Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Ember Days in the 21st century

Once not so long ago, this coming Wednesday (Sept. 21) would be marked as a day of fasting and abstinence. So would Friday, Sept. 23, and Saturday, Sept. 24. The church marks these three days as the fall Ember Days.

Although the fall Ember Days are marked as the first Wednesday following the Exaltation of the Cross (Sept. 14), they are inextricably tied to the fall equinox.

The winter, spring and summer Ember Days also occur at or around the seasonal equinoxes.

The winter Ember Days begin the first Wednesday following the Feast of St. Lucy (Dec. 13). The spring Ember Days begin on the Wednesday following Ash Wednesday. And the summer Ember Days begin the Wednesday after Pentecost.

Although they were fixed by Pope Gregory VII, their origins predate Christianity as a sacred time for marking the seasons.

I have felt for some time that we as a church, by our recent neglect of Ember Days, have lost an opportunity to connect ritually with those sacred rhythms of creation.

Given the psychic/spiritual cost of our contemporary era's alienation from those rhythms, I believe we need a revival of the potential power of Ember Days for the 21st century. Unlike our ancestors, we really don't ritualize the mysterious changing of the seasons and their relationship to the cycle of life.

About four years ago I gathered some of the folk from the Worship Commission and artists of our parish of St. Elizabeth to brainstorm some practices that we as a parish community could observe to rekindle a sense of the Sacred in terms of the great annual movement of the cosmos.

In addition to the traditional forms of fasting and abstinence, we challenged our community to some of the following methods of reconnection as part of the Ember Day observance. Following are some suggested practices we put out to our parishioners.

Fall-Tithe your grocery shopping during that period to a local food depot. Or volunteer for a soup kitchen.

Winter-Fast from electricity for one day. Limit yourself to only necessary cooking and driving. Take the phone off the hook. Have dinner by candlelight (with everyone present since no one drives that night). Go for a walk (weather permitting). Turn off the computer, television, cell phone and all electronic devices. Read a good book or have a good conversation. Go to bed at an early hour -- easy to do when the only source of lighting is by candle or fire in the fireplace.

Spring-Plant a seed (flower or vegetable) in a cup. Nurture that seed and transfer that seed out of doors when the weather permits.Go for walk at night and try to do some stargazing.

Summer-Spend at least a few hours sometime during the three Ember Days at a park, hiking or some other quiet place of solitude.

These are just a few of the ideas with which we came up. And any of these practices can be celebrated at any of the solstices (i.e. electricity fast).

What are some creative rituals you may suggest to re-engage our connection with the sacred rhythm of the Mystery of the changing season? How might you suggest your revival of Ember Days?

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Miracle of St. Januarius

Every year on September 19 (today), thousands of people assemble at the cathedral in Naples to witness the miracle of the blood of Saint Januarius. This miracle has occurred annually since AD 1389.

Saint Januarius was the bishop of Naples and received the palm of martyrdom under Diocletian's persecution of the Catholic Church (ca. AD 303).

Somehow samples of the martyr's blood were acquired and stored in a small vial. Today, this vial contains a dark reddish dried residue.

On the feastday, the archbishop of Naples holds up the reliquary containing the blood and shows that the vials contain the dry and solid remains of blood. Next, the archbishop places the reliquary on top of the altar of Saint Clare along with the bones of the saint.

The people begin to pray and shout and then the blood begins to liquify. The archbishop then moves the reliquary around to show that the once solid contents are not liquid . The Neapolitans commemorate the miracle with a 21 gun salute. The liquified blood remains in the vial on the altar for 8 days.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Rex Murphy: The media’s love affair with a disastrous president
Since 2008, much of the Obama coverage has been nothing more than orchestrated sychophancy.

As the bad economic news continues to emanate from the United States — with a double-dip recession now all but certain — a reckoning is overdue. American journalism will have to look back at the period starting with Barrack Obama’s rise, his assumption of the presidency and his conduct in it to the present, and ask itself how it came to cast aside so many of its vital functions. In the main, the establishment American media abandoned its critical faculties during the Obama campaign — and it hasn’t reclaimed them since.

Much of the Obama coverage was orchestrated sychophancy. They glided past his pretensions — when did a presidential candidate before “address the world” from the Brandenberg Gate in Berlin? They ignored his arrogance — “You’re likeable enough, Hillary.” And they averted their eyes from his every gaffe — such as the admission that he didn’t speak “Austrian.”

The media walked right past the decades-long association of Obama with the weird and racist pastor Jermiah Wright. In the midst of the brief stormlet over the issue, one CNN host — inexplicably — decided that CNN was going to be a “Wright-free zone.” He could have hung out a sign: “No bad news about Obama here.”

The media trashed Hillary. They burned Republicans. They ransacked Sarah Palin and her family. But Obama, the cool, the detached, the oracular Obama — he strolled to the presidency.

Palin, in particular, stands out as Obama’s opposite in the media’s eyes. As much as they genuflected to the one, they felt the need to turn rotweiler toward the other. If Obama was sacred , classy, intellectual and cosmopolitan, why then Palin must be malevolent, trashy, dumb and pure backwoods-ignorant.

Every doubt they hid from themselves about Obama, every potential embarrassment they tucked under the blanket of their superior sensibilities, they furiously over-compensated for by their remorseless hounding of Palin — from utterly trivial e-mails, to blogger Andrew Sullivan’s weird speculations about Palin’s womb, musings that put the Obama “Birther” fantasies into a realm near sanity. (We are now seeing an echo of that — with a new book promoting all sorts of unconfirmed gossip about Palin, including her alleged sexual dalliance with a basketball star.)

As a result, the press gave the great American republic an untried, unknown and, it is becoming more and more frighteningly clear, incompetent figure as President. Under Obama, America’s foreign policies are a mixture of confusion and costly impotence. It is increasingly bypassed or derided; the great approach to the Muslim world, symbolized by the Cairo speech, is in tatters. Its debt and deficits are a weight on the entire global economy. And the office of presidency is less and less a symbol of strength.

To the degree the press neglected its function as watchdog and turned cupbearer to a styrofoam demigod, it is a partner in the flaws and failures of what is turning out to be one of the most miserable performances in the modern history of the American presidency.

National Post

Monday, September 12, 2011

Western, Muslim societies ‘irreconcilable’: Canadian poll

56% of respondents in a new Leger Marketing poll see Western and Muslim societies locked in an unending ideological struggle.

A majority of Canadians believes conflict between Western nations and the Muslim world is “irreconcilable,” according to a new national survey that revealed a strong strain of pessimism in the country leading up to Sunday’s 10th anniversary commemorations of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S.

The survey of 1,500 Canadians, conducted over three days last week for the Montreal-based Association for Canadian Studies, showed 56% of respondents see Western and Muslim societies locked in an unending ideological struggle, while about 33% — just one-third of the population — held out hope that the conflict will eventually be overcome.Another 11% of those polled didn’t answer the question.

ACS executive director Jack Jedwab said the finding has “serious ramifications” for Canadian policies aimed at bridging divides between cultures, which are based on the premise that citizens believe significant progress in mending such religious and cultural conflicts is achievable.

The dark view expressed in the survey “contradicts a fundamental idea in multicultural democracies like ours, that conflicts between societies can be resolved through dialogue and negotiation,” said Jedwab. “This is also a key element in multiculturalism, where Canada is often seen elsewhere in the world as a model in conflict resolution.”

He adds: “If a majority of Canadians feel it is irreconcilable, what does this imply for the various projects and programs in place that aim to bridge gaps?”

The online survey, carried out Sept. 6 to 8 by the firm Leger Marketing, is considered accurate to within 2.9 percentage points 19 times out of 20.

The results also confirm the findings of other recent surveys highlighting Canadians’ ongoing anxiety about the state of security in the post-9/11 world and their deep doubts about whether the long and bloody war in Afghanistan has done much to thwart the threat of terrorism.

In fact, 65% of respondents in the ACS survey said they don’t believe the world is safer from terrorists today than it was 10 years ago. And 70% of those surveyed said they don’t believe the war in Afghanistan has reduced the chances of terrorist attacks.

Jedwab said the “pessimistic feeling” about what the war has accomplished is likely linked to the “widespread hopelessness” about the prospects for ever resolving the deep-rooted, “ideological” conflict between Muslim and Western societies.

Many Canadians have come to believe “nothing will work” to end that conflict, said Jedwab, adding that this grim state of mind will require more scrutiny to fully understand and more carefully crafted public policies to rebuild a sense of optimism about the future of global relations.

The survey did offer one notable “ray of hope,” Jedwab suggested, pointing to a result showing that a slight majority of Canadians (52%) believe it would be wrong for airport security officials to do “extra checks” of “passengers who appear to be of Muslim background.”

While 39% of respondents were open to that kind of profiling, Jedwab interpreted the majority’s rejection of the practice as a sign that most Canadians realize such infringements “would make the purportedly irreconcilable conflict even deeper if the enshrined principles of our rights charters are to be disregarded.”

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper says 'Islamicism' biggest threat to Canada

In an exclusive interview with CBC News, Prime Minister Stephen Harper says the biggest security threat to Canada a decade after 9/11 is Islamic terrorism.

In a wide-ranging interview with CBC chief correspondent Peter Mansbridge that will air in its entirety on The National Thursday night, Harper says Canada is safer than it was on Sept. 11, 2001, when al-Qaeda attacked the U.S., but that "the major threat is still Islamicism."

"There are other threats out there, but that is the one that I can tell you occupies the security apparatus most regularly in terms of actual terrorist threats," Harper said.

Harper cautioned that terrorist threats can "come out of the blue" from a different source, such as the recent Norway attacks, where a lone gunman who hated Muslims killed 77 people.

But Harper said terrorism by Islamic radicals is still the top threat, though a "diffuse" one.

"When people think of Islamic terrorism, they think of Afghanistan, or maybe they think of some place in the Middle East, but the truth is that threat exists all over the world," he said, citing domestic terrorism in Nigeria.