Nota Bene

Humble (oh really...?) opinions on matters of faith
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(The Bible should always be assumed...)

The New Faithful
by Colleen Carroll

by Fr. Francis Sullivan, SJ

Leadings: A Catholic's Journey Through Quakerism
by Irene Lape

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Tuesday, March 04, 2003

Its turning into a trend

First Peter Nixon announced that he was giving up blogging for Lent, then Mark Shea did the same.

Well, being Catholic I really can't be original. So I'm going to follow suit and do the same. (Actually, I had already made the decision before seeing Mark's announcement. It was Peter who put it into my head.)

At first I was going to continue posting my reflections on the Mass readings and other spiritual writings. But Amy Welborn has a new blog in which she provides a good Lenten reading list--a list of authors far more relevant than myself.

So, at any rate, I will be signing off for Lent. But I will return with the rising of the Lord. May the coming forty days of Lent be a blessed season of renewal for all of you.

"This is the acceptable time! This is the day of salvation!"


Today's Mass Readings

Sir 35:1-12
Ps 50:5-6, 7-8, 14 and 23
Mk 10:28-31

As most of you know, I usually try to provide two or three times a week a reflection on the daily Mass readings. I had one all ready to go this morning but I forgot my notebook at home.

At any rate, consider these quotes from today's readings:

"Give to the Most High as he has given to you,
generously, according to your means.

For the Lord is one who always repays,
and he will give back to you sevenfold.
But offer no bribes, these he does not accept!
Trust not in sacrifice of the fruits of extortion.
For he is a God of justice,
who knows no favorites.
" (Sirach 35:9-12)

"...many that are first will be last, and the last will be first." (Mk 10:31)

Monday, March 03, 2003

NBC hails a "New Age in Contraception"

At first I thought, "Oh, they're getting rid of them." Silly me. Anyway...:

DR. REGINE Sitruk-Ware, a top scientist for the non-profit Population Council, is one of the world’s leaders in birth control research. Her passion is providing new contraceptive choices for the millions of couples in the United States and around the world who want to use birth control, but are not.

“Only 60 percent use contraception. So it would seem to indicate that the women and the men would not have methods that would satisfy their needs or meet their expectations,” says Sitruk-Ware...

Kelley Barclay is one volunteer in a study testing a new birth control pill called Seasonale. It reduces menstrual periods from once a month to once every three months resulting in fewer headaches, PMS and other side effects...

“I really don’t think that we feel that there is an important physiological reason to have a period,” says Dr. William Gibbons of Eastern Virginia Medical School...

When my wife heard that she said that, were that true, then there'd be no physiological reason to urinate either. Have there been long term testing of women going without a period for months at a time? What side effects might it have? That seemed like an awfully sweeping conclusion by the doctor.

In the TV version of the story the reporter stated the new contraceptive was "as safe and effective" as other versions of the pill. Thats fine as long as you consider a possible heightened risk of breast cancer, reduced fertility rates after using the pill, and millions of chemical abortions every year as "safe and effective." By the way, NBC was nice enough to put a feature in the web version of the story that helps its readers determine which contraceptive is best for them. Wasn't that nice of them?

The Washington Post has also run a story on this new pill. It tries to be a little more balanced than NBC was in its story:

...even before it lands on pharmacy shelves, Seasonale has become the focus of controversy, sparking debate over what’s “natural,” whether it’s wise to manipulate a woman’s reproductive cycle with hormones for a long time, and whether Seasonale is the latest manifestation of the biases society has historically had against menstruation.

“Cultures have long had many practices to manage the taboo and stigma of menstruation over the years. You can see them all as ways of managing women’s behavior,” said Joan Chrisler, a professor of psychology at Connecticut College in New London, Conn., and president of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research. “Many feminists would say that misogyny is at the base of it.”...

Some researchers have speculated that Seasonale might reduce the risk for ovarian cancer even more than the standard birth control pill does. That is based on the theory that every time a woman ovulates, the release of the egg creates a small tear in an ovary, and the healing process might sometimes go awry to cause cancer. It may also reduce the risk for breast cancer because menstruation is accompanied by the release of estrogen, which encourages breast cells to proliferate...

Critics, however, say it’s misguided to assume that Seasonale would not pose any health hazards that traditional pills do not.

“From what I have been able to find, the data are lacking that the extended use of oral contraceptives is well-tolerated, acceptable in terms of side effects, and causes a net benefit,” Jerilynn C. Prior, a professor of endocrinology and medicine at the University of British Columbia who directs the Centre for Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation Research, wrote in an e-mail.

Go here for the website of The Population Council, the organization that would seem is encouraging the research behind this new version of the pill.


My take on Gen X Revert's protest

Yesterday I wrote a post about how the blogger of Gen X Revert is protesting various aspects of the life of his parish of the archdiocese in which he lives by witholding any financial contribution to his parish. Here is a link to his post at this blog in which he explains his protest (go there if you would like to post a comment, otherwise, just scroll down a little and you can read it in its entirety here).

What do I think of the way in which he is lodging his protest? I think that it is the easy and probably not-so-effective way of doing it. I use the word 'effective' because it is clear that he is protesting in order to right what he feels to be a wrong.

What is the more effective way? It is a way that it is somewhat more difficult. It includes continuing to contribute to meeting the financial needs of the parish but also stepping forward to share in the parish's ministry and to seek, in a spirit of charity, to bring about a change in attitude in the leadership of the parish that would help them at least be open to the changes that this blogger is demanding.

A prayerful re-reading of St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians might be helpful in this situation. St. Paul was, as many know, addressing the splitting of the Corinthian Church into various factions. He tried to show that all of the various ministries need to be informed by love and centered on Christ.

In the end, however, any change, no matter how strongly any of us might believe is necessary (even if it turns out to be not so), will not come about through our own protests alone or even through the hard work of ministry and relationships that I tried to suggest above. It will come about partially through these means but if it is not accompanied by the grace of God, it will not come about. So, in closing, I would exhort this blogger to give himself and his cause over to prayer when it comes time to write the check out for the Sunday collection.

Give yourself to prayer and then, in humility and in hope, write the check anyway.


Catholic Reasons for Hope

Q: Why are there so few Catholics who read the Bible?

A: There may be a number of Catholics that you and I know who do not read the Bible very often. But I think we should avoid making sweeping generalizations about the Bible reading habit (or lack thereof) of Catholics as a whole. Many Catholics do in fact have a great reverence for Sacred Scripture and read it regularly. But such practices can often be a private affair, something that these people do not openly share with others.

That having been said, there was a time in the recent past when some Catholic leaders did not encourage the faithful as a whole to read the Bible. Indeed, some sadly do not encourage it even now. But this was never the case across the board in the Catholic Church. And it has never been part of its official teaching.

But even when this lack of encouragement (or even a discouragement) was common in the Church, Catholics were often surrounded by the Bible when they worshipped. In the past there would have always been three readings from Sacred Scripture at Mass. In addition, the prayers at Mass were filled with scriptural references and images. Now we have four readings from the Bible (including the responsorial psalm) and our prayers and songs continue to be filled with those same scriptural references and images.

As Dr. Scott Hahn, a professor of theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville, and himself a convert to Catholicism, once said, “Catholics know the Bible better than they think.”

It would indeed be good for us to unlock that knowledge by breaking open the Scriptures and reading them in our homes. For even if we have that knowledge planted deep in our hearts by the prayer of the Church, if we do not water those seeds, they will simply lie there dormant and we will effectively not know the Bible. And when we do not know this, we do not know Christ, as St. Jerome noted some 1700 years ago: “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”

Q: How and when did the tradition of “giving up” something for Lent begin?

A: The tradition in the Catholic Church of fasting from something (giving something up) during Lent is firmly rooted in the Bible. At the same time, it is also closely linked with the practices of prayer and almsgiving (Tobit 12:8, Mt 6:1-18).

These practices are, of course, good for us to do at any time. But the Church encourages us to do them especially during the forty days of Lent. This season is, of course, a way for us to prepare for the great celebration of Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday.

The Church as a whole did not celebrate it as a forty day period until the fourth and fifth centuries. However, there were various times of preparation for these feasts for centuries before then. At any rate, the forty day length of Lent is rooted firmly in scripture, recalling the Israelites’ forty year journey through the desert to the Promised Land and Jesus’ forty days of fasting in the desert.

This last example, of course, also points to how the tradition of fasting during Lent emerged. Jesus fasted for forty days in the desert just prior to the beginning of his public ministry of preaching and miracles. This public ministry, of course, came to a climax in his dying and rising. We, too, enter into a forty day period of fasting before celebrating his death and resurrection so that we might, through God’s grace, be able to focus our hearts and minds on this great mystery, the great gift of eternal life that Christ gave us through it.


If any reader of Nota Bene would like to submit question for this column, please do so by e-mail. Thanks.


Preparing for a Journey:

A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Monday of the Eighth Week of Ordinary Time, Year I

Sir 17:19-27
Ps 32:1-2, 5, 6, 7
Mk 10:17-27

A few weeks ago I travelled to Tulsa to do some teaching. And I will be going back to there in a couple of weeks. As I will be going alone this time (my family went with me last month), I hope to check no luggage and instead take it with me on the plane as carry-ons. But with the prospect of having to arrive at the airport at least two hours before departure, parking way out in the long-term lot, and having to go through security checks, I want to travel as lightly as possible.

This is the same wisdom imparted to us in today's readings. Both speak of journeys and both speak of getting rid of excess luggage. This lightens our load and our steps as travel closer and closer to the promised land.

Today's reading from Sirach assures us that the Lord "provides a way the penitent." We are exhorted to "Turn again to the Most High and away from your sin." This language of travelling, of setting out in this direction, away from that one, would have come naturally to the inspired writer of the Book of Sirach. This was one of the later written books of the Old Testament. By the time it was written, the people of Israel had already travelled from Egypt to the Promised Land, to Babylon and back. And surely there were, at the time of its writing, Jews all across the Eastern Mediterranean. The writer would have surely have known in his very bones what it meant to travel as a penitent on that "way back to the Lord."

It would seem that Jesus valued the spiritual meaning of travelling as well. In today's Gospel he is described as preparing to set off on a journey. Just as he was leaving, a man, seemingly on his own journey, came running up to him, perhaps having found his destination. He asked Jesus, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus first told him to follow the commandments, which the man assured him that he already did.

Jesus then advised him to lighten the load of his baggage by giving his wealth to the poor and to then follow him on his journey. As we all know, the man went away from Jesus, unwilling to travel with him according to his conditions. In fact, it would seem that the man didn't want to travel at all but simply to add the great prize of eternal life to his already overflowing collection of wealth.

But the life of faith that leads us on our journey to eternal life is not like that. We are not to stay in one place collecting all sorts of spiritual treasures, hording them so that we alone can put them in our curios and admire them. Instead we are all pilgrims on a journey to the kingdom, following in the steps of Him who has blazed the trail ahead of us.

The gifts of the Spirit that we take with us are certainly free for us to use to help us stay on the right path. But we are also called to keep our luggage light by sharing these gifts with others for their good, not clutching them tightly to ourselves.

This journey of a lifetime to the kingdom on which all of us who believe are fellow travellers is writ small in our upcoming journey through the season of Lent. In these forty days we will follow the words of Sirach and go away from our sins as penitents and back to the Lord. We will start off on that journey to eternal life with Jesus as our guide, not stopping until we arrive at Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday--the days when we wil celebrate his dying and rising, those events which allowed our pilgrimage to be possible in the first place.

With Ash Wednesday just a couple of days away we should be like travellers preparing for the start of a journey. We should look through the closets and drawers of our lives and choose carefully what needs to go with us and what needs to be left behind. In making these determinations, use the principle laid out for us in today's readings: travel lightly.

Sunday, March 02, 2003

Time to resurrect an old topic?

Last summer there was a topic of debate among some Catholic bloggers. It centered around the question, "Should one withold financial contributions to one's parish as a form of protest against the mismanagement of one's bishop, particular as regards mismanagement tied to 'The Situtaion'?"

Well, a relative newcomer to St. Blog's, Gen X Revert, has, perhaps unknowingly, revived the topic in this post, at as it regards his relationship to his own parish and archdiocese (the rather troubled Rockville Center).

Since the post is relatively short, here it is in full:

According to today’s bulletin, the parish collection last Sunday was almost $3,000 less than last year. I have not given a dime to my parish for about 2 weeks now and have now figured out what needs to happen before I donate any more:

The Diocese

1) Msgr. Hayde, the director of Liturgy, needs to be fired
2) The traditional Latin Mass needs to be moved to a parish setting
3) All child molester priests need to be defrocked or die
4) All payments to child molesters must end

The Parish

1) A crucifix has to be put in the Sanctuary
2) Images of Mary and Joseph, of any sort, must be put in the Sanctuary
3) The practice of using glasses for distributing the Blood of Christ must end

Until all these conditions are met, I will not give any money to my parish (I have never donated anything to the diocese). There are plenty of good Catholic things to give money to, such as:

Ave Maria University
The Legion of Christ
Franciscan University of Steubenville

Care to comment about this topic in general or the quoted blogger's response in particular? If you want to comment at his blog, take the link that I provided above to that post in particular.


Speaking of young Mr. Donovan...

He and I have a bit of a dialogue going in the comment box of an older post of mine, the one in which I described Wheaton College's change in policies regarding drinking alcohol and dancing on campus. Go into the archives (take the link to the post provided above) and check it out. Add to the dialogue if you wish. I'd be interested to see what other readers have to say on the issues we've raised.