Category Archives: How is this a thing?

Pope Francis & Congress: A listening heart and when not to boycott

Pope Francis has begun his first trip to the United States. I, for one, am extremely excited and intrigued to see what will transpire over the next few days and the ways in which Pope Francis will challenge everyone in their lives and in their faith. I will not be heading to any events as giant crowds are not my favorite and I am openly jealous of those with the opportunity to encounter Pope Francis in smaller settings. Knowing how special this trip is, I was surprised to hear that Catholic Rep. Paul Gossar (R-AZ) has decided to boycott Pope Francis’ address to Congress due to the apparent likelihood that Pope Francis will focus a great deal on climate change. I have read through his statement and am left confused by his choice.

Rep. Gossar says he has “a moral obligation and leadership responsibility to call out leaders, regardless of their titles, who ignore Christian persecution and fail to embrace opportunities to advocate for religious freedom and the sanctity of human life.” If one does read “Laudato Si,” they will find abortion is addressed there, as an issue for care of all of God’s creation (LS 120). Human life is sacred and also finite, limited and reliant upon an environment that supports it. Care for the world around us is vitally important in itself but human life cannot sustain in a world unable to support it.

Other Catholic politicians have openly criticized Pope Francis’ decision to focus on climate change in “Laudato Si,” including Rick Santorum stating that “the church has gotten it wrong a few times on science, and I think we are probably better off leaving science to the scientists and focusing on what we’re good at, which is theology and morality.”  There is a presumption that theology and morality have no bearing on how one ought to approach an issue such as climate change. Is climate change a scientific matter? Absolutely. But, like many other aspects of science, climate change has a great effect on all of God’s people in the world – especially the most vulnerable. Climate change – whether or not one believes human behavior has contributed to it – will affect the poorest among us who do not have resources and means to navigate the effects of a changing environment. Humanity will have to respond to changing climate at some point in time and, as with any choices that must be made, determine the ethical implications of our choices and the impacts those choices will have.

Rep. Gossar says that his Jesuit education taught him to “think critically, to welcome debate and discussions.”  Debate, discussion and critical thinking are vital to navigating the application of theology and one’s personal faith to how one approaches the world and decisions in general. The world remains complex which does require cautious and intentional action but that complexity also requires human beings as disciples to keep an open heart and an open mind so that we may always be open to how God continues to reveal in the world. Boycotting Pope Francis’ address is an outright refusal to be open to what our Holy Father may share. And – as with anything he does – one can never be completely sure what Pope Francis will say or do. He may talk about climate change. He may tackle a completely different topic. He may very well call attention to the persecution of many peoples or to abortion in regards to current funding for Planned Parenthood. He says a lot of things I am happy to hear – and plenty of things that hold me accountable and make me uncomfortable. But then I can try to wrestle with why that it and what this discomfort may be calling me to.

Listening to someone we think is wrong is never easy and at times can be difficult to stomach. If as disciples we cannot keep an open heart, we are going to miss something. We never know what someone else is going to say or what it is we may hear. A dialogue can never happen if one side is missing. We can also never know how what we say will be received and if we are creating an experience of grace for another. If we aren’t even open to listening we have no idea what we may miss out on. Rep. Gossar is choosing to miss out on an incredible opportunity that few have simply because he is unwilling to listen. How can we let ourselves truly hear everything that is said, not only what we want to hear? How can we all keep listening hearts open not only for Pope Francis but for anyone we may encounter?


Ministry and Missed Chances

By Karla Alvarado

“Perhaps you should give me a call…It seems as though you are unclear about the process of reserving this space…”

We had been engaged for only 10 days, and had started the process of setting the date the day following our engagement.  Needless to say, this was the last response my fiance and I were wanting to receive from the priest in charge of booking the chapel where we hoped to be wed. While we reached out to him initially with fervor, excited to be jump starting a lifetime of making decisions as a team, we both had come to dread his e-mails for fear of what document he might request next: social security card? proof of insurance? …There really was no telling!

Setting the date was not supposed to be the hard part. For us, all we really cared about was that we got to build a life together–it didn’t matter when. Thus, imagine our surprise when what we thought would be a quick e-mail inquiring as to the chapel availability turned into a mountain of paperwork spanning 3,000 miles and involving parishes long closed. Everyone we spoke with shared in our frustration: they had not had to worry about any of this until months into the process when planning their own weddings. Indeed, the countless forms, letters, and phone calls should not have been necessary just to pencil in a date!

For anyone other than Matt and I–a pair who care deeply about our shared faith–the process would not have been worth it. How many other couples, with a desire to nurture their future life together through marriage in the Church, had been turned off by the bureaucratic process of it all? I shudder to think of the lost opportunities. Continue reading Ministry and Missed Chances

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

There and Back Again: Glimpsing Heaven

by Patrick Angiolillo

Earlier in January, the story broke that the popular book, The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven,  written by Alex Malarkey and his father, is a hoax. The book, which details Alex’s journeys to and from heaven while  suffering a coma after an unfortunate car accident as a child, was all fabricated by the boy in order to garner attention. He publicly admitted to this fact in an open letter.

This story finds itself as one of the latest installments in a somewhat new (although, actually quite old) phenomenon known as “heavenly tourism.” This sub-genre of Christian literature (perhaps equally to be called a sub-culture of Christian culture) is probably not as familiar to Catholics as it is to some Protestants. But either way, it is a movement within the Christian faith in which people claim to have experienced a journey to and back from heaven in their lives. Another example than Alex Malarkey’s is  Todd Burpo’s. His is a similar story, in which Burpo experienced heaven while undergoing an emergency surgery as a young boy. The details are recounted in his co-authored book, Heaven is for Real, the veracity of which has been maintained by author and publisher.

Whether or not we believe folks today who say they have had visions, or out-of-body experiences, or other kinds of journeys to heaven is not really a doctrinal matter.  Nothing in their stories makes absolute claims on the Christian faith. We can, if we please, ignore their tales and go on professing the Creed in perfect peace…

But we are curious, aren’t we? We’d just like to know, wouldn’t we? Continue reading There and Back Again: Glimpsing Heaven

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

Does Anyone Else Feel Depressed About the State of the World Today?


By Brian Niemiec

Over Thanksgiving weekend, I had far too much time on my hand, so I started to read the New York Times at my parents’ house. Bad idea. I ended up feeling rather depressed about the state of the world. War in the Middle East, Ferguson, MO, corruption in Iraq (and everywhere else), domestic violence, and the depressing articles went on and on.

As I was reading this bleak picture of humanity, I realized how easily this explains the indifferent and gloomy selfishness that pervades our society. There is an overwhelming amount of pain and suffering going on in the world today, and we are exposed to all of it thanks to instantaneous and comprehensive media and social networks. No wonder apathy reigns in American society, and events and issues that should move us to compassion often make us shrug our shoulders and bury our heads in our own little worlds.

Yet, my new-found interest in newspaper reading was in stark contrast to the Thanksgiving season and the readings from the first Sunday of Advent. We have heard for a number of weeks now about the coming again of Jesus Christ and the fulfillment of all creation. These readings which are filled with hope for the future will continue to dominate the Sunday readings until we seamlessly transition from the second coming of Christ to the infancy narratives later on in the Advent season.

Continue reading Does Anyone Else Feel Depressed About the State of the World Today?

And Then, the Communion of Saints


By Matt Janeczko, OFM Cap.

Last evening, I had the occasion to begin preparing for next week’s homily (Christ the King).  This is unusual, of course, because I was able to (a) keep my eyes open on a Sunday evening, and (b) I wasn’t in the midst of running to finish what I needed to finish before Monday morning.

The Gospel selected for Year A on Christ the King is the famous “sheep and goats” scene from the Gospel of Matthew.  I opened both William Barclay’s Study Bible for Matthew as well as Dan Harrington’s volume from the Sacra Pagina series.  This my normal procedure: read the Gospel several times (along with the other readings) and make a prayerful decision upon a theme that will be central to the homily.  From there, it’s a matter of looking through a couple scholarly commentaries to make sure I’m not making things up.

Continue reading And Then, the Communion of Saints

Hollywood Moms Are People : Why We’re Going Ad-Free


By Matt Janeczko, OFM Cap.

Last week, I received an email from one of our contributors, Katie Morroni, with the screen shot I’ve embedded above.

And so, after a few emails back and forth to the kind folks over at WordPress, an anonymous benefactor ponied up the $30 to help us go ad-free here at Catholic How for the next year.

In the first place: thanks to the benefactor.  (S)he knows how much I appreciated this.

In the second place: sorry if you’ve ever seen an ad and been offended.  I’m hoping that you were so enthralled with our content that you didn’t scroll down far enough to see the advertisements.  If you did, however, and noticed something out of school, I’m sorry.  It won’t happen again.

There is a third point that I’d like to make regarding the larger impact of an ad which invites readers to explore the world of “Hollywood Moms” that are just “TOO HOT.”  It’s the sad irony of a world in which the phrase, “Would you talk that way around your mother?” still has some cache, but the actual dignity of motherhood generally, and women specifically, remains terribly suspect.

I often find myself telling high schoolers that I couldn’t imagine undergoing the pressures they endure: the omniscient social media, the ready availability of drugs significantly more powerful and addictive that a harmless joint, a world whose patterns of war seems to mirror Orwell’s 1984.  The list could go on and on.

On these pages, however, we have tried to attempt to create a space where discussion is open and honest: civility, as John Courtney Murray once wrote, dies with the death of dialogue.

The ad that many of you saw last week won’t appear again: it’s not because we don’t care for dialogue, it’s because the exploitation of women, regardless of age or number of children birthed, is not a matter for sales, but rather serious conversation about its prevention.


Of Synods and Church Burglaries (Or, Incidents in the Life of a Parish Priest)


By Matt Janeczko, OFM Cap.

“Father Matt, is it true that when a church is broken into it needs to be torn down and rebuilt?” 

-A fifth grader-

I awoke on Tuesday morning to find the pastor in the kitchen.  “Grab a cup of coffee and let’s talk.”

I poured.  And he talked.  Our church had been burglarized during the night.  The giant crucifix that adorned the sanctuary had been stolen, ripped from the metal chain which suspended it over the tabernacle.  A reliquary had been taken, along with some chalices and patens.  By a strange twist of fate, I had stored the chalice and paten given to me by my parents on the day of my ordination in a different place.  They remain.

The rest of the day was filled with parents, students, teachers, parishioners, and complete strangers asking for news and expressing condolences. Various news outlets called.  When I unlocked the church yesterday morning at 6:10, a news van had been parked outside for some time.

While all this was taking place in Yonkers, the Catholic internet exploded.  Some commentators screamed that the non-binding, draft-ish, non-official/very official working paper coming out of the Extraordinary Synod betrayed everything Catholic.  It signaled the bad old days and the Gates of Hell possibly beginning to prevail.

Others, with glee equal only to the terror of their counterparts, crowed that this document signaled the beginning of everything good and holy the Church had been missing for the last however-many-years.   Here was the Spirit of Vatican II, the culmination of the work of the Council, finally finding its fulfillment.  It seemed, at least to some, that absolutely everything had changed instantly.  (So much for reception, eh?)

Throughout the last forty-eight hours, parishioners have continually (in a sincere way that has touched my soul) asked if the Pastor and I are “doing okay?”  I always smile, say yes, offer thanks for the prayers, and turn the question on them.  “This is your home too,” I say, “how are you doing?”

Back to the question above, asked by an earnest fifth grader, tears in her eyes: does a church need to be torn down when it’s burglarized?

“No,” I answered.  “We’ve been here for over a hundred years on this hill and will be here for more than another hundred.”

The Church has been here almost two thousand years, and barring the parousia, it will remain.

My prayers over the past days have mingled together, Synod and the burglary.  I find myself, however, praying through both events most effectively when I think about the people: the bishops who the right hates, the bishops who the left despises, the conservatives, the liberals, the divorced, the homosexuals in relationships, the homosexuals avoiding relationships, the people who built  Sacred Heart, the people who burglarized our church, and that fifth grader: neither Synod nor burglary can ever tear down the church, because it will always be the people, saints and sinners alike, that keep it standing up.


That Moment When My News Went Anti-Christian


By Sara Knutson

I’m not an alarmist. I think that cries of a War On Religion are overblown, and I don’t hunt for prejudice.

But the prejudicial bias in one of Slate’s recent op-eds, “In Medicine We Trust,” was impossible to overlook.

Author Brian Palmer’s argument was twofold. First, given that missionary clinics in Africa are typically small and unregulated, he worries that their medical practices are not on par with those of large, secular health organizations.

Second, he is deeply uncomfortable with any intertwining of medicine and faith, convinced that proselytizing and coerced conversions are the unavoidable consequences.

If those objections were based in fact, it would be compelling reading. But facts are scarce.

Palmer fails to present any evidence that small religiously-based clinics are less organized or regulated than small secular ones. He fails to demonstrate that proselytizing occurs even occasionally. And the only people he quotes who explicitly fault missionary medicine are Donald Trump and Ann Coulter, celebrities who Palmer himself points out are hardly bastions of objective reasoning. Continue reading That Moment When My News Went Anti-Christian