October 1, 2011

Feast of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus, also known as Thérèse of Lisieux, the “Little Flower of Jesus” (born January 2, 1873-died September 30, 1897 at the age of 24)

Imitation of Christ and the White Flower

Before she was fourteen, Thérèse started to read The Imitation of Christ. She read the Imitation intently, as if the author traced each sentence for her: “The Kingdom of God is within you… Turn thee with thy whole heart unto the Lord; and forsake this wretched world: and thy soul shall find rest.”

She kept the book with her constantly and wrote later that this book nourished her.

In May 1887, just 14 years old, Thérèse approached her father Louis, 63, recovering from a small stroke, while he sat in the garden one Sunday afternoon and told him that she wanted to enter Carmel before Christmas.

Louis and Thérèse both broke down and cried, but Louis got up, gently picked a little white flower, root intact, and gave it to her, explaining the care with which God brought it into being and preserved it until that day.

Thérèse later wrote: “While I listened, I believed I was hearing my own story.”

To Thérèse, the flower seemed a symbol of herself, “destined to live in another soil.”

Thérèse then renewed her attempts to join the Carmel, but the priest-superior of the monastery would not allow it on account of her youth…


(Note: First, I wanted to welcome to this newflash about 2,300 friends and supporters of Mother Miriam of the Lamb of God – Rosalind Moss – a Jewish woman who converted to Christianity and is now a Catholic nun in Tulsa, Oklahoma, about whom I wrote on September 15, two weeks ago. She shared her email list with us. You may opt out if you wish; just ask and we will remiove your name.

This email is now sent to almost 18,000 people.

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Hilarion in Rome

The end of state atheism in Russia in 1991 and the return to Christian faith in that country, at least in a modest way, in the years since — opinions on the extent of Russia’s religious renewal are sharply divided — seemed something impossible in the 1960s, 1970, 1980s…

Pope John Paul II fervently desired that change so that Europe might regain its spiritual health and “breathe with two lungs” — Eastern as well as Western, Greek as well as Latin, Orthodox as well as Catholic… despite all the centuries of division and mistrust since the “Great Schism” of 1054.

In the long process of this new “breathing” a special moment occurred on September 29 at Castel Gandolfo outside of Rome.

On the morning of September 29, Benedict XVI welcomed the Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of the Patriarchate of Moscow’s Department for External Church Relations — the equivalent of the “Foreign Minister” of the Russian Orthodox Church (photo above).

It was the third meeting between the Pope and the Metropolitan, following Hilarion’s election as the Department’s leader.

Hilarion gave Benedict as a gift an icon of St. Benedict of Norcia, who is of course Pope Benedict’s patron saint (because the Pope’s name is Benedict), and the Pope received the icon with pleasure.

A remarkable video

Here is a remarkable video which shows the Pope meeting with Hialrion and greeting his entourage. It is worth the 60 seconds it takes to view it:https://www.youtube.com/watchv=C3kKmesG_IY&feature=player_embedded 


(The Russian delegation on the terrace of the papal palace at Castel Gandolfo outside of Rome after meeting with Pope Benedict.)

During his visit to Rome on September 28, Hilarion met with Cardinal President Kurt Koch at the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, to discuss the future of cooperation between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.

During the meeting, “the protection of Christians and the overcoming of Christianophobia” were discussed.

Obstacles remain

After the meeting with Pope Benedict, Hilarion gave an interview to Vatican Radio where he outlined some of the problems that continue to remain preventing the full reunion of the Orthodox and Catholic Churches — the “two lungs” which Pope John Paul hoped would soon “breathe together.”

One problem is that the Orthodox themselves are divided into 16 different Churches, and have not settled certain internal questions of authority.

One special date to note: May 2013, when celebrations are scheduled recalling the end of the decades of terrible persecution of Christianity in the Roman Empire 1,700 years ago. In 313, the Emperor Constantine issued his “Edict of Milan” declaring the Christian faith legal in the Roman Empire. (There were no more Roman governmental persecutions after that, except briefly under the rule of Julian the Apostate in 360 A.D.)

The Orthodox are planning a great gathering in 2013 in Nis, Serbia, to commemorate the Edict of Milan, because Nis is the birthplace of the Emperor Constantine.

And there is some talk — not confirmed — that the Orthodox may invite Pope Benedict to attend that celebration, which would then become the first meeting ever between a Roman Pope and a Russian Orthodox Patriarch.

This would be a symbolic moment, in a world which is turning once again against Christianity, with legal restrictions against the teachings of the faith rising in the West, and persecutions occurring in various places around the world.

So let’s keep watch for developments on this front.

Here is a news story which summarizes Hilarion’s remarks. I have bold-faced a paragraph at the end which mentions the Nis meeting in 2013.

Catholic News Agency

by Benjamin Mann

Orthodox archbishop: we’re internally divided on question of “primacy”

Castel Gandolfo, Italy, Sep 30, 2011 / 12:51 am (CNA).- A leading Russian Orthodox official says the Eastern Orthodox churches have yet to resolve the question of authority among themselves, a condition for future progress on the issue of the papacy.

“I would say that there are certain divergences, and there are different positions, of the Orthodox churches on the question of the primacy,” said Metropolitan Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev of Volokolamsk, head of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations, in a Vatican Radio interview following his Sept. 29 meeting with Pope Benedict XVI at Castel Gandolfo.

“As we discuss the primacy of the Bishop of Rome, within the framework of the next commission, we do not only discuss the primacy of Rome; but we have to touch the issue of the primacy in general,” noted the Orthodox metropolitan, apparently referring to future proceedings of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church.

“And here, of course, we have different traditions – not only between the Catholics and the Orthodox, because we never had such a centralized system as the Catholics have – but we also have some difference among the Orthodox, as to what should be the role of the ‘first hierarch’ in the Orthodox Church.” The Patriarch of Constantinople occupies that role, but his prerogatives are not fully defined.

Metropolitan Hilarion was scheduled to participate in the last session of the Catholic-Orthodox commission, held in 2007 to discuss the question of papal primacy. But an internal dispute between Constantinople and Moscow, over an Orthodox group in Estonia, prompted the Russian representative to walk out. The two churches also dispute the status of the Orthodox Church in America.

On Thursday, the metropolitan made an apparent reference to these types of difficulties between the Patriarchs of Moscow and Constantinople, saying that “if a particular Orthodox church will want to impose its own vision of this primacy on other churches, then of course we will encounter difficulties. And this is what is happening at the moment.”

Meanwhile, the world’s local self-governing Orthodox churches are also attempting to organize a historic Pan-Orthodox Council, comparable to the Church councils held in the Byzantine empire during the first millennium.

The new gathering has been in preparation for 50 years, as the Orthodox world seeks to determine how the Patriarch of Constantinople should exercise his authority.

“We believe that his role should be the primacy of honor, and also he is afforded some coordinating role: for example, he can convene the Pan-Orthodox Council,” said Archbishop Hilarion. “Of course, previously – in the history of the ecumenical councils – it was not the Patriarch of Constantinople, neither was it the Pope of Rome, but it was the (Byzantine) Emperor, who convened the councils.”

“So we have this model (of primacy), which is emerging in the Orthodox tradition. But generally, for centuries we had a very decentalized administration. Each autocephalous church is fully independent from other churches in its self-governance. And therefore we do not have a very clear picture as to what should be the role of the primate in the Orthodox tradition.”

“Without having this clear and unified vision, we cannot easily discuss the issue of how we see the role of the ‘Primus Inter Pares‘ (‘first among equals,’ an Orthodox concept of the papacy) in the universal Church,” Metropolitan Hilarion admitted.

The phrase “first among equals” signifies the typical Orthodox view of the Pope as having a primacy of honor but not jurisdiction. In his 2010 book Light of the World, Pope Benedict said the “first among equals” view of the Pope was “not exactly the formula that we believe as Catholics,” due to the Pope’s “specific functions and tasks.”

Until Orthodoxy clarifies its own systems of authority, Archbishop Hilarion said, hopes for progress on the question of the papacy between Catholics and Orthodox are “probably not too high.”

“But still, there is hope, because if there is willingness to accommodate different positions and to produce a paper – or several papers, maybe – which would clearly state the differences, which would outline the way forward, then we can progress.”

The Moscow Patriarchate’s ecumenical representative also expressed hesitation about a possible meeting between the Pope and the Patriarch of Moscow, which has never occurred in the centuries since Moscow’s elevation to patriarchal status in 1589.

There are hopes that such a meeting could take place in 2013, on the 1,700th anniversary of Christianity’s legalization by the Emperor Constantine. But Archbishop Hilarion said Catholics and Russian Orthodox believers should not jump to conclusions about when a meeting may occur between the Pope and the Patriarch of Moscow.

“We believe that such a meeting will take place at some time in the future. We are not yet ready to discuss the date, or the place, or the protocol of such a meeting – because what matters for us, primarily, is the content of this meeting.

“As soon as we agree on the content, on the points on which we still disagree or have divergent opinions, then I believe we can have this meeting. But it requires a very careful preparation, and we should not be hurrying up, and we should not be pressed to have this meeting at a particular point of time.”

Despite his cautious attitude toward this meeting and other ecumenical matters, Metropolitan Hilarion spoke warmly of Pope Benedict XVI himself.

During his recent trip to Germany, the Pope met with representatives of the Orthodox churches in the country, and spoke of a “common engagement” among Christians to ensure that “the human person is given the respect which is his due.”

“His Holiness is a man of faith and whenever I meet with him I’m encouraged by his spirit, his courage and his dedication to the life of the Church worldwide,” Metropolitan Hilarion said after his meeting with the Pope on Thursday.

“Of course I’m very impressed by his knowledge of the Orthodox tradition and the attention he pays to the dialogue between the Catholics and the Orthodox… I believe that this attitude of the Primate of the Roman Catholic Church will greatly help us in our way towards better mutual understanding.”

(Here is a link to the article:https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/orthodox-archbishop-were-internally-divided-on-question-of-primacy/)


Medvedev’s Wife

In the last few days there have been a number of other significant developments involving Orthodox-Catholic relations.

First, Metropolitan Hilarion met with several other Catholic leaders in Rome, not only Pope Benedict: Cardinal Bertone, Cardinal Koch, and others.

You can read the Russian Ortthodox Church’s report on the visit in English on their website at:


Second, Metropolitan Hilarion was to travel from Rome to Milan to meet with Cardinal Angelo Scola, and participate in a concert of Russian church music to mark the end of a “Year of Russian Culture and Language” in Italy.

The concert was also attended by Svetlana Medvedeva, the wife of President Dmitri Medvedev.

Svetlana Medvedeva has been a promoter of Russian-Italian relations for many years. Before moving to Moscow with her husband, she directed the St. Petersburg-Milan sister cities program.

One of the persons accompanying Metropolitan Hilarion was Archpriest Dmitry Sizonenko. In the report, Father Dmitry is given the title, Department of External Church Relations Secretary for Inter-Christian relations. Prior to this, Father Dmitry was always given the title “acting secretary.” This means that Father Dmitry has now been officially promoted. He is widely believed to be a positive influence in improving Orthodox-Catholic relations.

The 100th Anniversary in Moscow

A third development was the celebration last Sunday in Moscow of the 100th anniversary of the construction of the Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

Of course, the church did not become a cathedral until February 2002, when the Vatican established the Mother of God diocese headquartered in Moscow, but the building was built in 1911.

The papal legate at the celebration was Cardinal Jozef Tomko.

The celebration was also attended by Father Dmitry Sizonenko, who spoke of the common persecution of Catholics and Orthodox under communism and who expressed the hope of further progress in the Orthodox-Catholic dialogue.

The Russian Orthodox Church’s English-language report of the celebration can be read at:


Cardinal Tomko also had a meeting with Patriarch Kirill.

The DECR report of the “warm and friendly” meeting can be read at:


The Moscow Patriarchate’s participation in this event is noteworthy, and demonstrates how Orthodox-Catholic relations have improved over the past nine years.

When the Vatican established on February 11, 2002, four dioceses in Russia, including the archdiocese situated in Moscow, the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian media exploded.

That Vatican action resulted in what was perhaps the lowest point in Russian Orthodox-Catholic relations in recent years.

Now, the Moscow Patriarchate is participating in a celebration involving this cathedral which is very much a symbol of the presence of a Catholic bishop in Moscow. This participation seems a real sign of openness on the part of the Moscow Patriarchate and a willingness not to remember old wounds.

Benedict in Freiburg

A fourth development is the meeting held by Pope Benedict on Saturday in Freiburg, Germany with 15 representatives of the Orthodox and Oriental Churches. The positive report of the Russian Orthodox Church can be read at:


The full text of the Pope’s remarks can be read at:



Pope in Germany

The mention of Pope Benedict’s meeting with Orthodox representatives in Freiburg brings up the question of the Pope’s controversial recent trip to his homeland, Germany.

Many in the media depicted the German people as uninterested in the Pope, or even hostile to him. Was that the case?

Some say, absolutely not.

Here one recent article, an interview with Peter Seewald, who has authored three book-length interviews with the Pope (two before he was Pope, one since), where Seewald gives a refreshingly candid, and positive, German perspective on the Pope’s visit. (The following story was published by Catholic News Agency three days ago.)

Peter Seewald: The Pope triumphed over the media war in Germany

Lima, Peru, Sep 28, 2011 / 01:59 pm (CNA) — In an interview with the Kath.net news agency sent to CNA for publication, German Catholic reporter Peter Seewald said the recent papal trip to Germany was a victory for the humility and message of the Pope.

In the interview, Seewald, author of Light of the World, described the Pope’s visit as “a small miracle” because “shortly before there was a very aggressive, anti-clerical assault by the media.”

“All of this brings to mind George Orwell’s 1984, in which an imaginary enemy, a nightmare, is created in order to scare people.”

“And yet,” Seewald noted, “despite all of this incredible effort by the media, an innumerable amount of people stood up and refused to be deceived.”

“They said the Germans would turn their backs on him and all kinds of other stupidities. There appears to be nothing more offensive in our times than being Catholic. As the magazine Stern said, ‘The brief euphoria at the outset was followed by an irreparable distancing between the majority of Germans and their fellow countryman.’ It’s as if they were saying that everything would be wonderful and orderly in the world if the Vatican just ceased to exist.”

However, Seewald continued, “We were all witnesses to something much greater. Where were all the masses of critics and protesters? They never showed up. And yet 350,000 people made great sacrifices in order to personally listen to the Pope and to attend Mass with him. Millions watched on television. The Pope’s books are selling faster than ever … And undoubtedly never before has so much intelligence, wisdom and truth, so much of what is fundamental, been heard in Germany.”

According to Seewald, whose own conversion to Catholicism came after meeting then-Cardinal Ratzinger, “(t)hese words can no longer be ignored. They are the measure and the touchstone for the subsequent debates and the renewal of the Catholic Church in Germany.”

The only “shadows” of the Pope’s trip to Germany were the massive attacks against him by the media, he said.

“We were often reminded of the people of Nazareth who did not want to listen to the Prophet from their own land. ‘He performs no miracles.’ That was the complaint of many in the media. They work like crazy in a state of antagonism against the Pope, they preach a new faith without values, and at the same time they air all these complaints that people are turning their backs on the Catholic Church. In reality, the percentage of those who leave (the Church) is much smaller than those who leave political parties, industries or associations, or even the Protestant church,” Seewald said.

“Ferocious Pack of Media Dogs”

On the other hand, he continued, to see Benedict XVI “walk through the ferocious pack of media dogs without losing his composure for one second” was amazing.

“Indeed it was sad that many did not take advantage of this opportunity to express for once authentic Christian fraternity,” Seewald said.

“There is a part of Protestantism that still continues to see itself as an anti-papal faction. Before, the man in Rome was considered the anti-Christ. Today he is seen as anti-modern. Nevertheless, what is more significant is this: that after the encounter with the Pope, not only Orthodox, Jewish and Muslim representatives were extremely content, but also the president of the Evangelical Church in Germany, who after the meeting with Benedict XVI said, quote, ‘I am pleased.’”

The Kath.net interviewer asked Seewald who the Pope was referring to when he said during the vigil with young people, “(D)amage to the Church comes not from her opponents but from uncommitted Christians.”

“Probably You and Me”

Seewald replied, “Probably you and me. The Pope is an encourager and a builder of bridges, but he also warns us. Every Christian needs new impulses to keep from becoming stagnant in his development, in his journey, his witness and his Christian conduct.”

Later in the interview Seewald said the Pope came to Germany to draw attention to problems, because “he does not want a fictitious peace but rather one that is genuine. He is anything but someone who covers things up with nice words or tries to put make-up on the seriousness of the situation with massive events, contrary to what (Hans) Kung and his friends assert.”

Seewald also lamented that, as a preamble to the youth meeting in Freiburg, local organizers gave young people the chance to vote on various topics such as women priests and homosexuality, leaving out any spiritual preparation for the event.

“Someone who does this does not understand how things are today,” he said. “It also displays a lack of perception of the seriousness of the situation. By doing such things, one becomes an ally of the opinion leaders who for decades have been using second or third-rate issues to lead the Church according to their whims and have basically caused a spiritual stagnation. Today things are so bad that many people know absolutely nothing about their faith. They know nothing about the Gospel and the Sacraments,” Seewald said.

“The Transformation of the Heart”

Nevertheless, he added, “The Pope gave appropriate directions. The fate of the Church and of the faith, he clearly said, is determined in the context of the liturgy and the Eucharist. True change is only possible through the transformation of the heart.

“Put simply, the successor of Peter wants to lead us to the sources. And they do not belong to him or to the Vatican, but rather, out of them flows the ‘living water.’ And that a Church exists that protects and cares for these sources should make us feel happy and secure,” he said.

Here is a link to this story:


Weigel on the Visit

In America, American Catholic intellectual George Weigel published a good piece on the Pope’s visit at the National Review Online website on September 28.

Weigel notes that the Pope, alone among world leaders, continues to speak about justice.

Benedict’s entire focus in speaking to German politicians was the meaning and importance of justice in all social dealings, he notes.

“Politics Must Be a Striving for Justice”

The Pope, citing the story of King Solomon in Scripture, told the politicians:

“In the First Books of Kings, it is recounted that God invited the young King Solomon, on his accession to the throne, to make a request.

“What will the young ruler ask for at this important moment? Success — wealth — long life — destruction of his enemies?

“He chooses none of these things. Instead he asks for a listening heart so that he may… discern between good and evil. (cf. 1 Kings 3.9). Through this story, the Bible wants to tell us what should ultimately matter for a politician. His fundamental criterion and the motivation for his work… must not be success, and certainly not material gain. Politics must be a striving for justice…

“A Great Band of Robbers”

“Naturally a politician will seek success, without which he would have no opportunity for effective political action at all,” Benedict continued. “Yet success [must be] subordinated to the criterion of justice, to the will to do what is right, and to the understanding of what is right… ‘Without justice, what else is the State but a great band of robbers?,’ as Saint Augustine once said…”

Then Weigel commented on Benedict’s words:

“The conviction that there is a Creator God is what gave rise to the idea of human rights, the idea of the equality of all people before the law, the recognition of the inviolability of human dignity in every single person, and the awareness of people’s responsibility for their actions. Our cultural memory is shaped by these rational insights. To ignore it or dismiss it as a thing of the past would be to dismember our culture totally and rob it of its completeness.

“The culture of Europe arose from the encounter between Jerusalem, Athens and Rome – from the encounter between Israel’s monotheism, the philosophical reason of the Greeks, and Roman law. This three-way encounter has shaped the inner identity of Europe.

“In the awareness of man’s responsibility before God and in the acknowledgment of the inviolable dignity of every single human person, it has established criteria of law: It is these criteria that we are called upon to defend at this moment in our history.

A Call to Conversion

“Europe is dying, and Benedict knows it,” Weigel continued. “It is dying demographically, which is one root of its current fiscal and political mess. But self-destructive birthrates do not just happen, absent wars, plagues, and natural disasters; Europe’s self-destruction is a by-product of a deep spiritual malaise that has led to both demographic winter and cultural crisis.

“Thus Benedict XVI in Germany intended to be far more than Professor Ratzinger, teaching a needed lesson in cultural history. He was also the pastor, speaking to what he described to seminarians in Freiburg im Breisgau on September 24 as a ‘poverty in human relations and poverty in the religious sphere’ in a country of great material abundance.

“That abundance, he suggested, had corrupted the Church and weakened its evangelical edge: ‘The Church in Germany is superbly organized. But behind the structures, is there also a corresponding spiritual strength, the strength of faith in the living God? We must honestly admit that we have more than enough by way of structure but not enough by way of Spirit…[for] the real crisis facing the Church in the Western world is a crisis of faith.

“And the only answer to that is evangelization,” Weigel continued. “The Church in Germany and elsewhere in Europe must ‘resolutely… set aside her worldliness,’ as Benedict put it the next day to a mixed group of clerical and lay Catholic activists.

Weigel continued:

“It is, of course, unclear whether that call to friendship with the Lord Jesus will lead to the reconversion of Germany,” Weigel concluded. “What does seem clear is that this unapologetically evangelical appeal has more chance of success than Hans Küng’s tattered summons to a Protestantized Catholicism, indistinguishable in any essential sense from the Lutheranism that has been thoroughly marginalized in post-modern Germany and from which no new evangelical energy can be expected. Benedict spent time with the Lutheran leaders of his homeland during his apostolic visit, but he cannot imagine that, in their present, moribund condition, they will make strong ecumenical partners in reconstructing the Christian foundations of the keystone in the arch of the European Union.”

“In the world but not of the world” and Vatican II

So how are we to summarize the trip to Germany?

In Germany, Benedict’s central message to Catholics involved in the Church and in society was to combat the worldly spirit that causes the Church to “settle down in this world” and to “adapt herself to the world’s standards.”

Yes, the Pope aimed these remarks at an excess of structural rigidity that is characteristic of German dioceses.

But one can see in his invitation an implicit questioning of the openness to the world extolled by Vatican II.

For the worldly spirit is not just adaptation to the contemporary world’s criteria of technological efficiency. It is above all a “worldy spirit,” and the “spirit of this world” is dominated by a threefold concupiscence (cf. 1 John 2:16), as all the apostles, all the Fathers of the Church, and all the saints teach, including Jesus Christ himself.

Hence the great question arises: was the Church at Vatican II able to open herself to the world, as she intended to do at that Council… without opening herself to the world’s spirit, without adapting to the world a little, without adopting a certain worldliness?

Benedict’s remarks in Germany remind us that we need to give serious thought to whether a “worldly spirit” entered the Church when she decided to open herself to the world’s preoccupations.


Papal Cold Shoulder?

And to end, a little, slightly odd bit of news.

In the following video, it appears that some cardinals ignore the Pope when he reaches out his hand to shake theirs. This video has now gotten out on the internet under the title “Cold Shoulder to the Pope,” as if this was an intentional slight to the pontiff.

The truth is otherwise. It is certain that Cardinal Jozef Tomko (who is 87 now, three years older than the Pope), who is seen turning away from the Pope and not shaking Benedict’s outstretched hand, is a friend of the Pope, and would not have ignored his outstretched hand purposely. What happened? These prelates had just been meeting with Benedict. The point of this receiving line was not to meet the Pope they had just been with, but to be introduced to the German president, who goes ahead of the Pope. There was no “cold shoulder” given to Benedict.


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