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  • Celibacy Revisited



    Writing in the first person is always a risk, but the subject matter of this column is best done, I feel, through personal testimony. In a world where chastity and celibacy are seen as naÔve and to be pitied and where there's a general skepticism that anyone is actually living them out, personal testimony is perhaps the most effective protest.

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  • Good sports



    When I was about 13, I had a bad temper -- so bad that I quit playing golf. When I played poorly (which was most of the time), I would throw clubs and say things I was not allowed to say at home. It made the game unpleasant for my playing partners and an occasion of sin for me.

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  • True Versus False Human Rights



    2018 marks the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was proclaimed three years after the 1945 foundation of the United Nations to give definition to the "fundamental human rights" and "fundamental freedoms" mentioned in the UN Charter. The motivation behind it was to counteract the barbarous acts that occurred at the time of World War II, most notoriously the Holocaust, which had justly outraged the conscience of mankind.

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  • Conscience and grace: A Lenten meditation



    The scriptures of Lent in the Church's daily liturgy invite two related reflections. The weeks immediately preceding Easter call us to walk to Jerusalem in imitation of Christ, so that, at Easter, we, too might be blessed with baptismal water and sent into the world on mission. The preceding weeks, those immediately following Ash Wednesday, propose a serious examination of conscience: What is there in me that's broken? What's impeding my being the missionary disciple I was baptized to be?

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  • The Fra Angelico Guild



    On Sept. 20, 1939, a group of 10 Catholic artists met at a studio located at 3 Joy Street in Boston, with the intention of forming an organization that would help spread knowledge of Christian art. They would first take the name Guild of Catholic Artists and Craftsmen, then Guild for Catholic Artists, and later Guild for Christian Art. By late November, at the suggestion of Cardinal William H. O'Connell that they take a saint's name, they agreed on the Fra Angelico Guild. The guild was inspired by Catholic Action, which they defined as "the cooperation of the laity in the apostolate of the Hierarchy" or, in other words, lay people helping advance the mission of the Church. The term "guild" implied the group met not for the benefit of its members, but for the betterment of society. Their stated goal was to "endeavor to teach and instruct the youth both in and out of the Church and provide for them new cultural opportunities and equip them correctly with the necessary technique of appreciation of the arts."

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  • The impact of a simple cardboard box



    Much of the work that we do at Catholic Charities is aimed at helping those in need within our own community. But struggles do not merely exist in Massachusetts, almost half the world -- over three billion people -- live on less than $2.50 a day. With this in mind, as we have each of the past four years, Catholic Charities has partnered with Catholic Relief Services through their Rice Bowl campaign.

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  • Repentance in the early Church



    The call to a change of heart and a change of life was a hallmark of the ministry of Jesus, of his forerunner, John the Baptist, and of his apostles. And the Lenten season, which has been part of the Christian year from the earliest days of the Church, has always made repentance its centerpiece.

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  • Prayer of repentance



    Lord Jesus, Lent presents me with the opportunity -- and the obligation -- to examine where my life is modeling your example and where I am failing to help bring about the kingdom of God. Help me to delve deeply into my life during this season of penance and give a thorough look at what my values are and how I live them out each day.

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  • How to get ready for Lent



    "In these days, therefore, let us add something beyond ordinary expectations of our service. Let each one, over and above the measure prescribed, offer God something of his own freewill in the joy of the Holy Spirit." (Rule of St. Benedict, sixth century)

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  • The New Creation



    Lent bids us to return to the innocence of baptism. As Noah and his family were saved through the waters of the deluge, we were saved through the waters of baptism, Peter reminds us in today's Epistle. And God's covenant with Noah in today's First Reading marked the start of a new world. But it also prefigured a new and greater covenant between God and His creation (see Hosea 2:20; Isaiah 11:1--9). We see that new covenant and that new creation begin in today's Gospel.

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  • Germain Grisez, an influential theologian



    "We are all students of Grisez now." The man who said that several years ago was a Catholic theologian not generally seen as being a disciple of Germain Grisez. He was simply acknowledging the influence Grisez had already had on serious students of moral thought--an influence that, one might add following Grisez's death, seems likely to continue growing for a long time to come.

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  • Racial healing and God's mercy



    In 1961, there was a best-selling book called "Black Like Me." It was the story of a journalist named John Howard Griffin, who changed his skin color from white to black and traveled through the South so that he could learn, as the book's subtitle said, "what it is like to live the life of a Negro by becoming one!"

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  • Scattering ashes



    Q. When I die, I would like to be cremated and have my ashes scattered in a place of peace and beauty that I have already chosen. However, when I have asked a couple of priests, they say that I can be cremated but that my ashes must be in an urn and either buried or interred in an above-ground mausoleum.

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  • Our Most Common Sin



    Classically Christianity has listed seven sins as "deadly" sins, meaning that most everything else we do which is not virtuous somehow takes its root in one these congenital propensities. These are the infamous seven: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth.

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  • Pork Roll, Lent, and Catholic identity



    A few weeks before Ash Wednesday, an Associated Press squib with Lenten implications appeared in the Washington Post sports section: * YANKEES: New York's Class AA affiliate in Trenton, N.J., will change its name from the Thunder to the Pork Roll on Fridays this season. The pork roll is a New Jersey staple, served on breakfast sandwiches and as a burger topping.

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  • A higher greatness



    Kevin Dolan was laid to rest two weeks ago Friday after a funeral Mass in St. Paul's Cathedral, Worcester. His life like so many things associated with Christ was both mystery and paradox. Twenty years ago he began to be afflicted by some disease of his nervous system that was never diagnosed or understood. Over the years, it successively stripped him of the abilities that all of us take for granted, eventually claiming his life. For many years he could not speak or write, could not control any of his movements. Yet at his wake and funeral perhaps the most common phrase used to describe him was, "He was a great man." How can this be?

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  • The forgotten Americans



    The past week, I spoke at four outstanding Catholic High Schools in Massachusetts about the importance of Catholic education, with parents, clergy and students. It was so good to hear many positive stories about how well children are doing in our Catholic schools. But I also got the opportunity to listen to people talk about other issues of deep concern to them and their community like public safety, gangs and drugs.

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  • Spiritual and religious



    A lot of people these days identify themselves as "spiritual-but-not-religious." It's almost as if those two things were mutually exclusive. In other words, our culture assumes you can choose between being "spiritual" or "religious," but you can't possibly be both. As Catholics, we know that simply isn't true. In fact, bringing "spiritual" and "religious" together is a central goal of living our faith in Jesus Christ.

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  • What does Boston have that other dioceses want?



    At just about the same time that Cardinal SeŠn called for the implementation of Disciples in Mission, Bishops in other dioceses around the country were looking at some of the same realities that we in the Archdiocese of Boston were facing. Almost every archdiocese and diocese finds themselves facing similar issues needing to be addressed. They are: declining numbers of vocations, declining number of professional lay ecclesial ministers, declining resources and aging properties and declining numbers of people in the pews.

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  • Bringing hope back to life in Lent



    "The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life." Those words appear in Pope Benedict XVI's 2007 encyclical on hope titled "Spe Salvi," a title based on St. Paul's statement in his Letter to the Romans that "in hope we were saved" (8:24). They sum up certain key goals of the Christian season of Lent.

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  • Ash Wednesday: A point of re-entry?



    Unlike Christmas, Easter and every Sunday of the year, Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation. Maybe that's part of the draw for some people, who fill their parish churches for Ash Wednesday liturgies as they rarely do at any other time.

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  • It's what's inside that counts



    On Ash Wednesday, it's not hard to identify Catholics. The smudge of ashes in the shape of a cross on their foreheads is a solid giveaway. The interesting part, though, is that the purpose of those ashes is quite the opposite of the "Hey, look at me" message it seems to send.

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  • Plan for Lent



    When my son and his male cousins headed to college, my daughter's gift to them was a colorful book called "A Man, a Can, a Plan," by David Joachim and the editors of Men's Health. Clever and presumably practical, it contained easy recipes for the man on his own. Realistically, however, a can opener was largely a foreign object to these guys, and if it couldn't be accessed and consumed through a pop top, well, what good was it?

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  • Made clean



    In the Old Testament, leprosy is depicted as punishment for disobedience of God's commands (see Numbers 12:12--15; 2 Kings 5:27; 15:5). Considered "unclean"--unfit to worship or live with the Israelites, lepers are considered "stillborn," the living dead (see Numbers 12:12). Indeed, the requirements imposed on lepers in today's First Reading--rent garments, shaven head, covered beard--are signs of death, penance, and mourning (see Leviticus 10:6; Ezekiel 24:17).

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  • Faith and Superstition



    The power of a subordinate clause, one nuance within a sentence and everything takes on a different meaning. That's the case in a recent brilliant, but provocative, novel, The Ninth Hour, by Nina McDermott. She tells a story which, among other things, focuses on a group of nuns in Brooklyn who work with the poor. Times are hard, people are needy, and the nuns, who work mostly in home care for the poor, appear utterly selfless in their dedication. Nothing, it seems, can deflect them from their mission to give their all, their every of ounce of energy, to help the poor. And on this score, McDermott gives them their due. As well, for anyone familiar with what goes on inside of a religious community, McDermott's portrayal of these nuns is both nuanced and accurate. Nuns aren't all of a kind. Each has her own unique history, temperament, and personality. Some are wonderfully warm and gracious, others nurse their own wounds and aren't always evident paradigms of God's love and mercy. And that's case with the nuns that McDermott describes here. But, quirks of individual personality aside, as a community, the nuns she describes serve the poor and their overall witness is beyond reproach.

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  • Broadening the pro-life witness



    Bishop Anthony B. Taylor found himself on the headline side of a "man bites dog" story. The headline read: "Bishop will not attend March for Life in Little Rock." A bishop attending a pro-life rally: not a surprise. Boycotting one: That's unusual.

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  • International religious liberty, an anti-terrorism tool



    Promoting international religious liberty is one of those things that America ought to be doing for its own sake, but doing it would also serve U.S. national security interests as an anti-terrorism tool. Yet indifference to religion at the upper reaches of the U.S. political culture has been a serious obstacle to that for years and remains so today.

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  • Men without conviction, churches without people



    Europe's wholesale abandonment of its Christian faith is often explained as the inevitable by-product of modern social, economic, and political life. But there is far more to the story of Euro-secularization than that, as three ecclesiastics, a Presbyterian minister and two Italian priests, demonstrated this past Christmas.

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  • The Catholic Church doesn't do 'paradigm shifts'



    Ever since Thomas Kuhn popularized it with his 1962 book, ''The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,'' the notion of a "paradigm shift" has led to fascinating arguments about whether this or that break with previous scientific understanding counted as one. But that a "paradigm shift" -- like the "shift" from Sir Isaac Newton's cosmology to Albert Einstein's, or the shift from the miasma theory of disease to the germ theory of disease -- is a rupture in continuity is not in much dispute. A "paradigm shift" signals a dramatic, sudden, and unexpected break in human understanding -- and thus something of a new beginning.

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  • Truly empowering women?



    The biggest news at the Golden Globes this year was not which television series won the most honors. It was Oprah Winfrey's speech, saying of the "brutally powerful men" in Hollywood who have sexually harassed and abused women: "Their time is up!"

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  • Pope Pius IX and the Papal States



    Feb. 7 marks 140 years since the death of Pope Pius IX, whose tenure, upon further reading, proved incredibly tumultuous due to the political events taking shape in Italy during the 19th Century. Pope Pius IX was born Giovanni Maria Mastai Ferretti on May 13, 1792, in Senigallia, Italy. At age 10, he entered a college in Volterra run by the Piarists, but withdrew in 1809 due to poor health. He would recover and resume studies in Rome, and was ordained a priest on April 10, 1819.

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  • Raised to serve



    In today's first Reading, Job describes the futility of life before Christ. His lament reminds us of the curse of toil and death placed upon Adam following his original sin (see Genesis 3:17--19). Men and women are like slaves seeking shade, unable to find rest. Their lives are like the wind that comes and goes.

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  • The book on building a vibrant spiritual life



    Father Roger Landry, a priest of the Fall River diocese who presently works for the Holy See's Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations, has just written an invaluable guide to developing a solid Christian life entitled "Plan of Life: Habits to Help You Grow Closer to God" (Pauline Books and Media, 2018).

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  • The romance of ballroom dance



    "To be fond of dancing was a certain step toward falling in love." -- Jane Austen In Jane Austen's time, dancing brought young people together in much the same ways as it does in our time. Dances gave young people the opportunity to socialize, to develop romantic attachments, and to have emotional experiences set to a backdrop of music and rhythm.

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  • Spiritual ecumenism



    In late January the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity was observed around the world. Last year in Boston there was a prayer service each night of that week in a different denominational church, and members of all churches were invited to come and join their hearts and voices in prayer.

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  • Assemble for life!



    The March for Life is always an uplifting and inspiring event, even though the circumstances that give rise to the march every January are anything but uplifting or inspiring. Those realities are, of course, downright tragic and disheartening. And that is why it takes tremendous effort to bring them out into the light of day long enough to look them squarely in the eye. After all, who in their right mind wants to acknowledge the carnage of legalized abortion?

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  • Phase IV -- Developing a culture of planning



    The Phase IV collaboratives are deep in the process of writing their local pastoral plans. They have been hard at work for several months writing a vision statement and goals they hope to achieve over the next three years. Before they began their writing, they spent time reviewing the responses of parishioners to the Disciple Maker Index (DMI) as well as scanning the environment of their parishes to evaluate where there were places that needed reenergizing or strengthening. Those two exercises have helped the writing teams get a clearer sense of where growth was needed and what potential goals might enable them to achieve this end.

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  • The debt we owe



    In Omaha, Nebraska, where I live, we have a feature writer in the local paper who covers the stories of refugees in our city. Her most recent article featured the trials of a family from Congo who spent years in a Tanzanian refugee camp hoping for a better life.

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  • The king's authority



    Last week, Jesus announced the kingdom of God is at hand. This week, in mighty words and deeds, He exercises His dominion--asserting royal authority over the ruler of this world, Satan (see John 12:31).

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  • Homage to Don Briel



    In the history of U.S. Catholic higher education since World War II, three seminal moments stand out: Msgr. John Tracy Ellis's 1955 article, "American Catholics and the Intellectual Life;" the 1967 Land o' Lakes statement, "The Idea of a Catholic University;" and the day Don J. Briel began the Catholic Studies Program -- and the Catholic Studies movement -- at the University of St. Thomas in the Twin Cities.

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  • An Evening with William Lane Craig



    Ten years ago, when I was a visiting scholar at the North American College in Rome, I fell into a spirited conversation with one of the seminarians about the state of evangelization in America. We both were bemoaning the fact that the "new" atheists--Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and others--were regularly attacking religion, and I commented that no Christian spokesman had managed to engage the enemies of the faith well on the public scene. To this, my seminarian friend responded, "Yeah, but have you seen William Lane Craig?" I admitted I hadn't. He told me that Craig, an evangelical Protestant, was by far the most effective spokesman for the Christian point of view and that he had taken on the atheists with great intelligence, wit, and panache. That night, I looked up Dr. Craig on YouTube and watched, with fascination, his debates with the superstars of the atheist movement. From that evening on I was a fan.

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  • An Accessible Manual for the Spiritual Journey



    I am happy and humbled that on February 1, Pauline Books and Media will publish a new book I've written entitled Plan of Life: Habits to Help You Grow Closer to God. The book is a response to Saint John Paul II's call, in his 2001 pastoral plan for the third Christian millennium, for a "genuine training in holiness adapted to people's needs," and describes a series of basic and more advanced spiritual practices that sinners and saints across the decades have found helpful to grow in their communion with God in daily life.

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  • About praising famous men



    Ron Chernow has written a splendid new biography of Ulysses S. Grant, and it has caused me to reflect on the judgments we make about historical figures. I have long held Grant in low esteem, for several reasons. Everyone knows he had trouble controlling his drinking. But that's not one of my reasons; he fought his demons and eventually overcame them.

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  • Responsibility for grandchildren



    Q. Our daughter has moved back to our area after a divorce, along with her two children -- now ages 8 and 10. The children are baptized; the older one has made her first Communion and the younger one will do so next month. My daughter is the product of Catholic grade school, high school and college, but she does not attend church with them except for Christmas and Easter.

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  • Overcoming the Divisions that Divide Us



    We live in a world of deep divisions. Everywhere we see polarization, people bitterly divided from each other by ideology, politics, economic theory, moral beliefs, and theology. We tend to use over-simplistic categories within which to understand these divisions: the left and the right opposing each other, liberals and conservatives at odds, pro-life vying with pro-choice.

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