WATCH: Disabilities can’t keep these budding acrobats from flying high

A well-known acrobat in Argentina named Pitu Blazquez runs an acrobatics school and teaches people with disabilities to hang by silks in the air and do what what circus acrobats do. Blazquez finds something amazing in the people he teaches — a courage and determination that can inspire all of us to be our best selves and to appreciate the gifts that every human being has to offer the world.

Brett Favre’s Catholic faith carries him to the Hall of Fame

This weekend Brett Favre, one of the greatest NFL players of all time, will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. On Thursday he was presented with the prestigious “gold jacket,” the highest honor a player can get in the NFL.

What is unique about the event is that his wife Deanna presented him with the jacket and will formally introduce him at Saturday’s induction ceremony. She is only the second wife of a football player to do so.

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Favre said about the decision to have his wife participate, “Deanna is the best teammate I’ve ever had…She has been by my side throughout this journey and I’m so excited that she gets to play such an important role for me.”

The two have been together since high school and their teamwork was tested early on in their relationship. At age 19, Deanna found out she was pregnant and as Favre was the starting quarterback at Southern Mississippi University, they were not ready to be parents.

Her friends pressured her to have an abortion, but Deanna refused, saying, “there was no way I could destroy an innocent life.” She even admitted that having premarital sex was “a bad choice, and for every choice there’s a consequence.”

It was their shared Catholic faith that ultimately convinced them not to have an abortion and so Deanna gave birth to their first daughter, Brittany. They remained together throughout Favre’s success in college and the NFL and finally got married in 1996 at the height of his career with the Green Bay Packers.

Everything seemed to be going right. Favre became a three-time league MVP, won a Super Bowl, and started to break all the records.

Then everything changed in 2003 and 2004.

A day before a game against the Oakland Raiders, Favre was notified of the death of his father. This devastated Favre as he greatly admired his father, from whom he received much of his hard work ethic and stubborn personality. In fact, his father had always wanted to present Favre at the Hall of Fame ceremony and would have done so if he were alive.

He took his pain to the football field, passing for 399 yards and 4 touchdowns to solidify a 41-7 victory. His father wouldn’t have had it any other way.

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Ten months later his brother-in-law was killed in an accident and shortly after that Deanna was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a whirlwind of a year full of emotions that ultimately strengthened them and deepened their Catholic faith.

Deanna said in an interview with The Compass, “I just feel like, with faith, it helps me see the good in everything…I thank God all of the time that I have faith because I don’t understand what people would do without faith.”

She credited her mother for giving her a firm foundation, something to stand on during the many trials they experienced, “She was a huge influence. We were brought up Catholic and we’re still strong Catholics.”

After four months of chemotherapy, Deanna was declared cancer-free. The experience prompted her to extend their charitable foundation to include organizations that provide financial assistance to breast cancer patients. Their foundation, Favre4Hope, has donated $8 million dollars to charitable organizations since its inception in 1995.

Additionally, Deanna was the driving force behind a pink Pray for a Cure Bible that was published to raise awareness of breast cancer. Deanna handpicked Bible verses aimed at breast cancer survivors and patients. Her favorite Bible verse is Romans 8:28 (“We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose”), which has motivated her to persevere in every trial.

Priests who knew the Favre family in Green Bay and Mississippi said they were impressed by their faith. Fr. Tommy Conway, their pastor in Mississippi, said, “I think Deanna has shaped Brett Favre into the man he is today. I give her an awful lot of credit. They have faced adversity in their lives and they are both better people for it.”

In the end, while Brett Favre will go down in history as one of the best NFL players to ever play the game, he and his wife understand that none of it will matter when they part from this world to the next. Faith helped them get through some of the most difficult trials in their lives and continues to guide them forward into whatever else God has in store for them.

EXCLUSIVE: The extraordinary adventure of Fr. Federico Lombardi, faithful collaborator of three popes

After being a close collaborator of three popes, 10 years as the Director of the Holy See Press Office and 26 years at the helm of Vatican Radio, Fr. Federico Lombardi opens his heart to us in this exclusive interview.

In our dialogue he shared how he discovered his priestly vocation and what he learned from the last three popes, who have changed the history of the Church and the world.

It is a story that, like his life, is characterized by humility and authenticity.

 

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Aleteia: How old were you and what compelled you to one day to leave behind all the possibilities life was offering to become a Jesuit priest?

Fr. Lombardi: A vocation is something that depends on God. For me it was something that developed gradually, without any great drama in my youth, having been involved already in groups and activities in the Church. I was a Boy Scout, part of the Marian Association, and went to a Jesuit school, which, growing up, was one of the main factors that led me to ask to enter the Company of Jesus. I entered the novitiate at the age of adulthood, when I was 18. The decision was something that had matured through high school.

After your time as Provincial of the Jesuits in Italy, in 1990 you began your collaboration with John Paul II as the director of Vatican Radio. What are the life lessons you took away from your work with Pope Wojtyla?

The work of Vatican Radio in the years of John Paul II represented for me a true opening towards the global horizon of the world and the Church.

As a Jesuit, I already have a vocation that seeks to look out to the world, and as Provincial I took many trips and visited our missionaries across the globe. Thus, my horizon was already fairly vast. But with the work at Vatican Radio and accompanying John Paul II, particularly in his travels, the universal horizon of the Church and her attention to history and all human affairs from a spiritual perspective of faith became for me truly a continuous, daily focus.

I remember in my first days at Vatican Radio a consultation with the international press agencies, in which we were able to follow minute-by-minute the events taking place in various parts of the world; it drew me in. It moved me to broaden my spirituality, recognizing the presence of God, seeing the signs of His work in the everyday lives of persons and nations, thus becoming the substance of my daily life.

And in this John Paul II was a great master.

I remember two things that touched me deeply: one, his authority in speaking to people; he seemed to be truly an expert of people. During his trips, he had this ability to enter into the history, the culture, and the spirit of the different nations. Working at Vatican Radio, which has always striven to be multilingual, multicultural, open to differences and the variety of cultures in their uniqueness…it really drew me in. John Paul II, in my opinion, was an expert both of peoples and individual persons.

And then, his deep faith, which was manifested so clearly in moments of personal prayer, where he was collected and strong, even in the midst of great confusion and the great expectations surrounding the trips he took. You could tell that a personal relationship with God was at the center of his life, his focus, and his service, and in this sense his canonization corresponded to a very clear testimony of life and faith.

On July 11, 2006, Pope Benedict appointed you Director of the Press Office of the Holy See. What have been the most difficult moments in this mission? And the most beautiful? What have you taken away with you in your heart from your relationship with Pope Benedict?

I certainly participated in a profound way in the events of his pontificate, including those which could have been the greatest challenges he faced. I have to say that the difficult moments were those challenging moments for the Church, which the pope faced with the greatest courage and willingness. We can think of, for example, the debate on Islam, the crisis in the Church surrounding clerical sexual abuse, or other internal debates within the Roman Curia, which were later reflected in public opinion. Benedict faced these situations with the greatest courage, laying the first steps on which the Church can move forward, on a foundation of personal suffering in these difficulties, but also a foundation of great courage and sincerity.

I am convinced that these difficulties are the basis on which we have taken great steps forward, for example, in approaching with objectivity and depth our relation with the Muslim world, the issue of the violence we are currently witnessing, with all its depth and magnitude. And the pope faced these issues with clarity and courage, touching on the points that have yet to be confronted and resolved, both on the part of the Muslim world and on our own part in dialogue with them.

Regarding the issue of the cases of abuse, already as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and later as pope, he set out the principles of the procedural basis and proper approach to be taken by the Church regarding prevention and legal recognition of these errors, which have given a direction upon which Pope Francis can continue to build. But it was Benedict who set out and confronted the way of facing this incredibly complex and painful issue.

And regarding the internal discussions on the functioning of the Curia, on transparency, on the adoption of a system of regulation and administration that meets the standards of our contemporary culture, on correct administration at the international level, the pope put into motion a whole series of legislative norms and regulations on which we continue to work, and which have brought with them many fruits. In all of this, he was a person who faced these great problems with patience, simplicity, and fidelity. I am happy to have been able to work together in this undertaking.

Naturally we cannot forget the beautiful moments during this papacy, like the trip to the United Kingdom, the trip to the United States, and many other occasions which were encounters with nations where Catholics were not a majority. These were extremely festive and beautiful moments. And then some of his great addresses to the world and to contemporary society – the Westminster Hall Address, the Addresses to the United Nations and the German Parliament – which remain important chapters in an in-depth and serious dialogue by the Church with society and the contemporary world, and which were received with great respect for their spiritual and cultural quality, of which Benedict XVI was a master.

[img attachment=”118596″ align=”aligncenter” size=”full” alt=”Pope Francis (L) and father Federico Lombardi greet journalists of the papal flight upon arrival in Rio de Janeiro on July 22, 2013. Pope Francis landed in Brazil on Monday for his first overseas trip as pontiff to attend the international festival World Youth Day in Brazil, the world’s biggest Catholic country. AFP PHOTO/LUCA ZENNARO/POOL / AFP PHOTO / POOL / LUCA ZENNARO” caption=”Pope Francis (L) and father Federico Lombardi greet journalists of the papal flight upon arrival in Rio de Janeiro on July 22, 2013. Pope Francis landed in Brazil on Monday for his first overseas trip as pontiff to attend the international festival World Youth Day in Brazil, the world’s biggest Catholic country. AFP PHOTO/LUCA ZENNARO/POOL / AFP PHOTO / POOL / LUCA ZENNARO” /]

Since the election of Pope Francis, you have been one of his closest collaborators. They have been incredible years for the Church in terms of communication. What is Pope Francis’s secret? How has he become one of the greatest communicators on the planet?

Everyone is struck by Pope Francis’s communication. He is very spontaneous, and I would say that it is an aspect of his charismatic character, and that it comes from the direct relations with people which he has cultivated for decades as pastor of a very large diocese. His communication is sincere, free, and open, not the result of calculations made at a desk or a complex study conducted by experts. It is the sincerity, freedom, and openness of a pastor who meets the people of God and meets the men and women of today without barriers, with an ability to touch the heart and mind of each person.

All of this invokes a deep gratitude by those who feel a need for a testimony, a message, a presence that clearly manifests his attention, love, and solidarity, particularly for those who are poor, who suffer, who are on the margins of society; they feel welcomed, sought out, and respected by so many of the little gestures and words of Pope Francis.

So, then, this direct relationship, this concrete language, not speaking many languages, Francis speaks a language of gestures and has an approach that with extreme ease moves to the heart of the various peoples of Asia, of Africa, of Latin America where he is at home, and Europe.

The attitude of Pope Francis to which I have related the most, and which I think characterizes this pontificate, is that of trust in the Holy Spirit’s guidance of the Church of God: a Church on the move, a Church that goes out into the world. A Church that begins to move even without knowing exactly where to go, knowing that she is guided by the Spirit of the Lord as long as she listens attentively to his word, because he accompanies us with the word in Scripture, and with the living closeness of the Spirit to the believers who daily seek to know the will of God and hear his call. This being a Church on the move, courageous and trusting, seems to be one of the spirits of this pontificate, which I have very much related to.

A classic word, also in Jesuit spirituality, is discernment. We see how Pope Francis invites the Church, pastors, and individuals to discern, that is, to seek to understand the will of God for them, to which we must respond with generosity.

On August 29 you will turn 74. An entire life dedicated in service to the Church, in particular to the Holy See. What advice would you give to those Catholics who are discouraged or disappointed by the scandals caused by the pastors or sons of the Church?

The believer is a pilgrim, a person on a journey in the world, in life, and can walk with trust, tranquility, joy, and courage if that believer knows the Lord is at her side, if that believer seeks to direct his life according to the calling that is at the origin of his very life, the calling to service, to solidarity with others, to an encounter with others, in particular with Jesus Christ who is for us guide and model for all other encounters.

Along this line, one of the Fathers of the Church said something very beautiful: “Abraham was ever more confident because he did not know where he was going.” It’s a bit paradoxical, but he was sure because he trusted in and felt the presence of the Lord accompanying him. That was the foundation of his confidence. Not knowing that there was a goal that had been established for him personally to achieve could not have given him any confidence. Confidence, the peace of mind that we have in our life is dependent on the knowledge that we are on a journey with the Lord by our side. And this is true at all stages of life.

This is the only piece of advice I can offer, and seems foundational for not fearing that which surrounds us in the situations in which we find ourselves: If we know that the Lord is with us, we can place our trust in Him, and there is no discouragement to be had; we must only have hope.

[img attachment=”118596″ align=”aligncenter” size=”full” alt=”Pope Francis (L) and father Federico Lombardi greet journalists of the papal flight upon arrival in Rio de Janeiro on July 22, 2013. Pope Francis landed in Brazil on Monday for his first overseas trip as pontiff to attend the international festival World Youth Day in Brazil, the world’s biggest Catholic country. AFP PHOTO/LUCA ZENNARO/POOL / AFP PHOTO / POOL / LUCA ZENNARO” caption=”Pope Francis (L) and father Federico Lombardi greet journalists of the papal flight upon arrival in Rio de Janeiro on July 22, 2013. Pope Francis landed in Brazil on Monday for his first overseas trip as pontiff to attend the international festival World Youth Day in Brazil, the world’s biggest Catholic country. AFP PHOTO/LUCA ZENNARO/POOL / AFP PHOTO / POOL / LUCA ZENNARO” /]

Help! My hipster niece is wearing Grandma’s rosary

Katrina,

I’ve got a teenaged niece who wears her grandmother’s rosary like a necklace. I’m pretty sure when Nana Bea died she didn’t mean for her hipster granddaughter to wear that rosary “ironically.” I told my niece that the rosary is meant to be prayed not worn, but she continues to wear it like a pretty piece of jewelry. I told my sister, her mom, that I thought she should take it away until she’s older and more mature about handling an heirloom like that. It drives me crazy to see people wearing rosaries like jewelry and it’s especially irritating that my niece is doing it. How can I convince her that she shouldn’t be wearing Nana Bea’s rosary?

Sheila

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Dear Sheila,  

I tell you what, wearing a rosary like a piece of jewelry used to be a huge pet peeve of mine. Like you, I viewed it as disrespectful. Then one day while talking with a friend of mine I was reminded that not only is the rosary a powerful tool for prayer, it’s also a powerful tool for evangelization and, most importantly, conversion.

This friend, a Catholic deacon, worked in the ER and saw folks from all walks of life. He noticed quite a few people would come in wearing religious jewelry and rosaries. Eventually he started to ask his patients wearing rosaries if they were Catholic and he noticed most of those who did wear them were not. David Beckham’s Dolce & Gabbana rosary and Nicole Richie’s rosary tattoo defined the rosary as a fashion accessory in popular culture instead of the powerful spiritual weapon that it is. Now he could have let this blatant religious appropriation bother him, like it would have bothered me, but he decided to turn those moments in the ER into moments of evangelization. He bought a bunch of rosary holy cards and kept them in his pocket to hand out. If a patient had a rosary on but wasn’t Catholic he’d ask them if they would like to know how the rosary is really used. If they said yes, he’d give them the holy card. St. Dominic would have been so proud.

Another friend of mine openly prays the rosary every morning on his metro commute. He said he’s often asked about the rosary by fellow commuters and has started carrying extra ones with him to give out. You know what prompted him to start this habit? Seeing another commuter wearing a rosary as a necklace. He thought he’d take his out and pray it so the other passenger could see the rosary’s proper function.

The rosary was also important in my own conversion. Back in the day, when I was a holy tongues of fire Pentecostal, a little old Dominican nun gave me a rosary and a pamphlet on how to pray it. I started to pray the rosary every day with Mother Angelica on EWTN and a year later I was on my way to converting to Catholicism.

My point is, instead of trying to convince your niece to give up her Nana Bea’s rosary, offer to teach her how to pray it. If she declines, then pray your own rosary for her conversion. Also consider that your niece is wearing the rosary to feel close to her Nana. Talk to her about that. Maybe she just misses her grandmother. If that’s the case then offering to teach her the rosary can be a way for her to feel connected to her grandmother.

There’s a lesson in here for everyone. Don’t assume a person wearing a rosary as a necklace is doing so out of disrespect or even ignorance. In fact, a lot of very devout and practicing Catholics of Hispanic heritage wear the rosary in the same way that most of us wear medals and the crucifix around our necks.

If you see someone wearing a rosary around their neck let that be an opportunity for evangelization. If that’s outside your comfort zone then pray for the wearer’s conversion. Never underestimate the power of the rosary and the intercession of Our Blessed Mother.

[Editor’s Note: Take the Poll – Is it alright to wear a Rosary around your neck?]

The Assumption: Celebrating the Blessed Mother’s ultimate journey

The gospel today begins with a journey.

“Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste…”

This time of year, I think, a lot of us can appreciate the idea of taking a trip. Millions of us are headed to the beach or the mountains, National Parks or Disney World. But what Mary does here is hardly a vacation. She has just been told that she is to be the Mother of God. And rather than keeping this news to herself, or wondering how she will cope, she sets out on a journey, to visit her cousin, Elizabeth — and we have this momentous scene that follows, The Visitation.

Not only does Mary take this journey to a town of Judah but, with this event, the great journey of her LIFE begins – an adventure that will not end until her final journey, to heaven, on the feast we celebrate today, the Assumption.

We tend to think of the Blessed Mother as a quiet, serene figure – a woman of few words, but blessed with tremendous faith, and boundless trust. This is true.

But this morning, I’d like to ask you to think of her a little differently.

Think of her also as a woman of action.

She is a woman on a continual journey — constantly, by necessity, on the move. She is restless, rarely sitting still or staying in one place.

After this journey to see Elizabeth, we next find Mary embarking on an arduous trip, while pregnant, to Bethlehem.

After giving birth, she and her small family are on the move again, fleeing to Egypt, to escape death.

We meet her again, traveling to Jerusalem, where her son goes missing – and we follow her as she goes in search of him. Finding him, she continues her travels, bringing him home to Nazareth.

Mary, as the first disciple, in many ways prefigures all the disciples who will follow – those who traveled, mostly on foot, throughout the world to spread the gospel and proclaim the good news. Like those apostles, Mary was a missionary – the first missionary, a woman who traveled and carried Christ to the world.

In today’s gospel, we see her, literally, bringing Jesus to another, as she carries him in her womb and goes to her cousin and speaks the words any missionary might pronounce – words which are the very essence of The Good News, and the beginning of all belief:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.”

What follows, the Magnificat, is Mary’s great gift to scripture, one of its most beautiful prayers. It is prayed every evening in the Liturgy of the Hours by millions around the world. With that, Mary’s great acclamation becomes the Church’s.

We can only imagine what other travels she took in the course of her life … but we can’t forget one in particular, the most difficult of all, as she followed her son on HIS journey to Calvary.

But today, on this feast, we celebrate her ultimate journey – her assumption into heaven, body and soul. The woman who spent so much of her life in motion — setting out, traveling, searching and fleeing – finally is given a place of rest, a place “prepared by God,” as Revelation puts it. This day, we honor that, and honor how God has “looked with favor on his lowly servant.”

This feast marks the end of Mary’s earthly story – and the beginning of one that continues, to this day, in heaven. She becomes, for all time, what Elizabeth says in her first word of greeting: “Blessed.”

But though she left this world, Mary is not removed from us. Her life is closely entwined with ours. All of us, like Mary, are on a journey. All of us are traveling to places we may not understand, to destinations we cannot see. This is life. But we ask Mary to help guide us on our way.

The road is long. The journey isn’t easy. We pray to have the trust in God that we need to travel whatever road we must take – just as Mary did.

And we pray, too, that one day our journeying will lead us to meet her face to face – in that place prepared for her, that destination that became her home, and where she waits for us, with a mother’s love and a mother’s hope.

This homily was first published at beliefnet.com and is reprinted here with the kind permission of the author.

This Ohio shrine to Mary is nothing short of miraculous

YOUNGSTOWN, OHIO — The U.S. Maronite Shrine to Our Lady of Lebanon in Youngstown Ohio is a place of special and “miraculous” significance, especially on the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary.

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Every year, in a triduum leading up to the Aug. 15 feast day, faithful of the Maronite Church make a pilgrimage to the Shrine — a replica of Our Lady of Lebanon in Harissa, Lebanon.

Since 2014, it has been considered a minor papal Basilica, and has been designated as a pilgrimage site with a Holy Door for the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

But miracles have been associated with it from the beginning. The choice of the Shrine’s site came to a Father Peter Eid in 1960 while he was driving home along Lipkey Road. He noticed a sign that read, “Property for Sale, 80 Acres.”

“That’s it,” he said.

But the owner of the property told Fr. Eid that she “will never sell to a Catholic.” He tried to explain that a house of prayer would be much better than a junkyard or a supermarket, but to no avail. After three visits, Fr. Eid told her: “This is my last visit” but added that he and his friends would be praying for nine days so that the Lord would tell her to sell them the land so they can “build a shrine for His Mother, Mary.”

Father Eid then called his brother and two other priests to pray a novena for the intention. Before the nine days were over, the lady who owned the land called Fr. Eid and said: “Priest, come and take the land. Your Lady is bothering me in my sleep!” It’s said that Our Lady appeared to the owner in a dream telling her she wished a church to be built on the property. Father Eid bought the land and the Shrine project was begun in 1963.

The Antonine Sisters have served at the shrine since the beginning, and today care for the elderly through an adult day-care and newly-built assisted living facility on its grounds. The community’s newly-elected superior, Lebanese Sister Jinane Farah, shared her perspective on the Assumption pilgrimage with Aleteia:

“This is the only shrine of Our Lady of Lebanon in the United States, so for Maronite Catholics this is a chance for them to come and visit Mary, just like you would visit your own mom from time to time,” said Sr. Jinane. “We have a Christian tradition which says that when Mary was assumed into heaven, all the Apostles came and were by her side. This pilgrimage is a symbol of all the churches coming from all over the United States, as well as people visiting from Lebanon who come for the feast.”

The annual Assumption Pilgrimage is a triduum beginning on August 13 with a Latin Mass, often celebrated by the local bishop. On the second day, the Byzantine Divine Liturgy is celebrated, while the August 15 solemn feast is honored with a Pontifical Maronite Liturgy. On all three days an evening candlelight procession is held, which ends with a blessing with the Icon of Our Lady of Lebanon, and the singing of the traditional Maronite hymn to the Blessed Virgin, Ya Oum Allah.

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“The hymn says: ‘You are the Mother of God, and you are our Mother. And even though we do not see you, you are never far from us, and you are always with us.’ It is beautiful,” Sr. Jinane told Aleteia.

Asked if she had ever heard of miracles or healings connected at the shrine, Sr. Jinane responded: “A lot.” As well as the miracle of its founding, she said she saw a “miracle” last year.

“On the evening it was originally dedicated years ago it was raining, and during the liturgy a rainbow appeared over the shrine,” Sr. Jinane recounted. “That rainbow is pictured on the icon they carry in procession each evening of the pilgrimage.”

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“Last year we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the shrine with the Maronite liturgy outside, and it was also raining,” Sr. Janine continued. “During the procession with the gifts, a beautiful rainbow appeared. The priests didn’t see it, but they people were taking pictures. After the end of the liturgy, we showed the priests and said: “This is our miracle. Mary is here with us.”

Bishop emeritus of the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon, Robert Shaheen, originally from Danbury Connecticut, was the first US native to be ordained to the priesthood from the Maronite seminary in Washington D.C.. Known for his devotion to the Assumption pilgrimage, Bishop Shaheen spoke to Aleteia about his fervor for the shrine since its early days. He quipped: “When the shrine was being built, even before they put the railing on the statue, people were going up and I said: ‘They’re nuts. There’s no rail. Everyone wants to be up there with Mary. If no one gets hurt, this has got to be a miraculous shrine.”

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Later assigned in the city of St. Louis, Bishop Shaheen faithfully brought a group of pilgrims to the shrine each year. “I always tell them: ‘This is Mary’s special home in the US,’” he said.

“The Feast of the Assumption is one of the oldest feasts of the Blessed Mother in the Maronite Church. We would never transfer it from a Monday to a Sunday, for instance. We keep the tradition of celebrating in on August 15. In Lebanon they have a solemn day of liturgies and processions and we try to imitate that here.”

“It’s like going home to our Mother’s house,” he said. “Somehow you feel a sense of peace.”

“I think the real miracle is one of healing inside. Pilgrims walk away very comforted, and somehow fulfilled. Even if they don’t get exactly what they prayed for, for example, they say: ‘Well, God said no, and they accept it.”

In his homily at the evening liturgy on the Assumption, Bishop Elias Zaidan, MLM, of the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon in Los Angeles, invited pilgrims during the Holy Year to “be like the little child who comes to see his parents.

“I want to you enter the Holy Door imagining that God the Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit, and the Virgin Mary, are opening their arms to receive all of us and tell us: ‘Welcome, welcome to my home and to your home.’ And as we come in we are seeking mercy from God; and as we leave, we are to extend mercy to one another.”

Drawing a parallel with the Olympics, he then added: “Athletes compete to win the gold, the silver and the bronze. But the Blessed Mother tops them all.”

The faithful are likewise called to receive the medal that only Christ can give, he said, “the medal of eternity.” Each person has to work on that, he said, “and aim and strive every day of our life for heaven.”

“How do we do this?,” he asked. “We do this my imitating Mary, whose life was one of total dedication to God, total humility, total dependence, total trust, and total faith in the Lord.”

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For information on the annual Maronite Assumption pilgrimage, see the official pilgrimage website here.

Christianity or Chaos: The life-changing choice of Evelyn Waugh

It was considered scandalous. Inexplicable. What was he thinking? How could he do it? Enlightened opinion-makers and fashionable friends were apoplectic. Evelyn Waugh, England’s darling modernist writer and amusing cynic, had become a Catholic.

But why?

Immediately upon hearing the news, the gossip industry caught fire. How had the “ultramodernist become an ultramontanist”? How could the shocking wit who fathered novels such as Decline and Fall and Vile Bodies fall sway to the stiff and stultifying orthodoxy of the Catholic Church? Shortly thereafter, London’s Daily Express devoted several sensational disquisitions on the topic leading with the splashy:

“Another Author Turns to Rome, Mr. Evelyn Waugh Leaves Church of England, Young Satirist of Mayfair

And so, weeks later, afforded a full page in the October 20, 1930 Daily Express, Evelyn Waugh would answer. His essay was titled, “Converted to Rome: Why It Has Happened to Me.”

At first, Waugh shrugged off three assertions leveled by his detractors: 1) The Jesuits have got hold of him, 2) He is captivated by the ritual, and 3) He wants to have his mind made up for him. And then, he said this,

I think one has to look deeper before one will find the reason why in England today the Roman Church is recruiting so many men and women who are not notably gullible, dim-witted or eccentric.

It seems to me that in the present phase of European history the essential issue is no longer between Catholicism, on one side, and Protestantism, on the other, but between Christianity and Chaos…

Today we can see [the loss of Christian faith]…as the active negation of all that western culture has stood for. Civilization – and by this I do not mean talking cinemas and tinned food, nor even surgery and hygienic houses, but the whole moral and artistic organization of Europe – has not in itself the power of survival. It came into being through Christianity, and without it has no significance or power to command allegiance. The loss of faith in Christianity and the consequential lack of confidence in moral and social standards have become embodied in the ideal of a materialistic, mechanized state… It is no longer possible, as it was in the time of Gibbon, to accept the benefits of civilization and at the same time deny the supernatural basis upon which it rests…

That is the first discovery, that Christianity is essential to civilization and that it is in greater need of combative strength than it has been for centuries.

The second discovery is that Christianity exists in its most complete and vital form in the Roman Catholic Church. I do not mean any impertinence to the many devout Anglicans and Protestants who are leading lives of great devotion and benevolence; I do find, however, that other religious bodies, however fine the example of certain individual members, show unmistakable signs that they are not fitted for the conflict in which Christianity is engaged. For instance, it seems to me a necessary sign of completeness and vitality in a religious body that its teaching shall be coherent and consistent. If its own mind is not made up, it can hardly hope to withstand disorder from outside…

Another essential sign one looks for is competent organization and discipline. Obedience to superiors and the habit of submitting personal idiosyncracies to the demands of office seems to be sure signs of a real priesthood…

Most important of all, it seems to me that any religious body which is not by nature universal cannot claim to represent complete Christianity…

No one visiting a Roman Catholic country can fail to be struck by the fact that the people do use their churches. It is not a matter of going to a service on Sunday; all classes at all hours of the day can be seen dropping in on their way to and from their work…

The Protestant attitude seems often to be, ‘I am good; therefore I go to church,’ while the Catholic’s is, ‘I am very far from good; therefore I go to church.”

Evelyn Waugh was a brilliant yet difficult man. But in 1930, he was a changed man. With wit and honesty, he once claimed, “You have no idea how much nastier I would be if I was not a Catholic. Without supernatural aid I would hardly be a human being.” Waugh, the modernist writer and darling of the literary social scene, came to understand the blackness of sin and brilliance of redemptive Grace embodied by Christ and made tangible in the Sacraments in the Catholic Church.

Evelyn Waugh made a choice between Christianity and Chaos.

Have you?

To read Evelyn Waugh’s essay in full, please consider purchasing The Essays, Articles and Reviews of Evelyn Waugh (Donat Gallagher, Editor).

Meet the Miracle Hunter

As he was approaching his graduation from Stanford University, Michael O’Neill received some advice from the school’s then vice-provost, Condeleeza Rice. “She asked, ‘What are you going to do after graduation?’ and then she said, “Become an expert on something.’” It didn’t take O’Neill long to figure out what that would be: He would become an expert on miracles.

O’Neill, now 40, had long been fascinated with the miraculous. Growing up, his grandmother fell away from the Catholic faith and his mother — who had a strong Marian devotion — prayed for the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe to bring her back. “My mother made a deal with God and said, ‘If you bring my mother back, I’ll become a school teacher and teach every student I ever have the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12 and if you bless with me with any children, they’re going to hear that story, too, every single year,’”says O’Neill.

His grandmother did come back to the faith and his mom became a school teacher, teaching all of her students the story about the Virgin of Guadalupe, including her own children. “It was ultimately Our Lady of Guadalupe that turned me on to miracles,” says O’Neill.

Although he studied engineering at Stanford, he took an archeology class and ended up spending an incredible amount of time on a final paper about the tilma of Our Lady of Guadalupe. “I thought to myself, this is so fascinating, I can’t believe not only are these miracles being claimed throughout history, but that the Catholic Church actually approves some of them,” he recalls. “I thought it was mind-boggling that the Church would risk its credibility on some of these wild claims and stick its neck out and say some of them are worthy of belief.”

So in 1998, O’Neill launched his web site, Miracle Hunter. “I noticed there wasn’t too much out there on the web — at least nothing with a critical eye — everything was an overly-pious look at miracles so I thought I would look at it in a more academic way.”

In the years since, there have been books, a radio show, newspapers articles, and a sister site called 365 Days with Mary, where O’Neill has taken all the approved Marian devotions and lined them up according to feast days. O’Neill has published two books in the past two years and was featured in National Geographic’s cover story in December 2015, “How the Virgin Mary Became the World’s Most Powerful Woman.” There’s also a new television due to be launched on EWTN this fall/winter called “Miracles,” much of which will be filmed on location.

But O’Neill wasn’t always keen to share his love of miracles with others. “I kept it quiet for a long time because being interested in miracles is often looked at like chasing UFOs or Bigfoot,” he says. Ultimately, though, this is about evangelization for him.

“Miracles can really help to bolster somebody’s faith,” he says. “They shouldn’t be the center of our faith. There are people — we all know them — who get hung up on these things. I’m the ‘miracle hunter’ so it sounds funny for me to say this, but if that’s the entirety of your faith, you’re in trouble. But it’s a great entry point and it’s a point of excitement for people to engage with their faith and turn towards Christ, when they see these great occasions when God has blessed the world. For people who have lost their faith, miracles are a great way to re-engage, and for young people who have supernatural characters and storylines in their movies and video games — well, we have all that in Catholic faith so it’s a great way for them to get interested in the faith.”

O’Neill says the greatest misunderstanding people have about apparitions, and miracles more generally, is the assumption that the Catholic Church is approving and promoting these things to “lure people back into churches or sell rosary beads at a local shrine.” But in reality, the Church isn’t interested in that at all.

“I mean, of course, she wants to evangelize and have as many faithful members as possible, but when the Church is investigating an apparition or miracle, she wants to shut it down, for people to return to a more ‘normal’ practice of faith centered on Christ and his words and works in the Gospel, given through the Church,” explains O’Neill. “So when people are wildly chasing these claims, lining up to see bleeding statues, of course those can be wonderful reminders of God’s love for us, but they can also be distractions. When the Church investigates something it’s actually trying to prove there is nothing supernatural there. So when something is declared worthy of belief, established as supernatural, that’s a cause for celebration because the Church was trying to disprove it all along.”

O’Neill says the way the Church approaches miracles is “absolutely perfect and you can’t argue with it.” He points out that when the Church finds a miraculous claim worthy of belief, the faithful still don’t have to believe it. “If it helps our faith and the Church has approved it, we can incorporate it into our life of faith. If it’s something we find strange or unnecessary or distracting, we don’t have to pay any attention to it at all.”

O’Neill has explored and researched many kinds of miracles and discusses them in his book, Exploring the Miraculous, but personally he finds Eucharistic miracles the most fascinating because of how science can validate them.

“In some rare instances it’s been shown that a consecrated host contains true flesh and true blood — there was a recent case in Poland where a striated heart tissue was found in a host, for example. Oftentimes, the Church has atheist scientists look at these and they’ve said, ‘Yes, we’ve got bread, but we’ve also got true flesh and true blood here.’ So those are my favorite kind — where science can actually step in and show a miracle is in fact happening.”

He receives emails from around the world and sometimes his Christocentric view of miracles is challenged. “I do have to acknowledge that there are claims happening in other cultures and other religions, but my primary focus is to show how miracles can help Christians strengthen their faith,” he says.

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Though he resides in the Chicago area and works mostly in the U.S., O’Neill travels around the world to investigate claims when he can. (He was recently in the Philippines examining the details of a controversial Marian apparition.) “We now have stories of weeping statues in greater numbers that I can ever remember, and I’m happy to check them out when they come out, but it is almost always a hoax or there’s a natural explanation. It’s very rare when any of these are truly miraculous. And oftentimes, if I wait a bit before running off to investigate, the Church will get to the bottom of it.”

Marian apparitions are a specialty of O’Neill’s and when asked about why he thinks it’s usually the Virgin Mary who comes, rather than other saints or Jesus himself, O’Neill says he believes it’s because Mary has a special role in salvation history as a mother. “She is there to help us in our time of need. When we fall, she’s there to pick us up. In times of war, famine, plague, Mary comes to us as a mother.”

O’Neill also speculates that if Jesus were appearing — and there are approved apparitions of Christ (by St. Faustina and St. Mary Mary Alacoque, for example) — “having God Himself appear to us might be overwhelming, whereas having His mother and our mother coming to us is comforting and easier for us to accept.”

Plans are underway for O’Neill to write a new book on modern miracles and he hopes to soon launch “Miracle Hunter Tours,” leading groups to the great sites of miracles approved by Church— the first will be a pilgrimage to Fatima for its upcoming 100th year anniversary.

 

Isn’t praying to the saints idol worship?

Dear Katrina,

As I observe, some people are frequently visiting shrines of different saints and praying novenas. Some strongly believe saints can intercede for them and secure their wish / prayer request granted, or attribute a miracle performed by God to the intercession of that saint.

I respect saints because they followed Christ’s teaching with their heart, mind and soul. They were doers of the Word of God, and they set an example for us to follow, to be genuine and attractive Christians. However, as a general observation, this practice gives me doubt — do people tend to give more importance to saints than Almighty God?

Are we not deviating from the core of our belief and faith?  Too much of idolatry in the name of saints?

I appreciate your expert guidance.

Thanks and regards,

Chack

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Dear Chack,

Even saints asked other saints for intercession in their own prayers. If we’re using the lives of saints as an example of well-lived Catholicism, why would you choose to ignore that very important aspect of their prayer life? Emulate the saints … even their prayer life.

Every single canonized saint has sought the intercession of Our Blessed Virgin Mother. Were they loving Christ less by seeking her prayers and petitions? Of course not. What about our own patron saints that we take at confirmation, or our guardian angels? Should we ignore them in our prayers? No.

You ask if seeking saintly intercession goes against the core beliefs of being Catholic. Well I assert that NOT doing so goes more against our beliefs. It’s not just “some people” who visits shrines, make pilgrimages, and pray novenas… it’s popes, religious brothers and sisters, bishops, all the saints before us, and just about every single Catholic that practices his or her faith and all the Catholics before them.  

Saints wrote those novenas and built those shrines you question. St. Faustina was divinely inspired by Christ Himself to give us the Divine Mercy devotions and novenas. There is nothing idolatrous or dishonoring to God about having a devotion to his Divine Mercy.   

Do you ask your friends to pray for you? If so, why? If you ask your friends to pray for you, are you dishonoring God by loving your friends more? After all, you could have just prayed directly to God yourself, right? But Catholics asks the saints for intercessory prayers in the same way you asks your friends to pray for you, except our friends (the saints in heaven) are closer to God’s ear.

What if you were seeking a promotion at work? Would you ask a random co-worker to put in a good word for you or would you ask the boss’ executive assistant to put in a good word for you? Who is going to have more influence in that situation? The boss’ executive assistant, of course. In no way are you dishonoring your boss or showing favor to the executive assistant by simply seeking the assistant’s help.  

And lastly, our human hearts have no limit on love. We are perfectly capable of loving more than one person at a time, would you not agree? Do parents love a child less because they’ve used up all their love on the other kids? Having an affection or love for a saint doesn’t diminish our love for Christ. On the contrary, it magnifies it. The saints draw us nearer to God. That’s their job. We imitate their lives to draw nearer to God. We ask for their prayers to draw nearer to God. We honor their status in heaven to draw nearer to God. We don’t place them above God, we honor them because of God. We aren’t replacing God with the saints, we are using the saints to get as humanly close as possible to God.  

A really great book that helped with my understanding of idols, because I had questions very similar to your own when I was a new Catholic, was Elizabeth Scalia’s book Strange Gods. In it, she explains the very real idols in our lives that we use to replace God. I think it would help you better differentiate between true idolatry and the way the saints work in our lives. I can’t recommend it enough.

I know I have a pretty plain way of explaining things because I’m no theology professor, so if you still struggle with this issue I suggest you pray about it and talk this over with a priest.

Good luck to you.   

10 Places to find excellent homilies online

“We know that the faithful attach great importance to [the homily], and that both they and their ordained ministers suffer because of homilies: the laity from having to listen to them and the clergy from having to preach them! It is sad that this is the case. The homily can actually be an intense and happy experience of the Spirit, a consoling encounter with God’s word, a constant source of renewal and growth.” – Pope Francis, Joy of the Gospel

I don’t envy priests.

Priests have tough jobs and often wear many hats. So, I try not to be too judgmental or annoyed when I hear bad homilies. But Pope Francis is right; sometimes the people in the pews really suffer from having to listen to mediocre homilies!

In my opinion, a priest does not have to be a good speaker or a scholar to give a good homily (although that can help). What he does need is a prayerful heart that is immersed in God’s Word and close to his people.

When I am disappointed in a homily, I try to shelve my irritation and focus on what is the real center of the Mass, the Eucharist. I also say a prayer for the priest who may be overworked, tired, or going through a tough time. But I also mentally make a note to look up something edifying about the reading of the day or to listen later to a homily online.

Here are some of the best online homily resources I have found:

  1. Father Peter Grover, Boston, MA: Father Peter is one of my all-time favorite homilists. His homilies are not too long or too short; they are simple, profound, prayerful, Scriptural, and applicable to daily life. Priests (and everyone else) should listen to his homilies and take notes.
  2. Bishop Robert Barron, Los Angeles, CA: I have listened to Bishop Barron’s homilies for several years now and he never fails to deliver insights into Scripture that are at once surprising and immediately applicable to one’s life.
  3. Father Mike Schmitz, Duluth, MN: You might already know Father Mike Schmitz from the excellent videos he does for Ascension Presents. But he is also the chaplain for Newman Catholic Campus Ministries at the University of Minnesota Duluth and they archive his homilies online.
  4. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, New York, NY: I will never forget the homily I heard Cardinal Dolan give in St. Louis at a thanksgiving Mass after he was named cardinal. It was humorous, profound, full of joy, warm, and moving. Most of his homilies have these qualities; check them out.
  5. Father Matthew Gossett, Steubenville, OH: Father Matthew is a newly minted priest but his homilies demonstrate wisdom and prayerfulness beyond his years.
  6. Father Larry Richards, Erie, PA: Father Larry manages to give Sunday good homilies that are often under 10 minutes (!). His homilies are challenging, humorous, and get right to the point. They also are very Christ-centered. (In my opinion, it should be a rare homily that does not mention Jesus.)
  7. Archbishop Charles Chaput, Philadelphia, PA: Archbishop Chaput doesn’t shy away from controversial subjects and he often expertly ties together the readings from the Old and New Testament in detail before applying them to our lives.
  8. Msgr. Charles Pope, Washington DC: Msgr. Pope’s homilies are very much like his blog posts: profound, challenging, hard hitting, and insightful.
  9. Father Robert Spitzer, SJ: Father Spitzer is one of the few priests who posts some of his homilies from the daily Mass, which is brave of him and much appreciated. So if you are looking for a reflection about a daily Mass, look here first. (Father Steve Grunow also posts the text of many of his daily Mass homilies.)
  10. Dr. Scott Hahn, Steubenville, OH: These podcasts are not homilies but in them Scott Hahn breaks open the Scripture readings for each Sunday, finds multiple layers of meaning in them, and then applies them to our lives, which is everything an excellent homily should do.

So, next time you hear a less than stellar homily, say a prayer for the priest and when you get home visit some of these sites!

Do you know of any other priests who post their homilies online?