Saturday, February 23, 2013



Grandma, what's going on in the Catholic Church? I've seen news stories on TV about Pope Benedict XVI resigning next week, February 28. Why is he doing that?”

“The Pope apparently is not in good health and believes he is losing his strength and capability because of his age. He doesn't think he is well enough to be responsible for all the matters that concern the billions of Catholics all over the world.”

Is the Pope older than you, Grandma? Do popes resign when they get old?”

“No, I am two years older than the Pope. He is only 85. Pope Benedict was already 78 when he was elected pope. In the past two thousand years since Jesus founded the Catholic Church and appointed the apostle Peter as the first leader of the Church, popes usually remained in office until they died.”

Pope John Paul II, the pope before Pope Benedict, stayed pope until he died, didn't he? I was about 5 years old then and don't remember much about it but I've seen videos.”

“Pope John Paul was 84 when he died and very ill and weak with Parkinson's disease, but he showed us how to die courageously and faithfully. He didn't think God wanted him to resign.”

Did any of the popes in history ever resign?”

“Six hundred years ago Pope Gregory XII resigned, but no one since. It's in the laws of the Catholic Church, however, that a pope may resign.”

How will we get another pope?”

“The College of Cardinals....”

Grandma, is that a school—like a college? I know they are leaders in the Church who wear red clothes and red hats, but tell me again what is a Cardinal?”

“Jeffrey, the word 'college' here simply means a group of all the Cardinals from everywhere in the world. They were usually Bishops first, and can only be appointed by a Pope. They live in their own countries unless a Pope calls them together for a conference to advise him about Church matters. They really have no ruling power except the really big responsibility God has given them to elect a successor to the pope if he dies or resigns.”

How many Cardinals are there?”

“209 at present, but only those under 80 can vote for a new pope. They can be present but are not allowed to vote. So only 118 will actually vote.”

Was Pope Benedict a Cardinal before he was elected pope?”

“Yes, and his birth name was Joseph Ratzinger. When a man is elected pope he chooses a different name that has some special meaning to him. Usually it is a similar name to a previous pope but with a different number behind it. Like Pope Benedict was the sixteenth pope to be called Benedict.”

Do the Cardinals have to choose a pope from among themselves?”

“No, but they usually have done so. By Church law, I think that any unmarried Catholic man from anywhere in the world can be elected pope, even if he is not present at the time of their Conclave.”

Is 'Conclave' what they call that special meeting of Cardinals?”

“Yes, they will assemble in Rome, Italy and represent all the Catholics on earth when they elect a new pope.”

Where will they meet?”

“In the famous, beautiful Sistine Chapel in the Vatican State. There will be strict security and when they are all inside, the door will be locked and they must stay inside until they have elected a new pope. Each Cardinal will have a private room and private bath. Only 70 authorized people like doctors, cooks, and those with special duties can come and go.”

No TV, radio, cell phones, Iphones, or other communication?”

“Nope. Totally isolated. The Conclave usually lasts only a few days until an election is final.”

When will the Conclave start?”

“Apparently before the middle of March, when all the Cardinals will have arrived from other countries. We should have a new pope before Easter this year.”

How do they decide who to elect?”

“They pray a whole lot and can talk among themselves but no one is supposed to put any pressure on anyone else to influence their choice. They are to ask the Holy Spirit to guide them to the right person whom God wants to be the successor of the apostle Peter to guide the worldwide Catholic Church.”

Do they have a voting machine like when people elect a president or community officials?”

“No, they vote by secret ballot on a blank white card where they write the name of the person they feel should be the next pope. There are usually 4 ballots a day until a consensus is reached of two-thirds plus one for a name agreed upon.”

What's that thing about smoke from the Chapel chimney?”

“It seems kind of old fashioned, but it is traditional through the centuries. The ballots are burned twice a day to create smoke coming out of the chimney. Previously they would mix wet straw with the paper ballots to create the color of smoke. Now they use some chemicals. If they have elected a pope, the color of the smoke is white. If no decision has yet been reached, the smoke is black or dark. Hundreds of thousands of people are waiting outside in Saint Peter's Square for the announcement.”

How exciting that's going to be! And everybody will be able to see it on TV as soon as it happens. Then what goes on?”

“Bells throughout Rome will begin to ring and eventually a Church official will come out on the balcony of the Vatican and announce in Latin, “Habemus papam!” (We have a Pope!) Eventually the new pope will appear dressed in his new papal vestments. He will wave to the people for a long time during all the shouting and cheering and celebrating. Then he will address the people with a speech for the first time and announce the special name that he has taken for his pontificate.”

Since Pope Benedict didn't die but resigned, what will he do from now on?”

“He says he will spend his time in private praying for God's will to be done in the world and for all of us. He will live in a small monastery in the Vatican gardens. Since a pope has never resigned in this way before, there are a lot of details we won't know right away.”

Will he be known as Joseph Ratzinger again?”

“It seems that he will resume being a Cardinal and possibly take back his birth name, but those things are not certain. He has been a wonderful spiritual shepherd with a brilliant mind and significant accomplishments for the Catholic Church worldwide. He will be remembered especially as a writer of many important books on theology, Church teachings, and especially his recent three scholarly books on the 'Life of Jesus of Nazareth.' We need to continue to pray for him.”

And let's pray for the new pope whoever God wants elected. Guess there could be some big surprises. Wow! This is history making stuff in 2013!”


Guest Post from EARTHY MONK blog
Religion is for people who are afraid of going to hell; spirituality is for those who have already been there.”  Ross V. (from Alcoholics Anonymous)

Spirituality is like the scent of a rose: I know it by its luscious scent, but trying to describe it seems almost heretical.

Spirituality is a place and movement that allows us to see, embrace and accept our flawedness and let grace do its beautiful work.  Our flawedness is the second great truth of being human; the first being that we are made in the image and likeness of a loving God.

Spirituality affords us the means by which grace enters the heart: through our wounds, our brokenness, our addictions to chemicals, people, places and things, our longings and our lostness, God uses these things to come to us, to recreate us, and to love us unconditionally into wholeness.

Spirituality is a paradox.  As G.K. Chesterton once said, “paradox is truth standing on her head to attract attention."

Religion can be a barrier, spirituality can be the doorway.  Religion can prevent us from ever truly knowing and experiencing God; spirituality can promote such knowledge.  Religion can foster an “us versus them” mentality.  Spirituality fosters a “both/and” experience: the perfection of imperfection; the Eternal dwelling within the temporal promoting the very oneness of life.  And remember that oneness is not to be confused with sameness.  For spirituality draws us closer to God and allows us to see the strength of diversity and the deeper power of e pluribus unum - out of many, One.

Spirituality seeks not to recoil from our imperfections but to see and know them as the ‘cracks’ that let in God.
Spirituality points to the Beyond: beyond the ordinary; beyond my need to control; beyond my mind; beyond the confines of my rigidity leading me deeper into the ebb and flow of God’s grace.

The word spiritual, that from which spirituality comes, simply meant those who live by and are led by the Spirit.  

Spirituality is not about ‘having already arrived’ at ultimate wisdom but a way of life that accepts imperfections, struggles, darkness and doubt as healthy and necessary aspects of growing closer to God.  All of life is contained and held by God’s eternal love, not just the ‘pretty, neat and tidy’ parts.

God wants us to be honest first and foremost before God wants us to be ‘righteous’ or ‘holy’.  Spirituality is the bridge that allows me to cross over into fearless honesty with God and others, stating what is obvious to God but often oblivious to me, in order for grace to work its miracle in me and on me.

I’m not sure it makes sense or relates to this, but I will close with a well known Sufi story:
Past the seeker, as he prayed, came the crippled and the beggar and the beaten.  And seeing them, the holy one went down into deep prayer and cried, “Great God, how is it that a loving Creator can see such things and yet do nothing about them?”
And out of the long silence, God said: “I did do something about them.  I made you.”

Sunday, February 10, 2013


(Series) CONVERSATIONS WITH JEFFREY (Written before Jeffrey was Confirmed)
(Encore Post)

Grandma, what’s that black smudge on your forehead?”

“It is a small cross our priest, Father Krempa, put on everyone’s forehead at Church this morning. Today is ‘Ash Wednesday,’ a special day once a year when we start counting 40 more days until Easter Sunday.”

Did Father use a magic marker? Will it ever wash off?”

“He used a mixture of ashes and holy water. Yes, I will be able to wash it off, but it is good to leave it on all day to remind me of what it means. And when people ask about it, I can tell them.”

What does it mean?”

“When Father Krempa made that sign on our foreheads, he said to each person, 'You are dust, and to dust you will return.' That is what God said to Adam after Adam and Eve sinned for the first time. God created man from the dust of the earth and He was letting Adam know that some day he would die because he had sinned and he would be put back into the earth. Before that, Adam didn’t know about death. And since then, everyone’s body has to die, but our souls will live forever. We can read all about that in the first book of the Bible….”

“…which is called Genesis, right?”

“Good, you remembered that, Jeffrey!”

Well, where did Father get the ashes?”

“The ashes are from the burning of the dried up palm leaves that we were given at Church last year on the Sunday before Easter which we call ‘Palm Sunday.’ That was the day all the people who followed Jesus were happy and sang and shouted to welcome Jesus into Jerusalem by waving palm branches. It was sort of like waving flags to welcome someone special, like a king or a president.”

Like thousands of people waved flags in Washington, D.C. at the Inauguration? I saw that on TV. But why do we count 40 days until Easter?”

“We call those 40 days ‘Lent’ from an old English word ‘lencten’, which means spring. Easter is always celebrated in the springtime. Jesus did many miracles and taught important things during that period before He sacrificed His life on the cross for us. Forty is kind of an important number in Christian teaching. After Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, He went alone into the wilderness for 40 days to pray and prepare for what God, His Father, wanted Him to do.”

What are we supposed to do during Lent?”

“It is a time for us to think seriously about our Christian lives and what is really important. We should try to pray more and read books about God and ask God to forgive us for the things we have done wrong and ask God to help us do better. Our Church helps us to do that. It is also a time when many Christians decide to give up certain things during those 40 days. These are things that are good in themselves, but we want to let Jesus know that He is more important to us than foods we like and favorite things we do.”

I had to go to school today so I couldn’t go to Mass with you, Grandma. If I did go, would Father Krempa have put the ashes sign on my forehead too even if I'm not Confirmed yet?”

“Sure, Father would have put the ashes sign on your forehead too. The children who attend our Church’s Academy were all there, and Father put the sign on their foreheads. Even on the foreheads of some little children who were carried in their parents’ arms. SACRED HEART is your Church, Jeffrey, since you were baptized there.”

Could I think about something that I especially like and give it up for Lent too so I could let Jesus know I love Him? 

"Of course you could. And it could be something that only you and Jesus know about. Jesus said that when we sacrifice something for Him or do something good we aren't supposed to let everyone know. That when we do something good in secret, God rewards us.

Yeah, that would be like bragging if I told everybody what I was doing. But…what if I forget to do what I promised and kind of slip up--if I couldn't do it for 40 days?

“Not to worry. Jesus knows your heart, Jeffrey. He knows what you want to do for Him, and always lets you start over again. We don’t give up things because of some kind of list of rules, but because we want to come closer to God by learning what pleases Him and what is important in life.”

Monday, February 4, 2013


I was so disappointed in myself on January second! I wanted to wake up the day after New Years to see the “new me.” 

Mirror, mirror on the wall, where is the new revised edition of Leona I counted on when I made my New Year’s resolutions?
It didn’t take long to realize that I'm still the same weak person I was before I carefully formulated and earnestly prayed about and wrote down my resolutions for the New Year. I had such sincere intentions and a firm commitment to discipline myself, turn over a new leaf, and finally become the “ideal” Christian woman and the perfect holy person I wanted to become. Instantly! Overnight! As soon as the ball dropped at midnight in Times square. This year was going to be a grand new beginning—a milestone.

What happened to me? I feel like the disappointed Super-Saint Paul, who wrote in Romans chapter seven, “Wretched man [woman] that I am! That which I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate….the good I wish, I do not; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish….” I would have thought Saint Paul didn’t have such struggles any longer, seasoned and experienced saint that he had become.

Oh, Paul, I know exactly what you mean! Although it apparently only took a split second for you to make your great turnaround from persecuting Christians to enthusiastically evangelizing and founding new churches throughout the known world. But even after logging years of instructing new believers in the power of the Holy Spirit, did you really still feel a struggle between your two natures? Even after God used you to write the lion’s share of the New Testament, did you still confess that you had the same problem I have not being able to do what I want to do to please God? 

Role model that you are, you nevertheless admitted, “Not that I have already attained it, or have already become perfect, but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus…” (Philippians 4: 12,13).

How thankful I am that God is a God of new beginnings! How thankful I am for the Sacrament of Reconciliation! I can pick myself up after falling short, after omissions and commissions, and I can start again, fresh and clean each time.

HOW THANKFUL I AM FOR LENT, the forty days of voluntary discipline before the celebration of Easter—a time of significant and continual new beginnings! I really need it. I’m so glad it begins early this year. I don’t have to stage a pity party over my failures. Without guilt, I can dust off my recent lapsed New Year’s resolutions, and realistically evaluate and refine them.

Each day from Ash Wednesday through Easter I can begin anew depending on the power of the Holy Spirit to help me. Jesus knows our human natures and weaknesses despite our being new creations in Him. Jesus thought of everything when He established His Church and His Sacraments.