the salvation of souls, reparation for sin, and the reunion of all Christians. I offer them for the intentions of our bishops and of all Apostles of Prayer, and in particular for those recommended by our Holy Father this month. The Apostles of Prayer offer themselves to God each day for the good of the world, the Church, one another, and the Holy Father’s intentions.

Thank you for praying with us!

In a tradition that is centuries old, the Apostleship of Prayer publishes the Pope’s monthly prayer intentions. To become a member of the Apostleship of Prayer, you need only to offer yourself to God for his purposes each day. When you give God all the “prayers, works, joys and sufferings” of your day, you turn your entire day into a prayer for others. You are joining your will to God’s will. If you feel called to this simple, profound way of life, find out more at Apostleship of Prayer.


Photo: CNS/Paul Haring

Ora et labora: the great “Amen!” to a Benedictine masterpiece


Often our most valuable pieces of art are our most valuable pieces of history. The historic component of a work of art adds to its value because of its character, exclusivity and insight into an age passed through which we glean a portrait of a younger but equally impressive and imaginative humanity.

This will certainly be the case for the Saint John’s Bible, the first hand-written, hand-illuminated Bible commissioned by a Benedictine monastery since the printing press was invented over five hundred years ago. The seventh and final volume of the Bible, consisting of the New Testament Letters and the book of Revelation, will be presented to Pope Francis on Friday, April 17th during a special audience in Rome. It will be the great symbolic conclusion of more than a decade of tireless labor.

The Bible, which was written in English using the New Revised Standard Version translation, was first commissioned in 1998 by the Benedictines of Saint John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota (Ironically, the Abbey also boasts one of the most celebrated theological printing presses in the English-speaking world, the Liturgical Press). The original Committee on Illumination and Text brought together artists, theologians, biblical scholars and art historians to reflect on the purpose and process of the project. Of central importance was the notion of creating a Bible for the 21st century, that is, one that venerates the Word of God by bringing it to life for the people of our time. The various art forms and representations in the 160 illuminations signal a team mentality of inclusivity and dialogue that are so important for the Church today.

At the same time, by using the manuscript writing techniques of the monks of previous ages—including calfskin vellum, hand-cut quills and lamp black ink—the team revived an activity that was once at the core of the living patrimony of the Church and indeed of the entire human civilization.

The Artistic Director and head scribe was Donald Jackson, who works for the Queen of England’s Crown Office at the House of Lords in London. It was his lifelong dream to hand-write and hand-illuminate a Bible, an undertaking he once called “the calligraphic artist’s supreme challenge, our Sistine Chapel, a daunting task.” Jackson wrote and illuminated the entire Book of Revelation himself.

Apart from being a glorious work of art, the Saint John’s Bible is significant in the life of the Church for these other reasons:

Firstly, as I mentioned, the Bible preserves tradition in the best sense of the word. We tend to think of tradition as something old or outdated, conservative and narrow. Tradition literally means “to hand over” or “to pass on.” It is the opposite of what is commonly and falsely assumed as something “to hold on to.” In the case of the Saint John’s Bible, it’s not incorrect to say that the Benedictines have preserved tradition by creating something new.

Secondly, the Bible testifies to the authority of Scripture in the Catholic tradition. Until midway through the 20th century, Scripture was less a source of life and inspiration in the Catholic community than long-standing traditions and official edicts of the Magisterium. After Vatican II, the Catholic Church was able to rebalance these sources of divine revelation, though practically speaking Catholics generally still lack a solid Scriptural formation. The Saint John’s Bible provides an opportunity for Catholics—and non-Catholics—to engage the divine Word in new and exciting ways. It can contribute to the mission of the Church, as Pope Francis sees it:

“The study of the sacred Scriptures must be a door opened to every believer. It is essential that the revealed word radically enrich our catechesis and all our efforts to pass on the faith. Evangelization demands familiarity with God’s word, which calls  for dioceses, parishes and Catholic associations to provide for a serious, ongoing study of the Bible, while encouraging its prayerful individual and communal reading.” (Evangelii Gaudium 175)

I was fortunate enough to attend university with the Benedictines in Collegeville and see the original Bible on a number of occasions. My work at S+L gave me the opportunity to produce a short video on the Bible that you can view here:

Artistic Incarnation


This past Christmas we reflected upon the incomprehensible mystery of the incarnation – God the Father made known to us through the man Jesus Christ. He chose a specific time, place, and way in our history to reveal Himself to us. That is the “Incarnation.” It’s a word we’ve probably heard many times. But have we ever stopped to think about what it really means?

Why did God choose to come to us in Palestine? Why 2000 years ago during Roman occupation? Why as a Aramaic speaking Jew who knew carpentry? I mean, he’s GOD after all; shouldn’t He be a bit more universal than just a single person? Maybe He could have at least come as an immortal person, and then all of humankind could have visited Him at some point? Or couldn’t he have chosen something a little bit more transcendent?

We will never know exactly why He came as he did. The best theologians in history have written volumes upon volumes about the incarnation, and yet we barely comprehend it. However, we can say at least one thing – that our infinite God chose become the person of Jesus Christ so that He could reveal his love to us. 

Love requires incarnation. It’s not enough to just experience it as a feeling – it needs to be given concrete form. Think of a marriage – A wedding is held at a specific time and place – where a couple publicly proclaims their love for one another. Throughout their lifetime they will manifest their love for each other through numerous acts – from taking out the garbage to caring for each other during sickness. Eventually, their love gives rise to an even more concrete incarnation – children.

So why does this interest me? After all, I’m your Hollywood Undercover Missionary, not your Hollywood Undercover Theologian.

Because Hollywood is full of artists, and artists are incarnators. Nothing describes the work of an artist better than “incarnation.” Writers, actors, cinematographers, composers, directors and writers all give specific form, at specific times and places to abstract concepts and feelings. Without them, we would have no way to fully express our deepest feelings and longings.

For us missionaries to artists, understanding this can go a long way towards reaching them. We have to minister to artists in a special way. Most of my friends in Hollywood are the “starving artist” type. They’re so dedicated that they’ve given up steady jobs and careers to pursue their art form. They are the quintessential “Bohemian Artists”, and have all their quirks and peculiarities. One particular thing I’ve observed about them over and over, is just how finely tuned into other artistic creations they are.

They are the kind of people who regularly cry during beautiful symphonies, and likewise could bring people to tears through their performances. The best example of this is of a man I know who walked into a Catholic church in Europe, and was converted through the beauty of the art that he saw there. He was so touched by his experience that he went on to found a school to create similar works of art! We as Catholics need to continue this kind of incarnation so that we can touch people with these sensibilities.

We need to realize that it’s only because of God’s creation in the first place that we have the ability to echo his creative powers. We should realize that incarnation is what we are being called to do, and this echoes of Gods goodness. We did not invent art, and so do not ultimately own it. God owns it and we owe it to Him recognize this. (Pope John Paul II, Letter to artists, p. 1)

This is where worldly art so commonly goes astray – this post-modern concept of the primacy of the expression of “the artist,” completely divorced from God and from others. No coincidence either then that we see so many anti-religious elements in modern art. Many artists begin to think that they are the beginning and end of their creations. Artists who use their art to create ugliness, and works of art that ultimately only distract and lead us astray.

Artists are called to emulate Gods love and beauty in the incarnation – the truth and love of Jesus Christ. They are called to emulate this action of God the father: God the father revealing His love for us through the person of Jesus Christ. God the Father revealing our true nature and destiny through Jesus Christ. Creating art that reflects these two truths will be the most beautiful there is.

So if you are an artist, or are partaking of art, know that you are participating in a deep deep mystery of God.

markmatthewsMark J. Matthews – our Hollywood Undercover Missionary @HUMissionary
Mark Matthews is a graphic designer and animator working in Hollywood.  Listen to his “What’s Good About Hollywood?” column once a month on  the SLHour.

Catholics Come Home on S+L

In recent decades, millions of people have drifted away from Jesus and their Catholic faith.  The creative media team at Catholics Come Home feels a call from God to produce inspiring messages of the New Evangelization, which have already helped lead hundreds of thousands of inactive Catholics, converts, agnostics and atheists home to Jesus and His Holy Church.

Join us, as we travel across North America to bring you stories of heartbreak, redemption, and transformation as we meet some of the actual people that the Holy Spirit lead home. God wants us to spend eternity in heaven with Him and to bring as many people with us as possible. This is Catholics Come Home.

Airs Sundays at 8:30pm ET / 9:30pm PT

See episode schedule below:

Atheist Returns Home  |  Sunday April 12, 2015

Host Tom Peterson welcomes Dr. Gloria Sampson, a 74-year-old linguistics professor who taught in Communist China.  After living as an atheist for 52 years, witness her amazing homecoming to the Catholic Church.  Filmed on location in Vancouver, Canada.

Agnostic to Evangelist  |  Sunday April 19, 2015

Host Tom Peterson welcomes Oscar Cavazos, a 33-year-old culinary chef and owner of a Mexican restaurant.  After 17 years living as an agostic, discover how this father of three came home to his Catholic faith.  Filmed on location in Dallas, Texas.

Personal Relationship with Jesus  |  Sunday April 26, 2015

Host Tom Peterson welcomes Ms. Lydia Clark, a 22-year-old college student and daughter of a Presbyterian pastor. Discover why she converted to Catholicism, and how she helped her fiancée home to the Catholic Church. Filmed on location in Providence, Rhode Island.

Loneliness & Suffering  |  Sunday May 3, 2015

Host Tom Peterson welcomes Thomas Manns, a 45-year-old accounting clerk, who lived as a hermit and agnostic for nearly 25 years. Witness his transformation and return to the Catholic Church.  Filmed on location in Westminster, British Columbia.

Healing  |  Sunday May 10, 2015

Host Tom Peterson welcomes Ms. Devin Jones, a 36-year-old automotive delivery trainer, who left the Church during the priest scandals. Discover how she returned to the Sacraments and her Catholic faith.  Filmed on location in Denver, Colorado

Faith and Reason  |  Sunday May 17, 2015

Host Tom Peterson welcomes Harrison Garlick, a 27-year-old law student and convert from prosperity Protestantism. Find out why this new father attended Ave Maria University as a Protestant, and then how he converted to the Catholic faith. Filmed on location in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Our Church Family  |  Sunday May 21, 2015

Host Tom Peterson welcomes Mary Annthipie-Bane, a 47-year-old mother and preschool teacher. Shortly after converting and marrying in the Catholic Church, she and her husband church-hopped for years.  Find out what prompted their family of five to return to the sacramental church.  Filmed on location in Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey.

Call to Discipline  |  Sunday May 28, 2015  

Host Tom Peterson welcomes 44-year-old Chris Ahrens, former Marine and firefighter. Discover what helped this father return to his Catholic faith and attend the Latin Mass. Filmed on location in Denton, Texas.

One nation under God  |  Sunday June 7, 2015

Host Tom Peterson welcomes Shirley and Tom Hill, a farming couple in their 60’s, living outside St. Louis. Discover how Shirley returned to the Catholic Church after being away almost 40 years, and how her husband converted recently. Filmed on location in Farmington, Missouri.

Church is Our Home  |  Sunday June 14, 2015

Host Tom Peterson welcomes Daniel Bui, the 27-year-old son of Vietnamese Buddhist converts to Protestantism. Find out why this Houston area high school history teacher converted to Catholicism while at the University of Texas at Austin. Filmed on location in Austin, Texas.

Falling in Love  |  Sunday June 21, 2015

Host Tom Peterson welcomes Madge Winch.  Madge, a 64-year-old quilt-making grandmother of five, once served as deputy sheriff carrying a 357 Magnum. Discover what helped her and her family return to the Catholic Church, and what prompted her husband to convert to Catholicism.  Filmed on location in Bonne Terre, Missouri.

Slippery Slope  |  Sunday June 28, 2015

Host Tom Peterson welcomes Michael Mark, a 50-year-old former drug addict and dealer from Chinatown. Witness his incredible transformation, that brought him and his 90 year old father home to their Catholic Church family. Learn how God then called Michael to serve the homeless in a men’s hospice. Filmed on location in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Be not Afraid  |  Sunday July 5, 2015

Host Tom Peterson welcomes Susan Masi, a 71 year old baker and clerk at pet bakery. Find out what helped this divorced Catholic find her way back home to the Catholic Church. Filmed on location in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin.

Pope Francis’ Prayer Intentions for April 2015


Join us in prayer for the intentions entrusted to us by Pope Francis. For April 2015, we join the Holy Father in praying for:

  • Creation: That people may learn to respect creation and care for it as a gift of God.
  •  Persecuted Christians: That persecuted Christians may feel the consoling presence of the Risen Lord and the solidarity of all the Church.

Daily Offering Prayer
God, our Father, I offer You my day. I offer You my prayers, thoughts, words, actions, joys, and sufferings in union with the Heart of Jesus, who continues to offer Himself in the Eucharist for the salvation of the world. May the Holy Spirit, Who guided Jesus, be my guide and my strength today so that I may witness to your love. With Mary, the mother of our Lord and the Church, I pray for all Apostles of Prayer and for the prayer intentions proposed by the Holy Father this month. Amen.

Traditional Daily Offering of the Apostleship of Prayer
O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer You my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world. I offer them for all the intentions of Your Sacred Heart: the salvation of souls, reparation for sin, and the reunion of all Christians. I offer them for the intentions of our bishops and of all Apostles of Prayer, and in particular for those recommended by our Holy Father this month. The Apostles of Prayer offer themselves to God each day for the good of the world, the Church, one another, and the Holy Father’s intentions.

Thank you for praying with us!

In a tradition that is centuries old, the Apostleship of Prayer publishes the Pope’s monthly prayer intentions. To become a member of the Apostleship of Prayer, you need only to offer yourself to God for his purposes each day. When you give God all the “prayers, works, joys and sufferings” of your day, you turn your entire day into a prayer for others. You are joining your will to God’s will. If you feel called to this simple, profound way of life, find out more at Apostleship of Prayer.

 (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Angels: Your Forgotten Friends



Noel-BlogWelcome to S+L’s Weekly News Round-Up. As the Director of Marketing and Communications here at S+L, many interesting Catholic news stories and articles come across my desk on a daily basis. Some of them we’ll cover on our different television programs and others I’d like to share with you on this blog.

This blog column is where I’ll point out some of the more interesting news pieces that I’ve come across over the past week! Enjoy!

Stations_of_the_crossIt’s the 4th week of Lent and I sure hope you guys are hanging in there. In addition to a really good confession, one thing that really should be on your to-do list this Lent is to take a moment to pray and reflect on the Stations of the Cross, at least once. But, ‘why?’ you are probably asking youself. Well, Pope Francis gives you 8 solid reasons here.

Here are also some great reflections on The Way of the Cross:

Here’s an interesting article that doesn’t surprise me one bit. Apparently, despite some of the opposition the Pope is getting from the extreme right or left Catholics, the Pope’s popularity continues to grow. In fact, 9-in-10 Catholics in the U.S. view Pope Francis favourably, on par with ratings of St. John Paul II. Read about it here! With this in mind, here is an interesting article by John Allen that describes what’s really miraculous about Pope Francis.

Louis_Zelie_MartinSpeaking of Popes and Saints, I’m sure you’ve heard by now that Pope Francis plans to canonize St. Therese of Lisieux’s parents’ Blesseds Louis and Marie Zelie Guerin Martin. The couple was beatified in 2008 and are believed to be the first parents of a saint to be beatified, highlighting the important role parents play in their children’s human and spiritual upbringing. It’s all here on CNS.

Angels. Let’s talk about these important, yet all to often, under-rated protectors we all have. Have a look at this interesting article on EpicPew that points out 10 facts about them that’ll blow your mind! Speaking of which, the Venerable Fulton Sheen has some interesting thoughts on the subject:

One thing you may not know about me is that I am a bit of an architectural enthusiant. So when I came across these three articles, I found them of great interest. First, check out this video of 11 beautiful Christian sites taken with drones! Second, you should see these 5 Hidden Underwater Christian Statues of the Deep. Lastly, take a moment to see this really cool full 60 minutes documentary entitled “BUILDING THE GREATEST CATHEDRALS”

Finally, if you are like many Catholics and prayer may seem like a daunting task, you should think about what kind of prayer best suits your personality type! Here is a neat Quiz that will help you find out what type of prayer is best for you.

Take the test here.

That’s it for this week folks. I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments on these stories. If you have any interesting stories yourself, please feel free to send them to me!

I hope you enjoy these little stories! I certainly have. Till next week!

– Noel

Celebrate the Feast of St. Joseph


The Catholic Church celebrates St. Josephs’ feast day on March 19. St. Joseph is the patron saint of husbands, fathers, families, homes and workers. Joseph is also believed to protect pregnant women, travelers, immigrants and people buying or selling homes.

In 1870, St. Joseph was declared patron of the universal Church and he is also one of the principal patrons of Canada. Please join Salt + Light in a month long novena prayer to St. Joseph. We invite you to pray for our ministry and for your own special intentions. Please find the prayer below:

Glorious St. Joseph
Appointed by the Eternal Father
As the guardian and protector of the life of Jesus Christ,
the comfort and support of His Holy Mother,
and the instrument in His great design
for the Redemption of mankind,
then who had the happiness of living with Jesus and Mary
and of dying in Their arms,
be moved with the confidence which we place in you
and procure for us from The Almighty,
the particular favours which we humbly ask through your intercession.

(Here ask for favours you wish to obtain)

Pray for us, then, O Great Saint Joseph
And by your love for Jesus and Mary,
And by Their love for you,
Obtain for us the supreme happiness of living and dying in the love of Jesus and Mary, Amen.

St. Joseph, pray for us.

If you would like to share your special intentions with us, please let us know.

Deacon-structing Lent: part 3


In part 1 we looked at fasting and abstinence and in part 2 we looked at the meaning of suffering. Today, let me share with you something I like to do as part of my prayer (and we all know that Lent is a time to re-focus our prayer life.)

I love Scripture. I take to heart the words of St. Jerome, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” I truly believe that we must read the Bible daily. We must read it, study it and pray with it. That is definitely one way to get closer to Christ. But it’s also a good way to measure how you’re doing in your own life. When I was doing my pastoral placement while studying for the Permanent Diaconate, we were required to do “scriptural reflections” on specific pastoral experiences we’d had. So if I had met a patient who was in crisis in the hospital, I had to reflect on that experience by looking at it through a scriptural lens. I loved doing this and it was extremely helpful. Basically it’s looking at the life of Jesus (or other Bible characters) and seeing what it tells me about my life.  A lot of people will tell us that the Gospels are not factual. That Jesus didn’t really multiply the loaves and the fishes or that it wasn’t really water turned into wine, or that Lazarus wasn’t really dead. They’ll say that “resurrect” meant something else or that Jesus didn’t really die on the cross or didn’t really “resurrect.” See, (and I may get some responses from you for saying this) I don’t know if it really matters whether Jesus literally fed 5000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fishes or if he really walked on water; what matters is how these stories affect my life today. What really matters is the TRUTH behind all these stories.  The Bible may not always be FACT – but it is always TRUTH.

Let me explain to you the difference between “Fact” and “Truth.”

Let’s say you ask my five-year-old son how tall I am. My son says that I am 20 feet tall. Clearly that statement is not factual. I am not 20 ft. tall. But the truth behind that statement is that I am much, much taller than he is. He is short and I am a lot taller than him. So, in a way, his statement is true just not fact. Understand?

So the Bible is full of stories to show us the Truth.  That’s why we have to read the Bible as THEOLOGY and not so much as HISTORY. When we look at the Gospel stories and during Lent when we look at all the Passion Narratives, in trying to understand all the suffering, we must look for the Truth that is found in them.

The first Truth that I see is (as I said in part 2) that, although we may not be able to understand suffering, we believe in a God who suffers with us. He reigns from the Cross.

Jesus had to die because in dying He destroyed death. He destroyed Sin. His death frees us. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says: “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (A cliché from Jn 12:24?) What I take from this passage is that unless I die I will not produce fruit.  It means I have to die to myself. It means I have to not be so selfish and self-centred. If I stop being so self-consumed and focus a little bit more on others, chances are I will produce some good fruit. Lent is a good time to practice dying to ourselves.

Jesus dying on the cross in a way represents how we each have to die:  We have to die to ourselves. In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus says to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mt.16:24). Deny yourself. That means stop being so self-centred.

In Luke, Jesus says: “And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Lk 14:27) Does “our cross” mean, “our suffering”?  Does it mean that if I am not willing to suffer, then I can’t be a follower of Jesus?  Is He preaching a religion that requires suffering? But as I said last week this doesn’t mean that I have to create my own suffering. Our cross is not suffering for the sake of suffering.

What does Jesus say about suffering?  He healed the sick, he cured the lame and the blind; he resurrected Lazarus. He fed the hungry. So Jesus fought against suffering at every turn. In fact, when Lazarus died, people chastised Jesus for not going to Lazarus when he was sick and curing him. (Jn: 11:4) When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” So Lazarus died so that God may be glorified through it.

On the fifth Sunday in Lent, this year (Cycle B) we will hear the reading from John 12:20-33 about the kernel of wheat dying, that I mentioned above. It’s worth reading the whole passage. Jesus says:

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.

Amen, amen, I say to you,

unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies,

it remains just a grain of wheat;

but if it dies, it produces much fruit.

Whoever loves his life loses it,

and whoever hates his life in this world

will preserve it for eternal life.

Whoever serves me must follow me,

and where I am, there also will my servant be.

The Father will honor whoever serves me.”

He says it in response to some Greeks who wanted to see him. He’s speaking about what we have to do if we want to follow him.

But in a less-known passage, which follows, he says,

“I am troubled now. Yet what should I say?

‘Father, save me from this hour’?

But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.

Father, glorify your name.”
Then a voice came from heaven,

“I have glorified it and will glorify it again.”

The crowd there heard it and said it was thunder;

but others said, “An angel has spoken to him.”

Jesus answered and said,

“This voice did not come for my sake but for yours.

Now is the time of judgment on this world;

now the ruler of this world will be driven out.

And when I am lifted up from the earth,

I will draw everyone to myself.”

He said this indicating the kind of death he would die.

Jesus is saying that some suffering glorifies God. Which kind of suffering? Self-centred suffering won’t glorify God, that’s for sure. He also says that we must accept the suffering that comes with following Him.

In the Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson there’s a very moving scene: Jesus is carrying the cross on the way to his crucifixion. He has been tortured and can barely stand or walk. His face is bruised and bleeding and his eye is swollen shut. He has fallen a lot more than three times. Mary, his mother is trying to get to him through the crowds. She finally breaks through as Jesus falls one more time. He looks up at her and says: “See Mother, I make all things new.”

Jesus came to make all things new.  He came to renew.  He talked about a new commandment: Love one another. A new Covenant: His blood is the blood of the new Covenant. In Mark He says: “And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, He pours new wine into new wineskins.” (Mark 2:22)  And how does He do this? By suffering and dying on the Cross. Lent is a time when we focus on dying to ourselves – even if it means a little suffering – so that we can glorify God. That, in turn, will make us new. That is why Lent is also a time for transfiguration. The season of Lent may begin with the story of Jesus going into the desert, but the second Sunday in Lent always has the story of the Transfiguration.

When Pope Francis was interviewed for America Magazine and was asked, “Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?” he paused. He thought for a bit and then he said, “I am sinner. I am a sinner, whom the Lord has looked upon.”

That’s who we are: sinners, but that is just half of the story: We are sinners, whom the Lord has looked upon. Lent is not Lent if it doesn’t lead to Easter. Lent is a time when we focus a bit more on our sinfulness because the Lord has looked upon us; because Easter is just around the corner.

Come back next week and we’ll look at the two-fold character of Lent.

CNS photo/Vincent West, Reuters

50 Years Ago Today: Mass in the Vernacular

Paul VI new mass

On Saturday March 7, Pope Francis will visit the church of “Ognissanti’ (All Saints) in Rome to commemorate fifty years to the day that Blessed Paul VI celebrated the Eucharist for the first time in the vernacular rather than in the customary Latin language. It was the first time a new way of celebrating mass was inaugurated after Vatican II’s Decree on the Liturgy SACROSANCTUM CONCILIUM was promulgated on December 4, 1963. This important document, the first of Vatican II, was approved at the end of the second year of the Council.

When Paul VI celebrated mass 50 years ago today, he said that it was a great liturgical reform that would bring about an authentic spiritual renewal in the Church. This weekend is a good opportunity to recall some important points about the great changes that have taken place in the liturgy over the past half a century. The practices associated with the “New Mass” after the Council had their beginnings decades earlier. The reform of the liturgy did not simply begin with Vatican II. The practices introduced in 1964 had been suggested much earlier. Since the middle of the 19th century there had been an interest in various aspects of the liturgy, its history, ceremonies and music. Fr. Lambert Beauduin, a Belgian responsible for the liturgical movement in France held that the liturgy creates Christian community; it is the source and center of all Christian life – an idea that later made its way into the Second Vatican Council’s constitution on the liturgy. The theological basis of the entire liturgical movement was the body of Christ. This idea “body of Christ” gained momentum and finally received papal approval in Pope Pius XII’s encyclical, Mystici Corporis Christi.

Maria Laach Abbey GermanyBenedictines were real pioneers and leaders in the international Liturgical Movement. Benedictine liturgical scholars claim that the origin of the pastoral liturgical reform was in 1924, when the first Missa recitata, or dialogue Mass, was celebrated in a crypt of Maria Laach Abbey in Germany. This German abbey played a significant role in the 20th century, particularly in the field of liturgy. The Benedictine monks of St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, beginning with liturgical pioneer Fr. Virgil Michel were the founders of the Liturgical Movement in English-speaking countries. St. John’s Abbey was a real center of liturgical activity. Already in 1926, the Benedictines in Minnesota were publishing an influential liturgical journal, Orate Fratres (later renamed Worship).

Collegeville Abbey MinnesotaThe Collegeville abbey was instrumental in founding in 1940 the Benedictine Liturgical Conference that would host national meetings called Liturgical Weeks. They were attended by thousands of priests, religious and laity interested in liturgical reform. While at first the main concern of the Liturgical Movement was that people be educated about the liturgy so they could better understand and participate in it, at a later stage, liturgists decided that the people’s participation would be possible only if changes were made in the rites, and began to advocate such changes.

The First Instruction on the Proper Implementation of the Constitution of the Sacred Liturgy, Inter oecumenici, was issued by the Sacred Congregation for Rites on September 26, 1964, to take effect by March 7, 1965, the first Sunday of Lent. This document specified which parts of the Mass could be in the vernacular as permitted by SC #54. The normal Sunday experience for the vast majority of Catholics continued to be the new Mass celebrated in the vernacular. The new Mass could also be celebrated in Latin, something that I do often especially in international assemblies. The use of Latin is a beautiful way to express unity rather than division.

The Extraordinary Form

We must not forget that the Second Vatican Council never asked for the creation of a new rite for the liturgy, but for greater use of the vernacular language and greater participation of the faithful. On July 7, 2007 Pope Benedict XVI released his apostolic letter “Summorum Pontificum” on the use of the Roman liturgy prior to the reform of 1970. The decree was issued “motu proprio,” a Latin term meaning on the Pope’s personal initiative in the matter. In the letter Benedict eased restrictions on the use of the 1962 Roman Missal, which was standard before the new Order of the Mass was introduced in 1970. The so-called “Tridentine” Mass an extraordinary form of the Roman Rite is not considered to be a distinct rite, but rather a different form of the same right.

Addressing fears of opponents of his apostolic letter, Benedict pointed out that the norms do not detract from the authority of Vatican II, nor do they question the liturgical reform that the council called for. In an explanatory letter that accompanied the document addressed to the bishops of the world, Benedict wrote that his decision was motivated by a desire to bring about “an interior reconciliation in the heart of the Church.” In Pope Benedict’s decision about the greater use of the Tridentine Mass, there are no winners or losers. Whoever wants to appeal to the Motu proprio to ignite tensions, instead of fostering the spirit of reconciliation, will radically betray it.

The liturgy accompanies the Church on her journey through history. We have two forms of the mass: one ordinary and the other extraordinary – of a single rite of celebration of the Mass. The mystery of the death and resurrection of the Lord is so great that it cannot be identified or limited in a definitive and exclusive way with one form or the other of the rite that is celebrated. Both Popes Benedict and Francis strongly desire to support reconciliation among Catholics and to reconcile the church with its rich liturgical past. It is through the liturgy that we encounter the Lord Jesus, his death and resurrection. He is the source and summit of our life. He is our reconciliation and our lasting peace.

Deacon-structing Lent: part 2


Now that in part 1 we’ve taken care of questions regarding fasting and abstinence, let’s focus on the meaning of Lent.

We all know that Lent is the 40 days leading us to Easter. But what really is Lent?  Why are penance and suffering associated with Lent? What is the value of suffering? Let me tell you the story of my friend Eileen.*

Eileen has a great husband and a beautiful daughter. They have a nice little house in a good part of town. Her husband Paul* has a good job. They have a car. Her daughter Melanie* goes to a good school.  They are a good Catholic family. They go to Church and they’re involved in their Parish. Eileen has Multiple Sclerosis, but she’s doing very well. It is not advanced. Life is good and full of many blessings.

One day, when Melanie is about 13, Eileen finds out that Paul has been cheating on her. In a second their life has changed. Eileen can’t live with this betrayal. She leaves Paul.  Instantly, Melanie’s life has changed completely: from living in a nice house, with a car, in a nice neighbourhood – to living in a two-bedroom apartment with her now, single Mom, in a not-so-nice area of town and having to take public transit. Eileen’s MS starts to advance. Now, Melanie has to spend more time at home, helping her Mom. She is now 15, a time when she would rather be spending more time with her friends. But she is coping. Life for Eileen is getting harder and harder: divorce and disease, but still, life continues; they make the most of it; they’re still involved in their parish. There is still contact with Paul, who spends time with Melanie and visits occasionally. Then one day, when Melanie is 17, just a few days after Christmas, she is driving home after going out to a friend’s birthday. No one has been drinking and there is no speeding. The weather is not bad. Melanie changed cars to be with a friend who was going to be driving alone. The car hits a patch of ice, spins out into the opposite lane into an incoming vehicle – that is not speeding, just going the legal 60km/h – but hits straight onto the passenger side where Melanie is sitting, effectively crushing her. She is unconscious and shortly after she reaches the hospital, dies. 17 years old.  Divorce, disease and now death. I heard the news of Melanie’s death shortly after I heard about the Tsunami in South Asia. Divorce, disease, death and disaster….

And so I spent my Christmas season trying to make sense of this; trying to see why suffering exists; why is it such a part of our lives?

We are told that suffering glorifies us. Suffering sanctifies us. That means that suffering makes us Saints. This seems completely ridiculous to me. However if you look at the Middle Ages – a time in history that is not well-known for technical or scientific advances and not well-known for great Church leadership – this time produced many Saints; Saints that took suffering seriously. There’s Saint Rose of Lima (1586 –1617) who wore a cilice, a belt with spikes on it, wore a hair shirt and rubbed pepper on her face so she wouldn’t be attractive. There are so many others. I guess I don’t need to tell you about all the people who willingly gave up everything to be poor; who made strange choices like choosing to walk barefoot, even in winter! Look at St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226). Did all these people become Saints because of their suffering? I don’t think so. Certain suffering may sanctify us, but that doesn’t mean we have to go looking for suffering!

If I were to ask you why there’s suffering in the world, maybe you’d tell me that it’s because suffering makes us better people; because we learn from our suffering; it makes us stronger; it helps us understand those who are less fortunate and it gives us an opportunity to be compassionate to others and to realise that we need God. I guess that’s why we have so many clichés about darkness preceding light.

A cliché is an expression or phrase that expresses a stereotype. Like: “It has to be dark for you to see the stars.” Or “in darkness is when the stars shine brightest.” Or, “It has to be raining for you to see the rainbow” or, “you have to climb through the thorns to get to the rose.” These are clichés. But they are clichés because they are true. Here’s another one: “Winter has to come before the Spring.” They all mean that we need to go through suffering in order to experience the good stuff. Suffering makes us better people. That’s the way it is. There is something about this created world (and fallen world) that simply is that way. But why?  Why does it have to be that way?  God is God; God could have had anything make us better people. Anything could sanctify us. Why would salvation depend on suffering? Why can’t it be something else? Why can’t salvation depend on partying? I would say that those clichés are true also in that they point to something about the essence of God.

God became a human being and lived on earth as a human, with all the human things: born in a stable, got lost in Jerusalem, had to go to school and make friends; had to work hard – life in those days wasn’t easy.  Then he was arrested, tortured in the most horrible way and killed in the most horrible way.  That’s the God we believe in: A God who is arrested, tortured and killed.  A God who reigns by hanging on a Cross. It makes no sense. That’s why St. Paul says it’s a folly (1 Cor 1:18-25). I don’t get it but I don’t think we have to understand it. That’s why St. Paul also calls it a stumbling block (1 Cor 1:23).  But God doesn’t ask me to understand. That’s the story of Job. Job goes through incredible suffering and God never tells him why. Jesus goes through incredible suffering and God is absent (Mt 27:46; Mk 15:34). [I wrote a reflection on the Cross a few years ago and explored many of these themes.]

But we know that suffering can be redemptive. There are people who suffer for no reason; that suffering has no meaning. But there are people who suffer out of love. There are people who offer their suffering because of love. That suffering becomes redemptive. That’s the suffering of Jesus on the Cross. That’s why His suffering is redemptive. That’s the suffering that saves.

I may not understand why we have to suffer**, but I know that God is a God who suffers with us. That acceptance is also redemptive. Lent is a great opportunity to remind us of this love. Our small acts of penance are a reminder of this love. Lent encourages us to offer up our suffering out of love.

Come back next week and let’s see what Scriptures have to say about all this.

*Not their real names.
**For a real good in-depth look at suffering, you may want to watch In Your Faith, Season 1; Episode 2, (If God is a God of Love) Why do Bad Things Happen?
You may also be interested in Fr. Rosica’s Lenten and Easter Reflections, available now on DVD.