First Communion, Roman-Style

In 155 AD – roughly 125 years after Christ’s death – St. Justin Martyr wrote to Emperor Antoninus to explain what Christians actually did during their rituals.  Christians were persecuted for their ‘atrocities’ and the Saint was appealing to reason, pleading for the Emperor’s clemency.

“On the day we call the day of the sun, all who live the country or the city gather in the same place. The memoirs of the apostles and the writings of the prophets are read…when the reader has finished, he who presides (priest) over those gathered admonishes and challenges them to imitate these beautiful things.

communion1communion2Then we all rise together to offer prayers for ourselves and for all others, wherever they might be, so that we might be found righteous by our life and actions. Then someone brings bread and a cup of water and wine to him who presides over the brethren.  He takes them and offers praise and glory to the father of the universe through the name of the Son and the Holy Spirit and for a considerable time he gives thanks (Greek: eucharistian) that we have been judged worthy of these gifts.

Because this bread and wine have been made Eucharist, no one may take part in it unless he believes what we teach is true…”


St Justin and second century Christians were carrying out the wishes of their master, Jesus of Nazareth. 

In the two thousand years since, Catholics have carried out Christ’s command by celebrating the memorial of His sacrifice.  In so doing, we offer to the Father what He has given us – fruit of the vine and work of human hands – bread and wine, which by the power of the Holy Spirit and by the words of Christ, become the body and blood of Christ. Catholic children wear white because it is the Christian color worn for Sacraments.

(Secret Catholic Insider’s Note: In the tradition of his Catholic ancestors, when England’s Prince Charles is crowned, he will wear white – the ancient symbol of a Christian King.)



A Parents’ Guide to First Holy    Communion 

Long after the party is on Facebook, your child will carry the memory of their First Holy Communion in their heart. Parents need to ensure that their children understand the high seriousness of the occasion and know the basic facts about the Faith when they take Holy Communion with Our Lord for the first time in their lives.

communion4Why age seven? For centuries, the Church has considered seven to be the “Age of Reason” – when a child can discern between right and wrong.

 Why First Confession? Confession – also called “Reconciliation” or “Penance” – is your child’s first experience with the great feeling of peace that Catholics have after they have unburdened their souls. Respect this sacrament, and teach your child to make a good confession.

For centuries, the Church has considered seven to be the “Age of Reason” – when a child can discern between basic right and wrong.


(Photo courtesy of Victor Di Corcia)




What can a young child have done that warrants this formal confession of sins? At the age of reason, children can understand a simple moral code – and they know when they have violated it. Also, the experience of seeing everyone go to Confession shows the child that we are all sinners – and that we are all forgiven because Jesus died for our sins.  Respect the Sacrament, and teach your child to make a good confession

What is an Examination of Conscience? Before the Sacrament, be sure they have quiet time to examine their conscience:

Why wear white for Communion? White is the Christian color, worn for all first sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Marriage, Holy Orders — and even the crowning of Christian monarchs!

How is the Catholic belief about Communion different from other Christian traditions? This is huge. Catholics – along with all Eastern Orthodox, Maronite, Coptic and Syrian Christians – believe in Transubstantiation. This means that the bread and wine are transformed in their substance to the Body and Blood of Jesus, by the actions of the priest who consecrates them at Mass.

Why is this such a big deal? Once consecrated, the Host and Wine are regarded by Catholics as the Real Presence of Jesus. This is why the priest carefully consumes all of the consecrated Host and Wine.

Catholics – along with Eastern Orthodox, Maronite, Coptic and Syrian Christians – believe in Transubstantiation. Once consecrated, the Host and Wine become the Real Presence of Jesus.

How should children be taught to behave when they receive Holy Communion? Catholics behave with utmost respect in the Real Presence. When the Host and the Chalice are raised, we are absolutely silent, eyes fixed on the Sacrament. Children should take Communion on the tongue if at all possible. They should also be taught to fold their hands reverently, keep their eyes down as they walk and never to chew the Host.

More questions? Google the Catechism of the Catholic Church for Children, the Baltimore Catechism or the Catechism of the Good Shepherd.

Pope Benedict: ‘What I Saw At Vatican II’


Vatican II opened the Church…”

“And all the people left…”

“There was the Council of the Fathers – the true Council – but there was also the Council of the media. It was almost a Council in and of itself, and the world perceived the Council through them, through the media.

So the Council that got through to the people, was that of the media, not that of the Fathers. And while the Council of the Fathers evolved within the faith, it was a Council of the Faith that sought the intellectus, that sought to understand and try to understand the signs of God at that moment, which tried to meet the challenge of God in this time to find the words for today and tomorrow.

So while the whole council – as I said – moved within the Faith, as fides quaerens intellectum, the Council of the journalists did not, naturally, take place within the world of faith but within the categories of the media of today– that is, outside of the faith, with different hermeneutics.

It was a hermeneutic of politics. The media saw the Council as a political struggle, a struggle for power between different currents within the Church. It was obvious that the media would take the side of whatever faction best suited their world.

vatican3“(In 1965) the media saw the Council as a political struggle…It was obvious that the media would take the side of whatever faction best suited their world.”


There were those who sought a decentralization of the Church, power for the bishops and then, through the Word for the “people of God”, the power of the people, the laity. There was this triple issue: the power of the Pope, then transferred to the power of the bishops and then the power of all … popular sovereignty. Naturally they saw this as the part to be approved, to promulgate, to help.

This was the case for the liturgy: there was no interest in the liturgy as an act of faith, but as a something to be made understandable, similar to a community activity, something profane. And we know that there was a trend, which was also historically based, that said: “Sacredness is a pagan thing, possibly even from the Old Testament. In the New Testament the only important thing is that Christ died outside: that is, outside the gates, that is, in the secular world”.

Sacredness ended up as profanity even in worship: worship is not worship but an act that brings people together, communal participation and thus participation as activity. And these translations, trivializing the idea of ​​the Council, were virulent in the practice of implementing the liturgical reform, born in a vision of the Council outside of its own key vision of faith. And it was so, also in the matter of Scripture: Scripture is a book, historical, to treat historically and nothing else, and so on.

And we know that this Council of the media was accessible to all. So, dominant, more efficient, this Council created many calamities, so many problems, so much misery, in reality: seminaries closed, convents closed liturgy trivialized … and the true Council has struggled to materialize, to be realized: the virtual Council was stronger than the real Council.

But the real strength of the Council was present and slowly it has emerged and is becoming the real power which is also true reform, true renewal of the Church. It seems to me that 50 years after the Council, we see how this Virtual Council is breaking down, getting lost and the true Council is emerging with all its spiritual strength.

And it is our task, in this Year of Faith, starting from this Year of Faith, to work so that the true Council with the power of the Holy Spirit is realized and Church is really renewed. We hope that the Lord will help us.

I, retired in prayer, will always be with you, and together we will move ahead with the Lord in certainty. The Lord is victorious. Thank you.

“This Council created many calamities, so many problems, so much misery, in reality: seminaries closed, convents closed, liturgy trivialized…”
Featured Pope Benedict XVI photo by Stefano Spaziani. with permission.


Why The Media Always Get It Wrong

“Habemus Papam!” The smoke billowing from the Sistine Chapel was white. On March 13, Pope Francis greeted 100,000 joyful Catholics who thronged St. Peter’s Square.

It was a perfect time for the talking heads in the “24-hour news cycle” to begin their incessant – and wrong — speculations. Columnists, politicians, and anyone who can get close to a microphone were telling the faithful what the church has to do to become more relevant.

In the days since the accession of Pope Francis to the Throne of St. Peter, the din has only gotten louder. I have a request to all of above: Put a sock in it. There is nothing as unattractive as a person with great knowledge or experience on more mundane matters discussing things about which he or she knows absolutely nothing. In the days leading up to the election and since, the punditry class has continued to ferret out dissenting opinions seeming to determine the best way for the Church to “get with it” is to harangue it.

CBS had to find two gals in the square of the estimated 250,000 that demanded ‘wymynpriests.’ Other networks did the same, and more. From divorced couples in their second marriages to homosexual activity to a plethora of other gripes, the news media was out in force not trying to understand the orthodox position, but rail against it. So let’s go through the list: women priests? Ain’t gonna happen. Same-sex marriage? Ditto. Birth control? See one and two. Pope Francis is a staunch defender of traditional Catholic doctrine (a key word, remember it).

Unlike many of the people spouting off in the media, this writer has spent much of his life reading, learning and understanding the doctrines of the church. Not only do I know the doctrines of the church, I understand their bases, and where they originate. I also know the difference between doctrine (women priests and same-sex marriage) versus discipline (clerical celibacy). Many in the punditry class not only get the two mixed up, they never attempt to understand them in the first place. That’s where I get angry, and I’m not the only one. Many Catholics are tired of having a caricature of our beliefs paraded around by people who don’t want to know any better.

When it comes to women in the clergy, this question was decided by John Paul II more than 17 years ago, and is considered part of the magisterium of the church (that means teaching authority, pundits), but it is also considered part of the infallible deposit of faith. To simplify, JPII’s statement simply said women can’t be priests because it is outside the realm of the church to change something that has been handed down to it. This isn’t politics, it is doctrine.

As far as same-sex marriage goes, we believe that man and women have different natures. We don’t buy into the current fashion that men and women are interchangeable except for the (to quote Monty Python) “naughty bits,” and that any differences are sociological or bred into the person. We believe the nature of a man and a woman is essentially different. They are complementary and that allows for the procreation of children as a real and necessary part of marriage. In fact, in our religion it is a sacrament, one of seven.

You, Mr. or Ms. Pundit, see marriage as a strictly social construct.  We see it as a physical and metaphysical union. Your limited outlook sees marriage as a matter of politics; we go far beyond that. Would it hurt to find out why Mother Church teaches on the matter? Google it if you don’t want to sift through the Catechism of the Catholic Church, or use Wikipedia. You can have your questions answered in seconds.

And while we’re on the subject of doctrine, I realize that many denominations have synods or conventions or confabulations of some sort wherein they determine what their doctrine is or isn’t. That means some ecclesial communities have women clergy or now bless same-sex unions. Let them, and more power to them. If people want to go that route, they can join those communions. We don’t and can’t put doctrines to a vote. Then they’d cease to be “doctrines” –by definition.

It’s the same with contraception. Does it interest you to know that this issue was discussed in some of the earliest documents the church has? It was proscribed then, and is proscribed now for the reasons that, among other things, frustrating the sexual act objectifies the people involved. Isn’t that something you are against? Would it interest you to know that up until 1930, every Protestant denomination taught the same as the Catholics? Yup, it wasn’t until the Lambeth Conference in that year that the Anglican Church broke with almost 2,000 years and other denominations quickly followed suit.

And bringing on such old dissident war horses like Matthew Fox or Sr. Mary Pantsuit of the Sisters of Charity, who ceased living the rule a long time ago, makes no difference. These people bring to life a famous quote by the Anglican convert Ronald Knox. He said the basic difference between Catholics and Protestants is that with Protestants they lose their faith and then their morals, with Catholics it’s the other way round. These people lost their moral bearings, but still want to call themselves Catholics, when in fact they ceased to be Catholic a long time ago.

Many of our modern-day politicians are in the same boat. My own congresswoman from the Connecticut Third Congressional District likes to trot out her First Communion photo,  but when it comes to abortion, birth control and same-sex marriage, she talks more like a Democrat than a Catholic. But, she still likes to call herself a Catholic. I can call myself an elephant, but that doesn’t make me one. The point is we’re not going to change our stance on moral teachings or any other doctrine just to “get with” the times. These are considered immutable truths. I know thinking of things as true and false is not something you’re used to in your world of ‘relativity,’ but some of us do think that way.

Ronald Knox said the basic difference between Catholics and Protestants is that Protestants lose their faith and then their morals, whereas with Catholics it’s the other way around. These old dissident war horses lost their moral bearings, but still want to call themselves Catholics.

And just so we’re clear: We don’t meddle in politics except when politics meddles with our beliefs. Abortion and same-sex marriage are two issues that encroach on our beliefs. We have a right and a responsibility to speak out against something that we believe is morally wrong.  Does that mean we’re perfect and without sin? Nope. That’s why our churches have confessionals – and guess what, confession is coming back in style. It’s a lot cheaper than hiring a shrink and the priest can say three little words that a shrink can’t, “Ego te absolvo.”

And we know we’ve had problems with scandals, but if you look at it, we’re not better or worse than other segments of society – just more visible. We’re working on those difficulties and the hurt our people caused. It means we’ve got work to do, but we’ve faced issues just as painful. But if you want a real good side-bar to the abuse story, find out why so many above-mentioned psychiatrists and psychologists put offenders back into circulation. Many of our bishops were only doing what the professionals were telling them, you know, the experts. That’s the part of the story yet to be told.

The point is, if you’re going to opine about us, at least have the intellectual honesty and journalistic integrity to find out what we believe and why. If you’re not going to do that, please gasbag about something else, and leave those of us who take these things seriously alone.  What you have is not an opinion, but a prejudice because, in the final analysis, you want it that way.


dumb2Bill Riccio, Jr. is editor and publisher of the West Haven (CT) Voice, a weekly periodical. He is an assistant organist at St. Mary’s Church, Norwalk (CT) and an instituted acolyte in the Diocese of Bridgeport. He may be contacted by email.  Bill Riccio photo be Stuart Chessman.

Featured photo attributed to Vdp (edição), This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.


Rome, England and the Faith


Monty Python’s The Life of Brian begins with a radical Jewish insurgent named Reg, (John Cleese), who asks a rhetorical question of his fellow conspirators, ‘What have the Romans ever done for us?’

They built the roads, Reg!’ they answer him.

John Cleese’s character responds, ‘Well, that goes without saying!’

He’s then inundated by a litany of the benefits the Romans brought to Palestine until finally, one person utters in a quiet voice, ‘Peace?’

This article  – the first in a two part series – explores ‘what the Romans did for’ author Michael Durnan’s native Britain. Part One tells the fascinating story of ancient Rome’s enduring legacy, influencing Britain’s development until Christianity was legalized in the 4th century.

When the Romans arrived in “Britannia,” the inhabitants were Late Iron Age Celtic tribes. Centuries before, they had migrated from the Danube Basin, a tribal warrior people always seeking to expand their territory. The Romans found the Celtic Britons a well-organised society with strict laws, a relatively advanced bronze and iron technology and skilled craftsmen who made fine jewellery and weapons. Celts lived in round houses of wood, wattle and daub — with roofs made of thatch, or dry stone. Their houses were enclosed in huge, impressive hill forts, behind ramparts and ditches, all surrounded by wooden fences to keep out intruders or wild animals. Celtic Britons had a priestly caste known as the Druids, custodians of knowledge who allowed no written language in order to protect the secrecy of their sacred rites and their position as keepers of tribal law and history.

After Julius Caesar had conquered TransAlpine Gaul (France) he set his sights on the conquest of Britannia.  (Mediterranean explorers had earlier named them ‘the Pritani,’ which Latin speakers mispronounced as ‘Britanni.’) Caesar knew there was mineral wealth to be had as well as an abundance of wheat for his hungry Legions. Caesar had good military and political reasons for launching an invasion, too, as the British Celts were assisting the Gauls in their ongoing resistance to Roman conquest and occupation. Alas, both this effort and an invasion the next year were ultimately in vain, as Caesar was again forced to withdraw back to France to subdue the fractious Gauls.

Nearly 100 years passed before the Romans once again attempted to conquer Britannia. This time it would be the Emperor Claudius who would lead the invasion, seeking prestige and support from the Senate and the citizens of Rome since being proclaimed Emperor by The Army. What also helped persuade Claudius to invade was the arrival in Rome of Verica, a Celtic British tribal King who sought Claudius’s help in restoring him to his throne after he was ousted by King Caratacus. In 43 AD, an invasion force of nearly 40,000 landed on the Kent Coast and then advanced on the Celtic tribal capital of Camulodunum (modern day Colchester). Claudius arrived with elephants (guaranteed to strike fear into the Celts) and the city was soon captured.

durnan3One of the most famous and ambitious building  projects undertaken by the Romans was the construction of Hadrian’s Wall.  Remains of Hadrian’s Wall can be seen to this day; it has been designated a
UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The Emperor Hadrian ordered the building of his Wall, ‘To separate the barbarians rom The Romans and allow occupation to be consolidated in peace’. The Romans were constantly being attacked by the Picts from Caledonia (Scotland) and in 122 AD Hadrian visited Britannia, decided on a policy of damage limitation and ordered the building of a defensive Wall ,  constructed by Roman Legionaries who were as skilled as civil engineers as they were at warfare. It was a massive undertaking requiring huge amounts of labour, materials and money as well as logistical support. The wall was built 7 ft. wide and 15 ft. high with a deep ditch in front of it to entrap any would be attackers. Troops were garrisoned every mile in small castles with turrets in between each milecastle and behind the wall larger cavalry and infantry forts were constructed to house more troops to relieve or reinforce the guards in the milecastles and turrets. The whole project, including the quarrying of 27 million cubic feet of stone, took only seven years and a force of between 11,000 to 12,000 troops were needed to man the 156 turrets, 79 milecastles and 16 forts.

Today, even after 1,600 years of decay and purloining of stone for other building purposes, large stretches of the original wall and forts remain which follow the outlines of the bleak undulating landscape of present day northern England. What remains is a great monument to the ambition, skill and enterprise of one of the greatest civil engineering projects ever undertaken in ancient Britain. Excavation work at some of the forts on the Wall has unearthed examples of letters written on slivers of wood which provide valuable insights to daily life on the Wall. As Roman rule consolidated, many Celtic British monarchs and their more affluent subjects adopted Roman ways in dress, food and houses.


In 1960, the remains of an extensive Roman palace, named Fishbourne, were discovered in southern England. It is thought the palace belonged to a British Celtic leader, named Cogidubnus  who was appointed by the Emperor Claudius as a client King to help rule the local Celtic Britons on his behalf.  It is thought Cogidubnus was possibly the son, or related to King Verica who sought Claudius’s help as mentioned earlier. The palace at Fishbourne extended over 10 acres and was very opulent, boasting fine marble imported from Greece and Italy.

The legacy of the Romans in Britain includes that of religion. Although Christianity did not become the official religion of the Empire until the reign of Constantine, in the 4th C. AD, it did arrive in Britain secretly as Christianity was persecuted throughout the Roman Empire.

The Emperor, Septimus Severus, campaigned in Britain in 209-11 AD and to discourage the Christian faith prescribed the death penalty for anyone converting to the new religion.

A Romano-British soldier, named Albanus, was stationed at Verulamium and here he sheltered a Catholic priest during this period and was eventually converted by him. Alban was discovered and refused to renounce his new faith and so was put to death. He is the Christian proto-martyr of Britain. The Roman city of Verulamium is now named St. Albans and its cathedral, a former abbey church, which is partly constructed out of re-used Roman bricks, is also named after him. Two other Romano-British saints, Julius and Aaron, were also martyred for their faith during the persecution of Christians under the Emperor Diocletian in 304 AD.  (Part Two of this article in the Summer issue of Regina Magazine.)



The Prodigal Daughters

prodical1Prodigal Daughters: Catholic Women Come Home to the Church,  By Donna Steichen (1999) Published by Ignatius Press, San Francisco, CA

He said: How many hired servants in my father’s house abound with bread, and I here perish with hunger? I will arise, and will go to my father, and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee: I am not worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.  And rising up he came to his father. And when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and was moved with compassion, and running to him fell upon his neck, and kissed him.” (Luke 15:17-20)

Baby Boomers are a much-covered phenomenon, famous for their rebellion and independence. In the aftermath of the Boomers’ tumultuous coming-of-age in the 1960’s and 70’s, millions of young Catholics embarked on spiritual paths that took them light-years from the Church.

In Prodigal Daughters, Editor Donna Steichen brings together the stories of seventeen women who found their way home again. Fellow Baby Boomer Robert Beaurivage talks about his reaction to the stories of his spiritual sisters, in this review.

What gives our lives meaning?  Prodigal Daughters presents us with the beguiling stories of seventeen women writers of my generation who grappled with this existential challenge successfully. We Baby Boomers can relate to them, because their struggles are our struggles.

A good story needs a compelling setting, and there is no more compelling period in recent Catholic and American history than the great social upheaval of the 1960’s and their aftermath.  Indeed, we all deal with the consequences of those times every day.

Christ Himself told such stories to illustrate and reinforce the great Truths He was teaching. Today, even people who do not know the Bible know about the “Prodigal Son.” Prodigal Daughters invokes this most compelling theme: finding one’s way back home against great odds.

Today, even people who do not know the Bible know about the “Prodigal Son.” Prodigal Daughters invokes this most compelling theme: finding one’s way back home against great odds.


In each of these stories, we meet these engaging women so like our sisters and friends — with backgrounds ranging from the ultra-feminist to the new age aficionado, to the recovering alcoholic.  The roads they navigated differ broadly, but they all led back to the bosom of the Father: salvation through His Son, a sacramental life and the grace abounding in the Catholic Church.

In Prodigal Daughters, each woman recounts her way home, a story both delightful and moving for us in the retelling. The baby-boomer generation’s formative years were the time of Vatican II, Vietnam, race and war riots, “free love” and the “New Feminism.”  It was also the age in which Pope Paul VI said “the smoke of Satan” had entered the Church.  Dietrich von Hildebrand, an intellectual giant whose genius was recognized by various Popes, authored a book about this time period entitled “The Devastated Vineyard.”

And a devastated vineyard it was. Boomers across the U.S. studied the ordered certainties of the Baltimore Catechism one year, and the next were presented with “catechisms” entirely denuded of the supernatural. One year Boomers had First Friday Devotions, the Rosary and the study of the “Four Last Things.” Then suddenly, like a clap of thunder, these were summarily replaced by guitar Masses in the school basement and revolutionary “missionaries” giving lectures to Catholic school kids.

As anyone who lived through those times can recount, there was no place to hide. In my own experience, I can look back and realize that if anyone attending my school kept the Catholic Faith through that time, theirs would be a miracle of grace.

The Baby Boomer generation’s formative years were the time of Vatican II, Vietnam, race and war riots, “free love” and the “New Feminism.”  It was also the age in which Pope Paul VI averred that “the smoke of Satan” had entered the Church. 


There was no place to hide. In my own experience, I can look back and realize that if anyone attending my grammar school kept the Catholic Faith through that time, theirs would be a miracle of grace. 

These unsettling years of the devastated vineyard were the formative times of these writers. As Leila Habra Miller so succinctly put it:

“We were robbed…The overwhelming majority of young Catholics don’t have even a rudimentary understanding of their faith.  As a direct result of their tragic ignorance, a steady stream of young Catholics has poured out of the Church.”

I would hazard that Prodigal Daughters is a great book for a skeptic, as well. (After all, what a great opportunity to gain an inside look at how these intelligent women could inexplicably return to the source of so much ignorance, patriarchal repression and superstition!) One of the writers, Constance Buck, relates her musings concerning a devout Catholic, a daily communicant she worked with on Capitol Hill.   Mrs. Buck was bewildered by her colleague’s cheerfulness.

“… I regarded cheerfulness as a quality suited to morons.  Knowing about male violence, the loss of our precious environment, the trampling on human rights around the globe, not to mention the incalculable tally of sexual and racial discrimination in our own capitalist country, what intelligent person could be cheerful?”

Mrs. Buck could not understand it: she had never met anyone as cheerful as her Catholic coworker who though possessed of her own ideas, always based these on a bedrock “God-given principle.”  (Perhaps the irony of the situation escaped Constance at the time: while she had followed a path towards an illusory promise of fulfillment, it was she who grew to regard cheerfulness as the province of the unthinking.)

It is so easy for us to bring our own basic assumptions to bear on others.  Since these women have been on both sides of the fence, we can learn a great deal from their experience.  Juli Loesch Wiley is a notable example.  A former member of Pax Christi, she rubbed elbows with many feminist media figures such as Sr. Joan Chittister and Bishop Thomas Gumbleton.

“My habitual effort to look happy – or as happy as was consistent with the knowledge that the world in general is not going well – was replaced by actual hope and soaring joy. I realized how much despair I had been carrying around as a skeptic.”

As a wise priest once said, ‘be kind to the person sitting next to you, as he/she could be the next saint.’  Juli was such a person – a liberal feminist, but truly well intentioned, with a desire to protect innocent human life which eventually brought her into sharp conflict with her fellow travelers of the religious sisters at Pax Christi.

Had we met Juli in her early days, we might have judged her harshly. As we learn from her story, she was on the path back home, though we might

have missed that point entirely.  Even many of her companions had very fine qualities, and deserve our sympathy, if not our support. Juli relates the kindness and devotion of the Sisters: “the Pax Sisters are so good: brave, warm-hearted, justice-loving, prayerful, loyal. That’s what makes conflict with them so difficult.”

Yet, Juli Wiley did not let her attachment to the Sisters get in the way of her devotion to the unborn. She recognized the incongruity of the nuns observing Tisha b’Av (the Jewish day of mourning the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem) to commemorate the “injustices” done to the pro-abortion nun Sr. Mansour:

“What desecrates the Temple of the child’s body, if not abortion?  What destroys the Temple of the Church, if not organized defiance of the Church’s too-infrequent attempts to guard her moral integrity?  (I realized) that these Benedictines are true daughters of those who destroyed the Temples – not those who mourn them.”

For the believer, this book provides hope in large helpings.  As the story of the Prodigal Son illustrates, there is always a road back.  Light overcomes darkness, Truth ultimately wins over error, and the infinitely merciful Heart of Christ is greater than any sin that He has already vanquished.

If the great truths of our existence, if true knowledge is to be found in Divine Revelation – even in our modern age – then the stories of these intelligent, brave women are surely a cause for us to take note and rejoice.  They were so far away, yet made the improbable journey home.

The stories of these intelligent, brave women are surely a cause for us to take note and rejoice.  They were so far away, yet made the improbable journey home. 

Catholicism presupposes an objective truth, as a religion based on the historical Person of Jesus Christ, and a commitment to Him. He calls Himself in Scripture, “The Truth.” (John 14:6)

In the intellectual environment of the day, finding Him can be so very difficult, because the concept of “truth” seems foreign to so many, as it did to writer Maureen Quakenbush:

“Truth”, for me, had been a very limited notion, insofar as I had had a notion of it at all. Long before that time, I had accepted the principle that there is no truth, that all is relative in this world of mirrors. People who divide the world into the true and the false, I thought, fail to see all the gray areas – which are chiefly in the moral realm. I think this is the natural conclusion of a mind that hasn’t learned to reason clearly, whenever the resolution of two conflicting views would mean that one reputable person’s deeply held conviction must be wrong. Or, worse, that someone would have to change what he is doing.

Yet, the mere realization that there actually is a truth changed everything for her: “My habitual effort to look happy – or as happy as was consistent with the knowledge that the world in general is not going well – was replaced by actual hope and soaring joy. I realized how much despair I had been carrying around as a skeptic.”

Having imparted a small sampling of the many surprises in “Prodigal Daughters”, I will leave you with one more: an insight in the form of a prayer from Constance Buck who, after receiving this awesome gift of truth, realized at the same time her responsibility to proclaim the truth always with love:

“O God, first make me a good person, a virtuous person, a loving person. Then give me the truth.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Robert Beaurivage,  himself a “prodigal son” obtained a law degree as a second career, and has a special interest in traditional Catholic liturgy and theology. He currently lives in Southern Maine.

Radical Women


Colleen Carroll Campbell – the author, journalist, television host and former presidential speechwriter –  speaks candidly about her work , and her observations on Catholic life in this exclusive REGINA interview.

It seems that your discovery of the saints was critical to helping you find your way forward. Is this true? How so?

Yes, getting to know these six women saints was a crucial part of my spiritual journey, which is why I interwove their stories with my own in My Sisters the Saints. Although I did not initially expect to connect in such a profound way with these women – some of whom had lived centuries, even millennia, before me – I found that their lives and writings spoke to me in surprisingly relevant ways. They echoed my own deepest longings, helped me navigate my toughest trials and led me to rethink nearly everything I thought I knew about what it means to be a liberated woman. So there was really no way to separate their stories from my own, because their stories had so powerfully shaped my own.

The six saints whose stories I interweave with my own in My Sisters the Saints are Teresa of Avila, Thérèse of Lisieux, Faustina of Poland, Edith Stein of Germany, Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Mary of Nazareth.

A quick summary: Teresa of Avila and her tale of a struggle to overcome worldliness and status-seeking spoke to me during my frenetic college years and jump-started my spiritual quest. Thérèse of Lisieux helped me grapple with my father’s journey through Alzheimer’s disease, a trial she knew from her own father’s descent into dementia. Faustina of Poland guided me as I struggled to choose between continuing my work as a presidential speechwriter in the White House and marrying a man who was smack in the middle of medical school 800 miles away. Edith Stein offered me insight and consolation in the midst of my battle with infertility. Mother Teresa did the same at a time in my life when I was feeling some of the same abandonment by God that she had described so eloquently in her recently revealed private writings. And Mary, the Mother of God, was with me all along, but in a special way in my quest for motherhood.

‘Faustina of Poland guided me as I struggled to choose between continuing my work as a presidential speechwriter in the White House and marrying a man who was smack in the middle of medical school 800 miles away.’

What do you think are the greatest challenges facing women of your generation today? What dangers are they facing? Many observers point to the impact of feminism and materialism on America women and therefore on the family.  How would you characterize that impact on your generation? 

I certainly wouldn’t presume to speak for an entire generation, and I think the answers to these questions largely depend on how and by whom one was raised. But I do think it’s true that young Americans today – regardless of what sort of families they come from – are growing up in a culture that does its best to distract them from asking life’s most important questions or finding satisfying answers to those questions. Even young Catholics raised by committed Catholic parents, as I was, face a barrage of messages from the wider culture that undermine the messages the Church is sending.

For young women, the cultural messages are particularly pernicious: Life is all about how you look and who’s looking at you; the only success that matters is the kind that can be quantified and flaunted; heeding your inner longings for committed love or the chance to give of yourself generously in family life is a path to oppression.

colleen2Such distortions often leave women ill-prepared to seek or find lasting happiness. Women in my generation enjoy more opportunities to participate in public life than ever before, and that’s something for which we should be grateful. But too often, our interior lives are not nurtured as they should be, and even women of faith find ourselves caught in the same traps of status-seeking, people-pleasing and me-first pleasure-chasing as everyone else.

The women saints and their stories offer a powerful antidote to this. The saints achieved their fulfillment by giving their lives away. They found themselves by seeking more than self. The way I see it, the women saints – not today’s pop culture heroines or secular feminist activists – are the real radicals. They are the role models we ought to be imitating.

‘Even women of faith find themselves caught in the same traps of status-seeking, people-pleasing and me-first pleasure-chasing as everyone else.’

Your generation has also seen a rather startling rise in vocations to religious orders that are loyal to the Magisterium and traditional in their approach. Can you comment on what you think is driving this trend in the face of such overwhelming counter-trends?

Colleen3For my first book, The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy (Loyola 2002), I spent a year traveling across America interviewing hundreds of young adults. The reasons for their conversions – or, in many cases, their “reversions” to the Catholic faith of their childhood – are manifold and detailed in that book. But if I had to sum those up in a sentence, I might simply quote St. Paul: “Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.” (Romans 5:20)

The chaos and confusion of the past four decades – both in our increasingly secularized culture and even in corners of the Church that were overly influenced by that culture– led many young adults to search for something more satisfying and substantial than the theological vapidity or secular materialism of their youth. Their natural human yearning for God, combined with their natural youthful idealism, led them on a genuine search for truth. And that search led them to embrace a robust, demanding and orthodox Christian faith that is, in its orthodoxy, decidedly countercultural.

It seems that most people no longer have any personal relationship to the saints, as they weren’t taught about them in the post Vatican II vacuum. Do you see any signs that others like you have discovered the saints? 

Yes, I see many signs of a revival of interest in the saints even among non-Catholics, and I think it makes a lot of sense. Christianity is an incarnational religion. We believe that God became man in a specific town, on a specific day, in the womb of a specific woman. So the personal and specific matters in Christianity, and the personal stories of Christ’s followers matter, too. Each life testifies to some unique aspect of God’s love; each human person bears God’s image in a unique way. Getting to know the saints allows us to get to know Jesus in a new way, to see his qualities magnified through a new lens or situated in a new historical context. When we’re striving for holiness and intimacy with God, it helps to look to the saints – to see men and women who ran the race and finished well.

“The culture tells us that life is all about how you look and who’s looking at you; the only success that matters is the kind that can be quantified and flaunted – and heeding your inner longings for committed love or the chance to give of yourself generously in family life is a path to oppression.”


Colleen Carroll Campbell  writes on religion, politics, culture and women’s issues for such national outlets as The New York Times, Washington Post, National Review Online and First Things, comments about them on such networks as FOX News, CNN, PBS and NPR, and discusses them as host of “Faith & Culture,” a weekly television and radio show that airs internationally on EWTN, the world’s largest religious network. A former speechwriter to President George W. Bush and the author of The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy, Campbell speaks to audiences across America. Her newest book, My Sisters the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir, was published by the Image imprint of Random House in October 2012. Her website is

The (American) Monks of Norcia

It was October 6, 1995 and Father Cassian Folsom was riding the train between Rome and Naples when he felt the call of the Holy Spirit. In his seat, he found himself envisioning a new religious order, one that would focus on the integration of prayer, study and manual labor. Three years later, Father Cassian founded a new Benedictine order, the Monks of Norcia.

Today, situated in the Sybilline Mountains, within the walled city of Norcia, the Monks’ monastery is directly above the 5th-century ruins of the birthplace of St. Benedict and St. Scholastica. Fr. Cassian began his order in 1998 in a small apartment. Today, the Monks have their own monastery, a visible presence in the local community, an online presence to the world and even their own brewery. While the order is still a small one—sixteen monks in all—the authenticity of Father Cassian’s original call has been validated by the growth of the last fourteen years.

Norcia is a tourist city, thanks to its culinary delights and the uniqueness of its walls, which allow only seven points to enter the city. The Basilica is at the heart of the town, and visitors who might have come just to sample the boar and cheese instead end up being exposed to the bread that is eternal. “Visitors basically stumble across the monks,” said Bryan Gonzalez, the order’s Director of Development in the U.S.

“Tourists wander into the Basilica. They’re blown away by the beauty of the Mass. It gives the monks a chance to change culture from the inside-out.”

The food in Norcia might bring tourists, but few things could go better with boar and cheese than good beer, and that is something the Monks have been able to provide. “Brewing beer has long been a part of the monastic tradition,” said Father Mary Benedict Nivakoff, who lives at the monastery. “For years on Sunday nights we would sample the vast variety of Trappist beers and wonder if it was possible to do this ourselves.”

This past August, Father Nivakoff and his brother priests got an affirmative answer to that wish. After allowing one of the monks to renew his hobby of home brewing, they were happy with the results and realized they really could do this themselves. On the Feast of the Assumption—August 15—Birra Nursia—was open for business.


In four short months, “Nursia” beer has taken off. The monks supply restaurants both in Norcia, and as far as Venice, Livorno, Perugia, Montefalco and Rome. Within their own gift shop, Father Nivakoff reports that the beer never stays on the shelf more than a week or two.

The bigger challenge Birra Nursia faces is fulfilling the demand, as their American friends and benefactors are ready to import. “The exportation process is difficult,” said Gonzalez. “There are permits and distributors to be dealt with.” More importantly though, “the monks can’t just crank out beer,” Gonzalez added. “They can make 250 liters at a time and need a bigger beer kettle, about three times bigger.”

“A monk witnesses to the goodness of God and the beauty of creation.”


More important than meeting market demand is the positive spiritual impact the brewery work has had on the monastery. “If monks do not have good work, their spiritual lives can suffer,” said Father Nivakoff. Each monk now participates in the brewery in some form. This contribution helps each monk to take responsibility both for the quality of the beer and for the monastery in general. monks6

The early success of Birra Nursia gives Father Nivakoff hope that their work will enable the Monks to achieve self-sufficiency. “As anyone who has started their own business knows, the material fruits of the brewery will take some time to appear, since most of what we earn has gone back into the plant.” However, according to Gonzalez, the generous donations the Monks receive at least enabled them to start their business debt-free.

The sixteen monks literally live above the ruins of the house of the great saints Benedict and Scholastica in Norcia, now a gastronomic tourist destination located in central Italy.  The monks own an old Capuchin monastery, unused for sixty years, presently “uninhabitable.” However, the permits and costs associated with renovation are prohibitive.

statueThe Monks grow spiritually, as all Catholics do, through participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. While the celebration of various liturgical rites since Vatican II has led to a battleground in the Church, the Monks have countered by replacing the battleground with beauty—the reverent celebration of, and regard for, all the rites of the Church.

Those who want to share in the Monks’ love for God need not travel to Norcia—they can go online and download the Vespers that are uploaded each morning. “The practice of having Vespers online isn’t new,” Gonzalez told REGINA. “But in other cases, it’s on live and that’s not practical for someone in the United States who wants to pray with the monks.” Gonzalez posts a recording each morning. Father Nivakoff added that he’s heard from both soldiers in Afghanistan and missionaries in Africa, telling him they listen in.

Growth and success means challenges and the biggest one the monks face is that they’re running out of room. They own an old Capuchin monastery, unused for sixty years, presently  “uninhabitable.” However, the permits and costs associated with renovation are prohibitive. Nor is an American-based sister house a likely solution, given that the monastery’s location at the birthplace of St. Benedict give it a uniqueness impossible to re-create. “If you built a house in Des Moines (the American home base) it would lack the uniqueness,” said Gonzalez.

While the challenges of finding new space and expanding the brewery are significant and will require generous action from benefactors, the flourishing of God’s grace continues to abound in Norcia. The Monks bring the beauty of the Mass to pilgrims, the splendor of Vespers to their online audience and the simple pleasure of a good beer to people throughout Italy. It’s the true living out of Father Cassian’s original mission of integrating prayer, study and manual labor.

“A monk witnesses to the goodness of God and the beauty of creation,” said Father Nivakoff.  “It is his job to convert his life to one of total sacrifice to God in imitation of Christ. In so doing he reminds the world that God is not just worth dying for, He is worth living for; He is worth loving.” Indeed, He is. You can visit the Monks of Norcia’s website at


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Dan Flaherty is a freelance writer and editor of When not covering sports, he’s written on a wide range of topics, including online dating, politics and real estate. He is the author of Fulcrum, an Irish Catholic novel set in the Boston of the late 1940s. Dan currently resides in southeastern Wisconsin.

Dear Pope Benedict XVI

The news is still painfully fresh. We are still digesting the idea that you are resigning from the papacy, a step that has not been taken, we understand, since the 1400s.

We understand that your health and strength are failing you. Certainly we all watched, transfixed, as your predecessor almost literally died in our arms, his suffering and death broadcast far and wide for all the world to see.  And while we admired his unswerving courage, some of us couldn’t help but worry about what was transpiring in Holy Mother Church as our pontiff lay dying for so long.


We must pray with renewed fervor, hope, and trust in God’s goodness. Peter’s boat will never sink. God has a plan.


So that is why we understand your courageous decision now. You are telling us that the bark of Saint Peter requires the strength and focus of a vigorous man in these stormy seas. And we know that you are right.

Gone are the days when an aged and ailing pope could retire to the papal apartments and fade away. The media requires an active pope who’s constantly in touch with the world. Your doctors have been honest with you, and you are honest with the world.

Yours is a selfless gesture from a selfless and holy man. And we thank God for your many decades of selfless service, your patience and your bravery. But we will miss you — your intelligence, your gentleness and your great love for the Church. We must pray with renewed fervor, hope, and trust in God’s goodness. Peter’s boat will never sink. God has a plan.

This Lent, we pray for you, Holy Father and for the cardinals who are choosing your successor. May Mary, Seat of Wisdom, guide you and the Church in the difficult days ahead.


It is with deep gratitude that we dedicate REGINA to you, Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI. May God bless you always!


Featured photo of Pope Benedict attributed to Peter Nguyen, This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.