From Valentine’s to ashes

Anne was a pretty young blonde. She always had men interested in her, had friends, intelligence and a good career, and was a generous, good-hearted person. How surprising to hear, later on, she’d found her good looks a point of difficulty.

She’d learned that often people were interested in her body but not the rest of her; underneath her popularity she had trouble finding self-worth. So though she took good care of her body, she was not on good terms with it.

Jesus reaches out with compassion

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) Feb. 12 (Leviticus 13:1-2, 45-46; Psalm 32; 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1; Mark 1:40-45)

Fear is a constant human companion. People fear many things — irrationally for the most part — but especially those things that are different in ways that are deemed to be threatening.

Don’t let minor irritations take away from today’s grace

“When grace enters, there is no choice — humans must dance.”

W.H. Auden wrote those words and, beautiful as they sound, I wish they were true. When grace enters a room we should begin to dance but, sadly, more often than not we let some little thing, some minor mosquito bite, blind us to grace’s presence.

Pope to visit Mexico, Cuba March 23-28, meet leaders, Catholic faithful

VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI will meet with Cuban President Raul Castro, Mexican President Felipe Calderon and bishops and Catholics from the region when he visits Mexico and Cuba in late March.

He will also greet bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean as well as pray at the shrine of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre in Cuba.

It will be his third visit to the Americas after the United States in 2008 and Brazil in 2007.

Confession: Celebration of mercy, not trial before prosecution

VATICAN CITY - Priests hearing confessions need to replace any negative or aggressive attitudes with meekness and mercy toward the penitent, said a Vatican expert on confession.

The sacrament of reconciliation "has led to a unilateral overemphasis on the accusation and listing of sins," said Bishop Gianfranco Girotti, regent of the Apostolic Penitentiary, a Vatican court that handles issues related to the sacrament of penance.

The end result is that "the thing that is absolutely central when listening to sin, that is, the blessed embrace of the merciful Father, is put on the backburner," he said.

Pope prays for peace, watches dove fly back into his apartment

VATICAN CITY - "Mamma mia," Pope Benedict XVI said as a dove flew over his head and back into his apartment Jan. 29 after he and two Italian school children released the bird as a symbol of peace.

The Pope and representatives of the Italian Catholic Action children's section release doves during the Sunday Angelus address in late January each year. And, almost every year, at least one of the birds flies back into the papal apartment.

Half a century after Vatican II, a year of faith and debate

VATICAN CITY - Fifty years ago this October, Blessed John XXIII and more than 2,500 bishops and heads of religious orders from around the world gathered in St. Peter's Basilica for the opening session of the Second Vatican Council.

Over the following three years, Vatican II would issue 16 major "pronouncements" on such fundamental questions as the authority of the church's hierarchy, the interpretation of Scripture, and the proper roles of clergy and laity. Those documents, and the deliberations that produced them, have transformed how the Catholic Church understands and presents itself within the context of modern secular culture and society.

Christianity, religion risk oblivion in many parts of world, pope says

VATICAN CITY - Christianity and even religious belief are in grave danger across the globe, risking oblivion, Pope Benedict XVI said.

"Across vast areas of the earth, faith runs the danger of extinguishing like a flame that runs out of fuel," he said.

The world faces "a profound crisis of faith, and a loss of a sense of religion constitutes the biggest challenge for the church today," he said.

Evangelization can never be just a marginal concern, pope says

VATICAN CITY - Evangelization must never be a marginal concern for the church, Pope Benedict XVI said.

From bishops to religious and the lay community, "All elements of the great mosaic of the church must feel themselves strongly called on by the Lord's mandate to preach the Gospel, so that Christ may be proclaimed everywhere," the Pope said in his message for World Mission Sunday.

The annual observance will be marked Oct. 21 at the Vatican and in most countries.

Sprucing up your prayer life can help bring you closer to God

TORONTO - With the busy schedule of a university student, Vanessa Nicholas-Schmidt was finding it difficult to fit prayer into her regular routine during her school years.

To remedy this, her spiritual director suggested she get creative, recommending a variety of different prayer styles.

“She said Jesus is not expecting the friendship to look any one way,” said Nicholas-Schmidt, program director at Faith Connections, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto’s youth ministry. “How can we talk to Jesus in a way that fits in with our lives no matter where we are on the journey?”

Consecrated life means living for God, others, pope says at audience

VATICAN CITY - Consecrated life entails giving oneself completely to God and living for others, Pope Benedict XVI said.

Speaking at his weekly general audience Jan. 25, the Pope continued his catechesis on Christian prayer, looking at the Last Supper, when Jesus instituted the Eucharist and the ministerial priesthood.

The Pope said Jesus prayed for God's intercession for his disciples, who, like himself, "do not belong to the world."