Fr. Gabriele Amorth on Medjugorje

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With the recent news of the passing of Fr. Gabriele Amorth (1925-2016), the most prominent exorcist in the Church, here is a video of Fr. Amorth on national TV speaking about Our Lady of Medjugorje, a topic he was not shy about. Fr. Amorth emphasizes that Satan’s biggest success has been constructing “a world culture without God, and the Madonna of Medjugorje has come specifically to bring back the world to God.” He stressed that Medjugorje is a place of great conversions and where people return to confession.

St. John Vianney and St. John Paul II: Brothers of the Priesthood

Ever wonder where Saint John Paul II picked up that beautiful gesture of kissing the jpIIground when arriving in a new country? He actually learned it from a famous French saint.

“It was a gesture I had learned from Saint John Mary Vianney,” John Paul II recalled in Gift and Mystery, a personal work recollecting important influences and moments that led John Paul II to pursue his priestly vocation as a young man.

Saint John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests, whose memorial is celebrated today, had a great influence on the priesthood of John Paul II, from as early as his seminary years. John Paul II wrote how, as a young priest studying for his doctorate in Rome, he was able to travel to France and “spend some time in Ars.” He would never forget this experience and it would guide him as a priest with great graces and memories.

JohnVianney“With great emotion I visited the little old church where Saint John Vianney heard confessions, taught catechism, and gave his homilies. It was an unforgettable experience for me. From my seminary years I had been impressed with the figure of the Curé of Ars, especially after reading his biography by Monsignor Trochu. Saint John Mary Vianney astonishes us because in him we can see the power of grace working through human limitations.

“It was his heroic service in the confessional which particularly struck me. That humble priest, who would hear confessions more than ten hours a day, eating little and sleeping only a few hours, was able, at a difficult moment in history, to inspire a kind of spiritual revolution in France, and not only there. Thousands of people passed through Ars and knelt at his confessional. Against the background of attacks on the Church and the clergy in the nineteenth century, his witness was truly revolutionary.

“My encounter with this saintly figure confirmed me in the conviction that a priest fulfills an essential part of his mission through the confessional—by voluntarily ‘making himself a prisoner of the confessional.’ Many times, as I heard confessions in my first parish at Niegowic and then in Cracow, my thoughts would turn to this unforgettable experience.”

— Saint John Paul II, Gift and Mystery: On the Fiftieth Anniversary of My Priestly  Ordination

City of Saints: A Pilgrimage to Kraków

As World Youth Day 2016 approaches in Krakow, Poland, I would like to recommend City of Saintsa couple of works that really capture the beauty and rich Catholic heritage of the medieval Polish city, where I lived for a couple of years as a child. First, a great book has been written called City of Saints: A Pilgrimage to John Paul II’s Krakow by George Weigel, Carrie Gress, and Stephen Weigel. The book provides not only a rich history of the Catholic heritage of Krakow, and its influence on Saint John Paul II, but also provides vivid photographs of sacred sites from the city, providing a beautiful pictorial tour.

I also wanted to recommend this Youtube video series by Sister Gaudia Skass, who is a member of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Krakow, the same community that the Polish mystic and saint Faustina Kowalska, who received visions of Jesus in the 1930’s, belonged to. Here is a link to the American province of the community, in case anyone may be discerning a vocation to religious life – please check out the sisters! Below is the series of eleven short videos of Sister Gaudia sharing some of the sacred heritage of the Divine Mercy Center in Krakow, a landmark of Polish Catholicism:

Princeton, Yale & Columbia-educated Psychiatrist who assists in Exorcisms

The title of this blog post itself speaks to a certain cultural bias that I am trying to counter: the notion that well educated people cannot believe in something like demonic possession and exorcisms. This is one of the great tragedies of modern society and even of — I regret to say — many circles of contemporary Catholic culture: there has been such a lost sense of the spiritual realm — of the supernatural and paranormal — that many do not believe in the devil or his actions anymore—this, alongside skepticism about miracles and healings—works of God which I, and many, have had the privilege of encountering in various ministries and life events.

exorcism riteI was so glad to see, therefore, that the Washington Post published a great article by Richard Gallagher, a psychiatrist and professor of clinical psychiatry at New York Medical College. The article is titled “As a Psychiatrist I Diagnose Mental Illness. And, Sometimes, Demonic Possession.” Dr. Gallagher has had the opportunity to assist Catholic exorcists in discerning the difference between mental illness and possession. He acknowledges that most cases are, in fact, connected to mental illness but that some present evidence that speaks to something more, something that medical science cannot fully explain.

Here is a section from the Washington Post article:

I’m a man of science and a lover of history; after studying the classics at Princeton, I trained in psychiatry at Yale and in psychoanalysis at Columbia. That background is why a Catholic priest had asked my professional opinion, which I offered pro bono, about whether this woman was suffering from a mental disorder. This was at the height of the national panic about Satanism. (In a case that helped induce the hysteria, Virginia McMartin and others had recently been charged with alleged Satanic ritual abuse at a Los Angeles preschool; the charges were later dropped.) So I was inclined to skepticism.

But my subject’s behavior exceeded what I could explain with my training. She could tell some people their secret weaknesses, such as undue pride. She knew how individuals she’d never known had died, including my mother and her fatal case of ovarian cancer. Six people later vouched to me that, during her exorcisms, they heard her speaking multiple languages, including Latin, completely unfamiliar to her outside of her trances. This was not psychosis; it was what I can only describe as paranormal ability. I concluded that she was possessed. Much later, she permitted me to tell her story.

Reading Dr. Gallagher’s article it becomes clear that he is not a man looking to prove possession. He acknowledges two extremes – those who, through a rationalistic ideology, cannot acknowledge any form of possession and those who attribute possession to any case. Most Catholic exorcists are the biggest skeptics: they seek psychiatric expertise, and thus the work of people like Dr. Gallagher, to make sure that mental illness is not involved before even going through an exorcism.

This is an incredibly insightful article — a very rare topic to be published by a major secular paper like the Washington Post — that I recommend highly. The devil is real, demonic possession is real, as is the supernatural power of Christ through the rite of exorcism that defeats the enemy.

Save a Historic Church – Stop the Closure of St. Adalbert Parish

Friends, I invite and implore you to please sign this petition to save St. Adalbert Church,StAdalbertChicago a historic church in Chicago, from closure and demolition. Here is the wording of the petition regarding St. Adalbert’s:

“The  Parish has served the community for over 142 years and we would like to see it continue to grow and prosper for the foreseeable future. The church, considered one of the most important works of renowned architect Henry J. Schlacks has stood for 102 years.  Please let the Archdiocese know that they should not close this magnificent edifice. The parish of St. Adalbert should continue its mission of taking in immigrants and any who want solace of mind and soul.”

How to Involve Seniors in Community Groups & Activities

[Editor’s note: Marie Villeza of ElderImpact.org shares helpful tips on how to integrate seniors of various Christian denominations into community groups & activities with her guest article.]

by Marie Villeza

Seniors enjoy socializing and participating in community groups and activities, but it may be difficult for them to get involved in their own churches if they don’t offer opportunities for senior members. That’s why getting seniors involved in ecumenical community groups and activities is a solution for many areas around the country.

Seniors of various Christian denominations enjoy spending time together in Christian unity, without feeling tied to one particular church or congregation, when they participate in these sorts of community groups and activities. If you’re looking to involve seniors in ecumenical community groups and activities, here are a few tips to get you started.

Involve Church Leaders, Priests, and Pastors

One of the first steps toward involving seniors in ecumenical community groups and seniorsactivities is to involve church leaders, priests, and pastors in the process so they can be the points of contact and welcome seniors from various congregations. Often, the church leaders, priests, and pastors know which seniors would be interested in participating in the groups and activities and can offer support for organizing them. These church leaders can also plan any services that will be held at gatherings. Or, they can pray with the groups for the unity of all Christians and extend the prayer to regular church services.

Provide Groups and Activities that Appeal to Seniors at Large

One of the best ways to get seniors involved in ecumenical community groups is to create an activity center that welcomes all seniors and offers a broad range of options. In fact, ecumenical centers already in existence are most successful when they offer groups and activities that appeal to seniors at large. For example, they may offer sewing groups, shopping groups, and dining out groups. Seniors also might enjoy playing bingo, shuffleboard, and other games that keep their minds and bodies agile.

The activity center could also offer seminars and presentations on issues that have a specific impact on senior lives. Some possibilities include educational seminars on topics like elder abuse, will and trusts, conservatorships, guardianships and dementia, and seniors’ rights. Be sure the speakers and presenters are willing to take questions so that attendees can do more than just listen. It’s also a good idea to have a sound system and adaptive equipment available for senior participants.

Use Technology to Your Advantage

Technology doesn’t have to be an isolation tool; instead, leverage it to your advantage to bring your ecumenical group together. Talk to your church leaders about recording their sermons; if a senior feels particularly moved by one of them, or a section of it, he or she can bring it to the group to listen together and discuss it. It can be a fun, interactive Bible study that spans across all denominations, and an excellent way to communicate all kinds of different ideas.

You can also use video calling to chat with elders who couldn’t attend an event, let interested seniors “sit in” on a group discussion to see if they’re interested in joining, or easily have a face-to-face meeting or counseling session with a church leader.

Involve Family Members and Young Adults from the Community

One of the most popular ecumenical activities for seniors is a Grandparents Day or Night that gives entire families the opportunity to celebrate senior family members through fellowship. Ecumenical senior centers are ideal locations for these events, but they also may be held on a rotating basis at churches around the area. Often, these events include refreshments, music, photos, and a time for sharing stories and joys.

Keep in mind, however, that not all of the seniors will have family nearby, so it is a good idea to incorporate community members through an Adopt a Grandparent program. The idea behind these programs is to match a senior with a young adult in the community who will visit and spend time with them. Faith-based groups frequently host these programs, and ecumenical community centers are the perfect places to join seniors and young people together. The best part is that the Adopt a Grandparent programs benefit both the seniors and the young adults, who can learn from one another.

By making all Christian seniors, regardless of their denomination, feel welcome, ecumenical community groups have more success in involving seniors in their activities. Keeping seniors’ interests and needs in mind also entices them to become involved in the ecumenical groups and activities on a regular basis. The key is to make the activities worth their time and fun!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Marie Villeza was inspired to start ElderImpact.org after she watched her son teach her father how to play Angry Birds™ on his smartphone. In that moment, she realized the importance of bringing the generations together so they can usher each other into the future, breaking down walls of fear and time. In her free time, she enjoys gardening, hiking, and taking part in her monthly book club.

Powerful: Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson on God & Prayer

Here is a great video of Tom Hanks and wife Rita Wilson talking about God and prayer, being Greek Orthodox Christians, and raising their children with prayer and the Church.

Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson are both members of the Greek Orthodox Church. Wilson has even written eloquently about the importance and beauty of Christian faith and ritual in her life. A few years ago she wrote a piece for the HuffingtonPost called “The Joys of Greek Easter,” in which Wilson shared:

“When we were kids, our parents would take us, and now as parents ourselves we take our children, to many of the Holy Week services including the Good Friday service where you mourn the death of Jesus by walking up to the Epitaphio, which represents the dead body of Christ, make your cross, kiss the Epitaphio, and marvel at how it was decorated with thousands of glorious flowers, rose petals and scents like incense.

Some very pious people will crawl under the Epitaphio. I have always been so moved to see this. There is no self- consciousness in this utter act of faith. There is no embarrassment to show symbolic sorrow at the death of our Saviour.”

The Painting Leonardo DiCaprio showed Pope Francis

During Leonardo DiCaprio’s private audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican thisLeoPopeFrancis past Thursday the prominent actor gave the Holy Father an art book about the work of the Early Netherlandish painter Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516). DiCaprio turned the page to a recreation of Bosch’s famous work The Garden of Earthly Delights, a triptych altarpiece that includes a portrayal of God with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden in the first panel, a depiction of humanity’s sins in the second panel, and a portrayal of judgment through the damnation of hell in the third panel. Here is an image of the full work:

bosch_garden_earthly_delights

DiCaprio explained to the Holy Father how a representation of the painting hung over his crib as a child, hinting at how this classic Christian work of art would inspire the actor’s future activism for the environment: “Through my child’s eyes it represented a planet,” DiCaprio told Pope Francis, “the utopia we had been given, the overpopulation, excesses, and the third panel we see a blackened sky that represents so much to me of what’s going on in the environment.”

It is fascinating how the artwork, so important to DiCaprio, portrays the creation story itself. When closed, the triptych has a portrayal of the earth and the creation story, with God the Father sitting on the far (upper) left creating the world:

Hieronymus_Bosch_-_The_Garden_of_Earthly_Delights_-_The_exterior_(shutters)

In the first panel, there is a portrayal of the Garden of Eden with emphasis on God walking with Adam and Eve in the earthy paradise:

Hieronymus_Bosch_-_Triptych_of_Garden_of_Earthly_Delights_(detail)_-_WGA2519

While the second (central) panel that follows presents a hedonistic, pleasure-seeking humanity, notably absent of God, it is the the third and final panel that presents God’s judgments as a result of humanity’s sins, with a vivid depiction of a “hellscape,” as seen here:

hellscape - Garden of Earthly Delights

It is fascinating how this work, even in the early stages of his childhood, represented to DiCaprio the beauty of God’s creation and of what humanity has done to it, following its denigration, inspiring the actor toward a life of activism fighting for the environment. Toward the end of the encounter, Pope Francis gave DiCaprio copies of The Joy of the Gospel and Laudato Si, the Pope’s environmental encyclical, adding “pray for me, and don’t forget.”