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Father_Lasance_prayer_bookI once overheard a man telling his companion that she was overreacting to whatever situation they were discussing.
 
“Ask yourself this,” he said. “A hundred years from now, who will know the difference?”
 
That advice immediately made me think of the same sentiment put in another way and in another language: “Quid hoc ad aeternitatem?’’ — “What is this in eternity?’’
 
That is said to have been a favorite expression of St. Bernard of Clairvaux and St. Aloysius Gonzaga; I have known of it since I was about 14 years old.
 
And I know exactly where I first heard it: in “My Prayer-Book” by Father Francis Xavier Lasance.
 
A beat-up copy of that book was left in our parish church when I was an altar boy, and when no one had claimed it after a very long time, the curate, Fr. Bernard McKenna, gave it to me.
 
That was in 1956, and the book is on my desk now.
 
“My Prayer-Book” was first copyright in 1908 and again in 1936. When the one I have was published, it sold for anywhere from $1.75 to $10.00, depending on the binding. A replica of the 1908 edition is on sale now for about $26.00.
 
The book is 5.5 by 3.5 inches and it contains more than 700 pages of “reflections, counsels, prayers, and devotions” as the title page reports. It also contains the order of the Mass in Latin and English.
 
Some of the wisdom in this book comes from Father Lasance himself, and a great deal comes from a large number of other sources.
 
The subtitle of this book is “Happiness in Goodness” which reflects the author’s central theme, that ours is basically an optimistic faith designed not to depress us but to bring us good cheer.
 
It was in that context, in a section called “Faith and Humor,” that the expression “Quid hoc ad aeternitatem?’’ appeared.
 
“Think of the countless occurrences that fret and annoy,’’ says the prayer book, “that drive a man into himself and shut up his outlook over the world which the good God has given him, that make him petty and irritable and sour—how they would go down before such a question, as rank weeds before a scythe; how they would be lost sight of, as a swarm of gnats becomes invisible under the full light of an unclouded noon!”
 
I took that argument seriously and have pretty much lived under its influence ever since, trying to weigh the trivial problems of daily life against the promise of life forever in the presence of God.
 
All right, the language and the imagery are kind of dated, and there are some instances in which the tone of “My Prayer-Book” may seem out of place in our time—an uncharitable view of Protestants, for example—but it is a compendium, and a tangible relic, of our unchanging faith, and I keep it close at hand so that I can thumb through its pages.
 
Father Lasance (1860-1946) was a prodigious figure. He was a diocesan priest in Ohio, serving as a curate and a chaplain until, at the age of 30, he was forced by illness to live as a semi-invalid.
 
But quid hoc ad aeternitatem? Father Lasance, instead of feeling sorry for himself, used the time he gained by being precluded from parish work to write 39 books which were translated into numerous languages and which sold in the millions of copies.
 
He accepted no compensation for his work, but asked that the revenue be given to charities and used to provide his books free of charge to those who couldn’t afford to buy them.
 

—For his devotional works, Fr. Lasance
was given a special blessing by Pope Pius XI on May 10, 1927.


 
This post first appeared in The Catholic Spirit, Diocsese of Metuchen.
 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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twitter_pontifexIn one of his short stories—“The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether”—Edgar Allen Poe wrote, “Believe nothing you hear and only one half that you see.”
 
This statement, which has been altered in various ways and attributed to writers other than Poe, is nonetheless good advice if it means that one should not casually accept things for which there is no evidence.
 
If anything, this caution applies more than ever in this age of “Photoshopped” images, digital animation, and posts that litter social-media sites.
 
I saw an example the other day when a member of my high school class posted on Facebook an image of Pope Francis accompanied by the following statement, attributed to him:
 
“It is not necessary to believe in God to be a good person. In a way, the traditional notion of God is outdated. One can be spiritual but not religious. It is not necessary to go to church and give money — for many, nature can be a church. Some of the best people in history do not believe in God, while some of the worst deeds were done in His name.”
 
“Oh,’’ gushed another classmate, who now lives in the Midwest, “I love this man. He’s talking about me.”
 
I don’t know if she meant that she’s an atheist—which I doubt, that she doesn’t go to church, or that she finds God in nature.
 
Regardless of what she meant, she was responding to a statement that Pope Francis did not make and, for the most part, would not make.
 
The graphic, which has been circulating in the digital world for some time, is one example of a problem that has accompanied this papacy almost from the first day—a compulsion on the part of some to hear the pope as fulfilling their wishful thinking.
 
To be sure, Pope Francis has given us a fresh perspective on topics such as atheism.
 
He has spoken of our obligation to respect the intellectual integrity of people, including atheists, who don’t agree with us. He has also reiterated—perhaps in plainer language than we are used to—the Church’s consistent teaching that, as Father Thomas Rosica has repeated it, “those who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ and his Church but sincerely seek God and, moved by grace, try to do his will as it is known through the dictates of conscience can attain eternal salvation.”
 
The pope has not, however, issued a license for us to adopt the spirituality we find most convenient and comfortable, even if that means no spirituality at all.
 
And anyone who has read what this pope has written or listened to what he has said knows that he would not dismiss so lightly the value of worshipping God in the assembly of the Church.
 
On the contrary, he has stressed the importance of the Church as the Body of Christ as the source from which the “new evangelization” will flow out into the community and to the outskirts of society.
 
In the past, the teachings of the popes have been somewhat inaccessible, both because of the formality of their language and the means of their distribution.
 
But the homilies, speeches, and documents of Pope Francis are not difficult to understand and not difficult to find.
 
In this “information age,” we can easily read them or read about them in responsible publications.
 
If we want to know what Pope Francis teaches, we should not rely on Facebook to tell us.
 

—Facebook launched on February 4, 2004


 
This post first appeared in The Catholic Spirit, Diocsese of Metuchen.
 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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eleanor_roosevelt_mccallsWhen I was a boy, my mother subscribed to six women’s magazines.
 
I was a compulsive reader even then, so I leafed through “McCall’s” and “Ladies Home Journal” and so forth as soon as they arrived.
 
One thing that caught my eye was a column written by Eleanor Roosevelt, who by then was the widow of
Franklin Roosevelt.
 
Mrs. Roosevelt wrote more than one column, but the one I read faithfully was a question-and-answer feature called “If You Ask Me.”
 
Besides the fact that I was just a nerdy kid, I was fascinated by the give-and-take of that format.
 
Recently, I discovered that all of those columns, along with other work by Mrs. Roosevelt, has been archived by The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and I have started to re-read them.
 
Actually, I started with the first column, which appeared sixteen months before I was born, so I’m reading some for the first time.
 
In the column that appeared in June 1941, one of the questions submitted by readers was whether Mrs. Roosevelt thought religion should become a more dominant part of daily life.
 
Mrs. Roosevelt wrote that it should, adding “but there is only one way … and that is by bringing it out of the church and into the lives led by religious people.’’
 
Mrs. Roosevelt, who was a church-going Episcopalian, made this same point on other occasions, and she also wrote that for Christians, the model for living out religious faith was the radical lifestyle of Jesus.
 
And she took her own advice in the sense that she was—to use a 21st century expression—“out there,” seeing first-hand what was going on in the country and beyond.
 
Even in the 1940s, Eleanor Roosevelt had the air of a fuddy-duddy about her; in fact, she often mentioned that because she was so old-fashioned in her manners as a child she was nicknamed “Granny.’’
 
But she was a pioneer in campaigning against racism and other forms of prejudice and working on behalf of women and labor and youth—and that made her very unpopular among some Americans, and she was—and still is—a controversial figure for other reasons.
 
That’s a complicated story, but what interests me at the moment is that statement Mrs. Roosevelt made seventy-five years ago.
 
One the one hand, it might seem self-evident that religion practiced in church is of little value if it isn’t practiced outside of church.
 
But in the second decade of the twenty-first century, when Pope Francis says virtually the same thing—making of himself a living example—the idea is treated in many quarters as though it were a new revelation.
 
In fact, though, Jesus made the same point in the first century in his criticism of pious people who wouldn’t help a stranger in need.
 
There is a lot of angst over the declining numbers of people who attend Mass regularly, or at all.
 
But the pope and other Catholic leaders argue that folks will be attracted to the Church, not by seeing other folks going there but by seeing and hearing those who do go to church also witnessing to their faith by what they say and what they do at home, at school, at work, and in the community—including, as Francis likes to remind us—those parts of the community that are farthest from the Church.
 
It’s such a simple concept, but a concept that, in our own time, Pope Francis sees as an ideal yet to be achieved.
 
This post first appeared in The Catholic Spirit, Diocsese of Metuchen.
 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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Water_WineWhen I was a member of St. Joseph’s parish in High Bridge, New Jersey, the church was so crowded at one Easter Sunday Mass that the pastor invited standees to take seats in the sanctuary.
 
The only people to accept the invitation were a woman and her teenaged daughter.
 
After Mass, the woman remarked to me that she was delighted, because she had never witnessed the liturgy at such close range, and she noticed many details that had escaped her up to then.
 
Among those details was part of the ritual in which the celebrant or the deacon pours a little water into the chalice of wine before the consecration.
The woman noticed that the deacon, in this case, said something inaudible while he was pouring that drop of water.
 
She was referring to this prayer: “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”
 
I don’t know why we are instructed in the Roman Missal to say that prayer quietly, but the prayer and the ritual itself refer to a fact that is central to our faith, a fact that we celebrate in an especially solemn way on Christmas.
 
On that holy day, we celebrate the moment in time in which God, while retaining his divine nature, took on human nature in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, so that Jesus was fully God and fully human.
 
In the symbolism of the ritual we’re discussing, the wine represents the divine nature of Jesus, and the water represents his human nature; once the wine and water have mingled they cannot be separated, and so it is with the divine and human natures of Christ.
 
And there’s more.
 
While we acknowledge in that prayer that Christ is both divine and human, we also pray that we who are human may share in his divinity.
 
That idea can be found in Scripture—for example in the Second Letter of Peter in which the author writes that Jesus “has bestowed on us the precious and very great promises, so that through them you may come to share in the divine nature, after escaping from the corruption that is in the world because of evil desire’’ (2 Peter 1:4).
 
The Catechism of the Catholic Church is quite explicit about this, quoting St. Thomas Aquinas, who wrote: “The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods’’ (Catechism, paragraph 460).
 
Through the grace of the sacraments, through Scripture, through prayer, and through acts of justice and mercy, we spend our lives being formed more and more in the image of the one who was born in our image, to the delight of angels and shepherds.
 
As the prayer over the wine and water says, God “humbled himself” when he assumed human form, but he also beckoned us sons and daughters to realize the full potential of our humanity, to become fit company for him.
 
We achieve the full transformation when God welcomes us into communion with him for eternity—into heaven, as we say—a destiny that, because of original sin, was unimaginable before the Nativity.
 
We hear it each year in the carol: “Long lay the world in sin and error pining, then he appeared, and the soul felt its worth.”
 
This post first appeared in The Catholic Spirit, Diocsese of Metuchen.
 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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skyrocketsDuring one of our visits to my family in Italy, my cousin asked on a Thursday morning if we wanted to attend Mass that evening.
 
My relatives live in a tiny village that hasn’t changed appreciably since my grandparents left it more than a hundred years ago; in fact, the house the Paolinos live in hasn’t changed appreciably since it was built in the late 1680s.
 
In such a place, “events” that extend beyond eating meals, gathering eggs, and milking the goat, are rare.
 
So we would have accepted my cousin’s invitation almost regardless of what he was inviting us to.
 
The Mass—which turned out to be a devotion to St. Nicholas of Bari followed by the liturgy—was to begin at 6.
 
The parish church, as are many in Italy, is dedicated to St. Nicholas, a fourth-century Greek prelate whose reputation gave rise to the legend of Santa Claus.
 
After eating an early supper, we were sitting around in the house at about 5:30 when we were jolted by a series of loud explosions coming from nearby.
 
That is, my wife and I were jolted; my family hardly reacted except by laughing at us.
 
The source of the noise, it turned out, was a young man crouching on a hill above the village church and launching skyrockets—the local means of calling people to prayer.
 
This seemed incongruous to me at first; I had never associated fireworks with the celebration of the Eucharist. I even wondered if it was appropriate.
 
But as I reflected on it, it occurred to me that the spirit expressed by launching those skyrockets, rather than being out of place, was something to aspire to.
 
The skyrockets, which continued even as we were walking the short distance from my family’s house to the church, seemed to say, “Listen up! Something amazing is about to happen. Don’t miss it!”
 
Given the sparse population in the mountains where this event took place, and given the obscure location of the village, the turnout for a weeknight of devotions and Mass was respectable—including a youngish folk group that provided the music.
 
What did these villagers experience that was so amazing that it was announced by skyrockets? That people—regardless of what might distinguish them one from another—were about to gather as one family and, together, express their gratitude to God for his grace, express their good will toward each other and toward the world at large, and then become one with each other, with the whole Church, and, in a sense, with all of Creation, by sharing the body and blood of Christ in the bread and wine of the Eucharist.
 
December 6 is the feast day of St. Nicholas of Bari.
 
This post also appeared in The Catholic Spirit, Diocsese of Metuchen.
 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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King_of_SiamThe king of Siam has been, in a way, a victim of his own success.
 
The king I have in mind is commonly known in the English-speaking world as Rama IV or Mongkut, who ruled the Asian nation now known as Thailand from 1851 to 1868.
 
The western world probably would be oblivious Rama IV if it weren’t for the accounts in literature, film, and live theater, of the experiences of the English tutor Anna Leonowens.
 
As it is, however, these romanticized versions of the teacher’s interaction with the king have made him a well-known figure.
 
But the image of Rama IV that has been embedded in western consciousness, notably by Yul Brynner’s portrayals on film and on the stage, resembles the real man only vaguely if at all.
 
It is true that Rama wanted to protect Siam from being colonized by a European power and that he wanted to introduce modern ideas to the Siamese people.
 
And it is true that to some extent he achieved these goals, although the reality was not nearly as simple or successful as Oscar Hammerstein would have us believe.
 
In keeping with Siamese expectations for young men, Rama became a Buddhist monk when he was twenty years old, and he led a reform movement in monasticism.
 
He studied Latin, English, and astronomy, and he became a close friend of Bishop Jean-Baptiste Pallegoix, who was apostolic vicar in Bangkok, a popular and influential figure in Siam.
 
Rama’s philosophical inquiry attracted the attention of Thomas Merton—a student of Buddhism—who recorded in his journal the king’s observation that “There is nothing in this world which can be clung to blamelessly, or which a man clinging thereto could be without blame”—an idea that Pope Francis might endorse.
 
In his effort to establish Siam’s place among the community of nations, King Rama corresponded with world figures including United States presidents Franklin Pierce, James Buchannan, and Abraham Lincoln.
 
Although it has often been written that Rama offered to send Lincoln elephants to use against the Confederacy during the War Between the States, it appears that the king actually wrote to Buchanan, Lincoln’s predecessor, offering to send the animals for use as beasts of burden.
 
By the time the letter reached the United States, Lincoln was president, and he responded, explaining that the climate in North America might not be suitable to elephants and that Americans were relying on steam engines to do the heavy hauling.
 
As a part of this correspondence, Rama, in 1861, wrote an expansive letter to Pope Pius IX, addressing him as the “Holy Father of the Catholic Christian World.”
 
The letter was dictated by the king and taken down in Siamese by a scribe, and then was translated by the king into a rather stilted English and carried to Rome by Pallegoix. This letter is now in the Vatican Museum.
 
The king began by taking note of his friendship with Bishop Pallegoix. He then wrote that although Siamese monarchs for centuries had practiced Buddhism, they also had allowed people of other religions to practice their faith unmolested and had welcomed refugees from places such as China and the southern region of what is now Vietnam where Christians in particular were persecuted.
 
Rama mentioned that Pius IX, in a letter hand delivered by Pallegoix, in 1852 along with a mosaic of the Pantheon, had specifically asked that Catholic missionaries and other Christians in Siam be protected from harassment.
 
What is most compelling about this letter is the king’s frequent references to religious tolerance.
 
After all, he wrote, the path to internal happiness and eternal life “is in fact difficult to be exactly known.”
 
The king refers in this letter to “the Superagency of the Universe”—in other words, the one God whose nature is hard to ascertain. Rama asks this “Superagency” to confer “temporal and spiritual happiness” and eternal life on the pope.
 
And some commentators have pointed out that the notion of one God is not a part of Buddhist thought, and that the king probably used this expression out of deference to the pope’s beliefs.
 
Rama’s interaction with the pope and his comments in this letter suggest that he embraced an idea expressed by Pope Francis in his apostolic letter “Amoris Laetitia”:
 
“Keep an open mind. Don’t get bogged down in your own limited ideas and opinions, but be prepared to change or expand them. The combination of two different ways of thinking can lead to a synthesis that enriches both. …
We need to free ourselves from feeling that we all have to be alike.”
 
Rama IV was born on October 18, 1804.
 
This post first appeared in The Catholic Spirit, Diocsese of Metuchen.
 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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parishionerMy second-floor office in Plainfield looks out on the front of a Catholic church.
 
When I arrive at work at 8 in the morning, the daily Mass is just beginning.
 
About a half hour later, I can see the congregation leaving—the same people every day.
 
They don’t all file out at once, get in their cars, and drive off. They come out chatting with each other and the pastor; they linger on the steps and the sidewalk and only gradually drift away.
 
Most of the daily congregation is advanced in age, which may be inevitable on weekday mornings. One man more shuffles than walks to and from his car; another uses crutches to make his way up and down the church steps.
 
These people, who I guess are “die-hards,” came to mind recently when I was reading Father Kenneth Doyle’s syndicated question-and-answer column, which appears in my diocesan newspaper.
 
Father Doyle’s correspondent asked why the Church doesn’t dispense with holy days of obligation inasmuch as the “only people at Mass are the true die-hards.’’
 
Father Doyle explained that canon law provides for ten holy days but gives the bishops’ conferences in each country a great deal of latitude with respect to when and now those days are observed.
 
In Canada, for example, the bishops have retained only two—the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception (December 8) and Christmas Day. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops retains five of the traditional holy days and allows individual dioceses to transfer a sixth, the Feast of the Ascension, to the following Sunday.
 
Father Doyle acknowledged the low attendance and the confusion and wrote, “If we are to maintain the six holy days of obligation for the United States, we probably need to do a better job explaining their meaning and their importance.”
 
May I add that while we’re doing that, we should reassess the use of the term “obligation” with respect to holy days and even Sunday Mass.
 
Like most English words, this one has shades of meaning.
 
For example, while the primary definition is “something one must do because of a law, rule, or promise,” a meaning further down the ranks is “a debt of gratitude.”
 
But the term usually doesn’t evoke an action that one takes with enthusiasm—in fact, an action one would take even if there were no “obligation.”
 
That problem was implied by what the correspondent told Father Doyle: “Please encourage the bishops to put the celebrations on Sunday or take away the obligation.”
 
Does that mean that without the obligation the Mass holds no attraction?
 
While the canonical obligation does exist, the first incentive for attending any Mass is the opportunity to encounter the Lord in his word, in the Eucharist, and in the assembly of his people.
 
When we’re explaining the meaning and importance of the holy days, as Father Doyle urges, this is what we should emphasize before we stress the “obligation.”
 
If we believe what we say we believe about the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist and about his presence in his word and among two or more who gather in his name, then wouldn’t we rather attend Mass than do anything else?
 
Wouldn’t we rather attend Mass than excuse ourselves because there is no “obligation,” or is that only for “die-hards”?
 
This post first appeared in The Catholic Spirit, Diocsese of Metuchen.
 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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September 25 is the feast day of Blessed Hermann of Reichenau.
 
Blessed_HermannPeople of a certain vintage will recall a time when after every “low” Mass we prayed the “Hail Mary” three times and then “Hail Holy Queen” — known in Latin as “Salve Regina.”
 
When I was a youngster I said those prayers every Sunday and on the frequent weekdays when I was the altar boy for a daily Mass.
 
In addition, on most Wednesday evenings, I assisted at devotions to Our Lady of Fatima in which we prayed the rosary, followed by “Hail Holy Queen.”
 
I was always attracted to the “Salve Regina,” and in those days I was not yet aware of its remarkable origins.
 
That prayer — “Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope” — is essentially a poem written by Hermann of Reichenau, an 11th century Benedictine monk who was beatified by Pope Pius IX in 1863.
 
Hermann was a composer, a poet, a music theorist, a mathematician, an astronomer, and an historian.
 
The range of his scholarship and his achievements would have been remarkable if he had been in good health, but he was actually severely disabled.
 
He was born with a cleft palate and spoke only with great difficulty.
 
He had cerebral palsy and, researchers believe, either amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease) or spinal muscular atrophy. He could barely move and had to be carried from place to place.
 
Because his condition was so extreme, his parents couldn’t give him the care he needed, and they placed him with a community of Benedictine monks.
 
Hermann spent the rest of his life in a monastery, professing as a monk himself when he was 20 years old, eventually becoming the abbot. He died when he was 40.
 
Like Stephen Hawking in our own time, Hermann had a natural curiosity about the world around him, and a desire to learn, that were greater than his disabilities.
 
He was a well-known composer of religious music, and some of his work survives today. He wrote extensively about the science of music which, in his era, was considered a branch of mathematics. He also wrote on geometry and arithmetic.
 
He introduced to central Europe, from sources originating in Arabic Spain, a portable sundial and devices used for measure angles and distances in astronomy.
 
Also among his achievements in astronomy was accurately calculating the length of a lunar month.
 
Somehow, Hermann found time to write the first comprehensive history of the events of the first millennium, beginning with the birth of Jesus.
 
By the time he wrote the “Salve Regina,” he was blind.
 
It must take an almost unique combination of qualities for a person like Hermann to not only lead a productive life but also excel in multiple disciplines.
 
He may be an encouraging model for folks who have more than their share of physical challenges.
 
But while I have been spared any such disabilities, and even lesser ones, I apply Hermann’s example to myself, too.
 
Self- pity, fatigue, impatience, boredom, and indolence at times make it seem more attractive to patronize myself than to learn more about the world and put to good use what gifts God gave me.
 
But I think about Blessed Hermann, and I tango on.
 
This post first appeared in The Catholic Spirit, Diocsese of Metuchen.
 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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Benedict_XV

Cardinal Giacomo della Chiesa was crowned
Pope Benedict XV on September 6, 1914
.


It hasn’t gotten much attention, but we are now in the centennial of the reign of Pope Benedict XV.
 
I myself wouldn’t have noticed this except for an article in the Jesuit magazine “America.”
 
Benedict, the former Cardinal Giacomo della Chiesa, was pope from September 1914 until he died of pneumonia in January 1923.
 
That means that he was pope during the whole of World War I, which he characterized as “the suicide of civilized Europe”—an apt description of a conflict that cost 16 million lives.
 
When Pope Benedict XVI chose his papal name, he did so to honor both St. Benedict and Benedict XV—the latter because of his efforts to promote peace and his attention to the human crises brought on by both the war in Europe and the Russian revolution.
 
Although he was a career diplomat, Benedict XV was not in a good position to influence either side in the so-called “war to end all war.”
 
The Vatican’s international status had been seriously damaged in the previous century when Italy seized the Papal States and Pope Pius IX in 1870 declared himself a prisoner of King Victor Emmanuel. Benedict XV was the first pope to begin nudging the Vatican out of that isolation.
 
Benedict’s appeals to both sides to forswear violence reached passionate levels.
 
“The abounding wealth,” he wrote to the belligerents in 1915, “with which God the Creator has enriched the lands that are subject to you, allow you to go on with the struggle; but at what cost? Let the thousands of young lives quenched every day on the fields of battle make answer: answer, the ruins of so many towns and villages, of so many monuments raised by the piety and genius of your ancestors. And the bitter tears shed in the secrecy of home, or at the foot of altars where suppliants beseech; do not these also repeat that the price of the long drawn-out struggle is great, too great?’’
 
But neither side in the war, which was the culmination of a decades-old power struggle among the European nations, was interested in overtures from a voice that had no army and few diplomatic ties to back it up.
 
As Pius XII would do during World War II, Benedict strictly maintained neutrality, which had the ironic result of alienating both camps.
 
But Benedict persisted not only in arguing against the war itself and urging the parties to solve their differences through peaceful means but also in agitating for humane treatment of prisoners and release of interned civilians.
 
He succeeded in some of these humanitarian efforts, including an initiative in partnership with Switzerland to arrange for the exchange and treatment of seriously ill prisoners and detainees.
 
The pope also campaigned to raise money, including some of his personal funds, to assist civilians, including children, who were left destitute by the conflict.
 
When the war had played itself out, Benedict was concerned that the Allies would be vindictive, but his ambition for the Holy See to participate in the peace conference was rebuffed.
 
“Nations do not die,” he wrote. “Humbled and oppressed, they chafe under the yoke imposed on them … passing down from generation to generation a mournful heritage of hatred and revenge.’’
 
The onerous Treaty of Versailles and the subsequent rise of Adolf Hitler proved him right.
 
Benedict was a small man, slight of stature—so much so that when he was archbishop of Bologna he was known as “il piccolito,” “the little one.”
 
But in difficult circumstances a hundred years ago, he was a large man indeed as he took the only rational and moral position amid one of the worst catastrophes in human history.
 
This post also appeared in The Catholic Spirit, Diocsese of Metuchen.
 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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On August 26, 1978, Albino Luciani was elected Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, choosing the name John Paul I.
 
John_Paul_II was caught off guard by the election of Pope Francis and, like most people, I had to learn who Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio was.
 
When he had been in office for only a few weeks, it occurred to me that Pope Francis had a precursor: Albino Luciani—Pope John Paul I, who held the office for only 34 days.
 
When I referred to him in a homily, 37 years after his death, two parishioners asked me if I hadn’t meant John Paul II.
 
One of the sobriquets applied to John Paul I was “il sorriso di Dio”—the smile of God. He exuded earthy warmth, and in that respect he was very much like Francis.
 
John Paul I also paved the way for Francis by simplifying the trappings surrounding the papacy: He did away with the coronation and the triple tiara, opting for an inaugural Mass and a bishop’s miter.
 
John Paul discontinued the use of the royal “we” in his formal addresses, referring to himself as “I,” and he used homely images as examples—a man whose collar was dirty because he hadn’t washed his neck or a porter sleeping on a pile of baggage in a train station.
 
John Paul had many interests in common with Francis, and some of what John Paul said and wrote before and while he was pope could have been the words of Francis.
 
Here’s an example from before John Paul’s election: “The frantic race for creature comforts, the exaggerated, made use of unnecessary things, has compromised the indispensible things: pure air and pure water, inner peace.’’
 
Here’s another from a papal audience: “We are the objects of undying love on the part of God. We know: he has always his eyes open on us, even when it seems to be dark. He is our father; even more he is our mother. He does not want to hurt us, he wants only to do good to us. …”
 
Because of this pattern, I wasn’t surprised that in “The Name of God is Mercy,” a book which consists of a long interview with Pope Francis, he quoted John Paul I four times—twice on the subject of humility and twice on the subject of mercy, favorite topics of Pope Francis.
 
Francis once said in an interview that he could best be described as “Jorge Bergoglio, a sinner.” And he quotes Luciani saying that he believed he had been appointed bishop of Vittorio Veneto, Italy, because God prefers that some things be written not in bronze or marble but in dust, so that, if the writing remained, it would be clear that the merit belonged to God and not to the dust, by which Luciani meant himself.
 
Francis, who proclaimed this Jubilee of Mercy, repeatedly alludes to the inexhaustible patience of God, who never tires of forgiving those who repent.
He quotes John Paul I commenting on the father of the prodigal son as an image of God:
 
“He waits. Always. And it is never too late. That’s what he’s like, that’s how he is … he’s a father … who comes running to us, embraces us, and kisses us tenderly.’’
 
Francis has spoken of the Church as a “field hospital” whose purpose is not to reprimand but to heal.
 
And he quotes Luciani, repeating a metaphor used by St. Francis de Sales: “If you have a little donkey and along the road it falls onto the cobblestones, what should you do? You certainly don’t go there with a stick to beat it, poor little thing. It’s already unfortunate enough. You must take it by the halter and say, ‘Up, let’s take to the road again. … and we will pay more attention next time.’ ”
 
In his eulogy for John Paul I, Carlo Cardinal Confalonieri described the pope as a comet who briefly lit up the Church.
 
But the evidence all these years later is that John Paul’s light was more enduring than that and still illuminates the Church through the ministry of our present Holy Father.
 
This post first appeared in The Catholic Spirit, Diocsese of Metuchen.
 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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DeadEndKidsThere’s a recurring element in the story line of the TV series The Middle that struck a familiar chord with me.
 
This plot element focuses on a low-brow family whose kids are the scourge of the neighborhood.
 
The situation immediately reminded me of a family in the town where I grew up, a gang of boys who have always been, in my mind, synonymous with “no good.’’
 
The oldest of them was several years older than me, so their reputation was well established before I started crossing paths with them.
 
Well, “crossing paths” isn’t the right term, because the object seemed to be to avoid crossing paths with anyone in that clan.
 
In fact, now that I’ve had the occasion to reflect on it, I realize that those boys never did anything to me or, for that matter, caused any trouble that affected me in any way.
 
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
 
Like millions of people, I suppose, I am a member of a social-media group for people who grew up in the same town.
 
I chat in an ever-growing network of people who share memories of the schools and neighborhoods and shopkeepers in that town and who, in many cases, have had some direct connection to my family or me.
 
In the several years that I have engaged in this conversation, I have had several encounters that I would not have expected.
 
But nothing surprised me more than to see, suddenly turning up in conversation strings, the name of one of the older members of the Terrible Tribe of my past.
 
My first reaction was surprise that he had survived this long, what with what I imagined had been his lifestyle.
 
My second reaction was astonishment at the tone of his conversation, which was laced with nostalgia for the people and places we had been familiar with fifty years ago and more.
 
And it was an affront to my smug attitude toward him and his kin that I picked up from his profile the fact that he has been successful in an elite kind of business with which I would never have associated him.
 
Inevitably, he and I became involved in the same conversation and wound up talking directly to each other.
 
He said that he didn’t remember me, but he had warm and complimentary things to say about my brother and my family in general.
 
In fact, he said, “If you needed a friend, you always knew the Paolinos were there.’’
 
Clearly, he wasn’t referring to me.
 
This exchange prompted me to think more carefully about my relationship with those boys and to realize that I had had no relationship with them at all.
 
I had nursed revulsion for them for more than six decades without any insight into their personalities or their possibilities.
 
So I am grateful that through the unlikely vehicle of a social medium, I was prodded to reexamine an impression I had formed when I was relatively young and inexperienced.
 
This episode has reinforced for me ideas that I myself have preached and taught for more than thirty years: the fundamental goodness of human nature, the possibility of redemption in every human life, the need to approach each person—as Pope Francis has both taught and practiced—with the equanimity practiced by Jesus.
 
In the movie People Will Talk, Cary Grant, playing a physician, hears a bed-ridden old woman say that her doctors have given her up for lost.
 
“The nerve of some doctors,” Grant replies, “giving people up for lost as if they had found them in the first place.”
 
This post also appeared in The Catholic Spirit, Diocsese of Metuchen.
 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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TabernacleI felt a hand fall on my shoulder and heard a familiar voice say: “Dignity! Dignity at all times!”
 
It was Jack Troy, an usher in the parish where I grew up.
 
I had graduated from altar server to usher when I was about 17.
 
Without the ritual of the Mass to restrain me, I was a little disorderly in my new role at first. I was waving the collection basket around like a baton when Jack came up behind me.
 
“Dignity at all times,” he said, and added, “you’re in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.”
 
That was an expression that I heard often when I was a kid.
 
That wasn’t only because I frequently needed to be reminded of it; it was also because the level of awareness that Christ was present in the tabernacle was very high in those days.
 
It was commonplace to see people bless themselves, or to see men remove their hats, even if they walked past a church on the sidewalk outside — because they were conscious of crossing in front of tabernacle.
 
Inside, people spoke in hushed tones. Men removed their hats; women kept their heads covered; no one walked past the tabernacle without genuflecting.
 
I’m not one to argue for a return to the 1950s when the culture of the Church was very different from what it is now, but I think the basis for all that reverence was important, and I think we have to be careful not to let it slip away from us.
 
This is a matter of balance.
 
For example, whereas the tabernacle was once at the center of every sanctuary, in many churches in more recent times it has been moved to a side altar or a Eucharistic chapel.
 
The reasoning behind this change was that the focal point during the celebration of Mass should not be the tabernacle but the sacrifice being renewed on the altar.
 
Another consideration is the healthy idea that a church should be a welcoming place, not a forbidding place—a place to which people come in joy, not in fear and not out of an ill-defined sense of obligation.
 
Our challenge is to maintain a balance between those positive changes in our practice and outlook and our core belief in the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist that is celebrated on the altar and that reposes and is adored in the tabernacle.
 
Children are growing up in a skeptical, secular, materialistic culture that is not hospitable to such an idea. On the contrary, children are likely to hear an idea like the real presence of Christ dismissed and even ridiculed.
 
If they are to embrace the truth that Jesus is literally present in the bread and wine of the Eucharist they must learn it from adults who embrace the truth.
 
They’re more likely to learn if they see us go to church with both reverence and joy; if they see us participate in Mass not as solitary individuals but as part of a loving community; if they see us genuflect or bow our heads with purpose when we are before the tabernacle; if they see us receive the Eucharist, not by snapping it out of the minister’s hand and walking away, but by taking it into our own hands as something sacred and consuming it while facing the altar; if they see us treat the cup, whether or not we drink from it, as if it were the same vessel from which Jesus shared his blood; if they see us participate in the liturgy from beginning to end—not in a rush to get away but overjoyed at being once again in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.
 
This post also appeared in The Catholic Spirit, Diocsese of Metuchen.
 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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Pope_FrancisPope John Paul II visited the White House on October 6, 1979, and I was watching at home, because that was a Saturday.
 
After the arrival and initial courtesies among the group gathered in front of the mansion, President Jimmy Carter gave welcoming remarks on the portico as the pontiff waited his turn.
 
At this point, my telephone rang.
 
“Are you watching this?” said the voice of the publisher I worked for at the time.
 
“If you mean the pope, yes I am,” I answered.
 
“Why is he standing up?” my boss demanded. “Why don’t they have a chair for him? Who plans these things?”
 
The publisher was a thoughtful guy, but he wasn’t a Catholic and probably hadn’t paid much attention to the pope before that season.
 
But once John Paul II set foot on American soil, the publisher could think of little else.
 
The same was true of the co-publisher, also non-Catholic, who only grudgingly addressed business topics while the pope was in the United States.
 
She told me so when I went to her office and tried to get her attention away from the television that I had never seen turned on before that week.
 
“I can’t take my eyes off him,” she said.
 
And who could blame her?
 
John Paul II generated a level of excitement that few if any of us had ever witnessed.
 
The phenomenon was distilled in the opening words of a television documentary broadcast after the pope had returned to Rome.
 
The program began with a view of the pope’s vehicle moving through a vast cheering crowd, and the off-camera voice asked, “Who is this? WHAT is this?”
 
But as breathtaking as John Paul’s visit was, we Americans may be about to witness something that exceeds it—the first visit of Pope Francis.
 
The public response in both intensity and magnitude well could be unprecedented.
 
But the question, as it has been from the beginning of this papacy, will be, “What is this?”—what is this excitement really about?
 
Certainly a lot of it will be about the pope’s “star quality.”
 
He is an attractive figure to people of all ages and backgrounds, and this can both help and hinder him in his mission.
 
Francis will have no trouble getting people’s attention in the United States; folks are going to extraordinary lengths to assure themselves an opportunity to get a glimpse of him in the flesh.
 
But some people who profess to “like this pope” may be in love with headlines and sound bites—such things as “Who am I to judge?”—but they may not be absorbing, much less applying to themselves, his exhortations on caring for the poor, extending mercy before judgment, protecting natural resources, curbing reckless consumerism and wasteful lifestyles.
 
What’s more, Pope Francis well understands the contemporary world and no doubt is aware that some if not much of the adulation directed at him is superficial.
 
He knows that alone he cannot make the world more merciful, more prudent, more just.
 
But no doubt he also knows that thoughtful people are listening to him, listening to more than comments reported out of context in the secular media, listening to his challenge to individual men and women to transform the world around them.
 
My guess is that he is banking not on all the millions along his path but on the unknown number who hear and understand his call to bring the Gospel to life, to evangelize the world around them, to evangelize those millions when the cheers have faded away.
 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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Pope_FrancisWhile I was working as a local reporter, I spent a couple of years covering a city that for decades had hosted big industries—mostly heavy metals and petroleum.
 
This was in the 1960s, when the nation’s great awakening regarding care of the environment had not yet occurred.
 
The industries located in this city emitted all sorts of toxic materials into surface and ground water, into the earth, and
into the atmosphere.
 
Few voices were raised then about examining the nature of these emissions and their effect on ecology, and particularly their effect on human, animal, and vegetable life.
 
One of those voices belonged to a young lawyer who regularly appeared at public meetings to discuss this issue.
 
Far from being taken seriously, he was widely regarded as eccentric and naïve.
 
I was covering a meeting of the city governing body one day when this young man stood up and told the officials that he had recently bought a new car:
 
“I drove the car home from the showroom and parked it in front of my house and, gentlemen, when I went out the next morning, I could write my name in the filth that had accumulated on the hood.”
 
The city attorney, who wasn’t supposed to speak unless he was asked a question, muttered loudly enough for everyone to hear: “Gee, it’s nice to be educated,” and the audience laughed.
 
This vignette represents the state of mind that prevailed in those days when “we”—if I may generalize—did not think about the consequences of what we did in the environment.
 
The young lawyer eventually was vindicated as government and society began to recognize that practices once were taken for granted were damaging air, water, earth, and the health of human beings and other species of life.
 
Industries that once had released substances including sulfur, lead, and mercury into the environment were compelled to adopt controls on their smokestacks and effluent outflows and in general use safer means to dispose of waste.
 
But progress in this field has never caught up with the full dimension of the problem; human activity is still damaging the environment, which is an observable phenomenon, whether or not one wants to blame mankind, wholly or in part, for global warming in particular.
 
Pope Francis made this point in his encyclical, On Care for Our Common Home (Laudato Si’), writing that “our industrial system, at the end of its cycle of production and consumption, has not developed the capacity to absorb and reuse waste and by-products.’’
 
This is not still subject to scientific investigation; it’s an observable fact. With respect to the end of the cycle of consumption, it’s an observable fact in American homes and businesses that send as much or more waste to landfills than to recycling centers.
 
Resistance to this and other messages in the encyclical has tended to be expressed on a macro scale, but damage to the air, earth, and water on which we all depend begins with individual human beings.
 
In this regard, Pope Francis cited Patriarch Bartholomew, leader of the world’s Orthodox Christian community, who has “called attention to the need for each of us to repent of the ways we have harmed the planet, for ‘inasmuch as we all generate small ecological damage,’ we are called to acknowledge ‘our contribution, smaller or greater, to the disfigurement and destruction of creation.’ ”
 
In the 1950s I worked in my family’s grocery store where we used a very large cardboard barrel, hidden behind a refrigeration unit, to dispose of all sorts of trash including paper, metal, and plastic.
 
One of my chores, when this barrel was filled to the top, was to drag it around the back of the building and burn everything in it.
 
Being a kid and naturally attracted to fire, I enjoyed this part of my job, particularly when the occasional aerosol can that had been thrown into the barrel would explode with a sharp bang.
 
None of us then thought about the smoke and fumes that spread out from that fire; they were out of sight and out of mind.
 
But I hope that if we were operating that store today we would know better and that we would find a safer, if more complex, means of disposing of that trash.
 
If we did not, given what we now know about ecology, how could we escape moral culpability for the outcomes of our cynicism and carelessness?
 
RENEW International is working with the Catholic Climate Covenant and Greenfaith to produce a small-group resource on Pope Francis’ encyclical for parishes, college campuses, and religious communities. For more information, visit www.renewintl.org/renewearth
 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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A Franciscan priest, probably in his fifties, visited our parish a couple of years ago.
 
Because of his order, I mentioned to him that I had been baptized by a Franciscan, Fr. Kilian McFall, in 1942.
 
“That must have been at St. James in Totowa,’’ he said.
 
“That was almost seventy years ago,” I said. “How did you
know?”
 
“Oh,” he said with a wry look, “we remember our people.”
 
I was stunned. I never knew Fr. McFall, because he left St. James when I was very young, but I knew about him because my mother frequently mentioned that he had baptized my brother and me.
 
His name came up in a more public way in the 1950s when a street alongside the St. James church property was changed from McKinney Place to Kilian Place. Still, ask most people in Totowa today who “Kilian” was, and they won’t know. Street names are like that.
 
In an idle moment sometime after my conversation with that friar, I did a Google search on Fr. McFall’s name, feeling certain that nothing relevant would turn up. But the search led to a page, devoted to Fr. McFall, on the web site of the Holy Name Province of Franciscan Friars—a province that embraces the East Coast from Massachusetts to Florida and some overseas missions.
 
There was a photograph of Fr. McFall—the only one I had ever seen—and a biographical sketch that recounted his assignments in New York City, Totowa, North Carolina, and Florida.
 
Concerning his ministry at St. Francis of Assisi Church on West 31st Street in Manhattan, where Fr. McFall served twice for a total of more than ten years, the bio had this to say:
 
“Fr. Kilian’s kindness and good judgment in practical matters made him a popular confessor at St. Francis. He had a special compassion for the sick and spent a great deal of time visiting them.’’
 
Indeed, Fr. McFall spent the last two years of his life as a hospital chaplain in West Palm Beach, where he died in 1955 at the age of 52.
 
For seven decades, Fr. McFall was a benign if shadowy figure—someone who had touched my life in an important way and then retreated into the past. With my parents, who brought me to him for baptism, he was one of the first to nudge me toward a path of Christian faith.
 
Our lives are filled with such people some still living and some departed. We can still thank the ones who live, and we can pray for those who are gone—a practice to which the Church devotes the whole month of November.
 
Grandparents and parents; siblings, aunts, and uncles; priests, sisters, and brothers; teachers and fellow students; intimate friends and total strangers who in some way have helped us grow in faith—may we all say with the friars, “We remember our people.”
 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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