By: Deacon Marques Silva

“Necessity is the mother of invention,” was first coined by Richard Franck’s in ‘Northern Memoirs, calculated for the meridian of Scotland‘ in 1658 (as best as we can tell). It is interesting to observe how many traditions were embraced out of pure necessity. Foods during Lent are no exception. Take the pretzel for instance.

monkpretzelMany say that the pretzel started out as a Lenten snack because of its original shape that seemed to mimic arms folded in prayer. One etymology of the word: pretzel states that it is derived from Latin meaning “branched with little arms.”[1] Others explain this simple food as the perfect Lenten fast food since no dairy, egg, or lard is used among the simple ingredients of flour, water and salt.

Another explanation shares that it was a common reward for children when they learned their prayers.[2] Accordingly, this simple bread received the name pretzel which in this interpretation means “little reward.”

Still another account says that a pious monk took the bread dough folded the strands over to make them in the shape of arms: So was born the pretzel.

Whatever the explanation, it has taken on the persona of being a Lenten food. Who am I to argue? I just think they are good, in season and out!

[1] Peter Klein, ed., The Catholic Source Book, 3rd ed. (Dubuque, Iowa: ACTA Publications, 2000), p. 300

[2] Ibid.

By: Rev. Paul Scalia

“We do not possess the truth, the truth possesses us: Christ, Who is the truth, has taken us by the hand, and we know that His hand is holding us securely on the path of our quest for knowledge.” – Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

Carlow Cathedral - St. Patrick Preaching to the Kings

Carlow Cathedral – St. Patrick Preaching to the Kings

Now that we are sufficiently distant from the annual Saint Patrick Day’s silliness of celebrating a Catholic Saint and culture by abandoning Lenten discipline and indulging the flesh, let us give that great saint due honor by benefiting from his spiritual wisdom.  In the Breastplate of Saint Patrick, he invokes God’s power against, among many other things, “every knowledge that blinds the soul of man.”  Some translations have it as the knowledge that “binds” the soul of man, or “corrupts” or “endangers man’s body and soul.”  Whatever the translation, the petition is the same: to be shielded against a knowledge that brings not benefit but blindness, binding, corruption, and danger.

It is a shocking invocation especially for the modern mind, as we tend to think that knowledge is always good.  “Knowledge is power,” we foolishly parrot.  No, knowledge is knowledge, and the inordinate desire for it can lead us, as it did Adam and Eve, to grave evil.  Virtue is power (literally, coming from the Latin for power, virtus).  The man who has knowledge but no virtue might be powerful – in the same way an errant missile is.  He might also be sitting around being knowledgeable and benefiting no one.

We find this kind of knowledge in the Pharisees, whose familiarity with Scripture puffed them up and blinded them to the truths of Christ.  “Have you not read?” Jesus asks them repeatedly.  Of course they had read the scriptures.  They knew them backwards and forwards.  But they knew the scriptures with a haughty knowledge that blinded them to the deeper truths contained therein.  It was a knowledge that bound them in their arrogance and blinded them to our Lord’s words.  To confound them Jesus speaks in parables – those riddles accessible only to those who acknowledge their need to be taught, their need to learn, and that they do not know it all.

Saint Paul likewise saw the danger of this knowledge without virtue.  Writing to the Corinthians he warns, “‘Knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Cor 8:1).  This is the knowledge of the know-it-all, the man whose knowledge prompts him to look down on others and consider himself somehow immune from falling.  To such a man the Apostle says, “Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God” (1 Cor 3:18-19).

Another version of this blinding knowledge is related to the vice of curiositas.  It is this vice, this inordinate desire for knowledge, that binds so many to the 24-hour news cycle and information glut.  We think that by consuming more facts and figures we will be freer, more powerful – more “in the know.”  In reality, we only become more enmeshed in the affairs of the world. We find it more difficult to lift our heads above the flow of information and look at higher things.

The kind of knowledge that truly enlightens and therefore frees is the knowledge that we receive.  When we do not grasp (as Adam and Eve grasped for the fruit tree of the knowledge of good and evil) but instead receive reverently the truth about things, then we dispose ourselves not only for knowledge but also for wisdom.  This is the way of children, always responding to the world with an attitude of wonder.  They see the world as a place to marvel at and to be enlightened about – not as something to be seized and conquered.  Our quest for knowledge must be the childlike path of reverence and wonder.  So it is that that highest knowledge is a gift of the Holy Spirit – a gift not to be grasped but to be received by children.

The truth is not something we conquer but something we dispose ourselves to receive.  We are not its masters but its servants.  Through the intercession of Saint Patrick may the Lord deliver us from every knowledge that corrupts!

By: Sr. Clare Hunter

Have you seen this yet?

It has been out for a month, but I missed it: “Kid President’s letter to a person on their first day on earth.”

Taking a break from the heavy pro-life news to just say: “You, you’re awesome. You’re made that way….”

By: Erin Kisley

“For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh” (Mt. 19:5).

erin and joe 5Whenever I heard this verse at weddings, I assumed Jesus was speaking solely to the groom. I figured this was Jesus’s way of instructing all of the “momma’s boys” out there to, ever politely, ‘cut the cord.’ Ladies, so I thought, were naturally inclined to leave all behind to follow their man – no reminder needed.

Personally speaking, I didn’t expect to struggle with this aspect of preparing for marriage. My family lives 1,300 miles away, and while we speak once per week, I see them only a few times per year, usually for holidays and weddings. For that reason, I was completely speechless one time when driving home after a party. Joe, commenting on my behavior, blurted out: “I know you love your friends, but you’re not a single girl anymore!”

Were some of my habits unbecoming of an engaged woman? I know it sounds odd, but in all of the planning for the transition to married life, I never stopped to consider how my female friendships would change as a result of my vocation to marriage. I made a habit (before dating Joe) of filling my social calendar with coffee dates with the girls, movie nights and the occasional road trip to Disney World or New York City. And, while my road trips became less frequent after Joe entered the picture, my habit of making plans with the girls (and filling Joe in after-the-fact) was common. It wasn’t until that moment when Joe called me out that I realized: Perhaps it was time to make some changes.

As I begin to transition into my new vocation, I know that Joe will make a lousy shopping buddy, will never agree to watch A Walk to Remember and just doesn’t understand the spiritual and emotional struggles of womanhood. (This is why maintaining good female friendships is essential!)

That said, I feel blessed by God to have found a man who beholds more virtues than I ever thought possible in one human being. …A man, who (in just three months, one week and two days!) will be joined to me as one flesh, my best friend.

This is the fifth installment of Erin’s weekly Wednesday series on marriage preparation and its inherent struggles. An engaged woman at the humble age of 26, Erin hopes her experience will encourage and teach. Her final posts will culminate in the event that marks the purpose of it all—taking her wedding vows and tying the knot on June 27, 2014.


By: Bishop Paul S. Loverde

Each year on March 19, Catholics throughout the world interrupt the austerities of Lent to celebrate the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, patron of fathers and of the universal Church. Coming as I do from a Sicilian family, this feast has always carried a special significance. My father was not unlike St. Joseph insofar as he sacrificed mightily for his family. A man of deep and quiet faith, he showed me what it means to be a man.

My father could not have imagined the challenges involved in protecting a family from today’s relentless assault of pornographic material. It has truly become mainstream, nearly impossible to avoid even by the most cautious. This pornographic culture stems from, and feeds back into, an extremely distorted view of human sexuality. We are deeply confused about things my father’s generation would have taken entirely for granted, and the results of that confusion are everywhere evident.

When I was ordained a priest in 1965, two in ten marriages ended in divorce; that rate has more than doubled. Abortion then was illegal; today over a million babies are aborted annually in this country alone. Back then fewer than 300,000 Americans were incarcerated; now one in thirty-one adult Americans is in prison or on probation.

As a young priest in the 1970s, I served for a decade in campus ministry settings. In those years, the first fruits of the sexual revolution were already apparent. Pope Francis’s image of the Church as a “field hospital” in the midst of such wreckage would describe it well.

Today’s “field hospital” must aggressively treat the vicious cancer of pornography, which lies at the heart of our societal ills. “Unchastity,” wrote Joseph Pieper in The Four Cardinal Virtues, “begets a blindness of spirit which practically excludes all understanding of the goods of the spirit; unchastity splits the power of decision.” Over the years I have witnessed the nature and effects of pornography’s splitting powers in our families and communities.

Nearly eight years ago I wrote a pastoral letter on the subject, Bought with a Price, a new edition of which is being released today. The pornography epidemic is something to which all people of good will must devote more attention and talk about more openly, but first we need to understand something of the scope and character of the problem.

Those who deny that the act of viewing pornography has any negative consequences must understand just how toxic the situation has become. It may be that a man now in his forties, say, remembers being a curious adolescent, stealing glances at a magazine in a neighbor’s home or in the aisle of a convenience store. As morally problematic and harmful as that act surely is, such behavior was arguably slow to become habitual and the physiological and psychological consequences were infrequently severe. That experience is far removed from what young people face today.

The most graphic forms of pornography are now easily and anonymously accessible on the internet and on any smartphone. Many among us are now caught in patterns of addiction that rival those of drugs and alcohol in their grip on the individual, if not in the disruption that results in their lives. Depression, anxiety, isolation, marital strife, and job loss can all be intensified for those caught in the web of this addiction.

More subtly, though, current research underscores what we are hearing in the classrooms, counseling sessions, and in the confessional: This addiction is not merely behavioral, a bad habit that can be broken like any other. Chronic viewing of pornographic material impacts one’s brain chemistry in a manner that can “hook” a person and lead to a quest for increasingly lurid forms of pornography. Over time, more and more is needed to produce the same effect. The brains of habitual users of pornography are strikingly similar to those of alcoholics, and the part of the brain involved in moral and ethical decision-making is weakened by viewing pornography. Once brain chemistry is remapped, it becomes very difficult for one to “reset” to a sense of normality in the future. Any man can tell you that these images are often very hard to forget.

While the suffering experienced by the addict cannot be overstated, we must recognize that there is also social harm. As a pastor, I have seen how damaging this shift continues to be in family life, courtship, and marriage preparation. One of my great concerns is the impact this plague is having on children. What is their future if their parents’ marriage is destroyed by this type of infidelity, or if they themselves are exposed to such toxic material long before they are able to experience the joy of true love and romance? Even the smallest child today often has easy access to a parent’s or sibling’s smartphone and is surrounded by screens.

When my pastoral letter on pornography was first issued, a high school student in my diocese wrote that “if a person knew that after viewing pornography he would be a bad example for his kids, would objectify his spouse and friends, and lastly destroy his relationship and vision of God, he would not do it.”

Just as some drugs are described as “gateways” to more serious substance abuse, a young person who experiences lust disconnected from an actual human person is at tremendous risk for failing ever to understand the beauty of God’s gift of human sexuality. Is not the so-called “hook-up” culture evidence of this? In addition, while it is certainly not the outcome for all who become involved with pornography, might it not be reasonable to posit that the dramatic rise in human sex trafficking is partly fueled by a pornographic culture?

And yet, despite all this, there is hope. Both scientists and believers are sounding the alarm. We know much more about the physiological aspects of this addiction and how best to reverse them. Behavioral change is possible, though this is not simply a question of behavior.

This is not a problem a person can solve on their own. Alongside the central commitment to prayer, the communal element of the recovery process needs to be given special emphasis. Very often, a key factor in one’s descent into pornography addiction is a lack of affirmation, acceptance, and trust in one’s relationships. An important part of the ascent, then, can also be the sharing of this struggle with others, allowing their love and concern to aid in the healing. As Pope Francis has said, “No one is saved alone, as an isolated individual, but God attracts us looking at the complex web of relationships that take place in the human community.”

Pornography thrives in the shadowy silence of isolation, but the warm light of love and friendship can do much to help cast it out. Women certainly have a critical role in this fight and should take a stance of absolute intolerance toward pornography, but in a particular way men need to be recalled to their God-given role as protectors of their families and of society if we are to overcome it.

A man in one of my parishes told me that Bought with a Price woke him up to the many ways in which his pornography use affected him as a father and husband. “I now understand,” he wrote, “that the true character of a man is shown in how he acts when nobody is watching.”

That is a lesson that St. Joseph, whom we honor today, knew well. Let the battle for purity begin.

Paul S. Loverde is bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, Virginia. A new edition of his pastoral letter on pornography, Bought with a Price, is available at Amazon for Kindle and at www.arlingtondiocese.org/purity.

This article first appeared in First Things. View it here.

By: Deacon Marques Silva

“Some have suggested that the word tempura comes from the Latin Quatuor Tempora (“four times”), a name for the Ember Days, penitential days marking the changing of the seasons. The tradition of abstaining from meat on those days each quarter was brought to Japan by Spanish and Portuguese missionaries. When this European Christian tradition met a Japanese culinary tradition, a deep-fried seafood and vegetable dish was born: tempura!”[1]



So, this Lent, eat some Tempura…a food born out of our Catholic Christian tradition!

[1] Klein, Rev. Peter, The Catholic Source Book (Harcourt Religion Publishers, 2000) p. 92

By: Rev. Paul Scalia

Self-denial is not foreign to the world.  It is not original or exclusive to Catholics.  Granted, the indulgence of our culture might obscure this fact.  Most people do seem to go about seeking to satisfy their appetites, and more.  The world’s dominant message is not self-restraint but self-indulgence.  Nevertheless, even in the midst of all this we do find some self-denial.

st-francis-and-skullYou do not have to be a believer to grasp that life occasionally requires self-denial.  Sometimes for noble purposes – like a soldier forgoing comfort in defense of his nation.  Sometimes for less noble purposes – like an athlete disciplining himself to make the team.  And sometimes for downright selfish and vain purposes – like the starlet dieting to lose weight and fit into that bathing suit.  The pagan view reaches the heights of silliness in Nietzsche’s phrase: “What does not kill me makes me stronger.”  (No, what does not kill you might just make you weaker, sicker, more spiteful, resentful, etc.)

Our Lenten sacrifices should be different, distinctly Christian – if not outwardly, at least by intention and purpose.  Unfortunately, they typically resemble secular New Year’s resolutions more than Christian offerings.  We hold our breath, bite the bullet, and white-knuckle it until Easter, at which point we relax, breathe a sigh of relief…and slouch right back into the same vices as before.  We can do alright for 40 days.  But it does not seem to impact the rest of the year.

The prayers of Mass during Lent alert us to the difference of Christian self-denial.  They speak of a “holy fast” and “bodily discipline now solemnly begun.”  Here there is something different from what we find, even in admirable ways, among the pagans.  We call it mortification – literally, a putting to death of things.  But a putting to death as the necessary preliminary to resurrection and new life.

If we do well with Lenten resolutions, we pat ourselves on the back.  If (more likely) we fail in them, then we go into a tailspin of discouragement.  Either way the focus is the same: self. A sure sign that our mortifications are not by the Spirit is when they prompt us to focus more on ourselves.

Saint Paul was not ignorant of noble secular and pagan examples: “Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize?  Run so as to win.  Every athlete exercises discipline in every way.  They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one” (1 Cor 9:24-25).  And yet Saint Paul does not end there.

In speaking of mortification – of the sacrifices and self-denial necessary for Christian thriving – the Apostle says, “but if by the Spirit you mortify the deeds of the flesh, you shall live.” (Rom 8:13).  If by the Spirit… Christian self-denial proceeds not from self-will or selfish goals.  We are not trying to prove ourselves or earn our way into heaven.  Our self-denial comes from the Spirit and focuses on Jesus Christ.  For the Christian, self-denial – mortification, putting to death – is the living out of Baptism, when we by the power of the Spirit died with Christ, and rose with Him. With every mortification we return to the font of Baptism, where our old self was crucified with Christ, where we were buried with Him and rose with Him to new life (cf. Rom 6:4-6). Christian mortification is not a heroic pagan effort but a return to what is most true about us: We have died and our life is hidden with Christ in God (cf. Col 3:3).  It is, in short, the Spirit putting to death whatever in us is not of Christ.

We take them up, invest ourselves in self-denial and hand them all over to God.  Let Him do with them what He will, as we are too weak to make them good.  It is the Spirit and not our own efforts that unites us with Him Who first fasted and mortified His flesh.

Amazing, is it not, how self-denial can lead to pride? How selfish we can be in restraining ourselves? If we do well with Lenten resolutions, we pat ourselves on the back.  If (more likely) we fail in them, then we go into a tailspin of discouragement.  Either way the focus is the same: self. A sure sign that our mortifications are not by the Spirit is when they prompt us to focus more on ourselves.

Our Lenten resolutions and sacrifices are meant to be offerings, not merely practices. We take them up, invest ourselves in self-denial and hand them all over to God.  Let Him do with them what He will, as we are too weak to make them good.  It is the Spirit and not our own efforts that unites us with Him Who first fasted and mortified His flesh.  We ask His Spirit, then, to come and collect all our little deaths, our simple Lenten sacrifices; so that we can experience Christ’s death more profoundly and likewise experience more profoundly His Resurrection.


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