The eyes of the Virgin

our_lady_of_guadalupe_4x6Today the Church celebrates the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patron saint of the Americas and celebrated there extensively today. The story of her image (pictured) on the tilma of St. Juan Diego, to whom she appeared in Mexico in 1531, is amazing enough (I recommend reading up on it), but personally I find the story of her eyes simply astounding.

It is said (although we should be careful with things that are “being said”) that the eyes of the image are in many aspects alive, even contracting under the influence of light (!). But the eyes also feature reflections.

eyesMost visible, even with the naked eye, is what looks to be the image of a bearded man. Other images are exceedingly tiny and, in the photos (one such at right) I’ve seen of them on the Internet, I can’t make much of them. But it is said that a total of thirteen people are reflected in the Virgin’s eyes, representing the people present when St. Juan Diego showed the miraculous image on his mantle to the bishop of Mexico at the time, Juan de Zumárraga.

Devotion and enthusiasm are good things, but they can influence objectivity, leading to wishful thinking. I don’t know if the eyes of Our Lady of Guadalupe indeed feature an astounding account of what happened on that day in 1531. The image itself seems amazing enough, both in materials used and in its history since the 16th century. So I am also not saying her eyes do not reflect anything. God has been known to achieve even more miraculous things, after all.

The story is a wonderful one, that much is certain. The scientific truths found are less clear (there is an awful lot of “it is being said that…” in the story), but they certainly point towards appealing possibilities.

In defense of the Middle Ages – not all violence, all the time…

In an article on the website of the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch, Auxiliary Bishop Rob Mutsaerts writes a piece about the barbaric acts perpetrated by ISIS in the Middle East, and he rightly condemns them. But we should not be too hasty in calling them medieval, although media and entertainment tend to do so (the bishop quotes actor Ving Rhames’ character from Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, who warned he would get medieval on someone, to illustrate the use of the term medieval in movies!).

“I would IS returned to medieval values. A thousand years ago the Muslim world was a civilised one in which Islamic society was ahead of Christian Europe in medicine, science and astronomy, while Europe in turn was very civilised compared to the extremism and barbarism now going on in Syria. Certainly, there were fanatical splinter groups, but these never lasted long or were simply removed in the New World.”

Behaviour that we consider barbaric or uncivilised has more to do with the time of the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation. Bishop Mutsaerts lists Inquisition, Puritanism, the Watergeuzen who tortured and killed the Holy Martyrs of Gorcum, Henry VIII who had his enemies decapitated, and witch trials. And it is exactly this period which laid much of the foundations of our own modern society. When seen like this, maybe the acts of ISIS aren’t too alien to us…

middle ages violence^The Middle Ages: not always like this…

And although modern science and education in Europe originated in the medieval Church, this Church was not immune to the new barbarism of later centuries, as Bishop Mutsaerts writes, “Copernicus was not persecuted in the 16th century, but Galileo in the 17th was…”

“We shouldn’t romanticise the Middle Ages or imagine them as a time of pastoral simplicity, courtliness and banquets (something that my hero Chesterton is somewhat inclined to). But to call modern despicable acts as “medieval” is misguided. It is more like a historical hangover from the Renaissance and the era of the Enlightenment. And it is fairly arrogant, considering the world in which we live now and the horrible events of the last century. What we consider uncivilised or barbaric should better be called “Baroque”, or perhaps even better “twentieth century”.

The Middle Ages, both in Europa and the Middle East, are a treasure trove waiting to be discovered. It is far richer, and also so very much different, than many imagine.

The gift of life – Pope Francis asks, “Think hard about this”

At a recent meeting with Italian physicians, Pope Francis offered some words which, unlike many of his statements, will probably not be featured in many headlines. They are nonetheless an invaluable reminder that in our modern society, there is no greater gift and responsibility than life. This is the ultimate gift from God, granted to us but never ours to possess.

francis“The dominant thinking sometimes suggests a “false compassion”, that which believes that it is: helpful to women to promote abortion; an act of dignity to obtain euthanasia; a scientific breakthrough to “produce” a child and to consider it to be a right rather than a gift to welcome; or to use human lives as guinea pigs presumably to save others. Instead, the compassion of the Gospel is that which accompanies in times of need, that is, the compassion of the Good Samaritan, who “sees”, “has compassion”, approaches and provides concrete help (cf. Lk 10:33). Your mission as doctors puts you in daily contact with many forms of suffering. I encourage you to take them on as “Good Samaritans”, caring in a special way for the elderly, the infirm and the disabled. Fidelity to the Gospel of life and respect for life as a gift from God sometimes require choices that are courageous and go against the current, which in particular circumstances, may become points of conscientious objection. And this fidelity entails many social consequences. We are living in a time of experimentation with life. But a bad experiment. Making children rather than accepting them as a gift, as I said. Playing with life. Be careful, because this is a sin against the Creator: against God the Creator, who created things this way. When so many times in my life as a priest I have heard objections: “But tell me, why the Church is opposed to abortion, for example? Is it a religious problem?” No, no. It is not a religious problem. “Is it a philosophical problem?” No, it is not a philosophical problem. It’s a scientific problem, because there is a human life there, and it is not lawful to take out a human life to solve a problem. “But no, modern thought…” But, listen, in ancient thought and modern thought, the word “kill” means the same thing. The same evaluation applies to euthanasia: we all know that with so many old people, in this culture of waste, there is this hidden euthanasia. But there is also the other. And this is to say to God, “No, I will accomplish the end of life, as I will.” A sin against God the Creator! Think hard about this.

A Twitter hype in the Church?

twitterFollowing the arrival of Pope Benedict XVI on Twitter, various prelates and curial bodies have followed suit. While it is a welcome development from a communication standpoint, we will have to see if all these new users will prove able to achieve and maintain their momentum. Twitter, after all, becomes useful only with regular use.

For now, let’s highlight some of the new Catholic users of the short-message service. It’s not a complete list, for I am sure I missed some, but at least they are interesting enough to follow and encourage in their use of Twitter.

In the United States, the great bishop of Madison, Robert Morlino, has tweeted three times and shows a healthy openness to listening to his followers: “I’m not on here (facebook or twitter) every day, but feel free to ask questions and I’ll answer what I can,” he tweeted today.

Archbishop-Terrence-Prendergast-Ottawa-Citizen-photoCanadian Archbishop Terrence Prendergast (pictured) of Ottawa opened his account yesterday. He tweets in both French and English, the two languages he also employs on his blog.

Australia’s Bishop Anthony Fisher joined on the same day as the Holy Father, saying, “I’ve decided to take the plunge into twitter and instagram. If the Holy Father can do it, so can I!” With 31 tweets, Bishop Fisher seems to rather take to Twitter.

The first German bishop has also arrived on Twitter. He is Archbishop Ludwig Schick of Bamberg. He obviously tweets in German. His first tweet today was, translated: “Hello. I have decided to start Twittering and I wish for many followers. For now a good weekend and a good second Sunday of Advent.”

The Vatican Observatory also joined two days ago, perhaps putting to bed the silly notion that the Church doesn’t do science.

————————————————-

Edited to remove the link to the assumed Twitter account of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which has since proven to be a parody account.

Synod of Bishops – Day Five

The Friday sessions, presided over by Cardinal Robles Ortega, of the Synod started normal enough, with a series of interventions by  23 Synod fathers.

Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Major Archbishop of Kyiv-Halyc and head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, suggested that the effectiveness of homilies be made a topic for a future assembly of the Synod. Before him, Bishop Javier Echeverría Rodríguez of Opus Dei had also mentioned the need for this, and suggested that could be achieved by the homilist directing is word also to himself, to lead by example, so to speak.

Cardinal Ravasi spoke, among others, about the tensions between science and faith:

“The incompatibility between science and faith and the prevarications of one against the other and vice versa, as has occurred in the past and continues to occur, should be replaced by mutual recognition of the dignity of their respective epistemological statuses: science is dedicated to the “scene”, that is the phenomenon, while theology and philosophy look to the “foundation”. A distinction, but not of separateness to the point of reciprocal exclusion, since they have a single common object, that is, being and existence. It is therefore comprehensible that overlaps and tensions occur, especially in the field of bioethics.
Dialogue is therefore indispensable, without arrogance and without confusion linked to specific levels and approaches. As John Paul II indicated in 1988, “it is absolutely important that each discipline continues to enrich, nurture and provoke the other to be more fully what it should be and to contribute to our vision of what we are and where we are going”. The great scientist Max Planck, father of quantum theory, also confirmed this: “Every serious and reflective person realizes… there can never be any real opposition between religion and science; for the one is the complement of the other”.

Archbishop Józef Michalik, of Przemysl, Poland, reminded the Synod that we can’t lay the blame for the current crisis of faith merely with others:

“If the faith of today becomes ever weaker, we must not only blame others, but rather ourselves. If the message of faith is not interesting or attractive – this is perhaps the case because that same message is no longer interesting or attractive to us, because it does not excite us, because we do not preach Christ to our families or on the streets of our cities.”

In the afternoon, Pope Benedict XVI hosted the Synod fathers, together with Patriarch Bartholomaois I of Constantinople and Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury, for a lunch in the Paul VI Hall. He followed the “lovely tradition initiated by Pope John Paul II to crown the Synod with a shared meal.” He likened the Synod experience to the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Jesus “lit up their hearts and illuminated their minds” allowing them to recognise Him at supper.

“Thus in the Synod we are walking together with our contemporaries. We pray to the Lord that He may illuminate us, that He may light up our hearts so they may become prophetic, that He may illuminate our minds; and we pray that at supper, in the Eucharistic communion, we can really be open, see Him and thus also light up the world and give His light to this world of ours.”

The evening session, the Eighth General Congregation began later, as the Holy Father had already suggested during the lunch. First up was an intervention by Professor Werner Arber, professor of microbiology and President of the Pontifical Academy for Sciences. He gave a “Reflection on the relations between the sciences and religious faith”.

Following this, the members of the Commission for the Message were announced. Four of these, including the president, Cardinal Betori, and the Vice President, Archbishop Tagle, were appointed by the pope, while the remaining eight were elected by the Synod fathers. The members, tasked with composing the pastorl message related to the topic of the Synod, are:

Giuseppe Cardinal Betori, Archbishop of Florence, Italy
Archbishop Luis Tagle, Archbishop of Manila, Philippines
Polycarp Cardinal Pengo, Archbishop of Dar-Es-Salaam, Tanzania
Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna, Austria
Gianfranco Cardinal Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture
George Cardinal Alencherry, Major Archbishop of Ernakulam-Angamaly of the Syro-Malabars, India
Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York, United States
Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels, Belgium
Archbishop John Atcherley Dew, Archbishop of Wellington, New Zealand
Archbishop Sérgio Da Rocha, Archbishop of Brasilia, Brazil
Archbishop Socrates Villegas, Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan
Father Adolfo Nicolás Pachón, Superior General of the Society of Jesus

Photo credit: [2] Bishop Gerald Kicanas

Cardinal watch: Cardinal Schwery turns 80

And once more the number 120 takes a step closer. Swiss Cardinal Henri Schwery turns 80 today and so makes the number of cardinal electors drop to 121.

Born as the last of eleven children in a small village near the city of Sion in Switzerland, Henri Schwery was proficient student, studying at seminaries in Sion and Rome. After his ordination in 1957, Father Schwery studied mathematics and physics at Fribourg, and then went to work as a teacher and chaplain to both the Catholic Action of Young students and the children’s choir of Our Lady of Sion. He was also a military chaplain.

Father Schwery become the director of the major seminary of Sion in 1968, a function he would hold until 1972, after which he was rector of the College in Sion until 1977. In that year, on 22 July, Father Schwery was appointed as bishop of Sion, one of Switzerland’s oldest dioceses. Bishop Schwery was consecrated on 17 September 1977. In 1978 he became a member of the Congregation for Catholic Education. He was active in the fields of evangelisation and vocation, and took his previous experience as chaplain of various institutions and groups to further their religious identity throughout Europe.

Created a cardinal in the consistory of 28 June 1991, Cardinal Schwery holds the title church of Santi Protomartiri a Via Aurelia Antica. In April of 1995 he resigned as Bishop of Sion, and today he also takes leave from his remaining duties as a member of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints.

Stats for March 2012

A new month, and new stats. March has again been good for the blog, although it got of to a slow start. And that’s equally due to few news item as my own output. All in all we saw 7,757 visits, slightly fewer than in February. But, then again, we had no consistory this time around. But there were a few big news items, and the top 10 has a distinct Lenten flavour.

1: Seventh Station: Jesus Falls for the Second Time 268
2: The Stations of the Cross 149
3: Coptic ‘Papa Abba’ Shenouda III passes away 71
4: Another horrible page 65
5: Giving no quarter: Cardinal Eijk on the offensive 56
6: Adoro te devote, two versions and a translation 53
7: Het probleem Medjugorje 50
8: The great artificial conflict – science versus faith 45
9: Happy feast day of Saint Joseph! 44
10: Stability – Cardinal Martini on same-sex relationships 42