Paris and Denying Refugees – How evil sneaks in

The attacks around Paris have left me with a significant heaviness in my heart that, to be quite honest, surprised me a bit. I was living in Boston at the time of the bombing at the Boston Marathon and have visceral memories both of the day of the Marathon and the day the city shut down to hunt down the suspects. I studied in Paris and spent part of my honeymoon there. Paris has significant gravity for me, always calling me back. It’s a strange reality to know two places that have been home for me have been violently attacked in a very personal way.

But Boston isn’t Paris. The brothers Tsarnaev are not ISIS. In many ways Paris frightens so many not just because ISIS is particularly terrifying but because – unlike places like Beirut or Kenya – Paris feels close to home. A Western developed country that feels ‘safe’ to so many. I would like to think that between my connections to Boston and Paris, I am not so naive as to the realities of evil in the world. Though as someone who is in many ways still distant and does not know the much starker reality of living under the threat of violence, I realize I still have much to learn about evil, but am not utterly separated from it myself.

Evil is a strong word and a very serious undertaking by any means. I do not hesitate in naming the attacks in Paris as acts of evil. I do not hesitate in naming ISIS as an agent of evil in the world. But these things are also the easy side to evil. It’s easy to name and fairly obvious that these heinous and horrifying events are just that. This is also where I worry that the other side of evil comes alive without us knowing, the sneaky and quietly malicious side of evil.

What happened in Paris calls us to grieve, to take the time to let the reality of what happened sink in and to process what it is to lose so many people in such a manner. But as disciples, we are always called to go beyond grieving in the wake of evil actions. There are many cries for justice rising into the air now – but if justice is to be more than vengeance, to truly seek right relationship, we would be remiss if we did not pause to reflect on how we – as Christians, as Catholics, as citizens of the United States and of the world – may perpetuate evil or be complicit in other acts of evil.

While we rightfully ought ask ‘How could they have done this?’, such a question rings hollow if we do not also inquire as to how we got to where we are in the first place. How we may have allowed the situation to progress to how it is. We also then must ask ourselves how we move forward and seek justice that is truly justice and not trumped up vengeance.

As days pass, it seems that evil is creeping its way in, whether through blaming all Muslims collectively for the actions of ISIS, or – the popular new move – blaming refugees.Despite the role of a French-born man in the attacks, having one possible refugee involved seems justification to refuse to accept refugees. Regardless of whether or not state governors have the power to refuse or accept refugees, the effort on the part of so many to keep refugees out betrays the sneaky way evil sneaks into our hearts and convinces us to act on its behalf. Refusing refugees means condemning these people to suffer the fate which we so fear ourselves that we are willing to justify their suffering in place of our own.  Evil manages to twist our logic so that we can feel confident in denying a safe haven to others to allegedly ensure our own.

It’s easy to claim courage when condemning the obvious evil of the acts of ISIS, an evil that has no easy or obvious solution and will continue to try our courage as a whole human race. The real courage comes when one is willing to examine how they might perpetuate evil on their own. Real courage comes to life when we are willing to say ‘we will take in those most in need, fleeing this evil we fear and abhor, even at the risk of suffering it ourselves.’ Denying refugees does not guarantee that we will not suffer the evils of ISIS. Accepting them means that we resist causing others to suffer from the evil that breeds within us and quell it instead.

Jesus did not call his disciples to seek self-preservation, but to give up one’s life for their friends. Jesus himself, with all of the Holy Family, sought refuge from persecution in a strange land. As we enter into Advent, may we remember that Jesus suffered for all, not just for some, and that ultimately we are called to do the same.

Holy Family, who were refugees in a foreign land, pray for us.

Jesus, light in a darkened world, pray for us.


500 Years of No Shoes

Yesterday was a BIG DEAL in the Palanza household.  Mama Palanza, OCDS of over 25 years, suspended the painfully low carb diet that my ever pudgy, Italian family agreed to follow.  It only took a couple of deliciously glutenous, thin crust pizzas from Bertucci’s to make our celebration feel like one of the most important, joyful days we’ve ever had.  Yesterday, an important member of our family had a birthday – a milestone birthday that most families never get to celebrate – a Quincentenary birthday!

Yesterday was the 500th anniversary of the birth of St. Teresa of Jesus (of Avila).  That’s not actually a member of our family, you might say.  Well, I suppose that’s technically true.  Yet, thanks to my mother’s charism, Teresa really is the source of the way my siblings and I pray, she’s the one who gave us our spiritual goals, she taught us how important humility is, and she challenges us to become closer and closer to Christ – despite and especially when we think we are close enough.  How many “members” of our family have that kind of influence on us?  And if that isn’t proof enough that she’s part of the family, then just do a count of who has the most pictures up in the house!

You can find all kinds of information on Teresa from a simple Google search so I’ll just highlight two things here.  First, Teresa was named the first female Doctor of the Church by Paul 6th in 1970 (yeah, it took that long).  When you start reading Teresa, be sure you do so with that fact in mind.  You are about to read something written by a DOCTOR OF THE CHURCH (something of the same level as Augustine or Thomas Aquinas).  You are not about to read a short devotional book of comforting advice and pretty poetry written by a sweet, old nun.  You will be incredibly disappointed, frustrated, and perplexed if you expect to pick up the Interior Castle and get it the first time!  Second, Teresa is well know for her reform movement in the Carmelite order.  She had no intention of starting a separate group, she just wanted to live closer to what the original Carmelite rule laid out: live simply, pray a lot.  Not everyone was okay with Teresa’s reform, so separate groups eventually formed.  O. Carm. is the shorthand of the original group (Order of Carmelites), O.C.D. is the shorthand for the group that Teresa spearheaded (Order of Carmelites Discalced, “discalced” means “shoeless”).  O.C.D.S. is the shorthand for Mama Palanza’s group, which is the secular part of Teresa’s group (Order of Carmelites, Discalced, Secular – lay people with families who live out Teresa’s lifestyle as their situation in life allows).

To finish, here’s a passage from the Office of Readings for Teresa’s Memorial.  FELIZ CUMPLEANOS TERESA!

If Christ Jesus dwells in a man as his friend and noble leader, that man can endure all things, for Christ helps and strengthens us and never abandons us. He is a true friend. And I clearly see that if we expect to please him and receive an abundance of his graces, God desires that these graces must come to us from the hands of Christ, through his most sacred humanity, in which God takes delight.

Many, many times I have perceived this through experience. The Lord has told it to me. I have definitely seen that we must enter by this gate if we wish his Sovereign Majesty to reveal to us great and hidden mysteries. A person should desire no other path, even if he is at the summit of contemplation; on this road he walks safely. All blessings come to us through our Lord. He will teach us, for in beholding his life we find that he is the best example.

What more do we desire from such a good friend at our side? Unlike our friends in the world, he will never abandon us when we are troubled or distressed. Blessed is the one who truly loves him and always keeps him near. Let us consider the glorious Saint Paul: it seems that no other name fell from his lips than that of Jesus, because the name of Jesus was fixed and embedded in his heart. Once I had come to understand this truth, I carefully considered the lives of some of the saints, the great contemplatives, and found that they took no other path: Francis, Anthony of Padua, Bernard, Catherine of Siena. A person must walk along this path in freedom, placing himself in God’s hands. If God should desire to raise us to the position of one who is an intimate and shares his secrets, we ought to accept this gladly.

Whenever we think of Christ we should recall the love that led him to bestow on us so many graces and favours, and also the great love God showed in giving us in Christ a pledge of his love; for love calls for love in return. Let us strive to keep this always before our eyes and to rouse ourselves to love him. For if at some time the Lord should grant us the grace of impressing his love on our hearts, all will become easy for us and we shall accomplish great things quickly and without effort.

A Look at the Francis Effect

Daily Mail – Pope Francis Kissing a Baby

I remember “working” at my grad student job at Boston College in the Roche Center for Catholic Education with both eyes locked in on the live feed focused on the chimney of the Sistine Chapel. I, along with much of the world, awaited the simple, yet dramatic, sign of white smoke that would signify a new era of Catholicism.

Though we get to experience something similar every four years in the United States, this type of event is different. Electing a Pope is not usually something that happens as often or as regularly as the election of the President of the United States. This particular papal election was even more significant in that it was preceded by the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, an event about as unusual as a total solar eclipse occurring at the passing of halley’s comet (6 times in last 2,000 years to 5 papal resignations). It was, to say the least, a monumental moment in history. Continue reading A Look at the Francis Effect

What I Really Want from the Synod on the Family

Pope Francis and prelates attend the morning session of the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican Oct. 9. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) See SYNOD-CONTRACEPTION and SYNOD-ISLAM Oct. 9, 2014.
Pope Francis and prelates attend the morning session of the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican Oct. 9. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) See SYNOD-CONTRACEPTION and SYNOD-ISLAM Oct. 9, 2014.

By Brian Romer Niemiec

A few days into the Synod on the Family, and we have already seen a wide range of topics and opinions being presented and discussed in Rome. Any hesitation or passivity that may have been present at the beginning of the extraordinary synod last year has been thrown away.  It is no secret that these upcoming conversations are going to be a conversion experience for all involved if the synod is to speak with one voice at the end of its time together (naïvely optimistic, I know).

These hot button issues are incredibly important subjects to discuss, and I am very gratified by many of the people present at the synod for wanting to work through these topics to find a life-giving truth for the betterment of Christian families.  I was, however, even more delighted to hear some of the bishops request time to talk about less sexy, but no less important issues surrounding ways to support and strengthen family life within Church communities.

It is this question – one of many – that I am wrestling with now in my parish collaborative. I see families in both churches with various levels of need in the area of faith formation.  There is the family that comes to mass every Sunday, volunteers in a number of parish activities, and prays as a family at home.  There is also the family that shows up only to mass on weekends with Religious Education, and when asked why they attend class the oldest son responds, “Well, my grandmother thinks it is important, so my mom makes us all go.”

Continue reading What I Really Want from the Synod on the Family

On Chaos and Compassion


By Claire McGrath

“There’s a BUG in here! A BIG BUG!!!” It’s been a pretty hectic day, and those are not the words I want to hear right now, being that I don’t exactly consider myself a fan of “big bugs.” Tonight was our community night at L’Arche Harbor House—an evening when anyone with any connection to or interest in Harbor House is invited to join the community in celebrating all that is L’Arche. After participating in a program at our community center, which involves plenty of singing, dancing, prayer, and reflection, all are invited to one of the homes for dinner. Our house had hosted about 20 people. It’s a joy to be able to share the gift of L’Arche—but it’s also a lot of preparation, and by the end of the day, I’m pretty tired. Our guests have returned home, and the core members are getting ready for bed; the day is finally winding down, or so I thought, until I hear one of the core members shouting about the alleged “big bug” from the bathroom. “What is this bug DOING in here?!” I move closer to the door, trying to pretending that I am not at all phased by the idea of a large bug in the bathroom. Then the door to the bathroom cracks open, and a hand thrusts out as a voice exclaims, “HERE. A big bug!!!” In his hand, he holds a palm-sized stuffed ladybug that belongs to one of the other core members, and I dissolve into relieved laughter as I take the stuffed animal. That’s enough excitement for one day.

Continue reading On Chaos and Compassion

Pope Francis on the Family… and Beyond

By Matt Keppel

Two weekends ago, I had the immense blessing to be in Philadelphia to witness the beautiful representative of the Catholic Church that is Pope Francis. The conference that he was attending, and closing, was on the family and the life of the family within the Church. Following the World Meeting of Families, he is going to follow up his historic visit to the United States with the Synod on the Family. So, it would seem that family is significant on Francis’s list. After listening to him multiple times this weekend, I can attest to what he believes about the life of the family: love.

Just as Francis has been clear about some issues regarding families, he has been interestingly vague on others. On nearly every street corner in Philadelphia the throngs of people were confronted by men, young and old, asking us (mostly men, really) to sign a petition intended for Pope Francis that he might make a definitive statement about marriage being between a man and a woman. And yet, at the World Meeting of Families what did he tell us about families? That they are called to love the members within them; children are valuable to us because they are our future; our grandparents are our familial memory; and the love of the family should be lived out to bring love and joy to our communities. Many of us standing there were shocked. Francis finished his Saturday evening address without addressing what so many people had hoped he would: same-sex unions. Continue reading Pope Francis on the Family… and Beyond

What Does It Matter?

I woke up this morning and my Facebook news feed was plastered with the Vatican’s most recent statement on the Pope’s controversial visit with Kim Davis. As I’m sure most of us expected, and as Fr. Jim Martin expressed well even before the Vatican released their statement, the short version is that it probably wasn’t that big of a deal. Nevertheless, more than a few friends had shared it, commented on it, and promoted it in some way, shape, or form.

While I, too, am grateful for at least some level of response to the shameless self-promotion Ms. Davis has taken advantage of from the start, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “What does it matter?”

What does it matter what actually transpired between Pope Francis and Kim Davis if it means we are ignoring an event that I am certain Pope Francis expects us to pay attention to? You see, while a brief handshake is not necessarily a big deal, the loss of human life is (and should always be) a very big deal. As President Obama reminds in the powerful statement he made yesterday afternoon, the tragedy that occurred in Oregon is one for which we all are responsible. Indeed, if Francis’s visit this past week did nothing else, it reminded us of our shared responsibility for one another–not only as a community of faith, but as a community of humans. Obama continues: “Somehow this has become routine. The reporting is routine. My response here at this podium ends up being routine. The conversation in the aftermath of it. We’ve become numb to this.” It sickens me to think that this level of tragedy has become routine. How dare it be claimed  that we are numb. These are words which are difficult to hear, and even more difficult to consider as true. And yet, it was Kim Davis that littered my Newsfeed this morning…not the tragic loss of brothers, sisters, and friends.

Friends, the success of Francis’s visit is not dependent on whom he did or did not meet with; it is not even necessarily dependent on what he did or did not say. Rather, the success of the visit is dependent on how we as a community live out the Gospel as a result of it. Indeed,“If we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us.”

My hope is that your Newsfeed looked different than mine did this morning. My hope is that your Newsfeed was covered not only with prayers for those suffering in Oregon, but also with anger, outrage, and a call to conversion wherein we rethink how we live out our value of human life.  If not now, when?

Yves Congar and Why You Should Still Pray to Your Guardian Angel

By Thomas Palanza, Jr.

Did you catch that Tuesday was the feast of the Archangels, saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael?  Or that today is the memorial of Guardian Angels?  I only noticed because I signed up for the USCCB to email me the daily readings (scroll to the bottom of the daily readings page to sign yourself up if you are interested).  Honestly, I would not normally have thought much of either celebration.  Angels really don’t do it for me.  I’m not devotional in general, never mind devotion to angels.  I don’t often ask for this saint or that to intercede on my behalf.  In fact, most of the time I’m not even directing my prayers to Christ!  Why bother when you can pray straight to the Father, right?  Sacred hearts, relics, mercies, indulgences, rosaries, benedictions, adorations, patrons, vicars – none of those are very high on my list of “Why I’m Catholic” and I don’t devote a lot of time to thinking about them.  I haven’t even considered praying to or for my guardian angel in years.  Why would I?  I’m not a child anymore – I’ve got a master’s degree in theology, for crying out loud!  I’ve got more profound and more practical things to think about than guardian angels.

That is, at least, how I would have looked at yesterday’s feast had I not been in the middle of reading, Yves Congar, Essential Writings, edited by Paul Lakeland.  Just a couple days before yesterday’s feast, I finished reading the section where Congar talks about devotion to the angels.  It put the devotion into a new perspective, one that has given it a new importance for me.  To start, Congar perfectly describes the reasons why I don’t pay attention to angels: 1 – my spirituality is not fueled by the Scripture, and 2 – my spirituality is individualistic and moralistic, in other words, I am concerned about my behavior and my effort of achieving my salvation.  Together, these two trends make my spirituality artificial and narrow.  I can only accept that which is within my own ability to make sense of. Continue reading Yves Congar and Why You Should Still Pray to Your Guardian Angel

God of Wonders

I don’t know about you, but I love learning. It’s truly one of my favorite things in the world. In fact, one of the reasons I’m a

Milky Way Galaxy

teacher is, as I told my friend, John, last week, because I’m in the business of blowing minds. More often than not, I spend my free time cruising the internet for interesting and mostly useless bits of knowledge. Every once-in-awhile, though, I come across something absolutely astounding, a new piece of knowledge about the universe around me that completely shatters the constructs I had previously believed to be true.

Most often, I find that I am blown away by discoveries in astronomy, physics, or engineering. Whether it’s because I’ve spent some time studying these fields, they’re pet interests of mine, that they are just plain awesome, or all of the above it does not really matter: there is something inherently interesting in learning something that was previously never known, or sometimes never even considered to be real. Those are the most amazing discoveries: instances that seem impossible, but clearly exist, sometimes occurring more often than we realized.

I recently came across an article on the website that was as Earth-shattering as it was theologically revolutionary. The article was about a particular region of the Dominican Republic where some boys do not have a penis or testes until they reach puberty. Yes, that is correct. Please re-read it if you have to. BECAUSE IT’S MIND BLOWING. Don’t we know all that there is to know about the human body? How can the human body still have such amazing mysteries left for us to discover? Regardless, I think it’s a good reminder. Something that we believed to be so concrete and well-researched still has mystery. So it is with God.

I would be the first to admit that I am not certain what to make of people who say that they are transgender or the like. In all honesty, I also believe in our call by Christ to be generous and loving to all people, especially those in greatest need (whatever that may be). However, I wish there were simple answers to these complex questions that face us today. The Bible says nothing about transgendered people; it doesn’t have a lot of answers when it comes to homosexuality (fornication isn’t what you think it means… it’s really ambiguous); and it says a whole lot about love, trust, and “be not afraid.”  I am a faith-filled person who relies on the certainties of science and research to help guide my faith in God. It seems like this crazy story about boys who were raised girls until they reached puberty and grew penises has something important to say about our world: it is a mystery.

One of the most important Truths of our Catholic faith is that God is the Divine Mystery. We often forget that. We like to put God and our faith in a little box, slap a label on it that says “Catholic” or “Christian” or “Bob” or “Debby” or “Pat.” Then, when something comes around that challenges what we believe to be true, we often shut it out instead of opening to the possibility that it is a part of the infinite mystery we call our God. Mystery doesn’t fit in a box. It cannot be tamed, nor should we want to tame it. That’s the beauty in our faith. We are not supposed to tame our God of Wonders, only to grow in relationship with the Father through the person of Jesus Christ, guided by the Holy Spirit.

Leave Your Signs at Home: A Guide to Seeing the Pope

By Javier Soegaard

As we all know, this was the greatest week ever.  Pope Francis was here and the Mets clinched the NL East.

Like several of our writers and, I hope, many of you, I was able to catch a glimpse of the traveling Pontiff during his Apostolic Visit.  However, thanks to the thoroughness of the TSA and Secret Service, my group and I almost missed our brief opportunity to see him in Central Park, NYC.

The security process to enter the park was seemingly absurd.  Snaking back and forth along Central Park West for a total of 18 blocks, it took us well over 2.5 hours just to get into the park.  With each tiptoed step and each city block passed by, everyone in line grew more and more nervous that we would miss the Pope’s short drive through the park.

IMG_2420I was tired too, buddy.

4:00 became 4:30, 4:30 became 4:45, 4:45 became 5:00, 5:00 became 5:01, 5:02, 5:03 and ahh he’s going to be here soon and we’re still not in!!  Eventually it became 5:16 and I texted my mother: “About to go through the metal detector”.  The pope then drove by us around 5:25, much to our relief and elation.  It was unreal.


I’m still unsure, however, why it took so long to get through the line.  I’m not sure why the security staff jeopardized so many people’s single opportunity to see the Pope.  Just thinking about it and conversing about it in line was a maddening experience.  For all their hyper-sensitivity in the security process, though, there was one thing they nailed and I believe it made all the difference.

They didn’t let people bring signs in. Except this guy, of course.  He brought in a cardboard cutout of Francis.  But other than that.  No signs.IMG_2418

This may seem insignificant, as signs are, on the whole, not a major security risk.  Like mobile devices, however, signs are distractions.  Some are harmless distractions, saying things like “We love you Pope Francis,” but others come as part of the camps, agendas, or theological opinions that immediately set believers against each other–the kinds that make people claim Francis for their side over against another.

I don’t mean to suggest that people shouldn’t have strong opinions, and even less that they should keep those opinions to themselves.  However,  for a moment, when the Pope drove by, our hands were free of everything but rosaries and mobile phones.  For a moment we knew very little about one another:  we knew not whether we were pro-life or pro-choice, for or against traditional marriage, for or against the Latin Mass, for or against women’s ordination, for or against stricter immigration laws, for or against ecological reforms, Democrat or Republican, rich or poor, people with good handwriting or people like me.

All we knew was that this adorable and admirable man in white stirred something within us; he reminded us of a unity we had forgotten: the union we have in Christ Jesus as members of the human family and as member of His Church.

So if you ever go to see the Pope, think about leaving your signs at home.  Forget your pretenses and your arguments and your well-held positions.  Just go and see the man who will remind you of that deep and beautiful connection you have to others in Christ.  Then weep if you have to, or laugh.  But most of all pray for those strangers locked in the moment with you, and pray for him, that cute old man in white of whom the Lord asks so much.

Catholics thinking "how"!


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