Thursday, April 15, 2021

CATHOLIC INCREASE

 

The number of Catholics and permanent deacons in the world has shown steady growth, while the number of religious men and women continued to decrease, according to Vatican statistics.

At the end of 2019, the worldwide Catholic population exceeded 1.34 billion, which continued to be about 17.7% of the world’s population, ( March 26  Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano).

It marked an increase of 16 million Catholics — a 1.12% increase compared to 2018 while the world’s population grew by 1.08%.

The number of Catholics increased in every continent except Europe (whatever happened to Catholic Europe- the once cradle of Christianity?).

At the end of 2019, 48.1% of the world’s Catholics were living in the Americas, followed by Europe with 21.2%, Africa with 18.7%, about 11% in Asia (all figures for Asia exclude China) and 0.8% in Oceania.

The total number of priests — diocesan and religious order — around the world slightly increased.   The largest increases were seen in Africa and Asia, with a growth of 3.45% and 2.91%, respectively, followed by Europe with a 1.5% increase and the Americas with about 0.5% more.

At the end of 2019, 40.6% of the world’s priests were serving in Europe, while 28% of priests were in Africa and Asia.

The number of candidates for the priesthood — both diocesan seminarians and members of religious orders — showed a continued slight decline worldwide, decreasing from 115,880 at the end of 2018 to 114,058 in 2019, a change of -1.6%.

The number of permanent deacons reported — 48,238 — was up 1.5% over the previous year. The vast majority — 97% — of the world’s permanent deacons live in the Americas and in Europe.

The number of brothers in religious orders continued its small yet steady decline worldwide from 50,941 in 2018 to 50,295 in 2019.

The number of women in religious orders showed an ongoing downward trend with a 1.8% decrease, going from 641,661 women in 2018 to 630,099 in 2019. 

Obviously  we need to pray for more men to the priesthood who will minister to the increase in population, as well as more religious who can instruct the young and for better Catholic education in the family.


Artwork:  Anthony Falbo

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

UPDATE ON GENETICIST

 



The Holy Father recognized the heroic virtues of JEROME LEJEUNE, the French geneticist who discovered the extra chromosome that causes Down syndrome.  (see Blog  6/24/2018)

The step means that Doctor Lejeune can now be referred to as “Venerable.” 

Doctor Lejeune was born on June 13, 1926, in Montrouge, in the southern Parisian suburbs. In 1958, he deduced that Down syndrome was caused by an extra copy of chromosome 21.

He dedicated the rest of his life to researching treatments to improve the lives of people with Down syndrome.

He firmly opposed the use of prenatal testing to identify unborn children with Down syndrome and other chromosomal abnormalities for abortion. 

In 1969 he received the prestigious William Allan Award for his work in genetics  and said:

“For millennia, medicine has striven to fight for life and health and against disease and death. Any reversal of the order of these terms of reference would entirely change medicine itself.”

“It happens that nature does condemn. Our duty has always been not to inflict the sentence but to try to commute the pain. In any foreseeable genetical trial I do not know enough to judge, but I feel enough to advocate.”

After the speech, which received a cool reception, he reportedly told his wife: “Today, I lost my Nobel Prize in medicine.”  Perhaps,  but he gained his crown in a better place!



Monday, April 12, 2021

DIVINE MERCY

 

 


Pope Francis celebrated DIVINE MERCY Sunday Mass  at the Church of Santo Spirito in Sassia, a church in Rome that is known as a shrine to Divine Mercy, with the relics of both St. John Paul II and St. Faustina Kowalska.   Here is his homily:

The risen Jesus appeared to the disciples on several occasions. He patiently soothed their troubled hearts. Risen himself, he now brings about “the resurrection of the disciples”. He raises their spirits and their lives are changed. Earlier, the Lord’s words and his example had failed to change them. Now, at Easter, something new happens, and it happens in the light of mercy. Jesus raises them up with mercy. Having received that mercy, they become merciful in turn. It is hard to be merciful without the experience of having first received mercy.

First, they receive mercy through three gifts. First, Jesus offers them peace, then the Spirit and finally his wounds. The disciples were upset. They were locked away for fear, fear of being arrested and ending up like the Master. But they were not only huddled together in a room; they were also trapped in their own remorse. They had abandoned and denied Jesus. They felt helpless, discredited, good for nothing. Jesus arrives and says to them twice, “Peace be with you!” He does not bring a peace that removes the problems without, but one that infuses trust within. It is no outward peace, but peace of heart. He tells them “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (Jn 20:21). It is as if to say, “I am sending you because I believe in you”. Those disheartened disciples were put at peace with themselves. The peace of Jesus made them pass from remorse to mission. The peace of Jesus awakens mission. It entails not ease and comfort, but the challenge to break out of ourselves. The peace of Jesus frees from the self-absorption that paralyzes; it shatters the bonds that keep the heart imprisoned. The disciples realized that they had been shown mercy: they realized that God did not condemn or demean them, but instead believed in them.  God, in fact, believes in us even more than we believe in ourselves. “He loves us better than we love ourselves (cf. St John Henry Newman, Meditations and Devotions, III, 12, 2). As far as God is concerned, no one is useless, discredited or a castaway. Today Jesus also tells us, “Peace be with you! You are precious in my eyes. Peace be with you! You are important for me. Peace be with you! You have a mission. No one can take your place. You are irreplaceable. And I believe in you”.

Second, Jesus showed mercy to his disciples by granting them the Holy Spirit. He bestowed the Spirit for the forgiveness of sins (cf. vv. 22-23). The disciples were guilty; they had run away, they had abandoned the Master. Sin brings torment; evil has its price. Our sin, as the Psalmist says (cf. 51:5), is always before us. Of ourselves, we cannot remove it. Only God takes it away, only he by his mercy can make us emerge from the depths of our misery. Like those disciples, we need to let ourselves be forgiven, to ask heartfelt pardon of the Lord. We need to open our hearts to being forgiven. Forgiveness in the Holy Spirit is the Easter gift that enables our interior resurrection. Let us ask for the grace to accept that gift, to embrace the Sacrament of forgiveness. And to understand that Confession is not about ourselves and our sins, but about God and his mercy. Let us not confess to abase ourselves, but to be raised up. We, all of us, need this badly. Like little children who, whenever they fall, need to be picked up by their fathers, we need this. We too fall frequently. And the hand of our Father is ready to set us on our feet again and to make us keep walking. That sure and trustworthy hand is Confession. Confession is the sacrament that lifts us up; it does not leave us on the ground, weeping on the hard stones where we have fallen.  Confession is the Sacrament of resurrection, pure mercy. All those who hear confessions ought to convey the sweetness of mercy. This is what confessors are meant to do: to convey the sweetness of the mercy of Jesus who forgives everything. God forgives everything.

Together with the peace that rehabilitates us and the forgiveness that lifts us up, Jesus gave his disciples a third gift of mercy: he showed them his wounds. By those wounds we were healed (cf. 1 Pet 2:24; Is 53:5). But how can wounds heal us? By mercy. In those wounds, like Thomas, we can literally touch the fact that God has loved us to the end. He has made our wounds his own and borne our weaknesses in his own body. His wounds are open channels between him and us, shedding mercy upon our misery. His wounds are the pathways that God has opened up for us to enter into his tender love and actually “touch” who he is. Let us never again doubt his mercy. In adoring and kissing his wounds, we come to realize that in his tender love all our weaknesses are accepted. This happens at every Mass, where Jesus offers us his wounded and risen Body. We touch him and he touches our lives. He makes heaven come down to us. His radiant wounds dispel the darkness we carry within. Like Thomas, we discover God; we realize how close he is to us and we are moved to exclaim, “My Lord and my God!” (Jn 20:28). Everything comes from this, from the grace of receiving mercy. This is the starting-point of our Christian journey. But if we trust in our own abilities, in the efficiency of our structures and projects, we will not go far. Only if we accept the love of God, will we be able to offer something new to the world.

And that is what the disciples did: receiving mercy, they in turn became merciful. We see this in the first reading. The Acts of the Apostles relate that “no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common” (4:32). This is not communism, but pure Christianity. It is all the more surprising when we think that those were the same disciples who had earlier argued about prizes and rewards, and about who was the greatest among them (cf. Mt 10:37; Lk 22:24). Now they share everything; they are “of one heart and soul”” (Acts 4:32). How did they change like that? They now saw in others the same mercy that had changed their own lives. They discovered that they shared the mission, the forgiveness and the Body of Jesus, and so it seemed natural to share their earthly possessions. The text continues: “There was not a needy person among them” (v. 34). Their fears had been dispelled by touching the Lord’s wounds, and now they are unafraid to heal the wounds of those in need. Because there they see Jesus. Because Jesus is there, in the wounds of those in need.

Dear sister, dear brother, do you want proof that God has touched your life? See if you can stoop to bind the wounds of others. Today is the day to ask, “Am I, who so often have received God’s peace, his mercy, merciful to others? Do I, who have so often been fed by the Body of Jesus, make any effort to relieve the hunger of the poor?” Let us not remain indifferent. Let us not live a one-way faith, a faith that receives but does not give, a faith that accepts the gift but does not give it in return. Having received mercy, let us now become merciful. For if love is only about us, faith becomes arid, barren and sentimental. Without others, faith becomes disembodied. Without works of mercy, it dies (cf. Jas 2:17). Dear brothers and sisters, let us be renewed by the peace, forgiveness and wounds of the merciful Jesus. Let us ask for the grace to become witnesses of mercy. Only in this way will our faith be alive and our lives unified. Only in this way will we proclaim the Gospel of God, which is the Gospel of mercy.

 

Saturday, April 10, 2021

A MESSAGE FOR THE WORLD: DIVINE MERCY

 

 


The Archbishop of Vilnius believes that Lithuania has a “big message” for the world.

Amazingly enough Archbishop Gintaras Grušas ((pronounced “Grushas”) was born in Washington, D.C., in 1961, to a family of Lithuanian origin. He spent the first half of his life in the United States, becoming heavily involved in Lithuanian Catholic organizations.

He was active at the Lithuanian parish of St. Casimir in Los Angeles and with the Catholic Ateitis Federation, as well as serving as head of the World Lithuanian Youth Association from 1983 to 1987.

He studied mathematics and information technology at UCLA, before working at IBM.

 “I’m very thankful for my American experience and all that it gave me. I’m also very thankful for my Lithuanian heritage and roots. And I think it’s a blessing to have the mix. They’re actually quite different views of the world,” he said.

“My first language, however, was Lithuanian. When I was born, my mother didn’t speak English, so it was my mother tongue in a very strict sense. So I’m very much both (Lithuanian and American). I think on two channels.”

Feeling called to the priesthood, he read theology at the Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. He then studied for two years at Rome’s Pontifical Beda College, adding Italian to his three other languages: English, Lithuanian, and French.

The archbishop of the country’s capital, Vilnius, points out that the city witnessed one of the most momentous events in 20th-century Catholic history, for it was there that the Polish nun St. Faustina Kowalska experienced many of the visions of Jesus that she recorded in her Diary.

The city contains the original Divine Mercy image, the only one that St. Faustina saw before her death in 1938 at the age of 33.

 “The convent where St. Faustina lived and saw the revelations is still open. It’s a convent, but it’s also a pilgrimage site. The four cities that are associated with St. Faustina -- Warsaw, Kraków, Płock, and Vilnius -- were given the mandate during her canonization by St. John Paul II to carry the banner of Divine Mercy out to the world. So, as the bishop of Vilnius, I have that mandate as well.”

 “This is a time with the pandemic. Praying for God’s mercy is ever so much important. Also works of mercy towards our neighbors: that is a message that Pope Francis repeats very often and reminds us of.”

       

                (Image: Stephen Whatley)

Friday, April 9, 2021

HE WHO HUNG AROUND

 

Have you ever wondered  why Jesus hung around so long after the Resurrection, appearing here and there?

Taking on our human nature, He knew how stressed out His family and followers must have been. They were in emotional and spiritual distress, so He  knew they  needed the comfort that was uniquely His to give.

So here we are on a lonely road to Emmaus, discussing the dreadful events that have recently befelled them, only to find a stranger overtaking them and asking where they were heading.

Great analogy for our own times, when our world, family, neighbors, community, and world have been besieged by a pandemic which has taken over our lives on so many levels, the least  of which is not the loss of Masses.

Jesus in His patience starts talking to the two, trying to bring forth from them their grief and suffering.  He goes home with them, then He  has a meal with them.  

And they knew Him in the breaking of the bread-  as we now know Him daily in the breaking of His Body  for us.

There is something about this story which has appealed to artists throughout the ages, especially in modern times.  There are more images of this scene than almost any in the New Testament. We certainly see our own fears and doubts, even when the Lord walks with us.

Yet we are better off than these travelers, as we know what happens on Easter-  and while we may not know the immediate future (do we ever?), all the predictions can’t give us hope, as that is only given to us by Jesus Himself in His Resurrection.  

Images:   Left- Patrick Dominguez

                Right- Arcabas

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

WHO IS ON THE ROAD

 

                                                                Father John Giuliani

When we hear the story of Jesus appearing to the two travelers on the way to Emmaus ( Luke 24:18) , we just presume they were two men.  But some Bible scholars have suggested that Cleopas’s fellow traveler was his wife, Mary.

Since this Mary was present at the Crucifixion and a witness of the empty tomb, why would she not be out and about with her husband.

They would have been in Jerusalem for Passover, so it makes sense that she would have traveled back home to Emmaus with her husband afterward.

The Passover came, and Mary and Cleopas observed it like good Jews. They certainly must have  waited in sadness, not knowing what was to happen. But we do know Mary went to the tomb to anoint the Body with the other women. Even though news spread that the tomb was empty, and the angel told the women that Jesus was resurrected, somehow this news must have escaped the couple.  For they are later found on the road, back home, sad and doubting all.

Amazingly enough, they do not recognize the man who has joined them is Jesus Himself.  What we ask?   Did they not recognize the man who they thought would lead their people, the promised Messiah?  

Well, Mary Magdalene was no better.  She who loved Jesus, took Him for a gardener.  Was Jesus so transformed that even those closest to Him did not recognize Him?  And one wonders did He go to His Mother first?  It is not recorded  but perhaps such an intimate moment was passed over. 

As incredulous as this story is, so often human nature is hard to comprehend.  How often have we been so caught up in our own misery that we cannot see the truth?  It takes faith to stay on the road, with the Lord, who we know walks with us!

Image: Rowan & Irene Le Compte, Natl. Cathedral  Wash. DC






Tuesday, April 6, 2021

THE GARDENER OF OUR HEARTS

 


                                                            
                                                           Br. Mickey McGrath, OSFS

A favorite theme  for the Easter season throughout the ages in art, is that of Mary Magdalene meeting the resurrected Jesus, mistaking Him for a gardener.  Of all the images, one wonders why this is so appealing?

The portrayal of Jesus as a gardener isn’t meant to suggest that Jesus was literally gardening that day, but rather, it alludes to His role as one who “plants” us and grows us. He gets His hands dirty in the soil of our hearts, bringing us to life and cultivating us with care so that we flourish.

 In a 2009 article for America magazine, Franco Mormando (US historian) writes,

“Mary’s misidentification was meant to remind us, so the pre-modern exegetes taught, of a spiritual reality: Jesus is the gardener of the human soul, eradicating evil, noxious vegetation and planting, as St. Gregory the Great says, “the flourishing seeds of virtue.”


Poem by the American poet Andrew Hudgins Christ the Gardener

The boxwoods planted in the park spelled LIVE.
I never noticed it until they died.
Before, the entwined green had smudged the word
unreadable. And when they take their own advice
again—come spring, come Easter—no one will know
a word is buried in the leaves. I love the way
that Mary thought her resurrected Lord
a gardener. It wasn’t just the broad-brimmed hat
and muddy robe that fooled her: He was that changed.
He looks across the unturned field, the riot
of unscythed grass, the smattering of wildflowers.
Before he can stop himself, he’s on his knees.
He roots up stubborn weeds, pinches the suckers,
deciding order here—what lives, what dies,
and how. But it goes deeper even than that.
His hands burn and his bare feet smolder. He longs
to lie down inside the long, dew-moist furrows
and press his pierced side and his broken forehead
into the dirt. But he’s already done it—
passed through one death and out the other side.
He laughs. He kicks his bright spade in the earth
and turns it over. Spring flashes by, then harvest.
Beneath his feet, seeds dance into the air.
They rise, and he, not noticing, ascends
on midair steppingstones of dandelion,
of milkweed, thistle, cattail, and goldenrod.




Images:  Left  Irene & Rowan LeCompte

        Resurrection Chapel   WA Natl. Cathedral    

Right:  David Jones,  British (d. 1974)