A New Year, New Priorities

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Bl. John XXIII, Apostolic Visitor to Bulgaria

I have not posted on this blog since last February and a great deal has changed over the course of that lengthy period of time. For example, I’m currently living in Bulgaria and working as an English teacher at an English language high school in the city of Plovdiv (pop. 500,000). Like Rome, Plovdiv is a city that is built around seven different hills. Also, there is a sizeable Catholic community here, but I will comment on that later.

As I have mentioned before, I was born in Bulgaria and came to the United States at the age of 6. Returning to the homeland has been both a difficult and rewarding process. Difficult because I had to get used to various things that you will not find in the United States. For example, giving the exact amount of a foodstuff that you want to buy in grams rather than pounds. Also, the fact  that the people here are much more social and that what is nobody’s business can quickly become everybody’s business

Yet living here is also rewarding. First of all, I would have to say that I am privileged to be working with two teachers who are extremely knowledgeable and who have taken me in. Both of them are very different from each other and this shows in the way that they treat their students. However, I have learned over the last three months that teaching is one of those professions where there isn’t a right or wrong approach. It is merely the attitude of the teacher that sometimes gets in the way.

Another interesting thing about Bulgaria is that it is still considered a missionary country by the Church. Plovdiv is the center of the Bulgarian archdiocese. Christianity in the region goes back to the first century and the Apostle Hermas (one of the Seventy and the author of “The Shepherd). However, it was during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that Franciscan missionaries began arriving and building parishes as well as preaching missions.

During the 20th century, a young priest from Italy was sent to Bulgaria as an Apostolic Visitor. The term “apostolic visitor” is not the same thing as a nuncio. A nuncio is an ambassador that has been sent to a particular country by the Holy See  and functions in that capacity. An Apostolic Visitor, however, is someone that has been sent by the Holy See to observe the conditions of the country and to help the Holy See determine the spiritual conditions (the seminaries, the parishes, and so on).

This man made a great impact on this country. Even people who were non-Catholics asked after him for years. His name was Giovanni Roncalli or Blessed John XXIII and he came to Plovdiv many times over the course of his life as a diplomat in Bulgaria.

Living in a country that is still very much a missionary territory is something extremely special. At the cathedral, where I regularly attend Mass, there is a certain sense of community that I have not found in the United States. People know each other and it’s not unusual for a parish priest to know all of his parishioners by name. Perhaps, this comes from the fact that the Catholics in Bulgaria are not in the majority (only 2% of the population according to the last official census) and that their religion is looked down upon by their Orthodox brethren as heretical and schismatic.

Precisely because of these conditions and the persecution under Communism, I have always sensed that the people here take their faith seriously. The Masses are reverent, the congregation usually dresses up for Church, the priest’s homilies are usually concise and well-written, but what strikes me most of all is the sense of community and this sense of community is something that all of us need because we are all members of One Body in the Catholic Church.

Over the course of this year, I will continue blogging about my life in Bulgaria and providing spiritual reflections whenever possible on the ecclesiastical year.

Our Lady of the Rosary,  pray for us!

Holy Apostle Hermas, pray for us!

Blessed John XXIII, pray for us!

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What is the Mass?

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The Last Supper

Earlier today, I went on campus to deliver some paperwork. While at the library, I noticed the Catholic magazine which some students have been publishing there for quite sometime. One of the articles had to do with resolutions that people make during Lent. While skimming through it, I found something that irritated me greatly namely the author viewed Holy Mass as a meal.

I understand that in our post-Conciliar times, it is very easy for people to view the Mass as a meal. After all, that’s why we switched from massive high altars to altar tables. Not only that, but the Mass itself has been changed to emphasize this aspect more than anything else.

However, what is the Mass really? If one were to strip it down to its core elements then what would it mean to you or to me? Most certainly, the Mass is not a meal in the natural sense of that term. It is also not any of the other things that numerous theologians have been touting for the last forty years in their books and writings. Indeed, most of these ideas do not jive well with the writings of the early Church Fathers.

So if it isn’t any of these things then what is the Mass? The Mass is the Unbloody Sacrifice of Our Lord. As the apostles and their successors have taught over the centuries, the Mass is a re-presentation of Our Lord’s Life, Passion, and Resurrection. Divided the Mass into its component parts (Mass of the Catechumens, Offertory, Canon, Communion, and Postcommunion) and what you will find is that they are equivalent to the parts of the Gospel.

For example, the Gospel readings at Mass and the sermon echo the work of Christ’s Public Life when he traveled throughout the lands of Israel preaching and teaching. It resounds with us today because the priest at the altar is an alter Christus. He is another Christ and so is every bishop, archbishop, metropolitan, and cardinal right up to His Holiness himself.

But the Mass is so much more than this. It is one of the most awe-inspiring and awesome mysteries of our faith. When the priest consecrates the elements in the  host and the paten with Christ’s own words of institution those two earthly elements become transformed into His Body and Blood. That is not a magician’s trick. It is not a gimmick. It is an actual fact because of His Real Presence.

At Communion, He come to us and meets us. When we consume Him and make our thanksgiving, His presence is with us and it is alive. I cannot being to tell you of the many times when I received Communion and felt Him there guiding me and showing me the way. He was not there because I was worthy. I was not, but He was there nevertheless.

There are many people who take the Mass for granted. I even do it sometimes, but if we realize what it is and what it means then we cannot continue to be complacent about it. It will no longer be a meal. It will be something much more different.

He Leadeth Me

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St. Dominic receives the Rosary

Last fall, I was reading a biography of Vladimir Nabokov. Renowned for his salacious novel, Lolita, he was one of the best prose writers of the twentieth century. In this biography, the author mentioned a scene in Nabokov’s memoirs in which he first became conscious of his parents as parents. It happened while they were walking in a park on their estate and he suddenly came to the realization who these people were.

I have been going through something similar over the last few days. Ever since I started praying the Little of the Blessed Virgin Mary with its commemorations of Dominican saints and the extra devotion, I have felt a strong attraction that is very difficult for me to describe. The only words that can possibly do it justice is to call it magnetism because I feel like there is a magnetic pulling me towards God.

The truth is that God has always used His magnetic on me. There have been times in my life when I have felt it and other times when I haven’t. Yet never have is it been this strong or urgent. Never has the call to the life, as the Carthusians call it, been this loud.

From previous discernment experiences, I know that things like this call for caution. There have been numerous times when I felt called to a particular Order or religious institute and found out that it was not for me. There were also times when I gave up because I was pressured by the vocations directors into going on retreats and things that I could not possibly afford. So I always slammed on the brakes.

With this new experience, I am also being extremely cautious. If God’s will for me is to become a Dominican then He will make His will known to me. I cannot force Him to reveal it just as He cannot force me to do things that I don’t want to do. Perhaps, that’s the point of the entire discernment experience. God draws us and we learn gradually to rely on Him because He knows, whether we like it or not, that His way is the best way.

Coming back to that piece from Nabokov, I also feel that there are two other hands guiding me towards God. As I mentioned somewhere a long time ago, I had begun to pray a novena to Our Lady of Pompeii. This novena also includes prayers to St. Dominic and St. Catherine of Siena, the two main patrons of the Dominican Order.

Now as I pray the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin at Lauds and Vespers, I always invoke them for their aid and help. It’s something that Dominicans have been doing for centuries. After all, if you have a father and a mother up there shouldn’t you be asking them to pick you up by the hands and lead you. In fact, that’s what I’m feeling right now. God, of course, is leading the way for me, but St. Catherine of Siena and St. Dominic are right behind showing me the way and interceding for me with God.

Relativism: An Illness of Our Time

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Interior of Holy Name Cathedral, Chicago

A post on Fr Z.’s blog about gay protests on Valentine’s Day in front of Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago really got me fired up.

As I noted in my comment on that blog, the main reason why protesters are able to get away with things like this is that we live in an increasingly secularist and relativist society which does not care about the rights of God and the natural law under which he has placed fallible human beings such as ourselves.

You see, dear readers, the term relativism means that absolutely everything in this world is equivalent to everything else. What is good for the goose is good for the gander, so the analogy goes. But what is good for the goose is not good for the gander if this means harming the inherent rights of the family and the rest of society. People don’t realize this, but the fabric of our society has already been rent in twain over the last fifty or so years. The sanctioning of homosexual unions by any Church body or the state will make those divisions worse.

Just this last summer, the ECUSA convention voted for gay rights in a sense. The issue has been a hot one over there for quite sometime and what was the result of this vote? More schism, more people leaving the Anglican Communion and its American arm because they cannot stand the downright depravity that is taking place in its midst. Essentially, the Anglican Church is no longer what it used to be. One wonders what Henry VIII, the founder of said Church, would think about this. Perhaps, he would be rolling in his grave or he might just be approving of what is going on.

Another problem with relativism is that if you or someone else gets the ball rolling, it will continue to roll. There are certain persons who believe that all religions are equal paths to God. This is a downright heretical notions. All religions are not equal. God did not create Islam, Buddhism, or Hinduism. God only created One True Church (the Roman Catholic Church and its Eastern arm) and everything else is on the wayside, if you will.

Relativism creates these chimeras and numerous others as well. It forces the larger portions of society to look at such things as transgenderism, pre-marital sex, and homosexuality and to say, “Aw gee, it’s pretty good compared to hetero relationships.” Say this once and the domino effect continues. Pretty soon, everything is being turned on its head. White becomes black and black becomes white because everything is equal.

Several months ago, I was working on a Fulbright grant so that I could teach abroad. My advisor was  dyed-in-the-wool lesbian who was not afraid to showcase the literature of this group in her office. My gut reaction when I saw “the equal sign” bumper stickers on her desk was to say, “You know, forget this. I’ m not going to sit here and be brainwashed.” Of course, that’s not what happened. I realized that I had to work with her in some form or other so that my application could be successful and so we collaborated.

As a former student at a Jesuit college,  the presence of people like this woman frustrate me to no end. There is a difference between hiring people because they are wonderful scholars in their field and getting people on board to be politically correct. I believe that the latter is increasingly becoming the case and students at colleges like the one I used to attend are being inundated with things like this. Quite contrary to sixty years ago when Catholic colleges were meant to nurture their students in the faith.

I’m certain that there are readers out there who will say, “Oh, you’re just a conservative nut job. You’re just saying these things to make me angry.” That’s not necessarily the point. There is a difference between things that are morally right and morally wrong. Homosexuality in any of its guises is wrong for all kinds of reasons that I won’t go into here. So is relativism.

Our Lady of the Angels, pray for us!

Adopt A Priest, Please!

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Our Lady of the Most Blessed Sacrament

This site and ministry were founded by Sr. Francis Marie, a former sedevacantist Sister with the Diocese of Spokane. The specific mission of this ministry to support the priests of the diocese through prayer for an entire year. This is especially true during this Year of Priests.

Please discern if you can support this effort in any way you can.

Our Lady, Queen of the Clergy, pray for us!

Dominican Sisters Office Book

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Our Lady of the Rosary

As I noted yesterday, I received my Dominican breviaries. I have decided to ease myself in by using “The Dominican Sisters Office Book” and then graduating at some point in the future to the Breviarium S. O. P. (Breviarium juxta Sacri Ordinis Praedicatorum)

Having used the Benedictine (Monastic) Breviary for a long time, transitioning was not difficult for me. In many ways, learning to use any breviary is like learning to ride a bicycle. After one has mastered the basics and the rubrics, then one is ready to ride down the road. When switching bicycles, one merely has to re-examine the bike for its own particular peculiarities and the rest is taken care of.

The Dominican Sisters Office Book is one of a series of short breviaries that were published throughout the 19th and 20th centuries in Europe and the United States. Geared towards Dominican teaching and nursing sisters, in particular, the Office Book consists of the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary as well as numerous other prayers and devotions (the Ordinary of the Mass, the Most Holy Rosary, litanies in honor of Dominican saints, etc.).

The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary in this breviary is similar to what one would find in the Baronius Press edition. However, there are some variations. For example, the Baronius Press Little Office is divided into three different seasons (Advent, Christmas, and Purification to Advent) and includes full Lauds and Vespers for these season. The Office Book does not go to such great lengths. The editors have only included the proper prayers and antiphons for those particular season.

Another difference is that the Dominican Divine Office is generally longer than what would find in the Baronius Press edition. The reason for this is that the Dominican Order adapted many things from the Praemonstratensians, Benedictines, and monastic communities that were active at the time St. Dominic founded them. One example of this is a series of prayers that are read immediately after Lauds and Vespers.  In the main they ask for the intercession of St. Dominic, the Dominican saints and blesseds, and for Our Lord to grant us peace.

Another difference is to be found at the end of Compline where the final antiphons would be. The Dominicans only recite the Salve Regina and that in a procession.

Also, the distribution of the psalms is different as is the wording of certain hymns. However, I view these as variations on a theme and not strictly as departures from what the original Little Office. After all, it has been adapted by all kinds of congregations for their own specific needs over the centuries beginning with the Carthusians.

One of the best things about the Office Book is that it has a calendar of Dominican saints and blesseds as well as their proper antiphons and prayers which one adds after the proper prayers of Lauds and Vespers. I find that this will be a useful tool for me as I learn about the great heroes and heroines of St. Dominic’s family.

The Dominican Sisters Office Book is an exceedingly rare publication. It appears on ebay from time to time, but it is not generally available and can go for extremely steep prices depending on its condition. I found mine in a dusty box at a former seminary library, but that was more luck than anything else.

New Arrivals

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Today, my librarian friend finally brought me the Dominican breviaries I had talked so much about before. For any of you that are even remotely interested in such things, I am posting the list of breviaries that I currently own:

Full Breviaries

Christian Prayer

Breviarium Monasticum (Benedictine Breviary),  2 vols., 1930.

Breviarium juxta Sacri Ordinis Praedicatorum (Dominican Rite Breviary, 2 vols, 1950s, St. Sabina)

Breviarium Romano-Carmelitanum (Discalced Carmelite Breviary, only Verna, Pustet, 1920-30)

Short Breviaries (Breviaria Parva)

A Short Breviary for Religious and Laity (Collegeville, 1954 with 1955 additions.)

Horae Diurnae Breviarii Monastici (Day Hours of the Monastic Breviary, St. Gertrude’s Press, 1924) – This is probably the most rare of them all. It was published for the English Benedictine nuns and contains full Matins (no extensive readings for Nocturns).

Horae Diurnae Breviarii Monastici (Day Hours of the Monastic Breviary, Desclee, 1938).

Diurnale Minorum Conventualium (Day Hours of the Franciscan Breviary, Rome, 1894) – Another rarity. Published well before the Pius X reforms. The oldest breviary I own.

Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Dominican Sisters Office Book by Frs. McHugh and Callan, O.P. (Little Office of the Virgin Mary, various Dominican prayers, devotions, Third Edition)

Office of Our Lady by the Benedictine Monks of En Calcat, 2 vols., 1961. (Amplified Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, daily lectionary, etc.).

Pope Pius XII’s Canonization: Another Hurdle to Jump

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Pope Pius XII

One of the ironies of living in today’s Catholic world is that while some people are falling all over themselves to get John Paul II canonized, there are those others who still believe the Black Legend that Pope Pius XII, also up for canonization, did not do enough for European Jews during the Holocaust.

Reuters has an article up about a letter that was recently sent to His Holiness by a group of Catholic scholars from the United States and elsewhere. In their letter, the group “implores” His Holiness to stop the Process of Canonization because it would damage relations between Catholics and Jews.

As many of you will know, this kind of appeal is nothing new. Smear campaigns against the memory of Pope Pius XII have been around for years. Yet few people know that he tried as hard as he could to save as many Jews as possible.  Take the following story as an example about the Allied bombardment of Rome:

There were many Jews. On September 28, the Chief Rabbi of Rome sought the aid of the Holy Father. THe Nazis and neo-Fascists had demanded the tremendous ransom of 1,00,000 lire and one hundred pounds of gold from the Jewish residents with threat of looting their homes and enslaving them. The Jews of Rome raised the lire, but they simply did not have that much of the precious metal. Could the Pope help them?

Pius did not hesitate. Within twenty-four hours, the ransom was paid. Though he never told anyone how the gold was obtained, it is known that he ordered holy vessels melted down to provide the funds for this most Christ-like succor of those of an alien faith.

But the gold sacrifice bought not safety, but only a respite for the Jews. Soon the methodical pogrom began again. Jewish houses and stores  were smashed and looted by the neo-Fascists; Jewish families were broken up, their men-folk shipped into slavery in northern Italy and Germany; the women and children left without sustenance or shelter. Hundreds sought protection in the Vatican. Among them was Chief Rabbi Zolli himself.

Two years later, after the invader had gone and ITaly was once more free, the Chief Rabbi of Rome embraced the Catholic faith.  (Hatch and Walshe. Crown of Glory: The Life of Pope Pius XII. Hawthorn, 1958.)

In reading this account of Pope Pius XII’s efforts on behalf of the Jews, we should come to acknowledge that the myth of Hitler’s pope is just that. A myth.

As for Pope Pius XII himself, he was one of the greatest shepherds our Church has known in recent decades. He sacrificed himself so that the flock of Christ would be preserved throughout the world by fighting a war on two fronts against Communism and Fascism. Such a man deserves our deepest admiration and thanks.

Catholic Church Continues to Grow

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Mass at St. Vibiana's, Los Angeles

According to this article, the number of Roman Catholics in the United States has continued to grow. Our numbers have increased 1.25% over the last year to just over 68 million believers. If you look at the statistics for the other Top 10 Christian Denominations, you will find only slight increases or decreases.

Lord Disraeli, a British prime minister during the latter part of the 19th century, once said that there were three kinds of lies, “Lies, damned lies, and statistics.” In this instance, we have statistics which show us that our beloved Church is still leading as far as membership goes. We must ask ourselves, however, who is a Catholic these days and what on earth does this mean?

The word “Catholic” means many different things. As I have come to understand from being in the Church for three years, the term can denote almost anything from cultural liberals to ultraconservatives. On the one hand, you have those that are for women’s ordination and then there are those on the opposite end of the spectrum who believe that the Church and society should go back to the 1950s when everything was just swell. And then, of course, there are those of us that are stuck somewhere in the middle.

Yet these ideas are not what it means to be a Catholic. A Catholic is ultimately a follower of Christ and one who obeys Him. A person can call himself many things including Catholic, but if he doesn’t obey God then he isn’t any of those things. As Our Lord said, there will be those at the Last Judgment who will turn to Him and tell who they are and He will respond that He does not know them. Why? Because they did not follow Him with all of their heart, strength, and soul.

We must ask ourselves where we fall among the 68 million in this survey. If we have lapsed, we need to ask ourselves why. If we are not doing everything we can, then we need to discern a way that we can. If we do not regularly attend church, then we need to ask ourselves what it is that prevents us.

This kind of self-examination is fruitful and will bring us much more fruit in the future. For by knowing ourselves, we will be better equipped to serve others and build up the 68 million in our country by our example.