What’s in a name? Everything

Mary, Mother of God (Year B) Jan. 1 (Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 67; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:16-21)

What is in a name? For modern people a name reflects personal preference and is often modelled on popular culture or family traditions. The given name has to have appeal or pizzazz.

Praying so as not to lose heart

One of the reasons we need to pray is so that we don’t lose heart. We all do sometimes. We lose heart whenever frustration, tiredness, fear and helplessness in the face of life’s humiliations conspire together to paralyse our energies, deaden our resiliency, drain our courage and leave us feeling weak in depression.

Poet Jill Alexander Essbaum gives us a poignant example in her poem, “Easter.” Reflecting on the joy that Easter should bring into our lives, she shares that Easter can instead be a season of defeat for us because its celebration of joy can highlight the shortcomings of our own lives and leave us with the feeling that “Everyone I’ve ever loved lives happily just past my able reach.”

And this feeling can drive us to our knees, in bitterness or prayer; hopefully prayer.

Nigerian Christmas is defined by faith, family

“Are you coming home for Christmas?”

“No, Uncle Buga, not this time.”

“Do you realize,” he said to me sounding emotional, “that you have not been home for Christmas since you left the country?”

Pope advances sainthood causes of Marianne Cope, Kateri Tekakwitha

VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI advanced the sainthood causes of Blessed Marianne Cope of Molokai and Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha.

He also formally recognized the martyrdom of 64 victims of the Spanish Civil War and advanced the causes of 18 other men and women.

During a meeting Dec. 19 with Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for Saints' Causes, the pope signed the decrees recognizing the miracles needed for the canonizations of Blesseds Marianne and Kateri.

Not an abstract idea, evangelization calls for real witness, pope says

VATICAN CITY - New evangelization is not an abstract idea to pitch, but rather a call to authentically live the Gospel message, Pope Benedict XVI said.

"Christian faith provides a surer basis for life than the secular vision; for 'it is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of humanity truly becomes clear,'" he said quoting from "Gaudium et Spes," the Second Vatican Council document on the church and society.

The pope was speaking Dec. 17 to bishops from New Zealand and the Pacific Islands who were making their "ad limina" visits to the Vatican.

Pope tells prisoners God loves them, Christians pray for them

ROME - Pope Benedict XVI told inmates at a Rome prison that people say nasty things about him, too, but it's important to remember that there are other people ready to offer their love and support.

During a visit Dec. 18 to Rome's Rebibbia prison, the pope gave a short speech and then responded to questions from six of the inmates gathered in the prison's Church of Our Father.

Federico, an inmate from the prison infirmary, which includes men who are HIV positive, told the pope that people say "ferocious things" about the inmates. "We have fallen and hurt people," he told the pope. "We have lost our freedom, but we ask you to help ensure we don't lose our dignity."

Teaching young about human dignity promotes peace, justice, pope says

VATICAN CITY - When young people recognize the dignity and beauty of every human life, including their own, and are supported in their natural desire to make the world a better place, they become agents of justice and peace in the world, Pope Benedict XVI said.

Peace and justice are built on "a profound respect for every human being and helping others to live a life consonant with this supreme dignity," the pope said in his message for the World Day of Peace 2012.

The Catholic Church celebrates World Peace Day Jan. 1. The pope's message for the occasion was released Dec. 16 at the Vatican and sent, through Vatican ambassadors, to the leaders of nations around the world.

Jesus comes to make the world right

Nativity of the Lord (Year B) Dec. 25 (Isaiah 9:2-4, 6-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-16)

Who are the people walking in darkness? This prophetic passage was originally addressed to the nation of Israel under threat from first the Assyrians and then the Babylonians. It was supposed to give them hope, courage and perseverance in the face of oppression and the collapse of their world. God had not abandoned them but would lead the nation to freedom and prosperity.

Those with no room at the inn are life’s most meaningful

Mary gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn.

In the Christmas story, we have always vilified and demonized the innkeeper who turned Mary and Joseph away, leaving them no choice for shelter except a stable. And the lesson we took from this was the need for greater hospitality in our lives, the need to not be so busy and preoccupied that there is “no room in the inn,” that is, that there is no place in our busy lives for a messiah to be born, for Christmas to happen.

Prayer, not activism, is key to evangelization, preacher tells pope

VATICAN CITY - The Catholic Church's project of "new evangelization" faces two dangers: people thinking others will do the work and people so fired up to preach the Gospel, they forget to pray, said the preacher of the papal household.

Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, who preaches to the pope and top Vatican officials on the Fridays of Advent and Lent, dedicated his December 2011 series to lessons the church can learn from its own history of evangelization efforts.

Church should fear sin of members more than persecution, pope says

ROME - The church should fear the sin of its own members more than hatred against Christians, Pope Benedict XVI said.

While the church has suffered from persecution throughout its history, it "is supported by the light and strength of God" and will always end up victorious, he said.

Overcoming trials and outside threats shows how the Christian community "is the presence, the guarantee of God's love against all ideologies of hatred and selfishness," he said on the feast of the Immaculate Conception Dec. 8.