Category Archives: Politics

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

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?

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