All posts by Matt Keppel

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

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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

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 -www.karlremarks.com-

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 IFLS.com 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.

Pope Francis Addresses Congress

Pope Francis Addresses Congress

Today, we have been witnesses of a historic event. For the first time in history, a Pope has visited the United States Congress. In the joint congressional session, Pope Francis spoke on a plethora of topics that concern the Catholic Church. From poverty and immigration to capitalism and climate change, the Pontiff captivated his audience of politicians from the moment his presence was announced.

For those interested, and I would highly suggest to do so, NPR has a play-by-play of the speech. We also have the transcript of Pope Francis’s speech to read at your leisure.

Pope-s-speech-before-Joint-Meeting-of-Congress

Bring Out Your Dead

By Matt Keppel

As the arrival of Pope Francis to his first trip to the United States via Cuba is upon us, I thought it might be good to re-visit the current policy of the United States toward Cubans, and the rest of the world for that matter.

The S.S. Batavia carried 2,584 immigrants to Ellis Island on June 8, 1903. This ship set a record for the greatest number of passengers to arrive at New York City at one time. – http://blogs.baruch.cuny.edu/

All of us have seen the photo of the Syrian boy drowned, washed up on the shore. It’s absolutely heart-wrenching, an image that helped to solicit change in the way that the EU is dealing with refugees from war-torn Middle Eastern countries. The Pope, himself, has called for the Vatican to take in, and support families seeking asylum. All of this from a picture! What was the photo really, though? It was an image of our shame as people. It broke our hearts to see that helpless child devoid of life, emptied. And here we stood in the United States, wagging our collective fingers at Europe. How could they let those innocent people die? What could have possessed those people to turn away those in need?

How right we were to ask those questions, for they are the right ones. Why would anyone turn someone in need away? Why wouldn’t you help someone who has nowhere else to go? How dare they! And yet, how dare we.

As Pope Francis flies from Havana, Cuba to Washington, D.C., he will fly over many trying to cross around 150 miles of sea from Cuba to Florida in search of lives that are not governed by the Castros. That is nothing to say of the thousands trying to cross the deserts that divide Mexico from Texas, Arizona, and California; or the other many thousands using whatever they have to get into this place that advertises to provide for a better life. The thing is, those people coming here, truly believe it. They believe it that they sell themselves into indentured servitude. They allow themselves to be duped by coyotes. Many of them believe it and want a better life so badly, that they are willing to die for it.

I know that my ancestors didn’t have it quite so bad. Whether it was my Austrian and German relatives having foresight, that my Irish family spoke the language, or simply being Scottish and Welsh; these people had an advantage, however slim, of coming from Europe (even though some of them weren’t necessarily welcome). My ancestors took a risk coming to this country for a better life; those people crossing oceans and deserts take even bigger risks for the sake of hope; but it doesn’t have to be that way. We can make it easier, or at least more humane.

President Obama took steps to alleviate some of the pain of immigration by legalizing the immigration of millions of undocumented immigrants last November. And yet, more needs to be done. First, we start by taking a page from Francis: what would it cost to house or support a family in need? Second, this is a country build on the backs of immigrants, that has never really cared for immigrants: what will it take to change our own hearts and minds to help those seeking a better life? Continue reading Bring Out Your Dead

The Catholic Church’s Shifting Power

Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV at Canossa Castle seeking forgiveness from                     Pope Gregory VII.

The Catholic Church, in all of its luminous and lurid history, has become notorious for its inability to “get with the times.” It is the general course of action for the Church that she moves at her own pace: intentional wisdom rather than rash choices. More often than not, wisdom prevails. Yet, the path to wisdom is one crafted over many years. The mere existence of the Catholic faith, its survival over the Roman Empire, the Holy Roman Empire, and the British Empire has proven that slow wisdom is significant, even though it may be frustrating, even maddening. Yesterday (as much of Pope Francis’s papacy has been), was the fruits of some of that maddeningly slow wisdom.

In the motu proprios released today, the Vatican has simplified the annulment process for marriages. An experience that has been often characterized as painful and drawn out, Francis has simplified as much of the process as possible by keeping it within the local diocese in order to expedite the annulment ruling. It may seem like this is simply something to allow divorces more readily available, but it is so much more than that. These rulings allow for justice and mercy to be served as quickly as possible.

Along with Pope Francis’s edict on the forgiveness of abortions, the motu proprios communicate almost as much about
theology as they do the movement of politics within the Church. It seems, based upon these, other speeches, and letters by the current Pontiff, that Francis is calling for a Church more focused on its people, those who are on the ground-level of the faith. In that, the dioceses are becoming more autonomous in decisions that directly relate to their people. Priests and bishops are being encouraged to minister to the needs of their people. It has been Francis’s entire papacy to bring forth a renewed effort by the clergy to take their rightful place as the servants of those in greatest need.

In a Church that often still runs its business on antiquated operations, we are witnessing real change. We are slowly leaving some of the unnecessary, medieval trappings of a highly centralized Vatican, while still maintaining the role and authority of the magisterium. Thankfully though, we don’t have to crawl to the Vatican in order to receive mercy and forgiveness (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walk_to_Canossa). Through the patient wisdom of the Church and the example of Pope Francis, the needs of the faithful are being attended to in new and dynamic ways.

All Lives Matter

Black Lives Matter

By Matt Keppel

All lives matter. At least, we want them to matter… right? Maybe we all just want the desire for them to matter. It’s a cultural norm. We are told that we are supposed to care for everyone. It is in the Declaration of Independence that “All men (people) are created equal.” The Constitution of the United States of America has multiple amendments to ensure the equality of the citizens of our country. These are lessons provided to us as Christians, and they mean something, but what exactly?

What is so wrong with saying “All Lives Matter”? Lots.

What gets people so upset about this statement? Lots.

Don’t they value every life? Kind of.

Is it racist to say that “Black Lives Matter”? No.

I believe what we have reached is an impasse of the mind and heart. If you ask the average person on the street if he or she should help the poor, the overwhelming response is likely to be “yes.” In fact, you would probably get looks as if to say that it would be asinine to ask such a thing. However, if you ask a person to help the poor, the reaction will probably be quite the opposite. Don’t believe me (or even if you do)? Continue reading All Lives Matter

Refugees Welcomed into Germany

It’s not often that the news gets to report genuine good humanitarian efforts around the world. However, with the massive amount of  refugees streaming out of the Middle East and North Africa, Germany and Austria have opened their gates to welcome people in the greatest of need. Let us all keep these people in our prayers and continue to pray for more good will like this across the world.