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Eclipse and aftermath: religious life and the shift from soul to self



All is not well in religious life in the English-speaking world -- that is, if we are to believe the media of late. The situation of the troubled state of apostolic women religious in the United States brought this to world attention with reports of both a review of one leadership group and an apostolic visitation conducted in regard to the question of quality of life of contemporary membership.

Much has been said about these matters and no doubt much more will be said over time. But all the discussion and inquiry is secondary to what underlies the nature of the changes that have taken place in religious life throughout the past 50 years. The root cause of the changes has been totally unacknowledged. Indeed, it has never been recognized.

The Catholic church's ritual unites us more than beliefs



In his recent book, Toward A True Kinship Of Faiths: How The World's Religions Can Come Together, the Dalai Lama recounts a 1994 visit to Israel during which he asked one of the chief rabbis "what it is that unites Jewish people the world over -- what the kernel of the doctrine is that unites all Jews." He was taken aback by the rabbi's response: "When it comes to doctrine, there is hardly any uniformity. What unites all faithful Jews are the rituals. Come Friday, all Jewish homes, from Siberia to Ethiopia, hold Sabbath in the same manner. We have been doing this for thousands of years, since the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem."

Not being "a great believer in the efficacy of ritual in its own right," the Dalai Lama was initially surprised by this answer. But he came to understand what ritual means in the context of exile and diaspora: "a particular form of continuity and connection that allows great pluralism of views and beliefs," he said, "while at the same time links people through a shared set of practices and a language ... to a powerful lineage of memory and tradition."

Visionary says Virgin Mary is aware of economic crisis

STERRETT, Ala. -- Marija Lunetti, one of six young peasants who claimed that the Virgin Mary began appearing to them in 1981 in Medjugorje, Yugoslavia, says the mother of Jesus is aware of the economic crisis in Europe.

"She's more preoccupied with spiritual (matters)," Lunetti said. "When there is a spiritual crisis, there is also an economic crisis."

Lunetti spoke briefly in an interview about the economic crisis in Europe and the weather -- "Hot like here," she said -- before she had her daily apparition on Sunday night on her visit to Shelby County, Ala. During the apparitions, she says the Virgin Mary appears to her and prays over the pilgrims, even though they cannot see her vision.

She's staying this week at the home of Terry Colafrancesco, founder of Caritas of Birmingham, a ministry that runs a large publishing operation and promotes the visions in Medjugorje.

Colafrancesco just returned with a group from Medjugorje, in what is now known as Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Lunetti arrived in Alabama on Friday night. Lunetti is married with four children and lives most of year in Milan, Italy.

Suffering lays out path to new life for church



We find ourselves in a deeply divided church -- and society as well. For those who love the church, the many contemporary trials Catholics face cause concern and, for some at least, pain. Some trials, with origins stretching back 400 years, are manifest in an increasingly secularized society. Other trials are more contemporary and play out in criminal and civil courts. But in his poignant appeal for help Pope Benedict XVI saw that the present dark state of affairs goes much further and deeper: "What went wrong ... in our entire way of living the Christian life to allow such a thing to happen?"

In praise of bookshelves


I think the key to my becoming an avid reader began when, as a boy, I was unable to find much that I might want to read in my father's vast library.

Dad was a book publisher, as I am today, and yet I'm not sure that I gleaned any of my reading habits from him. Dad published evangelical Christian books, often written by the best-selling writers in that genre, but it was genre writing to be sure. Day after day I would spend scouring his bookshelves after school and my reaction eventually was: There must be more than this. And indeed, I learned, there was.

Newspaper ads urging people to leave church seen having little impact


WASHINGTON -- Dialogue generated by full-page newspaper ads placed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation is a good thing, said an associate professor of theology.

"The very presence of an ad like that is a symbol for one dimension of the situation of Catholicism in American society today," said Tom Beaudoin, associate professor of theology at Fordham University's Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education in New York.

The ads, which appeared in the Washington Post, New York Times and USA Today in May and June, encouraged "nominal Catholics" to quit the church. The full-page ad, in the form of an open letter, cited the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' contraceptive mandate, the Vatican's call for reform of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, and church teaching against artificial contraception and same-sex marriage as reasons to leave.

Paul Scolese, president of the John Carroll Society in Washington, said the ads misstated Catholic teaching and the church's stand on religious liberty, but he added such campaigns were not likely to have an impact or propel a massive movement away from religion.

Along the Way, journey of father and son, a spiritual tale


Actor Martin Sheen and son, actor/director Emilio Estevez, have written joint memoirs focusing on their complex and often turbulent father son relationships. Their stories take readers through some five decades of notable acting careers.

Interweaving alternating chapters, the men write with a strikingly honest and personal pen. They reveal the lives of ambitious men who take acting and directing seriously, using these art forms to tell meaningful stories while always seeking greater self-discovery.



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