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  • Ashes: An urgent call for our souls



    As Ash Wednesday approaches, I am puzzled by a fairly well-established statistic: Ash Wednesday Mass tends to draw a large attendance, right up there with Masses at Christmas and Easter. I asked around and never got a satisfactory answer. Someone said it is Catholic guilt and the sense of obligation.

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  • When to call a priest?



    Q. My husband is very ill with cancer and it is probably terminal. He last went to confession several months ago. I would like him to go to confession once more and receive the anointing of the sick, but I am reluctant to suggest it because he is still ambulatory and is unaware of the gravity of his condition. (We decided not to tell him how sick he is, lest it cause him to despair.) What can I do? Should I just wait until the last minute? (Milwaukee)

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  • Testing to destruction



    Remember the old Timex television commercials? I still have no idea who John Cameron Swayze was. But in every ad, Mr. Swayze would appear on the screen ready to report a newsworthy product demonstration. The latest style timepiece would be subjected to extreme -- and dramatic -- abuse. An elephant would step on it, a motorboat would run over it, or the waterproof watch would be run through a dishwasher. Afterward, Mr. Swayze would pull out the watch, show it was still working, and pronounce his trademark tagline, "Timex: It takes a licking and keeps on ticking."

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  • Be heard and be counted



    (Editor's note: Following are the prepared remarks delivered by Raymond Flynn at the Courageous Catholic Men's Conference held Jan. 30 in Woburn.) I've been an active participant in local and national politics for a long time, both as a candidate and an activist. I've seen the best of campaigns and the worst. But other people could make the very same statement. Oftentimes unfortunately, it's not the candidates who determine the direction and election outcome, but powerful forces like wealthy individuals, special interest groups and the media. Most people are too busy with family obligations like raising children, work, with some well-earned personal time like church, following sports, popular television programs and looking out for needy family members. At least this is how I've observed it.

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  • A moment of pure Christian springtime



    The 20th century saw a remarkable outbreak, in nearly every area of cultural and intellectual endeavor, and in many nations and traditions, of a creative exuberance among Catholics. Philosophy, literature, music, political theory, and economics, philosophy of physics, and the new medium of film, all saw brilliant contributions by thinkers and artists whose work was deeply informed by the Catholic faith. This movement has been called a "renaissance," or rebirth, because it was marked by a youthfulness and spirit of new discovery. As the movement is still so new, and not yet integrated into a Catholic's standard education, we need a guidebook for it, which Robert Royal now provides in his "A Deeper Vision: The Catholic Intellectual Tradition in the Twentieth Century" (Ignatius Press).

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  • Renewal



    Last fall, Cardinal Sean O'Malley spoke with the Pastoral Center staff initiating a renewal program on the principles and purpose of Disciples in Mission, the Pastoral Plan of the Archdiocese. The meeting was the beginning of a three-part process to inform the staff about the progress of the pastoral plan. More important than a simple update, it also calls departments as a whole and Central Ministry staff individually, to reflect on how they can best serve these parishes. The cardinal reminded the group that, "the goal of Disciples in Mission is to make all of our parishes, schools, and institutions thriving centers of evangelization." Note his words: "all... thriving centers of evangelization." All parishes are asked to be centers of evangelization including those not yet in a collaborative, and Central Ministry staff at the Pastoral Center are ready, willing and able to assist all parishes. In collaboratives, however, there are many steps involved in establishing and forming leadership teams and councils. This requires added attention.

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  • Much ado about all-stars



    The fact that all-star festivals in the four major professional sports have become needless folly is pretty much accepted as axiomatic. Time-worn and out of date they only work for the host cities, as handy excuses for huge parties, and network television, ever good at milking profit from peddling sheer nonsense.

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  • An invitation to a Roman Lent



    It's hard to believe that it's been five years since my son, Stephen, and I spent two months in Rome -- all of Lent and Easter Week -- preparing a book that would allow readers to make the city's ancient Lenten station church pilgrimage at home. But so it goes; tempus indeed fugit. Yet the memory of those two months lingers as the best Lent of my life.

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  • A Shirt of Flame



    They say that the book you most need to read finds you when you most need to read it. I've had that experience many times, most recently with Heather King's book, Shirt of Flame, A Year with Saint Therese of Lisieux.

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  • A Conversation with Pope Francis about God's Mercy



    Most people would jump at an opportunity to have an intimate hour-long conversation with Pope Francis. Most would be happy just to be a "fly on the wall" eavesdropping. With the publication of Andrea Tornielli's book-length interview with Pope Francis entitled The Name of God is Mercy, Catholics have the chance to listen in on a fascinating conversation about Pope Francis' life, priorities, advice for Catholics, his analysis of some of the bigger issues facing the world and especially about God's mercy and why and how much we all need it.

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  • New display at Pastoral Center



    A new exhibit will be on display at the Pastoral Center starting next week. As we are currently observing the Holy Year of Mercy, which commenced last month, it features items related to Jubilee years both past and present.

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  • While we were celebrating the birth of Christianity



    A few days before Christmas, we received a card from our Cardinal Sean. On the front was a sketch of the nativity scene with the Christ Child in a crib with an odd looking placard nailed to the top of the manger. It was an Arabic work. Inside the card, the letter was repeated, followed by these chilling words: "Christians, followers of the Prince of Peace, are being persecuted by Islamic State militants in numerous countries. In Mosul, these militants mark Christian property with the Arabic letter for 'N,' which is used to designate a home as Nazarene, meaning a followers of Jesus Christ, and issues an ultimatum: leave, convert, pay a fine, or face death. Please pray for persecuted Christians throughout the word and may the blessings of the Christ child and His Holy Mother bring peace to all."

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  • The message all begins with Jesus Christ



    Pope John Paul II's annual message on World Communication Day at the Vatican was always one of my favorite days of the year in Rome. After listening to the pope, I would often have lunch at my residence with the president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Cardinal John Foley, who was a brilliant communicator and former editor of the Catholic Standard newspaper in Philadelphia.

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  • Update: Year of Mercy



    The Year of Mercy, which began on Dec. 8, continues with wonderful things happening in parishes and collaboratives throughout the archdiocese. The collaborative parishes of St. Mary Magdalene in Tyngsboro, St. Rita in Lowell, and St. Marguerite d'Youville in Dracut, offered an all-night vigil on a Friday-Saturday last month. Prior to the vigil, volunteers hung posters with information about it in nearby shops and on the University of Lowell campus. Their work paid off. Following the vigil, Father Richard Clancy, the pastor, wrote: "Hard to put into words the graces that have come through the 24 hour Divine Mercy Vigil ... in our collaborative. The faithful came in droves and spontaneously and generously filled all the hours of adoration. Dozens of people came for the sacrament of confession. The first four and one-half hours were non-stop. We had penitents who went to confession last week and others who had not been in decades. They came at three o'clock in the afternoon and at three o'clock in the morning. Many came between the hours of 4 and 7 a.m. This extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy is going to be a time of singular grace. I am so grateful for this time and I cannot wait for similar opportunities in the months ahead."

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  • Memories bitter and sweet



    Several things! Beginning obviously with an appropriate farewell to your Patriots who, all things considered, put together a helluva season only to whimp out in the end on a note of curious befuddlement. Let the second-guessing begin and there will be plenty of it.

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  • Repentance required for forgiveness?



    Q. Regarding your recent column on forgiving ISIS: Must forgiveness be predicated on remorse and repentance by the offending party? I am thinking of Christ being crucified and saying, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing" -- or St. Stephen forgiving those who had stoned him. (Greenwich, Connecticut)

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  • Pope Francis and the Evangelicals



    The whole Christian world has watched with fascination as Pope Francis, over the past several months, has reached out to evangelicals. Who can forget the mesmerizing iPhone video, filmed by the Pope's (late) friend Bishop Tony Palmer, in which the Bishop of Rome communicated, with father-like compassion, to a national gathering of American evangelical leaders? His smile, his tone of voice, and the simple, direct words that he chose constituted a bridge between Catholics and evangelicals. What I found particularly moving was the remarkable reaction of the evangelical audience after they had taken in the video: a real prayer in the Spirit.

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  • You shall not oppress an alien



    Donald Trump has been saying that Ted Cruz can't be president because he was born in Canada, and the U.S. Constitution limits eligibility to natural born citizens. I thought at first that Trump was just slinging mud because Cruz had pulled ahead in the Iowa polls. But it fits too well with what is becoming a leitmotif of the Republican primaries.

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  • China's Population Crisis: An Evangelical Opportunity?



    State-sponsored cruelty has been a staple of the human condition for millennia. But has there ever been a more wicked policy, with more disastrous social consequences, than the "one-child policy" China began to implement in the early 1980s -- a state-decreed population-control measure that resulted in, among other horrors, untold tens of millions of coerced abortions? In her new book, One Child (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), veteran China-watcher Mei Fong describes both the impact of the policy on the destruction of China's traditional social fabric and its draconian effects on China's medium- and long-term future.

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  • Where there's smoke...



    Andrew and I had both taken time off work between the holidays. We figured it would be a good time to catch up with ourselves, spend more time with the adult children who would be in and out of town, and get a few things done. None of that happened.

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  • Big brother versus little sisters hits home



    For almost 150 years, the Little Sisters of the Poor in the United States have provided an incomparably loving environment for elderly poor people, many of whom have nowhere else to go. The Little Sisters' religious beliefs inspire them to give up their lives for this work, but they don't force their religion on others; they provide this irreplaceable service regardless of religious affiliation, condition of dependency, or ability to pay. Now the Little Sisters are being told by the federal government that if some employee wants free contraceptives, they must facilitate -- in violation of their religiously informed consciences -- or face huge fines that would endanger their ability to carry out their mission of mercy. Residents at homes run by the Little Sisters and their families, because of their overwhelmingly positive experiences, want to support the continuation of the Little Sisters' invaluable work.

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  • Our duty to those who doubt



    Recently, I received a letter from a person desperate because his brother left the Church in anger, saying a lot of what the Church teaches is a myth. I told the person I would pray for the situation. But I imagine there are a lot of similar situations out there.

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  • Finding hope in the changing of the seasons



    Winter is rough. Sometimes, even a coat can't protect you from the wind. The sleet soaks your boots. The sky is often overcast, with dark clouds crowding out the warmth and sunshine. While you're outside, all you think about is how to get back inside. What's worse, it feels as if it will always be this way.

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  • Collaboratives and the sanctity of life



    This week approximately 300 middle and high school students, and more than 100 adults from the Archdiocese of Boston, planned to board buses and head to Washington, D.C. to participate in the annual March for Life, the largest pro-life event in the world. Another contingent from Boston included families, college age young adults, seminarians, and priests and lay staff from the Pastoral Center and parishes. Boston would have been well represented if the weather cooperated. But even without ominous weather threats, not everyone is able to go to Washington.

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  • Final test in the Rockies



    And so it comes down to "one more one," as Count Basie used to like to coo. Manning and Brady with guns-ablazing meet one last time in the foothills of the Rockies with biting winds sweeping across the Plains and everything on the line.

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  • Catholicism and secular culture



    In one of his informative dispatches from Rome during the Synod on the Family last fall, Robert Royal remarked with regret on the extent to which the synod fathers appeared to have taken their prescriptions for families from a secular playbook instead of from their own Catholic tradition.

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  • Receiving and Extending Jesus' Five-Fold Mercy



    There are many ways to live out the Year of Mercy, but I think perhaps the most fruitful is to ponder and imitate Jesus' own merciful example. The theme of this Year of Mercy is "Merciful like the Father," and no one has shown us how to emulate the Father's Mercy better than the "image of the invisible God" himself, the one who identified himself to St. Faustina Kowalska as "Mercy Incarnate."

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  • Saints in the Mass



    Q. In the Canon of the Mass, we honor the saints Linus, Cletus, Clement, Sixtus, Cornelius, Cyprian, Lawrence, Chrysogonus, John and Paul, Cosmas and Damian. The church recognizes more than 8,000 saints, many of whom are much better-known than that list in the Canon. Couldn't we draw more inspiration from saints whom we know a bit about -- perhaps St. Francis of Assisi, St. Patrick, St. Anthony of Padua, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Joan of Arc, St. Clare, St. Augustine, St. Bernadette, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Benedict or St. Padre Pio? (Woodbridge, Virginia)

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  • On Bowing and Raising our Heads



    At end of every Roman Catholic liturgy, there is an invitation given to the people to receive a blessing. That invitation is worded this way: Bow your heads and pray for God's blessing. The idea behind that, obviously, is that a blessing can only truly be received in reverence, in humility, with head bowed, with pride and arrogance subjugated and silent.

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  • A Ukrainian Christmas-at-the-crossroads



    When Ukraine celebrated Christmas two weeks ago, there were ample reasons for pessimism about that long-suffering country's future. The national parliament is often dysfunctional, even by Washington standards. Corruption remains rampant throughout society and government. The Russian Anschluss of Crimea is, for the moment, a fait accompli, and Russian troops and their local hoodlum proxies continue to occupy significant parts of eastern Ukraine. The economy is a mess, real purchasing-power is down, fuel prices are up, and the oligarchs who control much of Ukraine's wealth have not shown themselves overly enthusiastic about economic and political reform. Ukraine has absorbed 1.5 million displaced persons fleeing Crimea or the war-zones of the Donbas -- the rough equivalent of the United States being suddenly confronted with about 12.4 million internal refugees. The West has been largely supine in the face of Russian aggression in Ukraine; the West remains helpless in the face of the barrage of lies and propaganda the Russian media and Russian-paid internet trolls spew around the world.

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  • The impact of a simple cardboard box



    ''Mayra is 11 years old. She didn't always like school. She was shy and didn't always understand her math and reading lessons -- or do her homework. Mayra's teacher noticed her struggles, and invited Mayra to join a CRS-sponsored tutoring program. There, she could work with her classmate Fabricio, to get a little extra help. Together, they practiced reading by writing stories. They made up games to practice math. And when they were done, they jumped rope and played outside. Fabricio and Mayra became good friends. Now, Mayra is proud of her reading and math skills. She does her homework, comes to class on time and has new friends. One day, she wants to be a teacher. But first she will be a tutor so she can help her classmates -- the way that Fabricio helped her."

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  • Bishop Benedict Joseph Fenwick, SJ



    Bishop Benedict Joseph Fenwick, SJ, second bishop of the Diocese of Boston (1825-1846), is a significant figure who oversaw what is referred to as the "second foundation" of the diocese. Building upon the foundation laid by the first bishop, Cardinal John Cheverus (1808-1823), he oversaw a significant increase in its Catholic population, and capably matched it with increased church building and the establishment of social services.

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  • Return of the Disciple Maker Index



    This month, Phase III collaboratives -- with a few exceptions -- will complete the Disciple Maker Index (DMI) survey, designed and administered by the Catholic Leadership Institute. The DMI is a tool created to help people reflect on their personal spiritual growth and identify the ways in which the parish effectively supports that growth. The results will give pastors, leadership and plan writing teams valuable input as they draft the local plans that each collaborative will write. The survey opens electronically the week of Jan. 18 and closes on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 10. It is open to parishioners over 18 years of age and takes about 10 to 15 minutes to complete.

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  • Entering the Hall at Cooperstown



    Yep, I know. It's still football season; indeed the launching point of the epic death march to glorious Soupey L and a potential appointment in football Valhalla for Brothers Belichick and Brady and their merry band of Foxborough frolickers. Post-season NFL fare simmers on your plate like a slab of raw meat, aching to be devoured. In your book, no other subject has merit at this precious moment.

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  • Trump, a creature of the media



    The potential presidential candidacy of Donald Trump, a media critic when it suits his purposes, is a creature of the media. Trump has a knack for saying outrageous things, and journalists have heaped lavish free coverage on his outrageousness. The result: a candidate who has never held public office and has made the art of personal insult a significant part of his chosen path to the White House.

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  • "The Revenant" and the Search for a Higher Justice



    Alejandro Iñárritu's new film The Revenant is one of the most talked about movies, and for good reason. The opening twenty minutes, which feature a frighteningly realistic Indian attack and a horrifically vivid mauling by a grizzly bear, are absolutely compelling viewing. And the remainder of the film is so involving that this viewer at least felt physically sick as he followed the sufferings of the main character.

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  • Forever Being Ahead Of Our Souls



    Sometimes nothing is a helpful as a good metaphor. In his book, The God Instinct, Tom Stella shares this story: A number of men who made their living as porters were hired one day to carry a huge load of supplies for a group on safari. Their loads were unusually heavy and the trek through the jungle was on a rough path. Several days into the journey they stopped, unshouldered their loads, and refused to go on. No pleas, bribes, or threats, worked in terms of persuading them to go on. Asked why they couldn't continue, they answered: "We can't go on; we have to wait for our souls to catch up with us."

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  • Dear Father: Please stop it.



    In all the sixteen documents of the Second Vatican Council, is there any prescription more regularly violated than General Norm 22.3 of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy? Which, in case you've forgotten, teaches that "no... person, not even a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority."

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