“I would like to write a beautiful prayer,” writes the young Flannery O’Connor. “There is a whole sensible world around me that I should be able to turn to Your praise.” Tuesday, November 12, the personal, interior life of this gifted author will be available in a new book. Fr. Damian Ference reviews the book below.
I’ve been keeping a secret for two years. I was not bound by the seal of confession, but by W.A. Sessions, a personal friend of Flannery O’Connor.
On October 6, 2011, the opening night of an O’Connor conference at Loyola University Chicago, Sessions read – for the first time in public – excerpts from a recently discovered prayer journal of Flannery O’Connor. Before he read O’Connor’s prayers, he made it very clear that we, the audience, were not permitted to record, report, or even comment upon anything that he would read. He was serious. And so were the prayers that he read to us. I took notes – lots of notes – for my own prayer and reflection. But I haven’t been able to tell anybody about them until now.
Some folks are downright shocked to discover that the same woman who wrote stories involving racism, rape, murder, an amputee, a hermaphrodite, and a mentally challenged young woman, was also a daily communicant. But it’s true. Flannery O’Connor was a devout Catholic, and the prayer journal from her time as a graduate student at the University of Iowa offers an honest, intimate, humorous, mysterious, and comforting view into the mind and heart of one of America’s greatest writers...
Today is the Feast of Sts. Cosmas and Damian, twin brothers and martyrs for the early Church. Word On Fire blog contributor Father Damian Ference took a closer look last year at the saints and taught us that there is more to a name, and a saint, than meets the eye. Today, we share it again with you.
I was born in 1976, the same year the film “The Omen” was released. My parents decided to name me Damian, not knowing that Damien was the name of the boy-demon in the popular movie. It could have been worse — my dad actually wanted to name me Fabian, but thankfully my mom would have none of it. (Fabian Ference would have been too much. And Father Fabian Ference? Yikes!) Needless to say, you can imagine that I got my share of demon and devil jokes as a kid. And to this day many folks still find “Father Damian” to be a contradiction of sorts.
Over the weekend I called my dad and asked him which Damian he had in mind when he and my mom named me. Was it Cosmas and Damian, Peter Damian or Damien of Molokai? After a few moments of thoughtful silence he said, “The leper.” So then I asked, “Then why do I spell my name with two ‘As’ and not one ‘A’ and one ‘E’ like the leper?” He said, “I don’t know. That was a long time ago, son.” Fair enough.
The truth is that any saint named Damian or Damien is good enough for me. I like St. Peter Damian a lot, and I think the world of St. Damien of Molokai, but when people ask me about my name, I always talk about the saints who are mentioned in the Roman Canon, whose feast we celebrate today, Sts. Cosmas and Damian.
Cosmas and Damian were twin bothers born in Syria in the third century. They were also doctors, and they became known as “the holy moneyless ones” because they cared for the sick free of charge. The strange practice of accepting no money for medical care was their way of embodying God’s providential love and care for his people. And folks took notice...
Sometimes, truth is stranger than fiction. In the case of relics and incorruptibles, not to mention other Catholic-y things, this very often rings true. St. Januarius, whose feast we celebrate today, is one such case. Fr. Damian Ference gives a riveting account of his martyrdom and the miraculous occurrences surrounding St. Januarius' most famous relic.
If you think Catholicism is a little weird, then you’re in for a real treat. Today the Church celebrates St. Januarius, the patron saint of Naples and of blood banks, and his strange story is one of the best.
Januarius, affectionately known as San Gennaro, was the bishop of Benevento. Along with his six companions – Festus, Desiderius, Sossus, Proculus, Euticius, and Acutius – Januarius was arrested during the Christian persecution of Diocletian in 305. The young bishop and his faithful friends were thrown to the lions, but the beasts weren’t hungry. The felines wouldn’t touch the seven men. (I often wonder how the soldiers and the crowds responded when this sort of thing happened. Did they yell at the lions? “Eat! Eat those awful Christians! Come on, they taste so good!” Or did some of them get scared and sense that these Christians might really be onto something?) Eventually, the soldiers decided to simply kill the men themselves. They chopped off their heads.
Now here’s where things get interesting. Christians, because of their belief in the resurrection of the body, go to great lengths to assure the proper burial of a body. Just as Joseph of Arimathea asked for Jesus’ body after his death on the cross, some of the faithful would have requested the bodies (and heads) of Januarius and his six companions. Someone who was part of that group decided to collect some of Januarius’ blood. The martyr’s blood was transferred into an ampoule – a small glass vial used to preserve a liquid – which made its way to Naples. The bishop’s bones are buried in the crypt of the cathedral. The ampoule still contains some of his dried blood...
Recently, "Bad Catholic" blogger Marc Barnes wrote a thoughtful piece on the "problem" with youth ministry within the mission and life of the Church. Today, WOF Blog contributor Fr. Damian Ference responds to Marc's critique of youth ministry and offers his own priestly perspective on this aspect of the Church's evangelical outreach.
Last week one of my priest colleagues here at the seminary emailed me about a new essay on youth ministry. The piece was entitled, “The Problem With Youth Ministry,” written by the young, brilliant, prolific, and envy-inducing, Marc Barnes over at Bad Catholic. Barnes is almost half my age, yet I look up to him. He knows his faith, he gets the culture, he writes very well, and he’s funny.
Barnes’ essay on the problem with youth ministry is provocative, which is evidenced by the many comments, likes, and re-posts of this particular work. His thesis is that, unlike the family and the apostolic priesthood, which maintain a natural authority to proclaim the Gospel to young people, youth ministers have no natural authority to do so. Barnes argues, “Youth ministry as a primary catechetical and evangelical tool only exists as a necessity if the family has failed.” Youth ministers, according to Barnes, are spiritual band-aids that are doing important work, but in a perfect Catholic world, there would be no need for youth ministers or for youth ministry as we know it.
Barnes is right that the home is the fundamental and original source of catechesis and evangelization – he cites the Catechism twice to ground his argument. Let me bolster the argument even more by referencing the Rites for Marriage and Baptism...