What Does It Matter?

I woke up this morning and my Facebook news feed was plastered with the Vatican’s most recent statement on the Pope’s controversial visit with Kim Davis. As I’m sure most of us expected, and as Fr. Jim Martin expressed well even before the Vatican released their statement, the short version is that it probably wasn’t that big of a deal. Nevertheless, more than a few friends had shared it, commented on it, and promoted it in some way, shape, or form.

While I, too, am grateful for at least some level of response to the shameless self-promotion Ms. Davis has taken advantage of from the start, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “What does it matter?”

What does it matter what actually transpired between Pope Francis and Kim Davis if it means we are ignoring an event that I am certain Pope Francis expects us to pay attention to? You see, while a brief handshake is not necessarily a big deal, the loss of human life is (and should always be) a very big deal. As President Obama reminds in the powerful statement he made yesterday afternoon, the tragedy that occurred in Oregon is one for which we all are responsible. Indeed, if Francis’s visit this past week did nothing else, it reminded us of our shared responsibility for one another–not only as a community of faith, but as a community of humans. Obama continues: “Somehow this has become routine. The reporting is routine. My response here at this podium ends up being routine. The conversation in the aftermath of it. We’ve become numb to this.” It sickens me to think that this level of tragedy has become routine. How dare it be claimed  that we are numb. These are words which are difficult to hear, and even more difficult to consider as true. And yet, it was Kim Davis that littered my Newsfeed this morning…not the tragic loss of brothers, sisters, and friends.

Friends, the success of Francis’s visit is not dependent on whom he did or did not meet with; it is not even necessarily dependent on what he did or did not say. Rather, the success of the visit is dependent on how we as a community live out the Gospel as a result of it. Indeed,“If we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us.”

My hope is that your Newsfeed looked different than mine did this morning. My hope is that your Newsfeed was covered not only with prayers for those suffering in Oregon, but also with anger, outrage, and a call to conversion wherein we rethink how we live out our value of human life.  If not now, when?

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

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.

Leave Your Signs at Home: A Guide to Seeing the Pope

By Javier Soegaard

As we all know, this was the greatest week ever.  Pope Francis was here and the Mets clinched the NL East.

Like several of our writers and, I hope, many of you, I was able to catch a glimpse of the traveling Pontiff during his Apostolic Visit.  However, thanks to the thoroughness of the TSA and Secret Service, my group and I almost missed our brief opportunity to see him in Central Park, NYC.

The security process to enter the park was seemingly absurd.  Snaking back and forth along Central Park West for a total of 18 blocks, it took us well over 2.5 hours just to get into the park.  With each tiptoed step and each city block passed by, everyone in line grew more and more nervous that we would miss the Pope’s short drive through the park.

IMG_2420I was tired too, buddy.

4:00 became 4:30, 4:30 became 4:45, 4:45 became 5:00, 5:00 became 5:01, 5:02, 5:03 and ahh he’s going to be here soon and we’re still not in!!  Eventually it became 5:16 and I texted my mother: “About to go through the metal detector”.  The pope then drove by us around 5:25, much to our relief and elation.  It was unreal.

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I’m still unsure, however, why it took so long to get through the line.  I’m not sure why the security staff jeopardized so many people’s single opportunity to see the Pope.  Just thinking about it and conversing about it in line was a maddening experience.  For all their hyper-sensitivity in the security process, though, there was one thing they nailed and I believe it made all the difference.

They didn’t let people bring signs in. Except this guy, of course.  He brought in a cardboard cutout of Francis.  But other than that.  No signs.IMG_2418

This may seem insignificant, as signs are, on the whole, not a major security risk.  Like mobile devices, however, signs are distractions.  Some are harmless distractions, saying things like “We love you Pope Francis,” but others come as part of the camps, agendas, or theological opinions that immediately set believers against each other–the kinds that make people claim Francis for their side over against another.

I don’t mean to suggest that people shouldn’t have strong opinions, and even less that they should keep those opinions to themselves.  However,  for a moment, when the Pope drove by, our hands were free of everything but rosaries and mobile phones.  For a moment we knew very little about one another:  we knew not whether we were pro-life or pro-choice, for or against traditional marriage, for or against the Latin Mass, for or against women’s ordination, for or against stricter immigration laws, for or against ecological reforms, Democrat or Republican, rich or poor, people with good handwriting or people like me.

All we knew was that this adorable and admirable man in white stirred something within us; he reminded us of a unity we had forgotten: the union we have in Christ Jesus as members of the human family and as member of His Church.

So if you ever go to see the Pope, think about leaving your signs at home.  Forget your pretenses and your arguments and your well-held positions.  Just go and see the man who will remind you of that deep and beautiful connection you have to others in Christ.  Then weep if you have to, or laugh.  But most of all pray for those strangers locked in the moment with you, and pray for him, that cute old man in white of whom the Lord asks so much.
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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

Why I’m Excited to See Francis (…in New York…Today!!!)

Image Credit CNS via CruxNow

By Javier Soegaard

I get a lot of great emails from my brother. He always seems to find the best, most analytical articles on sports, politics, and entertainment. He sends great invites to Brooklyn Dance Parties and other things that people in Brooklyn do that we Bostonians don’t quite understand (we’re a simpler, sleepier folk).

The best email I’ve ever received from him, however, was a forwarded email from the City of New York.  It indicated he received two tickets to see Pope Francis’ procession through Central Park, and, more importantly, that he’d like me to attend with him!! I don’t remember which came first: My celebratory dance or my affirmative response back to him. Either way, I was brimming with joy then, and am even more excited now as the day draws nearer.

Continue reading Why I’m Excited to See Francis (…in New York…Today!!!)

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.

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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

Catholics thinking "how"!