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By: Kathleen Yacharn

Generally, it’s much easier to get someone to tell you about a bad time they had at a restaurant, a hotel, an airline or concert venue than it is to get someone to tell you about the good time they had. Most of us don’t bother with writing online reviews for the decent or even great meals or stays we had. But why is it that usually within a day or two of an uncomfortable time with a rude server, long wait, or bad food, we’re signing up for an account on Yelp or Urban Spoon, ready to unleash our righteous anger, of course as a civic duty to help others avoid the place?

Isn’t it because people are so much more motivated by strong emotion than by satisfied entitlement? When we have even a great time, we might tell a few people, but isn’t that what we expected in the first place? Instead of appreciating the good things in our lives, we take them in and move on with a sense of complacency, which unfortunately bleeds into our civic and moral lives, too.

sleeping babyFor those of us who believe in protecting God’s creation, from conception to natural death, we have to be careful to avoid that cultural complacency. If we are pro-life, then we have to live that truth 24 hours a day, seven days a week, not just once a year during the March for Life. We have to communicate the message tirelessly because it is a matter of life and death and anything less than ceaseless effort can tip the scales in people’s hearts and minds toward the great lie that is the culture of death.

I write this asking you to take the time today, literally just a few minutes, to support life in a meaningful way. The Virginia Catholic Conference is the public policy agency representing Virginia’s two bishops. Bishop Paul S. Loverde of our Arlington Diocese and Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo of the Richmond Diocese. They need you to comment on yet another machination of the abortion industry trying to promote their cause at the expense of the lives of innocents. Read below the VCC’s request, share it with your friends, and truly support life today.

 

Your Comments Needed as Abortion Center Regulations Review Begins

The Virginia Department of Health is now reviewing the recently enacted abortion center health and safety regulations (several years before regulations are typically reviewed) due to a recent directive from Governor McAuliffe. 
Click here to tell the Board of Health that this review process is premature and that these commonsense regulations must be maintained. Public comments will be accepted until July 31, 2014.

Again and again, the abortion industry claims that these regulations are unnecessary and expensive. Yet, inspections of these abortion centers repeatedly reveal health and safety violations that are endangering Virginia women.


One particularly egregious violation was uncovered during a biennial 
licensure review inspections at one Virginia abortion center. The abortion center’s complication log revealed that 15 of the 18 complications recorded in January 2014 were “incomplete medical terminations” (RU-486). In 11 of those cases the women returned for another chemical abortion, while 4 women decided to have surgical abortions. RU-486 is only approved by the FDA to be used in the first 49 days of pregnancy with a “failure” rate of 8%.  This incredibly high complication rate puts women’s well being at great risk. If these abuses are occurring while abortion centers are regularly inspected, imagine the conditions with no regulations! Please click here to tell the Board of Health to maintain all the regulations because the abortion industry cannot self-regulate.


If you are not a member of the Conference’s advocacy network, click 
here to receive regular Conference email alerts and updates. Please like us on Facebook, follow@VACatholicConf on Twitter, and sign up for our blog at www.fromthetibertothejames.wordpress.com.

In prayer and in public, your voices are urgently needed to bring Gospel values to bear on vital decisions being made by those who represent you.

~~~
The Virginia Catholic Conference is the public policy agency representing Virginia’s Catholic bishops and their two dioceses.

By: Natalie Plumb

I hesitate to call anything “normal.” But some things simply are. We are all different, but we are all sinners. We are all unique Children of God, but we all fall. The same is true with prayer.

Bulleted lists and “three simple steps” are corny, but I think this most important of building blocks to our faith merits a “formula of difficulties” if what you need is a jump start, a pick-me-up from the rut of dryness, doubt or discernment.

360_mother_teresa_0820Over the past few weeks, I’ve attended a fantastic set of prayer talks led by seminarian Matthew Fish at Epiphany Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Washington. From those talks, I took a lot. From it, in coming weeks, what I hope to share with you most is a particular set of periods we all go through in prayer. I’ll seek to break them down, and apply them to my life (which shouldn’t prove too difficult). This will be as much a relieving exercise for me as it is vulnerable. Hopefully through that, it will be revealing to you in your prayer life, giving you relief if you are struggling, and hope if you are on the brink of despair.

So here goes…

I quite possibly never recovered fully from my “honeymoon with God.” I used to kneel every day in front of my bedroom window, and just talk to my Savior. I had a true relationship with Him. I never missed a night in front of that window, looking up at the sky, and for the star that I just knew was winking at me.

Distractions of the world consumed me starting sometime in high school, and they became stronger in college. My prayer life began to dwindle because I “wasn’t feeling anything.” I started to crave the consolation of prayer desperately. And in a lot of ways I still do.

Prayer can make us feel good. Prayer can give us sensations of euphoria. It can give us satisfaction. Essentially what we begin to fall in love with after a while, until God inserts change, is “what we want” out of prayer (read: prayer is not a substitute for happy gas), even without giving us “what we need.” So that’s when God begins to pull away. He says, Come closer, my Child.

In reality, dryness in prayer is a call for you to deeper holiness, and deeper sacrifice of time, thought, body, and mind.

If prayer isn’t giving you consolation, take consolation…basically, you’ve progressed in your prayer life so far that God wants you to graduate to the next level, and to take it up a notch.

When life has you on your knees, you’re in the perfect position to pray. If prayer isn’t giving you consolation, and the feedback you think you “need,” remember that God knows exactly what and how much you actually need, and abandon yourself to His Divine Providence. If prayer isn’t giving you consolation, take consolation in the fact that you’ve hit a bump in the road – basically, you’ve progressed in your prayer life so far that God wants you to graduate to the next level, and to take it up a notch. So don’t give up. Pray through the storm.

Here’s a short and sweet example of a prayer I might say (often enough), in times when I’m dry, and I feel as if I’m receiving little consolation and feedback from my Father:

Dearest Jesus,

You hold my heart. You have it close to You. I want to proclaim Your name to all the earth. But my lips are dry. My heart feels stale. My body aches for some sort of sign that I am still being held by You.

I will pray through this. I cannot fail. You are Christ. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

When I am down, I am in no better position than to pray. I need periods of dryness so that I can see that consolations are only Yours to give.

Help me to face this period of dryness with the humility and the fierce strength of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.

Amen.

In coming weeks, I’ll discuss doubt in prayer and discernment. Mother Teresa, pray for us!

Natalie writes on Thursdays about faith, dating, relationships, and the in between. May her non-fiction stories and scenarios challenge you. May they help you laugh, cry, think and wonder.

By: Thomas O’Neill

Some things are so predictable that you take them as a given, such as fireworks on the National Mall on Independence Day, or fireworks throughout the media and the political world whenever the Supreme Court hands down a decision on a socially contentious issue. June 30 proved to be no exception.

When the Supreme Court decision on Burwell v. Hobby Lobby was handed down, the reaction was immediate and intense. Some folks, especially those on the side of Hobby Lobby, were excited about the affirmation of religious liberty. Yet, in the media, the reaction was largely negative – outrage over the “denial” of contraception to employees, and a parade of “horribles” about what would be denied next, by whom and to whom.

Hobb3Petula Dvorak, in a column for the Washington Post, attempted to strike a middle path, calling the decision “dangerous,” and warning that “the five male justices who ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby just handed employers a powerful tool to opt out of laws they don’t like.” Yet, Dvorak also admits that Hobby Lobby isn’t forcing their employees not to use contraception — their employees are still free to buy it on their own. But now, she argues, many lower-tier employees will be unable to afford contraception and will fall back on less reliable methods, leading “inevitably” to more abortions.

One of the greatest canards involved in this case — the seemingly universal assumption that contraception has been an unmitigated blessing on American society. This myth persists not because it is true, but because it is so widely accepted that the only time people talk about the Pill’s effects is simply to laud it as the wonderful gift that it is.

Taking a deeper look gives us a more nuanced view. Contraception was billed as liberating women from the “tyranny” of motherhood, of being forever relegated to the sidelines of bearing and raising children. It also promised to prevent a population explosion, preventing unintended pregnancies and the overpopulation of our planet. Finally, it would liberate us from the puritanical sexual mores which had repressed sexual relations for centuries. The truth – in the form of a pill – was here to set us free.

Worried woman visiting a psychologist.Unfortunately, the actual story of contraception in America is not quite as idyllic. Since the sexual revolution of the 1960s, social effects have gotten dramatically worse, not better. Abortion rates are quadruple what they were in 1970, and 51 percent of women who have an abortion report using contraceptives the month they got pregnant. From 1960 to 2011, the percentage of children living with a single parent has tripled, and among women under 30 today, 53 percent of all births are to unwed mothers. Meanwhile, when asked about having a child outside of wedlock, almost 56 percent of high school seniors view it as “a worthwhile lifestyle choice” and as “not affecting anyone else.”

Since contraception use became widespread, the connection between sex, marriage, and children has been lost, to the detriment of our society and particularly our children. Countless studies have shown that children of single parents and cohabitors are significantly more likely to: have psychological problems, drop out of high school, become unwed parents, and to end up in poverty.1 Moreover, these results are true even after controlling for race, family background, and socio-economic factors.

All of this in the name of “liberating” adults. Yet, do any of us really believe that consequence-free sex justifies all these negative effects? Has casual sex, cohabitation, and marriages with a 50 percent chance of divorce really made anyone happier?

Not all of this can be laid at the feet of contraception — many other factors are involved, of course. But the overall culture that contraception creates has not been a boon to women, children, or to society.


[1] See the Institute of American Values’s The State of Our Unions 2012 and Why Marriage Matters: 30 Conclusions from the Social Sciences for a summary of hundreds of social scientific studies on these topics.

By: Deacon Marques Silva

Every year when my family makes its yearly pilgrimage to the Outer Banks in North Carolina, it seems that everywhere I turn, even at the beach, there are reminders of the Trinity and His Church. One of our favorite activities is to walk along the beach and collect sea shells. We consistently find one specific type: scallop sea shells.

St. JamesDid you know that scallops have a rich tradition within our faith and are an ancient symbol of Baptism? Many times these shells are the vessel used by the ordinary minister to pour water over the heads of catechumens during the Sacrament of Baptism. The scallop, too, is associated with, and is a symbol for, the Apostle James the Greater.

There are two ancient myths that attempt to explain why St. James is connected with this sea shell. Since St. James had spent time preaching around the Iberian Peninsula, version one goes like this:

“After James’ death, his disciples shipped his body to the Iberian Peninsula to be buried in what is now Santiago. Off the coast of Spain, a heavy storm hit the ship, and the body was lost to the ocean. After some time, however, the body washed ashore, undamaged and covered in scallops.”1

A second version, though a bit more romantic, is like the first:

“After James’ death, his body was mysteriously transported by a ship with no crew back to the Iberian Peninsula to be buried in what is now Santiago. As James’ ship approached land, a wedding was taking place on the shore. The young bridegroom was on horseback, and on seeing the ship approaching, his horse got spooked, and the horse and rider plunged into the sea. Through miraculous intervention, the horse and rider emerged from the water alive, covered in sea shells.”2

The scallop has been associated with the Way of St. James, one of the most important pilgrimages during medieval times, for over a thousand years. Some say the grooves of the shell that come to a point represent the various routes of the pilgrimage that all converge upon the tomb of St. James in Santiago de Compostela.

Pilgrimages were also thought to be a way to “renew” your relationship with Christ like a new Baptism. So, while walking along beaches this summer, maybe you’ll find some of those scallops and remember the great gift of Baptism and how it has forever made you a son or daughter of the Most High. You know, the One who created the beach.


1.“Symbols of the Camino,” Caminoteca, 2013, accessed June 14, 2014, http://www.caminoteca.com/index.php/symbols-of-the-camino.html.

2. Ibid.

From the Office of Communications

 

This article first appeared in The Arlington Catholic Herald. View it here

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Asking for forgiveness, Pope Francis told abuse survivors that “despicable actions” caused by clergy have been hidden for too long and had been “camouflaged with a complicity that cannot be explained.”

“There is no place in the church’s ministry for those who commit these abuses, and I commit myself not to tolerate harm done to a minor by any individual, whether a cleric or not,” and to hold all bishops accountable for protecting young people, the pope said during a special early morning Mass for six survivors of abuse by clergy. The Mass and private meetings held later with each individual took place in the Domus Sanctae Marthae — the pope’s residence and a Vatican guesthouse where the survivors also stayed.

Pope FrancisIn a lengthy, off-the-cuff homily in Spanish July 7, the pope thanked the men and women — two each from Ireland, the United Kingdom and Germany, for coming to the Vatican to meet with him. The Vatican provided its own translations of the unscripted homily.

The pope praised their courage for speaking out about their abuse, saying that telling the truth “was a service of love, since for us it shed light on a terrible darkness in the life of the church.”

The pope said the scandal of abuse caused him “deep pain and suffering. So much time hidden, camouflaged with a complicity that cannot be explained.”

He called sex abuse a “crime and grave sin,” that was made even worse when carried out by clergy.

“This is what causes me distress and pain at the fact that some priests and bishops, by sexually abusing minors” violated the innocence of children and their own vocation to God, he said.

“It is like a sacrilegious cult, because these boys and girls had been entrusted to the priestly charism in order to be brought to God. And those people sacrificed them to the idol of concupiscence,” the pope said.

The pope asked God “for the grace to weep, the grace for the church to weep and make reparations for her sons and daughters who betrayed their mission, who abused innocent persons” and left life-long scars.

He told the men and women sitting in the pews that God loved them and he prayed that “the remnants of the darkness which touched you may be healed.”

In an effort to help the abuse survivors heal, the pope met individually with each one, accompanied by a loved one or family member and a translator, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, told journalists.

The pope spent a total of three hours and twenty minutes in closed-door talks with each person, showing the rest of the church that the path of healing is through dialogue and truly listening to victims, Father Lombardi said.

The Jesuit priest said the men and women were visibly moved by the Mass and meetings and had “felt listened to,” and that the encounter was “something positive on their journey” of healing.

The length and nature of the pope’s very first meeting with abuse survivors represent “a sign, a model, an example” for the rest of the church, that “listening is needed” along with tangible efforts for understanding and reconciliation, he said.

Responding to critics that the July 7 meeting and Mass were ineffectual and part of a publicity stunt, Father Lombardi said that if people had been able to see, as he had, the reactions of the men and women who took part in the private gathering, “it was clear that it was absolutely not a public relations event.”

The raw emotion on people’s faces, including the pope’s, as well as his strongly worded homily, all showed the effort had been about “a dialogue with a pastor and father who tries to understand deeply” the wrongs that have been committed and the need “to be honest about reality,” the Vatican spokesman said.

It was the first time Pope Francis met directly with a group of victims of clerical abuse, following a tradition begun by his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, who met with victims for the first time as pope in 2008 during a visit to Washington, D.C. The retired pope subsequently met with other victims during his pastoral visits to Sydney, Malta, Great Britain and Germany.

Pope Francis had told reporters in May that he would be meeting with a group of survivors of abuse from various countries and would celebrate a private Mass with them. The pope had asked Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston — the head of a new Vatican commission on protecting minors — to help organize the encounter.

The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, which the pope established in December, met July 6 at the Vatican, and its members, including Cardinal O’Malley, were also present at the July 7 Mass.

The commission, which currently has eight members, including a survivor of clerical sex abuse, mental health professionals and experts in civil and church law, is tasked with laying out a pastoral approach to helping victims and preventing abuse.

 

By: Natalie Plumb

We celebrated a tremendous victory on Monday when the Supreme Court decided in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act protects closely held, private for-profit corporations from being forced to comply with the HHS mandate under Obamacare. The mandate would force these corporations to provide insurance coverage of abortifacient drugs and devices, regardless of the owners’ religious conscience, and despite their faith that forbids complicity in abortion. For cogent Catholic responses to this, read this articlethis article, this article and this article.

HobbyLobby

I must not be the first to notice that, in the midst of this grand decision, we are also in the midst of the Fortnight for Freedom, “a time when our liturgical calendar celebrates a series of great martyrs who remained faithful in the face of persecution by political power — St. Thomas More, the Patron of the Diocese of Arlington, St. John Fisher, St. John the Baptist, SS. Peter and Paul, and the First Martyrs of the Church of Rome.”

Today, on July 4, we celebrate our Independence Day. That means freedom. The rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Freedom of speech; freedom of the press; freedom of religion. As the First Amendment says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Thank you, Supreme Court, for upholding those roots and those rights. But, as Bishop Loverde stressed in his column, never stop praying; never quit fighting! The battle has only just begun.

By: Kevin Bohli, Director of Youth Ministry

This past week the Arlington Diocese Office of Youth Ministry sponsored the 25th annual WorkCamp in Quicksburg, Va. More than 800 teens, 250 adult leaders, and 100 contractors spent a week repairing homes at 150 worksites. The teens spent the past eight months fundraising and preparing to leave behind their cellphones and video games, sleeping on hard floors, waiting in lines for food and showers, and doing hard physical labor in the 90+ degree weather. The week included daily Mass, regular prayer, and devotions five times each day. Eucharistic Adoration, Confessions, talks and reflections took place each evening, and there were two chapels available for personal prayer time throughout the day.

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On the worksite from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day, the teens built wheelchair ramps, replaced roofs and windows, repaired bathroom showers and toilets, patched floors, and many other projects designed to help make the residents’ homes warmer, safer, or drier.

This is hardly a typical first week of summer break for teenagers.

At the end of the exhausting week, the teens were invited to provide feedback on their experience. Here is just a small sample:

“Had the time of my life, no doubt!” –Brian

“I had a really good experience here and I really appreciated going to Confession. I haven’t been in 10 years, so I’m really glad that I went.” –Lia

“WorkCamp didn’t only strengthen my faith in Christ, but it also taught me how much it means to have a relationship with God.” –Michael

“Thank you so much for a great experience; I’ll definitely make time to come next year, even if I am turning 18 that week, because it will be better with God having him near me during that.” –Karen

“I learned about how my service can impact my own life rather than just how it can impact another’s.” –Kevin

“I love going to daily Mass, it helps me feel like I am ready to start the day.” –Gretchen

“The most helpful part of the week was Confession and Adoration – a priest gave me a card for the Divine Mercy Chaplet, which was really cool!” –Megan

“I love WorkCamp! It gives me hope and inspires me to evangelize.” –Casey

“Best experience of my life.” –Macy

“My resident had a big impact on me. She was a living example of our theme to ‘love courageously.’” –Teresa

“I have a greater desire to live my life more for Christ and live more simply.” –Abigail

“WorkCamp has been a powerful experience throughout my high school years. I am lucky to have been able to attend all four years. Thank you.” –RJ

“WorkCamp opens my eyes and I definitely plan to work on being a better friend, deepening my relationship with Christ, and doing more work for the poor.” –Sarah

For 25 years, WorkCamp has helped teens serve the poor in our community. However, perhaps more importantly, it’s through the service, prayer, and community of WorkCamp that young people discover the joy of living a life for Christ.

 

All photos courtesy of Gerald Martineau.

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