St. Catherine of Siena


Catherine of Siena

My personal acquaintance with Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) begins with the church I attended as a child, St. Catherine of Siena parish in Riverside, CT. It was here that I first learned to love the Mass, following along with the readings in the missal and singing out joyfully with the folk group. It was here too that I received Eucharist for the first time, my first Communion going ahead as scheduled despite the fact there was a fire in my house the night before or that my father injured himself in a fall that morning. I’m grateful that St. Catherine’s was the first of three Catholic faith communities I’ve been blessed to be a part of in my life. Presumably the parish name originated from the large Italian-American community in Connecticut, but about the woman herself I knew little until recently.

Catherine Benincasa was a remarkable woman for any age. In her youth she developed a strong devotion through prayer and visions and defiantly resisted her parents plans for her life. She refused to be married and instead joined a Dominican lay order and devoted herself to helping the poor and the sick. She was known for her many letters which while dictated were very strong and opinionated giving orders to bishops and royalty alike. She even attempted to resolve the crisis of the Avignon papacy. Late in her life she composed her great spiritual work The Dialogue of St. Catherine. She died young but accomplished much and was canonized 81 years after her death. In 1970, Paul VI named her as one of the first women and lay persons to be a Doctor of the Church.

When I went on retreat to Glastonbury Abbey during Lent I was perusing the bookstore shelves and found a number of small books in a series called “30 Days with a Great Spiritual Teacher”. Basically each day there’s a small passage from the writings of a great Christian writer to reflect on each day for a 30 day period. I decided to pick up Set Aside Every Fear: Love and Trust in the spirituality of Catherine of Siena. Afterwards I learned that by coincidence or divine providence the thirtieth and final day after the day I purchased the book was April 29, the feast day of Catherine of Siena. So I’ve spent the last 30 days praying and reflecting through the words of Catherine.

Other resources on Catherine of Siena:

April Faith, Spirituality & Religion News


A new book by Pope Benedict XVI accuses rich nations of robbery according to the Guardian.

It includes Benedict’s thoughts on the parable of the Good Samaritan, who went to the aid of a traveller shunned by other passers-by after he had been stripped and beaten by robbers. While many commentators accuse the rich nations of not acting like the Samaritan, the Pope goes a big step further and compares them to the thieves.

John Allen writes on the fast-track to canonize Pope John Paul II as saint. Some are questioning the seeming lack of prayerful deliberation and whether popes need be canonized at all.

Instead, the logic of formally canonizing someone, beyond doing justice to their memory, has usually been to offer them to the world as a role model of holiness, as an exemplar of the Christian life. But in the case of popes, their election has already accomplished that. A pope is easily the most visible Catholic figure in the world, and as the Vicar of Christ, is already looked to as a moral and spiritual exemplar.

For these reasons, skeptics say that making popes saints is, at best, superfluous, and at worst risks tarnishing the sainthood process with suspicions of hidden agenda. Their solution is generally an informal moratorium on declaring popes as saints.

John Garvey writes in Commonweal on Why People Leave the Church:

We excuse the institution and its representatives too easily. One of my teachers, the late historian and theologian John Meyendorff, pointed out that Jesus’ denunciation of the scribes and Pharisees, the representatives of organized religion at the time, can-and should-be understood as a criticism of a similarly complacent and self-satisfied Christianity.

Whispers in the Loggia covers the bicentennial of the Archdiocese of New York.

Along these same lines, the See it embodies may no longer be the largest, was never the firstborn, and others could more aptly be highlighted for their consistency of innovation or creativity. But the qualifiers of age, artistry and size all vanish before New York’s singular, quasi-mythic status as America’s diocese, the Catholic bellwether of the public square even as the church in the United States has seen its center of gravity shift to the south and west at a dramatic clip

In Today’s News considers St. Paul’s views on homosexuality:

We cannot prove that Paul approved of homosexuality in some instances. We cannot know if would have approved of it in certain instances he and his audience never imagined. Yet, we also cannot prove he would have condemned it in certain instances he and his audience never imagined.

The simple fact is that the passage has no bearing on those “born gay” to anyone who accepts the possibility that a human person can be “born gay”.

John Allen writes about a possible motu proprio from Benedict XVI regarding authorization of a pre-Vatican II Latin Mass in Hold your breath for the next media frenzy (because apparently there are some Catholics who still prefer to worship in the language of pagan imperialists, a language never spoken by Christ and His apostles nor used to write sacred scripture, and a language few people understand today). Allen expects that it will cause a media frenzy but in the end have little effect on the majority of Catholics:

Be that as it may, there’s no doubt the motu proprio will be a media sensation, because the older Mass has become the most potent symbol of tensions over the basic direction of the Catholic Church in the period since the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). In the court of broad public opinion, expanded access to the pre-Vatican II rite will be interpreted as a victory for the church’s traditionalist wing, however the Vatican explains it.

John Allen also writes a review of Pope Benedict XVI’s new book Jesus of Nazareth which begins with this analysis of how the media covers religious news:

When people pick up a newspaper or turn on the TV news, they generally aren’t looking for a Sunday school lesson. This creates a challenge for journalists covering religious leaders, since most of their public utterances are devoted either to expounding their faith, or urging people to behave. The way reporters solve the problem is by combing through those utterances to find statements presumed to have broad, non-sectarian significance, normally because they apply to matters of politics or culture.

The result is that the real concerns of religious leaders, and the priority they assign to those concerns, often don’t come across terribly clearly — not because reporters aren’t doing their jobs, but because of how the news business works in a secular world.

Fr. Robert Barron’s article in US Catholic “Not Just Lip Service” explicates the Creed, the basics of our faith, and finds a lot of good in it.

A culturally perceptive friend of mine commented recently, “The church has for some time been seen as irrelevant; now it’s seen as irrelevant and corrupt.”

To respond to these objections, we have to point out that the church in which we place our faith is not primarily an institution. It is instead a body. In accord with Paul’s great metaphor, the church is a living organism composed of interdependent cells, molecules, and organs, whose head is Christ himself and whose lifeblood is the divine life flowing from the sacraments. This “Mystical Body” is Christ’s manner of being present to the world; it is his eyes, his ears, his hands, and his feet.

Just as you can’t possibly know me apart from my body—my physical presence, my voice, my gestures—so you can’t know Christ apart from his church. This is why when Catholics evangelize they don’t simply invite people to come into a personal relationship with Jesus; they invite people into the life of the church.

Book Review: Micronations: The Lonely Planet Guide to Home-Made Nations


When I was a child I created my own town in my backyard by sweeping out a grid of paths amid fallen leaves and building stick bridges over the ditch separating my family’s property with the neighbors’. In my college days I tried to create my own political ideology called Liamism, best described as “conservative anarchy.” I even came up with a movement called the Liamist National Front (LNF), and I think I even had one half-hearted follower. But I was never ambitious enough to attempt to create my own nation.

Recently I’ve learned of micronations, where individuals or small groups of people declare sovereignty over very small (sometimes imaginary) pieces of land. Some of them are jokesters, some are megalomaniacs, but some actually have an interesting cause or idea. According to the 1933 Montevideo Convention a nation needs only four things to exist: permanent population, defined territory, government, and capacity to enter into relations with other states (p. 5-6). Some micronations actually do meet these standards of legitimacy but still fail to be recognized by other more established nations. Yet the micronation phenomenon is on the rise.

Now there is a guidebook to micronations as well. Micronations: The Lonely Planet Guide to Home-Made Nations like micronations themselves is part tongue-in-cheek, but also serious about providing information for actual travel to (or at least near) these tiny nations. The histories of these micronations are the most interesting parts of the book. Most seem to be founded by men who enjoy dressing in uniforms with epaulets who raise money by selling stamps, coins, and sometimes aristocratic titles. One thing is for sure is that in a world of 6 billion people, it’s hard to come up with an original idea as the stories behind these micronations become redundant after a while. Still there’s enough in this guidebook to provide a few chuckles and a few “oh” moments to make it worth a (quick) read.

Here are some of my favorite micronations featured in the book:

Sealand – a former anti-aircraft tower off the coast of England is the “only operating stationary man-made nation in the world” (p. 8). Sealand has a long and violent history including a failed coup which lead to a government-in-exile, the Principality of Sealand.

Christiana – located along the river in Copenhagen, Denmark, the Freetown of Christiania is a communal experiment in drugs (but no hard drugs), bicycles (no auto traffic), and peaceful living (no guns). Sounds like my kind of place. They’ve even developed their own type of utility bike. Rick Steves writes about the effort to Save Christiania.

Hutt River Province Principality – A well-established model for many micronations across the Australian continent, establishing postage, currency and other traditional elements of economy as well as a unique system of numerology.

Lovely – Possibly the most romantic name for a micronation, Lovely began on British comedian Danny Wallace’s television program How to Start Your Own Country. The entire country is located in King Danny I’s flat in suburban London.

Whangamomona – Not to be upstaged by Australia, this rural region in New Zealand has it’s own micronation. Unlike many of the micronations in this book, Whangamomona has a hotel, a national rugby team, walking trails, and a history of non-human presidents including a goat and a poodle. The citizens celebrate Republic Day in late January in odd-numbered years.

The Gay & Lesbian Kingdom of the Coral Sea Islands – In protest of Australia’s anti-same-sex marriage laws, Emperor Dale I established a gay & lesbian haven on a small coral island. Lonely Planet dares to ask if the Emperor is really a Queen and how the citizens expect to perpetuate the population of the kingdom.

Kingdom of Elleore – This small island near Denmark has the most fascinating history. Founded in the 1940’s by teachers who followed a philosophy built on the teachings of St. Fintan. Unbeknown to the founders, the island had been used centuries before for a monastery for monks from an order founded by St. Fintan. Only 12-year students from the school may apply for citizenship, and the island is inhabited only once a year for Elleorian Week.

Akhzivland – A peaceful oasis amid war torn Israel, Akhzivland is adjacent to the beach and a national park attracting hippy backpackers and newlywed couples. More information at “A World of His Own” by Colin Miller.

Northern Forest Archipelago – Here’s one close to home and built on principles I can appreciate, preserving and appreciating the natural resources of the Northern Forest. Despite the name, the NFA is entirely on the mainland, the “islands” being pockets of woods and waters across Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York.

Republic of Molossia – Another nation within a home, this is the republic of Kevin Baugh, President of Molossia which is surrounded by the state of Nevada. I particularly liked this comment from Lonely Planet regarding tours of Molossia: “Once you’ve called the government of Molossia and made arrangements, plan to spend as much as a whole hours sightseeing. Some visitors have tried to capture the spirit of the Molossian people in only 30 minutes. This package tour mentality will prevent you from getting a real taste of this unique culture” (p. 68).

The Copeman Empire – Located entirely within a caravan trailer home, this may be the only empire that travels within another sovereign nation. The story of King Nicholas (name legally changed) are documented in his book King Nicholas and he Copeman Empire. Visitors to the country may take tea and cucumber sandwiches with the king for only £1.50!

Republic of Kugelmugel – Edwin Lipburger’s experiment in post-modern architecture and spherical housing ran into trouble with the local authorities. So Lipburger declared it to be its own republic not subject to the laws of Austria. Ironically, these days Kugelmugel is on display in a theme park as an example of modern art and micronations, yet surrounded by barbed wire that keeps out even the nation’s president.

Aerican Empire – Founded by Eris Lis at the age of 5, the Aerican Empire may be the quirkiest of all micronations featuring its own religion, a belief in the coming of the Not-Quite-the-Apocalypse, and a national holiday for procrastinators.

Westartica – The founders of Westartica had an original idea among micronations: Find land on our planet unclaimed by any other nation. That it is a portion of Antarctica is small potatoes compared to the fact that Westartica really seems to have legitimate claim.

Maritime Republic of Eastport – Annapolis, Maryland is a lovely city and one of my favorite places to visit, but little did I know that just miles away across Spa Creek is the breakaway republic of Eastport. Annual events include a tug-of-war with their neighbors in the Annapolis and a 0.5 km run across the bridge separating Eastport from the USA.

The Conch Republic – The Florida Keys seceded from the United States in 1982 in response to border patrol roadblocks searching for drugs and illegal immigrants that caused crippling traffic on the islands. Since then the Conch Republic has successfully opposed an invasion by US forces and thrown some good parties.

Ladonia – A post about Ladonia at MetaFilter first brought my attention to the micronation phenomenon. This country, like Kugelmugel, originated when an artistic creation was condemned by local authorities in Sweden. The sculptures survive in independent Ladonia which has a growing, nomadic population.

State of Sabotage (SOS) – Taking it a step further, SOS is built on the principle that “nurturing the arts should be a new state’s ultimate aim (rather than sovreignty, commerce or war)” (p. 148). Originally a virtual nation, SOS now has land on Australia.

Then there are various nations that are not of this Earth, including The Kingdom of Tycho, The Principality of Voodice, and the Artemis Project, all of whom know that one day “You Will Go to the Moon.”

Links to other micronations mentioned in the book:
Principality of Freedonia
Empire of Atlantium
Grand Duchy of the Lagoan Isles
Principality of Vikesland
Sovereign Kingdom of Kemetia
Republic of Cascadia (silly) or Republic of Cascadia (serious)
Trumanist Republic of Trumania
Republic of Saugeais
Barony of Caux
Dominion of British West Florida
Grand Duchy of Elsanor
Snake Hill

More micronation resources are available through this portal and this discussion board.

Now the question remains, to which of these micronations should I grant my allegiance? Or should I start my own.