Changing World; Stagnant Formation

By Matt Keppel

The times are a changing, but will our schools of formation follow suit? At this delicate juncture of the Church, it seems like our seminaries better get on board or be left behind.

I grew up during the JPII revival, which was supposed to be the revival of the seminaries. In many ways, it was. Young men joined priestly formation in numbers not seen in years. We patted ourselves on the back. However, it seems as though something had been forgotten along the way. It wasn’t enough to simply bring these guys in, but we must be sure to adequately prepare them for the work of their vocations too! Continue reading

Christian Witness in a Toxic Political Climate: A Homily for the 29th Sunday


By Mary Kate Holman

I have heard this week’s Gospel reading invoked by so many people to support so many different, often opposed agendas. Usually it goes something like this: “Jesus said it’s good to pay taxes!” “No, Jesus died so that we wouldn’t have to pay taxes!”*** “This means the Church shouldn’t interfere with politics!” “No, it means that the state shouldn’t interfere with the Church!” There’s nothing worse than hearing people appropriate Jesus for their own personal political message, particularly because the upshot of this reading is, I believe, fundamentally non-partisan.

The central moment of this passage is a trick question. The Pharisees have “plotted…to entrap” Jesus. They don’t ask the question sincerely as an opportunity to learn. They ask it to bait their opponent. How often do we hear politicians, pundits, even our own acquaintances in the vitriolic comment boxes of social media, do the very same thing? They debate, seize upon, and exploit their opponent’s misstatements, and take their words out of context, but they never truly listen to those whose opinions differ from their own.

Interestingly, it is not just the Pharisees who are testing Jesus here. They approach him “with the Herodians.” As Jesuit Scripture scholar (and my dear former boss), the late Dan Harrington notes, the Pharisees and Herodians would most likely have had very different ideological motivations: the Pharisees would have opposed Roman rule, and therefore the system of taxation, while the Herodians allied themselves with Rome, and would perceive a defiance of the tax system as rebellious. The only thing these two groups have in common is their insincere approach to conversation: they want to trick Jesus, not to learn from him. Continue reading

Reflections on the Extraordinary Synod: How It Could Affect (My) Parish Life


By Brian Niemiec

Like many of you, I was struck by the tone and content of the recently released document from the Extraordinary Synod on the Family currently taking place in Rome. While the remarkable statements on homosexual relations seems to have made the biggest splash across the western world, I was struck by one very concrete pastoral concern found in the document.

I find it interesting to first note that this document does not have a lot of specifics. Rather, it has within it an openness to further discussion. In several sections, like the paragraphs about reception of communion for divorced and remarried Catholics, the Bishops acknowledge the conversation, what has already been discussed, and most importantly, the reality that a decision has not been made. The bishops are living in a tension of openness, and allowing the Holy Spirit to enter into that space and orient hearts and minds to the will of Jesus Christ.

In that light, I was taken aback by the detailed discussion of pastoral practice toward couples living outside the sacrament of marriage. The document addressed the need for more pastoral presence and engagement with couples who are civilly married, or couples living together outside of marriage (cohabitation). “A new sensitivity in today’s pastoral consists in grasping the positive reality of civil weddings and, having pointed out our differences, cohabitation“(36). This opening sentence, by acknowledging the positive, the good, and the holy in these committed relationships, forces us as church to look anew at how we minister to these populations. This section was the closest to outlining a pastoral directive, and it was quite clear that these non-sacramental relationships should be nourished and engaged by the Church, not rejected as an intrinsically sinful state of life.

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@CatholicHow Welcomes @HolmanMK

CatholicHow is happy to welcome our newest contributor, Mary Kate Holman.



Mary Kate Holman is a Ph.D. student in Systematic Theology at Fordham University. Fordham is her third stop in an 11-year tour of Jesuit higher education on the East Coast, having received her M.T.S. from Boston College and her B.A. from Georgetown University. Her current research interests include Catholic ecclesiology and feminist theology. She’s also partial to NPR, extravagant homemade meals, good novels, and bad TV. Follow her very occasional Twitter musings at @HolmanMK.

Of Synods and Church Burglaries (Or, Incidents in the Life of a Parish Priest)


By Matt Janeczko, OFM Cap.

“Father Matt, is it true that when a church is broken into it needs to be torn down and rebuilt?” 

-A fifth grader-

I awoke on Tuesday morning to find the pastor in the kitchen.  “Grab a cup of coffee and let’s talk.”

I poured.  And he talked.  Our church had been burglarized during the night.  The giant crucifix that adorned the sanctuary had been stolen, ripped from the metal chain which suspended it over the tabernacle.  A reliquary had been taken, along with some chalices and patens.  By a strange twist of fate, I had stored the chalice and paten given to me by my parents on the day of my ordination in a different place.  They remain.

The rest of the day was filled with parents, students, teachers, parishioners, and complete strangers asking for news and expressing condolences. Various news outlets called.  When I unlocked the church yesterday morning at 6:10, a news van had been parked outside for some time.

While all this was taking place in Yonkers, the Catholic internet exploded.  Some commentators screamed that the non-binding, draft-ish, non-official/very official working paper coming out of the Extraordinary Synod betrayed everything Catholic.  It signaled the bad old days and the Gates of Hell possibly beginning to prevail.

Others, with glee equal only to the terror of their counterparts, crowed that this document signaled the beginning of everything good and holy the Church had been missing for the last however-many-years.   Here was the Spirit of Vatican II, the culmination of the work of the Council, finally finding its fulfillment.  It seemed, at least to some, that absolutely everything had changed instantly.  (So much for reception, eh?)

Throughout the last forty-eight hours, parishioners have continually (in a sincere way that has touched my soul) asked if the Pastor and I are “doing okay?”  I always smile, say yes, offer thanks for the prayers, and turn the question on them.  “This is your home too,” I say, “how are you doing?”

Back to the question above, asked by an earnest fifth grader, tears in her eyes: does a church need to be torn down when it’s burglarized?

“No,” I answered.  “We’ve been here for over a hundred years on this hill and will be here for more than another hundred.”

The Church has been here almost two thousand years, and barring the parousia, it will remain.

My prayers over the past days have mingled together, Synod and the burglary.  I find myself, however, praying through both events most effectively when I think about the people: the bishops who the right hates, the bishops who the left despises, the conservatives, the liberals, the divorced, the homosexuals in relationships, the homosexuals avoiding relationships, the people who built  Sacred Heart, the people who burglarized our church, and that fifth grader: neither Synod nor burglary can ever tear down the church, because it will always be the people, saints and sinners alike, that keep it standing up.


The Synod’s New Tone Isn’t So New

By Sara Knutson

Yesterday saw an explosion of attention toward the Catholic Church as the midway report on the proceedings of this month’s Extraordinary Synod was released.

Given the buzz regarding the report’s strikingly positive tone toward homosexuals and others, the stated reasoning behind the shift in tone has been overlooked, and that’s too bad. It’s a throwback move that may be the most important shift of all.

First, a bit of necessary history: the Second Vatican Council’s document on the Church, Lumen Gentium, is famous, among other reasons, for its affirmation that elements of truth could be found outside the Catholic Church. Rather than disparaging other denominations and religions, Lumen Gentium praised what they held in common with the Catholic faith, seeing such commonalities as a sign that God meets people where they are and gradually leads them further in faith. Continue reading

Losing One of the Best: +Bill Wiethorn, OFM Cap.

By Matt Janeczko, OFM Cap.

The Capuchin world weeps this week after losing one of the best friars known around these parts.  After a brief battle with terminal lung cancer, Father William “Bill” Wiethorn passed to his eternal reward.

Somewhere along the way, he picked up the nickname “Smiling Bill.” (Truer words were never spoken.)  I met Bill during my novitiate in Pittsburgh a few years ago and we immediately hit it off.  That’s one of the magnificent things about religious life: no matter age or province, when two kindred religious spirits find each other, laughs are bound to follow.  After chatting with Bill for about an hour, we looked at the clock, realized how late it was and headed off to our rooms, mindful that lauds at 6:30 am would come quickly.  It was one of those moments that highlights religious life – and Capuchin life – at its best: true fraternity.

So, rest in peace and Godspeed, Bill: one would think the Lord has your working up there already.

And if you needed any more proof, here’s some vintage Wiethorn:

That Moment When My News Went Anti-Christian


By Sara Knutson

I’m not an alarmist. I think that cries of a War On Religion are overblown, and I don’t hunt for prejudice.

But the prejudicial bias in one of Slate’s recent op-eds, “In Medicine We Trust,” was impossible to overlook.

Author Brian Palmer’s argument was twofold. First, given that missionary clinics in Africa are typically small and unregulated, he worries that their medical practices are not on par with those of large, secular health organizations.

Second, he is deeply uncomfortable with any intertwining of medicine and faith, convinced that proselytizing and coerced conversions are the unavoidable consequences.

If those objections were based in fact, it would be compelling reading. But facts are scarce.

Palmer fails to present any evidence that small religiously-based clinics are less organized or regulated than small secular ones. He fails to demonstrate that proselytizing occurs even occasionally. And the only people he quotes who explicitly fault missionary medicine are Donald Trump and Ann Coulter, celebrities who Palmer himself points out are hardly bastions of objective reasoning. Continue reading

Finding Tranquility in the Midst of our Busy Lives


By Claire McGrath

I’ve written in some of my previous posts that my junior year of college was a difficult one for me. I felt very unbalanced, and I realized that I had to make a lot of changes. The summer was a rejuvenating time—I finally got the chance to take a step back, do some reflecting, and begin to feel balanced again. I felt more centered, peaceful, and tranquil than I had in a while. Now, a few months later, I’m in the midst of my senior year, and I’ve found, unsurprisingly, that it’s a lot harder to feel balanced when I’m juggling the competing responsibilities of my academics, my leadership responsibilities within the Office of Social Justice, my jobs, and my friendships. My challenge has been to hold onto that inner tranquility and centeredness that I found over the summer even in the midst of a busy schedule.

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