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→
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
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.
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.
Language is communication. Without language, whether written or spoken or in whatever medium it may be, one is unable to communicate with others in a meaningful, relational way. When we ask how God communicates with humanity, language necessarily plays a role in this inquiry. This is perhaps why there may be such high stakes surrounding the answer to the question What language did Jesus speak?Continue reading Speaking the Same Language→
In the wake of the horrifying attacks in Paris that occurred at the Charlie Hebdo headquarters on January 7, as well as those others in the ensuing days, we have seen the swift response from the world, not least of all from the people of France themselves.
Immediately following the tremendous events of that day, leaders the world over spoke out against the form of radicalized, fundamentalist religion that led the Muslim gunmen to commit their heinous act of violence. Pope Francis, along with French bishops, as well as French Imams, and hosts of political leaders from different countries have voiced their sorrow and rage in reaction to the terror attack. The hacktivist group known as Anonymous even released a video in which a speaker, hidden by a Guy Fawkes mask, declared war on radical terror organizations like Al-Qaeda. The group claims to already have shut down a French terrorist website.1
While these reactions all share a deep opposition to the acts of violence witnessed, the particular response from different figures is, understandably, quite different. The hacktivist group has already begun their campaign to shut down terror websites, just as political leaders and government agencies have already mobilized their respective responses to the attack.
Religious leaders, however, have a different kind of role in the matter. Fr. Federico Lombardi of the Vatican Press Office expressed, in a matter of hours after the attack, the pope’s—and the Church’s—opposition to this example of the radical use of religion: “Whatever may be the motivation, homicidal violence is abominable. It is never justified: the life and dignity of all must be firmly guaranteed and guarded; any instigation to hate refuted; and respect for the other cultivated.” Indeed, he added that the pope said he “joins the prayers of the suffering and wounded, and of the families of the dead.”2
A religious leader or a religious group has a different responsibility in the aftermath of crises like the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Religion itself, and, as we see today, Islam in particular, has been abused by the ideologizing forces of terror organizations like Al-Qaeda and ISIS (or ISIL). The leaders of these religio-poltical groups use religion—use God—in order to justify their twisted agendas. Pope Francis summarized the phenomenon this way: “Religious fundamentalism, even before it eliminates human beings by perpetrating horrendous killings, eliminates God himself, turning him into a mere ideological pretext.”3
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→
Cat or dog. Blonde or brunette. Coke or Pepsi. For better or worse, we tend to create opposing categories and forget the rabbits, redheads, and Dr. Peppers of the world.
The same is true in music. “Christian or secular” has long been used to categorize artists, but the stark contrast it implies oversimplifies the musical landscape and masks the long history of religiously-informed music.
By that I mean music created by artists who are thinking about life’s biggest questions from a perspective of faith. Their music may or may not reference God and would rarely be defined as part of the praise and worship genre. They may play both religious and secular festivals. They usually avoid Christian record labels. But their themes are undeniably spiritual, often drawing from Scripture.
We are planning another funeral, one of the small duties of which is selecting materials for inclusion in the folder that will be handed out to guests. The funeral home offered sample poetic spiritual selections for the funeral program. These poems are meant to offer consolation, but the ones commonly offered by funeral homes do something like the opposite.
A second common feature, Footprints aside, each of these poems ascribes death to God. God did it: He took you away because, well, gosh, he just wanted you now, so he broke our hearts to show us he only takes the best. This is what God did? This may represent some kind of pop theology loaded with over baked sentimentality, but it is not any sort of biblical Christian theology I know.
I do not watch the news. My brother and father, in particular, are always incredibly frustrated with me whenever they start talking about current events that I have no knowledge of. I am, therefore, usually late learning about what is going on in the world that is not immediate to me. This was the case with the Christian persecution going on in Iraq. It wasn’t until last Thursday when I read “The Worst Thing We’ve Read all Day” post that I learned about what was happening. After reading that post and then praying Thursday’s Office of Readings, I thought it uncanny how many connections the two had with each other.
The connections started with the saint of the day, Sharbel Makhluf. One thing I’ve noticed about my prayer is that the saint of the day, in a limited way, transports me to their region and time while I pray. I imagine myself praying in a setting that the saint might have prayed in. St. Makhluf, born in Lebanon, put my prayer setting in a place not very far from Iraq.
“Where is the respect for the rights of Christians?” the Auxiliary Bishop of Baghdad Shlemon Warduni asks Vatican Radio. “We have to ask the world: Why are you silent? Why do not you speak out? Do human rights exist, or not? And if they exist, where are they? There are many, many cases that should arouse the conscience of the whole world: Where is Europe? Where is America?”