Monthly Archives: November 2011

Community life inspires ‘miracle man’

Redemptorist Father John Murray walks outside his residence in Ephrata, Pa. (CR/Clare Becker)

Redemptorist Father John Murray is convinced he’s a walking miracle.

After suffering a fall that left him paralyzed from the chest down, the former pastor of St. Mary in Annapolis and St. Wenceslaus in Baltimore began praying for Blessed Francis X. Seelos – a former St. Mary’s pastor – to intercede on his behalf. As noted in this upcoming story in The Catholic Review, Father Murray is now walking on his own and will soon receive his first priestly assignment since the 2010 accident.

 After spending a morning with Father Murray in preparation for the article, I was struck by how the priest was inspired by his fellow Redemptorists. As he underwent rehabilitation at Stella Maris nursing home in Timonium, the priest lived with infirm and elderly members of his religious order and, at 63, was the youngest priest among them at the St. John Neumann Residence – a wing for retired Redemptorists.
“You are surrounded by your confreres,” Father  Murray told me. “You get to pray together. You get to eat together. You get to just walk the corridors with them and sit down in our community room – and you get to celebrate Mass.”
It was quite different from a former facility in which Father Murray lived after the accident – one in which he could sometimes go a day without seeing another person besides the medical staff, he said.
There were 18 Redemptorists living at Stella Maris with Father Murray, 13 of whom spent most of their priesthood in foreign missions.
“They were in the Dominican Republic and Brazil eating rice and beans down there with no electricity large parts of the day,” Father Murray said. “To see how they sacrificed and now, at the age of 85 and 90, they are still going strong – it really touched me.”
Five Redemptorists died while Father Murray lived at Stella Maris. He watched his brother priests gather in the room of  dying clerics, staying with them and praying with them before and after they died.
“It was just so touching,” he remembered.
Father Murray noted that the St. John Neumann Residence could not be more perfectly named. St. John Neumann had been a diocesan priest in New York in the 19th century. He became depressed because he was often alone, Father Murray said. The priest joined the Redemptorists because one of its great charisms is community life.
“John Neuman realized he needed the support of a community,” Father Murray. “That was one of the things I most learned since my accident – the importance of community living and how community living for Redemptorists brings new life. It certainly brought me life.”

‘Occupy the Vatican’


The new English translation of the Roman Missal goes into effect Nov. 27. (CR/Bill McAllen)

It’s no secret that some priests – especially those who were energized by the Second Vatican Council – aren’t very pleased with the pending Nov. 27 implementation of the new English translation of the Roman Missal. They think the new language, which strives to be a more literal translation of the Latin prayer book, is archaic and inaccessible.

Early this week, I e-mailed all the parishes of the Archdiocese of Baltimore to find out if anyone was planning to do anything to mark the last weekend of Masses using the current translation. Archdiocesan leaders had encouraged parishes to find ways of celebrating the decades of service of the current translation. I wanted to see if any parishes were actually planning to ceremoniously retire, bury or burn their old Sacramentaries, as suggested.

The first response I received was from an Anne Arundel County pastor, informing me in just three words how he planned to mark the passage of the old translation.

“Occupy the Vatican,” he wrote.

How are you observing the end of an era?

A rare birthday present for St. Joan of Arc

A statue depicts St. Joan of Arc. (Courtesy BSO)

Pope Benedict XVI minces no words when he describes the medieval judges who interrogated and sentenced St. Joan of Arc to death 580 years ago. The French clergymen were aligned with St. Joan’s political opponents, the pope said in a Jan. 26 general audience, and they “lacked charity and the humility to see God’s action in this young woman.”

“Joan’s judges were radically incapable of understanding her or of perceiving the beauty of her soul,” Pope Benedict XVI said. “They did not know that they were condemning a saint.”

As the world prepares to celebrate the 600th anniversary of St. Joan’s birth early next year, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra will showcase a rarely performed oratorio that captures the drama of the French saint’s trial and execution.

“Jeanne d’Arc au Bucher” – “Joan of Arc at the Stake,” a groundbreaking work by Swiss composer Arthur Honegger, will be performed Nov 17-18 at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore before hitting the bright lights of New York’s Carnegie Hall.

Marin Alsop conducts the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in 2010. (Photo courtesy BSO)

In an e-mail interview, BSO Music Director Marin Alsop told me the work defies categorization.

“It’s a dramatic oratorio with narrative creating a unique story and sound world,” the maestra said. “Joan is portrayed as a living, breathing human being who did not comprehend how she found herself in such an unbelievable predicament.”

Honegger’s work features folk tunes, plainchant, classical music and contemporary jazz. It includes many of the instruments of a modern orchestra, along with saxophones, pianos and the ondes martenot – a rarely used instrument best known for producing the eerie, glissando “woooooo” sounds of old-time science fiction and horror movies.

Caroline Dhavernas (Courtesy BSO)

“Joan of Arc at the Stake” is as much a work of theater as it is of music. Performed in French with English subtitles, it will feature vocalists from Concert Artists of Baltimore, the Peabody Hopkins Chorus, Morgan State University Choir and the Peabody Children’s Chorus. Canadian actress Caroline Dhavernas has the title role.

French poet-dramatist Paul Claudel wrote the libretto for “Joan of Arc at the Stake” in 1934 after having a vision of two hands tied together, raised and making the Sign of the Cross. Honegger completed the score on Christmas Eve, 1935 and the work premiered in Switzerland on May 12, 1938.

Claudel tells St. Joan’s story through flashbacks that follow the course of her life in reverse order. The climax occurs when the work returns to the present for St. Joan’s martyrdom.

Just as Honegger’s work defies easy description, so does the woman on which it is based.

“She has been adopted by people on the right and left of the political aisle,” Alsop said, “and as a model for both religious and non-religious belief systems. I am intrigued by her ability to transcend categorization.”

St. Joan is the patroness of France who heard voices from saints commanding her to drive the English and Burgundians from her homeland. The illiterate peasant girl led the French to victory in several military campaigns before being captured by the Burgundians and sold to the English. She was condemned as a witch and burned at the stake at age 19. Pope Callistus III reopened her trial in 1456 and she was found innocent of all charges. She was canonized in 1920.

“I admire Joan’s total commitment to her beliefs and willingness to stand up for what she believed,” said Alsop, noting that St. Joan continues to serve as a model for people from all walks of society.

“Joan is portrayed as a devout individual adamantly true to herself and completely devoted to God,” Alsop said. “She is free of guile, but not above being human with faults and strengths.”

St. Joan’s inquisitors may have been “incapable of understanding her or perceiving the beauty of her soul,” but the musicians who recounted her fate surely weren’t.

For more information about the concert, visit the BSO site.  For a sense of what “Joan of Arc at the Stake” sounds like, check out the 2009 video clip below from a performance by the Latvian State Academic Choir.

Introducing the new translation of the Roman Missal can be fun?

Father Gerard Francik has the right approach to introducing the new English translation of the Roman Missal. 

Instead of taking an “I-don’t-want-to-do-this-anymore-than-you-do” stance, the pastor of St. Mark in Fallston is encouraging his parishioners to embrace the translation as an opportunity to deepen their understanding and love of the Mass.

Young St. Mark parishioners seem genuinely excited about Nov. 27 – the date the new translation takes effect in the United States. They’ve made two fun videos to help educate their fellow parishioners about some of the coming changes.  (See below).

Sure, not everyone is going to welcome the new translation.  It will take some time to adapt to language that’s going to be more formal than what many of us have known our whole lives. But, it’s good to see a parish taking a positive approach.  The introduction of the new translation really can be an opportunity for liturgical renewal if we just give it a chance.

Here’s a guide to the new translation produced by Catholic Review Media you might want to check out.

Don’t forget our vets

Bishop F. Richard Spencer delivers the Veterans Day homily at St. Paul in Ellicott City, Nov. 11. (CR/Kathleen Lange)

Auxiliary Bishop F. Richard Spencer of the Archdiocese for U.S. Military Services issued a powerful reminder at today’s Veterans Day Mass in Ellicott City that we must never forget the men and women who served our country so valiantly throughout our history. You can read about the special Mass here.

Below is audio of the homily in its entirety.

Bishop Madden discusses goals for interfaith dialouge

Bishop Denis J. Madden celebrates an Oct. 28 Mass at the tomb of St. Francis of Assisi in Italy. (Courtesy Bishop Madden)

Bishop Denis J. Madden, incoming chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, believes great progress has been made in reaching out to other faith leaders and promoting a greater sense of understanding between religions. His goal as the U.S. Church’s new point man on ecumenical and interreligious affairs will be building on that momentum and broadening the scope of interfaith cooperation.

“I would like to see us move out in other ways and not just limit ourselves to a meeting where we present our papers – the Catholic view of this, the Methodist view of that and so forth,” Bishop Madden recently told me after he returned from an interfaith gathering led by Pope Benedict XVI in Assisi.

“We’ve made great strides both in our understanding of the sacraments and the recognition of sacraments across denominational lines – and I want to continue that for sure,” he said, “but I don’t want us to get stuck there.”

Bishop Madden pointed out that the Catholic-Muslim dialogue in the United States is one of the only dialogues that features an overnight stay among the participants. Those attending have meals and discussions, in addition to sitting around the conference table, he said.

“That makes a big difference because we get to know each other as friends,” Bishop Madden said. “We can laugh and joke with each other in that way.”

Bishop Madden would like to see more of that kind of camaraderie. He’d also like to explore new ways for various faiths to work together on common causes.

“I think that when communities begin to work together on issues, they can focus on peace, poverty, care for the elderly, care for children, housing – all those kinds of things,” he said. “While we are in dialogue together, if we can work on these kinds of things, it helps the dialogue.”

Before he was named auxiliary bishop of Baltimore, Bishop Madden was the Director of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine office in Jerusalem from 1994-96 and director of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association from 1996-2005.

“The Holy Father refered to it as the dialogue of charity,” Bishop Madden said. “If people are in need, then you respond not according to creed, but according to need. In the Middle East, the majority of the people who were served were Muslim.”

Bishop Madden praised the work of Atlanta Archbishop Wilton Gregory, outgoing chairman of the ecumenical and interreligious affairs committee. Bishop Madden also expressed support for Muslims who feel they have been unfairly portrayed in the media.

“They are trying desperately to say that (terrorists) are extremists,” Bishop Madden said. “They are people who are misusing the Quran. We stand shoulder to shoulder with them.”

Bishop Madden said Pope Benedict has been every bit the champion of ecumenical and interfaith dialogue as Blessed John Paul II.  Three hundred faith leaders from around the world attended Oct. 27 interfaith sessions with the pope – what Bishop Madden called “an amazing turnout of people.”

“He really was the unifying factor,” Bishop Madden said. “I don’t think that anyone else could have called together this gathering. I thought he was the only one that really could do that.”

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