martes, 29 de julio de 2008

I'm still here ...

No, I haven't gotten bored with the blog idea or disappeared off the face of the earth, I've just been ridiculously incredibly busy with work and out-of-town visitors. And I've been out of town for a few days, and that is something I'm eager to tell you about. And I will get to it. Tomorrow or Wednesday. I promise!

In the meantime, here's a very funny (and completely spot-on!) analysis of The Ten Worst Baby Products Ever from another Catholic blog called Creative Minority Report. It is excellent and it's going up on the Bloglist tonight! Enjoy!

The Ten Worst Baby Products EVER!

(P.S. You'll have to scroll down a few entries to find it ...)

jueves, 17 de julio de 2008

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel


Hail bright star of ocean, God's own Mother blest,
Ever sinless Virgin, gate of heavenly rest,
Taking that sweet Ave which from Gabriel came,
Peace confirm within us, changing Eva's name.
Break the captives' fetters, light on blindness pour,
All our ills expelling, every bliss implore.
Show thyself a Mother; may the Word Divine,
Born for us thy Infant, hear our prayers through thine
Virgin all excelling, mildest of the mild,
Freed from guilt, preserve us, pure and undefiled.
Keep our life all spotless, make our way secure,
Till we find in Jesus,
Joy for evermore.
Through the highest heaven, to the Almighty Three
Father, Son, and Spirit - one same glory be!

A belated Happy Feast Day to all Carmelite friars, nuns, tertiaries and devotees of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel!

It was my good fortune to attend a Mass celebrated by Don Francisco Pérez González, the archbishop of Pamplona at the Carmelite parish here in Pamplona yesterday evening. Our Lady of Mt. Carmel holds a special place in my heart and it was great to see that the church was packed; plus I'm always pleased whenever I have an opportunity to attend a Mass celebrated by our fantastic archbishop.

Devotion to La Virgen del Carmen is very popular throughout Spain, especially in coastal areas where her protection and intercession are sought for sailors under the title of La Virgen del Carmen, Estrella del Mar (Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Star of the Sea). From here comes the analogy of the Virgin Mary who, as the Star of the Sea, guides her children through the difficult seas of this life to the safe harbor of heaven.

And of course, thanks to St. Teresa of Avila (another of my favorite Spanish saints), the Carmelite Order and Carmelite spirituality flowered in the Spanish peninsula and impacted upon the spirituali-ty of the Spanish people as it did in no other place. Apart from perhaps St. Ignatius of Loyola and the Jesuits, no other founder or religious order is as immediately identifiable with Spain as are St. Teresa of Ávila, St. John of the Cross and the Carmelite Order. And the Spanish influence in Latin America means that devotion to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel is widespread throughout Mexico and Central and South America.

A brief outline of the history of the Carmelites, with an emphasis on the Discalced Carmelites of St. Terea's reform, can be found here.

Disclaimer: I have no flippin' idea why on earth a member of a religious order would use an annoying MIDI recording of Imagine, John Lennon's hymn to atheistic utopian materialism, on his site. (Yes, the melody is lovely, Brother, BUT ... ) Resist the temptation to scream in frustration and bolt immediately from the page and simply switch off the music player in the upper left corner.

More about St. Simon Stock and the origin of the Brown Scapular devotion here.

An excellent meditation on the Brown Scapular by Pope John Paul II (via the Catholic Culture library) here.

Happy feast day everyone!

lunes, 14 de julio de 2008

How To Approach The Blessed Sacrament, Part 1

Two news stories concerning the Blessed Sacrament have caught a lot of people's attention and generated enormous controversy in recent days: the first was the story of the University of Florida student who desecrated the Eucharist by stealing a consecrated host from Mass and holding it hostage for several days. The second is the story of the professor from the University of Minnesota Morris who has pledged to desecrate the Eucharist in support of the Florida student. It's a sign of how depraved a culture has become when this kind of behavior produces any reaction other than revulsion. There was a time, I am told, when civilized individuals were able to maintain respect for the ideas and beliefs of others, even if they did not personally agree, and turning up at a Mass to heckle and harass (as in the case of the Florida student), or to threaten to deliberately desecrate a religion's most sacred rites, would have been universally condemned. It seems the culture is unravelling faster than I thought.

Father Miguel Gonzalez of the Diocese of Orlando called for acts of reparation in response. As my own particular act of reparation, I thought it might be worthwhile to post the following excerpts from a reflection on the nature of the Blessed Sacrament and the proper dispositions with which one ought to approach it by one of the lesser-known Church Fathers, John Mandakuni, a disciple of the 5th century Armenian bishop St. Mesrob who later became bishop himself. This reflection is excerpted from a marvellous book of meditations entitled "Glimpses of the Church Fathers" by Claire Russell, which, I have been informed by John Powers at Scepter Publishers, has just been re-published in paperback. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants a readable, non-academic introduction to the doctrine and spirituality of the Church Fathers.

... Did you know that when the Blessed Sacrament comes onto the altar the heavens above are opened and Christ descends and arrives, that the angelic choirs fly from heaven to earth and surround the altar where the Blessed Sacrament of the Lord is, and are filled with the Holy Spirit? ...

The Real Presence

I do not look upon it as simple bread, nor do I have or consider it be wine; for this wonderful mystery is invisible. Its power is spiritual, for Christ no longer visible has given us something spiritual in the Eucharist and in Baptism. We see the chalice, but we believe the divine Word, who says: This is my body ... this is my blood ... Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them (Matt. 26:26-28; John 6:54-58). With true faith we know that Christ dwells on the altars, that we approach Him, that we gaze on Him, that we touch Him, that we kiss Him, that we take Him and receive Him into our hearts, that we make ourselves on body, members and children of God (cf. 1 Cor. 10:17).

Son of man, take a look at your room and consider where you are, whom you are contemplating, whom you kiss, whom you are introducing into your heart. You will find yourself among heavenly powers. You will praise with the angels. you bless with the seraphim. You contemplate Christ, you kiss Christ, you receive and enjoy Christ, you are filled with the Holy Spirit and you are illuminated and continuously fortified by divine grace. Those of you who are priests are ministers and dispensers of the of this Blessed Sacrament: approach it with fear, guard it with anxiety, administer it in a holy way and serve Him with warmth; you have a real treasure; take care of it, and guard it with great awe ...

Keep your heart pure for the moment of Communion and do not neglect it from one day to the next. It is no effrontery to receive communion many times, with a pure heart, for with it you clean your soul and give it new zest more and more. But if you were unworthy and were to have something for which your conscience reproaches you and were to receive communion just once, this would be the death of the soul ...

(Glimpses of the Church Fathers, by Claire Russell, pp. 443-444. Copyright 1994. Reprinted with permission from Scepter Publishers, New York.)

domingo, 13 de julio de 2008

San Fermín update

It has been a long week of San Fermín festivities, replete with barbecues, bull runs (I don't participate in those!) fireworks, out-of-town visitors and plenty of activity. I am pretty much San Fermín-ed out at this point, and I'm not even one of the more hardcore festival participants. I mean, nine days of festival is a lot, and I must admit I prefer the silence and peace of the Camino or the nearby mountains to the raucous noise and frenetic activity of the Sanfermines.

Still, it's been fun. One of the big bonuses was that the celebration started on a Sunday this year, and so there was only one weekend that fell during the festival. This meant that the floods of people that come in from other places in Spain and southern France didn't start arriving until a couple of days ago because they had to work, and this meant that there were a lot fewer people in town for the first five days of the Sanfermines. Everything was so much more low-key and relaxed, and there was much more of a family atmosphere to the festivities.

Life-long rock 'n' roller that I am, there were two other high points to the week: the first was a concert by a group of Beatles imitators called The Cavern Beatles from Liverpool. I normally don't go in for cover bands, but my friend Mike and I headed over to the Plaza del Castillo on Wednesday night to see them, and they were great! Authentic clothes and guitars, and they were musically perfect. "John" and "Paul" had Lennon and McCartney's vocals and harmonies spot on: the real Paul McCartney has an extraordinary vocal range and I couldn't believe the way this "Paul" was able to nail the screamers like "Long Tall Sally" and "I'm Down" with such precision. Likewise, "John" pulled off Lennon's throaty rasp on "Twist and Shout" marvellously, and really looked like a young John Lennon. "George" also did a fantastic job singing Harrison's songs, and he Harrison's guitar style down cold with all the right guitar licks in all the right places. "Ringo" didn't really resemble Starr physically, but as a drummer he was tight, played with enormous energy, and executed Starr's distinctive drum fills perfectly. He did a particularly fine job on "Ticket To Ride"; I'd love to hear him do "Rain" someday. They were a really professional ensemble and, although it was free, I'd have happily paid to see them. If you ever get the chance to catch them, do so. "A splendid time is guaranteed for all" and all that ...

For the real deal, last night I went back to the Plaza del Castillo to see Chuck Berry. I had seen him once before, a lo-o-ong time ago at the now-defunct Old Chicago amusement park when I was 15 years old. I even managed to get myself nearly thrown out of the amusement park by security for sneaking backstage after the show to try and meet him; I got backstage, but I didn't meet him! It seems incredible that he's still out there doing it. He even mangaed a bit of the old "duck walk" during Johnny B. Goode. The show was brief by comparison with The Cavern Beatles (45 minutes), but hey, the man is 81!

And there's still two more days to go ...

lunes, 7 de julio de 2008

¡Viva San Fermín!

Forget Hemingway, forget the Running of the Bulls ... today is the feast day of St. Firmin, or San Fermín as he is called in Spanish. The world-famous nine day festival which surrounds his feast began yesterday at noon, and for the next eight days, Pamplona will be awash in red and white and vibrating to the pulse of one of the world's most famous annual festivals. Barbecues and gatherings of family and friends, plenty of red wine, lots of music and dancing, nightly fireworks displays and, yes, the Running of the Bulls will be the order of the day until midnight on 14 July, when it seems as if the entire city will gather with candles in the plaza in front of the town hall to sing the "Pobre de mí" which marks the end of the festival for another year.

I'll be posting more about the San Fermín festival over the next few days. Today, however, it is important to remember the person and the events at the heart of the festival.

Saint Firmin, son of a Roman senator, was a native of Pamplona. With his father and the rest of the family, he was taught the Christian faith and baptized by Honestus, a disciple of Saint Saturninus, the bishop of Toulouse, himself the disciple of Saint Peter the Apostle.

St. Firmin, having been entrusted to Honestus for his education by his father, left Pamplona and accompanied him on his apostolic journeys. He was ordained and eventually consecrated bishop himself and received the mission to preach the Gospel in the remoter parts of Gaul. TAccording to tradition he preached in the regions of Agen, Angers, Beauvais, and what is now Clement-Ferrand.

Desiring martyrdom, he decided to preach the Gospel among the pagans in the north of Gaul, in what is now Normandy, near Lisieux. There he was arrested and imprisoned for a time; when he was released he continued on towards the north, to a region where Saint Denys of Paris had baptized many. The Roman authorities eventually heard of him and arrested him for preaching the Gospel. Again he was imprisoned, but released when the prefect and his successor both died suddenly. He was obliged, however, to flee secretly.

Returning to Amiens, he established his residence there and founded a large church of faithful disciples. Amiens conserves the memory of the day he arrived and preached fearlessly there beside a temple of Jupiter, at a site where now the Basilica of Our Lady stands. Many conver-sions followed, even among the authorities of the city, including the senator. He continued his preaching in that region for a number of years, literally emptying the pagan temples of worshippers. And then two Roman officials, Longulus and Sebastian, heard of him and came to the city.

When all the city residents were convoked to appear before the visitors, the pagan priests had their opportunity to denounce Firmin. The two officials explained that the capital penalty was decreed for those who did not obey the imperial edicts, not offering incense to the gods and honoring them. The pagan priests then told them that Saint Firmin always refused to do so and, after an eloquent defense of the religion of Christ, Firmin was imprisoned. He was decapitated at midnight in his prison cell by imperial soldiers who decided to take it upon themselves to fulfill the imperial orders. His relics are honored in both Amiens and here in his native Pamplona.
Now it's time to get out the door to see the fireworks. More tomorrow!

viernes, 4 de julio de 2008

Keeping the pilgrim spirit alive off the Camino

While reading some posts on the Catholic Answers Forums a couple of months ago, I came across a link to a group called The Brothers and Sisters of Penance of St. Francis. Link here.

The information on their introductory page explains their mission and vocation as follows:

The strength of the Church, and the state of our world, rests in the people of God living their Faith to the full. Those who live committed to Christ transform the world through the Savior's actions in and through them. This means treating God as a "loved one." As we spend time with those we love, they change and add meaning to our lives. If we do not live a committed Christian life now for the love of God, we will probably never live it.

The Rule of 1221 is the foundation Rule of the Brothers and Sisters of Penance. Both ancient and holy, its tenets were the basis of many medieval penitential groups and Third Orders and the life-path of many Saints and Blessed within the Church. It stands forever as a call to lay people to follow fearlessly the path of the Lord and His Saints. Its lifestyle is timeless and holy, completely authentic in its call to personal conversion.

I'd recommend that anyone who is interested in the Camino de Santiago, whether or not you've done it yet, check out the information on their web page. For those who have made a pilgrimage along the Camino and who have felt the call to keep alive the experience of simplifying your existence in order to facilitate the Interior Camino towards God, this site will provide you with a lot of excellent information as to how to do that. I have found reading through the information about the Rule of 1221 enormously helpful, and I've begun adopting some of its practices. A wonderful site.

viernes, 27 de junio de 2008

Funny video

A very busy week has kept me from posting, but that will be sorted out by tomorrow evening. In the meantime, here's a link to a very funny .gif file that someone brought to my attention recently:

If I could run the .gif animation file directly here on the page I would, but as far as I can tell that's still not possible. But click on the link above and check it out anyway.

And what, you ask, does this have to do with the Camino de Santiago? Well ... ehrm ... there's a lot of walking in the film!

That's all for tonight. I'll be back soon with something more substantial.