Wednesday, December 23, 2009

True Meaning Of The Twelve Days of Christmas

The following email was sent by one of my diaconal candidate brothers. Maybe you've seen and heard this before. If not, enjoy the revelation.


Merry Christmas!

What in the world do leaping lords, French hens, swimming swans, and especially the partridge in the pear tree have to do with Christmas?

Here is the meaning:

From 1558 until 1829, Roman Catholics in England were not permitted to practice their faith openly. Someone during that era wrote this carol as a catechism song for young Catholics. It has two levels of meaning: the surface meaning plus a hidden meaning known only to members of their church. Each element in the carol has a code word for a religious reality which the children could remember.

The partridge in a pear tree was Jesus Christ.

Two turtle doves were the Old and New Testaments.

Three French hens stood for faith, hope and love.

The four calling birds were the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John.

The five golden rings recalled the Torah or Law, the first five books of the Old Testament.

The six geese a-laying stood for the six days of creation.

Seven swans a-swimming represented the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit--Prophesy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership, and Mercy.

The eight maids a-milking were the eight beatitudes.

Nine ladies dancing were the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit--Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self Control.

The ten lords a-leaping were the ten commandments.

The eleven pipers piping stood for the eleven faithful disciples.

The twelve drummers drumming symbolized the twelve points of belief in the Apostles' Creed.

So there is your history for today. This knowledge was shared with me and I found it interesting and now I know how that strange song became a Christmas Carol.

Joe Sifferman

Saturday, December 19, 2009

How God Works Through All Of Us

God's hand is in everything we do. All we have to do is open our eyes to see God at work in our lives.

There is a cause near and dear to my heart thanks to the grace of God. It all started in January 2007 as a participant in the annual Homeless Count in downtown Seattle. While walking the streets of downtown Seattle counting the men and women who were sleeping on the streets on a cold Winter's night, I met the director of Noel House in Seattle. Eileen McComb was the leader of the count team I was on. Noel House is affiliated with Catholic Housing Services and provides permanent shelter for women in need of a roof over their heads, a warm bed and a hot meal.

She seemed very suspicious of a member of the media wanting to participate in such an important exercise. She was quite direct in asking me why I was there. I shared with her KOMO Newsradio's mission to be a good community steward. I told her we do that by telling stories of need in the community and letting our listeners do the rest. She was still wary. Can't blame her. Eileen is a longtime veteran of the mission to tend to the needs of the homeless and has probably had her fill of the morbidly curious. As we walked the streets, she told me about Noel House and about the overwhelming need. I listened. At the end of the night, I promised to be in touch.

It took several months before the right opportunity arose to help out. The event was a gala for Noel House and the attendance needed a boost. I promised to tell the story on KOMO Newsradio and assigned one of our most gifted storytellers Corwin Haeck to share the need. He did a beautiful job.

Mary and I attended the event and were surprised by how packed it was. God's work in full display.

Another opportunity came about this time last year. Noel House needed help with a gift card program. KOMO Newsradio did a Saturday morning interview and a good Samaritan listener stepped forward to fill the need. Again, God's will be done.

Word of the biggest need came around Thanksgiving of this year with the revelation that a 10-thousand dollar grant had gone away and Noel House's nightly feed program was in jeopardy for 2010.

I took the news to my counterpart at KOMO 4 News and shared with her an opportunity for the Problem Solvers unit to get involved in making a miracle happen. She enthusiastically agreed. The story aired on Thanksgiving eve.

Noel House has closed the gap on the 10-thousand dollar need by half thanks to viewers and listeners. But they still need more cash donations to keep the program afloat.

A Facebook post by my friend Eileen tugged at my heart a few weeks later. The post was sort of a prayer for the women who would be sleeping in the frigid cold that night. Women Eileen knows personally. I asked her what KOMO Newsradio could do to help. She said the women needed blankets. Lots of blankets. And gloves and hats.

What happened next was nothing short of a miracle. God's handiwork on full display in the secular media.

My KOMO Newsradio colleague Brian Calvert went to work and found what Noel House needed.

If we all pay attention to the quiet whisper of God's voice, miracles are still possible.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Catholic Principles For Health Care Reform

The U.S. Catholic Bishops have advocated for health-care reform since 1993, writes Archbishop Alex J. Brunett of Seattle. He responds to criticism of the bishops' position on health-care reforms being considered by Congress.

Seattle Times - Guest columnist
By Alex J. Brunett
Special to The Times

THE United States' Catholic Bishops are upholding a centuries-old tradition of caring for the poor and sick with our advocacy for health-care reform. Some of the first hospitals in the United States were established by Catholic religious sisters, and today the Catholic Health Association is the nation's largest group of not-for-profit health-care sponsors, systems and facilities in the United States.

When the uninsured visit an emergency room, there is a good chance it will be in one of the 624 Catholic hospitals in this country, and they will be welcomed and respected regardless of their beliefs or ability to pay. Catholic teaching holds that health care is a basic human right because every person, created in the image and likeness of God, has a right to life and to those things necessary to sustain life, including affordable health care.

Despite the U.S. bishops' consistent advocacy for comprehensive health-care reform since 1993, a recent guest column in this newspaper ["Bishops take low road on health-care reform," Opinion, Dec. 10] suggests that we are willing to "toss off the bridge" the uninsured because of our equally consistent opposition to abortion. The facts do not support this claim.

Let's set the record straight. Our position does not scale back "women's abortion rights" as Sam Sperry's guest commentary suggests. We bishops recognize that any attempt to change current law giving women a legal right to abortion would be dead on arrival in Congress.

As a result, the amendments related to abortion we have supported in the U.S. House and Senate do not alter, add or subtract anything from current federal law. In addition, the amendments specifically state that insurance companies may sell and individuals may purchase coverage for abortions.

The intent of our advocacy on this issue is to promote universal access to health care and to preserve the long-standing federal policy prohibiting federal funding of abortion. Recent public opinion polls and the favorable vote in the U.S. House of Representatives affirm that a majority of Americans overwhelmingly agree with this position.

Our advocacy with regard to federal funding of abortion, however, is a consequence, not the sum total, of our teaching. As teachers, the bishops of the United States have not taken a position on any particular health-care reform bill, but have forcefully articulated our Catholic values and principles.

Those interested in understanding authentic Catholic teaching on the issues of health care and abortion need look no further than the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which states, "From the beginning, the Catholic Church has respected the dignity of all human life from the first moment of conception to natural death."

Where the column is most in error is in its suggestion that the bishops' position represents a narrow religious perspective shared only by a small minority. If that were the case, federal law that has protected citizens from paying for abortions would not have been the law of the land for more than three decades during presidencies and congressional majorities representing both parties.

Catholic Church teaching does not divide humanity into those who are valuable enough to warrant protection and those who are not. Catholic teaching holds that every human being — including unborn humans in the womb — have fundamental human rights, including the right to life.

That is why the views expressed in the recent guest column pose a serious threat to the dignity and rights of the poor and vulnerable members of the human family who need and deserve our respect and protection, which includes access to health care.

The Most Rev. Alex J. Brunett is the Catholic archbishop of Seattle.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Seattle's St. James Cathedral Pastor Speaks Out Against New English Mass Translation

I pray this issue does not become a battle in our parishes. Fr. Ryan's protest is not over a doctrinal issue, but semantics. Other local pastors may follow suit. Or not. Agreeing to disagree is OK. These dialogues are healthy for our faith if we approach the discussion constructively and with the grace of God in our hearts.


By Janet I. Tu
Seattle Times staff reporter

A new translation of the book that guides the prayers and responses of the Roman Catholic Mass is coming to parishes, and the longtime pastor of Seattle's St. James Cathedral isn't happy about it, saying some of the language is awkward and clumsy.

The Very Rev. Michael G. Ryan also is critical of how the revision came down, saying the process violates the spirit of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council which, among other changes, included priests celebrating Mass in English rather than in Latin.

The new English translation of the revised Roman Missal is a more literal translation from the Latin and lacks richness and beauty, Ryan said.

He said it will lead parishioners long accustomed to saying and responding to prayers a certain way to wonder why the changes were needed and will put priests in a position of having to "sell" the new translation even if they don't like it.

So he has taken some unusually bold steps, writing about his concerns in the Dec. 14 issue of the Jesuit magazine "America," and calling for a waiting period to test market the new translation before it reaches all English-speaking parishes, possibly in the next year or two.

He's also set up a Web site (, encouraging priests, bishops and lay Catholics to sign up in support of his position.

"I know it might smack of insubordination to talk this way," Ryan wrote in his piece in "America." But "what is at stake, it seems to me, is nothing less than the church's credibility."

The new translation, recently approved by U.S. bishops, is still awaiting approval from the Vatican.

While some Catholics see it as a welcome return to more traditional elements, Ryan says he's hearing from Catholics across the spectrum who are simply wondering why the change is needed and how it helps their prayer life.

In South Africa, where it was mistakenly introduced earlier this year, Ryan said, the response was not good. People he's spoken with who are familiar with the changes haven't liked them either.

Ryan said one example is that the phrase "Joseph, her husband," has been changed in the new translation to "Joseph, spouse of the same virgin."

Other new phrases he cited in the "America" article include such examples as "consubstantial with the Father," and "oblation of our service."

Ryan said he feels so strongly about the issue because "we're dealing now with the heart of our church — the central prayer. There's no more important prayer for us than the Mass." In the 1960s, the Second Vatican Council — or Vatican II — initiated changes that were intended to open the church and update its rituals. Along with saying Mass in English or other local languages, Vatican II gave bishops in each region the authority to produce their own translations, subject to Vatican approval.

Ryan believes that spirit of local initiative was violated.

"The initiative came from the Vatican," Ryan said. "They put people in place to do the translations who would meet their expectation."

The Rev. Thomas Reese, former "America" editor and senior fellow with the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University, agrees with Ryan's take.

"I think this is a liturgical train wreck that is going to be happening when they implement this thing," Reese said.

The reaction of people in the pews, he said, is likely to be, "This is not better. In fact, it's worse."

But others say they like what they've seen of the new translation.

Joseph Bottum, editor of the magazine "First Things," which frequently focuses on Catholicism, says the new translation isn't perfect. "But it's a step in the right direction. It's more faithful to the Latin, and thereby more reflective of the long liturgical tradition of the church."

Plus, the new translation will include elements of the old Latin Mass that were left out of the previous English translation, he said.

He expects the reaction to be far more muted than with the sweeping changes of Vatican II, about which "some people were ecstatic," he said, and "some people were furious."

If the Vatican approves the new translation — which is almost certain, given the conservative stance of Pope Benedict XVI — a period of education in the parishes will take place, with some observers saying the new translation probably wouldn't be introduced until 2011.

Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, says it's "very unlikely" that Ryan's effort will succeed.

She noted the bishops have been discussing and voting on various sections of the new translations since 2004 and their final vote for approval in November was by a wide margin.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Finding That Christmas Feeling

I don’t remember how I lost the Christmas feeling. I just know that sometime during my teenage years the annual Christmas feeling disappeared from my heart. Perhaps it happened after my father’s tragic death when I was 14. Or maybe it was an angry teenager shedding all things heartfelt from his childhood. I don’t remember Christmases ever having the same joyful and peaceful atmosphere as I trudged into adulthood. Christmas was nothing more than an obligation to get over and done with.

That is until one Christmas Eve in 1986. It was a foggy, still night. My new wife (the one true Catholic in the family at the time) wanted to go to Midnight Mass. I begrudgingly went along not sensing what was about to happen.

As we drove to the nearby parish, Mary popped in the new cassette of Mannheim Steamroller Christmas music (she has a near obsession with Christmas music). As we rode along the song Silent Night came out of the speakers. I remembered this song being a favorite for my baby sister back when we were little kids.

Every Christmas, we would reenact the manger scene at family gatherings. Erin loved Christmas. She was born with a congenital heart defect and found joy in few things thanks to hundreds of doctor’s visits and heart surgeries endured during her short life. But love Christmas she did. Especially “Mee-Mohs” (chocolate, marshmallow Santa candies) and her beloved toy piano.

One particular year, a few months before she died, Erin unwrapped the toy piano after we regaled the family in the true story of Christmas. I can still hear her playing it in my head.

As I daydreamed while driving, the closing strains of Stille Nacht snuck up and knocked my cold, stony heart for a loop. At the end of the songs, after the rushing of what sounds like some magical wind, the song concludes with a child’s toy piano playing the opening stanza of Silent Night.

As I drove, tears streamed down my face. And I felt it! The Christmas feeling came flooding back to me once again and I have never lost it since.

God works in mysterious ways in our lives. As I listen to the song now, I envision the Holy Spirit in the rushing wind that precedes the child’s toy piano. For this moment to me was a first step back to my Catholic faith after a long prodigal journey. It was a blessed Advent miracle.

Monday, December 7, 2009

A "Candidate" For The Diaconate

On Sunday, December 6, twenty-four men and I were called by Archbishop Alex J. Brunett to Candidacy for the Diaconate in the Seattle Archdiocese of the Catholic Church. In the Rite of Candidacy, the Church accepts our offering, calls us to a three-year formation program and officially recognizes us as candidates for the diaconate.

We were each called forward by our full baptismal name, answered "Present," walked to the altar, bowed, and took our place in front of the Archbishop. The Rite of Candidacy then was conferred. The experience was awe inspiring and humbling. I was so nervous that when I shook the hand of the spouse of one of my candidate brothers after the Rite I realized my hands were drenched in sweat.

Mary and I were joined by our youngest son Connor (oldest son Sean is a freshman in college and was unable to join us due to finals) and many family and friends. The biggest surprise came as I approached St. James Cathedral. I heard the voice of my mother Suzanne Arango call my name. But how could that be? She lives in Arizona this time of year. But off came her stocking cap and there she was. I was overjoyed by her surprise visit to town. Also there were my brother Dan Kelly and his daughters Katey and Sara, my uncle and aunt Glen and Susan Kelly who drove up from Waldport, Oregon, their son and my cousin Keven Kelly and his four-year-old son Finn. Even my mom's best friend Marie Louise Wahlstrom, who has been close to our family for over 35 years, came.

Also in attendance, was the one-time Bellevue High School teacher who introduced me to the world of radio Bill Poirier and his wife Missy, my favorite WSU broadcasting professor Glenn Johnson who is also the Mayor of Pullman, fellow WSU Murrow College Professional Advisory Board colleague Joyce Szymanski, friends from work Paul Tosch and his wife Stacey, friends from church Randele and David Cross and their five beautiful children, John Olson, Peter and Ruth Wolff, our close friends Gary and Leita Garside, and buddies Peter Shmock and N.Y. Vinnie Richichi. The mother of friend Shannon Drayer delivered a card from her daughter who was at the Winter Meetings for Major League Baseball covering the Mariners, but sent her mom to represent her. Some in attendance are Catholic. Others are not. All are very dear for being a part of this special day. Words cannot express my deep gratitude for their presence.

My candidate brothers and I have been in formation since June 2008. It started with an Inquiry period (during the summer of 2008) and a full year of Aspirancy studies (September 2008 to June 2009). The vetting process is thorough.

Our intellectual formation happens over a weekend once a month and features classes taught by professors from Seattle University, University of Portland and Pacific Lutheran University. We have 300-500 pages of reading each month, numerous papers and other homework.

Our spiritual formation is placed in the hands of our own personal Spiritual Director, Pastoral Supervisor and others. Our pastoral formation happens in our parishes and by serving in ministerial internships. This year I am honored to be placed with the L'Arche Community on Capitol Hill and work weekly with "core members" who deal with mental disabilities and assistants who make up this unique community. It is my sanctuary from the chaos of being a member of the news media in these crazy times and my work managing KOMO Newsradio.

The formation process as a Candidate will last for three more years. With God's good graces, formation will culminate in ordination as a Deacon in the Catholic Church in December of 2012. If you are so inclined, please keep Mary, my family and me in your prayers.

Advent Peace & Blessings...

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Holy Orders: Edible Gifts By Mail

By BILL DALEY - Chicago Tribune

Your gift is in the giving, the old holiday nostrum goes. But you also can get a feel-good gift in the buying, especially if you tap the monasteries, convents and hermitages scattered around the world. Many specialize in making food products, the range of which goes way beyond the usual fruitcake to include spice blends, jams, cheese, truffles and even coffee.

And no matter whether they're Roman Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant, they do it while pursuing what they say is their main mission: prayer.

"Prayer and labor have been in the monastic tradition from the very beginning," said Sister Gail Fitzpatrick, a member of the Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance, known popularly as Trappistines. She is based at Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey in Dubuque, Iowa.

The nuns there make candy, including their signature Trappistine Creamy Caramels. Fitzpatrick is up every day at 3:45 a.m. By 5, she's at the candy facility tempering chocolate. Then she goes back to the abbey to pray, read and celebrate Mass before returning to tend the chocolate.

"You do have to weave tasks," the nun said with a chuckle. "Chocolate has demands."

Fitzpatrick is proud of the candy. She points to the quality ingredients used but notes the fact that nuns make them is also a selling point with the public.

"I think they can trust us, that what we put into that candy is good," Fitzpatrick said. "The environment in which we make candy is one of love and care. And if they believe in prayer that will mean something because we pray as we work."

Will Keller has been selling products made by nuns and monks for 10 years through his Cleveland mail-order company, Monastery Greetings. Among the religious communities Keller's company represents are the monks of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel in Clark, Wyo. The brothers began roasting, blending and selling coffee beans in 2007 to finance construction of a permanent monastery.

"One of the brothers was something of a coffee expert. He was a barista," said Brother Paul Marie of the Cross, who oversees the coffee business. "His family owned a coffee plantation in Costa Rica."

Now the monks roast and blend 30 different coffees, including decaf. Brother Paul Marie said some customers buy the coffee to support the monastery but others buy it because it tastes good.

"We use good arabica beans. The gourmet coffee drinker appreciates it," he said.

For John Tapert of Duvall, Wash., it was disappointment in a gourmet cedar plank used to grill fish that led him to make fish planks out of alder wood and package them for sale with bottles of his own St. Benedict barbecue sauce and spice rub.

A one-time jewelry maker, Tapert now specializes in religious art. He and his artist wife, Candace, belong to the secular branch of the St. Joseph Carmelite monastery in Shoreline, Wash. They live in their own hermitage in Duvall, Ill., following many of the same rules and traditions as the cloistered nuns, who are part of the Order of Discalced Carmelites. In addition to the alder grilling sets, he makes a range of jams named after various saints.

The 5-acre hermitage provides both the alder wood and the fruits and berries for the jams.

"It's a simple, honest, straightforward way to make a living," he said. "It involves a lot of quiet labor. We're not out in the world doing it for the most part. The end product is something you can be honest about. It has integrity, if you will."


These products are made by or for monasteries, convents, abbeys and hermitages in the United States. All are available by ordering directly from the source. Or you can buy them through Monastery Greetings, a Cleveland mail-order firm (800-472-0425, Prices for products listed below are from the makers and do not include shipping or other charges:

Trappist Abbey Monastery Fruitcake by the monks of the Abbey of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Lafayette, Ore. $27.50 (three 1-pound fruitcakes). 800-294-0105,

Milk Chocolate Butter Nut Munch by Trappistine Quality Candy. Made by nuns at Mount St. Mary's Abbey in Wrentham, Mass. $12 (10-ounce box). 866-549-8929,

Deluxe Caramel Assortment from Trappistine Creamy Caramels. Made by nuns at Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey in Dubuque, Iowa. $17 (24-ounce box). 866-556-3400,

St. Benedict sauce and plank from the Northwest Alder Plank Grilling Kit. Fashioned by John Tapert for the St. Joseph Carmelite Monastery in Shoreline, Wash. $39.95. 425-788-4905,
Cowboy Blend Coffee by Mystic Monk Coffee. Made by the monks of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel, Clark, Wyo. $9.95 (12-ounce bag). 877-751-6377,

Springerle Cookies by Simply Divine, a bakery run by the Sisters of St. Benedict, Ferdinand, Ind. $10.50 (12 cookies). 812-367-2500,

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Admission To Candidacy - Diaconate

Help us celebrate…

Admission to Candidacy for the Diaconate

In this rite those seeking ordination as deacons show publicly their willingness to offer themselves to God and the Church for service as a deacon. The Church accepts their offering, calls them to a three-year formation program and recognizes them as candidates for the diaconate.

Time: Sunday, December 6, 2009 at 2:00 PM

Place: St. James Cathedral
804 9th Avenue, Seattle

Reception following