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Amazing what you learn in Mass!  In the homily at today’s Mass I learned that Superman’s powers come from the sun.  I always thought Superman was just, well, super – that as an alien being he had all these powers in himself. But it turns out that (apparently since his home world orbited a red sun) when the young Kal-El reached Earth, the Earth’s sun gave him the powers he possesses.  So all that ability to fly, to leap tall buildings in a single bound, etc, all come from the Sun; without the Sun, Superman can’t do any of those super things.

A simple but effective analogy, and perfect for a Mass in which we celebrated the Baptism of a baby into the faith.  The priest observed that Baptism knit the new member of the community to the source of all of our strength – Christ.

And it is a source we need to go back to over and over again – in our prayer, in our Eucharistic celebrations, always.  The things we are asked to do as Christians – to love not only our friends, but our enemies; to proclaim the Gospel to the whole world, not just to our small circle of parishioners; to die to self and rise to Christ – are not things we can do on our own.  They are things that require that we be connected deeply to our source – the Son.

When we are so connected, in the words of Philippians: we can do all things through Christ, who strengthens us.

Month of May

Since it seems to me that it was just Labor Day, it is hard to believe that the month of May is upon us.  Yet here we are.

May, in the words of Pope Paul VI’s 1965 Encyclical Menso Maio,is “a month which the piety of the faithful has long dedicated to Mary, the Mother of God, …. the month during which Christians, in their churches and their homes, offer the Virgin Mother more fervent and loving acts of homage and veneration; and it is the month in which a greater abundance of God’s merciful gifts comes down to us from our Mother’s throne.”

I grew up going to Catholic school, and still have memories of May processions and crownings of Mary, while singing Marian hymns.  (I may not remember the words to all of the other hymns we sang through grade school, but I still remember the words of all the Marian ones we sang.)

In Menso Maio, Paul VI spoke of the custom of choosing this month of May “for urging the Christian people to offer up public prayers whenever the needs of the Church demanded it or some grave crisis threatened the human race.”  In the year in which the Encyclical was issued, 1965, the Pope wrote that he felt “compelled to call for such prayers from the whole Catholic world. Looking at the present needs of the Church and the status of world peace, We have sound reasons to believe that the present hour is especially grave and that a plea for concerted prayer on the part of all Christians is a matter of top priority.”

When I look at the Church and the world around us – both here and abroad, it seems to me that “the present hour” is no less grave.

So, while I will not be participating in any May crownings of Mary, I will devote additional time to prayer for our Church and our world.

P.S.  St. Ignatius had a strong devotion to Mary.  Here is a piece by someone talking about what the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius taught her about Mary.

My heart has been heavy as I’ve been following the news of the earthquake in Nepal and its aftermath. Over 5000 people have been killed and millions of Nepalis have been affected, including over a million who need immediate food assistance.  In Kathmandu, half a million tents are urgently needed for people there who have been forced from their homes.

I lived in Buddhist communities in Nepal and India for two years during the years I spent practicing Buddhism.  The monastery in which I lived during parts of that time – Kopan Monastery – is outside of the center of Kathmandu.  Thankfully, no one there was injured, although there has been significant structural damage and people there are sleeping outside (as are many others in Nepal), fearful of the effect of aftershocks.  I understand that half of the houses in Thame, the birthplace of Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche, my root teacher during those years, have been completely destroyed.

I read the news reports and I picture the landmarks that are still clear in my mind and the faces of the people I lived with.  And I am filled with sadness and the need to respond in some way.

The people there need prayers and also financial support.  University of St. Thomas will be holding an interfaith prayer service on the St. Paul campus tomorrow evening at 6:00p.m.  Join us if you are in the area.  And  here and here are suggested ways to contribute to the relief efforts.

Some words from Gandhi to reflect on today as we read the news reports of incidents of violence both here and abroad:

Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of humanity. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of humanity. Nonviolence is not passivity in any shape or form. It is the most active force in the world. Nonviolence is the supreme law. Just as one must learn the art of killing in the training for violence, so one must learn the art of dying in the training for nonviolence. One person who can express nonviolence in life exercises a force superior to all the forces of brutality. We are constantly being astonished these days at the amazing discoveries in the field of violence, but I maintain that far more undreamt of and seemingly impossible discoveries will be made in the field of nonviolence. My optimism rests on my belief in the infinite possibility of the individual to develop nonviolence. The more you develop it in your own being, the more infectious it becomes till it overwhelms your surroundings and by might over sweep the world. We have to make truth and nonviolence not matters for mere individual practice, but for practice by groups and communities and nations. That, at any rate, is my dream. When the practice of nonviolence becomes universal, God will reign on earth as God reigns in heaven.

Our Scarpa conference at Villanova Friday ended with a delightful dinner, during which the conversation ranged over many topics.  My friend and colleague Lisa Schiltz’s Mirror of Justice post of last night reminds me of one of those topics.  As she described it in her post:

The most dramatic event was the dinner afterwards, when Patrick and John Breen almost came to fisticuffs over whether Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisted, or Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory, is the quintessential Catholic novel.  (Susan Stabile tried to broker a compromise with Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamozov, but she didn’t make much headway.)

As Lisa went on to describe, we resolved that we would read (or re-read) one or more of those books this summer and then blog about them on Mirror of Justice.

The conversation, of course, raises the question (which we did not discuss over dinner) of what it means to call a novel a “Catholic novel.”  So I thought I’d post the topic here with the invitation for you to consider both (a) what it means to describe a work as a “quintessential Catholic novel” and (b) what your candidate for that novel might be.

Yesterday, as the end of the Scarpa Conference at Villanova, I led a short spiritual exercise for the conference speakers.  I picked humility as the theme of the reflection I offered, inspired by what I knew would be the first reading for today’s Mass a passage from 1 Peter, which began, “Beloved, clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for God opposes the proud but bestows favor on the humble.”  I talked about what it means to be humble and shared several reasons I thought humility was a particularly important virtue in today’s world.  After my talk, I invited the participants into a period of silent reflection, giving them several short passages and some questions to guide them.

During our sharing after the silent reflection period, one of the participants observed that it could be challenging to be humble given our particular profession, which often requires us to appear “impressive.”  (For example, a law school dean is often out meeting donors and must impress them.)

I thought about that comment again this morning as I was praying with the two Mass readings. Interestingly, the first reading from 1 Peter, which directly addresses humility, is paired with Jesus’ commissioning of the disciples before his ascension to “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.”

Surely proclaiming the Gospel effectively required the disciples to be impressive. But the disciples were also called by Jesus to be humble, which suggests that it is possible to be impressive while still being humble.  And, in fact, far from being opposed to each other, humility and effective proclamation of the Gospel go hand in hand.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines humility as

the virtue by which a Christian acknowledges that God is the author of all good. Humility avoids inordinate ambition or pride, and provides the foundation for turning to God in prayer. Voluntary humility can be described as “poverty of spirit.”

All that is required to remain humble while impressing others is remembering the source of all we are able to accomplish.  If we can remember that all we are and all we have is gift from God, then we can do and say things that impress people without losing humility.  And, in the case of proclaiming the Gospel, if anything, humility – keeping the focus on God as the “author of all good” – allows us to be a more effective evangelizers.

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