Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The newess of you

Tonight is New Year's Eve, and I am yawning already.

For everybody else who will ring in the new year, go ahead and stay up late, bang all the pots and pans you want, and by all means, dance!

But please, do everyone a favor and A: go easy on the bubbly; B: don't even think of getting behind the wheel if you've had a drink.

And before stepping out with the Mummers or settling in for wall-to-wall college football, remember to go to Mass. (Here's a directory to parishes in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, many of which have Mass times and web sites).

Thursday isn't Sunday, but it is the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God. What better way to start the new year than by worshiping God the Father and honoring Mary? She is the mother of Jesus, true God and true man, and our mother too.

Her "yes" to bear the son of God teaches a lesson no more valuable than these troubling times entering 2009. The best way to deal with the difficulties that lie ahead is to say yes to God's will for our lives each day, starting today, right now.

God has a plan for each of us. It unfolds every day even amid the weaknesses and sins of this life. The key is not to lose heart but trust in God's grace to help us fulfill his plan and vocation for each of us.

That's why the Church is so important in this journey: the font of graces through the sacraments and the support of our fellow Catholic pilgrims help us live the Christian life today, until we meet our God and Father ultimately in heaven.

With Mary as our guide and helper, the first day of a new year is the right time to renew a life of holiness. And don't forget to enjoy the world again on January 1. There are still more reasons for joy than sadness.

Friday, December 12, 2008

From the beginning, a matter of dignity

Today the Vatican released a document on ethical issues concerning biomedical research. And it's not just stem cell research.

The "instruction" from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith titled "Dignitas Personae" -- The Dignity of the Person -- takes a balanced view of research that aims to improve the quality of life, acknowledging the benefits of research that could result in medical advances.

But the instruction also reveals a dark side to progress: if humanity loses sight of what it means to be human, especially the innate dignity of every person from conception to natural death, then new and dangerous threats to human life could emerge.

That is why the document emphasizes human dignity so strongly.

Read the Catholic Standard & Times for more on this important teaching of the Church.

In the meantime, a news release on the document nicely summarizes the key themes, including embryo adoption; pre-implantation (of embryo) devices and drugs; gene therapy; genetic enhancements/designer babies; and human/animal hybrids.

If time allows, read the whole "Instruction Dignitas Personae on Certain Bioethical Questions." It's not too long, and it's in English.

There is also a Vatican summary (a poor-quality scan, but nevertheless helpful), and a handy Q&A on the document, including a brief teaching on in-vitro fertilization.

So there is the homework assignment. Read up on this important topic. It's the best way that Catholics can influence this emerging scientific field and convey the truth of humanity's God-given dignity, from the moment of conception.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Mary, 'our pattern of holiness'

Today is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Yes, of Mary, not of Jesus. That distinction is a cause for confusion every year around this time as somebody tries to square the "conception" on December 8 with Jesus' birth on the 25th. (And recent scholars tell us that date probably isn't the 25th but several weeks earlier. So what? As Mr. Pulitzer said, don't let facts get in the way of a good story.)

At any rate, the Immacuate Conception celebrates not so much an event in Mary's life but the doctrine of her freedom from the stain of original sin, the gift of God to she who would carry God's only Son. She was to be the sinless vessel of Jesus, true God and true man, son of Mary and son of God.

Who could put it better than Pius IX, who proclaimed the doctrine of the Church in 1854? As he said on this day 154 years ago: "the doctrine, which holds that the Most Blessed Virgin Mary at the first moment of her conception was, by singular grace and privilege of the Omnipotent God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the Human race, preserved from all stains of original sin, is revealed by God, and therefore to be firmly and resolutely believed by all the faithful." (Dogmatic bull Ineffabilis Deus, of Dec. 8, 1854.)

As Catholics attend Mass at any church today, we'll hear the prayers celebrating this great feast of our Blessed Mother. Among them is the day's Preface of the Eucharistic Prayer. Sometimes it's better to read carefully the words we hear at Mass, and let them soak into the fabric of our life, thereby transforming us a little more each day. May it be so:

"Father, all-powerful and ever-living God, we do well always and everywhere to give you thanks.

"You allowed no stain of Adam's sin to touch the Virgin Mary. Full of grace, she was to be a worthy mother of your son, your sign of favor to the Church at its beginning, and the promise of its perfection as the bride of Christ, radiant in beauty.

"Purest of virgins, she was to bring forth your son, the innocent lamb who takes away our sins. You chose her from all women to be our advocate with you and our pattern of holiness.

"In joy we sing to your glory with all the choirs of angels: holy, holy, holy Lord..."