Media Morsels

Friday, the United States woke up to the first wave of editorial headlines about the Holy Father’s Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laeticia. For those who haven’t take the time (a lot of time) to read the exhortation what they know about it is what they have heard and read in the media.

  • USA Today editorial website: ‘Pope has good news for divorced, but not for gays
  • LA Times editorial website: ‘Pope Francis eases the way for divorced Catholics, but reiterates opposition to gay unions
  • Wash Post editorial website: ‘Pope Francis offers hope to divorced Catholics, says no to gay marriage
  • Boston Globe editorial website: ‘Pope offers ray of hope to divorced Catholics
  • NYT editorial website: ‘Rather Than Rules, Pope’s Document Gives License to Adapt
  • Chicago Tribune editorial website: well… they just used the Washington Post’s headline and article.

It is getting old to say, but once again media is driving the discussion. These headlines focused in on about ten out of 325 paragraphs (I did mention a lot of time).  Ostensibly the media is watching out/caring for society but it isn’t really their main goal; and in this case their desire to pass judgement on the church takes them to the opposite ends of the continuum. The usual scenario is that one day they are blasting the Church for various wrongs (actual, perceived or just made up) and the next day they are blasting them for perceived long-overdue changes – in most of these headlines they are doing both!

First, let me say that some parts of the Exhortation have some ‘edge’ to them; I am still in need of a reread of the eighth chapter. There are legitimate questions to some of what the Pope wrote. There are in any Apostolic Exhortation, after all, they are reflections on discussions that happened; in this case in the past two synods (extraordinary and ordinary). But what is striking is that the worldwide media if focusing on only these ten or so paragraphs. But the greatest parts (both in size and importance) of Amoris Laeticia are ignored. The majority of the exhortation, is a wonderful and inspiring proclamation on marriage, family and their issues.  It is a well written and insightful reflection on what our families, in all parts of the world, have to deal with, and it offers choices to help them, as well as, reassure them that Holy Mother Church walks with them. However, these parts don’t fit with the media’s idea of how the world should work; and besides, the media is all about ratings and the bottom line. They have no time for participating in addressing the ills that challenge families; it takes too much time, is boring, and it doesn’t bring them those ratings and dollars.  They are concerned with tantalizing the viewers/readers with exciting morsels of controversy – making a name for themselves.

For us, however, there is exciting value in this document, and one of the most exciting aspects of Amoris Laeticia is that it is a clarion call for Catholics to proclaim these good ideas about the good news. And can we do this:

  • By our words, as we talk about the whole document. Which means we need to read it.
  • By our lives, as we try living as the family that God intended us to be. Which means we should to read it.
  • By our embracing our extended families, which include the marginalized. Which means we should to read it.

In other words, we owe it to our faith journey and to the world to understand just what the synod fathers and the Pope distilled from the two synods. We need to be familiar with the document’s ideas so that we can both live the faith more fully and defend the teachings of church more knowledgeably. But first we need to start with prayer. We need to pray for our Pope and his bishops and clergy, especially our priests; because like it or not, thanks to this exhortation they will be on the front line. And we need to pray for ourselves, as we read this document and try to implement those ideas it contains that strikes our heart. Finally, we need to pray for the ability to help undo the damage done by appetizer-like headlines and editorials that do no more than tease us with partial truths and colored opinions.

The media will tantalize the world with tasty headlines, but it is the Lord and His followers that will feed them with sustenance.

 

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Ode to a Mother

I am a convert to Catholicism; born and baptized in the Methodist Church but lived a life as a suburban secularist – God just wasn’t important. But, as I was trying to understand better why the Catholic church was an anathema to the human race I began to realize the great lie of secularists.  The only way that God wasn’t important is if you ignored Him.  He was and is there, He was and is in love with me.  He was and is who always makes me more human. This process of coming to terms with, and growing in the real truth was my road home to Catholicism.

That road was paved with great people and great words.  I owe my understanding of the faith to, primarily, the writings of Pope St. John Paul the great, Dr. Peter Kreeft, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger among others.  The authors of my conversion were the great points of clarity.  But as great as they were (and are) they are points in time.  I step back from life to read and understand.  But as Peter, James and John had to come down from Mt. Tabor I needed to put the books and papers down and go back into my life. This connection, this taking the truths and using them in my life was helped by another – a little nun in Northern Alabama.  Mother Angelica’s EWTN was the connection between these great writers and leaders and living a life in society.  Her enthusiasm for our God radiated through her television station and deep into my soul.  Through her and the programming of EWTN, I found that life could be lived within the faith joyfully. I came to know that my life lived in Christ didn’t mean a life of repression and boredom but a life of true freedom and vigor. The great truths of our faith didn’t hinder me but gave me fullness.  And of course, her ministry showed me that entertainment could be more than mind numbing titillation that left you empty and hungry, it could be life altering and empowering.

Thank you Lord for the gift of Mother Angelica from the very first years of my conversion and for her EWTN legacy.  May I, in some small way, pass forward what she and her community gave to this former ‘suburban secularist’ – a life in Christ.

Requiescat in pace Mother Angelica

Will and Testament

A little over a month ago Ron was called home to our Father’s house and we lost a valuable friend and knight.  I was not surprised by the participation that occurred during his visitation and funeral.  His life was filled with works for the church; and his giving of his time and talent to help others help others was a tremendous blessing to all who knew him. Ron’s life was centered around our Lord. Ron’s life was dedicated to serving God who loved him.

It got me thinking about what he has left us; which then got me thinking about what is the most important thing in our lives.

When each of us follow Ron and hopefully go to the Father’s house, we will leave a will and testament to our family and/or friends.  Some of us, those who write an actual will, leave two of them. The testament I am referring to here however is a testament, a gift, of the most important thing in our lives. Hopefully, it is the same for each of us – our faith.  Pope Francis in a February 4th homily spoke of this when he said. ‘When a testament is made people dispense: ’I leave this to him, I leave that to another’ but the most beautiful legacy that a man or a women can leave to their children is faith[1] He finishes the homily by telling us to ask of God two things. The first is not to fear our final passage and the second is ‘that, with our lives, we may all leave faith as the greatest legacy: faith in this faithful God, this God who is always at our side, this God who is Father and never disappoints.[2] I think it is important to note that this homily was given the day of Ron’s wake.

As men the most important thing for us to accomplish is passing to our children and friends a witness of faith – true and strong faith. Our lives should be remembered so that those thinking of us can’t think of us and our faith separately – we are one and the same. Our faith shouldn’t be something that we turn on and turn off – it should be constant. Our faith should be what drives our hearts and minds – so that what we say and do, at all times, is an outpouring of our relationship with God.  St. John the Baptist said: ‘He must increase, but I must decrease.’[3] That statement is the result of someone who lives his faith.

I would like to share with you part of a spiritual testament written in 1270 (746 years ago) by French king Louis IX to his son. It is a great example of how we should live our lives; and, of course, what we need to pass on to our children.

My dearest son, my first instruction is that you should love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your strength. Without this there is no salvation. Keep yourself, my son, from everything that you know displeases God, that is to say, from every mortal sin. You should permit yourself to be tormented by every kind of martyrdom before you would allow yourself to commit a mortal sin.

If the Lord has permitted you to have some trial, bear it willingly and with gratitude, considering that it has happened for your good and that perhaps you well deserved it. If the Lord bestows upon you any kind of prosperity, thank him humbly and see that you become no worse for it, either through vain pride or anything else, because you ought not to oppose God or offend him in the matter of his gifts.

Listen to the divine office with pleasure and devotion. As long as you are in church, be careful not to let your eyes wander and not to speak empty words, but pray to the Lord devoutly, either aloud or with the interior prayer of the heart.

Be kindhearted to the poor, the unfortunate and the afflicted. Give them as much help and consolation as you can. Thank God for all the benefits he has bestowed upon you, that you may be worthy to receive greater. Be just to your subjects, swaying neither to right nor left, but holding the line of justice. Always side with the poor rather that with the rich, until you are certain of the truth. See that all your subjects live in justice and peace, but especially those who have ecclesiastical rank and who belong to religious orders.

Be devout and obedient to our mother the Church of Rome and the Supreme Pontiff as your spiritual father. Work to remove all sin from your land, particularly blasphemies and heresies.

In conclusion, dearest son, I give you every blessing that a loving father can give a son. May the three Persons of the Holy Trinity and all the saints protect you from every evil. And may the Lord give you the grace to do his will so that he may be served and honored through you, that in the next life we may together come to see him, love him and praise him unceasingly. Amen.[4]

Brothers, let’s not waste the passing of Ron with just fond memories and wishes. Let’s embrace the faith that he lived his life in and make it our own.  Let’s use this sad moment as a time to reevaluate our own faith life, especially our inner most relationship with Christ and move forward with a better one. Let’s build a life with God in the center so that by our lives we can do as St. Louis did for his son. We don’t need to write this testament out St. Louis did – we just need to live it; our children and friends will understand.

St. Paul wrote to the Galatians, and to us: ‘it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.[5] Can we say the same? Can we pass on a legacy like St. Paul’s?

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[1] Pope Francis – Homily from February 4 2016 L’Osservatore Romano English edition 2/12/16
[2] ibid
[3] John 3:30 (RSV)
[4] Liturgy of the Hours, Office of Readings, 2nd reading for August 25, from a spiritual testament to his son by Saint Louis.
[5] Galatians 2:20 (RSV)

Making People Hungry

This weekend we are back in Ordinary Time; but in spite of the change in liturgical seasons we are still contemplating what was started in the Christmas season – the great epiphanies of Christ. Today, we finish with the last of the four great events that, by the way, the Feast of the Epiphany originally celebrated. The Nativity of our Lord, the Visit of the Magi, the Baptism of our Lord in the Jordan River, and now the Wedding Feast at Cana.

We are also one month into the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy called by Pope Francis. There has been quite a lot of interest and activity already, which is a good thing. My worry, however, is that if we are not careful this celebration of the Year of Mercy might cloud the great initiative already in progress – The New Evangelization. This would be a tragedy because they fit so well together – indeed they have the same goal. The initiative of the New Evangelization is to bring Christ to those who have forgotten Him; to bring the Face of Mercy Himself to those who have forgotten what God has to offer His creation.

With any ministry and mission we are always looking for ways to implement them; the New Evangelization is no different. As faithful disciples we should always look to Jesus and see how He accomplished His mission on earth; in order to gain insight into how we should participate with Him. In this case – how do we continue to bring His face of Mercy, and what it involves, to those who have forgotten or never knew Him. With these celebrations of the four Epiphanies we can go back and look at how Christ brought Himself to the world.

The Nativity in Bethlehem.
Christ comes first to a family. His presence, the presence of divine mercy enters mankind through a family. It is true that the love and mercy of a mother and father to their child was always there, and Mary and Joseph come to know what this love and mercy is about.  They feel it well up in them and pour it forth on this little and defenseless baby. They knew He was God – but I have to believe that in Bethlehem that realization took a back seat to the love of a parent for their child.  But Christ’s presence brings a holiness to this relationship of parent and child, as well as to the relationship of a family. His presence, His love and mercy, elevates the dynamic of a family to something different, something holy, sacred.

The Visit of the Magi.
The world, in the personage of the Magi, comes to the great king, announced by an amazing cosmic display. But when the meeting happens, I can’t help but believe it is just three tired, worried and worn out journeyman visiting a poor rural family with a toddler. And yet their hearts are moved by what they see; they are fulfilled. The world comes face to face with Mercy Himself as they enter this house of a family filled with sanctity.  These outsiders are affected by what radiates from a family, they are changed; or as St. Matthew states more poetically: ‘they departed for their country by another way[1] Mercy is introduced through a normal encounter– not the extraordinary.

The Baptism of the Lord in the River Jordan.
Christ, now an adult, is shown to those at the river as a chosen one of God. Mercy is made known by God Himself. And though it comes in the form of a profound mysterious event it comes during an event with the townsfolk of the region. Christ comes to the river with them and comes out of the river as they do; He is one of them. Mercy is made known through a neighbor and human social activity.

The Wedding Feast of Cana.
Christ, now with a few followers makes His first outward act of a miracle. His changing the water into wine wipes away doubt from His disciples who came with Him that He is special. But, just what was the event that He used. Christ, used the event of a wedding, a special but still common occurrence; and not only that but He used six relatively common vessels used to hold water, to show that Mercy was among the people.  He took the ordinary and raised it to the Holy.

Our Model and Our Turn
Brothers and sisters, as we try to contemplate our part in this much needed New Evangelization let’s look to Christ’s actions in these epiphanies as our model. Christ, in all of these moments, took what he was experiencing, took His daily events and raised them, sanctified them by His actions.  Now, some you might be thinking that – well, He was God and He had special gifts that allowed Him to do this; but, I urge you to reread the second reading today. St. Paul tells the Corinthians and us that we too have been given talents to help the face of Mercy be made known. ‘There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.[2] St. Paul proclaims and then goes on to list a few of the inexhaustible gifts given to us. God has not left us without tools to reintroduce the face of mercy.

My friends – what these epiphanies show us is that our part of Christ’s mission to bring His face to everyone is to take normalcy and raise it to holiness – to always sanctify every moment of our day. This is our task, this is our obligation to He who showed us mercy first; not by clever words but by holy action. Sanctify the workplace, sanctify the home, sanctify the public square; with fearlessness and love. By these actions the people around us will hunger for what we have.

Out part is to make people hungry – Christ will feed them.

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[1] Mt 2:12
[2] 1 Cor 12:4

Centrality of Family Prayer (Lesson from the Holy Family)

This evening, we gather in community, in family, to offer prayer to God. But not only us; this day around the world the Liturgy of the Hours for the Feast of the Holy Family is being raised to He who is our Father through He who is our Lord and Savior, in the Holy Spirit. The faithful of the world gather as family to praise and honor He who made us.

We are all different, each of us have our own history, each of us have our own personalities, attributes and thoughts, we are all different; but each of us are together in prayer. We are family not only because we share the same Creator but also because of our love for God and our shared common experience of this dialog, of prayer, with our Father (of which the Mass is the source and summit). Moreover, we have come to this community not by ourselves; someone or some people showed us the way. This is what a family does; those in our family who have come before us teach us, we take their lessons and blend it with what we have experienced then pass it forward to those coming after us. That is how important family is – it perpetuates wisdom – it passes on love.

The seeming dissolving of the definition of family by radical ideological groups is more a result than a cause. When mankind loses the importance of the centrality of faith in our lives then we start to spin away from each other. When God isn’t at the center of our lives the essential gravity to revolve in unison and to move in harmony is lost; families become whatever we want them to be – love and wisdom become lacking and ephemeral. This affects us all, but it affects the children the most who aren’t given the chance to grow a dialog with God as we were. Maybe, in the New Evangelization, the most important use of our time and talents is to witness to the importance of prayer, especially communal prayer; reinvigorating the dialog of family to our Father and each other.

Because I don’t think I can adequately convey this issue I will finish with a powerful paragraph from Pope Benedict XVI’s General Audience on the Feast of the Holy Family in 2011:

The Holy Family is the icon of the domestic Church, called to pray together. The family is the domestic Church and must be the first school of prayer. It is in the family that children, from the tenderest age, can learn to perceive the meaning of God, also thanks to the teaching and example of their parents: to live in an atmosphere marked by God’s presence. An authentically Christian education cannot dispense with the experience of prayer. If one does not learn how to pray in the family it will later be difficult to bridge this gap. And so I would like to address to you the invitation to pray together as a family at the school of the Holy Family of Nazareth and thereby really to become of one heart and soul, a true family.” [1]

Merry Christmas!

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[1] Benedict XVI, General Audience, ‘Prayer and the Holy Family of Nazareth’, 28 December 2011.

Lessons From Family

(Allocutio given at a Legion of Mary Mtg (Mary Morningstar Curia Meeting) reflecting on a chapter in the handbook concerning confidentiality of meetings)

As I read today’s reading one word came to mind – over and over again.  As I listened to the words tell me about confidentiality and the importance of it in the health of the Legion and our Mother’s work I kept hearing one word – family.

What to some might seem like a tough and callous requirement is, in reality, how a family is built.  Think back to our childhood, or look to your own experiences with your children and you will see that it was by confidentiality that we bonded; it is how each of us grew both as individuals and as part of a society. Each of us could speak our mind, could ask personal questions, open our hearts with the knowledge that our family would embrace us for who we are and help us.  There was no other place that we could feel so secure and at peace – for our innermost feelings would never be betrayed.

Why? Why does family give us this assurance – love.  Brothers and sisters, it is through the bonds of love that we build a family.  We offer ourselves to each member and rely on their offering themselves to us – always with the knowledge in our heart that, in love, each of us will keep the bonds of confidentiality.  It is what builds us stronger together.

This is why the Legion puts such a strong emphasis on confidentiality. If it wasn’t for this shared love of our Legion family we could never carry out our Blessed Mother’s work. We can’t do it on our own, so we need to open ourselves to each other to do her work. We are not hiding things as if to keep secrets but instead we are nurturing each other, helping with our shortcomings and giving loving correction. We strengthen each other with honest opinions and shared knowledge.

It is true that when dealing with those we meet in our work of evangelization things will come up that we can’t let the whole family know – but we look to those in the family that can help with these situations such as our Priests and Spiritual Directors; and this too can strengthen the whole Legion family. Family will sit with each other not needing to know everything but only needing to know we are family. We sit with each other, we pray with each other, we support each other; nothing else is needed but the love in our Legion family. And we are secure in our knowledge that this is enough because with love is Christ and His Mother.

So as we reflect on this all important section about confidentiality let’s look at it not so much as a strict law that holds us but as a lesson in the importance of a family bond; after all it’s a lesson that our Mother has given us time and time again.

Luke 2:19 ‘But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.

Familiarity

Today’s Gospel[1] brings to mind many insights.  But, today, I can’t help but think about a more human aspect; one that directly affects our ability to appreciate our Lord; one that affects our being able to interiorize His message; and because of it can damage society.

In the Gospel today we see Christ enter His own country – the place where He was raised. He had already begun to proclaim the gospel and back His words up with miracles; and now He comes home to do the same.  But the people were of another frame of mind: ‘many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get all this? What is the wisdom given to him? What mighty works are wrought by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.[2]

They knew Him; many knew Him well. They grew up with Jesus the boy so they couldn’t see or accept the greatness because of the familiarity.  They couldn’t recognize wisdom coming from just another one of them.  They couldn’t elevate past the immanent to the transcendent – the ordinary to the sublime.  They were numb to the importance of Jesus – many were extremely annoyed.

So, as I reflected on this scene I had to ask myself and now all of us – have we done the same? Have we, faithful followers who live a life of prayer and adoration of God, missed the greatness and newness of His message.  Though in an abstract sense, it is easy to gauge the receptivity of God’s message by whether we live the radical life of Christ and His apostles or not. It is hard to apply that metric to ourselves – we are great deniers and sophists.

At least for me, I can see that I have missed the mark in recognizing the importance of this one person I supposedly know so well.  As I take a deep look I fear that my life is not one of surrender to God; I have failed to truly live the radical life that Christ calls His followers to. I sit back and review my inaction in the public discourse when I should have gone forth as the apostles did and proclaim the good news.  I sit back and notice the times I came up with easy justifications for not standing in the public square and discuss a better way, a better idea.  I can see those times that I didn’t practice in public what I believe in my heart.  I can see the damage done by wallowing in the comfort of inaction by looking at the bad decisions made by public figures that might not have been made by them if only I (and every other catholic) had exercised my calling as a Catholic apostle; and my obligation and right as a U.S. citizen to engage in the great public discourse.

This current round of decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court has shown what happens when we don’t continually live a life centered in Christ and participate in the public dialog.  The ramifications of the decision concerning marriage haven’t even started to appear – but dark clouds are starting to form. The dark clouds on the horizon are not figments of unrealistic minds, no matter what Justice Kennedy wrote in the majority decision to assure us otherwise.  As was the decision absurd, so was his statement within it assuring us of religious protection[3].  This reflection is not the place to dissect the future. But we now have seen painfully, once again, what happens when we don’t live a life totally centered on Christ; when we view our faith as so familiar that we don’t understand Christ’s message and our responsibilities.

At the end of today’s Gospel we see just what we have just reflected on. Jesus was so affected that: ‘he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands upon a few sick people and healed them.[4] – Christ’s effectiveness was limited by the receptivity of those He ministered to and with. Brothers and sisters let’s not make the same mistake over and over again of allowing our closeness with Christ to cloud our view of the message He gives us. Let’s not withdraw to a familiar and comfortable hole of interiorized faith. The world will be a sicker place if do.

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[1] Mk 6:1-6
[2] Mk 6:2b-3 (RSV)
[3] Obergefell v. Hodges majority opinion. ‘The majority graciously suggests that religious believers may continue to “advocate” and “teach” their views of marriage.’ Needless to say, this statement is glaring in its complete omission of what the First Amendment guarantees: the freedom to exercise religion.
[4] Mk 6:5 (RSV)