Category Archives: Annotations

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

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

This Week in Liturgy: Sorrow and Joy

By Thomas Palanza, Jr.

The past few days of liturgy have been pretty serious, solemn, and sorrowful.  Normal Mondays are difficult enough to get through, but this past Monday was also burdened with the extra weight of contemplating the cross.  “No rest for the weary” perfectly describes the choice of celebrating our Lady of Sorrows immediately after the Exaltation of the Cross.  And to round it all off?  How about some death?  Two days ago we celebrated the martyrdoms of Saints Cornelius and Cyprian.  That’s a lot of sad stuff to think about for three days straight, even for a serious person like myself!

The Church, however, does not exist to burden us; so if I’ve found the last few days burdens, rather than celebrations, then I’m probably doing something wrong.  In such a situation, I turned to someone who had been there and done that before me – a growing personal favorite of mine: St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (aka, Edith Stein).  For those unfamiliar with her, Teresa was born in Germany, 1891, in a Jewish family, lost interest in religion and faith for most of her young adult life as she studied philosophy, then had a conversion, became Catholic, joined the Carmelites, and was killed (martyred) in 1942.  She had plenty of experience of sorrow: not only did many of her close friends die in WWI, but she volunteered as a nurse during the war and watched many of her patients suffer and die; and though well qualified, she was not given a teaching position at a university in Germany, mainly because she was a woman; and in 1942 she was taken to Auschwitz due to her Jewish heritage where she was gassed a few days after arriving.

Continue reading This Week in Liturgy: Sorrow and Joy

The Seeds of Remembrance


By Matt Janeczko, OFM Cap. When a great crowd gathered and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable: “A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell on the path and was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. Some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered for lack of moisture. Some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew with it and choked it. Some fell into good soil, and when it grew, it produced a hundredfold.” As he said this, he called out, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”

Who is the sower? 

Perhaps us.

Indeed, we sow many seeds in our lives: the ideas, hopes, dreams, fears, and desires of every generation are sown into the ground of our culture. As #neverforget germinates throughout social media today, I’m struck that almost all the students who will attend our Mass of the Holy Spirit this morning cannot remember 9/11/01. The seniors are eighteen at the oldest: this means that they were four years old when the Towers went down, perhaps starting pre-K when the Pentagon smoldered. And where were the eighth graders when a few brave souls said, “Let’s Roll,” but solely hope in the hearts of their parents.

I #neverforget the smell that drifted over the Hudson River some years ago: the smell of two missing buildings, the haunting incense of evil covering our lives.

The seeds of death were planted this day so many years ago; years, these seeds grew into many things, of varying shapes and sizes: grief and horror, compassion and mercy, remembrance and renewed hope. My students today may not have experienced the planting of these seeds: but they can certainly take their cues from us on how we’ve nurtured the seeds of remembrance. May a plant of mercy grow where the Towers stood – and may not of us, even those of us who weren’t there to remember, never forget.

Is it Ethical to be a Professional Football Fan?

sad football

By Brian Romer Niemiec

As I wait in breathless anticipation for Thursday night’s first NFL game (I have Antonio Brown in one of my fantasy leagues) I was asked a very disturbing question by a friend of mine at dinner this past weekend, “Brian, do you think it is morally acceptable to be a professional football fan?”

Now, I know you are thinking that I need to find new friends.  And you may be right. After all, in one holiday weekend I went to the Boston College/Maine game, yelled at the TV screen Saturday night cheering on Notre Dame, and sped home from the airport Monday so my Ohio State loving wife could see her Buckeyes run away from Virginia Tech with the help of Cardale Jones and the acrobatic Braxton Miller in the second half.  I also spent far too much time checking my fantasy teams when the NFL doesn’t start for another three days.

My friend’s question should not have stuck with me through my football heavy weekend, but here I am writing about it this week.  His question has stayed with me because, well, he did make some good points…

  • Money – A quick Wikipedia search told me that the NFL rakes in $11.2 billion a year. More than any other league in the world. That, of course, doesn’t include the money that exchanges hands through gambling and other peripheral football activities. With the United States and the world facing problems with immigration, migration, poverty, war, and environmental degradation 11.2 billion dollars could probably be put to a lot better use.
  • Domestic Violence – It’s not just the high profile cases of the last few years, and the leniency given by both the league and the law, but it is most importantly the macho cultural attitude that surrounds some players and is embraced by young men everywhere. NFL players set an example for young men and women to a degree almost unprecedented in current society. For many, these men are their biggest role models, and they will go to great lengths to look and act like their idols.  Are we really comfortable with how some members of the NFL act out in society and on the field?
  • Gambling – It’s not even week one in the NFL, but I have already seen too many commercials advertising fantasy football gambling; whether it be by season, week, game, or player. The amount of money and number of players in these games will only continue to grow in the next few years.  As more and more people try their luck, what happens to the families and children of these gamblers when their luck finally runs out?

Now even after all of this, I’m still a huge football fan, and my fantasy team is going to destroy Ellen Romer Niemiec’s, Matt Keppel’s, and Fr. Matt Janeczko’s. However, I am now more uneasy about the professional manifestation of my favorite sport, and I will be on the lookout for these effects in my parish collaborative.

My only worry now is that there will be other sports that I love which will also come with moral quandaries. What could possibly be next? Golf, my second favorite sport (hint: golf courses can use up to 1,000,000 gallons of water a day. I’m looking at you California)? To quote Winnie the Pooh, “Oh Bother!”

Pope Francis’ Weight of Glory and Motu Propio


By Claire Bordelon

I’m the culture writer. I want to write about books, movies, music, and have the digital equivalent of a Finer Things Club. But Pope Francis’ issuance of two moltu propio has put a hold on that, since it invites a perhaps more authentic look at the role of Mother Church in our daily experience of the world.

As I said in my last post, it is quite easy to distance oneself from the world, but it is also easy to become so bound to her, bogged down in daily life, and even fearful of an in-depth examination of one’s life that we drown out what is often the only authentic voice speaking in our hearts. Pope Francis’ reformations of the Church’s process for granting annulments will no doubt be examined by far greater minds than my own, but it does resonate with the part of me that loves talking about culture because of what it points toward. Those pieces of art and experiences of human talent that resonate within us do so not because of the greatness they have in and of themselves, but because they echo some desire deep inside of us that perhaps we have not even noticed ourselves. As C.S. Lewis writes in The Weight of Glory:

The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.

The most beautiful things are the truest; they know the deepest desires of our hearts and feed them with the only sustenance that will satiate us.

Pope Francis’ comments on this revised system are beautiful in that they speak to the desire for clear judgment and authentic mercy, two attributes often absent from what was before a lengthy and uncertain annulment process. In streamlining this process, Pope Francis has not only strengthened the Church’s stance on sacramental marriage, but also reaffirmed that sense in the human heart that the world today would so quickly diminish or deny completely: that we are made for truth, and in truth we find our happiness. The beacon of marriage and all that the Church does to protect this sacred vision of Christ’s divine love speaks to the Church’s great insight into the human heart, speaking words of truth and wisdom even to those who have forgotten how to hear Her.

In the Holy Father’s own words:

The Church, showing itself to the faithful as a generous mother, in a matter so closely linked to the salvation of souls manifests the gratuitous love of Christ by which we were saved.

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