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

The Face of Mercy

One of the beauties of the liturgical year is that Holy Mother Church uses special events to highlight an aspect of the faith; this time it is the whole year. The Holy Father opened the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy a little over a month ago on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. The theme of the year can make things look new, different, fresh, and uniquely beneficial for our journey Home. For instance this year I look at today’s feast of the Baptism of Lord in a new light, with new emphasis; and it has, for me, become a hermeneutic of sorts, a key, for understanding this special year.

Today marks the end of the Christmas Season which has reflected on the birth of Christ and some events during His so-called hidden years. Last week, of course, we see the Magi come to do Him homage; but that was only one of three events we know about in his youth. With the exception of the event of Anna and Simeon at His Presentation Christ lived His life, more or less, hidden way. Even when Mary and Joseph found Him in the temple surrounded by an astonished crowd, it was only they who knew who He truly was.

But today, today we see Jesus rise from the river; rise from the Jordan in the midst of a great crowd of people. As He rose out of the water with God the Father proclaiming ‘Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.[1]; the crowd (and us) finally behold the face of mercy itself. The people of Judah are now becoming aware of ‘God among us’. No longer is mercy an abstract thought, an ideal, something to be meditated about, a goal to strive for; mercy has a face. It is true that from this face comes the ideal of mercy, the plan of a merciful life, a mercy-filled attitude; but mercy is first and foremost, as Father David preached about on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, a person.

Brothers and sisters, as we dive into this Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy let’s not forget that mercy is not something that we determine from our feelings or our intellect. It is not something that even the great and wise holy men and women throughout the history of Holy Mother Church have discovered from philosophical and theological reflection.

No, mercy is Jesus Christ; when we gaze upon Christ we see God’s mercy. This is the paradigm that this whole year should be viewed from: Mercy is Christ – all of Him. It is all too easy to allow clever arguments about mercy dictate how we understand it. It is all too easy to allow ourselves to ignore some teachings of Christ, to push aside truth, in favor of seeming kindness and call that mercy. But, that would be wrong – because that would be part of Christ and mercy is all of Him. So, let’s keep Him close to us; in our thoughts, our prayers, and our actions. His face will light our lives as we discern Him, discern about the true meaning of mercy. If we open ourselves to Him He will show us mercy in full. And maybe most importantly, let’s never forget that He will be our strength until He returns to us again.

On this last day of the Christmas Season – when we have celebrated the arrival of mercy among us; let me end with a quote from the great book ‘Imitation of Christ’; which for us, we can make a valuable prayer in our lives, especially in trying times:

How can I bear this life of misery
unless You comfort me
with Your mercy and grace?
Do not turn Your face from me.
Do not delay Your visitation.[2]

Merry Christmas

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[1] Luke 3:22 (RSV)
[2] Imitation of Christ – Thomas á Kempis et al – Book 3 Chapter 3

I Believe

Preparing our hearts and minds for both comings of Christ, His final return at the end of times and His nativity, is the reason for Advent. Last week we reflected on the hope that is prevalent throughout the season – indeed throughout every disciple’s journey. This evening I wanted to look into what allows us to have this constant hope – faith. It is faith that provides meaning to our existence because it is faith that allows God’s revelation to be fruitful. Faith unlocks the hope, it brings us to the fullness of humanness. We believe. We are receptive to the divine.

As we might infer from this dynamic of revelation and faith; faith is not a self-initiated interior process that leads to an individual an understanding of God – that would be a philosophy. It is brought about by, initiated by, an external authority. We don’t reflect to the truth – we are given the truth and reflect upon it in our hearts. In short, faith is the acceptance of a reality brought about from without that we then journey towards. The response that starts us on this journey of faith is ‘Credo’ – ‘I Believe’. It is proclaimed first from within (in our heart and mind); then outwards.

‘I believe’ should also be the hermeneutic for this evening’s reflection. So, in regards to faith, what do we mean when we say I believe? Do we really believe or give lip service to the words?

When I say ‘I Believe’ I am affirming this action of faith that is stirred within from something outside of me. Someone has told me, I didn’t think it up; couldn’t, however detailed and flawless my logic is. When I say ‘I Believe’ in regards to faith it is authoritative. It doesn’t contain any of the relative doubt that we attach to that phrase when used in other aspects of our life. Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in his book Introduction to Christianity: ‘The phrase could literally be translated by ‘I hand myself over to.’, ‘I assent to’[1]The powerful reality behind Credo should cause our lives to change. By proclaiming ‘I believe’ we are new people reconfigured by faith, faith in the Triune God. Again, Cardinal Ratzinger from the same book: ‘the true nature of faith or belief is clearly a conversion, an about-turn, a shift of being.[2]

So as we continue our Advent journey let’s look within and reflect on what we mean when we say ‘I Believe’ for the answer to that query will determine how fruitful our Advent season will be and how our faith will affect us. Is it a rote proclamation without much weight; or is it a proclamation of intensity, of certitude? When we say Credo do we hunger for the reality behind the words and look for ways to change; or do we let these words drift away from us and not affect our life?

Brothers and Sisters, let’s open our mind and our hearts to the gift of faith; so that every time we say ‘I believe’ the words of St. Thomas Aquinas become an actuality in each of us.

Et antiquum documentum
Novo cedat ritui:
Præstet fides supplementum
Sensuum defectui.

Lo! o’er ancient forms departing
Newer rites of grace prevail;
Faith for all defects supplying,
Where the feeble senses fail.[3]

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[1] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger – Introduction to Christianity’ Section 1 chapter 7
[2] ibid
[3] St. Thomas Aquinas – Tantum Ergo  (the incipit of the last two verses of Pange Lingua)

Blind Man’s Lesson

In his first letter to the Thessalonians St. Paul tells them and us: ‘For this is the will of God, your sanctification:[1] He is goes on to tell them what they need to do gain sanctification – holiness. He doesn’t give them the totality of the means but his words ‘For this is the will of God, your sanctification:[2] tells us the totality of God’s desire for us. If this is so important to God then it should a paradigmatic for us. Each of us should place our sanctification as our primary goal. With the help of God, His saints and His Holy Church we should live our lives in search for and protection of sanctification. We should stop at nothing to reach what God wants to us have and be – holiness and holy. When this level is reached we are sharing more fully in the life of God and can gain his eternal reward – heaven and the beatific vision.

This has more than a personal dimension – it is societal as well. St. Francis of Assisi wrote ‘Sanctify yourself and you will sanctify society.[3]  Our sanctification can instill in those around us the desire to follow the same path to sanctity; we build His kingdom one person at a time. After all, when standing in judgment in front of Christ I fear He will not only look to our own lives but to those we could have helped.

So, how do we go about gaining sanctification? The path is varied but the attitude is the same. Saint Josemaría Escrivá wrote: ‘The plane of sanctity our Lord asks of us is determined by these three points: holy steadfastness, holy forcefulness, and holy shamelessness[4]. In today’s gospel we see a great lesson in what Saint Josemaría was talking about.

Holy steadfastness
For Saint Josemaría this means being firm in the faith, not abandoning a teaching or practice because it might give others a bad impression.  Bartimaeus, when he hears that Christ is walking by starts to cry out something that would be blasphemous to the ruling class, indeed most inhabitants: ‘Jesus, son of David, have pity on me’[5]. By calling Christ the Son of David Bartimaeus is declaring Jesus King. Bartimaeus continues to call out, not fearing what those around him might do. Holy Steadfastness.

Holy Forcefulness
For Saint Josemaría this means putting power behind our witness; or as we would say putting weight behind our conviction.  When told to be quiet Bartimaeus called out even more.

Holy Shamelessness
For Saint Josemaría this means being unapologetic for one’s commitment to Jesus Christ. Bartimaeus is unapologetic throughout this gospel. He doesn’t apologize for believing in Christ as He walks by and obviously he follows Christ unapologetically after regaining his sight. Bartimaeus isn’t embolden by his new found sight as much as he is convinced and strengthened by who Christ is. Saint Josemaría explains Holy Shamelessness this way: ‘If you have holy shamelessness you won’t be bothered by the thought of what people have said or what they will say.[6]

Bartimaeus shows us what attitude we need to gain the ‘plane of sanctity’; total surrender of ourselves to He who our heart yearns for and the deepest part of our soul recognizes – Christ. Once we give in to what our soul knows we become steadfast, forceful and shameless in our discipleship to Jesus Christ. Our lives become clearer because our desires and needs, our expectations and goals become simpler, indeed singular – Christ. Bartimaeus asked for sight and by his actions he tells us what sight he truly wanted – He followed Christ.

Maybe the greatest lesson from today’s gospel is how do we hope to recognize this in our lives? In our societal sophistication we have become too jaded in our thoughts and points of view. In spite of trying we are overwhelmed with nuances and intricacies of logic (or illogic – depending) to grasp, maybe, the lessons that Christ teaches us. How do we overcome this?

Christ teaches His followers and us how in the gospel today.  Look to the children and the simplehearted to help cut through what modernity has done to us. Look to the saints who have succeeded – look to Mary. Christ tells His followers to ‘Call him[7], bring this loud blind beggar to Me. Not so much to heal him as to teach His followers and us the importance of seeing in all we meet the face of Christ; to hear in all those we help the words of salvation; to learn from those on the margins the riches of faith.

May each of us have the blessing of a Bartimaeus in our lives.

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[1] 1 Thes 4:3
[2] ibid
[3] St Francis of Assisi
[4] St Josemaría Escrivá The Way #387
[5] MK 10:47
[6] St Josemaría Escrivá The Way #391
[7] MK 10:49

The Disciple’s Way

Today, Christ tells us what it means to be a disciple.

Peter proclaims to Christ what has been revealed to him – ‘You are the Christ[1].  As He says this to Christ he is also proclaiming to history that we have a savior and He loves us. Great and glorious news – hearts should rejoice.

We too, say this – we know that Jesus isn’t just some famous thinker or just a great charitable do-gooder; though these are good things this isn’t who He truly is. He is the Christ, the anointed one – He is God Himself come among us.  We announce ourselves as devoted followers of God – not another person or wise thought.  We have total faith in Him – He is our savior. The heavens resound in celebration each time we proclaim this.  But Jesus tells us this is not enough. St. James writes, in another part of his letter ‘Even the demons believe that and tremble.[2]

Christ in response tells Peter, those around Him, and us – what it means to be a follower of His. ‘“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”[3] And to drive home the point Christ first tells them that He too will have to travel the same path even to the extreme end: ‘“the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed…”[4]

He is telling that we are not on a bandwagon of victors, riding high with no worries; the envy of all around us. We will be, and are, abused; we are the feared – therefore the targets of those who fear us. We will be, and are, tested and tried – all the time. If we wish to follow our Lord there is no other way. He tells us this much in the Gospel of St. John: ‘If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you[5]. The history of the church has given witness to this every day of every year since.  If we wish to follow Christ we must expect this treatment? Why? Because, as St. James tells us, we are called to do; true faith moves us to works. True faith turns the title Christian from a noun to a verb – it has action.

For me this is hard – for two reasons:

  • First: most in our society don’t want to have to act on God’s Word; they would rather be left alone, not having to address both the message and responsibility. When we come along and remind them of this truth they are threatened, they doubt their ideals and so they lash out against us – the messenger.
  • Second, and probably most importantly (at least in my life): today, St. James reinforces what Christ is teaching us in the Gospel; that comfort is not the norm His followers should expect. In fact, Christ calls us out of comfort to continue His mission of proclaiming the good news with words and action. ‘”Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation”[6] He commands His apostles and us. St. James, in the second reading, tells us what true faith needs to produce – works. ‘What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?[7] James, after some examples, continues ‘… faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead[8]  These are hard words – the call from a sedentary idea of faith to a faith of action is one we would rather not hear – at least most of us some of the time. I myself have fallen and continue to fall, time and time again, back into the ‘comfortable’, ignoring those outside.

As for the first reason: we shouldn’t fear with God at our side ‘for he has said, “I will never fail you nor forsake you.”[9]

And as for the second reason: I am ashamed! I need to change my habits! I need to move forward into the unknown and the uncomfortable.  I need to use my faith in Jesus and allow it to bear fruit in the world by my actions. These actions; mostly small and little, but at times large and great are what a disciple is called to offer! And not just when it suits us but constantly – we should live a life of Christian action – of love.

So, brothers and sisters I will close with some questions to reflect on:

How do each of us view our relationship with Christ? Do we keep it deep within not letting others know about it or do we wear our relationship openly?
How do each of deal with our crosses? Do we do everything we can to pass them on to someone else or do we embrace them, carry them and look to help others carry theirs?
Do we look for the easy way? Stay close to those who are most like us? Never leaving the safety of the community? Or do we knowingly look to go outside the box? Do we look for opportunities to bring Christ to situations and places outside our comfort zone as Christ did? Is my faith a noun or a verb?

I pray that each of us will take the time to look within and find answers to these questions.

Let’s make sure that, for each of us, faith is not a noun but a verb.

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[1] MK 8:29
[2] JS 2:19
[3] MK 8:34b-35
[4] MK 8:31
[5] JN 15:20
[6] MK16:15
[7] JS 2:14
[8] JS 2:17
[9] HEB 13:5b

Thoughts of Hope

The path of society today has shown itself as moving farther and farther from the Judeo-Christian values that built it – both here and in Europe.  This week’s tragic decision on Marriage is just the latest in clarion examples that prove this.  It is now painfully obvious that Christianity needs to come to terms with a new paradigm which an op-ed in Time Magazine proclaims ‘Orthodox Christians Must Now Learn To Live as Exiles in Our Own Country’[1]

But should this worry us? Yes and No.

Yes

Our efforts to proffer the Gospel message as the best path for mankind to take is seriously ignored and ridiculed. We have been relegated to the sidelines as an annoyance – to some a threat.  Through our own inactions as apostolic descendants we have placed our message in limbo.  We don’t act as we speak and, truth be told, we rarely speak our faith anyways.  And through our actions we have shown that we don’t really live our faith.  The misguided belief that if our society doesn’t agree with the Gospel then we should just allow society’s ideas to be our own (as seen in numerous attempts to bend ideas to fit our faith) just howls of hypocrisy – and people see and understand it as such. We have led ourselves into some uncertain waters that could lead to persecution.

No

Our journey since the Lord ascended home has shown great periods of persecution, laxity, desertion and confusion.  During these times our Holy Mother Church has been purified, re-tooled and continued in a stronger fashion.  The Roman persecution saw savagery against our Church only to see great growth afterwards. The 13th century saw Holy Mother Church wallowing in self-indulgence and from this we saw the great mendicant orders started by St. Dominic and St. Francis re-energize the Christian world. And on and on. So we can hold on to hope that though we might struggle through our time on earth – God’s plan continues no matter what mankind throws in His way.

Our Heavenly Father doesn’t wish for our waywardness and failure – He doesn’t wish to ‘clean house’ and start afresh – He desires our success.  But He knows our struggles and He understands the pressures exerted on us by Satan and, yes, ourselves.  We hear in the Gospel of St. John Christ tell us that He has a plan for this: ‘Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.[2]  As scary as this sounds it is a much more loving correction that what He visited on Sodom and Gomorrah, what He tried during Noah’s time.

Years ago, then Cardinal Ratzinger made a shocking statement, at least at the time, and though rather lengthy it needs to be reflected on in total:

‘From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge—a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so will she lose many of her social privileges. In contrast to an earlier age, she will be seen much more as a voluntary society, entered only by free decision.

As a small society, she will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members. Undoubtedly she will discover new forms of ministry and will ordain to the priesthood approved Christians who pursue some profession. In many smaller congregations or in self-contained social groups, pastoral care will normally be provided in this fashion. Alongside this, the full-time ministry of the priesthood will be indispensable as formerly. 

But in all of the changes at which one might guess, the Church will find her essence afresh and with full conviction in that which was always at her center: faith in the triune God, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, in the presence of the Spirit until the end of the world. In faith and prayer she will again recognize her true center and experience the sacraments again as the worship of God and not as a subject for liturgical scholarship. 

The Church will be a more spiritual Church, not presuming upon a political mandate, flirting as little with the Left as with the Right. It will be hard going for the Church, for the process of crystalization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek. 

The process will be all the more arduous, for sectarian narrow-mindedness as well as pompous self-will will have to be shed. One may predict that all of this will take time. The process will be long and wearisome as was the road from the false progressivism of the eve of the French Revolution—when a bishop might be thought smart if he made fun of dogmas and even insinuated that the existence of God was by no means certain—to the renewal of the nineteenth century. 

But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church. 

Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret. 

And so it seems certain to me that the Church is facing very hard times. The real crisis has scarcely begun. We will have to count on terrific upheavals. But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already with Gobel, but the Church of faith. She may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently; but she will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man’s home, where he will find life and hope beyond death.’[3]

Brothers and sisters, we have seen terrible decisions made in our lifetimes, this week’s decision by the Supreme Court is just another in abominations done in the name of love.  We can see the continued and increasing threats to our faith, our ability to live our faith and probably even our freedom.  We have every reason to be sadden and worry – but never despair; and never resignation.  We have the right of it because we have been given truth from our creator.  If our church is entering a retooling then we continue the good fight and accept God’s will.  If we remain true to Christ He will remain true to us and Holy Mother Church will come out on the other side of this period stronger and more vibrant.  So I proudly say what is hanging on our front door: ‘as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.[4]

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[1] http://time.com/3938050/orthodox-christians-must-now-learn-to-live-as-exiles-in-our-own-country/
[2] John 15: 2-3 (RSV)
[3] Glaube un Zukunft (1970) Faith and the Future (1971/2006)
[4] Joshua 24:15b (RSV)