Category Archives: Catholic Faith

On the Virtue of Prudence

Author’s Note: This is a revision of the final lecture I gave to my Senior Catholic Social Teaching course.

Tomorrow I’ll be passing out a review sheet and taking questions, but today I wanted to, for better or worse, actually give a lecture. I would ask, then, that you clear your desks, put away your pens, resist the temptation to use your phones, and just listen. A seeming lifetime ago, I made a fateful decision to stay with the Capuchins, rather than join another order. By doing so, I committed to a lifetime of ministry in a parish setting and gave up, most likely, what had been a dream of mine for quite some time: to go back to school to get my doctorate. I did – and still do, I must admit – dream of writing books, giving lectures, and researching. I still dream of the quest for knowledge as my life’s profession. Here I am, then, seeking knowledge in the B Wing of Sacred Heart High School. I sort of feel as if there is a conversation repeated inside my brain from Lord of the Rings, as if I were both characters. It goes something like this:

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

The decision to be a Capuchin – to wear brown and not do one of the many other things I could have otherwise is one that I regret less than half the time, and so, in the eyes of the world, I likely made the correct choice. At the same time, I wanted to make the attempt to give a lecture like many of you will be hearing in the near future, so I beg your pardon.

I wanted to lecture today on the virtue of Prudenc: what Thomas Aquinas calls “Wisdom concerning human affairs” (STIIaIIae 47.2 ad 1) or “right reason with respect to action”

The great Isidore, quoted by Aquinas, wrote, “A prudent man is one who sees as it were from afar, for his sight is keen, and he foresees the event of uncertainties.”

We might ask, why is Father Matt boring us on a sunny day, taking about a virtue that we’ve hardly ever thought about, while quoting two men who are long dead. I’m doing so, I would respond, because without prudence, without the virtue of being able to step back and consider the consequences of our decisions, we simply become savage beasts who actually believe “You Only Live Once” will make us happy – or leave the world a better place.

Prudence is the quality that allows us to review our situations, be aware of the situations of others, and understand that our actions have real consequences, not only for ourselves, but also for those around us.

Indeed, prudence is the virtue that allows us to act rightly and justly – but also the virtue that allows us to act effectively.

Prudence is the virtue that prevents us from charging headlong as an army of one against a force arrayed against us in the thousands. Prudence prevents virtues from becoming vices: as the army of one’s bravery is transformed into foolhardiness and even, some might say, stupidity.

Prudence, put in another way, keeps us on the straight and narrow, moving us toward our final end.

Our final end: our destiny – that sounds scary doesn’t it?

But in actuality, our final destiny has been the goal of this course: we have attempted to view the world in a such a way that takes into account the paradox that, on the one hand, heaven and earth are not the same place. At the same time, we have (I hope) come to realize that it is the mission of every Christian to proclaim that heaven is indeed attempting to break into earth and, in the meantime, to we are called to do everything possible to make it a reality.

I had very much looked forward to the opportunity to preach your baccalaureate mass, for this is the first class that has made me its own, and you were – and are – and always will be – my kids. I’ve had the opportunity to be your teacher, your coach, your (possibly) biggest fan on the court, your campus minister, and someone with whom you’ve been able to laugh and cry. Alas, that won’t be happening, so I’m here now attempting to lecture, three days before you’re out of here, on the virtue of prudence.

Prudence is the virtue that I have tried to make a part of each decision in this classroom, each decision that I make with respect to my interactions with you: I’ve always attempted to consider how my response to your requests, or my reaction to whatever it is the seniors were doing today balanced care and concern, a sense of fun, while not sacrificing the reality that all actions have consequences, and, quite plainly, the reality that many of the consequences of our actions cannot nearly be foreseen in the moment or even a few weeks later.

To speak about prudence in this way brings up major decisions: where to go to college, who to marry, or whether to buy a new home. At the same time, prudence in the moment has equally important, though less flashy consequences: knowing that one has had one too many drinks to get behind the wheel, taking a step back from a passionate moment with a significant other, telling the truth at the risk of getting someone in trouble, or even apologizing for something absolutely stupid we’ve done: these are the marks of a prudent person and prudence is, in fact, my deepest wish and prayer for you.

More than learning about solidarity or subsidiarity, deeper than the Just War Theory or solutions for the destruction of our earth’s resources, more complicated than the outline of Natural Law, or more hair splitting than what made me give you a 9.25 on a primary source document rather than a 10, this class was supposed to be about illuminating for you just how complicated our world is. It’s not nearly as easy as liberal or conservative, gay or straight, Democratic or Republic, male or female, black or white. This course cannot be summarized in a 160-character tweet and I have attempted to attend to questions that last longer than a post on Snap Chat. The questions that I attempted to ask, with varying degrees of success, is how do we respond to a world that is at once more beautiful and breathtaking than we dared dream, but at the same time, more devastatingly cruel than any situation cooked up on Grey’s Anatomy or the Walking Dead.

I can, then, in the final account, hope that you know less about the world than when you walked into the classroom. And I can also hope – perhaps more importantly – that you know that you know less. To know that there are things we don’t know is perhaps the greatest talent a person can have.

And so, before you fall asleep, I return to the virtue of prudence: it is not a virtue that tells us what to do, nor is it the virtue that tells us how to do it. Rather, prudence is the virtue that teaches us when we are to do what it is that we know how to do.

In other words, prudence is about knowing what to do with the time that we have been given. May you, my students, my brothers and sisters in Christ, my ones about whom I worried, panicked, cried, raged, and concerned myself, always know what and how to do what it is that you must do. But as for my wish and prayer, may you always know the right time to do it. Amen.

 

 

 

Advertisements

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

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.

Overlooked Points Pope Francis is Trying to Make

By Brian Romer Niemiec

Like many of you, I have been following Pope Francis’ visit rather closely.  Undoubtedly, his presence has impacted each of us in different ways, and I am very excited about the words and actions to come in the days ahead. As I sit here in my office with an unusual lull in activity, I am struck by two ideas our Holy Father has articulated, but are getting very little play in the news.

The first idea comes from his address to the U.S. Congress. While highlighting Abraham Lincoln, he emphasized unity, and Lincoln’s great struggle to bring union, freedom, and peace to a divided and war ravaged nation. Francis named the delicate balance of rejecting fundamentalism that threatens these great virtues that Lincoln fought for, while not sacrificing those same liberties in an effort to defeat these threats.

Within that balance, our Pope names the danger of seeing the world in non-negotiable black and white.  I am particularly caught by this because I am often far too quick to judge, especially in a political or theological situation. If people don’t think like me, I reject their ideas as closed-minded nonsense.  This line of thinking is all too common in our society. 24-hour news channels that cater to particular political views, blogs and podcasts that target niche groups, and seemingly endless gridlock in Washington reiterates to us constantly that dialogue is overrated, and if you don’t agree with me I have no time for you.

Unfortunately, there is a great danger in seeing things in black and white. When we see things in black and white we claim the moral compass; we claim to know what is righteous and what is sin.  And when we get trapped in that line of thinking, there is no more room for anyone else in our lives, not even God.  We declare our independence from what we view as wrong only to discover that we can no longer discuss and dialogue with those around us. Nothing anyone has to say is worth listening to.

Here is where the Pope’s message strikes deepest. President Lincoln in his first and primary purpose fought the Civil War to preserve the union, to keep these United States from dividing into isolation. Lincoln chose openness and dialogue, and that is where Pope Francis is calling all of us today. For too long I have looked down on those I disagree with thinking they are not as nuanced or educated as I am. Yet God speaks in history, and if I fail to speak with and be open to my sisters and brothers, how can I hear God? How can I grow? And most importantly, how can I live in union as a member of the Church and as a citizen of this country, if I fail to dialogue and work in communion to realize the Kingdom of God and build a more perfect union?

The second chord that struck me came from the address to the U.S. Bishops at St. Matthew’s Cathedral. While watching the reflection, I was unsure what the Pope was going to say, but I was deeply moved by the compassionate urgency he had while addressing the mission of the church in the United States. He acknowledged the heavy workload, the damaging reality of the sexual abuse crisis, and the corrosiveness of secular culture. However, he made very clear that it was in this context that all of us who minister to God’s people are charged with finding some way to evangelize, to bring people into a relationship with Jesus Christ as his disciples.

In my new job I am struggling to engage young adults in their 20’s and 30’s.  I have a loose plan, and we are having our first event in a few weeks. However, like anything new, I am having doubts about how successful it will be in bringing young adults back to Christ. I went through all of this training and education and I don’t have a sure answer for how to lead people to discipleship.  What if no one shows up?

Continue reading Overlooked Points Pope Francis is Trying to Make

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

Church or Coffee Shop: Thoughts on Space and Self-Reflection

bible-schrott-coffee-paul

By Javier Soegaard

Wow. Careers are the new religion I guess. (This text from a friend spurred the following reflection. Blame him if you disagree or if your time was wasted.)

I was sitting in a nifty coffee shop along the South Boston Waterfront, just steps from the chapel where I work. Between sending emails and reading the waning pages of GRRM’s A Dance with Dragons, I noticed a cozy group of peers about 12 feet away. They were seated on couches, drinking their fancy latte-things, but unlike most patrons, they were not hard at work on laptops, tablets, and/or smartphones.

Instead, their implements were construction paper and markers.

Continue reading Church or Coffee Shop: Thoughts on Space and Self-Reflection

A Real Problem; Or *The* Real Problem

problem

By Matt Janeczko, OFM Cap.

I had just finished explaining a particular exercise to my senior religion class (Catholic Social Teaching).  It involved primary sources and analysis.

Any questions? 

(hand raised)

Yes?

Are we allowed to be real in these reflections… like, can we talk about real issues and things?

(me staring)

Yes.

And that, I think, sums up what I might call the “real problem” for American Catholics working at schools, parishes, hospitals, and agencies.  There is a basic problem that doctrine and teaching don’t seem *real* to listeners.  It is, first and foremost, an intelligibility problem, which takes on two particular mutations (that come to my mind immediately.)

(1) Doctrines such the Trinity haven’t been described as “real” and relevant.  Augustine did this.  So did Aquinas.  They spoke in ways intelligible to their society, their culture, their era.  To me, the bedrock of our faith is the Incarnation and the Holy Trinity: it’s up to ministers to find the correct metaphors and confessions of faith to make them understandable.  But this isn’t enough: how “Trinity” is one thing; but why “Trinity,” as in, why I should care is quite another: we need both.

(2) The Church’s witness to and against the tragedies of our modern society largely go unreported or unnoticed.  Pope Francis has, by many accounts, changed some of this.  Yet any “Francis effect” will only be lasting if the Church provokes and promotes a “real” witness around these issues.

A real problem indeed.