Mary, Queen of Heaven

September 26, 2010

Up until 13 years ago, Mary was just a woman to me.  She was just the woman God chose to bring His son into this world.  The only thing special about her was her yes.  But she was just a woman- like you and me.  That was what I was taught.  Mary was not that special.  I’m not sure why my Baptist Church downplayed her and her role in salvation history.  The more I learn about Mary, the more confused I am by their stance.

But even 13 years ago when I was becoming Catholic, I still didn’t “get” Mary.  I accepted that her role was greater than I first believed, but I didn’t really understand why she was all that special.  Over the years, I have collected tidbits here and there of her greatness.  And recently, I have been mulling it all over.  A while back, I learned that in Jewish tradition, the Queen of a Jewish kingdom is not the King’s wife.  It is his Mother.  This really made sense as to why Catholics call her the Queen of Heaven.  She is the King’s Mother.  Another thing pointed out to me was the fact that God made His own Mother.  He made the woman who would bring Him into this world.  He created the womb that He would humble Himself into and become a flesh and blood human to be delivered into the hands of mankind.  Why wouldn’t he make her special?  She had to be worthy enough to receive God’s very life in her body.  She had to be worthy to raise Jesus into a Man.  She had to be worthy to watch Him reveal himself to the world and then die at the hands of those she was raised to respect.  Yes, God made her especially for Him.

The first thing that blows my mind about her is that she was willing to say yes.  Now, let me tell you that if an Angel appeared in my living room and asked me to be the mother of Christ, then I would probably pop a few more Xanax and make an appointment to have my head examined.  Mary, after hearing about how she would conceive as a virgin(which is mind-boggling in itself), said “I am the handmaid of the Lord.  Let it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)  There was not a doubt in her mind as to the validity of what was happening.  She completely believed and trusted God.  I am the Handmaid of the Lord- those are the words that get me.  Not only did she say yes, but she totally and completely gave herself over to God.  His will became her life.  And she didn’t say to the Angel let me think about it.  She didn’t ask him to come back in a week.  She didn’t feel the need to rush out and get advice on the situation.  She just said yes and completely gave herself over to God.  Then she trusted and never looked back.  Yes, God made her especially for Him.

Another thing that awes me about her is her joy.  Here she is pregnant, unmarried and living in a society that stones women for adultery.  And she is joyful.  She doesn’t worry about what the world thinks.  She is totally focused on God and His child within her and her joy knows no bounds.  Catholics call Luke 1:46-56 The Magnificat.  That prayer has so much more meaning now that I understand where that joy comes from.  The depths of that joy are incredible.  The roots of her joy are so intimately intertwined with God that it’s hard to see where God ends and her joy begins.  She celebrates a closeness that we only dream of.  Yes, God did make her especially for Him.

I think that if we were to identify just one superhero power in Mary, it would be her strength.  Her strength is incredible.  Not only did she bring the Son of God into the world, but she let Him go.  She joyfully let him live out the Father’s will which included His torture and death.  She watched the elders of her society ridicule her Son for teaching about the love of God- a love she intimately experienced.  She was there when they beat him beyond recognition and then sentenced him to die.  I can’t even imagine what she went through.  And not only did she witness His Passion, but she was there, by His side the whole time.  She was His earthly support.  Her strength is supernatural.  Yes indeed, God made her especially for Him.

And then God did something incredible.  He took this great work of art that was His mother and He gave her to us:

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.”  Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.”  And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.  (John 19:26-27)

 

And that is yet another lesson to us about Agape love.  Jesus lived his whole life doing the Father’s will.  He did nothing for himself.  Everything He did was to glorify the Father.  And then he invited us into this Agape love when he stretched out his hands between heaven and earth and gave up His life for our sins.  And in the moment before He gave us His innocent life, He gave US the woman He created and loved as a son loves a mother. Not only did he give us His life, but He gave us His mother- the woman whom He created for a perfect relationship with Him.  How awesome is that? 

 

So, I finally get Mary.  But I didn’t have the same prayer experience with her as some of my other Catholic brothers and sisters.  I didn’t really get the rosary or the other Marian prayers.  I knew she was there and present, but I didn’t experience her like I do Jesus or the Holy Spirit.  So, I decided to really seek her out.  I prayed the rosary more often.  I prayed the other Marian prayers.  And I called upon her in those moments that needed a woman’s touch.  Still, I didn’t feel anything special from her.  So, I got a little frustrated.  And, in that moment of frustration, I looked up and saw the picture of Jesus’ Sacred Heart above our fireplace and that is when I realized what was happening.  Mary is a window.  Since she is an incredible work of art created especially for God, she possesses the humility necessary to have that perfect relationship with God.  When you pray to Mary, she prays for you and leads you to her Son.  That is her purpose- to bring her children to Jesus.  And when I looked back at my effort to know Mary better, I actually drew closer to her Son.  She allowed me to see Him through her eyes.  She focused me right on the source of all her love and joy.  She is a beautiful window to Christ.  Yes, the Lord created her especially for Him.  And then the Lord turned around and gave her especially to us.  How awesome is that?

CatholicSportsNet to Provide “One-Stop Shop” for Catholic Sports Fans

July 27, 2010

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (MetroCatholic) – Many media outlets cover the booming industry of sports, but only one can lay claim to the sole reporting of Catholic sports – CatholicSportsNet.

Based in Louisville, Ky., CatholicSportsNet (CSN) is a new media company that recently launched its flagship entity – www.catholicsportsnet.com – a website that will serve as a national showcase for on and off the field achievements of male and female Catholic high school, collegiate, and professional student-athletes, teams, coaches, and administrators.

Serving nearly 1,200 high schools, 160-plus colleges, and over 70 million Catholic Americans around the country, CSN will provide up-to-date news, feature articles, student-athlete spotlights, national rankings, recruitment information, and a comprehensive multimedia unit that will include weekly newscasts, interviews, and streaming video.

CSN founder Steve Fehder, a 26-year broadcast veteran and entrepreneur, developed this concept after noticing a tremendous void in the coverage of local and national Catholic sports. A Catholic himself, Fehder believes CSN will satisfy the insatiable appetite of the rabid alumni and fan bases of Catholic schools and their athletic teams.

“What makes CatholicSportsNet unique from any traditional sports site, is that we are 100 percent dedicated to serving the ‘huge niche’ of Catholic sports and that Catholicism will be the underlying theme of all content,” Fehder said. “The tradition, the values, the alumni base, the success of athletes and programs across the country, and the incredible stories are what makes this venture so special.”

Joining Fehder’s team is author, writer, and former Louisville Courier-Journal sports editor Billy Reed. Member of both the U.S. Basketball and Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fames, Reed has written over 800 articles during a 29-year association with Sports Illustrated, and has penned over a dozen books pertaining to topics ranging from Freedom Hall to Paul Hornung to the world-famous Kentucky Derby.

“I’m excited to be a part of this new venture because it will embrace two things that are dear to me – high journalistic principles and positive stories about the sports world,” said Reed, CSN’s senior editorial advisor and consultant. “CSN should be the place to go for anybody interested in what’s happening with Catholic schools and athletes both locally and around the nation.”

CatholicSportsNet has other projects on the horizon, including the development of local and regional Catholic sports sites that will provide hyper-local coverage to the schools and teams of specific cities around the country. In addition, CSN plans to schedule a series of online “webinars” that high school and college athletes, coaches, and fans can attend virtually. They will feature and contain compelling topics and guest speakers who will educate and entertain the viewers.

CSN will offer a wide variety of marketing options for traditional advertisers, in addition to the opportunity for schools to put their campuses, programs, and achievements on display within the CSN College Roadshow – a resource that will give potential students a chance to learn more about educational opportunities at various Catholic institutions.

“From online to on the field, our goal is to be the leader in Catholic sports,” said Fehder. “Our team is extremely excited about the potential of (CSN) and looks forward to connecting with thousands of Catholics who share the same values and passion for sports. As we say at CSN, we are Catholic sports.”

CatholicSportsNet (CSN) is a media company that serves as an aggregator of news and producer of content pertaining to the overall achievements of Catholic high school and collegiate sports teams, student-athletes, and coaches. CSN houses nine employees in Louisville, Ky., in addition to a stable of national contributors and analysts. More information on CSN can be found at www.catholicsportsnet.com

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INTERIOR AND EXTERIOR SILENCE TO PERCEIVE THE VOICE OF GOD

July 6, 2010

VATICAN CITY (VIS) - Benedict XVI today made a pastoral visit to the town of Sulmona, in the Italian region of Abruzzo, to mark the eighth centenary of the birth of St. Celestine V, the hermit Pope.

At 10 a.m. he presided at a Eucharistic concelebration in the town’s Piazza Garibaldi, attended by some 25,000 faithful.

The Holy Father began his homily with a reference to the difficulties the local people have to face every day, giving them assurances of his “closeness and recollection in prayer”, especially for “those who live their lives in precarious situations due to a lack of work, uncertainty over the future, and with physical and moral suffering and a sense of loss due to the earthquake of 6 April 2009″.

Speaking then of Celestine V, known as Pietro da Morrone because he lived in seclusion on a mountain of that name until his election as Pope in 1294, the Holy Father highlighted how “he abides in history, … above all for his sanctity. Sanctity, indeed, never loses its power of attraction, it does not fall into oblivion, it never goes out of fashion; rather, with the passing of time it becomes ever brighter, expressing man’s perennial striving after God”.

This saint was, “from his youth, a ’seeker after God’, a man who wished to find answers to the great questions of existence: Who am I? Where do I come from? Why am I alive? For whom do I live? … In exterior silence, but above all in interior silence, he managed to perceive the voice of God which was able to guide his life”.

In this context, the Holy Father noted how “we live in a society in which every space, every moment must be ‘filled’ with initiatives, activities, sounds. Often there is not even time to listen or to converse. Dear brothers and sisters, let us not be afraid to create silence inside and outside ourselves if we wish to be capable not only of hearing the voice of God, but also the voice of those near us, the voice of our fellow man”.

Another element of St. Celestine’s life was his recognition of the work of Grace. “What he had and what he was did not come from him, it was given to him. It was the work of Grace and, therefore, constituted a responsibility before God and before others”.

“God anticipates us always. Each individual life contains good and beautiful things that we can easily recognise as His Grace. … If we learn to recognise God in His infinite goodness then we will be able to see, with wonder, the signs of God in our lives, just as the saints did”. The signs of a God “Who is always close, Who is always good to us, Who says: ‘Have faith in me’”.

“The cross”, said Benedict XVI, “was the focal point of Pietro da Morrone’s life, it gave him the strength to face harsh penance and the most difficult moments, from his youth until his final hour. … When he was elected to the See of the Apostle Peter he chose to grant a special indulgence called ‘La Perdonanza’”.

Pope Celestine, “though leading a hermit’s life, was not ‘closed in on himself’, but was seized with the passion to carry the good news of the Gospel to his brothers and sisters”, said the Holy Father.

The Church’s mission, he explained, consists “in the calm, clear and courageous announcement of the evangelical message - even in moments of persecution - without surrendering to the lure of fashion, or of violence and imposition”. It consists “in detachment from concern for things (money or clothes), trusting in the Providence of the Father; in particular attention and concern towards those sick in body or in spirit”.

At the end of Mass and before praying the Angelus, the Holy Father entrusted the local Church to the Virgin Mary, venerated in Sulmona at the shrine of the “Madonna della Libera”. He said: “May you walk united and joyful in the way of faith, hope and charity. Faithful to the heritage of St. Celestine V, always combine evangelical radicalism with mercy, so that all those who seek God may find Him.

“In Mary, Virgin of silence and of listening, St, Peter da Morrone found the perfect model of obedience to divine will, in his simple and humble life directed at the search for what is truly essential”, the Pope added.

“We too, who live in an age of greater comfort and of more possibilities, are called to appreciate a sober lifestyle, to keep our minds and hearts free in order to share our goods with our brothers and sisters”.

After praying the Angelus, the Pope went to the House for Clergy at the diocesan pastoral centre of Sulmona where he had lunch with bishops of the Abruzzo region. The House for Clergy, built to accommodate sick and elderly priests, was inaugurated today following restoration work and is dedicated to Benedict XVI.

Living With Passion

June 15, 2010

I heard a wise father once say “If I can just instill passion in my children’s heart for their faith and their God, then the rest will come.”  He is right.  Facilitating the desire for God is our vocation as parents.  And there is no better way to facilitate that desire than to model our passion for God to our children.  Sharing our passion with our children shows them who we really are and what we really value.  Our true hearts are reflected in our passion.  Ultimately, our children will learn that passion is what people seek.  Because discovery of our passion is where we find our true selves.  Living with passion gives our lives purpose and our souls peace.

Catholics call Jesus’ last day on this earth His passion.  And it’s because His willing death is a true reflection of His heart which burns with great divine love for mankind.  Love is Jesus’ passion and He showed us the boundless depths of himself and of His passion by willingly giving up His unblemished life for love of our unworthy souls.  Jesus models passion for us just as we should model it for our children.

I have thought that I have found my passion at different points in my life.  First, it was music.  Then it was teaching.  Of course I am very passionate about my family.  But this week I think I found my true burning passion.  I have been trying to put my finger on it since I was a teenager with little success.  I now know that my heart was still forming and you have to have heart before you can have passion.  As I reflect on all the moments that led me to my God, and then to the Catholic Church and see them in the light of the events of this week, it all makes sense.  Everything ties so perfectly together and has brought me to this moment of discovery.

I think I can safely say that I had a very different experience growing up in the Southern Baptist Church than many of my Catholic brothers and sisters.  The focus of my spiritual upbringing was on a personal relationship with Jesus.  It was discussed constantly.  We were encouraged to talk to Jesus, to turn to him in our hour of need, to celebrate with him in our hour of triumph, and to love him with all of our being.  I was taught a simple faith devoid of all the rich history and tradition.  Our only focus was to discover the love the Lord had for us and then to love Him back.  It was a great experience and a vital part of my spiritual journey.  Although I am somewhat jealous of the knowledge “cradle Catholics” have of the church, I wouldn’t trade my upbringing in the Baptist Church for anything.  It was in this church where Jesus found me, watched me grow, challenged me, loved me and called me to Himself.

Walking away from the Baptist church hurt.  My faith was challenged on many levels.  It was like leaving home knowing you are not welcome back.  Even though I know if I walked back into a Baptist church today they would welcome me with open arms, I still feel like I can’t go back.  I left because my faith was challenged and the church of my childhood could not provide answers.   Jesus placed people in my life that could answer my questions and light the path to the Catholic Church.  When I arrived in the Catholic Church, my faith was still challenged.  The Catholic Church was very different from faith in which I was raised.  For a long while, it felt like I had no home.  I was that weird Catholic who prayed to Jesus in my own words.  Jesus wasn’t distant to me like He was to many of my Catholic friends.  Many of those friends disconnected their faith from their everyday life.  I was confused by that and I missed sharing my faith journey with my brothers and sisters in Christ.  For a number of years, my life in the Catholic Church was lonely.  But I couldn’t leave it.  Jesus was there.  I was hungry for the Eucharist.  I was lonely for community but filled with my Lord.

Then I went on the CRHP(Christ Renews His Parish) retreat in my community.  And I found the people who wanted to know and did know the Lord like I did.  I discovered that I was not alone in the Church.  I found the other weird Catholics and I couldn’t have been happier.  Once again, I could share my journey with my brothers and sisters in Christ.  I could sing with them, worship with them, and learn with them.  But what I was most excited for is that I could pray with them.  And I could ask them to pray for me.

While I was praising God for this gift of Christian community, my heart ached for my catholic brothers and sisters who lacked this personal relationship with Jesus.  I have been privy to several conversations recently where it was admitted that the Catholic Church has failed to instill this desire for passion in at least the past two to three generations.  Although the Lord touches us through the Eucharist, Catholics have not been encouraged to seek Him out with their hearts.  The effect of this lack of evangelization by the Church to its own family of believers is still evident in the faith of many Catholics today.

This week, I had the pleasure of being on a mission.  I have been on a core team that brought a Redemptorist Priest and Lay missionary from the Sacred Heart Apostolate to our parish community.  The purpose of the mission is to begin a new ministry where families will enthrone Jesus’ Sacred Heart in their homes and lives.  Now here is the exciting part- by enthroning Jesus in your home, you are engaging him in a personal relationship.  There it is.  There is the answer to my aching heart.  Jesus set this up so perfectly.

I was brought up in an environment where I cultivated a personal, heart to heart relationship with Jesus.  That relationship was culminated when I was received into the Catholic Church- a choice I made through the prompting of the Holy Spirit.  In the Catholic Church, I encountered many Catholics who did not have this personal relationship with Christ.  I was lonely.  I was sad for them.  Little did I realize that Jesus was forming my heart during this time.  When I was ready, he gave me the community I so desperately needed and desired.  He ignited a burning love in my heart for Him and His community.  In this small way, He made my heart like His heart.

And then He called me.  I was kneeling in the fourth row.  It was the second night of the mission- the night where everyone is invited to venerate the cross and then go to reconciliation.  Because I was in the fourth row, I had no idea how many people were in the church.  For a church of our size, 50-70 people usually turn out for special events and we were hoping for such a turn out.  I was so blessed to see over 230 of my brothers and sisters in Christ walk down the aisle one at a time, kiss the cross and then happily stand in very long lines for confession.  My heart expanded with joy.  I felt as if I were in the middle of 230 celebrations of the prodigal son coming home.  I felt as if I were seeing this spectacular event through the eyes of Jesus whose joy overtook every ounce of my being.  The call was very clear.  Promoting a personal heart to heart relationship with Jesus to my brothers and sisters in Christ is my passion.  It is the burning desire of my heart- the heart the Lord has spent 32 years forming in me.

For now, my call is to my parish community.  I am called to promote this ministry.  I am called to evangelize my brothers and sisters and invite them to know the Lord with their hearts.  I am called to outwardly model this heart to heart relationship in my everyday life.  I am called to fervent prayer for my brothers and sisters.  By living this call, I am finally living with passion.  And the endless joy and love placed in my heart will be the fuel for the passionate fire that burns first for my Lord and then for my brothers and sisters in Christ whom the Lord loves more than human hearts can imagine.

Lori is a stay-at-home mom to her two boys and the children she loves on during the day at her home daycare.  She loving supports her Husband’s calling as a High School Band Director.  Originally from New Orleans, she was raised in the Southern Baptist Church and converted to the Catholic faith while in college.  When she has a rare free moment, she publishes her thoughts and musings at www.lorislifeandtimes.blogspot.com.

SECOND VOLUME OF “JESUS OF NAZARETH” TO BE PUBLISHED

May 11, 2010

VATICAN CITY, 10 MAY 2010 (VIS) - “The definitive text of the second volume of the book ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ by His Holiness Benedict XVI was recently consigned to the publishers entrusted with its publication”, says a note released today by the Holy See Press Office.

“This second volume is dedicated to the Passion and the Resurrection, and starts where the first volume finished”, says the note. “The German original was simultaneously consigned to Manuel Herder - the publisher editing the complete works (’Gesammelte Schriften’) of Joseph Ratzinger - and to Fr. Giuseppe Costa, director of the Vatican Publishing House.

“The latter, as the main publisher, will be responsible for the concession of rights, the publication of the Italian edition, and the delivery of the text to other publishers for translation into the various languages, which will be undertaken directly from the German original.

“The hope is that the publication of the book in the major languages will come about contemporaneously. Yet this, however rapid, will still require various months, given the times necessary for an accurate translation of such an important and long-awaited text”.

The Passion of the Christ

March 31, 2010

Last night, I went to the cross. I watched our Lord suffer and die. I watched him sold for 30 pieces of silver. I watched his best friend turn his back on him. I watched his blood stain the ground as his flesh was ripped from his body. I watched men of God call for his death. I watched them hammer nails into his hands. I watched his heart break. I watched his mother weep. And I watched in horror. For the first time, I watched the Passion of the Christ. I have avoided it all these years. I had no desire to see my Lord suffer. I did not want that visual image to haunt me like I know it will.

 I felt the nudge to watch it when I ran across images from the movie on YouTube. I was preparing a presentation on salvation for the middle school youth and I was looking for an inspirational video that would grab their attention. The attention that was grabbed was mine as images of the movie kept rolling across the screen. I resisted. I told Jesus that if he wanted me to watch that movie, then it better be easy to find- like be on HBO when I happen to be flipping channels. I wasn’t going to go to great lengths to watch my Lord tortured and killed. He has been answering a lot of my prayers lately and this one was no exception. My dear friend just happened to bring up the subject of the movie on our way out of mass on Sunday. I promptly shared my reservations about watching it. She empathized and said that she was thinking about watching it again but was pretty sure she would have a hard time renting it during holy week. I told her that if she happens to find it, then maybe I would be interested in borrowing it- maybe. To my shocking surprise, she arrived at my house 30 minutes later with the movie. She found three copies at the video store and promptly rented two and told me it was a sign. So I was trapped. I couldn’t say no anymore.

 In my Baptist church, we really didn’t talk about how Christ suffered. I can’t recall a preacher standing at the pulpit describing how Christ suffered. In fact, the Baptist church uses a cross instead of a crucifix because they don’t want to focus on the suffering Lord but rather the risen Lord. My first encounter with our suffering Lord happened in the Catholic Church where I came face to face with the crucifix. It took me a while to get comfortable with this image. But once I did, I realized that by knowing more about his suffering, I could know more about his love. I went from the crucifix to the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary and stopped there. That was the extent of my knowledge of his suffering- until now.

 Horrified is not a big enough word to describe how I felt through the entire movie. Although I knew how it was going to end, I found myself pleading for someone to make it stop. How could they do this to a person- any person? How could they call themselves priests of our loving God and murder someone like this? One emotion I was surprised to feel was anger. How could Judas betray my Jesus and sell him for 30 pieces of silver? How could men of God incite a crowd to kill their messiah? How come no one came to his senses and called for the torture to end? I am angry. This was my Jesus. And they tortured and killed him. I know that I will go through many different emotions as I try to unwrap myself from this movie. At least that is what I keep saying to myself. I hope that the anger will give way to something different soon. I feel guilty taking this anger with me into the Triduum. However, I do feel a little peace with my anger so maybe that is what Jesus wants me to feel before I enter into Holy Thursday.

 It has helped to talk it out with my husband. He pointed out to me that the society Jesus was born into was a lot more brutal than what we know today. This is how he is able to justify some of the torture. But that got me thinking. God could have brought his son into any point in history. Why did he do it at such a brutal time? Or if he did choose modern times, would we do the same? Would Jesus meet the same end? Would he suffer like he did? Where would I be in the story? Would I be anointing his feet with oil and drying it with my hair? Would I be weeping with Mary? Or would I be standing in the crowd and calling for his death? There is a reason I was born 2000 years after his crucifixion. He knew I couldn’t handle it. He knows that had I been there, I may not be with him. Had I been there, I may not have heard him call me. I may not have recognized who he was. I may have been standing in the crowd like all the rest of them. He knows me so well.

 I am blessed to have been born at this point in history where I can experience him with my spirit while surrounded by the sacraments and holding hands with my brothers and sisters in Christ. And the reason I can experience him is because of his willing crucifixion. He can call me to himself because his suffering and death won the salvation of mankind. All I have to do is step out of the crowd and live in his love. And that love has so much more meaning and depth now that I have seen his passion and watched him suffer. I am completely unworthy of that suffering, but he did it anyway. He loves me anyway. And in return, all I can do is give myself to him. Since his heart stopped beating for me, mine must beat for him.

Lori is a stay-at-home mom to her two boys and the children she loves on during the day at her home daycare.  She loving supports her Husband’s calling as a High School Band Director.  Originally from New Orleans, she was raised in the Southern Baptist Church and converted to the Catholic faith while in college.  When she has a rare free moment, she publishes her thoughts and musings at www.lorislifeandtimes.blogspot.com.

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