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Did you know that 150 people coordinate and serve meals at Christ House, Alexandria, in the evenings? Did you know that many struggling to find work are aided by volunteers? Did you know Catholic Charities in Arlington serves 35,000 people a year?

During this first month of the year, many of us are prioritizing our goals for 2012. If one of your goals is finding time to help others in need (whether it be serving a meal, stocking a food kitchen, helping coordinate donations or helping to fund raise), I’d encourage you to read this great outline of all that volunteers at Catholic Charities do.

If you want to help, there is a place for you!

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Can we know that God exists through natural reason? Sadly too many refuse to engage in a true dialogue over this question. Some claim that faith alone is needed to affirm that God exists. Others do not understand what reason is – looking only for scientific evidence. Yet, this question is the foundation for any true exploration of belief in a deity. If it is possible for humans to use natural reason to prove that God exists, then the question of religion in today’s society remains imminently relevant. With a true understanding of natural reason, one logically concludes that God exists.

Richard Dawkins’ famous book the God Delusion believes the question of God’s existence relies on scientific evidence and cannot be proven. He writes, “Either he exists or he doesn’t. It is a scientific question; one day we may know the answer, and meanwhile we can say something pretty strong about the probability.” Dawkin’s argument is faulty for a number of reasons, one of which is that if God is immaterial how can his existence be reduced to a matter of empirical science alone? Dawkins casually dismisses Aquinas’ five proofs for the existence of God, ridiculing what he deems to be the simplicity of the arguments. Yet, Dawkins himself does not engage his human reason – primarily he makes use of what he considers to be counter examples based on science, not on reason.

Aquinas’s proofs for the existence of God are indeed (as Dawkins claimed) simple. They are simple, but also difficult to refute reasonably. Aquinas writes that everything that moves (changes) must have a caused by a mover. This is not only true in the scientific world (though this is how we know it to be reasonable) it is true in the world of ideas as well. This is a distinction that Dawkins does not engage – he looks only at the material universe. For example, natural reason allows us to conclude that 1 plus 1 is 2 without actually seeing one apple and another apple equally two apples. Aquinas engages proofs that using logic and reason (for the world itself is structured and reasonable) human beings are capable of knowing we can ascertain the existence of God. Sadly, it seems that those who either emphasize science to the exclusion of reason or deny the existence of truth or reality itself, which obscures the affirmation of reason.

The First Vatican Council insists that not only are faith and reason compatible, they actually support one another. Part of the difficulty for those who reject that God can be known by natural reason, is that who God is in Himself is transcendent and other in a way that we can not ever completely understand. Vatican I says that he is “completely simple and unchangeable spiritual substance” – His nature makes God different from any created thing. Faith is a gift from God which allows us to know Him in Himself. However, knowing who God is is different than knowing that He exists. We are able to know that He exists from the structure of the created world, not merely looking at scientific evidence, but using our natural capacity for reason to look at the scientific world and what it points to – a first mover, a supreme being, a first cause.

It certainly is possible to know through reason that God exists, but still not believe in Him. A reasonable person, however, is a theist.

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 By: Caitlin Bootsma

An acquaintance recently questioned why it is that Catholics, more than other Christians, seem fixated on the concept of suffering. After all, he said, we have feast days that celebrate Our Lady of Sorrows and we hang a crucifix in every church. It seemed to him that all Catholics must have a melancholic temperament. When many people think of suffering they connect it with evil. It is either an evil inflicted upon us or a suffering of some lack.

Yet there is a reason that the Church values suffering and distinguishes it from evil. Pope John Paul II highlights the redemptive character of suffering, which comprises the very core of our faith and of the human condition. In his letter Salvifici Doloris he writes, “It is as deep as man himself, precisely because it manifests in its own way that depth which is proper to man, and in its own way surpasses it.”

Suffering is, as the Pope implies, particular to man – it has a breadth and depth beyond mere physical pain. It exists because of an evil perpetrated either by ourselves or others or certainly as a result of original sin. As a result of the Fall, sickness and death entered into the world. It is perhaps easiest to think of suffering as a just punishment for the wrong that we have done.

However, many people suffer for reasons unrelated to their own actions. In a recent online discussion of the existence of God, I read one person’s comment that she had believed in God until she read the book of Job, but then could not make sense of that good man’s sufferings and therefore no longer believed in God. Indeed, suffering seems part of every person’s life, sometimes regardless of their individual virtue – why would God allow this suffering?

In his letter,  Pope John Paul II writes that because we are united to Christ through baptism, suffering takes on a rich meaning. There is no stronger witness to innocent suffering than Christ. He suffered death through no fault of his own and subsequently brought new life to the world through the Resurrection. John Paul II writes that Christ’s suffering “has been linked to love, to that love of which Christ spoke to Nicodemus, to that love which creates good, drawing it out by means of suffering, just as the supreme good of the Redemption of the world was drawn from the Cross of Christ, and from that Cross constantly takes its meaning.” Evil exists because of sin, but the Lord gives us the grace to suffer well – even charitably – and therefore become more like Him.

Through suffering we grow in holiness and recognize that Heaven is more important than earth. The Pope explains that Christ invites us to share in His suffering each time that suffering is part of our own lives. Through dying and rising again, Christ “raised human suffering to the level of the Redemption.” Therefore, if we are able to unite our suffering with that of Christ, then that suffering will naturally draw us closer to Him and to our heavenly home rather than to the temporal comforts or goods we may be lacking because of our suffering.

While never undermining the true trials of suffering, John Paul II emphasizes that when a man places his hope in God throughout his suffering, then he is truly embracing the depth of his humanity. This depth brings about a spiritual maturity in individuals who suffer well. We see this depth in the saints, in those who clearly grow in holiness through terminal illness and, yes, even in ourselves as we learn to place our trust in God, not in the comforts of the world.

Suffering is the result of a fallen world, but God works through suffering to draw us closer to Him. In his letter, John Paul II provides an answer to the acquaintance who questioned why Catholics seeming to celebrate suffering. It is not the evil that may have caused the suffering that is lauded, nor the pain itself, but rather that in imitation of Christ’s suffering, each of us is able to place our hope in the Lord, recognizing in a very real way that He is the hope of our lives.

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St. Ann School and St. Thomas Aquinas Regional School are among only 49 private schools nationwide to be recognized 

St. Ann School, 980 N. Frederick Street, Arlington, and St. Thomas Aquinas Regional School, 13750 Mary’s Way, Woodbridge, have been named National Blue Ribbon Schools by the U.S. Department of Education, giving them recognition as two of America’s most successful schools. St. Ann and St. Thomas Aquinas are two of only 49 private and 256 public schools nationwide to be honored this year.

“This an incredible honor,” said Sr. Maria Goretti, principal of St. Thomas Aquinas Regional School. “This is the result of the hard work and commitment of our entire community, including our wonderful faculty, staff, parents and students.”

The Blue Ribbon Schools Program honors private and public K-12 schools that are high- performing or have shown significant improvement. St. Ann School and St. Thomas Aquinas Regional School rank in the top 10 percent of schools in the nation in both reading and math (based on nationally normed tests) and went through a rigorous application process to receive the Blue Ribbon honor.

The schools’ success can be attributed to their excellent academics and dedicated teachers and staff. St. Ann School, located in North Arlington, has small class sizes (between 11 and 20 students with an average of 17 per class) and has embraced new technologies such as the hands-on science program LabLearner. Community is also an essential part of St. Ann: “As a teacher, it is so gratifying to know you have the incredible support of the school families. Their involvement in the school and encouragement of the children makes teaching even more fulfilling,” said one faculty member.

St. Thomas Aquinas Regional School educates students in the Woodbridge area and is administered by the religious community the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia. Faculty and staff support students in reaching their full potential by offering a full range of classes from Spanish to fine arts to technology as well as after school activities such as Junior Varsity and Varsity sports and an award-winning band.  The school also offers the STEM Program in partnership with John Hopkins for students in Grades 5-8.

St. Ann School has 208 students in pre-kindergarten through Grade 8 and St. Thomas Aquinas Regional School has 496 students in pre-kindergarten through Grade 8.

In total, 20 of the 45 Arlington diocesan schools – nearly half – have been named Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence.

“This is a tremendous honor for these schools. We are proud of them and congratulate the faculty and the parents who have chosen Catholic schools and are such an important part of our success,” said Sr. Bernadette McManigal, superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Arlington.

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By: Caitlin Bootsma

With the academic year beginning once again and Fall around the corner, schedules are inevitably filling up rapidly. For most of us, especially living in a busy place like Northern Virginia, our hours and minutes are exhausted with work, classes, chores, errands and volunteer work.

If you are like me, it can be a struggle to stay faithful to a commitment to pray every day. Sometimes I get overly ambitious with prayer commitments, only to give up entirely several days later.

Yet, with a life that can often be chaotic, I know that I need to remind myself daily about what is truly important to me – living my life with God. One of the wonderful things about our Faith is the richness of prayer traditions. If you are looking for a way to focus on prayer each day (even if it’s only for a few minutes) here are a few ideas:

(Please add to the list in the comment section!):

  • Praying before leaving the house each morning: I’m always surprised what a difference it can make to stop to pray before rushing out the door. Whether it’s a commitment you make by yourself or with your family, even the action of prioritizing prayer over anything else for a minute or two sets the day on the right track.
  • Daily Mass readings: Even if you do not have the opportunity to attend Daily Mass, the daily readings are available every day on the USCCB website and are a great way to re-familiarize yourself with Scripture.
  • Saint of the day: Perhaps you are someone who is most inspired by real-life examples of heroic virtue. It is easy to bookmark sites that tell us briefly about men and women who overcame great struggles to live lives of virtue. See one site here.
  • Keeping a prayer or reminder near your work space: It can be easy to get distracted at work or to act uncharitably in emails, on phone calls to co-workers etc. Several friends have told me that keeping a prayer card, a quote or a crucifix near their workspace reminds them in a physical way to give their work the attention it deserves and to act with charity to those around them.
  • Praying for intentions at dinner: Many of us say grace before meals, but consider making this the time to pray either silently or as a family for your intentions. Offering  difficulties to God as a prayer often seems to lend perspective to challenges in my life.
  • Examining your conscience each night: I’ve had several priests recommend a daily examination of conscience. Consider thinking over your day each night before you go to sleep, asking God for the grace to do better tomorrow.
  • Stop in and visit Our Lord in the Eucharist: While we attend Mass every Sunday, it’s a great idea to pop into an open church, even if for just 15 minutes once a week, to say “hello” to Our Lord. We often, unplanned, stop to chat briefly with our neighbors, people in the grocery store and our coworkers. In fact, sometimes those brief conversations can lead to insights, laughter or a sense of love. The same will happen with Christ in the Eucharist!

There are many more ways of forming daily prayer habits, please consider sharing some that you have found to be most helpful in your life.

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By: Caitlin Bootsma, Office of Communications

I’ll admit it, when the ninth floor of the Chancery started to feel like an inflatable bounce house when ten kids are jumping on it, my eyes started to widen. I am not from California and, like many of you, this was the largest earthquake I had ever experienced.

Was it a problem with the building? Was this the beginning of a terrorist attack? For an instant, the certainty of an ordinary Tuesday fell away and we began to try to call our families and to question our safety.

Yes, it was a small incident compared to so many natural disasters around the world. But, as I returned home to a kitchen full of broken glass and a large crack in my dining room wall, the Psalms hit a little closer to home:  

The voice of the LORD rocks the desert; the LORD rocks the desert of Kadesh. The voice of the LORD twists the oaks and strips the forests bare” (Psalm 29:8-9).

With Hurricane Irene threatening the East Coast, the power of God’s creation seems more imminent.

When Japan suffered such a tremendous natural disaster this year, someone remarked that it was particularly hard to process because Japan was such an advanced country, one of the most technologically savvy places in the world. Yet, in an instant, their land was devastated.

For me, these forces of nature are a reminder that regardless of our material wealth, our status in society or our occupation, we are not always in control. In fact, it helps me to understand that while those things might be positive achievements, they are not the highest goods for which I should be trying to strive.

Knowing that houses, roads and yes, even human lives, could end in an instant, made me step back for a moment and look at my life. It is not just a popular phrase that “we know neither the day nor the hour;” it’s a passage from Scripture and one that I need to remember more often.

Am I living my life in a way which recognizes that material things pass away, but my relationship with the Lord will last forever? What questions do you ask yourself when natural disasters strike?

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As you may know from preparation and announcements in your parishes, we will begin to use the new translation of the Mass on the First Sunday of August. The next several months provide us with the opportunity to learn more about the translation and how it will enrich our prayer.

Workshops continue to be offered throughout our diocese that explain why the changes are taking place and what they will entail (You can see a full schedule here).

Since all of us are accustomed to the responses that we have been using for years, the new translation is bound to be a bit of a transition. Therefore, all of the parishes will have pew cards so that it is easy to follow along with the new changes.

While you’ll be seeing them in your parishes soon, below is the pew card that we are using in the Diocese of Arlington.

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By: Caitlin Bootsma, Office of Communications

When you read in the Washington Post that, “A provision in the law expanded preventive health-care benefits for women,” you could think that it is a positive development and simply skim to the next article.

If you look deeper, however, you’ll discover that recently the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandated that private health plans cover female surgical sterilization and all drugs and devices approved by the FDA as contraceptives, including drugs which can attack a developing unborn child before and after implantation in the mother’s womb.

The same Washington Post article explains that Catholic hospitals are concerned that they will be required to provide birth control under this new legislation and will not be eligible for a conscience exemption. The Post quotes a representative from the National Women’s Law Center who says that, “all women do use contraception at some point in their lives” so essentially this mandate should not provide a problem.

The clear bias of the article may make it difficult to recognize the real problem.

First of all, claiming that all women will use contraceptives is a vast generalization.

Secondly, this mandate ignores that contraceptives, including ella (which can destroy a human life weeks after conception), are morally reprehensible to many people, not only Catholics.

In other words, this legislation – without adequate conscience exemptions – goes against one of the founding principles of our country: freedom of conscience, the very liberty that we pride ourselves on as Americans, that our country is founded upon, that we write patriotic songs about.

This roadblock to our pursuit of true liberty is expressed by Cardinal DiNardo:  “Those who sponsor, purchase and issue health plans should not be forced to violate their deeply held moral and religious convictions in order to take part in the health care system or provide for the needs of their families or their employees. To force such an unacceptable choice would be as much a threat to universal access to health care as it is to freedom of conscience.”

It is easy to treat this as just one more news story. However, except for a very narrow religious exemption that primarily affects churches, this new mandate will not only affect Catholic hospital. It will also require others who provides health insurance to their employees, including Catholic universities and schools and social service agencies such as Catholic Charities, to provide health insurance that  must now include free birth control.

So, what can we do?

  1. Keep the discussion alive. Too often, media or others can treat these debated issues as if they are done deals, that there is nothing else to be said, that everyone agrees. Let others know that this is a violation of your religious beliefs and, therefore, your right to liberty as an American.
  2. Pray for and support those health care workers or insurance providers who are fighting for conscience exemptions that will not force them to provide substances such as ella which can destroy human life.
  3. Let your voice be heard. Help ensure that a meaningful legislation on conscience exemption is enacted by Congress. Take a few minutes to write to your legislators about the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act (HR 1179). By writing, you tell your legislators how to best represent your view. The Virginia Catholic Conference offers the mechanism to do this on its website: http://capwiz.com/vacatholic/issues/alert/?alertid=51746501

The way I see it, liberty is not only a right, but also a responsibility. We have the opportunity to exercise our freedom of conscience and enable others to secure that right as well.

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Church News Roundup

By: Mariann Hughes, Office of Communications

The news doesn’t stop just because the summer slows down.

What Catholic news stories have caught your eye this summer?

Here is a roundup of some news pertinent to our lives and our Faith here in the Diocese of Arlington, your state, your country and the world:

In the District

Archbishop Sambi, apostolic nuncio to the United States, dies.
Bishop Loverde’s statement.

In Maryland

Pro-lifers protest abortion clinic.

(And, in case you missed it, Encourage and Teach’s post on this story)

In Arlington

Bishop Loverde is headed to Spain for World Youth Day.

In the United States

Contraceptives are mandated in health care, violating conscience rights.

In the world

The Vatican reminds the UN of parents’ rights to teach their children about sexuality

What other news stories have caught your eye this summer?

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By: Susan Gibbs, Office of Communications

O.K., I admit it. Nearly every Sunday, I read the wedding section of the New York Times.

 After a double dose of bad news from the front pages of the Times and The Washington Post, I usually need some entertainment and the “how-we-met” stories tend to be a lot of fun. Plus, it can be inspiring to see couples ready to embark on a new life together.

Getting married – making that commitment – and holding the wedding in the sacred place of a church keeps the focus on what a wedding truly is – a joining of two people before Christ who now will become one within a community.

 But what started as a diversion turned into something else. I started noticing fewer church weddings. Priests and ministers were being replaced with “Universal Life” celebrants and other officiants who were friends of the couple “ordained” for the occasion. (Like everything else these days, it turns out you can go online and get instantly “ordained.”) No longer held in churches, weddings are migrating to beaches, restaurants and exotic destinations.

 Is this just the result of editors choosing unusual venues, or a sign that church weddings are on the decline?

 Sadly, it seems to be the latter. A new study, released by Our Sunday Visitor and the Center for the Applied Research in the Apostolate, reports a nearly 60-percent plunge in weddings celebrated in the Catholic Church alone since 1972.

 Given that the number of Catholics in the United States is growing, that’s not good news. What is going on?

 According to the researchers, it’s not that Catholics are less likely than anyone else to marry, although that’s not saying a lot. The rate of marriage in the United States has dropped by nearly half since 1970, while the number of couples cohabitating has skyrocketed, according to The National Marriage Project. Instead, CARA researchers found:

 Catholics are waiting slightly longer to marry

  • Catholics who divorce may be remarrying outside the Church
  • Catholics are marrying non-Catholics in increasing numbers
  • Catholics are not marrying at all.

 That last one – not marrying at all – turns out to be the biggest factor in explaining the precipitous decline in weddings celebrated in Catholic churches. In 1970, nearly 80 percent of all adult Catholics in the U.S. were married. Today, barely 53 percent are. For younger Catholics (18- to 40-year-olds), the drop is even more significant: 69 percent were married in 1972, but only 38 percent are today.

 In 2007, nearly a quarter of never-married U.S. Catholics said they were “not at all likely” to ever get married.

 And, when they are marrying, they aren’t marrying other Catholics as often as in the past. From 1991 to 2008, the percent of young married Catholics (under age 41) married to other Catholics dropped from 78 percent to 57 percent. These couples may or may not marry in a Catholic Church.

 Does it matter? Yes, quite a lot, because being married means something as a Catholic. There are only seven sacraments and marriage is one of them.

 As the U.S. bishops’ website explains, “The sacraments make Christ present in our midst. Like the other sacraments, marriage is not just for the good of individuals, or the couple, but for the community as a whole. The Catholic Church teaches that marriage between two baptized persons is a sacrament. The Old Testament prophets saw the marriage of a man and woman as a symbol of the covenant relationship between God and his people. The permanent and exclusive union between husband and wife mirrors the mutual commitment between God and his people.”

 Getting married – making that commitment – and holding the wedding in the sacred place of a church keeps the focus on what a wedding truly is – a joining of two people before Christ who now will become one within a community. I’m all for friends at a wedding, but I’d rather have them in the pews. After all, having Christ in your wedding and marriage will get you a lot further than a buddy on a sandy beach.

 Learn more about marriage at foryourmarriage.org.

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