More than PreCana – Part I, Building a Holy Family

By Ellen Romer and Brian Niemiec


Ever since the Feast of the Holy Family we have been struggling with the question of what it means to be a holy family.  Talk about big shoes to fill, can you imagine what an argument at the dinner table looked like between Mary, Joseph, and Jesus?

“Mom can I go out and play with my friends?”

“Now Jesus, you haven’t eaten your pomegranate yet.”

“But Mom, I’m full!”

“Alright well go ask your Father.”

“Mom, he never answers the way I want him to.”

“I answer you all the time son.”

“Not you Joseph, whenever I talk to my Dad all I get is Doves from Heaven. Like that’s a real help!”

Ok, maybe it didn’t happen exactly like that, but when the Son of God and the human born without Original Sin are both in the same family, it can get intimidating. What can we learn from that family as we move ever closer to the day when we (Brian and Ellen) become a family of our own? (Disclaimer – Brian wrote the cheesy story. Not Ellen)

Well, let’s start with the two of us. We are incredibly lucky that we are coming from some pretty holy families to begin with. We have examples of great love and sacrifice, wonderful marriages and just very different families to remind us that families aren’t all the same and ours will be like no one else’s. from our own experiences we have picked up some useful tips from our families that will help us form our own.

Continue reading More than PreCana – Part I, Building a Holy Family


Theology’s Blind Turn? A Response to Rausch and @AmericaMag


By Matt Janeczko, OFM Cap.

In an article written for America Magainzes’s most recent edition, titled “Theology’s New Turn”, Thomas Rausch explores the phenomenon wherein “Disciplines once considered marginal now dominate the academy.” Rausch identifies this experience as stemming from his task of reviewing job applications at his academic institution. Less than a year removed from formal theological study, I can echo his experience, not necessarily in reviewing resumes for teaching positions, but in listening to the interests of my colleagues in the classroom, reading the curriculum vitaes of young, unfamiliar professors, and perusing the titles of dissertations having received final approval. Indeed, the specialization of theology has had many positive consequences, some of which Rausch enumerates. Those opinions, peoples, and perspectives largely marginalized by traditional Catholic thought have entered into the light of theological day. Moreover, what could be called the democratization of the academy has, in fact, given voice to a large number of people (the laity, women of all backgrounds, and traditional ethic and racial minorities, anyone?) once confined to intellectual outposts on the dark side of the college campus.

Yet at the same time, such specialization should also cause us some concern. These problems, I should note, are not purely doctrinal (I reserve the right to comment on those matters in a separate post). What is more troubling to me are the methodological and intellectual consequences of the atomization of (post-)modern theology. Say what one wants about Scholasticism (or, gasp, neo-Scholasticism), one must still admit that a common language made theological discourse possible in ways that are not the case now.  To recall John Courtney Murray’s commentary on the American Experience, the underlying agreement regarding democracy as a first principle in America made possible the vigorous and ultimately fruitful arguments regarding democracy’s application. Pushing things back further and at the risk of mixing metaphors and proving my own imperialistic leanings, agreement upon First Causes are what makes debate about accidental properties and causes such incredibly fertile grounds for philosophical and theological inquiry. Perhaps, then, the question that we ought be asking in this matter is whether or not Queer Theology or Eco-Theology can speak in a theological language intelligible to other members of the academy who do not share these disciplines.  Let me ask the question in another way: how would the best theologian I’ve ever known, my now deceased grandmother – the faithful daily communicant and pray-er of the Rosary – recognize these theological efforts as both Catholic and catholic?

A second, equally important problem regarding the specialization of the academy is one to which most graduate students can testify. When attempting to engage an introductory theology course, liberation Christology is just one of many possible means to an end (Chalcedon, if one wish not to be a Docetist, is not): it is a valuable heuristic, albeit one that does not deserve historical privilege at the exclusion of other methods. In other words, does the atomization of the academy spell the death knell for the general practitioner in the academy? To put it basely: judging by Rausch’s article, Walter Kasper’s or Joseph Ratzinger’s broad theological perspectives might no longer be seen as strengths in today’s academic world, but rather both men could be considered as lacking in “passion” or in the ability to “appropriate one’s historical circumstances.”

I can recall reading the different articles in the second edition of Systematic Theology for a class once. Each chapter had a different author, and, because of this, possessed not only differences in writing style, but also dramatically different perspectives which, rather than ending in a particular and idiosyncratic theological locale, began from these locales. Such confusion answered Tertullian’s old inquiry into what Athens had to do with Jerusalem with another equally enigmatic city. This type of theology misses the point, for the answer to Tertullian’s question ought to begin with the name Christ, and then, and only then, add in an additional geographic point of our own choosing.

Hearers of the Word

Theotokos Icon-2

By Thomas Palanza, Jr.

You know what I don’t do that often?  I don’t often think about what it means to say that I have faith.  Maybe that’s because I’ve got it and I’m busy trying to live being guided by it.  So what’s it matter – if I’m already using and profiting from it – to think about what it means to have faith?

Well, if you don’t know what it means to be something then you are never going to be able to use that thing to its full potential.  Imagine if all you knew about a smartphone was that it is a phone.  Imagine if all you knew about clothes is that you wear them.  Imagine if all you knew about painting is that you put it on a brush and smear it on paper.  Imagine if all you knew about faith is that it means you believe in the existence of an eternal, infinite, super existence.

That’s often enough all I think faith is.  Luckily I am reminded every now and then that there is more to it than just that.  Most recently, I was struck by this description from Hans Urs von Balthasar in his book, Prayer: “The person who has faith and describes themselves as a believer is actually saying that they have the ability to hear God’s word.”  Now that is a description of faith worth writing a blog post about!

Continue reading Hearers of the Word

Why Cardinal Burke’s Interview Breaks My Heart


By Ellen Romer

It has been a few weeks since Cardinal Burke’s interview with the New Emangelization began to cause quite a stir. A number of fantastic folks have already written pieces that name a lot of my frustrations with what was said. A lot of anger has subsided and some still remains with me, but I realized that what was said ultimately makes me quite sad.

Though I have a variety of objections to what was said in the interview, I have been struck by the dangerous and problematic reliance on a strict gender binary. Assuming that there are two genders that are exclusive and completely inflexible would certainly produce the sort of response that Cardinal Burke gives and that spurs a project like the New Emangelization to begin with. But responses to the interview itself make it quite clear that people do not think and react according to their gender. While I know many women who were infuriated by the interview, there are many other women who saw no problems with it. Cardinal Burke writes about men as one group of people that have one particular experience, though many men I know do not identify with such an alienating experience of the Church.

Now, there is something to be said about how being a man or a woman or even someone born intersex affects how we live and understand ourselves as individuals and as part of communities, but it is not the only determinant of who we are. But committing to only two visions of how a person can be, either ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine,’ ignores the incredibly possibility and wonder that comes with the diversity of creation that God has given us.  While it seems an obvious statement to make, it is absolutely remarkable and astounding that there have been so many people throughout all of time and that God has made no two the same. God never seems to run out of new and creative ideas when forming each of us lovingly. Believing that all men are the same and all women are the same leaves out the wonderful variance that such great diversity in humanity brings to the Church. It also is contrary to the image of the Body of Christ. We are many parts, not simply many people fit into two categories and therefore two sets of gifts. We are cheating ourselves out of amazing people and amazing possibilities when we see and value one another primarily by their gender. Continue reading Why Cardinal Burke’s Interview Breaks My Heart

The Other Other Pro-Life

By Matt Keppel

Now, I’m not much for a soap-box… not big ones at least.  Nevertheless, some soap-boxes are worth speaking on, especially when the discussions come down to issues of life.  Yes, this is an article about being pro-life! (knowing nods and eye-rolls) Not abortion or death penalty, but the life of the family. When it comes to pro-life issues, family life is often lost or looped in with abortion, but the life of the family is by every right a major issue on its own (albeit intimately connected to the others).

The Church in the United States has, since its coming, always been one of the working class. Our fathers and grandfathers worked in factories and fields toiling for a better life and we got just that.  We were given power in this country. Many of us even made names for ourselves! We knew what we wanted; we fought for our rights as the working class and have thrived because of it. Even still, we may have fought so hard to get what we thought we wanted that we have strayed from our banners. Indeed, it is time to pick up our heads and see that in our fight for a better life we have left our families behind.

Last week, how many of us put in more than 40 hours of work for our jobs? (You look silly raising your hand, but that’s okay we don’t judge…yet) Now, how many of you have families? Young children? I’m sure that we have all heard how workers in the United States take the fewest vacation days in the West (Euro-based countries). This should not come as a surprise to anyone as we witness it year after year. Does this practice just happen? Every day I see students who derive their self-worth by the work that they produce, and it’s encouraged by their schools and families. It only follows that those same people would carry over those feelings when it comes to a job. Do we think that some magical change of heart takes place between childhood and adulthood? If so, let me be the first to tell you that you’ve been deceived.

It is time to begin that change of heart. As Catholics, we have fought the good fight and we’ve run the race. Many are tired of fighting, some believe that there is nothing more to fight for, yet I tell you that much is to be gained. Our families deserve it. Our children deserve parents who are present during their formative years. They deserve both mothers and fathers receiving time off to take care of newborn children. As the Church itself lays out in its Rights and Dignity of Workers, we deserve to take this time simply because we are created by God. It’s an issue of social justice just like abortion, poverty, and the death penalty, though it certainly does not have the sex appeal.

I believe in the value of a hard-day’s work. I know what it feels like to produce something beautiful (as a former brewer, right now it tastes like bitter-chocolate stout). However, at the end of the day, everything we do is for the good of those around us. Our jobs are good insofar as they help us to build the kingdom of God, which, in most cases, begins with our family. It is now time to take care of our families, not just by providing an earning, but by being present physically, spiritually, and emotionally.

Je Suis Catholique: A Catholic Response to the Charlie Hebdo Attacks

by Patrick Angiolillo

In the wake of the horrifying attacks in Paris that occurred at the Charlie Hebdo headquarters on January 7, as well as those others in the ensuing days, we have seen the swift response from the world, not least of all from the people of France themselves.

Immediately following the tremendous events of that day, leaders the world over spoke out against the form of radicalized, fundamentalist religion that led the Muslim gunmen to commit their heinous act of violence. Pope Francis, along with French bishops, as well as French Imams, and hosts of political leaders from different countries have voiced their sorrow and rage in reaction to the terror attack. The hacktivist group known as Anonymous even released a video in which a speaker, hidden by a Guy Fawkes mask, declared war on radical terror organizations like Al-Qaeda. The group claims to already have shut down a French terrorist website.1

While these reactions all share a deep opposition to the acts of violence witnessed, the particular response from different figures is, understandably, quite different. The hacktivist group has already begun their campaign to shut down terror websites, just as political leaders and government agencies have already mobilized their respective responses to the attack.

Religious leaders, however, have a different kind of role in the matter. Fr. Federico Lombardi of the Vatican Press Office expressed, in a matter of hours after the attack, the pope’s—and the Church’s—opposition to this example of the radical use of religion: “Whatever may be the motivation, homicidal violence is abominable. It is never justified: the life and dignity of all must be firmly guaranteed and guarded; any instigation to hate refuted; and respect for the other cultivated.” Indeed, he added that the pope said he “joins the prayers of the suffering and wounded, and of the families of the dead.”2

A religious leader or a religious group has a different responsibility in the aftermath of crises like the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Religion itself, and, as we see today, Islam in particular, has been abused by the ideologizing forces of terror organizations like Al-Qaeda and ISIS (or ISIL). The leaders of these religio-poltical groups use religion—use God—in order to justify their twisted agendas. Pope Francis summarized the phenomenon this way: “Religious fundamentalism, even before it eliminates human beings by perpetrating horrendous killings, eliminates God himself, turning him into a mere ideological pretext.”3

What, then, is the responsibility of the world’s religions, and of world religious leaders in the wake of such attacks? How does our Catholic faith play into this puzzle? Continue reading Je Suis Catholique: A Catholic Response to the Charlie Hebdo Attacks

Home By Another Way: An Epiphany Homily

As I was driving through my hometown after New Years’ Day, I noted that in the town circle, maintenance crews were already in a cherry picker taking the Christmas lights off the giant evergreen that had been decorated.   Throughout Yonkers, we will be beginning to see Christmas trees at the curbs; post-Christmas sales are already in full swing. School starts again on Monday (congratulations parents, you made it!)

And well, for the religious minded among us, mark your calendars: just a month and a half to Ash Wednesday!

Yet in this place – right here – our crèche still adorns the altar. The baby still rests in the manger, Mary and Joseph still keep watch, and the wise men arrive today as we celebrate the Epiphany.

And the Epiphany – the manifestation of Jesus – brings the Good News that though the trappings of Christmas have fallen away, the Father is only getting started with his Son. The arrival of the Magi only signals the next step in the story of God’s love for the world. Indeed, today’s Feast signals that God’s love for the world is even greater than the prophets could have imagined. Jesus the Christ comes not just for the chosen people but for the Gentiles too (that’s you and me!).

If the Father, however, is only getting started from the Son, that begs an interesting question. What will God be up to with us as we walk away from the manger today?

If the Magi went home by another way to avoid Herod, having been changed by their encounter with Christ, how will we, leaving here, go home by another way?

The prophet Isaiah gives us some clear ideas: now that the glory of God has shined upon us, we are called to let the nations “walk by [our] light.” Yes, the prophet realizes that there are many places in which “darkness covers the earth” and “thick clouds cover the peoples” but God’s glory shines on us through his Christ.

Indeed, as we depart here we are called to let the light that has shined on us now shine through us to other people. After encountering Christ, we are called to lead others to encounter.

The “other way” is not something complicated. It may be as simple as:

(1) Inviting someone to church who hasn’t been in a while;

(2) Seeking out someone in our family or community who has been or feels forgotten; or

(3) Considering what gifts we have to bring to others – perhaps it is volunteering, perhaps it is committing to our food pantry, or something completely different.

 The bottom line is this: having met Christ, the Magi went home by another way; let’s do the same. However, it’s not just another way we’re going, it’s Christ’s Way. Let’s get moving.

Mary’s Good Memory: A Homily for the New Year


By Matt Janeczko, OFM Cap.

I recently came across a remark that Pope Francis made to a group of Brazilian bishops.  In speaking about their ministries, Francis quipped, “Ask for the grace, ask the Virgin for the grace, she who had a good memory; ask for the the grace to preserve the memory of this first call (emphasis added).”*

It’s such a fascinating thing to say, really: Mary possessing a good memory.  This does not mean, of course, that Mary had only good memories.  A shocking visit from an angel, a flight into Egypt, holding her son’s broken body after it had been taken down from the cross.  These cannot, by any measure, be considered positive. Yet, Mary’s good memory is two-fold.

(1) When Luke writes that Mary pondered “these things” – the events of the nativity – in her heart, he uses a word in Greek that indicates she turned and mulled things over.  It almost has the sense of a debate: yes, Mary struggled, pondered, and churned. She wondered, she hoped, and she feared.  In this sense, then, she had a good memory, in that she took note of exactly what the Lord was up to in her life.

At the same time, however, (2) Mary possessed a good – no, a great memory.  She possessed the good memory of God’s love. She contained within herself her Savior and this knowledge, this memory, in and of itself, allowed her to continue come whatever would.

Perhaps we are called today not to a resolution for the new year; perhaps we are not even called, first and foremost, to reflect upon the past year.  Rather, it is possible that we are called to a resolution on this day, this Solemnity of Mary: we are called this day to resolve our lives in such a way that they center on the Good Memory of Mary – the Word become Flesh.

In other words, perhaps today isn’t about our resolutions that we’ll drop after a week; maybe it is really about the resolution that God has, and will always, keep: God among us, come what may.

* Pope Francis, Homily for the Mass with the Brazilian Bishops, 27 July 2013 in The Church of Mercy, 58,