Thursday, December 2, 2010

Sign points to Christmas in Philadelphia

Big news often springs from the humblest of beginnings. Take the story on the “little Christmas Village that could,” which has blanketed the region's media and gone national.

You couldn’t have missed it in daily newspapers, radio and television stations but here’s a recap: A plaza of Philadelphia City Hall hosted a nice conglomeration of about 50 kiosks selling arts and crafts Christmas items. It had a tall archway sign above it appropriately stating “Christmas Village.”

Someone got upset about the word Christmas (they had nothing better to do?), complained to the city and like that, down came Christmas from the sign.

Then the media glare went megawatt and the whole sign was taken down. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia voiced its disappointment and pointed out the lack of common sense to removing Christmas from an obviously Christmas themed-display.

Getting burned around the edges by all this heat, the city, thanks to Mayor Nutter, is bringing Christmas and its sign back.

Everyone presumably is back into the joyful Christmas spirit. Hopefully the craft items are selling as briskly. The controversy has got to be a marketing boon: "Is Christmas OK in Philadelphia? Of course! Come on by (buy)!"

The Catholic Standard and Times made its own contribution to the reason this little story became as big as it did. To say it went viral, as Mayor Nutter said, is to acknowledge how powerful the Internet is in disseminating information widely and quickly, and helping people respond in kind.

The Archdiocese’s strongly worded statement was issued Wednesday morning, the day after our weekly paper goes to press. So our story on the matter included the statement that also was used in radio and TV news reports that day, and in other newspapers the following day.

We’ve updated the story today and pulled together pertinent links, including the archdiocesan statement.

Just goes to show, when you mess with Christmas, you provoke a response. In this case, the city and the vendor did the right thing. In fact they recognize what always should have been acknowledged and protected: the word Christmas is not an epithet designed to offend but a fact of culture and, yes, religion.

Religion is present in society because religion is an integral part of human culture, indeed the human spirit. It is as wrong to remove religious images from public observation as it is to whitewash from society words with religious meaning.

If people are offended by such words as menorah, Judaism, Allah, mosque, Christ, Catholic or Christmas, then the fault lies not in the culture or the government. For such people, to paraphrase Shakespeare, the fault lies in themselves.

Friday, October 29, 2010

A smile for your weekend

Here’s a photo we just received from a Halloween parade today at the preschool at Casa del Carmen Family Service Center. It’s an agency in North Philadelphia operated by Catholic Social Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

We’re considering it for the front page of our Nov. 4 issue. What do you think – should we use it for the cover? Let me know!

By my count there are five Spidermen and five princesses, plus other characters, among the little boys and girls from every ethnic background. All getting along, having fun and learning in a Catholic environment. If that doesn’t make you smile, consider one little super girl on the left. She is super – she’s wearing the uniform! And so are all the kids, visitors seeking aid and the staff and volunteers at Casa.

As the Church approaches All Saints Day on Monday, let’s remember the saints around us. They’re in North Philly, around the corner from you, and even in your home.

All saints, all holy men and women, pray for us!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Cardinal Rigali: 'We should be thinking about peace'

Cardinal Justin Rigali, Archbishop of Philadelphia, gave an interview Sept. 10 with Fox29 TV reporter Sean Tobin, at which the Catholic Standard and Times was present. The Cardinal responded to questions about a controversial Florida pastor’s plan to burn copies of the Quran, the Muslim holy book, on Sept. 11. The pastor later cancelled the event amid worldwide condemnation.

Watch the video of the interview in three parts on the Catholic Standard and Times' You Tube channel.

The planned Quran burning was “a reprehensible thing,” Cardinal Rigali said. “This is totally unjustified from every standpoint. Acts of violence and extremism trigger other acts. They are contrary to human dignity, contrary to the way we are supposed to act as human beings. This is disrespectful of religious values of people who are our brothers and sisters. There is no justification for it.

“When any type of human rights are not respected then the results are disastrous. We can’t expect to have a world of peace and do things that are contrary to the rights of human beings.”

“This is completely wrong (and) very disappointing,” he continued. “It violates Christian teaching and is the antithesis of what Christianity is all about. Christianity does not involve hatred, or is disrespectful of human beings, disrespectful of human values, or stir up anger and revenge.”

Instead of this “very irresponsible act,” he said, “We should be thinking about peace. How is peace produced? It is produced by kindness, by love, by working together. It’s produced by prayer.”

Paraphrasing Pope John Paul II, with whom he worked closely at the Vatican for many years, Cardinal Rigali recalled the late pope’s words on the topic, themselves echoing his predecessor, Pope Paul VI.

“If you want peace, work for justice,” Cardinal Rigali said. “If you want justice, defend life. Defend the values that are part of Christianity.”

He continued, “We should help Sudan, where the people have suffered so much. We have a great challenge in Pakistan,” he said, referring to the estimated 17 million people affected by recent flooding in the country.

“These are the values of Christianity,” he said. “This is Christianity, and anything that masquerades as Christianity should be rejected as such.

“What (the Florida pastor) proposes to do has nothing to do with Christianity and Christianity repudiates it. What he is doing is totally contrary to Christian doctrine, to the message of Christ, to the law of love, to respect for human beings and the value of each human person, and the fact that human beings have religious rights.”

Old is new: Cardinal Newman's thoughts speak today

Pope Benedict XVI will beatify Cardinal John Henry Newman Sunday, Sept. 19 in Birmingham, England. Traces of the thought of Newman, who died in 1890, remain relevant to the issues of today, as noted in an editorial in this week's Catholic Standard and Times.

His writings are voluminous, and no one passage neatly addresses the hidden benefits of the recent worldwide condemnation of a Florida pastor’s plan, since dropped, to burn copies of the Quran, the Muslim holy book.

The following passages of Sermon 22 by Newman, as collected on the web site Newman Reader, address the role of the Church in society. The site also offers a full topical index to Newman’s writings. The unanimity of many Christian and Catholic leaders rejecting the plan reflects some of Newman’s thought on the topic. The writing style may sound dated, but the content remains instructive.

Sermon 22. Outward and Inward Notes of the Church

"I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day." 2 Tim. i. 12.

{324} IT is not to be supposed that any of us, in this fallen time, should be able to use these words of the great Apostle as he used them. God who made us, has given to each of us his own place. Some He places in heathen countries, some in Christian; some in the full light and grace of the Gospel, others amid shadows; some He visits almost with sensible tokens of His presence, others He barely supports with the hope and surmise of it. Some He leads forward only by intimations, and, as it were, whispers; as the old Saints, who "went out, not knowing whither they went;" and "died in faith, not receiving the promise." And others, like St. Paul, have before now been granted visions of the third heaven, that full and intimate Presence of Christ, which enables the Apostle to say, in the words of the text, "I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day." {325}

Yet in spite of these great differences in God's dealings with man and man, there is this one thing the same in all cases, that He has dealt with each. I mean that religion is a personal, private, and individual matter, that it consists in a communion between God and the soul, and that its true evidences belong to the soul that believes, are its property, and not something common to it and the whole world. God vouchsafes to speak to us one by one, to manifest Himself to us one by one, to lead us forward one by one; He gives us something to rely upon which others do not experience, which we cannot convey to others, which we can but use for ourselves.

Now that there is much in Scripture agreeable to this statement, no one I suppose will deny; but this question arises, which is worth considering, whether the Gospel Dispensation does not, even more than the Law, in one respect modify it, or even run counter to it and reverse it? For if there be a distinction of the Gospel plainly laid down in Scripture, it is that it is a social religion, and addresses individuals as parts of a whole. And, being social, it must have all things in common, and its evidences and tokens in the number. And, further, if it is social, it must be a public religion, "a city set upon a hill;" and its evidences will be in a measure public. Nay, further, its great note, as announced by the Prophets, is not only that it is social, that it is public, but that it is both social and public in the very highest sense, because it is Catholic, universal every where; and this note is insisted on as something special in itself, of a nature to dazzle and subdue the mind, like a miracle, or like the sun's light in the heavens. It was to be the {326} characteristic gift of the Christian Church, that she herself was to be a great public evidence of her mission, that she was to be her own evidence. Her very look, her bearing, her voice, were to be her credentials. As Adam had sovereignty over brute animals on his creation, or as the second Adam, her Lord and Maker, "spake as one having authority, and not as the Scribes," so she was to win or to awe the souls of men generally; not this one or that, but all, though variously, by the manifest royalty of her very presence. She received this gift from her Lord in the beginning—to claim and command obedience when she spoke, because she spoke; and that not from any thing special in the mind of the hearer, but from the voice and tone of the speaker.


These of course are but a few out of the multitude of passages in the Prophet Isaiah, descriptive of the Christian Church; they speak of tokens outward, visible, common to all; and yet, in spite of these, St. Paul in the text, when about to die, and contemplating the judgment, speaks, not of them, of an evidence not outward, not visible, not common, but inward, private, incommunicable. "I know," he says, "whom I have believed." I bear about me "the marks of the Lord Jesus" in my own person; I have assurance that He has "stood by me," because He has "strengthened me;" His tabernacle is not only "with men," but "the grace of Christ tabernacles upon me." In other words (could we doubt it?), in his instance the general had become particular; the external had flowed into his secret soul; {328} the universal gift had been appropriated; the visible glory had kindled a light in his own breast; and thus, just as we need not read a friend's writing when we hear his voice, so, though Christ had gone forth into the wide world, and had been lifted up aloft to draw men to Him, and had lodged among them the power and the presence of His Atonement, yet the blessed Apostle needed not seek Him abroad, who had graciously condescended to "come under his roof," and manifest Himself unto him.

Now this is a distinction very necessary in all ages of the Church, for different reasons: when her outward glory is great, by way of turning our attention to our own hearts, and our personal responsibility; and when it is obscured, in order to keep our faith from failing, and to revive our hope; at all times, to hinder our being engrossed by what is external to the loss of what is inward in religion.

I observe, then, this: that the public notes of the Church, which are the common property of all men, are rather a sign to unbelievers than to the faithful, and to the world than to Christians; and a sign to members of the Church in proportion as they are without, and till they gain those truer and more precious tokens, to which the external notes lead, and by which they are practically superseded. This I conceive to be the Scripture doctrine concerning them, in the very passages which promise them to us.


What is told us in the New Testament is to the same purpose. For instance: consider the very precept of Christ, which binds us together in one body, and observe the reason it gives for doing so. "A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another; by this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another." You see it was to be a sign to the world, not to the Church herself. Still more clearly is this implied in our Lord's intercessory prayer: {331} "As Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me." You see, unity was for the sake of the world; He repeats it: "I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be perfect in one, and that the world may know that Thou hast sent Me, and hast loved them, as Thou hast loved Me." The visibility of the Church was rather for her proclaiming the truth, than for her dispensing grace.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

New evangelization -- yes, it's that important

Today at the Vatican, the administration of the Holy See grew by another office. Here in the Philadelphia area, so far away and living in a time of shrinking staffs and the budgets that sustain workers, one has to wonder about adding a new department to the Roman curia of the Catholic Church.

But this is a good move because it lies at the heart of what the Church is all about.

Pope Benedict has established a new Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization. (OK, so it lacks an elegant title. It’s the thought that counts.)

Its fundamental task, the Pope said in making the announcement, is to promote “renewed evangelization in countries where the first announcement of the faith has already been heard and where there are Churches of ancient foundation, but where a progressive secularisation of society is being experienced, a kind of 'eclipse of the meaning of God.'" These countries, he said, "are a challenge to us to find the adequate means to re-present the perennial truth of the Gospel of Christ."

The Holy Father concluded by affirming that "the challenge of the new evangelisation calls to the universal Church, it asks us to remain committed to the search for full unity among Christians.”
The concept of “new evangelization” began with Pope Paul VI and was expanded and promoted heavily under his successor, Pope John Paul II. Now that venerable pope’s successor places it at the highest level of the Church’s administration under the leadership of its president, Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella.

That is how important new evangelization is.

But just what is it? And what’s new about it?

The Catholic Standard and Times earlier this year described what is meant by a new evangelization. It’s not doing the same things of the past to share the Gospel message with others in perhaps an attempt to convert. It is a whole new way of sharing the person of Jesus with the rest of the world.

The Pope said at that time, in May, that it requires a personal witness: “Bear witness to all of the joy that (Jesus’) strong yet gentle presence evokes, starting with your contemporaries,” Pope Benedict said. “Tell them that it is beautiful to be a friend of Jesus and that it is well worth following Him.”

So the work of this new office couldn’t be more important. Its task is to help every Catholic and Christian working together to tell (and show by our lives) the beauty of being a friend of Jesus.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Return of the Holy Face

The Shroud of Turin is back in the public eye in a big way these days.

The face of a man presumed to be dead and bearing the marks of torture and great suffering appears mysteriously on a large cloth in the northern Italian city of Turin. It is believed by millions of people to be the burial shroud of Jesus Christ.

The shroud was the focus of a History Channel program during Holy Week two weeks ago. And Catholic News Service reported that the Nazis in the 1930s expressed “unusual and persistent” interest in the shroud, so it was secretly hidden in a church altar in southern Italy. When German armies in 1943 combed the area and the abbey in which it had been hidden, a German officer told his soldiers not to disturb the monks gathered in prayer around the altar. It was inside the altar that the shroud remained protected until after the war, when it was finally brought to Turin safely. A page from an Indiana Jones story!

If you’re making your way to Italy, a must-visit will be to Turin where its most famous artifact will be on public display for the first time in a decade through May 23. Pope Benedict XVI will inspect the shroud during a visit to the city May 2.

Here in Philadelphia, a replica of the shroud is currently on display at Philadelphia’s Byzantine Ukrainian Cathedral on Orthodox Street in the Northern Liberties section through June 29. Hours: Tuesday to Thursday, 1-6 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5:50 p.m.

What is it?
Plenty of investigations and speculations of the shroud and its origin have been offered over the years. None definitively answer whether Jesus is actually depicted on the shroud. A 1988 investigation dated the cloth to 1260, presumably making it a medieval forgery. But left unexplained is exactly what the image consists of – it is not a painting, nor an etching or any other artistic representation – or how it got onto the cloth.

Some questions have been raised in recent years that dispute the dating to the medieval period.
Regardless of the lack of consensus on the science of the authenticity of the shroud, it continues to have a positive effect on the faith of people who view it.

Who is it?
At first photography, and now with three-dimensional modeling, images of the man of the shroud invoke a strong response of faith in Jesus. (Check this link and this one.)

Is it the Lord? Perhaps. What's sure is that people still seek the face of Jesus. Maybe that is because in an age reliant upon only that which can be measured and proven, people may find God distant and unknowable. The image reassures that Jesus lived as one of us, among us, with all the joys and sufferings as we (and more).

What does the shroud mean?
The shroud shows that even in our time of great scientific and technological advances, science stumbles in seeking answers to the deepest longings of the human heart. These include seeing the face of God and knowing we are not alone but united with Him.

In this, the Shroud of Turin suggests that Jesus Christ, true God and true man, lived, suffered and died in order to redeem all humanity because of His father’s great love for us.

The story of the Shroud may never be fully explained. But neither is it an end in itself. The image is of a dead man bearing the marks of great suffering. The central truth of the Christian faith, the resurrection of Jesus, means that our Lord did not remain in the tomb but rose to new life. That ultimate gift from the Father of Jesus and Father of all creation extends to all each day.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Value of the Catholic press: The proof is in the paper

February is Catholic Press Month, a time that the Catholic Standard and Times recommits to what it has always done: communicate the truth of the Gospel through Catholic news and catechesis.

Look no further for an example of the value of this newspaper than this week's front page. While many media reported that the Archdiocese called for a collection to assist earthquake ravaged Haiti, this is the only one that reports parishes have raised more than $583,000 so far.

Add to that more than $117,000 raised by Catholic schools in the Archdiocese.

The operations of this Catholic medium depend entirely on the newspaper's readers, both from subscriptions and their patronage of our advertisers. Readers on our web site also contribute traffic that shows online advertisers their message is extended beyond the printed page.

In this month we ask readers --both of the print product and on screens of various sizes -- to encourage other Catholics to subscribe to the newspaper. We’ll do our part to inform, educate and inspire all year long.