Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Purgatory: The Dogma of God's Mercy and Justice

For the sake of souls living in an age permeated by the modernist heresy, it is not by chance that, at Fatima, Heaven highlighted the Church’s doctrines and dogmas so frequently undermined. Perhaps foremost among these ignored truths is Purgatory, a dogma pertaining to the interior life of the soul and the mercy and the justice of God.

The word purgatory comes from the Latin purgare, which means “to purify” or “to cleanse.” “The word Purgatory is sometimes taken to mean a place, sometimes as an intermediate state between Hell and Heaven,” explains Fr. Schouppe, S.J., author of Purgatory – Explained by the Lives and the Legends of the Saints.[1]

“It is, properly speaking, the condition of souls which, at the moment of death, are in the state of grace, but which have not completely expiated their faults, nor attained the degree of purity necessary to enjoy the Vision of God.” [2] Fr. Schouppe continues, “Purgatory is a transitory state which terminates in a life of everlasting happiness. It is not a trial by which merit may be gained or lost, but a state of atonement and expiation.” [3]

The dogma of Purgatory reinforces the necessity of the three conversions of the interior life, for “it forms one of the principal parts of the work of Jesus Christ, and plays an essential role in the economy of the salvation of man.” [4]

We may think otherwise, but sanctity is not impossible, for Jesus Himself encourages and instructs us, “Be you therefore perfect, as also your Heavenly Father is perfect.” [5] Neither can we reach spiritual perfection by our own efforts, but with God, all things are possible.” [6] For the living, each day of earthly life is “a time of trial, a time of merit for the soul” [7]- and at the very moment life ends, the immortal soul remains in the state in which death claimed it.

While we hope that our merits will gain us heaven, we must also remember that what we deem as only trivial faults are not small in God’s eyes. In considering Purgatory, our frail human nature frequently tends to think only of God’s mercy, simultaneously preferring to forget His Justice. Regardless of our personal opinions, God has revealed that His two attributes of Mercy and Justice are never separated.

Like the slightest shadow which must disappear before the sun’s bright light, “no shadow of sin can endure before His Face.” [8] Souls who depart this life in a state of sanctifying grace are saved and will attain Heaven, but if there is any debt still remaining for absolved sins – any slight lack of perfect charity in love for God or neighbor – then God’s Mercy and Justice allows the saved soul to expiate its sins in Purgatory.

Purgatory: A Teaching from Antiquity
From the ancient tradition of the Jews, to the time of Christ and from the earliest days of His one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church, “the people of God had no hesitation in asserting the efficacy of prayers offered for the dead in order that those who had departed this life might find pardon for their sins and the hope of eternal resurrection.”[9]

With infallible examples from the Holy Scriptures and Tradition, the witness of the early Church, the Holy Ghost makes clear that forgiven sins can and will be atoned, either in this life or in the next:

• The Old Testament clearly states in Macabees, “It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.” [10] This passage tells of an offering of silver “to Jerusalem for sacrifices to be offered for the sins of the dead, thinking well and religiously concerning the resurrection. For if he (Judas of the Macabees) had not hoped that they that were slain should rise again, it would have seemed superfluous and vain to pray for the dead.” [11]

• In Zacharias, the Holy Ghost speaks of the purification of souls in the next life, “I will refine them as silver refined, and I will try them as gold is tried.” [12] Gold and silver are burned in the fire to be freed from dross; similarly, souls are tried and purified in fire by the Lord.[13]

• Our Lord Himself affirms that there is a place of expiation after death, likening it to a prison: “I say to thee, thou shalt not go out from thence till thou repay the last farthing.” [14] Jesus refers not to hell, which is eternal, but teaches “distinctly of a temporary place…of purification, where the souls of the just can be freed…and purified for their entrance into heaven.”[15]

• Our Divine Savior also reveals: “And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him: but he that shall speak against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, nor in the world to come.” [16]

Repented sins can be forgiven, and expiated in this world or the next, but the sin against the Holy Ghost is the terrible exception of which Christ warned the peoples of all ages - persistent impenitence, the sin of one who rejects conversion and dies in mortal sin. One guilty of this sin can never obtain forgiveness of God, because at the hour of death he continues to thrust God away from him.” [17] The reason this sin is not forgiven in this world or the next is only because the individual person continues to reject God, even at death! Is it any wonder why Our Lady of Fatima so often stressed sacrifice for the conversion of our fellow sinners?

St. Paul speaks of the exact way by which souls are freed from repented sins not yet atoned: “For other foundation (sic) no man can lay, but that which is laid; which is Christ Jesus…Every man’s work shall be manifest: for the day of the Lord shall declare it, because it shall be revealed in fire, and the fire shall try every man’s work, of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide, which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work burn, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire.”[18]

The Catholic Encyclopedia (1911) explains, “While this passage presents considerable difficulty, it is regarded by many of the Fathers and theologians as evidence for the existence of an intermediate state in which the dross of lighter transgressions will be burnt away, and the soul thus purified will be saved.”[19]

St. John the beloved disciple, in offering hope and consolation to those who live in the valley of tears and faithfully endure all of life’s trials and tribulations, reveals: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes, and death shall be no more; nor mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow shall be any more.”[20] In speaking of Heaven, however, St. John also reminds the elect, “There shall not enter into it anything defiled.” [21]

St. Augustine of Hippo teaches, “That there should be some fire even after this life is not incredible, and it can be inquired into and either be discovered or left hidden whether some of the faithful may be saved, some more slowly and some more quickly, in the greater or less degree in which they loved the good things that perish – through a certain purgatorial fire.”[22]

• Because the doctrine of Purgatory has been held throughout the ages, the Council of Trent declared: “Since the Catholic Church, instructed by the Holy Ghost has, following the sacred writings and the ancient tradition of the Fathers, taught in sacred councils and very recently in this ecumenical council, that there is a Purgatory, and that the souls there detained are aided by the suffrages of the faithful and chiefly by the Acceptable Sacrifice of the Altar, the Holy Council commands the bishops that they strive diligently to the end that the sound doctrine of Purgatory, transmitted by the Fathers and the sacred councils, be believed and maintained by the faithful of Christ, and be everywhere taught and preached.”[23]

• Finally, in recent times, Our Lady Herself referred to Purgatory when, at the first Fatima apparition in May 1917, She was asked by the child Lucia about the souls of two young village ladies who had recently died.

The Virgin answered that the first girl, Maria das Nevas, who died when about 16 years of age, was in Heaven. But of Amelia, a young woman of 18 years at her death, Our Lady said, “She will be in purgatory until the end of the world.” [24]

The Fate of Two Souls Revealed
The latter disclosure about Amelia’s prolonged period of expiation never fails to shock and trouble those who first hear of it. While mere curiosity should not instigate the inquiry, it appears there is one immediate and common question about this revelation:

What did Amelia do? That is, what forgiven sin(s) committed by a young person (a “teenager” by today’s standards), who lived in a remote village without any modern conveniences or amusements, could lead to a Purgatory of such time and duration?

The only answer upon which we can assuredly rely comes from Sr. Lucia when, years later, she was asked by Fr. Thomas McGlynn, O.P, about certain details regarding Amelia. Sr. Lucia’s charitable, prudent, and brief response was befitting of a Servant of God: “Amelia was eighteen years old, Father, and, after all, for one mortal sin a soul may be in Hell forever.” [25]

“Just” one mortal sin! Was Lucia’s response a delicate hint that it was one mortal sin, obviously repented, for which Amelia would endure a Purgatory incomprehensible to our minds? Did Our Lady make this known to Lucia? If such is the case, it still remains that we do not know the details of Amelia’s solitary mortal sin - but neither do we need to know.

Instead, we should consider the reasons why Our Lady allowed to be made public the state of two souls, one who was already in Heaven (a revelation which many overlook) and one who would be in Purgatory until the end of time.

“What is certain is that Our Lady wanted us to know this for our instruction, and it would be foolish presumption to pretend to dispute the judgments of God,” observes Fatima historian, Frère Michel de la Sainte Trinité. “He alone, Who intimately knows each soul, the abundance of graces He has given to it, the degree of knowledge it had of its fault and the quality of its repentance, is the judge of the gravity of sin.” [26]

Frère Michel also wisely notes that we may rarely think about Maria das Nevas, the young soul of whom Our Lady said so simply, “She is in heaven.” No, we are not inclined to ponder much about Maria, for today we are misled to believe that Heaven is our natural “right.” Perhaps, too, we make light-hearted jokes like, “Well, at least in Purgatory, I’ll be with friends.” Yet the sufferings of Purgatory are not objects of jest, especially because the straight and sure path to Heaven is made known to us: Pick up your cross daily and follow Me.[27]

Should we not first contemplate the teenaged Maria, if only for a few moments, and wonder: How did she fulfill God’s Commandments? What heroic virtues did she practice? Did she endure Purgatory at all – or was her soul taken straight to Heaven? Were inquiries ever made about the details of her life or death? Is there anything really known about this young lady, other than her name and age? Or was her hidden and humble interior life - in which (as it seems) no one showed interest, even when her glorious state in Heaven became known - meant as a lesson in itself?

Since it appears no questions about Maria were ever asked, we have no details. What we do have, however, is Our Lady’s word that Maria is in Heaven, and that is enough to tell us two simple and beautiful things about Maria – “she was a good girl and a good Christian.” [28]

Out of the Depths I Have Cried to Thee, O Lord…
But we do not forget Amelia, who died in the state of grace and is saved, nor should we forget her. It is, after all, our “sacred duty to pray for and make sacrifices on behalf of the Poor Souls in Purgatory.” [29]

We call these souls “poor” because they can do nothing for themselves, relying always on our charity offered on their behalf; we call them “holy” because there is no question that they are among the saved. Cherished by God and assured of their salvation, they can and do intercede for us with their prayers.

However, while the poor souls can pray for us but no longer gain merit for themselves, and since the saints in Heaven pray for them but cannot acquire any indulgences for them, those who languish in Purgatory rely on the charity of the living.

This is the beautiful “secret” regarding Purgatory, as St. John Chrysostom reminds us, “Not by weeping, but by prayer and almsgiving are the dead relieved.” [30] It is only we, the Church Militant, who can obtain many indulgences (plenary and partial) for the faithful departed. [31]

We have three central means at our disposal to offer them relief and deliverance: The Holy Mass, the Holy Rosary, and almsgiving (fasts, penances, and sacrifices). For the benefit of our own souls and those in Purgatory, there exist many other highly indulgenced prayers and practices, including but not limited to:

The Brown Scapular of Mt. Carmel: To those who wear this Scapular with devotion, Our Lady promises, “Whosoever dies wearing this Scapular shall not suffer eternal fire.” Too, a pious kiss given to the Brown Scapular offers 500 days’ indulgence, which we can offer for the Poor Souls.

The Sabbatine (Saturday) Privilege, also granted to those who wear the Brown Scapular: “I, the Mother of Grace, shall descend on the Saturday after their death and whosoever I shall find in Purgatory, I shall free, so that I may lead them unto the holy mountain of life everlasting.”

A Thousand Souls (the Prayer of St. Gertrude), by which Christ revealed He would release 1,000 souls from Purgatory, each time the prayer is offered: “Eternal Father, I offer thee the Most Precious Blood of Thy Divine Son, Jesus, in union with all of the Masses said throughout the world today – for all the holy souls in purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal Church, for those within my own home and within my own family. Amen.” [31]

Since God’s generosity can never be out-done, He not only allows all of our offerings to help the souls in Purgatory, but He also grants that these same actions “gain us merit, an increase in sanctifying grace, a higher degree of charity, closer union with God, and thus a higher degree of glory in Heaven for all eternity.”[33]

There is much more that Our God has revealed about Purgatory, but what is most important is to follow the charitable advice of the eternal Church, and which is so beautifully summarized by St. Augustine: “Forget not the dead and hasten to pray for them!”[34]

~About this Article and its Author~
Secrets of the Catholic City is the name of Mrs. Bartold's new column, published by Catholic Family News (CFN). "Purgatory: The Dogma of God's Mercy and Justice" was published in CFN's November 2009 issue. All Rights Reserved World-wide by the author.

Marianna Bartold, founder of Keeping It Catholic, is the author of “The Age of Mary” Study Guides, a series of “digitally delivered” Catholic unit studies for homeschooled teens - as well as adults or anyone who wishes to grow closer “to Jesus through Mary.” Her other works include the upcoming digital Return of the King (The Lord of the Rings) Catholic Study Guide. She is the author of the Keeping It Catholic Home Education Guide books (Volumes I and II). Mrs. Bartold was the original homeschool editor of Sursum Corda and the founding publisher of The Catholic Family's Magnificat! Magazine.

[1] Fr. F.X. Schouppe, S.J., Purgatory - Explained by the Lives and Legends of the Saints [1893 original edition republished in Rockford, IL: TAN Books and Publishers, 1986.]: p.6
[2] Ibid., p.7. (Emphasis in the original)
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid., p. 3.
[5] Matt. 5:48.
[6] Matt 19: 26.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Fr. F.X. Schouppe, S.J., op cit., p. 4.
[9] Edward Hanna, “Purgatory,” The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 12. [New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911] Accessed Sept. 15, 2009 at
[10] 2 Mach. 12:46.
[11] 2 Mach. 12:43-45.
[12] Zach. 13:9.
[13] “Sermons for the Feast Days of the Year,” anonymous contributor. Included in The Sermons of the Curé of Ars [1901 original republished in Long Prairie, MN: The Neumann Press, 1991]: Part II, p. 10.
[14] Matt. 5: 26.
[15] “Sermons for the Feast Days of the Year,” op. cit., Part II: p. 11.
[16] Matt. 12: 32.
[17] My Catholic Faith: A Manual in Religion [Reprinted from the 1954 edition in Kansas City, MO: Sarto House, 2003.]:p. 151.
[18] 1 Corinthians 3: 11-15. [Emphasis added.]
[19] Hanna, loc. cit.
[20] Apoc. 21:4.
[21] Apoc. 21: 27.
[22] St. Augustine of Hippo, cited by William A. Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. 3. [Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1979]: p. 149.
[23] Decree Concerning Purgatory, The Council of Trent, Session XXV (December 4, 1563). Also see Denzinger, "Enchiridon", #983.
[24] Fatima in Lucia’s Own Words: Sr. Lucia’s Memoirs [Fatima, Portugal: Postulation Centre, 1976]: p. 161.
[25] John J. Delaney (editor), A Woman Clothed With the Sun [New York: Image Edition, published by Doubleday, 1990]: p. 184. [Emphasis added.]
[26] Frère Michel de la Sainte Trinité, The Whole Truth about Fatima: Science and the Facts, Vol. I [Buffalo, NY: Immaculate Heart Publications, English translation copyright by the author, 1989]: p. 128.
[27] Lk. 9:23, Matt. 16:24, Mk. 8:34. (paraphrased)
[28] Frère Michel, op. cit., p. 129.
[29] Fr. F. X. Schouppe, op. cit., Publisher’s Preface, p. xxviii. [Emphasis in the original]
[30] My Catholic Faith, loc. cit. p. 159.
[31] An indulgence is the remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven. A plenary indulgence remits all punishment; a partial indulgence remits some part of it. That the Church has the power and authority to grant indulgences is a matter of faith, defined at the Council of Trent, Session XXV, December 4, 1563.
[32] Approval and recommendation signed by M. Cardinal Pahiarca at Lisbon, Portugal, March 4, 1936.

[33] Fr. F. X. Schouppe, op. cit., Publisher’s Preface, p. xxix.
[34] “Sermons for the Feast Days of the Year,” op. cit., Part II, p. 13. [Emphasis in the original]

Monday, August 17, 2009

Christ in the Family: The Christian Education of Youth

“The family received from God a threefold mission: The care of the material life, the spiritual life and the supernatural life,” St. John Marie Vianney, the Curé of Ars, once said.[1] Recognizing that each human soul needs instruction in that which is good, the saint continued, “For this reason, it is, above all things, necessary that he should know the means that are indispensable for him to this end – and this is the knowledge of the commandments of God or, in one word – Religion.” [2]

With those words, the saint echoed the Church’s doctrine on Christian education and its threefold purpose, a doctrine reinforced in the 1929 encyclical Divini Illius Magistri, on the Christian Education of Youth: “In fact, since education consists essentially in preparing man for what he must be and for what he must do here below, in order to obtain the sublime end for which he was created…there can be no ideally perfect education which is not Christian education.” [3]

In using the term “Christian education,” Church tradition makes clear that the words Christian and Catholic are synonymous. As we know from the Acts of the Apostles (11:26), it was in 1st century Antioch that Jesus Christ’s followers were first called Christians. It was also in 1st century Antioch that the term Catholic Church [i.e., universal Church] flowed from the pen of St. Ignatius, the bishop-martyr known as the Apostolic Father because he was a “hearer” of St. John the Evangelist, as well as the third bishop of Antioch, following St. Evodius who was himself the immediate successor of St. Peter.[4] While more proof could be offered, these two examples from both Scripture and Tradition firmly establish that a Christian is a follower of Christ and a member of the Catholic Church, which bears four infallible marks – one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic. It follows that we can say with gentle confidence that Christian means Catholic, and Christianity means Catholicism.

Once these very important terms and their definitions are accepted for the truth they are, the last sentence quoted from the encyclical Christian Education of Youth translates to “there can be no ideally perfect education which is not Catholic education.”

What Catholic Education Is and Isn’t
“Now in order that no mistake be made in this work of utmost importance, it is necessary to have a clear and definite idea of Christian education in its essential aspects…” [5]

First, it should be said that a Catholic education is not one in which a religion class is “tacked” onto the rest of the curriculum. We know this because the Church’s doctrine on education teaches: “For the mere fact that a school gives some religious instruction (often extremely stinted) does not bring it into accord with the rights of the Church and of the Christian family, or make it a fit place for Catholic students.”[6]

What is it, then, that makes education Catholic? The encyclical Militantis Ecclesiae proclaimed, “Religion must not be taught to youth only during certain hours, but the entire system of education must be permeated with the sense of Christian [meaning Catholic] piety. If this is lacking, if this holy spirit does not penetrate and inflame the souls of teacher and pupil, small benefit will be derived from any other sort of education; instead damage will be done.”[7] Finally, this same encyclical clearly states, “Religion must permeate and direct every branch of knowledge.”[8]

Catholic Education at Home
The Church’s doctrine on Catholic education applies not only to the Catholic school but also to the private Catholic home. Home education has existed since the dawn of creation and, therefore, throughout the Church’s history.

While the phrases “home education” or “homeschooling” will not be found in any Church document, the Church has always recognized and upheld the natural law that parents are responsible for their children’s education. Since the time that God became Man and elevated marriage to a sacrament, the natural necessity of children’s education became supernatural.

Now, more than ever, parental rights and obligations in the Christian education of youth remain necessary. As heretofore stated, the Church is very clear that Catholic education prepares man for three things: “for what he must be and for what he must do here below, in order to attain the sublime end for which he was created.” What he must be refers to the development of the child’s character and the interior life of the soul; what he must do here below refers to an individual’s purpose in life, which is to know, love and serve God, regardless of any aspirations about state in life; and the sublime end for which he is created refers to the eternal happiness of Heaven which God gives to those who have lived a life of faith and good works.

The objective mind, however, understands that Catholic education – whether at school or within the home - is no guarantee of sanctity, for one must not forget “the free will factor,” given by God to every person. St. Jean Marie Vianney was clear on this point when he said, “Christian fathers and mothers, if you wish to have pious, good children, you must first of all yourselves be God-fearing and lead good lives. As the tree, so will the fruit be, says an old proverb, and the divine word verifies this. A good tree brings forth good fruit, a bad tree fruit like itself” to which the saint wisely added, “We know that now and then, even in good Christian families, there are to be found degenerate sons or daughters, but the rule is as our Savior says…”[9]

The Four Pillars of Catholic Education
“The home, therefore, must be in accord with the Church,” the Curé of Ars taught, “so that all harmful influences must be withheld from the souls of children. Where there is true piety in the household, purity of morals reigns supreme, and every agreeable virtue finds a home therein. I turn to you, dear parents, and implore you: To imitate the Holy Family of Nazareth!” [10]

To follow this saintly advice and to keep the home in accord with the Church, we must adhere to the four pillars of Catholic education, which are as follows: 1) teaching, 2) organization, 3) teachers, and 4) syllabus and textbooks. The Church highlights the necessity of these four pillars in Christian Education of Youth, which declares “…it is necessary that all the teaching and the whole organization of the school, and its teachers, syllabus and textbooks in every branch, be regulated by the Christian spirit, under the direction and maternal supervision of the Church; so that Religion may be in very truth the foundation and crown of the youth’s entire training, and this in every grade in school, not only the elementary, but the intermediate and higher institutions as well.” [11]

The First Pillar - Teaching the Mind, Training the Will: Teaching consists of the instruction of the mind and the training of the will. In fact, teaching instructs the mind in order to motivate the will. As most parents eventually discover, teaching the mind and training the will are essential to all education; a plethora of books could (and have) been written about how to motivate a child’s will toward the good, but ultimately teaching and training centers on the virtue of religion, which elevates the mind and soul to God, the Source of All Good.

The Second Pillar - Organization: As taught in Christian Education of Youth, organization is addressed in two distinct parts, comprising the following whole: the establishment or the society of the school and its order, design or way of implementation. The organization of the Catholic home and school does well when it imitates those excellent examples traditionally provided by the Church throughout the centuries.

“Accordingly that education, as a rule, will be more effective and lasting which is received in a well-ordered and well-disciplined Christian family; and more efficacious in proportion to the clear and constant good example set, first by the parents, and then by the other members of the household.” [12]

Organization, as it pertains to the establishment or the “society” of the home led by the parents, is founded on one, multi-faceted motto of Catholic Action: Pray, Study, and Act. The organization of family life is firmly founded on daily prayer by parents and children, daily duty of study and work in the Catholic spirit of charity, and regular reception of the Sacraments of Confession and Holy Communion.

“It requires care, a great deal of care, to conscientiously fulfill the obligations of a father or mother,” St. John Marie Vianney noted. “The parents are a mirror to their children; and the children constantly look into this mirror. Be careful therefore that only the good, and what is worthy of imitation is perceptible in you and graven upon your hearts.” [13]

“Watch particularly over your children when they have grown up,” is another counsel of the saint’s. “Do not allow them to associate with irreligious persons.” [14] This important advice addresses the interior life of “teens,” for there are three periods of the spiritual life, which are compared to the three stages of physical life: childhood, youth, and adulthood.

In general, conscience or “aware” childhood commences at the dawn of reason, about the age of seven but sometimes before, and lasts until the age of puberty. Youth, or adolescence, spans the years of fourteen through twenty. Then follows adulthood, “in which we may distinguish the period which precedes full maturity, about the age of thirty-five, and that which follows it, before the decline of old age sets in.” [15]

“The period of puberty,” explained Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., “is characterized by a transformation not only organic, but also psychological, intellectual and moral. The youth is no longer content to follow his imagination, as the child was; he begins to reflect on the things of human life, on the need to prepare himself for some career or occupation in the future. He has no longer the child’s attitude toward family, social and religious matters; his moral personality begins to take shape, and he acquires the sense of honor and of good repute. Or else, on the contrary, if he passes unsuccessfully through this difficult period, he deteriorates and follows evil courses. The law of nature so ordains that the transition from childhood to youth must follow a normal development; otherwise, the subject will assume a positive bias to evil, or else he will remain a half-wit, perhaps even a complete idiot, for the rest of his life. ‘He who makes no progress loses ground.’” [16]

Those sober words explain why the Church insists that Catholic education must continue throughout the adolescent years and beyond. To accomplish this most important task, parents must themselves continue in the habit of prayer, to study the Faith, and to act by practicing the virtues, while gently and firmly expecting the same of their children.

The second meaning of organization addresses the order, design or way of implementation of Catholic education. When it comes to formally teaching religion, reading, arithmetic or math, science, history and geography, the Church’s traditional practice in instruction is systematic, methodical and cyclical. Such instruction eschews “child-led” learning which means allowing the child to choose what, how and when “subjects” shall be learned. Of course, authentic Catholic education does not preclude helping children develop their God-given talents and interests, but even this path must be tread with care so as to avoid self-indulgence.

“Bring up your children simply, withhold all luxury from them, discourage a too great desire of pleasures, and let them learn only that which is good, useful, and practical,” advised the saintly Curé of Ars. “See to it, that in their childhood, as well as when they are older, they frequent the Sacraments regularly.” [17]

The Third Pillar – Teachers: Parents are the primary educators of their children, a natural law which the Church recognizes and upholds in Divine Law. The begetting and education of children is the primary end of the marriage sacrament. As Christian Education of Youth elucidates, “Parents are under a grave obligation to see to the religious and moral obligation of their children, as well as to their physical and civic training, as far as they can, and moreover to provide for their temporal well-being.” [18]

The Fourth Pillar – Catholic Text and Syllabus: A priest who understands the purpose and aim of Catholic homeschooling once told me, “Many parents today have no notion of Catholic textbooks and if they do not have that experience, it is a gaping lacuna [hole or gap] in their formation as Catholics.” The selection of materials to study religion and the other subjects must also assist the parents in ensuring that the Catholic religion permeates the curriculum. This is often a daunting task, since for many years too many books considered “Catholic” are doctrinally diluted and, even worse, are peppered with the seeds of modernism, the synthesis of all heresies.

A century ago, the Church warned against “pernicious books” that have “now grown to such an extent that it is hardly possible to subject them all to censure. Hence, it happens sometimes that the remedy arrives too late, for the disease has taken root during the delay;” [19] the Church further warns against books bearing an Imprimatur which “may have been granted through carelessness or too much indulgence or excessive trust placed in the author, which last has perhaps sometimes happened in the religious orders.” [20] This warning is even truer today.

The Secret of Catholic Life
Despite the many obstacles placed before Catholic families, God provides the spiritual and material necessities, a truth of which the Curé of Ars reminded us when he said, “What are the means to renew the family life in the spirit of Christ and the Church? I answer: Keep the commandments of God, and follow the infallible teaching which God has placed in that haven of salvation, the Holy Catholic Church, so that you may walk in the right path which leads to the inheritance of the Saints. If you wish, Christian married people, to imitate St. Joseph and the Blessed Mother of God, you must sanctify yourselves; you must practice the virtues which shine out to us from the life of this most holy couple. Matrimony is a great sacrament, as St. Paul says, but only in Christ and His Church.” [21]

“As long as Our Lord is first served,” St. Joan of Arc was wont to say, in beautiful words that summarize the secret of Catholic life. The Catholic family must be grounded upon the Cornerstone, of Whom St. Jean Marie Vianney rightly exclaimed:

“Christ must come back into the family! Christ must remain in the family! Let this be your motto. Then, with the help of God, a devout, chaste generation will spring up to the joy of the parents and of the Church.”[22]

Secrets of the Catholic City is the name of Mrs. Bartold's new column, published by Catholic Family News (CFN). "Christ in the Family: The Christian Education of Youth" was published in CFN's August 2009 issue. All Rights Reserved World-wide by the author.

Marianna Bartold, founder of Keeping It Catholic, is the author of “The Age of Mary” Study Guides, a series of “digitally delivered” Catholic unit studies for homeschooled teens - as well as adults or anyone who wishes to grow closer “to Jesus through Mary.” Her other works include the upcoming digital Return of the King (The Lord of the Rings) Catholic Study Guide. She is the author of the Keeping It Catholic Home Education Guide books (Volumes I and II, available from Neumann Press). Mrs. Bartold was the original homeschool editor of Sursum Corda and the founding publisher of The Catholic Family Magnificat! Magazine.
[1] St. Jean Marie Vianney, Sermons of the Curé of Ars (Long Prairie, MN: The Neumann Press, 1995]: p. 87.
[2] Ibid, p. 88.
[3] Pope Pius XI, Divini Illius Magistri (On the Christian Education of Youth, December 29, 1929; also known as Rappresentanti in Terra): para. 7. [Emphasis added]
[4] St. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Smyrnaeans, ca. 110 A.D.: “Wherever the bishop appears, let the people be there; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.” Cited by William A. Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. I [Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1970]: p. 25.
[5]Pope Pius XI, loc. cit., para. 10.
[6] Ibid. para. 80.
[7] Pope Leo XIII, Militantis Ecclesia (On St. Peter Canisius, August 1, 1897): para. 18. Here it must be noted that, sometime after 1995, recent English translations of encyclicals have been re-edited, especially those currently available on the Net. See the article “Encyclicals: A Matter of Translation?” at
[8] Ibid.
[9] St. Jean Marie Vianney, op. cit., p. 91.
[10] Ibid., p. 90. [Emphasis in the original]
[11] Pope Pius XI, loc. cit.
[12] Ibid, para. 71.
[13] St. Jean Marie Vianney, loc. cit.
[14] Ibid., pp. 91-92.
[15] Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., The Three Conversions in the Spiritual Life [Rockford, IL: TAN Books and Publishers, Reprinted in 1977 by arrangement with Burnes & Oates, London]: p. 26.
[16] Ibid., pp. 26-27. [Emphasis added]
[17] St. Jean Marie Vianney, op. cit, p. 92.
[18] Pope Pius XI, op. cit., para. 23.
[19] Pope St. Pius X, Pascendi Dominici Gregis (On the Doctrines of the Modernists, September 8, 1907): para. 51
[20] Ibid.
[21] St. Jean Marie Vianney, op. cit, p. 91. [Emphasis added]
[22] Ibid., p. 92. [Emphasis in the original]

Friday, July 31, 2009

Hilaire Belloc, Red Flags, and Those Catholic Bones

Something Hilaire Belloc wrote about the great heresies brings to mind "Red Flags" - a topic I've not written about for quite some time, but which is addressed at length in my books on Catholic home education (the Keeping It Catholic Home Education Guides).

Originally, the "Red Flag List" was intended to assist Catholic homeschooling parents, who buy their curriculum at conferences or via "educational catalogs." However, "Red Flags" in books, television shows, movies, etc. (as in ad nauseum) abound for Catholics everywhere and in every state of life (single, married, young parent or grandparent, priest or nun). Now, unless we live on a desert island, we must be on guard against "the spirit of the world" which is much worse than "The Blob" (in the old "B" movie), a dangerous and seeping entity that literally consumed everything in its path.

At any rate, the primary reason for constructing the "Red Flag List" was a simple but important one: Dangerous novelties (in the form of books) were quickly becoming the "fashion" in Catholic home education, and the alarm had to be sounded.

The main problem began oh-so-innocently, of course, and for a variety of reasons. It started with allegedly "Christian" books that were, in fact, of heretical origin. Much could be said, and has been, on tolerating a few such sources within the home study curriculum (under certain circumstances), so that issue won't be discussed again in this article.

As time passes, the "novelties" become even worse with "fashionable" resources that present themselves as Catholic, are even "hailed" as Catholic (though they are chock-full of subtle phrases or ambiguous terminology), and are then found in Catholic catalogs (for homeschoolers or of general interest to all Catholics).

The problem continues with "catholicizing" heretical books and implementing new or "resurrected" educational methods (Dewey comes to mind, but there are many other educational 'reformers' to avoid). Too, many people still refuse to believe that educational method is simply the means of bringing a philosophy to life.

It is only because we tolerate such errors that such "novelties" are still with us and grow even stronger as they are thus passed onto the next generation. The basic formula to error, which must be recognized in order to avoid its use (especially in Catholic education), might be expressed this way:

"Novelties" + "Fashions-in-contemporary-thought" = "Errors" (Heresies)

A "Red Flag" is (and always has been) the Catholic instinct alerting us that something we've read or heard or are urged to do is not quite right. We may not yet be able to explain the uneasiness, but it is - to paraphrase Hilaire Belloc - something we know in our Christian bones.

Feelings, of course, cannot be trusted, since they are not the same as the Catholic instinct, that sensei fide that makes us wonder about the why's and wherefore's to the questions arising in our minds. Sensei fide keeps nudging at us to pay attention with our reason, illuminated by Divine Revelation. That "sense of the Faith" is what is meant by a "Red Flag"...and when the instinct is particularly strong, the Red Flag is waving!

As for Hilaire Belloc (and to conclude this purposely brief post), ponder - if you will - this observation from none other than the famous Catholic historian and apologist himself:

"Now against the great heresies, when they acquire the driving power of being the new and fashionable thing, there arises a reaction within the Christian and Catholic mind, which reaction gradually turns the current backward, gets rid of the poison and re-establishes Christian civilization. Such reactions begin, I repeat, obscurely. It is the plain man who gets uncomfortable and says to himself, 'This may be the fashion of the moment,
but I don't like it.'
It is the mass of Christian men who feel in their bones that there is something wrong, though they have difficulty in explaining it. The reaction is usually slow and muddled and for a long time not successful. But in the long run with internal heresy it has always succeeded; just as the native health of the human body succeeds in getting
rid of some internal infection
-Hilaire Belloc, The Great Heresies

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Sacred Heart: The Sensible Image of Christ's Love

Today marks the first day of June in the year of Our Lord 2009. June is the month in which the Church commemorates the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Pope Leo XIII wrote "...there is in the Sacred Heart a symbol and a sensible image of the infinite love of Jesus Christ which moves us to love one another; therefore it is fit and proper that we should consecrate ourselves to His most Sacred Heart-an act which is nothing else than an offering and a binding of oneself to Jesus Christ, seeing that whatever honor, veneration and love is given to this divine Heart is really and truly given to Christ Himself." (Annum Sacrum, On Consecration to the Sacred Heart, 1899: para. 8)

The first of June is also the Feast of St. Angela Merici, one of the Church's great educators to whom is attributed the quote, "Disorder in society is the result of disorder in the family." St. Angela, who was especially devoted to the Passion of Jesus, recognized "the supreme importance of Christian education, not merely for each individual, but for families and for the whole of human society, whose perfection comes from the perfection of the elements that compose it." (Pope Pius XII, Divini Illius Magistri, 1929: para. 8). Perhaps because she was orphaned young, but raised in the loving environment of her uncle's home, she also understood that "the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world."

Seeing how society was sadly impacted by the lack of Catholic education for the girls of her era (13th century), and also recognizing the importance of the mother (who is the heart of the Christian home), St. Angela acted to ensure that little girls and teen girls received a proper Christian education. But this was not all. St. Angela and her companions visited the poor, gave away as alms the resources upon which they themselves relied, and took care of the sick. St. Angela later founded the Ursuline order, which brought many more souls to Christ through Catholic education.

St. Angela's faith and good works, proof of her devotion to the Sacred Heart which is the "sensible image of the infinite love of Jesus Christ, which moves us to love one another," remind us that the Christian education of youth is a noble work of "daily duty" for mothers and fathers, that the family is the foundation of society, and that the family must be founded on the Cornerstone - Who is Christ the Lord.

Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Rosary: Sign of Salvation

"If you presevere in reciting the Rosary, this will be the most probable sign of your eternal salvation."
~Blessed Alan de la Roche

Who can't appreciate "simple snippets from the saints"? Like one single line from Christ, their words possess incredible spiritual depths about which could be written volumes of books.

Perseverance in praying the Rosary, with its beautiful prayers and meditations, proves not that we have attained holiness but only that we are striving for it, despite our weak human nature.

-The Rosary helps us remember that God has lifted us from nature and that we must live supernatural lives.

-The Rosary allows us to meditate on and imitate the examples set by Our Lord and His Blessed Mother, asking them always for the graces we need.

-Each prayer in the Rosary is a lesson, too. The Apostle's Creed affirms what we believe is true because God revealed those truths. The Our Father is a perfect prayer, given to us by Christ Himself, summing up the Two Great Commandments and reminding us that we have the right to call God "Our Father." The Hail Mary is a liturgical prayer, based on the infallible Gospel, which is inspired by the Holy Ghost. And so it goes with the Glory Be, a prayer to the Holy Trinity. And then there is one and only addition to the Rosary, a short prayer which Our Lady of Fatima asked to be added at the end of each mystery: O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to heaven, especially those with the greatest need of Thy mercy.

The Rosary mysteries encourage us to imitate Our Lady and Our Lord, our perfect models in practicing all the virtues. When the wounds of our fallen nature remind us how weak we really are, praying and meditating on the Rosary will help us remember that ---

"It is not those who commit the least faults who are most holy, but those who have the greatest courage, the greatest generosity, the greatest love." (~St. Francis de Sales)

Friday, May 8, 2009

Spiritual Reading: A Quick Thought

You will not see anyone who is really striving after his advancement who is not given to spiritual reading. And as to him who neglects it, the fact will soon be observed by his progress.
~St. Athanasius

Thursday, May 7, 2009

To Jesus through Mary: A Thought to Make You Smile

After Our Lord, Jesus Christ, nobody can be as perfect in grace and merits as Our Immaculate Lady. The shortest way to sanctity is "To Jesus through Mary," because the Lady Mary always leads us to Her Divine Son. In imitating our dear Mother, we should every day offer to God all that we think, say and do but do so in union with the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Then, safe under Our Lady's mantle, ponder this thought - which will also make you smile:

Live your life in such a way that when your feet hit the floor in the morning, Satan shudders and says, “Oh no - she's awake.”
~Author Unknown

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

A Secret of Grace and Merit

Be assured that we shall obtain more grace and merit in one day by suffering patiently the afflictions that come to us from God or from our neighbor than we would acquire in ten years by mortifications and other exercises that are of our own choice.
~St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622)

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Best Perfection

Beautiful counsel (from a saint) on one of my favorite themes (daily duty):

The best perfection is to do ordinary things in a perfect manner.
Constant fidelity in little things is a great and heroic virtue.

~St. Bonaventure (1221-1274)

Monday, May 4, 2009

Forgetting to Plan or Planning to Forget?

The days are flying by, the seasons change before we know it, and we make our plans, sometimes too easily forgetting to plan for (or perhaps planning to forget) Eternity and the Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven, Hell. Oh, I know - those Four Last Things are serious subjects, and we like to think about nice things. Forgive the understatement, but isn't the hope of Heaven - one of the Four Last Things - a "nice" thing?

How easily we forget that even the longest life is brief; how quickly the truth slips from memory that our lives are not truly ours. Christ ransomed our souls with a great price and not one of us knows how much time we have. Will we cooperate today with the time God has given us to use His graces well and work out our salvation?

It is for us to become holy here and now, for we cannot be certain whether we will be here this evening.
~St. Maximillian Kolbe

All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to you.
~Gandalf, in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings

What else can possibly be said, when those two beautiful quotes say it all?

Friday, May 1, 2009

What Christ Grants to St. Joseph

Today is May 1, the first day of Our Lady's month as well as the Memorial of St. Joseph the Worker. This day shared between the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph is appropriate, for surely they who were joined on earth in the holiest of marriages worship God together in Heaven.

St. Joseph is patron of the Church, protector of virgins, patron of laborers, and patron of a happy death. St. Joseph's annual solemnity falls on March 19, but this date in May honors the faithful and humble labor of Christ's foster-father, who exemplified the meaning of "daily duty" to God and to one's state in life.

The Holy Trinity chose this just man, a son of David, as husband and chaste spouse of the Immaculate Virgin Mary and foster-father of Jesus, the Word Incarnate. In thinking of St. Joseph's blessed and unique role to Christ and Our Lady, we also consider his great privileges, granted by the Savior and the Mediatrix of all Graces.

"It seems to me that to other saints Our Lady has given power to help us in only one kind of necessity. But this glorious St. Joseph, I know by my own experience, assists us in all kinds of necessities. And Our Lady, it appears, wishes us to understand that as Christ was obedient to St. Joseph on earth, so now in heaven He now grants St. Joseph whatever he asks. This truth many others have also experienced, who have recommended themselves to him. Many now are devoted to him, and I myself have fresh experience of his power."
~St. Theresa of Avila

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Worldwide Rosary Novena: Collegial Consecration Campaign

CONTACT: Marianna Bartold, Keeping It Catholic Network at

Catholics worldwide are again invited to join in the Collegial Consecration Campaign, initiated last May by Keeping It Catholic (KIC). Our goal is to console and encourage the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, by sending him the names of millions of Catholics who are daily praying the Rosary, making their foremost intention the collegial consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

The first of our next two consecutive 54 Day Rosary Novenas begins this Friday, May 1st (First Friday of the month and the Memorial of St. Joseph the Worker) and concludes on June 23 (Vigil of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist).

To foster the habit of the daily Rosary, a second Novena immediately commences on the very same date, June 23, and ends on August 15 (Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady, a holy day of obligation).

1. If you wish to console and encourage the Holy Father by sending your "Promise of Rosary Prayers," please email with the following information:

---Your first and last name, city and state, and (if you wish) your vocation, position, or degree(s). (Please Note: All such information is held as strictly confidential, but KIC will add your full name, city and state to the “Promise,” which, like our previous Rosary Novena, will be sent to the Holy Father.)

2. Kindly ask others to join us by forwarding this message IN ITS ENTIRETY to every person and organization of good will, including adoration chapels, Catholic newspapers and journals, parish priests, family, friends, fellow parishioners, Catholic homeschool support groups, etc. (Also, please feel free to PRINT this one page message and hand it out to others.)

3. If you have a Catholic website or Blog and wish to help spread word of the Collegial Consecration Campaign, please link to Keeping It Catholic - The Blog! by using the following url:

"In the end, My Immaculate Heart will triumph...the Holy Father will consecrate Russia to Me, and an era of peace will be granted to the world." (Our Lady of Fatima)

[The Collegial Consecration Campaign is sponsored by the Keeping It Catholic Network, 604 S. Main St., Lapeer, MI 48464. Email: + Phone: 810-614-0304]

Thursday, April 23, 2009

O Lord of Pots and Pans and Things

"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd."
~Flannery O'Connor, Catholic authoress

The thought so much on my mind these days, which may indeed seem odd to some, is "daily duty." Two simple words which have everything to do with our interior lives and the salvation of our souls, daily duty is a profound concept.

Daily duty is one of the secrets of the interior life. It means God is served in all things, even the most humble, the most tiresome, the most frustrating. Faithfulness to daily duty was the perpetual example of the Holy Family and the path taken by every saint. Daily duty is the core of the Little Flower's "Little Way," because it means doing well even the "littlest of things" for God's sake.

When we really think about it, we realize that daily duty entails constant practice of the virtues and fighting our inclinations to swither, to gripe and moan, to procrastinate, to look for a way out. Doing all things well for God is an expression of charity; doing them and thinking of them as nothing cultivates humility. As St. Francis Xavier said, "It is not the actual physical exertion that counts toward a man's progress, nor the nature of the task, but the spirit of faith with which it is undertaken."

Then there is the way St. Terese of Avila expressed that "spirit of faith" in "The Kitchen Prayer":

O Lord of pots and pans and things,
Since I have no time to be
a great saint by doing lovely things,
or watching late with Thee,
or dreaming in the dawnlight,
or storming Heaven's gates,
Make me a saint by getting meals,
and washing up the plates.

Warm all the kitchen with Thy Love,
and light it with Thy peace;
Forgive me all my worrying,
and make my grumbling cease.
Thou who didst love to give men food
in room, or by the sea,
Accept the service that I do-
I do it unto Thee.

Finally, St. Rose Phillippine Duschene expressed "daily duty" in this way: "We cultivate a very small field for Christ but we love it, knowing that God does not require great achievements but a heart that holds back nothing for self."

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

College Scandals: And the Point Is?

"Send your children to a state university where they will learn to fight for their faith and not a Catholic university where it will be taken from them!"
---Archbishop Fulton Sheen

The topic: The recent uproar over the scandals caused by Notre Dame and Georgetown - two allegedly Catholic universities - means good people are standing up in defense of a few Church doctrines.

---In Notre Dame's case, the college openly defied the Church's doctrines on the sanctity of life by inviting to their commencement exercises the pro-abort president of the U.S. Not only that, ND wants to bestow an honorary degree on him.

---In Georgetown's case, the scandal is an even greater sin because it breaks the 1st and 2nd Commandments, a great offense against God and Our Lord's Most Holy Name. At the White House's request, the school covered the name and the symbols of Jesus. Why? It was all done in preparation for President Obama's arrival to make a speech. In a word, Georgetown bowed to the demands of a mere man who wanted to neither stand in the presence of the God Man's Name nor even one of His symbols.

(If, perchance, you don't know enough details about the outrages mentioned, please take a quick peek on this article about Notre Dame and this one on Georgetown.)

In the meantime, there's a big fuss, but it seems there is a big fuss because, collectively speaking, we still don't quite 'get it': The scandals created by these two colleges make sense - because for many long years neither entity has clung to the Church's doctrine on Christian education. That could only happen because the two schools do not cling to the Church's consistent teachings on the three necessary societies and their relations to each other. Incidentally, the teachings on these topics (Christian education; the three necessary societies) are reiterated in the 1929 encyclical, Divini Illius Magistri (On the Christian Education of Youth).

To repeat: These two great scandals, perpetrated by universities considered Catholic, are simply more proof that we still don't get it. (More on 'what' we don't get in a moment.)

Theme: What is the reason for the big fuss? Did anybody out there really believe either Notre Dame or Georgetown was still Catholic? Furthermore, does anyone really believe that signing a petition will change anything for the better? Certainly, it's a good idea - but it won't accomplish the desired end.

Very telling is the fact that the 'powers-that-be' behind Notre Dame and Georgetown even dared to come up with their nefarious ideas and, even with their "Catholic cover" totally blown, continue to ignore the outcry of bishops, cardinals and lay faithful. Now couple those scandals to the increasing bad news of world-wide confusion, chaos and revolt.

Conclusion on Secondary Catholic Education: Archbishop Fulton Sheen passed away about 35 years ago, but his keen observation on where not to send Catholic secondary-level students still stands today.

What We (in the "collective" sense) Still Don't Get: The Church is under siege, from without and within. These two recent "Catholic" college scandals in the United States are only additional symptoms of the disease. Catholic universities thumb their noses at cardinals and bishops, yes - but an even greater number of Catholics (lay and hierarchy) thumb their noses at the Extraordinary Magisterium and he who must guard it - the Pope.

The disease is mortal; its name is modernism, the synethesis of all heresies.

The Ultimate Conclusion and the Only Cure: To establish the right order of society, which must be under the Kingship of Christ our King, God has never asked us write or sign petitions, to dialog, to join in protest marches, etc. We who recognize "the signs of the times" bear a great responsibility to do what the Church has always taught:
---Pray and sacrifice, while encouraging others to do the same, so that God's Will is done on earth as it is in Heaven. Prayer and sacrifice is a Catholic's daily duty, which in turns means fidelity to God's Laws, the laws of His Church and to our state in life.

Those two means are our responsibilities to God and man. Above and beyond them, we must always ask God, through the intercession of the Virgin Mother, to grant us the only cure for the terrible disease afflicting these last days of the Modern Age.

When are we going to understand the time is long past-due for the collegial consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Comet Lulin: When the Moon is In the 7th House

Long, long ago (ok, not that long ago) in a galaxy far, far away (actually, it was in our own galaxy), there was a song made popular by a group known as The Fifth Dimension. The song's opening lines went like this:

When the moon is in the seventh house
And Jupiter aligns with Mars
Then peace will guide the planets
And love will steer the stars

This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius...

Coincidentally (or not), it seems the moon is (or will soon be) in the seventh house, and Jupiter is aligned with Mars (as well as Mercury). The moon, too, will be in close conjuction with Venus on Feb. 27. Once more, one can only think of those famous lines from Shakespeare: "There are more things in heaven and on earth..."

Is ours the dawning of the Age of Aquarius? Let's hope not because, despite the song lyrics, it is not the kind of New Age to desire. At any rate, should we choose to gaze at the current celestial events, we might also consider sharing with the kiddos that little historical tidbit on an old song.

In the meantime...

Look at that awesome photograph of Comet Lulin's tails (the blue tail is the anti-tail). Astro-photographer Phil Jones recently took the fantastic photo [seen upper right], accomplished with a long exposure through a 4-inch Takahashi refractor, from the grounds of the Central Texas Astronomical Society Observatory in Clifton, Texas.

Btw, for those of us who are not professional astronomers, there are two ways to see Comet Lulin this very night:

1) With your own eyes (aided by binoculars or telescope is best for viewing if the skies are clear)

In the Northern hemisphere, look to the south-southwest for constellation Leo (the backward question mark with six stars in its formation). Btw: It's easy to confuse the Leo constellation with Leo Minor, which has seven stars - and usually, only three stars in Leo Minor are very bright. If you first find Leo Minor, look below it for the constellation Leo: the backward question mark with six stars.

When looking at Leo the Constellation: Visually go straight for the very bright "dot" of the question mark. That's Regulus, aka "Cor Leonis" (the Heart of the Lion).

From Regulus, let your glance travel straight across the heavens (to the left) until you see a very bright spot; that's Saturn. Just two degrees away is Comet Lulin!

2) With a live webcast

If you’ll miss Comet Lulin because your skies are cloudy tonight, you still have a great option! Real-time webcast viewing will be made available by the Coca-Cola Space Science Center in Columbus, Georgia.

"We're going to transmit the view through our observatory's 16-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope," says astronomy professor Rosa Williams of Columbus State University.

Tonight’s webcast of Comet Lulin:
Mon., Feb. 23 (starting tonight at 11 p.m, EST) - through 5 a.m. EST tomorrow morning, Tues., Feb 24 from this observatory!

May you truly enjoy the beauty of the heavenly skies this night!

Comet Lulin Update: Tonight One Hour Past Midnight

What's the best time to view Comet Lulin tonight? After all, in about 5 hours (EST), the comet is going to converge with Saturn, in the constellation Leo. Also tonight, four of Saturn's moons will "transit the disk" and should be viewable with clear skies and family backyard telescopes. (For details on celestial events, from tonight through Feb. 27, please see the post directly below this one, entitled Comet Lulin: More Things in Heaven and on Earth, Horatio.)

Here's a great tip for tonight (technically, 'tomorrow' since the timing is one hour after midnight):

Where ever you are in the world and whatever your time zone, most reports are now claiming the best viewing time for Comet Lulin and the triple-planetary conjunction will occur early this morning at 1:00 a.m.

That's right: If local skies are clear, Comet Lulin can be seen by everyone around the world, tonight - just after midnight.

In the Northern Hemisphere, look in the south-southeast sky at 1:00 a.m. In the Southern Hemisphere, look in the north-northwest at 1:00 a.m. Remember, Comet Lulin is traveling 'backward" and it will also be close to the triple-planetary conjunction now lining up.

Unaided "naked eye" viewing will probably see a small, faint patch of gas (next to Saturn) - that's the comet. Help from binoculars or a telescope, however, will allow those with clear skies to see comet details, as well as witness Comet Lulin's actual motion as it moves across the stars.

Only those living on the Pacific Rim, however, will see the quadruple transit of Saturn's four moons (3 a.m., PST).

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Comet Lulin: More Things in Heaven and on Earth, Horatio

There’s a lot happening in the heavens, especially from Feb. 23 (the eve of Ash Wednesday) and right through Feb. 27! All within five days, Comet Lulin will be at its closest proximity to Earth, sharing a visual conjunction with Saturn. We’ll see a new moon and a conjunction of Jupiter, Mars and Mercury – with the result that Ceres (the 590 mile-wide asteroid recently reclassified as a “dwarf planet”) cameo appearance might be overlooked as it orbits between Mars and Jupiter.

Since Comet Lulin won't be visiting this neighborhood for at least another 1,000 years, skywatchers might want to hie themselves and the children outside to view the upcoming heavenly, once-in-a-millenium show! Below you'll see a a generous handful of spectacular pix and "forecast" graphics of Comet Lulin and the conjunction of the new moon and three planets.

Below: Three different views of Comet Lulin's parabolic orbit on Tues., Feb. 24, 2009 (the evening before Ash Wednesday).

Comet Lulin is traveling backward in orbit - that is, from east to west. The planets and our moon travel west to east. (For color-coding explanations, please see the note directly under the three following graphics.)

Note: "The orbits shown above are color coded. The planets are white lines, and the asteroid/comet is a blue line. The bright white line indicates the portion of the orbit that is above the ecliptic plane, and the darker portion is below the ecliptic plane. Likewise for the asteroid/comet orbit, the light blue indicates the portion above the ecliptic plane, and the dark blue the portion below the ecliptic plane." To see and play with a "moving" diagram of Comet Lulin's orbit with an applet from which these graphics came, please visit Solar System Dynamics (NASA).

Already brighter than expected, Comet Lulin is now visible to the naked eye (if the sky is clear). However, as it nears earth on Ash Wednesday, the use of binoculars or a telescope will allow one to actually watch its steady movement against the background of stars.

Just two nights before, on Sun., Feb. 22, the waning crescent moon itself will be in conjunction with Mercury and Jupiter. (On Mon., Feb. 23, Mars joins the conjunction.)

Below: The south-eastern sky in the pre-dawn hour (5:30 a.m.) on Mon., Feb. 23, 2009. The waning crescent moon is close to Mars, Jupiter and Mercury.

Next "forecast" picture below: In the early morning hours of Tues., Feb. 24 (eve of Ash Wednesday), Comet Lulin joins the party (appearing directly below Saturn, in constellation Leo, in the south-southeast sky), while the moon will be "new." On this same morning (just before dawn), Mercury and Jupiter will appear very close together – seemingly side-by-side.

Interesting Tidbit: As the moon moves away, it will be "on" earth's equator – possibly leaving earth 'wide open' to solar winds that have twice ripped off one of Comet Lulin's tails.

Below: Three days later, on Fri., Feb. 27, the waxing crescent moon moves into conjunction with Venus – a spectacular sight all on its own!

With all the gravitational forces in simultaneous array and play, there has been some conjecture on the potential effect on earth. Since the moon's movements have so much to do with the ocean tides, it is theoretically possible that the gravitational effects from the moon, Comet Lulin, Ceres, and the triple-planetary conjunction could cause severe storms, if not earthquakes and/or volcanic eruptions, anywhere from Thurs., Feb. 26 to Sun., Mar 1, here on Terra Cotta.

Let's hope the above conjecture is simply reserved caution, and that we may view these amazing heavenly line-ups with awe of God's creation, offering a thankful "Godspeed" to Comet Lulin as it returns to whence it came.

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy..." - Shakespeare