Posted in category "Faith"

St. Christina the Astonishing’s Vision of Purgatory

Posted by Censor Librorum on Sep 10, 2019 | Categories: Faith, History, Humor, Saints

Does Purgatory exist?  Is Hell real?  When I was growing up, I thought so.  I stopped believing in both places as a young adult; now I’m not so sure.

I grew up being taught to pray for people in Purgatory as well as to light candles and have Masses said for them.  The living were responsible for remembering those in Purgatory in prayer and for trying to set them free to get to Heaven. 

The biggest reason I stopped believing was the stupidly of the punishment for sin:  missing Mass on one Sunday, saying the Lord’s name in vain one time—after a life of goodness—could condemn a person to Hell for eternity.  Conversely, a person who lived a mean, cruel, self-centered life could avoid any consequences by one expression of repentance at the end.  If God is merciful—and I believe God is—then it seems more measured to consider the whole span of life. God may not follow my logic.

Was Purgatory as a place conceived as a place of purification?  Purgatory was a relatively new formal teaching for Christians when St. Christina the Astonishing experienced it in the 12th century; but other experiences of Purgatory were also popularized when she lived. 

The idea of purgatory as a process of cleansing dated back to early Christianity as was evident in the writings of St. Augustine and St. Gregory the Great. The 12th century was the heyday of medieval other world-journey narratives such as the account of an Irish knight in “Visio Tnugdali,” and of pilgrims’ tales about St. Patrick’s Purgatory, a cave-like entrance to purgatory on a remote island in Donegal, Ireland.

St. Christina the Astonishing was born in 1135 at Brustem, near Liege, Belgium.  She was orphaned as a teenager and worked as a shepherdess.  She had two older sisters. Sometime in her early 20s, she suffered a massive stroke or seizure. When people found her in the field, she was limp and unresponsive.  Unable to hear a heartbeat or feel breathing, everyone assumed she was dead.

She was carried into church for her funeral Mass in an open coffin. After the Agnes Dei she suddenly sat up and flew up to the rafters “like a bird” and perched there.  All the mourners except the priest and her oldest sister fled.  Christina said that had taken refuge up there because she could not stand the smell of sinful human bodies.  The priest reached out to her and told her to come down. She told him angels had guided her into a dark place where she saw many people she had known in torment.  This was Purgatory.  Then she was taken to Hell, where she saw other people suffering. Finally, she was taken to Heaven and given a choice: stay in Heave or return to earth to offer penances for those in Hell and Purgatory so they might be released.  Her suffering would also help to convert the living.  She immediately woke up when she chose to return to life.

After her experience of death and vision of Purgatory, Hell and Heaven Christina felt called to suffer for others so they could be released from suffering.  She voluntarily lived in extreme poverty, homeless and dressed in rags.  She lived by begging. She often fled to remote areas, climbed trees and rocks. She hid in ovens. Christina avoided human contact as much as possible, saying she couldn’t bear the spiritually stinky smell of sinful people. 

Christina also sought out suffering to increase the penance she felt she must endure.  People watched her intentionally throw herself into fires and remain there for extended periods of time.  She would appear to be in terrible pain, but then would exit the fire completely unharmed. She allowed herself to be attacked and bitten by dogs and would intentionally run through thickets of thorn bushes. In the winter, she would plunge into the freezing Meuse River. The current sometimes carried her downriver to a watermill where the wheel “whirled her around in a manner frightful to behold.” Christina would emerge from all these self-torments bloody but unhurt—no scars, burns or broken bones.  Despite a lifetime of abuse and hard living, Christina died at the ripe old age of 74 on July 25, 1224 at the Dominican Monastery at Sint-Truiden (Saint-Trond). She spent the last three years of her life there, and according to the prioress was generally docile and well-behaved.

People had mixed opinions about Christina.  Was she insane? Was she possessed? Was she a holy woman and mystic sent to warn people about the fires and pains of Purgatory?

Centuries later, we read regularly about people who have near death experiences and believe they have glimpsed the afterlife.  Most of them describe tunnels of light and bliss, but some have described a Purgatory or Hell-like place.  We also know now that people who experience a hypoxic-anoxic brain injury can wake to cognitive, physical and psychological changes. This injury appears to be what happened to St. Christina the Astonishing.  She most likely had a heart attack or massive stroke and oxygen didn’t reach her brain for several minutes or longer, resulting in a deathlike state and permanent brain damage.

Several saints besides St. Christina have had a vision journey to Purgatory and back.  They include St. Catherine of Genoa, St. Lidwina of Schiedam, and St. Maria Faustyna Kowalska, the saint who inspired Divine Mercy Sunday. Several of the “seers” of Medjugorje have visited Purgatory, Heaven and Hell with the Blessed Mother, who regularly sends messages to the seers about these places and the people populating them.  The main message is that they need to believe in them, pray and do penance to help the people who are there.  There is nothing new or original in these visions. We have seen the same scenes in paintings, stained glass windows, catechism lessons, books and TV.

Jesus mentioned Paradise and Gehenna, but never a place like Purgatory. Was it concocted as a way station for pilgrims on their way home or a course correction for the living? Does Purgatory answer a primal need for a connection to the dead; and prayer and penance a way to commune and express our care and love for them?  It is also an outreach to the forgotten—something the Church teaches us to honor in the here and now.

 

 

Amazonia: New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jun 21, 2019 | Categories: Accountability, Bishops, Faith, History, Politics, Popes

On October 15, 2017 Pope Francis announced a special synod on the Pan-Amazonian Region to take place in Rome.  It is scheduled for October 6-27, 2019. 

The synod arose out of Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical Laudato Si, “Caring for Our Common Home,” which called for action on global warming, environmental pollution and pinpointed the Amazon region as a chief area of concern.

The Pan-Amazon region spans over two million square miles within nine countries, including Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Columbia, Venezuela, Suriname, Guyana and French Guyana. It is home to 33 million people, among them 3 million indigenous people representing 400 different tribes.  It is the source of one-fifth of the world’s fresh water, one-fourth of all oxygen and more than one-third of global forest reserves.

Taking part in the synod will be bishops from the nine countries encompassing Amazonia, presidents of the seven bishops’ conferences, and representatives of non-governmental organizations that work in the region.  Chief among them will be REPAM, or Red Eclesial PanAmazonica, an ecclesial network of bishops created in 2014 to promote the rights and dignity of people living in the Amazon. It is backed by CELAM, the Latin American Bishops’ Conference. Caritas Internationalis is a founding member. REPAM embodies the promise Pope Francis made in the Amazon town of Maldonado, Peru to affirm “a whole-hearted option for the defense of life, the defense of the earth and the defense of cultures.”

The 16-page preparatory document for the synod was published on June 8, 2018. It is titled “Amazonia: New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology.”The document was written by the Vatican’s office for the synod with the help of an 18-member council appointed by Pope Francis to oversee the 2019 meeting.  The synod council included three cardinals, 13 bishops, one nun and a layman.  Most members are from countries in the Amazon region.  The document is organized as a Preamble, Section I – Seeing, Section II – Discernment, Section III – Action, and Questionnaires that were widely circulated to provide material for each of the three sections.

The synod’s preparatory document makes clear that central issues will focus on environmental protection, the rights of indigenous people, and evangelization. But what is articulated within these issues will ignite change not only in the Amazon, but throughout the Catholic Church.

It is obvious that most pundits from Europe and North America who follow church happenings did not read this document carefully. If they did, they would be shocked. This synod is not about a group of natives in the Amazon rainforest with a few mentions of climate change thrown in. Pope Francis and the Synod Council are attempting to shift Catholic culture and religious practice from the Eurocentric and clerical sub-culture model to one drawn from values and cultures based in the Southern Hemisphere, with ripples extending to Africa and Asia. Europe’s domination of 1,000 years is ending. 

The clash of values that dominates so much of the Eurocentric Church today will be subsumed into other cultural debates. There, they may find a new voice, fade away or be viewed as irrelevant. How important are religious liberty, same-sex marriage, denying communion to pro-abortion politicians, sex abuse and cover up, women priests, married priesthood, conscience rights, “authentic” Catholic definitions, and “reform of the reform” of Vatican II in Amazonia?  Newer issues like racism, rights of indigenous people, migrants and immigration, gender theory, LGBT civil rights, lay involvement, habitat protection, and economic equity should get more traction, but the results will be a mixed bag of blessings for both progressives and conservatives.

Here is what I see emerging from the Amazonia Synod:

  1. A new emphasis on “Integral Ecology” – everything is connected and environmental abuse as sin
  2. Evangelization to where people are physically and spiritually–however remote
  3. Older married men ordained as priests to administer the sacraments
  4. Increased role in ministry and governance for women
  5. A cultural and spiritual sift away from a Eurocentric Catholicism

Each of the sections of the preliminary document has markers and flash points intimating where Pope Francis and the Church are heading with this Synod.

  1. Identity and Cries of the Pan-Amazonia

“Nonetheless, the wealth of the Amazonian rainforest and rivers is being threatened by expansive economic interests, which assert themselves in various parts of the territory. Such interests lead, among other things, to the intensification of indiscriminate logging in the rainforest, as well as the contamination of rivers, lakes and tributaries (due to the indiscriminate use of agro-toxins, oil spills, legal and illegal mining, and byproducts from the production of narcotics.) Added to this is drug trafficking, which together with the above puts at risk the survival of those peoples who depend on the region’s animal and plant resources.” 

“For the indigenous peoples of the Amazon basin, the good life comes from living in communion with other people, with the world, and with the creatures of their environment, and with the Creator.  Their diverse spiritualities and beliefs motivate them to live in communion with the soil, water, trees, animals, and with day and night. Wise elders – called interchangeably “payes, mestres, wayanga or chamanes”, among others – promote the harmony of people among themselves and with the cosmos. Indigenous peoples are a living memory of the mission that God has entrusted to us all: the protection of our common home.”

2. Toward a Pastoral and Ecological Conversion

 “This social – and even cosmic – dimension of the mission of evangelization is particularly relevant in the Amazon region, where the interconnectivity between human life, ecosystems, and spiritual life was, and continues to be, apparent to the vast majority of its inhabitants.”

“Integral ecology, then, invites us to an integral conversion. This entails the recognition of our errors, sins, faults, failures and omissions by which we have harmed God’s creation and leads to heartfelt repentance.  Only when we are aware of how our lifestyles – and the ways we produce, trade, consume, and discard – affect the life of our environment and our societies can we initiate a comprehensive change of direction.”

3. New Paths for a Church with an Amazonian Face

 “The Church is called to deepen her identity in accordance with the realities of each territory and to grow her spirituality by listening to the wisdom of her peoples. Therefore, the Special Assembly for the Pan-Amazonian Region is invited to find new ways of developing the Amazonian face of the Church and to respond to situations of injustice in the region, such as the neocolonialism of the extractive industries, infrastructure projects that damage its biodiversity, and the imposition of cultural and economic models which are alien to the lives of its people.”

“In this sense, Vatican II reminds us that all the People of God share in the priesthood of Christ, although it distinguishes between common priesthood and the ministerial priesthood.  This gives way to an urgent need to evaluate and rethink the ministries that today are required to respond to the objectives of “a Church with a native face.”

“It is necessary to identify the type of official ministry that can be conferred on women, taking into account the central role which women play today in the Amazonian Church. It is also necessary to foster indigenous and local-born clergy, affirming their own cultural identity and values.  Finally, new ways should be considered for the People of God to have better and more frequent access to the Eucharist, the center of Christian life.”

The Synod’s preparatory document cites a wide swath of church documents, three provide the biggest stamp:

1. Laudato Si – (“Praise Be to You”) The 2nd encyclical of Pope Francis has the subtitle, “On Care for Our Common Home.” In it, Pope Francis critiques consumerism and irresponsible development, and laments environmental degradation and global warning. It calls on the peoples of the world to act. The encyclical was published on June 18, 2015.

2. The Aparecida Document – This document summarized the 2007 meeting of CELAM—the regional Episcopal Conference of Latin America and the Caribbean. The meeting was held in Aparecida, Brazil, and was chaired by Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, the future Pope Francis.  In the document, the Latin American bishops expressed what they believed to be keys in keeping Catholicism alive and relevant in Latin American.  Those “keys” included a preferential option for the poor and marginalized, and a serious concern for the environment.

3. Pope Francis’ January 19, 2018 Address to the Indigenous People of Amazonia at Maldonado, Peru – During his trip to Chile and Peru, Pope Francis met and addressed thousands of native Amazonians in an indoor stadium at Puerto Maldonado, a city on Peru’s Amazon frontier. It is the capital of Madre de Dios, a region plagued by illegal mining and human trafficking. In his remarks, the pope noted that the “native Amazonian peoples have probably never been so threatened on their own lands as they are at present.”  He spoke about threats from extractive exploitation, environmental contamination and illegal mining. He also addressed the oppression of native people by certain policies and movements under the guise of preserving nature that deprive them of their land, natural resources and livelihoods.  Pope Francis promised participants to affirm a “whole-hearted option for the defense of life, the defense of the earth and the defense of cultures.”

There are several key players in the development of the Synod Council and preparatory document. Since I don’t read Spanish, and there is very little coverage of South America by U.S. journalists, I may have missed a few names but I believe I netted the biggest fish.

Pope Francis

Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina on December 17, 1936, Jorge Mario Bergoglio became Pope Francis on March 13, 2013, when he was named 266th pope of the Roman Catholic Church. Bergoglio, the first pope from South America, took his papal title after St. Francis of Assisi of Italy.  The first Jesuit pope, Bergoglio was ordained in 1969, and from 1973-1979 was the provincial superior for Argentina.  Prior to his election as pope, Bergoglio served as archbishop of Buenos Aires from 1998-2013.  He was named a cardinal by Pope John Paul II in 2001.  In his six years as pope, Francis has championed the world’s poor and marginalized people, emphasized mercy over rules, and been actively involved in environmental advocacy and political diplomacy.

“We are not faced with two separate crisis, one environmental and the other social, but rather one complex crisis which is both social and environmental.”

 Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri

Cardinal Baldisseri has served as general secretary of the Synod of Bishops since September 21, 2013.  He introduced and explained in depth the Amazonia synod’s preparatory document during the Vatican press conference on June 8, 2018.  Hand-picked by Francis to reorganize the Synod of Bishops, Cardinal Baldisseri is a veteran of the Vatican diplomatic corps.  He has served as apostolic nuncio to Paraguay, India, Nepal and Brazil (2002-2012). In Brazil, he negotiated an agreement regulating the juridical status of the church.

“Although the theme refers to a specific territory, such as the Pan-Amazon region – and this is why we speak about the “Pan-Amazon Synod” – the reflections that concern it go beyond the regional context, because they regard the whole Church and also the future of the planet. These reflections are intended to bridge to other similar geographical realities such as, for example, the Congo basin, the Central American biological corridor, the tropical forests of Asia in the Pacific, and the Guarani aquifer system. This great ecclesial, civic and ecological project allows us to extend our gaze beyond their respective borders and to redefine pastoral lines, making them suitable for today’s times. For these reasons too the Synod will be held in Rome.”

 Cardinal Claudio Hummes

Pope Frances chose Brazil’s Cardinal Claudio Hummes to serve as regulator general of the October synod on Amazonia.  The nomination of the 84-year-old retired archbishop of Sao Paulo was announced at the Vatican on May 4, 2019. The regular is responsible for providing a comprehensive outline of the synod’s theme at the beginning of the meeting and for summarizing the speeches of synod members before work begins on concrete proposals for the pope.  Cardinal Hummes was a former perfect of the Congregation for Clergy and has been a close friend of the pope since Jorge Mario Bergoglio was archbishop of Buenos Aires. Cardinal Hummes currently serves as president of REPAM, or the Red Eclesial Pan-Amazonica (or Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network.)  Founded in 2014, REPAM is a network backed by the Latin American Bishops Conference to promote the rights and dignity of people living in the Amazon.  Caritas Internationalis is a founding member.

“Back in 2015 the pope started to tell me, “I’m thinking of convening a meeting of all the bishops of Amazonia. As of yet, I don’t know what type of meeting or assembly, but I think that it could even be a synod.” He said to me, Let us pray about it together, and he began to speak to the bishops, to the episcopal conferences of the Amazonian region, about how to have an assembly, and so in his heart there grew the idea of a synod, and eventually in 2017 he convoked it.  We have worked hard for the synod, and we will continue to do so in this very important service for the future.  The synod serves to find and trace new paths for the Church.”

“We know now there is another step to take: we have to promote an indigenous Church for the indigenous peoples, to help give birth to and nurture the growth of an indigenous Church. The aboriginal communities that hear the Gospel proclamation in one way or another, and that embrace it, which is to say, they welcome Jesus Christ, have to be able to ensure that, through an opportune process, their faith can become incarnate and inculturated in their traditional reality.  Then, in the context of their culture, identity, history and spirituality, an indigenous Church can arise with its own pastors and ordained ministers, always united within itself, and in total communion with the universal Catholic Church, but inculturated in indigenous cultures.”

Cardinal Ricardo Barreto Jimeno

 A Jesuit, and archbishop of Huancayo, Peru since 2004, Cardinal Barreto is vice president of the Peruvian bishops’ conference.  He is also vice president of REPAM (Red Eclesial Pan-Amazonica).  According to Cardinal Barreto, “new paths” will be defined during the synod, directed toward care for creation and evangelization.

Cardinal Barreto has long been a proponent of environmental protection.  Back in 2005 he told his brother bishops during a synod that bread and wine offered at the altar were no good if the land they came from was not properly cared for. “I said that if we offer bread from land that’s contaminated, we are offering God a contaminated fruit. And the same for wine…I remember that the bishops looked at me as if they were saying, ‘What does the Eucharist have to do with ecology?’”

“Too many people think the indigenous in the Amazon are savages with nothing to teach us. ..as one Amazonian indigenous person told me, the savages are the ones who wear suits and ties and have money because they not only exploit natural resources irrationally but also expel (the indigenous people) from their territories and allow those from the outside to attack their culture simply to profit.”

 General Augusto Heleno Ribeiro Pereira

 Augusto Heleno, 72, is a Brazilian politician and retired general. He was military commander of the Amazon and chief of the Department of Science and Technology of the Army.  He was chosen by Brazil’s newly elected president, Jair Bolsonaro, to head the Institutional Security Cabinet, an executive level office of the federal government responsible for assistance to the president on matters of national security and defense policy.

Bolsonaro campaigned on promises to end protections of the Amazon rainforest and limit Brazil’s indigenous peoples’ rights to designate land in the river’s sprawling basin as preserves.  In one of his first acts as president, he gave responsibility for indigenous preserves to the Agriculture Ministry, which is seen as heavily influenced by agribusiness interests.

A major Brazilian newspaper, O Estado de S. Paulo, reported on February 10, 2019 that the synod has become a national concern for the Brazilian government. General Augusto Heleno was quoted in the story as saying, in reference to the synod, “We are worried about it and want to neutralize it.” The government’s strategy for neutralizing the Amazonia synod reportedly includes planting intelligence agents to monitor preparatory meetings and putting diplomatic pressure on the Italian government to intercede with the Vatican to avoid, or at least tone down, criticism of Brazil’s Amazon policies.

“There are foreign (non-governmental organizations) and international authorities who want to intervene in our treatment of the Brazilian Amazon…I’m worried that this Synod is going to interfere in our sovereignty.  We know what we have to do.  We know how to do sustainable development, to stop deforestation.”

 Mauricio Lopez

Mauricio Lopez is the executive secretary of REPAM.  He was the one lay person appointed to the Synod Council by Pope Francis. Lopez grew up in Mexico and was educated in Jesuit schools.  He and his wife, who is Ecuadorian, moved to Ecuador over a decade ago.  In 2009, he took a trip to the part of the Amazon basin that sits on Ecuador’s eastern borders.  “I came by bus from the highest mountains with snow,” he described, and suddenly I entered this beautiful place, where I saw the biggest river, the entrance into the Amazon, and how the flora and fauna were always changing as we went down, down, down. The temperature changed radically, and I felt, too, a change within me,” he said.

“The Amazon reality requires us to be a braver and more prophetic church.”

The Amazonia initiative brings back an echo of my own past. 

Back in the mid-1970s, as a young woman in Alaska, I fought for large tracts of Alaskan lands to be preserved as wilderness areas–national parks, refuges and monuments. I wanted government agencies to insist on environmental protections for areas that were mined, logged or slated for oil and natural gas extraction. The native peoples of Alaska—Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, Athabascan, Aleut, Inupiat and Yupik were different, but each group was deeply connected to the land by a deep love for it, cultural heritage and identity.  One connection was through the subsistence lifestyle—fishing, trapping, hunting and harvesting on their ancestral lands.

During that time, I never heard a religious person—priest, religious sister, bishop, pastoral associate, anyone—speak up for Alaska natives or for wise natural resources management.  At that time, the Catholic church made no connection between Nature and Faith.  I missed having my faith strengthen my environmental activism and support for native land rights; and my love for the land and forest strengthen my spirituality and religious conviction.

It now seems like a dream come true; one I have waited almost 40 years to see. Thank you, Pope Francis, and everyone who is making the Amazonia Synod happen.  I’ll be praying for you and us.

 

 

 

Too Late for a Christmas Card

Posted by Censor Librorum on Dec 24, 2018 | Categories: Faith, History, Lesbians & Gays

Every year for 20 years or so we received a Christmas card from our friend, Peggy C. By the time we received the last one we hadn’t seen one another in years, but Peggy was faithful and we always heard from her during the holidays. When I didn’t hear from her after a year or two I pulled out my address book and sent her a card. No response. In 2014 my card came back–no one at that address. I wanted to try again this year and googled her name and last address. In the results I saw Peggy’s executrix sold her apartment in 2014. That was it. Too late for a Christmas card.

I wasn’t as faithful as Peggy about sending Christmas cards. For many years Christmas was little but a mountain of stress: the year-end rush of work, shopping, dinner, managing emotional expectations, a constant blare of noise and rushing around and piped in holiday music. I got to hate Christmas and could hardly wait for it to be over. Christmas cards were at the bottom of the list. Too often I ran out of energy or enthusiasm to do them.

But I always liked to get them, and really appreciated the little notes sharing a happy memory or the latest news. I also appreciated Peggy’s constancy. I heard from her every year.

I started to think about Peggy as I made up my Christmas greeting list this month. I haven’t seen or spoken to her in almost 25 years, but she is so present for me every Christmas. I remember Peggy as a tall, very nice, refined and poised woman. She had dark blond year. One year she legally changed her name from her father’s to her mother’s–some unhappy story there. Peggy was quiet and had a very calm personality. She lived in the Murray Hill section of Manhattan for decades. When I asked a friend about her memories of Peggy, she said Peggy taught deaf students in the public school system. After she retired, she studied at the Interfaith Center on Riverside Drive. She was also a heavy smoker. Perhaps this had something to do with her death.

I met Peggy at a meeting of Catholic lesbians at the Lesbian & Gay Community Center on West 13th Street. The CCL-Center Group met monthly from 1985 to 1995. Peggy took over the mailing list from me when I had to choose between lesbian activist and hockey mom. Peggy was there at every meeting whether two or twenty women showed up.

What I learned from Peggy is the value of faithfulness. There was a card from her every year whether I reciprocated or not. She is my inspiration when I pick up my pen to write a note in each Christmas card, letting someone know I am thinking of them with love and affection, and they are remembered in this happy and holy time of year.

 

 

Tainted Love: The North American Martyrs

Posted by Censor Librorum on Nov 10, 2018 | Categories: Faith, History, Politics, Saints

The 17th century in North America was a time and place in a constant state of flux. Cultural clashes, religious struggles and fights for territory spread from pockets to regions. Conflicts in the Old World–England, France, the Netherlands, Ireland, Scotland–struck sparks in New England, Quebec and Ontario. Native nations in this region–the Haudenosaunee Confederacy (Iroquois); Wendat or Wyandot (Huron), Abenaki, Wampanoag, Pequot, Narragansett, Mohegan and Lenape (Delaware) to name a few, leveraged colonists and Europeans in their animosities with each other and settlers. Alliances and advantages were the tidal kind–they shifted back and forth. Sometimes huge waves formed, engulfing everyone in their path before their energy was spent.  Anxiety reigned–neighboring people, people who you traded with, even friends, could suddenly turn on you without much warning.

Saving Souls in the New World

Into this frontier paddled French Jesuits and their lay helpers. Their first motive was quite simple: save souls. In those days the dogma was quite clear: the unbaptized went straight to Hell. The rest of their motives for coming to New France were complex: an eagerness to serve in a remote, dangerous place; a desire to introduce their religious and secular ideas and ideals to the native population to improve their lives; and for some, a path to martyrdom. A painful, bloody death would bring them closer to Christ’s passion, and earn a glorious place in the pantheon of martyrs.

The North American Martyrs

Eight men make up the North American Martyrs.  They include six Jesuit priests and two lay Jesuit companions. They were martyred between 1642 and 1649 in what is now New York State in the United States and southern Ontario in Canada.  The first group, who were killed in the Mohawk village of Ossernenon, included Fr. Isaac Jogues (October 18, 1646) Rene Goupil (September 29, 1642) and Jean de Lalande (October 19, 1646).  They were all in their 30s when they died.  The remaining six Jesuits were killed by Mohawks in Huronia in 1648-1649. They included Fr. Jean de Brefeuf, Fr. Antoine Daniel, Fr. Gabriel Lalemant, Fr. Charles Garnier, and Fr. Noel Chabanel.  

The same missionary spirit they felt has existed throughout the history of the church up to the present day.  The beating, rape and murder of Sr. Maura Clarke, a Maryknoll sister and her companions Sr. Ita Ford, Sr. Dorothy Kazel and lay missionary Jean Donovan by soldiers in El Salvador’s military forces mirrors the deaths of the North American Martyrs by beatings, torture, and tomahawks.

Suspicions of Sorcery

One of the reasons these two groups of missionaries were killed was the perception they were introducing ideas and beliefs that would undermine or cause conflict with the existing native culture and power structure. The North American Martyrs were also suspected of sorcery and evil magic.

Jesuit missionaries worked among the Wendat, a people who lived in the Georgian Bay area of Central Ontario. The Wendat were farmers, hunters and traders who lived in villages surrounded by defensive wooden palisades for protection. The missionaries were not universally trusted by the people. Many Wendat believed them to be malevolent shamans or sorcerers who brought death and disease wherever they traveled.  In fact, they did: terrible epidemics of smallpox,, flu and other infectious diseases followed in their footsteps and decimated the Wendat and other native peoples. The rivals and enemies of the Wendat, the Haudenosaunee, considered the Jesuits legitimate targets, as the missionaries were generally allied with the Wendat and French. Retaliation for attacks was also a reason for their raids and warfare.

Capture and Death 

In 1642, a tribe of the Haudenosaunee, the Mohawks, captured Rene Goupil and Fr. Isaac Jogues as they were traveling from the Jesuit outpost of Sainte-Marie in Ontario to Quebec.  They were brought to the Mohawk village of Ossernenon near present day Auriesville, New York.  Both men were ritually tortured and mutilated and Goupil was killed. Fr. Jogues was taken in by a Mohawk family. He lived with a kindly “Auntie” and was protected by members of a clan. But his status in the tribe is unclear; he may also have been a slave.

Rescue and Return

Fr. Jogues was eventually rescued by Arendt Van Corlaer, a local Dutch official, and Rev. Johannes Megapolensis, a Dutch Reform minister. He returned to France for several years but then sailed back to Quebec. In 1646 Fr. Jogues and Jean de Lalande, a “donne” or lay Jesuit, were killed during during his second peace mission to Ossernenon. During his first peace mission to Ossernenon, Jogues was given permission by the clan leaders to establish a mission. Before he left for Quebec in June 1646 to gather supplies and helpers to build the mission, Fr. Jogues left a black box with his vestments, books and items. The black box generated suspicion and fear. Illness and crop failure plagued Ossernenon that summer and fall, and an evil spirit in the black box was blamed.

On October 14, 1646 Fr. Jogues, Lalande and a Wendat companion were ambushed a few days walk from Ossernenon.  They arrived in the village on October 17 to await their fate. Members of the Bear Clan wanted to kill Jogues, the Wolf and Turtle Clans were against his death. Jogues was invited to a Bear Clan longhouse, but his Auntie counseled him against going.  He went anyway and was tomahawked shortly after he entered the longhouse. Lalande heard the commotion and knew Jogues had been killed.  Against the advice of the Auntie, he went to recover the body and whatever Jogues had carried with him.  He was also killed.

Shrine of the North American Martyrs

Ossernenon, the site of the three Jesuits’ killings, is now known as the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs. It is also called the National Shrine of the North American Martyrs.  Some archaeologists have recently disputed the location of Ossernenon, placing it nine miles to the west. However, on the shrine site there are signs indicating where the prisoners ran the gauntlet on their arrival from the river below; and the ravine where Rene Goupil’s body was tossed after two warriors killed him.  The site is also the reputed birthplace of St. Kateri Tekakwitha. Born in 1656, she was the daughter of a Wendat captive and a Mohawk chieftain.  She must have heard stories about the Jesuits growing up.

The World in Which They Lived

I traveled to Ossernenon/Auriesville last month to visit the martyrdom shrine and site.  I wanted to sort out my feelings for the missionaries and see where they had lived out their faith and met their death.  I first tried to see them in the context of their time. In the 17th century France, England and the Netherlands were fighting and agitating with one another all over the world to stake out riches, land and trading claims.  The plague was still widespread in Europe, along with syphilis and other diseases picked up and carries by armies and traders.  Thousands of witches were burned at the stake or hanged; the fear of the supernatural fanned by public hysteria over disease, crop failures and anxiety over the future. The reverberations and rivalries between Catholics and Protestants–the Reformation and the Catholic Revival–and subsequent clashes between competing Protestant ideologies were still being felt. Finally, there was a great movement of peoples in response to all these events–either to escape or take financial advantage of them.

The native nations of North America were impacted and changed by their contact with Europeans. They valued the European-made goods, and the increased territorial dominion from trade, firearms and military alliances. They also experienced an inflow of new religious ideas and observances as missionaries made their way to villages following the paths of traders and explorers.

There was an unflinchingly cruel aspect to the age. The native nations ritually tortured and maimed enemy captives; some of them were burned to death taking hours to die. Men, women and children of all ages would be tomahawked and scalped. As policy or retribution, Europeans and colonists annihilated whole villages. Their indiscriminate attacks often fell on villages and native leaders that had pledged peace and good will. Whites also killed for scalp bounties and introduced the first germ warfare by giving smallpox infected blankets to the natives, killing or sickening and scarring everyone. Colonists became accustomed to warriors and their families visiting or living close by to their settlements.  The encounters could be friendly, uneasy or hostile.

Who Were the Martyrs?

Who were the three Ossernenon martyrs? Rene Goupil had aspired to be a Jesuit priest but was not accepted because he was deaf. Instead, he became a donne or lay Jesuit and volunteered to go to Quebec to help the missionaries as a physician. After hearing Fr. Jogues describe the great need for medical care in Huronia, he agreed to accompany him. During the voyage he was captured by the Mohawks and brought to Ossernenon. In what Fr. Jogues described as “an excess of devotion and love of the cross,” Rene Goupil made the sign of the cross over a Mohawk boy. Unaware of the meaning of this gesture the boy’s grandfather thought it was evil magic, and sent two warriors to kill him. Goupil either ignored or was not in the country long enough to understand that his blessing would be interpreted as an attempt by an evil shaman to betwitch a small child. Fr. Jogues describes what happened:

“One day, then, we went out of the village to obtain a little solace for our stricken souls and to pray more suitably with less disturbance. Two young men came after us to tell us that we must return to the house. I had some premonition of what was going to happen, and said to him, “My dearest brother, let us commend ourselves to our Lord and our good Mother, Mary.  I think these people have some evil plan.” We had offered ourselves to the Lord shortly before with much love, beseeching him to receive our lives and our blood and unite them with his life and his Blood for the salvation of these poor natives.  Accordingly, we returned to the village reciting our rosary, of which we had already said four decades. We stopped near the gate of the village to see what they might say to us. One of the two young Iroquois then drew out a hatchet  which he had concealed under his blanket and struck Rene, who was in front of him.  He fell motionless, his face to the ground, pronouncing the holy name of Jesus.  At the blow, I turned around and saw the bloody hatchet. I knelt down to receive the blow that would unite me to my dear companion, but, as they hesitated, I rose again and ran to the dying man who was not far from me. They then struck him two blows on the head with the hatchet, which killed him, but not before I had given him absolution.”

What kind of person was Fr. Isaac Jogues?  He was personally brave.  He ran to the aid of his dying companion; and during one attack in Huronia he left a good hiding place to aid and comfort his fellow voyagers. Having faced death and torture on his first trip to North America, he left the safety of France to return to Quebec. He was single-minded in his passion for the salvation of souls. He loved the aloneness in the forest, even though supernatural forces were present: “How often on the stately trees if Ossernenon did I carve the most Sacred name of Jesus so that seeing it the demons might take to flight, and hearing it they might tremble with fear.” “The village was a prison to me.  I avoided being seen.  I loved the quiet, lonely places, in the solitude of which I begged God that he should not disdain to speak with his servant, that he should give me strength in the midst of these fearful trials.”  

Did he have a death wish? As I walked along the Shrine’s paths and in the Ravine I couldn’t decide if he actively sought martyrdom for glory; or he wanted to experience suffering as a means of mystical union with Christ; or both. He might have also desired to validate his missionary work with martyrdom, since the French priests made so few converts and were generally unsuccessful in their missionary efforts.

Of the three Jesuits martyred in New York, I liked Jean de Lalande the best.  His motives were the clearest and least complicated. He wanted to serve, was aware of danger and accepted it. I also imagine he had a keen curiosity and interest to see the wilderness and meet its people. Lalande arrived in Quebec as a lay brother. He accompanied Fr. Jogues to Ossernenon, offering his skills as a woodworker and woodsman during the journey and to help build the new mission. Lalande was killed when he tried to retrieve Jogues’ body. A brave gesture, since he probably knew he would be killed in the attempt.

What Did the Wendats and Mohawks Think?

They did not treat the French Jesuits any differently then they did their own in war and peace.  The priests did not get the deference as clerics they would have expected in France and Quebec. They were expected to do physical labor and contribute to the welfare of the longhouse. I looked out over the ancient village site and marveled again at the hospitality and tolerance the Mohawks granted to the strangers in their midst. They attempted to integrate them into their own culture, fed them, and attempted to protect them at the cost of their own physical safety. The Jesuit missionaries were clumsy and cloddish and did not pick up on social cues or listen to the advice their “Auntie” and other people tried to give them. They were killed because some leaders believed they brought harm or disease to the people by their magic gestures and items used in devotions or Mass.  The Jesuits were in the vanguard of Europeans who infected and wiped out whole villages. There might have been quite a different outcome if the native nations had not been wiped out by diseases to which Europeans were immune, but lethal to the native people.

How the Martyrs’ Story was Revived

As the French and British were beaten back into Canada and Europe the stories of the Jesuits killed in Ossernenon faded away. They weren’t American colonists and they were Catholic, so theirs wasn’t a history that was preserved. That changed when Fr. John J. Wynne, S.J. took an interest in them.  

Widely recognized as an editor, educator and intellectual, Fr. Wynne (1859-1948) founded the Jesuit periodical America (1909) and the Catholic Encyclopedia.  From the 1890s to his death in 1948, Fr. Wynne became a big promoter of these “American” martyrs so that immigrant Catholics might be perceived more readily as “real” Americans by the WASP elite in power.

The canonization of Fr. Isaac Jogues, Rene Goupil and Jean de Lalande in 1930 by Pope Pius XII gave the United States its first saints and martyrs.  That provided some stature to the church in America, which was politically powerless in the Vatican and always suspect in matters of doctrinal purity.   (“Americanism” was one of the Modernisms that infuriated the late 19th and early 20th century papacy.)

But devotion to the North American Martyrs never caught on in the United States. Immigrant Catholics didn’t warm to them since their rural Auriesville, NY shrine was hundreds of miles away from the struggles of urban Catholic ghettos. Most of the inhabitants were other tribes: Irish, German, Italian, Polish. Catholic colonists didn’t venerate them either because Jesuits like Fr. Sebastien Rale incited and led the Abenaki and others to attack settlers in New England. As the descendant of Maine settlers who were victimized by the French and their tribal allies, I was glad to read he was eventually killed and scalped by colonial troops.

Personal Reflections

I visited the Auriesville shrine last month shortly before it closed for the winter.  I expected to scoff and came away a fan. I liked its rustic simplicity.  I liked how the builders how incorporated the wooden palisades of the native people and French into the altar design. I especially liked the wooden chapel dedicated to St. Kateri Tekakwitha, where only screens separated worshipers from nature.  

It is a shame that more people don’t visit the shrine. There is a lot to learn, and feel, and be inspired by the faith of the Jesuit martyrs and St. Kateri Tekakwitha. They sought God among the people they encountered, the rivers and lakes, forests and fields, and that sustained them. That makes them true North Americans. 

We can be equally inspired by the Mohawk and the Wendats’ courage and loyalty, their patience and hospitality, allowing strangers and migrants into their homelands to preach, trade and settle. Their generosity cost many of them their lives, their lands, their way of life, in fact, everything. Some of them died for their new Christian faith. They should also be honored as saints and martyrs. I thought of them all with respect and gratitude, as I said a quiet prayer toward the end of a warm afternoon.

Additional Reading

The Jesuit Martyrs of North America: Isaac Jogues, John De Brebeuf, Gabriel Lalemant, Noel Chabanel, Anthony Daniel, Charles Garnier, Rene Goupil, John Lalande by John J. Wynne, S.J

The Death and Afterlife of the North American Martyrs by Emma Anderson

The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents (accounts of missionary activities from 1610-1701)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 Thessalonians 5:23

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jun 5, 2018 | Categories: Faith, History

In May 1986 the Conference for Catholic Lesbians (CCL) held its biennial gathering at Meadow Lake Camp in Auberry, California. About 100 women attended the weekend event. They came from throughout the United States, with many drawn from California, Texas and Arizona. Participants ranged in age from 18 to 64, with most in their 30s and 40s. I was 34, and one of the organizers of the conference.

The great, electric charge of the conferences was the opportunity to be with many other women who identified as both Catholic and lesbian. This kind of connection was usually limited to one or two or a handful of women together–never a large group, and certainly not public.

Everyone there by necessity was closeted or discreet in parts of her life–family, friends, job, parish, school, religious community.  The conference provided a time and space where attendees could be lesbian and Catholic at the same time. It was liberating to some and a great relief to others to be fully present and open to the world in body, soul and spirit.  There was a wonderful peacefulness when the tension between our identities dissolved.

As we gathered for dinner on Friday night, a slim, grey-haired woman sat down at the old camp piano and started to play. You could hear the music in the background over the din of excited voices. She played classical pieces and show tunes, and seamlessly wove in special requests from some of the diners. I went over to introduce myself and thank her for the unexpected music.  I’ll call her “Jean.”

Jean said she was from Tucson, Arizona, and was a retired schoolteacher.  She had just recently come out. Jean said she was thrilled to be at the conference.  Closeted most of her life, she had only been with small groups of lesbians a few times before, and never imagined being with a group as large as this one at Meadow Lake.

Jean was very grateful to be part of the group and to everyone who attended.  She wanted to give us a gift in appreciation, and her gift was to play the piano during dinner.  Her music was by turns happy or intent, but mostly lighthearted and playful.

Jean surprised me. I had never met anyone that old who just came out. (I smile at the memory–I’m older now than Jean was then.) But what I remember is how happy she was. My young eyes looked at Jean playing and thought how sad it was that she had been closeted and alone for most of her life. My older eyes looking back at the memory understand why Jean was happy. She was in a place where she was free. That was a gift.

In the year following the conference, I asked one of my friends about Jean and how she was doing.  I used to travel to Tucson for work and retreats, and I wanted to try to see her while I was there. My friend told me that Jean had died several months after the conference.  I was shocked. No one seemed to know if Jean was aware she was dying, or if her death was unexpected.

This past winter, my wife, Lori, and I took our retirement trip to Tucson. One of the things I wanted to do was find Jean’s grave to say a prayer of thanks for her, and tell her I have never forgotten her gift of music at dinner. She is buried next to her mother and father.  It is a peaceful place. The grass is cropped low. Trees nearby keep her in shade.

Her gravestone is inscribed with her name, dates of birth and death, and a whimsical sketch of a roadrunner. Over her name is “1 Thessalonians 5:23”, the concluding prayer in St. Paul’s “First Letter to the Thessalonians.” The verse reads:

May the God of peace himself make you perfectly holy, and may you entirely, spirit, soul and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

When I looked up the verse to write the post, I wondered why and when she had chosen it for her epitaph.  My guess is that she trusted God to see her for who she was in spirit, soul and body, and to raise her up on the last day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Gaudete et Exsultate” (“Rejoice and Be Glad”) – An Updated Call to Holiness

Posted by Censor Librorum on Apr 9, 2018 | Categories: Accountability, Arts & Letters, Faith, Politics, Popes

Ultra conservative Catholic Wall Street Journal readers choked on their toast and scrambled eggs this morning when they read the headline of an article by Francis X. Rocca: “Pope Says Fighting Poverty Is as Essential as Opposing Abortion.”

Here is the article in full –  

“Pope Francis criticized Christians who emphasize opposition to abortion above social causes such as poverty and migration, in his latest effort to readjust the priorities of Catholic moral teaching from what he has characterized as an overemphasis on sexual and medical ethics.

“Our defense of the innocent unborn needs to be clear, firm and passionate,” the pope wrote in a document released by the Vatican on Monday. “Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born,” including the neglected elderly and victims of human trafficking.

The pope’s words appeared in “Gaudete et Exsultate” (“Rejoice and Be Glad”), a reflection on “holiness in today’s world” that includes advice on resisting the “verbal violence” of social media and achieving spiritual concentration amid a “culture of zapping.”

 Pope Francis has repeatedly called for reducing the emphasis on certain moral issues and increasing attention to social and economic justice.

That approach stands in contrast with that of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, who specified opposition to abortion, euthanasia and same-sex marriage among a handful of “nonnegotiable” values for the church.

In terms of ethical priorities, Pope Francis wrote in the document released Monday that an exclusive focus on abortion reflects a “harmful ideological error” of those who play down the importance of social action or denigrate it as “superficial, worldly, materialist, communist or populist.”

“We cannot uphold an ideal of holiness that would ignore injustice” in the form of economic equality, the pope added.

The pope also criticized what he characterized as an exaggerated focus on moral relativism, a concept closely associated with the teaching of Pope Benedict, who famously denounced what he called a “dictatorship of relativism” in contemporary culture.

“We often hear it said that, with respect to relativism and the flaws of our present world, the situation of migrants, for example, is a lesser issue. Some Catholics consider it a secondary issue compared to the ‘grave’ bioethical questions. That a politician looking for votes might say such a thing is understandable, but not a Christian,” Pope Francis wrote.

He also warned against the danger of seeking social change while neglecting personal piety through prayer and Bible reading.

“Christianity thus becomes a sort of NGO stripped of the luminous mysticism” exemplified by St. Francis of Assisi and Mother Teresa of Kolkata, the pope wrote.”

Catholics are now called to do more than be against a handful of sexual sins and sinners to declare themselves “Faithful Catholics.”

 

 

 

 

Love the Enemy in Your Pew

Posted by Censor Librorum on Feb 25, 2018 | Categories: Arts & Letters, Dissent, Faith, Politics

Love the Enemy in Your Pew has been part of my Lenten reflection since I first read it in the February 20, 2012 edition of America magazine. The article also  spurred me to organize a Lenten fish fry for my parish, where people of all opinions, backgrounds and political stripes could sit down together at a community meal.   

It was written by Dr. Gerald Schlabach, a professor of theology at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  He is a Benedictine oblate, and deeply involved in the Bridgefolk movement for grassroots dialog between Mennonites and Catholics.

*****

“We Christians have struggled for centuries to understand how Jesus really expects us to love our enemies. (Bracket those vicious enemies who may actually be out to violently destroy us and ours.) To be ready for that kind of discipleship we must first learn to love our sisters and brothers in the Christian community itself. They are the ones close enough to stick in our craw.”

“So this Lent, listen to uncomfortable voices in your community. Listen without arguing back, for as long as it takes to really hear. Listen deliberately. Listen for the back story behind positions you may never agree with. Debate later.”

“Listening is the virtue this proposed Lenten discipline would inculcate if practiced throughout the year; it could become a lifelong habit. Especially in our era of culture wars, in which the blogosphere allows us to flame “enemies” we never meet face-to-face, nothing may affect us short of sitting down over coffee or on a park bench to listen face-to-face. ”

“Listen particularly to someone who represents all you think might be wrong with the church. A Catholic neighbor, for example, who is so impassioned with some ways of defending life that he or she seems to ignore other ways. Or an openly gay Catholic who continues to receive the Eucharist or an activist campaigning to make same-sex marriage unconstitutional. Listen to the fan of that dangerous neoconservative George Weigel, or the fan of that idealistic peacenik Jesuit John Dear; the parish liturgist who still includes those awful guitar-Mass ditties in the new Roman Mass or the patriarch in the next pew who glares when someone changes “his” to “God’s” for “the good of God’s holy Church.”

“Alas, Catholic culture makes it easy to leave Sunday Mass, week after week, without talking at all, much less inviting real conversations elsewhere in the week. But resolve to try conversation at least once, for Lent. Whoever your conversation partner is, ask to hear his or her back story. Resolve that while you may ask for clarification, you may not argue. Trust might begin to develop, though probably not in a first meeting.  If the other person reciprocates and asks for your back story, wonderful  Share your own story, but do not argue your position even then.”

“What if this encounter starts to soften your position? Yes, there is that risk. But this is Lent. Our Lord risked all, abandoning any self-defense other than the vindication of his Father. The cycle of the church year intends to teach us this: Resurrection is coming, but not without our dying to even the most righteous of causes, as we identify with the One who did so before us.”

 

 

Another View on the “War on Religion”

Posted by Censor Librorum on Nov 20, 2017 | Categories: Accountability, Dissent, Faith, Humor, Politics

 

Book Review: Inside the Jesuits: How Pope Francis is Changing the World and the Church

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jul 22, 2014 | Categories: Arts & Letters, Faith, History, Popes

book

In the summer of 1206, St. Francis went into the small chapel of San Damiano near Assisi to pray.  As he knelt before the crucifix, he heard Jesus’ invitation: “Francis, go rebuild my Church, which you see is falling into ruins.” “Yes!” said Francis, “This is what I want; this is what I long for with all my heart.”

800 years later, the first Pope Francis took up the same challenge–to rebuild a Church that was in almost total disgrace, disarray, and irrelevant.  The message of the Gospels had become lost to dogmatic meanness and nit-picking.

Inside the Jesuits: How Pope Francis is Changing the World and the Church by noted journalist and former Jesuit Robert Blair Kaiser, offers insights on the pope’s “Jesuit DNA.”  It is this DNA that impels him with a “holy boldness” to push the boundaries to make the world a better place, and rebuild the Church to a house of mercy and humanity.

The Jesuit DNA includes several things: a striving for the greater glory of God (ad majorem Dei gloriam); but especially to go to the edges, the margins, to learn, understand and serve. After Vatican II, the author relates that most Jesuits call salvation “being all we can be in this life” and not simply to get to heaven, but to make a difference in the lives of other people.

Pope Francis’ emphasis on humanity vs. rules and regulations is changing the culture of judgement (abortion, same-sex marriage, doctrinaire fixation (“are you pure enough to call yourself ‘Catholic?’) to a culture of mercy and mission.  He wants to be fully engaged with people, and is leading the Church to do likewise.  He starts by calling himself a sinner who has made many mistakes (when was the last time we heard a cardinal, bishop, or priest do that?) and reminds us that Christ came to us so that we might know life more fully.

The author framed this motivation wonderfully by describing his own experience as a teacher and coach at Saint Ignatius Prep, a high school for boys in San Francisco, CA: “I was trying to show them that their religion, fully lived, was something that would make them more human, happier individuals, with a humanity and happiness that would bring joy to those around them.  I wanted to destroy the image of religion as something that made people less human, less joyful, less real.”

The author doesn’t back away from the warts.  He examines Pope Francis’ time as provincial of the Argentine Jesuits and as archbishop of Buenos Aires. He has come under criticism for both periods because of his lack of support for liberation theology, and for not standing up to the military junta that caused the death or disappearance  of over 20,000 people.

The pope did not shy away from his record, but doesn’t go into specifics. He explains the Lord leads to a growth of knowledge through his faults and sins, and also that he made decisions alone and in the midst of an interior crisis. If experience leads to a conversion of heart, who are we to judge?

Robert Kaiser also raises the pope’s, Church’s, and Jesuits’ poor records and lack of engagement with women–half the Church. My good friend, theologian Dr. Mary E. Hunt, challenges the pope on this issue:  “It is intellectually embarrassing to hear a man who is so conversant with music, literature and poetry have such a palty vocabulary when it comes to women. Thus far, Francis has not had any public conversation with a woman church leader of any sort.  The continued oppression of U.S. women religious, officially approved by him, is a negative sign as well.”

The author thinks Dr. Hunt is mistaken, but I agree with her. The pope needs to address the impact of our closed, male-oriented institution on the poorest of the poor–Catholic women. Women continue to wait for meaningful action from Pope Francis.  His Jesuit DNA won’t help us there–Jesuits have little to do with women’s issues or women as a group.

One surprise in the book for me was the suggestion that 46-year-old Jorge Bergoglio had been in love. In March 1986 he went to Frankfurt, Germany for two years to pursue a doctorate. In 1987 his provincial ordered him back to Argentina, his thesis only half finished. He was put on severe restrictions for correspondence and communication. This kind of discipline is only warranted if the man has told superiors he has fallen in love, or if a fellow Jesuit found out he is having a love affair.

Would love and separation make a person more emphathetic to its effects in other people’s lives? I think so. Perhaps this period in the pope’s life has led him to emphasize mercy, forgiveness and the human vs. ideological.  Pope Francis has described himself as a sinner who has made hundreds of mistakes. It sounds like it’s true–not some stock piety.

About half the book is devoted to Pope Francis, the remainder is parables about fellow Jesuits and former Jesuits who illustrate the best of “Jesuit DNA.”  Like Marines–once a Marine, always a Marine, Jesuits forever identify themselves as brothers, and retain their values, friendships and network for a lifetime.

The men profiled include Fr. Marie Joseph Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a scientist and humanist; Fr. George Dunne, writer and social justice crusader; Bill Cain, playwright and screen writer; Fr. John Baumann, co-founder of PICO (Pacific Institute of Community Organizing); Governor Jerry Brown of California, John Dear, peace activist; and, of course, Inigo Lopez de Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits.  There is a lot to inspire all of us in their generous lives.

When Jorge Bergoglio became Pope Francis people and pundits wondered what it would mean to have a Jesuit pope?  How does he think?  What is important to him? What can we expect?

On the way back to Rome from World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro Pope Francis addressed this question by reporter Caroline Pigozzi from Paris Match:

“Good evening, Holy Father.  I would like to know if you, since you’ve been Pope, still feel yourself a Jesuit?”

Pope Francis:  “I feel myself a Jesuit in my spirituality, in the spirituality of the Exercises, spirituality, the one I have in my heart. But I feel so much like this that in three days I’ll go to celebrate with  Jesuits the feast of Saint Ignatius:  I will say the morning Mass. I haven’t changed my spirituality, no. Francis, Franciscan, no. I feel myself a Jesuit and I think like a Jesuit. Not hypocritically, but I think as a Jesuit.  Thank you.”

My Rating:  ***** Read this book if you are the type of person who likes to know the “why” behind people and events.

Inside the Jesuits: How Pope Francis is Changing the Church and the World.Published by Rowman and Littlefield, 2014. Available at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and fine booksellers everywhere.

kaiser2

Author:  Robert Blair Kaiser is an American author and journalist, best known for his writings on the Catholic Church. A former Jesuit, Kaiser left the Society of Jesus three years before his ordination to pursue a career in journalism. He served as an award-winning religion reporter for The New York Times,  CBS News, Newsweek and Time. Throughout the Second Vatican Council, Kaiser was Time magazine’s reporter in Rome and the preeminent reporter on the Council in the English-speaking world.  For his work on the Council, Kaiser won the Overseas Press Club Award for best foreign reporting on foreign affairs.  He is the author of sixteen other books, including A Church in Search of Itself.

 

 

 

Medjugorje: Hard to Believe

Posted by Censor Librorum on Mar 5, 2014 | Categories: Bishops, Faith, History, Humor, Scandals

Our Lady of Medjugorje gives a message to the world on the 25th of every month. gospa-painting-medjugorje

The Virgin Mary’s Message on January 25th 2014 “Dear children! Pray, pray, pray for the radiance of your prayer to have an influence on those whom you meet. Put the Sacred Scripture in a visible place in your families and read it, so that the words of peace may begin to flow through your hearts. I am praying with you and for you, little children, that from day to day you may become still more open to God’s will. Thank you for having responded to my call.”

“Is the Blessed Mother this insipid?” was my first thought after reading the above message.  I combed the message archives to see if I could find another message to resonate.  Nothing – everything was equally banal and sugary.

In 2010 a commission was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI to evaluate the apparitions of the Virgin Mary at Medjugorje. The commission was directed by Cardinal Camillo Ruini and held its final meeting on January 17, 2014. It sent its report to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which will now make a recommendation to Pope Francis. The pope will announce his final verdict on the matter at some time after that. (Although he may have tipped his hand during a homily last fall.)

The apparitions that began in 1981 are said to continue regularly to this day (33 years later), attracting hundreds of thousands of pilgrims annually. Although many conversions have been witnessed in Medjugorje and countless people helped in their faith, the authenticity of the apparitions remains highly contentious.

The bishops of the Mostar-Duvno diocese, Pavo Zanic (1980-1993) and Patko Pevic (1993- ) judged it to be a fraud. “The Madonna, they say,” stated Bishop Zanic, “started to appear on the Podbrdo of Mountain Crnica, but when the militia forbade going there, she came into homes, into forests, fields, vineyards and tobacco fields; she appeared in the church, on the altar, in the sacristy, in the choir loft, on the roof, on the church steeple, on the roads, on the way to Cerno, in a car, on buses, in classrooms…” So far, the Virgin Mary has appeared to the visionaries over 12,000 times.

Medjugorje (med-you-gor-yeh) was an obscure tobacco-farming village in communist Yugoslavia (now Bosnia and Herzegovina) for much of its history, but on a scorching hot June 23, 1981, everything changed. Five teenagers and a child–Vicka Ivankovic, Mirjana Dragicevic, Marija Pavlovic and Ivan Dragicevic, all 16 Ivanka Ivankovic, 15 and ten-year-old Jakov Colo–burst through the doors of the parish church and told the priest they had seen the Virgin Mary.  medjugorje teens They explained they had been playing on a steep hill when they saw a woman wearing a long, flowing dress and a veil, beckoning them to her. Their first reaction was that they were seeing a ghost, but when they asked who see was, the woman described herself as “the Blessed Virgin Mary” and the “Queen of Peace.”

They returned to the hillside every evening where the Virgin Mary appeared at 6:40 PM–the same time they saw the first apparition. The visionaries–Vicka, Mirjana, Mirija, Ivan, Ivanka and Jakov, claim that “Gospa,” the Croatian word for “Our Lady,” has been giving them each ten secrets concerning the future of the world. These secrets are said to include miracles and worldwide events that will be sent by God to convert humanity. The daily apparitions stopped for Mirjana, Ivanka and Jakov after they had received all ten secrets. However, Ivan, Marija and Vicka still see the Virgin Mary every day. visionary 2

“Every apparition starts with three flashes to warn us she is coming,” said the visionary Vicka.  “It’s just the same as talking to a real person, except it feels different because you exclude yourself from everything, as though you are not on Earth any more.” “At Christmas time,” she goes on, “the Virgin Mary holds the newborn baby Jesus in her arms and you can see his little feet and hands moving. She keeps covering him with her veil–but it’s not an image, I can reach out and touch them. I can touch them as though they are real human beings.”

While the bishops of Mostar were not supportive of the Medjugore apparitions, the late Pope John Paul II may have strongly believed in them.  In a private conversation with visionary Mirjana  (Dragicevic) Soldo the Pope said: “If I were not Pope I would already be in Medjugorje confessing.”(1987). According to the testimony of the visionaries, on May 13, 1982, the day of the assassination attempt on the Pope, Our Lady said, “His enemies tried to kill him, but I have protected him.”

The Virgin Mary also mentioned the Pope’s visit to Croatia in her August 25, 1994 message: “Dear Children! Today I am united with you in prayer in a special way, praying for the gift of the presence of my most beloved son in your home country. Pray, little children, for the health of my most beloved son, who suffers, and whom I have chosen for these times.”

After Pope John Paul’s death, the visionary Ivan saw him during an apparition with Our Lady.  He appeared young and joyful.

Out of the tens of thousands of apparitions of the Virgin Mary reported throughout history, only 295 have been formally investigated and just 12 have ever been authenticated, the most recent being the apparitions of Our Lady of Laus in France, approved in 2008.

Although miracles have been recorded at most Marian apparition sites of the past, miracles are a daily occurrence in Medjugorje. A bronze statue representing the Risen Christ began seeping a watery substance.  Pilgrims have reported being able to look at the sun without hurting their eyes and seeing many different things: the Host spinning in the center of the sun, the sun spinning and dancing all around, it moving closer and farther away from them, different figures around the sun, such as hearts and crosses.

One month after the beginning of the apparitions, Bishop Zanic of Mostar went to Medjugorje to question the visionaries. “I asked each of them to take an oath on the cross and demanded that they speak the truth. The first one was Mirjana Dragicevic: ‘We went to look for our sheep when at once..’ ” The associate pastor interrupted and told me that they actually went out to smoke, which they hid from their parents. “Wait a minute, Mirjana, you’re under oath. Did you go out to look for your sheep?” She put here hand over her mouth. “Forgive me, we went out to smoke,” she said. She then showed me the watch on which the “miracle” occurred because the hands of the watch had gone haywire. I took the watch to a watch expert, who said that the watch had certainly fallen and become disordered.”

During taped interviews later on, Mirjana spoke of the miracle of the watch and that initially they had gone out to search for their sheep. Seer Vicka Ivankovic kept a diary of the apparitions, including the story of the bloody handkerchief incident.

“Word spread around that there was a certain taxi driver who came across a man who was bloody all over. This man gave the taxi driver a blo0died handkerchief and he told him to “throw this in the river.” The driver went on and then he came across a woman in black.  She stopped him and asked him to give her a handkerchief. He gave her his own, but she said: “not that one but the bloody handkerchief.” He gave her the handkerchief she wanted and she then said: “If you had thrown it in the river, the end of the world would have occurred now.” Vicka then wrote in her diary that they asked Our Lady if this event was true, and she said that it was, and along with this, “that man covered in blood was my son Jesus, and I (Our Lady) was that woman in black.”

“What kind of theology is this?” said Bishop Zanic. “From this it appears that Jesus wants to destroy the world if a handkerchief is thrown into a river and that it’s Our Lady who will save the world!”

One of the main advisers to the Medjugorje visionaries was the Rev. Tomislav Vlasic OFM.  He presented himself to Pope John Paul II in a May 13, 1984 letter: “I am Rev. Tomislav Vlasic, the one, according to Divine Providence, who guides the seers of Medjugorje.”The Virgin Mary even mentioned him in a message: “Thank Tomislav very much. He is guiding you so well”

On September 3, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI authorized “severe cautionary and disciplinary measures” against Fr. Vlasic. He was laicized in 2009.

The ex-spiritual director of the Medjugorje visionaries has his own interesting story. In 1976 Fr. Vlasic had an affair with a Franciscan nun, Sr. Rufina. When she became pregnant, Vlasic sent her to Germany and urged her to keep his paternity a secret.  She gave birth to their son in 1997.  Her letters to Vlasic fell into the hands of her landlord, who sent them to a friend of his, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Cardinal Ratzinger eventually become Pope Benedict XVI.

In 1981, Fr. Vlasic went to Rome to participate in an international meeting of the Charismatic movement. There he was told by Sr. Briege McKenna, in an alleged prophecy, that he would become the center of a great movement with the help of the Virgin Mary. When reports of the Marian apparitions emerged from the village of Medjugorje, Fr. Vlasic hurried there to be with the visionaries–the moment had arrived.

Fr. Vlasic eventually left Medjugorje to go to Parma in northern Italy with German laywoman Agnes Heupel. In 1987 they founded, with the help of visionary Marija Pavlovic-Lunetti, a mixed-sex community inspired by the apparitions at Medjugorje. Its name was “Queen of Peace, Totally Yours – through Mary to Jesus.”  In 1988 Marija lived at the community for a few months and had her daily apparitions there.  She reported that Our Lady seemingly approved Vlasic’s plans and activities with his community by the words of Our Lady: “This is God’s plan.” The same year the bishop of Parma, Benito Cocchi, obviously unimpressed, ordered the community to close, and Marija Pavlovic-Lunetti retracted her statement and support in a letter.

In 2002, an Italian woman named Stefania Caterina became vice-president of the “Queen of Peace” movement founded by Fr. Vlasic.  She is better known as an author, mystic and seer. She writes about her experiences and messages from extra-terrestrial entities in the book, Bey0nd the Great Barrier, published in 2008. Her first experiences began in 1984, with “Ashtar Sheran from the planet Alpha Centuri” commander of an interplanetary powerful fleet, and then his wife, Kalna; the priest-king Aris, and others.  Ashtar Sheran 14 Stefania Caterina claims that her experiences “occur through inner locutions and visions, during which I was given explanations by the Lord himself, or his instruments, first of all S. Archangel Raphael.” The Father, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, Mary, St. Joseph, the Apostles John and Paul, St. Michael the Archangel, souls in Purgatory and “people of other planets” are also in communication.

In February 2012, Stefania Caterina and Tomislav Vlasic announced on a video conference that they are part of a group called “Central Nucleus” formed by 49 beings chosen by God throughout the universe. The Central Nucleus is composed of seven great Archangels, and 18 sisters and 18 brothers of the universe,.  Not all of these beings are from the Earth, and although some are deceased, they are not “dead.”

The Central Nucleus was actually announced by Saint Michael the Archangel to Stefania Caterina on September 10, 2010.  Not surprisingly, St. Michael referred to the events in Medjugorje: “With the apparitions of Medjugorje, a time started in which God no longer allows for his plan to be slowed down, as unfortunately happened over the centuries. You must know, in fact, that God’s plan to recapitulate all things in Christ was to start already with the apostles, in order to transform all of humanity. This did not happen. Thus, God permitted his people to mature slowly by means of many trials and persecutions.”

“For the time in which you are living now, God has provided a powerful instrument, capable of operating in these times to encourage the renewal of God’s people and facilitate the realization of the plan of salvation.”

We are talking about a nucleus that can be called “Central Nucleus” in the midst of God’s people which is gradually aggregating and will aggregate to itself other nuclei that are being formed everywhere in the universe. In this Central Nucleus the priesthood of the archangels and the universal communion are fully operating.”

There is no word on how the Central Nucleus is progressing in Italy or elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the Medjugorje road show has been stopped cold in the United States.

In November 2013 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith prefect, Archbishop Gerhard Mueller, unsettled devotees of the pilgrimage destination when he sent an instruction to all U.S. bishops warning against allowing “seer” Ivan Dragicevic to go on a speaking tour of the country.

For years, the Medjugorje visionaries have made public appearances at churches, announcing in advance that “apparitions” will take place. Archbishop Muller called for an end to church sponsorship of these events.

In an October letter to the U.S. bishops, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the apostolic nuncio in Washington, conveyed a message from Archbishop Muller: “clerics and the faithful are not permitted to participate in meetings,conferences or public celebrations during which the credibility of such ‘apparitions’ would be taken for granted.”

In his message Archbishop Vigano reminded the bishops that the CDF is currently investigating the reported apparitions at Medjugorje. Until the pope renders a final judgement, the CDF has accepted for acceptance of a statement issued in 1991 by the bishops of what was once Yugoslavia, who said: “On the basis of research that has been done, it is not possible to state that there were apparitions or supernatural revelations.”

Although Archbishop Vigano’s letter to the U.S. bishops was not made public, the message spread quickly, including a copy of the letter which wound up on Google.  It also had an immediate impact: Ivan Dragicevic, one of the “seers” was scheduled to appear at two New England parishes in late October; both events were cancelled.

The decision on Medjugorje now rests with Pope Francis.  He may have given us an inkling of his opinion in the “fervorino” (informal homily) at his daily Mass on November 14, 2013. According to Vatican Radio, Pope Francis was cautioning people against excessive curiosity about the future and contrasting it with the wisdom that comes from the Holy Spirit. Curiosity, the Pope continued, impels us to want to feel that the Lord is here or rather there, or leads us to say: “But I know a visionary, who receives letters from Our Lady, messages from Our Lady.” And the Pope commented, “But, look, Our Lady is the Mother of everyone! And she loves all of us. She is not a postmaster, sending messages every day.”

Such responses to these situations, he affirmed, “distance us from the Gospel, from the Holy Spirit, from peace and wisdom, from the glory of God, from the beauty of God. Jesus says that the Kingdom of God does not come in a way that attracts attention; it comes by wisdom.”

The Censor Librorum has two questions on the Medjugorje phenomena:

1) Whose purpose did Medjgorje serve?

2) Would Pope Francis and the late Pope John Paul II have made the same decision about Medjugorje? (I think not.)

My personal opinion – while I believe that Medjugorje has helped many pilgrims to feel they are loved and cared for by Our Lady (and that is a good thing); nevertheless, people seem to have forgotten that most mystical experiences should be suspect as a ruse from Satan for the vain. Simple prayer is always to be preferred, even if ecstasy is more fun (and proftable). Visions of Mary; The search for Miriam of Nazareth