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First Reading: Deuteronomy 26:16-19

16 "This day the LORD your God commands you to do these statutes and ordinances; you shall therefore be careful to do them with all your heart and with all your soul.
17 You have declared this day concerning the LORD that he is your God, and that you will walk in his ways, and keep his statutes and his commandments and his ordinances, and will obey his voice;
18 and the LORD has declared this day concerning you that you are a people for his own possession, as he has promised you, and that you are to keep all his commandments,
19 that he will set you high above all nations that he has made, in praise and in fame and in honor, and that you shall be a people holy to the LORD your God, as he has spoken."

Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 119:1-2, 4-5, 7-8

1 Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD!
2 Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart,
4 Thou hast commanded thy precepts to be kept diligently.
5 O that my ways may be steadfast in keeping thy statutes!
7 I will praise thee with an upright heart, when I learn thy righteous ordinances.
8 I will observe thy statutes; O forsake me not utterly!

Gospel: Matthew 5:43-48

43 "You have heard that it was said, `You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'
44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?
47 And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?
48 You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

At Villanova, Archbishop Chaput talks faith and society

Philadelphia, Pa., Feb 23, 2018 / 03:36 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Nation-wide violence. School shootings. Political tensions. Drugs. Unemployment. Hunger.

These are some of the illness which plague the nation, said Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, who discussed faith as the antidote to these challenges in an address Thursday at Villanova University.

 “In my experience, this moment in our country’s history is the most conflicted and divided since the 1960s,” said Archbishop Chaput during his address.

“One of the tasks of the Church, and each of us as individual believers, is to live and work in a way that does help to make the world around us better,” he continued, noting that “there’s no healing without a good diagnosis.”

Chaput’s words were addressed to students at Villanova University in Philadelphia on Feb. 22, with a speech titled “Things to Come: Faith, State and Society in a New World.” The archbishop delved into some of society’s challenges, what has led to them, and a renewal of faith as a way to heal some of the nation’s wounds.

“The United States is the most powerful market economy in the world…and most of us would probably agree that since World War II, American democratic capitalism has reshaped much of the world; in effect, created a new world of political and economic relationships,” Chaput said.

Global market economies, Chaput continued, have benefited millions around the world by improving their opportunities, standards of living, and lifespans. They have also reshaped other dynamics, such as family, political, and educational relationships, and shifted philosophies and behaviors around the globe.

However, while noting its many benefits, Chaput also highlighted capitalism’s damaging side effects.

“A consumer market economy tends to commodify everything and recast all relationships as transactional,” Chaput said.

“In practice, it depersonalizes a culture by commercializing many of our routine human interactions. It also very easily breeds a practical atheism by revolving our lives around the desire and consumption for new things,” he continued.

While many of the country’s changes and steps in progression over the years have aided Americans, especially through medical advancements, Chaput said that the pros and cons do not balance out.

“…the benefits and deficits of change have been very unequally shared. The result has been a deep dislocation in the American sense of stability, security, common purpose, and self,” he said.

Chaput particularly pointed to the lower classes, who are promised with the lures of “sexual freedom,” and yet burdened by its consequences because of a lack of wealth. He noted destroyed marriages, fatherless children, angry males, and increased poverty and crime as a result.

Chaput also underscored the nation’s other “deep and chronic problems” of drugs, unemployment, inadequate schools, and inner-city hunger.

The Philadelphia archbishop also spotlighted the rise in secularism over recent years, saying that Americans who identify as atheist, agnostic, or of no religious affiliation rose from 16 percent to 23 percent from 2007 to 2014. This shift, Chaput said, “has political and legal implications,” particularly seen in the attacks against religious freedom and human rights.

“Religious freedom – as the nation has traditionally understood it – can’t be a major concern for people who don’t respect the importance of religious faith,” Chaput said.

“Human rights, without a grounding in God or some higher moral order, are really just a matter of public consensus,” he continued.

While many leaders and politicians have promised change with various notions such as income equality and increased opportunities, or various other plans of action, Chaput believes the only antidote to the nation’s plague is a renewal of faith in God.

“The point is, God’s authority ensures human freedom,” Chaput said.

“When God leaves the stage, the state inevitably expands to fill his place. Without the biblical God, we end up in some disguised form of idolatry. And it usually involves politics,” he continued.

Despite the culture’s downfalls, Chaput said people still have the desire for beauty, relationship, and new life – all of which can be found in the treasure of the Catholic Church and its proclamation of the truth.

“People still have a need for beauty, which means that beauty has the power to evade the machinery of logic and reach right into the human soul,” he said.

According to Chaput, the nation is desperately in need of the uncompromising truth, saying that before the problem can be fixed, individuals need to wake up to the reality of its challenge.

He also encouraged Catholics to protect their identities in Christ and act as faithful witnesses to the truth, saying “this isn’t a time for Catholics to be weak or apologetic.” At the same time, Chaput also noted this proclamation of truth should be spoke with love, patience and mercy.

Ultimately, Chaput said, the nation’s future will depend on the power of “personal witness,” through every individual’s pursuit of sanctity.

“Leon Bloy, the great French Catholic convert, liked to say that, in the end, the only thing that matters is to be a saint,” Chaput said.

“So the task tonight, when each of us leaves here, is to begin that path. And may God guide us all in pursuing it.”

Pope Francis returns to Rome after week of spiritual exercises

Vatican City, Feb 23, 2018 / 11:40 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Friday Pope Francis returned from his week-long Lenten spiritual exercises in Ariccia, where he and members of the Roman Curia have been on their annual retreat since Sunday afternoon.

Before boarding the bus that would take him back to Vatican City, Francis thanked the priest who preached the exercises for his reflections and for encouraging members of the Curia to be open to the Holy Spirit and not stuck in bureaucratic structures.

“Thank you, Father, for having spoken of the Church, for having made us, this small flock, feel the Church,” the Pope said Feb. 23.

He thanked Fr. José Tolentino de Mendonça for reminding them that “the Church is not a cage for the Holy Spirit,” and also voiced thanks for receiving a warning “not to shrink it with our bureaucratic worldliness!”

Fr. Tolentino is a Portuguese priest, poet, and Biblical theologian who preached during the spiritual exercises, which this year focused on the theme: “Praise of Thirst.”

De Mendonça is vice-rector of the Portuguese Catholic University in Lisbon and has been a consultant of the Pontifical Council for Culture since 2011. He was ordained a priest in 1990 and completed his master's degree in Biblical Studies in Rome before later obtaining a doctorate in biblical theology from the Portuguese Catholic University, where he later taught as an assistant professor.

In his brief greeting at the end of the retreat, Pope Francis also thanked De Mendonça for helping them understand how the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of non-believers and those of other religious confessions, saying the Holy Spirit is “universal, he is the Spirit of God, who is for everyone.”

Francis noted that there are many people today like the centurions and the guards at Peter's prison who live with an “an inner search” and who know how to tell when there is “something that calls” them.

He thanked De Mendonça for the call “to opening ourselves without fear, without rigidity, for being malleable in the Spirit and not mummified within our structures that close us off.”

The Pope also noted how he had declared Friday as a day of prayer and fasting for South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Syria, saying the spiritual retreat is extended through the offerings they will make on behalf of the war-torn countries.

Held Feb. 18-23, this year's curial Lenten spiritual exercises began Sunday evening with adoration and vespers. The rest of the week followed a basic schedule beginning with Mass at 7:30 a.m., followed by the first meditation of the day.

In the afternoon, a second meditation was preached before concluding with adoration and vespers. Friday, the final day of the exercises, consisted of only a morning meditation. Pope Francis and the curia then left the retreat house, returning to the Vatican at 11:15 a.m.

The exercises took place at the Casa Divin Maestro in Ariccia, a town just 16 miles outside of Rome. Located on Lake Albano, the retreat house is just a short way from the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo. It will be the fifth consecutive year the Pope and members of the Curia have held their Lenten retreat at the house in Ariccia.

While the practice of the Bishop of Rome going on retreat with the heads of Vatican dicasteries each Lent began some 80 years ago, it had been customary for them to follow the spiritual exercises on Vatican ground. Beginning in Lent 2014, Pope Francis chose to hold the retreat outside of Rome.

Archbishop Scicluna leaves hospital, continues abuse investigation in Chile

Santiago, Chile, Feb 23, 2018 / 10:16 am (CNA/EWTN News).- After a gallbladder surgery left him in the hospital for three days, Archbishop Charles Scicluna has been discharged, and will continue investigating allegations of abuse cover-up by a local bishop in Chile.

According to a Feb. 23 statement from the Archdiocese of Malta, Scicluna was discharged from San Carlos de Apoquindo Hospital in Santiago earlier today.

He will be staying at the apostolic nunciature of Chile, where he will continue to investigate allegations from several witnesses accusing Bishop Juan de la Cruz Barros Madrid of Osorno of covering up abuse committed by his longtime friend, Fr. Fernando Karadima.

In 2011, Karadima was found guilty by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of sexually abusing several minors and sentenced to a life of prayer and solitude.

Scicluna is the Vatican's top man on sex abuse appeals cases. In addition to heading the Archdiocese of Malta, in 2015 he was named by the Pope to oversee the team in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith charged with handling appeals filed by clergy accused of abuse. He served as the congregation’s Promoter of Justice for 17 years, and is widely known for his expertise in the canonical norms governing allegations of sexual abuse.

He arrived in Santiago Feb. 19 to interview victims of Karadima's abuse and those opposed to the 2015 appointment of Barros as Bishop of Osorno, whom they say not only covered up for Karadima, but also at times participated in the abuse.

Prior to arriving in Santiago, Scicluna stopped in New York to interview Juan Carlos Cruz, one of Karadima's most high-profile victims and one of Barros' most vocal opponents. He then went to Santiago to interview additional witnesses related to the Barros case.

Scicluna was admitted to the hospital in Santiago Feb. 21 after experiencing several days of abdominal pain and underwent surgery.

By order of Pope Francis, he stayed in the hospital to recover for three days while Monsignor Jordi Bertomeu, an official from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith who accompanied Scicluna as notary for the case, took over the interviews.

However, now that he has been discharged Scicluna will continue the investigation as normal while continuing to recover at the Chilean nunciature. He is scheduled to return to Malta Feb. 25.

What's the point of fasting, anyway?

Washington D.C., Feb 23, 2018 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- God commanded it, Jesus practiced it, Church Fathers have preached the importance of it – fasting is a powerful and fundamental part of the Christian life.

But for many Catholics today, it's more of an afterthought: something we grudgingly do on Good Friday, perhaps on Ash Wednesday if we remember it. Would we fast more, especially during Lent, if we understood how helpful it is for our lives?

The answer to this, say both saints of the past and experts today, is a resounding “yes.”

“Let us take for our standard and for our example those that have run the race, and have won,” said Deacon Sabatino Carnazzo, founding executive director of the Institute of Catholic Culture and a deacon at Holy Transfiguration Melkite Greek Catholic Church in Mclean, Va., of the saints.

“And...those that have run the race and won have been men and women of prayer and fasting.”

So what, in essence, is fasting?

It's “the deprivation of the good, in order to make a decision for a greater good,” explained Deacon Carnazzo. It is most commonly associated with abstention from food, although it can also take the form of giving up other goods like comforts and entertainment.

The current fasting obligation for Latin Catholics in the United States is this: all over the age of 14 must abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and all Fridays in Lent. On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, adults age 18 to 59 must fast – eating no more than one full meal and two smaller meals that together do not add up in quantity to the full meal.

Catholics, “if possible,” can continue the Good Friday fast through Holy Saturday until the Easter Vigil, the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference adds.

Other Fridays throughout the year (aside from Friday within the Octave of Easter) “are penitential days and times throughout the entire Church,” according to Canon Law 1250. Catholics once abstained from meat on all Fridays, but the U.S. bishops received permission from the Holy See for Catholics to substitute another sacrifice or perform an act of charity instead.

Eastern Rite Catholics, meanwhile, follow the fasting laws of their own particular church.  

In their 1966 “Pastoral Statement on Penance and Abstinence,” the National Conference of Catholic Bishops exhorted the faithful, on other days of Lent where fasting is not required, to “participation in daily Mass and a self-imposed observance of fasting.”

Aside from the stipulations, though, what's the point of fasting?

“The whole purpose of fasting is to put the created order and our spiritual life in a proper balance,” Deacon Carnazzo said.

As “bodily creatures in a post-fallen state,” it's easy to let our “lower passions” for physical goods supersede our higher intellect, he explained. We take good things for granted and reach for them whenever we feel like it, “without thinking, without reference to the One Who gives us the food, and without reference to the question of whether it’s good for us or not,” he added.

Thus, fasting helps “make more room for God in our life,” Monsignor Charles Pope, pastor of Holy Comforter/St. Cyprian Catholic Church in Washington, D.C. said.

“And the Lord said at the well, with the (Samaritan) woman, He said that 'everyone that drinks from this well is going to be thirsty again. Why don't you let me go to work in your life and I’ll give you a fountain welling up to Eternal Life.'”

While fasting can take many forms, is abstaining from food especially important?  

“The reason why 2000 years of Christianity has said food (for fasting), because food's like air. It's like water, it's the most fundamental,” Deacon Carnazzo said. “And that's where the Church says 'stop right here, this fundamental level, and gain control there.' It's like the first step in the spiritual life.”

What the Bible says about it

Yet why is fasting so important in the life of the Church? And what are the roots of the practice in Scripture?

The very first fast was ordered by God to Adam in the Garden of Eden, Deacon Carnazzo noted, when God instructed Adam and Eve not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16-17).

This divine prohibition was not because the tree was bad, the deacon clarified. It was “made good” like all creation, but its fruit was meant to be eaten “in the right time and the right way.” In the same way, we abstain from created goods so we may enjoy them “in the right time and the right way.”

The fast is the weapon of protection against demons - St. Basil the Great.

Fasting is also good because it is submission to God, he said. By fasting from the fruit of the tree, Adam and Eve would have become partakers in the Divine Nature through their obedience to God. Instead, they tried to take this knowledge of good and evil for themselves and ate the fruit, disobeying God and bringing Original Sin, death, and illness upon mankind.

At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus abstained from food and water for 40 days and nights in the desert and thus “reversed what happened in the Garden of Eden,” Deacon Carnazzo explained. Like Adam and Eve, Christ was tempted by the devil but instead remained obedient to God the Father, reversing the disobedience of Adam and Eve and restoring our humanity.

Following the example of Jesus, Catholics are called to fast, said Fr. Lew. And the Church Fathers preached the importance of fasting.

Why fasting is so powerful

“The fast is the weapon of protection against demons,” taught St. Basil the Great. “Our Guardian Angels more really stay with those who have cleansed our souls through fasting.”

Why is fasting so powerful? “By setting aside this (created) realm where the devil works, we put ourselves into communion with another realm where the devil does not work, he cannot touch us,” Deacon Carnazzo explained.

It better disposes us for prayer, noted Monsignor Pope. Because we feel greater hunger or thirst when we fast from food and water, “it reminds us of our frailty and helps us be more humble,” he said. “Without humility, prayer and then our experience of God really can't be unlocked.”

Thus, the practice is “clearly linked by St. Thomas Aquinas, writing within the Tradition, to chastity, to purity, and to clarity of mind,” noted Fr. Lew.

“You can kind of postulate from that that our modern-day struggles with the virtue of chastity, and perhaps a lack of clarity in theological knowledge, might be linked to an abandonment of fasting as well.”

A brief history of fasting

The current fasting obligations were set in the 1983 Code of Canon Law, but in previous centuries, the common fasts among Catholics were stricter and more regularly observed.  

Catholics abstained from meat on all Fridays of the year, Easter Friday excluded. During Lent, they had to fast – one meatless meal and two smaller meatless meals – on all days excluding Sunday, the day of the Resurrection. They abstained from meat on Fridays and Saturdays in Lent – the days of Christ's death and lying in the tomb – but were allowed meat during the main meal on the other Lenten weekdays.

The obligations extended to other days of the liturgical year. Catholics fasted and abstained on the vigils of Christmas and Pentecost Sunday, and on Ember Days – the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after the Feast of St. Lucy on Dec. 13, after Ash Wednesday, after Pentecost Sunday, and after the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross in September – corresponding with the four seasons.

In centuries past, the Lenten abstention was more austere. Catholics gave up not only meat but also animal products like milk and butter, as well as oil and even fish at times.

Why are today's obligations in the Latin Rite so minimal? The Church is setting clear boundaries outside of which one cannot be considered to be practicing the Christian life, Deacon Carnazzo explained. That is why intentionally violating the Lenten obligations is a mortal sin.

But should Catholics perform more than the minimum penance that is demanded? Yes, said Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P., who is currently studying for a Pontifical License in Sacred Theology at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C.

The minimum may be “what is due to God out of justice,” he explained, but we are “called not only to be just to God,” but also “to love God and to love our neighbor.” Charity, he added, “would call us to do more than just the minimum that is applied to us by the Code of Canon Law today, I think.”

In Jeremiah 31: 31-33, God promises to write His law upon our hearts, Deacon Carnazzo noted. We must go beyond following a set of rules and love God with our hearts, and this involves doing more than what we are obliged to do, he added.

Be wary of your motivation

However, Fr. Lew noted, fasting “must be stirred up by charity.” A Catholic should not fast out of dieting or pride, but out of love of God.  

“It’s always dangerous in the spiritual life to compare yourself to other people,” he said, citing the Gospel of John where Jesus instructed St. Peter not to be concerned about the mission of St. John the Apostle but rather to “follow Me.” (John 21: 20-23).

In like manner, we should be focused on God during Lent and not on the sacrifices of others, he said.  

Lent (is referred to) as a joyful season...It’s the joy of loving Him more.

“We will often fail, I think. And that’s not a bad thing. Because if we do fail, this is the opportunity to realize our utter dependence on God and His grace, to seek His mercy and forgiveness, and to seek His strength so that we can grow in virtue and do better,” he added.

And by realizing our weakness and dependence on God, we can “discover anew the depths of God’s mercy for us” and can be more merciful to others, he added.

Giving up good things may seem onerous and burdensome, but can – and should – a Catholic fast with joy?

“It’s referred to in the preface of Lent as a joyful season,” Fr. Lew said. “And it’s the joy of deepening our relationship with Christ, and therefore coming closer to Him. It’s the joy of loving Him more, and the more we love God the closer we draw to Him.”

“Lent is all about the Cross, and eventually the resurrection,” said Deacon Carnazzo. If we “make an authentic, real sacrifice for Christ” during Lent, “we can come to that day of the crucifixion and say 'Yes Lord, I willingly with you accept the cross. And when we do that, then we will behold the third day of resurrection.'”

This article was originally published on CNA Feb. 20, 2016.

St. Polycarp of Smyrna

On Feb. 23, the Catholic Church remembers the life and martyrdom of St. Polycarp, a disciple of the apostle and evangelist St. John. Polycarp is celebrated on the same date by Eastern Orthodox Christians, who also honor him as a Saint.Polycarp is known to later generations primarily through the account of his martyrdom, rather than by a formal biography. However, it can be determined from that account that he was born around the year 69 AD. From the testimony he gave to his persecutors – stating he had served Christ for 86 years – it is clear that he was either raised as a Christian, or became one in his youth.Growing up among the Greek-speaking Christians of the Roman Empire, Polycarp received the teachings and recollections of individuals who had seen and known Jesus during his earthly life. This important connection – between Jesus' first disciples and apostles and their respective students – served to protect the Catholic Church against the influence of heresy during its earliest days, particularly against early attempts to deny Jesus' bodily incarnation and full humanity.Polycarp's most significant teacher, with whom he studied personally, was St. John – whose contributions to the Bible included not only the clearest indication of Jesus' eternal divinity, but also the strongest assertions of the human nature he assumed on behalf of mankind. By contrast, certain tendencies had already emerged among the first Christians – to deny the reality of Jesus' literal suffering, death, and resurrection, regarding them as mere "symbols" of highly abstract ideas.Another Catholic teacher of the second century, St. Irenaeus, wrote that Polycarp "was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ; but he was also, by apostles, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna." In a surviving letter that he wrote to the Philippians, he reminded that Church – which had also received the teaching of St. Paul – not to surrender their faith to the "gnostic" teachers claiming to teach a more intellectually refined gospel."For every one who shall not confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is antichrist," he wrote –  citing St. John himself – "and whosoever shall not confess the testimony of the Cross, is of the devil; and whosoever shall pervert the oracles of the Lord to his own lusts and say that there is neither resurrection nor judgment, that man is the firstborn of Satan.""Let us therefore, without ceasing, hold fast by our hope and by the pledge of our righteousness," Polycarp taught – as he went on to explain that both hope and righteousness depended upon "Jesus Christ, who took up our sins in His own body upon the cross." With eloquence and clarity, he reminded the Philippian Church that Christ, "for our sakes, endured all things – so that we might live in him."However, Polycarp's most eloquent testimony to his faith in Jesus came not through his words, but through his martyrdom, described in another early Christian work. The Church of Smyrna, in present-day Turkey, compiled their recollections of their bishop's death at the hands of public authorities in a letter to another local church."We have written to you, brethren, as to what relates to the martyrs, and especially to the blessed Polycarp" – who, in the words of the Catholics of Smyrna, "put an end to the persecution – having, as it were, set a seal upon it by his martyrdom."Around the year 155, Polycarp became aware that government authorities were on the lookout for him, seeking to stamp out the Catholic Church's claim of obeying a higher authority than the Emperor. He retreated to a country house and occupied himself with constant prayer, before receiving a vision of his death that prompted him to inform his friends: "I must be burned alive." He changed locations, but was betrayed by a young man who knew his whereabouts and confessed under torture.He was captured on a Saturday evening by two public officials, who urged him to submit to the state demands. "What harm is there," one asked, "in saying, 'Caesar is Lord,' and in sacrificing to him, with the other ceremonies observed on such occasions, so as to make sure of safety?""I shall not do as you advise me," he answered. Outraged by his response, the officials had him violently thrown from their chariot and taken to an arena for execution. Entering the stadium, the bishop – along with some of his companions, who survived to tell of it – heard a heavenly voice, saying: "Be strong, and show yourself a man, O Polycarp!"Before the crowd, the Roman proconsul demanded again that he worship the emperor."Hear me declare with boldness, I am a Christian," the bishop said. "And if you wish to learn what the doctrines of Christianity are, appoint me a day, and you shall hear them.""You threaten me with fire," he continued "which burns for an hour, and after a little is extinguished. But you are ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and of eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly.""But," he challenged the proconsul, "what are you waiting for? Bring forth what you will."Although the crowds clamored for Polycarp to be devoured by beasts, it was decided he should be burned alive, just as he had prophesied. He prayed aloud to God: "May I be accepted this day before you as an acceptable sacrifice -- just as you, the ever-truthful God, have foreordained, revealed beforehand to me, and now have fulfilled."What happened next struck Polycarp's companions with amazement; they recorded the sight in the letter that they circulated after Polycarp's death."As the flame blazed forth in great fury," they wrote, "we to whom it was given to witness it, beheld a great miracle." The fire did not seem to touch the bishop's body. Rather, as they described, "shaping itself into the form of an arch, it  encompassed – as by a circle – the body of the martyr. And he appeared within not like flesh which is burnt, but as bread that is baked, or as gold and silver glowing in a furnace.""Moreover, we perceived such a sweet odour coming from the flames – as if frankincense or some such precious spices had been burning there."The executioners perceived that Polycarp's death was not going as planned. Losing patience, they ordered him to be stabbed to death.From the resulting wound, "there came forth a dove, and a great quantity of blood, so that the fire was extinguished."The crowd, as the Christian witnesses recalled, were understandably amazed."All the people marveled," they wrote, "that there should be such a difference between the unbelievers and the elect." Polycarp, they proclaimed, had been among that elect – "having in our own times been an apostolic and prophetic teacher, and bishop of the Catholic Church which is in Smyrna."St. Polycarp has been venerated as a Saint since his death in 155.

Former president of Franciscan U posthumously receives Poverello Medal

Steubenville, Ohio, Feb 22, 2018 / 04:59 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Father Michael Scanlan, TOR, former president of the Franciscan University of Steubenville, will posthumously receive the 2018 Poverello Medal, the college's highest non-academic award.

The medal will be given in recognition of the achievements of Father Scanlan, who helped rejuvenate the school's Catholic spirit and advanced evangelization world-wide.

"Very few college presidents who could not only reinvigorate Catholic higher education … but also be an evangelist, a writer, [and] a Catholic media figure,” Public Relations Manager for Franciscan, Tom Sofio, told CNA.

The award will be accepted by Father Richard Davis in memory of the school's fourth president, who died in January 2017. The event will be held March 3, coinciding with school’s Mission Immersion Day - a preparation for the nearly 300 students who plan to leave on mission trips this spring.

Acknowledging individuals and organizations who have emulated the qualities of St. Francis of Assisi, the award is given in recognition of substantial Christian character and works of charity.

Father Michael Scanlan served as the school's president from 1974-2000 and aided the restoration of the university's Catholic identity. He emphasized school's theology program, making it the largest undergraduate theology program of any U.S. Catholic university today.

Having a good rapport with the students, he also created an environment for young adults to grow in their faith. He established faith based fraternity groups called households, where men and women would be formed and supported in their Catholic faith.

Under Father Scanlan, Franciscan University in 1989 became the first U.S. Catholic university or college to adopt an Oath of Fidelity - a promise from the priests and theology faculty to teach according to the Church.

Additionally, Father Scanlan was a strong supporter of the pro-life movement and the charismatic renewal, speaking at international conferences like the Franciscan Conferences, which now serves over 55,000 high school students, and Fire Rallies (Faith, Intercession, Repentance, and Evangelization), which have reached over 400,000 people.

Father Scanlan also wrote 16 books and spiritual pamphlets and was one of the first priests to get involved with EWTN, hosting the theology series Franciscan University Presents for 18 years.

“He could help rebuild a Catholic university and spearhead the move to Catholic higher education, and be preaching in front of large groups of people, leading pilgrimages, and writing books about the faith,” Sofio added.

“It was amazing how he could do all those and move from one to other so effortlessly. The Holy Spirit gave him a lot of energy and he used it well.”

Change your heart, change your abortion votes, Bishop Paprocki tells Sen Durbin

Springfield, Ill., Feb 22, 2018 / 02:42 pm (CNA).- Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield in Illinois has reiterated that U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin should not receive Holy Communion due to the Catholic lawmaker’s support for abortion, including a recent procedural vote against a bill that would bar abortion after 20 weeks into pregnancy.

“Sen. Durbin was once pro-life. I sincerely pray that he will repent and return to being pro-life,” Bishop Paprocki said Thursday. “Because his voting record in support of abortion over many years constitutes ‘obstinate persistence in manifest grave sin,’ the determination continues that Sen. Durbin is not to be admitted to Holy Communion until he repents of this sin. This provision is intended not to punish, but to bring about a change of heart.”

Paprocki’s statement cited the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities chairman Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who said it was “appalling” that the Senate failed to pass the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Act.

Durbin was one of the 14 self-identified Catholic senators who on Jan. 29 voted against cloture for the bill, which was needed to prevent a filibuster.

The Springfield bishop, in whose diocese Durbin resides, cited statements of previous priests and bishops of Springfield regarding the Democratic senator’s support for legal abortion. In April 2004, his pastor Msgr. Kevin Vann, who is now Bishop of Orange, said he would be reluctant to give Holy Communion to the senator because of his lack of unity with the Church’s teaching on life.

Then-Bishop of Springfield George Lucas, who now heads the Archdiocese of Omaha, said he would support that decision.

“I have continued that position,” Paprocki said.

The Springfield bishop cited Canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law, which says those who “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.”

He also cited the U.S. bishops’ 2004 statement on Catholics in Political Life, which said failing to protect the lives of the innocent and defenseless is “to sin against justice.”

“Those who formulate law therefore have an obligation in conscience to work toward correcting morally defective laws, lest they be guilty of cooperating in evil and in sinning against the common good,” the U.S. bishops’ statement said.

Backers of the bill which Durbing voted against said that fetal neural development means the unborn child can feel pain at 20 weeks into pregnancy. The bill included exceptions for an abortion in the case of rape or incest, as well in circumstances in which the pregnancy threatened the life of the mother.
Twenty-one U.S. states have laws barring abortion after 20 weeks.

The federal bill, which was passed by the House of Representatives in October 2017, is opposed by most Senate Democrats. To prevent a filibuster, Republicans needed Democratic support to reach 60 votes, in addition to the votes of the 51 Republican Senators.

Democratic Senators Bob Casey, Joe Manchin, and Joe Donnelly supported the motion. Republican Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski voted against it.

In France, Italy, and Germany, abortion is illegal after 12 weeks of pregnancy. The United States, China, North Korea, Canada, the Netherlands, Singapore, and Vietnam are the seven countries that permit elective abortions after 20 weeks.