Bl. PierGiorgio Frassati

Two hundred and forty years ago, on July 2, about 50 men gathered in Philadelphia and voted to declare independence from the British Crown.  Two days later, the men approved a document called The Declaration of Independence.

This is the anniversary we remember today, the great event we celebrate with “pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other,” just as John Adams predicted we would in a letter to his wife on July 3, 1776.  He also said “it ought to be commemorated … by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty.”

Fittingly, many of us will go to Mass, thank our Father in heaven for this beautiful land of freedom, and beg that it remain that land of freedom.

Because his feast day lands on this great anniversary, most will not even remember young Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati.  But he shares this day of celebration with America.

On July 4, 1925, Pier Giorgio died in his bed from polio at the age of 24.  He had twenty four short years to make an impact on his country and Church.  And that’s exactly what he did.

Most people think of Pier Giorgio as an active, joyful, handsome young man, who is pictured on holy cards climbing mountains and laughing with his friends.  He loved mountain climbing, art, the opera, reading Dante, and playing practical jokes.

He is remembered for his charity to the poor, sick, and less fortunate.  Despite his wealthy family, he rode third class on the train and then spent the money he saved on medicine and food for the poor.  When asked why he rode third class, he merely joked, “Because there is no fourth class.”   He went to the poorest, dirties parts of Turin to minister to the sick.  He served them to the end, eventually contracting polio while working amongst them.  He suffered for six days in silence, not wanting to take his family’s attention away from helping his dying grandmother.  When he died, his parents knew they had lost a son.  They had no idea that thousands had lost a friend.

His sister later wrote, “The boy whom we thought was unknown to all but his family, suddenly was revealed to us to be the friend of thousands…those whom he had assisted or those he had merely passed near, leaving the unforgettable memory of his spirituality.”  “The street—it was nine in the morning—could hardly contain the thousands of persons who had come from every part of the city.”  “A blind man wanted to touch the coffin, another struggled to approach his benefactor. The crowd pressed around his mortal remains. Some wept, some prayed, while that coffin, without a single flower, seemed to rock above a tide of heads.”

What many don’t realize about Pier Giorgio is that he lived in Italy during a sensitive time for Church-state relations.  Italy had only be unified for thirty years, and Fascism was on the rise.  He became heavily involved in political and social reform, belonging to groups such as Catholic Action and the Federation of Italian Catholic University students.  He organized his fellow students and workers. He was arrested during peaceful demonstrations.  He physically protected priests who were attacked during protests.  He dialogued with workers during strikes and uprisings.

At age 21, during the rise of Mussolini, he wrote to his friends, “I glanced at Mussolini’s speech and my blood boiled. I am disappointed by the really shameful behavior of the Popular Party. Where is the fine program, where is the faith which motivates our people?  But when it is a matter of turning out for worldly honor, people trample on their own consciences.”

When John Paul II beatified Pier Giorgio in 1990, he called him the “Man of the Beatitudes.”   Just like the young John Paul II, Pier Giorgio enjoyed mountain climbing and picnics and spread the Gospel through joy.  But also like the young John Paul II, Pier Giorgio did not sit and watch his country and his Church suffer.  He became politically involved.  He not only fed the poor, he fought for them.  He not only lived justice, he worked for it.

Our country needs us to be men and women of the Beatitudes today.  We need to thirst for justice.  Our Church needs defending.  Our freedom needs rescuing.

Our poor need serving.  And yet it is precisely the freedom to do this that is being taken away from us.

In his homily to open the first Fortnight for Freedom, Bishop Lori pointed out:

“[E]mbedded in the HHS mandate is a very narrow governmental definition of what constitutes a church; and if it is not removed, it is likely to spread throughout federal law.

In the HHS mandate, the federal government now defines a church as a body which hires mostly its own members and serves mostly its own members, and which exists primarily to advance its own teachings. In a word, so long as a church confines itself to the sacristy, then it is exempt from having to fund and facilitate in its health insurance plans government mandated services which are contrary to its own teachings.  But if a church steps beyond the narrow confines of this definition by hiring those of other faiths and by serving the common good – then the government is telling us that such institutions aren’t religious enough, that they don’t deserve an exemption from funding and facilitating those things which violate the very teachings which inspired churches to establish their institutions in the first place.

Friends, we must never allow the government, –any government, at any time, of any party–to impose such a constrictive definition on our beloved Church or any church! Our Church was sent forth by the Lord teach and baptize all the nations.  It was commissioned by our Savior to announce that the Kingdom of God is at hand.  It was sent into the world to do the corporal works of love and mercy.  Don’t we see this all around us – in inner-city Catholic schools, in Catholic hospitals, in the work of Catholic Charities so critical for the well being of local communities?  ‘The Word of God cannot be chained,’ St. Paul wrote to Timothy, and now it is up to us to defend the Church’s freedom to fulfill her mission to freely manifest the love of God by organized works of education and charity” (emphasis mine).

May Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, Man of the Beatitudes, intercede for us as we suffer persecution for justice’s sake.  On this anniversary of our country’s founding, may we work for justice — so that this country may always be the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation.
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

(The Star-Spangled Banner, 4th verse)

The First Martyrs of the Church of Rome

Today we celebrate the feast of the First Martyrs of the Church of Rome, which officially commemorates the martyrs killed under the Emperor Nero (54-68).  Fittingly, their feast is celebrated the day after the two most famous martyrs killed during that time, Peter and Paul.

While no one knows for sure why or how the famous burning of Rome took place, we know that Nero need a scapegoat.  And he found that scapegoat in the new mysterious sect that had been growing steadily in Rome.

The historian Tacitus gives an account of the persecutions under Nero:

“Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace.  Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judæa, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.”

It is believed that Christians were also killed before the time of Nero, during the reign of emperor Claudius (41-54).  Claudius probably expelled the Jews from Rome for a time because of disturbances caused by a certain “Chrestus,” and he was famously opposed to the proselytizing of any religion.

Saint Prisca was a thirteen year-old girl killed during reign of Claudius.  She was of a noble family and was baptized by Saint Peter.  When the emperor tried to kill her in the amphitheater with a fierce lion, the lion licked her feet and did not hurt her.  Later she was beheaded.  She’s remembered as the “protomartyr of the West,” killed more than ten years before Peter and Paul.

Whether or not there was a girl named Prisca – modern historians doubt her existence – we know her story was repeated again and again, as the persecutions against Christians raged throughout the Roman Empire for almost three hundred years.  Lions, arrows, beheadings, fires — the martyrdoms were varied, but the witness the same: these people, regardless of age or sex or wealth, were willing to die at the hands of their emperor before denying their Lord.

The stories of the early Church martyrs also remind us that their witness did not begin with their deaths.  There must have been something that set them apart.  How did the emperors know about a thirteen-year old girl’s religion?  Why were there disturbances because of “Chrestus,” why was their “superstition” known by Tacitus, and why were they punished for “hatred against mankind”?

Their faith did not remain in the catacombs, hidden from view.  Their faith spurred them onward — to preach to their neighbors, to bring the good news to others, to live their lives differently.   Secular sociologists note that Christians were more likely to survive the diseases that plagued the city of Rome precisely because they were cared for by other Christians.  The Christians were known for their generosity to the poor and their service to the widows and orphans.  They didn’t just worship on Sundays — they served Christ every day of the week.  And it was obvious to those around them.

Someone once rhetorically asked me a thought-provoking question.  If I was arrested for being a Christian, would a jury find me guilty?  Or would I be acquitted for lack of evidence?

We know how the Christians went to their deaths singing songs of joy, their deaths prompting even more conversions.  “Martyr” is from the Greek word for “witness.”  But in order for them to be rounded up and thrown in jail, their witness must have been visible in the world before their deaths.  And so must ours.

When “freedom of religion” becomes “freedom of worship,” we must take notice.  What threats against religious liberty mean for Christians in this country is that we cannot live our faith outside the catacombs.  It is fine to go to Mass and worship, but our beliefs cannot influence our daily lives. We cannot live as Catholic Christians in our workplace, in our hospitals, or in our schools.

May the martyrs of the early Church be witnesses and reminders to us, in 2016, that our faith sends us out into the world.  And may their intercession give us the strength to be witnesses ourselves.

St. Cyril of Alexandria

Today’s saint lived a generation after the Roman persecution of the Church had ceased.  (Stay tuned in the next few days to hear more about that persecution.)  He lived at a time when the Church was growing at a rapid pace- by the year 300, Christians in the empire numbered over 6 million.  While the threat of persecution was over, peace was not reigning.  Disputes over doctrine were heated and false teaching was spreading, and heroes like St. Cyril of Alexandria were busy teaching and preaching the truth.

St. Cyril of Alexandria (c. 376 – 444) is perhaps best known for fighting the Nestorian heresy, a teaching which held that Mary was not the Mother of God.  The heresy taught that she only gave birth to the human nature of Christ.  St. Cyril and other orthodox bishops recognized that this belief ultimately separated Christ into two persons, human and divine, violating the unity of Christ, Who was one Person.  Every mother knows that she doesn’t look at her newborn and think, “What a lovely human nature I gave birth to!”  Women give birth to people, not simply natures.  The Church in the Council of Ephesus in 431 declared Mary Theotokos, or “God-bearer” and clarified that while Mary is not the source of God, nor did she pre-exist God, she did bear the Word Incarnate in her womb.

God chose a woman to bear His Son, to bear His flesh, to cooperate in salvation in an intimate way.  What dignity this gives women!

Christianity elevated women at a time when their situation was rather bleak. In the Greco-Roman world, women were usually married before they reached their teens to much older men, and then were often forced to put up with marriages where unnatural sexual acts, adultery, and contraception and abortion were expected.

If their child wasn’t killed by abortion (and the abortions often killed the mother as well), it may not live much after birth, either.

Dr. Rodney Stark, a noted sociologist, observed: “Men greatly outnumber women in the Greco-Roman world. Dio Cassius, writing in about 200 AD, attributed the declining population of the empire to the extreme shortage of females. In his classic work on ancient and medieval populations, J C Russell estimated that there were 131 males for 100 females in the city of Rome and 140 males per 100 females in Italy, Asia Minor, and North Africa. Russell noted in passing that sex ratios this extreme can only occur when there is ‘some tampering with human life.’”

And tampering there was. Exposure of unwanted female infants and deformed male infants was legal, morally accepted, and widely practiced by all social classes in the Greco-Roman world.  Another historian noted that even in large families “more than one daughter was practically never reared.”  Historians were able to construct 600 families in the city of Delphi, using inscriptions from the time.  Of these 600 families, only six had raised more than one daughter.

On the subject of female infanticide, Stark asks us to consider “a letter written by one Hilarion to his pregnant wife Ails, which has been reported by many authors because of this quite extraordinary contrast between his deep concern for his wife and his hoped-for son, and his utter callousness toward a possible daughter: Know that I am still in Alexandria and do not worry if they all come back and I remain in Alexandria. I ask and beg you to take good care of our baby son. And as soon as I receive payment I shall send it up to you. If you are delivered of a child before I come home, if it is a boy, keep it, if it is a girl, discard it. You have sent me word ‘Don’t forget me.’ How can I forget you? I beg you not to worry.”

As you might imagine, this imbalance of men and women inevitably led to rape and sexual aggression.  All of which was considered quite normal.

Church historian Mike Aquilina comments, “That is the world in which the first Christians were born, in which they grew up and married, and in which they raised their families. You might call it a culture of death.”

In the midst of this culture of death, the son of God had come into the world… as the son of Mary.  And before leaving this world, He left us a Church- a Church that believes in the inherent dignity of the human person, one which sets a woman — the Blessed Mother — as the role model for Christian life — one that elevates marriage to a sacrament, that commands husbands to love their wives, that values the woman’s fertility.

During this current “culture of death,” may we turn to the Mother of Christ, asking her to intercede for us to Her Son.  May her prayers for all of us, especially the women of our country, bear great fruit for the Church and for our beloved homeland.

“Give me an army saying the Rosary, and I will conquer the world.” -Blessed Pope Pius IX

Why I’m not reading Amoris Laetitia…

…today.

I will read it.  From what I’ve read about it and the snippets I’ve seen, there are very beautiful, affirming, moving, and pastoral sections of it.

But it’s long. Very long.  My first instinct yesterday was to get to work early this morning and power through it, preparing for the inevitable questions and concerns that would arise from the people in the pew.  That’s my job, after all. And I felt like a prepared Director of Adult Formation would read the document asap.

But then I realized that rushing through the document just to say I had read it, just to have a few talking points or answers to questions, was exactly what I shouldn’t do.

The Pope himself said, “I do not recommend a rushed reading of the text.”

When faced with the longest magisterial text in history on one hand and a world of instant communication on the other… I decided to step back.  There are countless opinions out already. Every talking head and Catholic celebrity rushed to have their top ten points about the document, to frame their opinion of it, to have their say in the conversation.

I’m going to avoid the temptation to do the same. I’ll recommend what Bishop Barron had to say and I’ll go about my day, working on the talk I have to give next week.  Because after all, this apostolic exhortation isn’t going anywhere. And while the world will forget about it in about a week (look how many people are still talking about Laudato Si), the real point of the document is not to change things overnight, but to provide guidance in formation long term.

So instead of rushing through the text this morning, I’m going to go hunker down with Jesus of Nazareth and work on my task at hand: writing a talk on the Incarnation.

I will end with this- Just a little reminder that, despite everyone getting hyper about Church teaching changing or acquiescing to the culture, we must never, ever forget this:

Truth is black and white. It’s as black and white as the polka-dotted sweater I’m wearing today.  Nothing will ever change that. Truth is a Person, Jesus Christ, and is therefore unchanging and eternal.

People are gray. As much as we’d like to live in a Western where the good guys wore white hats and the villains wore black, we live in a world where the great saints have sinned and the great sinners have capacity for conversion.

We also live in a culture that wants to say the exact opposite. Our modern culture wants to paint the Truth in a relativistic gray – “what’s right for you isn’t necessarily what’s right for me” and yet pigeon-hole people into camps of good and bad.  We label people and denigrate them, putting them in boxes based on a comment here or a personal view there. We crown people heroes when we agree with them, and unfairly vilify people we don’t like.  We can’t even have a decent debate or discussion these days without someone getting branded and put in a box, never to escape.

I fear a culture with their grays, blacks, and whites so mixed up will never be able to understand Amoris Laetitia.

I’ll be happy to share more thoughts when I read the document. But I’m going to be reading it in prayer and with reflection- not speeding through it so I can say something about it to say something about it.

Fact-Checking What You Hear

Several months ago, I did a YouTube video about fact-checking what you hear about Pope Francis. It was the first YouTube video of its kind that I did, and perhaps someday I’ll look back and laugh at how unnatural and scripted it looked. (Oh wait, yesterday I did just that.)

But everything I said in the video could be said after yesterday’s plane interview, and so I took the opportunity this morning to email some parish leaders a written version of the same information.  I thought I’d copy it below here (with some additions).

I could take the time to address this latest incident in detail, but others are already doing that. And after all, the next time Pope Francis says something to stir everyone up, I can just pull this blog post back out…

Things to Remember when Reading Pope Francis

In case you haven’t noticed, Pope Francis creates buzz. Whether it’s what he does, what he says, or what people say he says, he makes a lot of headlines.

Whenever you hear Pope Francis said something, consider a few things:

Who is the source?
Before you believe what you hear, stop and think, “Who is saying this?”  I’m amazed how many people see something in the secular media and immediately take it for fact. Much of the secular media is written and produced by people who have no knowledge of the Catholic Church, our theology, or our traditions. This results in a lot of misunderstanding. Pope Francis surprises us, but if you hear something that contradicts Church teaching, it’s time to step back and reexamine who is telling you this and consider whether they misunderstood or, worse, purposefully skewed the story.

What is the context?
Reading the Pope in context is easier today than it ever has been. You can access his homilies, addresses, and interviews at http://www.news.va/en.
In this world of the soundbite, often one or two sentences are taken from a speech, a homily, or an interview without any of the surrounding context. This can skew the real meaning of what the Pope is saying.To whom is he speaking?
Remember: He’s the shepherd of the entire world. He’s not just speaking to us as Americans. He’s speaking to Africans, to Australians, to Europeans. At times, he may have a pointed message for a certain community or a certain class of people. At other times, he’s speaking very generally. He is not an American, nor does he closely follow every American news story or personality.

Seek out good Catholic resources
It is always good to seek out good Catholic commentary, analysis, and news. Besides the official Vatican news, there is also Zenit News Agency and Catholic News Agency. It’s also helpful to follow people like John Allen or Alan Holdren on Twitter.

Remember that he’s a man

At the end of the day, don’t forget that the Pope is a man. He’s not Jesus. Every word he says is not protected by some infallibility shield. The grace of the papacy does not mean every decision he makes is a good one or every comment he makes is an error-free one. He’s a person, just like you. Now, he prays more than I do, and the Holy Spirit does protect his words “when as the supreme pastor and teacher of all the Christian faithful, who strengthens his brothers and sisters in the faith, he proclaims by definitive act that a doctrine of faith or morals is to be held.” But last I checked, statements in interviews, on airplanes, at Q&A sessions… don’t fall under that. I’m not saying whether he should or should not do those said interviews. Nor am I saying you always take what he says with a grain of salt because he’s just some dude. But before you leave the Church over an answer he gave to someone on an airplane, take a step back and pray.

This article also gives some helpful insight: Understanding Francis.

Witness & Formation: Thoughts after the World Meeting of Families

I went to the World Meeting of Families not really knowing what to expect.  I knew it had been started by John Paul II, just like World Youth Day, but I approached it more as a “conference” than anything.  There were keynotes and breakout sessions, and we received a giant book of the various topics and sessions that we could go to each day. While I expected the atmosphere to be a little less academic than a typical Church conference on marriage and family life, I looked over the list of invited speakers and expected to take a lot of notes and use my brain a lot.

I did do that – both my notebook and my brain was filled at the end of the day. But I was unprepared for the way that would balance with the joy and life that comes from having families gather from all over the world.  I suppose in my mind I expected the audience to be mostly diocesan employees, Church leaders, and those who work with families, marriage prep, etc.  And while we were there, we were outnumbered (I think) by the families and children.

Hindsight, of course, tells me this makes sense.  If it’s like World Youth Day, it should be as filled with families as World Youth Day is with youth.  But there was still the “intellectual” side of things — talks by Cardinals and leaders and lawyers and parents and doctors and Sisters– to renew our minds and teach us how to be the lights to the world that we were called to be.

I think the evangelization of the world in regards to family life requires two things.  As I mentioned in the post before this, it requires our witness.  It requires our joy and love, which the world needs to see simply by the way we live our lives.  The convention center was full of families with strollers and ergo baby carriers, teenagers, and grandparents.  It was full of families who sacrificed to come to Philadelphia.  The Masses may have been celebrated by bishops from around the world with a 20-minute-long processional, but it sounded a lot like the Sunday Mass at my parish: responses punctuated with baby cries, the warbling older woman singing her heart out, and the children getting antsy during the homily.  This was a meeting filled with life. 

But evangelization also requires a second thing.  It requires that we know what we believe, why we believe it, and how to defend it.  St. Peter reminds us, “Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you…” (1 Peter 3:15).  That means we have to be 1) living with hope in such a way that people see it and 2) we have to be able to explain why we live this way.

Looking back over the incredible week, that’s exactly what the World Meeting of Families did.  I know that the papal visit to DC and NYC overshadowed what was happening in Philadelphia, and I know a lot of people just came to the City of Brotherly Love this weekend to see the Pope.  But for those who were there for the week, we experienced this line from 1 Peter.  It’s not enough to gather families together for fun.  We have to be taught and formed and educated.  And we were– by the greatest minds in the Church today, like Cardinal Robert Sarah and Cardinal Luis Tagle, Helen Alvare, Robert George, Bishop Robert Barron, and Archbishop J. Michael Miller.  We were exposed to the incredible work done throughout the country by the hundreds of exhibitors in the gigantic exhibition hall — book publishers and toy makers, colleges and religious orders, media outlets and service organizations.

It was a tiring week to be sure, and I needed to process the events each day over a nice pint, but it was also a week that energized and encouraged those of us in the trenches.  The families of the world may be wounded, but we are alive. We may be struggling, but we are united in the Cross of Christ.

We lived the message of Pope Francis this week. Now we pray that we can live it once we go home.

We will be their Gospel

One of my first sights at the World Meeting of Families this morning was the News 10 crew interviewing two nice older women.  As I walked to get out of the shot (not wanting to be that millennial on her cell phone in the back of a news shot), I realized one of them was wearing a Roman collar.  Later, when the other woman was getting interviewed, I saw that she was as well.  Of course, it was a white clerical shirt, which she was sporting with a purple suit jacket, khakis, and sneakers, but it was clearly a collar.  They had a big banner they spread out for the reporter and her camerawoman that read, “Support Roman Catholic Women Priests.”

At first I was annoyed, and I wanted to ask the reporter if she wanted to interview me as well.  Let’s get another woman’s view of women priesthood.  Then I got angry, because the reporter was clearly excited to report this story, and I worried it would be the only thing mentioned about the incredible event that we’ve witnessed thus far.

Why? Why are they allowed to hijack this incredible event?  If we could survey the 20,000 people in attendance, would that be the story they would want reported?

It’s easy to get discouraged when you witness so much truth and beauty and goodness and you wonder how much is getting through to the world.  You feel helpless because you’re at the mercy of the mainstream media.  The catechist in me wanted to talk to the reporter about why the Church teaches what She teaches.  I want the beauty of our faith to be known and loved.

So what keeps us from getting discouraged?  Well, luckily I had a whole day of talks after that incident, to remind me why we are here and to keep me from getting frustrated.  I was thinking on the way home about Helen Alvare’s keynote on the “Creating the Future: the Fertility of Christian Love.”  She, more than anyone, knows the bleak times we live in when it comes to the family.  She’s in the religious liberty trenches, for heaven’s sake.  But despite that, her talk was very hopeful.

She pointed out that not many people will read studies like she does, or pick up a book on the Church’s teaching on the family.  But they do see us.  We must be the witness of what authentic family life is and what it does for society.

So who cares what the media wants to say about us, the Church, or the World Meeting of Families. We can speak louder than the media, because we can be witnesses to the real, selfless love and joy of self-gift.  The world wants to preach the Gospel of Me (another great Helen Alvare quip) but joy is only found in living for the other.  We can have that joy, and we can share that joy with the world. We can preach that Gospel of love that the world so craves.

Imago Dei: Priest, Prophet, and King

Since I was late to Bishop Barron’s talk this afternoon (I have an excuse! I went to Confession! … that’s why I was late. I didn’t go to confession for being late. Anywho…) I had a seat way in the back, but it didn’t matter- the man has a way of delivering the message that draws you in so it doesn’t matter where you are – he has your attention.

I missed his introduction, but it didn’t take me long to see where his talk was headed.  He spoke about man being created in the image of God, and what that means in our role as priest, prophet, and king.  Archbishop Fisher tweeted, “His big idea is that ‘the image of God’ is not a private treasure but a mission.”

The thing about Bishop Barron is that he says the most profound things in the simplest ways.  Who else could bring Jean-Paul Sartre and Servais Pinckaers down to a level where a ballroom of families could understand at least part of what you were trying to convey? I know a lot of people have compared him to Fulton Sheen, but he reminds me of Frank Sheed.  The profound truth, said profoundly, but in an understandable way.  I feel like I could meditate on Barron’s talk for quite some time and still not reach the depths – but while he was speaking, I didn’t feel like my brain was going to explode.  Does that make sense?

He went through the three roles — priest, prophet, and king — and what the roles require, but then how original sin compromised them.  The one that really blew my mind was our role as prophets.  In the Garden, Adam was given the mission of cataloging the world according to God’s Word.  He named the animals.  He preached the Truth by defining things according to their nature.

The Imago is compromised today when we start defining things ourselves.  We preach the lie that we give things meaning.  Words mean whatever you say they mean.  The human person is defined however you want to define it.

We would do this with nothing else that mattered to us, Bishop Barron pointed out.  No one tells someone who wants to play golf, “Oh, just express yourself!  Swing however you want to swing!”  That’s ludicrous.  If you want to play golf, you are “freed” once you know how to golf – once you know the laws of golf.

I would try to explain how he connected this to God’s extravagant demand for perfection and extravagant mercy, why Pontius Pilate is the first evangelist, and why we have a crisis of the laity, but I would rather you just somehow listen to the talk yourself some day.  Because he was incredible.

He left us by reminding us that if we remembered who we were, created in the Image of God as priest, prophet, and king, we would not be living in a secularized society.  We would have “Edenized” the world. Sanctifying the world is our mission.  The importance of the family today is that it is the place where the Imago Dei is burnished – where we learn how to be priest, prophet, and king, where we are prepared to go out on mission.

It made me want to get in a big circle, put our hands in, and then yell, “Go Family!”

Until tomorrow…

My Hope for Next Week

Last night, the women’s prayer group I belong to began discussing the preparatory catechesis that was prepared for next week’s World Meeting of Families.  I don’t know how many people are aware of it, especially if people like me (aka in catechetical leadership) haven’t utilized it- like I haven’t used it!

It’s a beautiful catechesis on the family.

It begins by walking through Catholic anthropology, and an understanding of what the human person is, why God made us, and the root of our human dignity.  If we don’t understand that first chapter – or if we disagree about it – we can never understand or agree with what the family is.

On the eve of this WMOF, it’s an understatement to say there’s misunderstanding and disagreement about these basic truths.  I can argue with someone until I’m blue in the face about what marriage is — but if we disagree with what the human person is, or why we were created, we are talking two different languages. How do we find fulfillment as human persons? Well, because we were created in the image of God- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit- we were created for relationship. We were created for communion. We were created to give of ourselves to another in love. So how do we find ourselves, how do we find happiness? In a sincere gift of self.  In sacrifice.  It may sound odd, and it’s certainly not what the world would have us believe. But it’s the truth of the Gospel and the truth that will set us free. The Cross as a sign of victory looked odd, too.  But it’s the Truth.

In light of all of this, reports yesterday surfaced that President Obama has invited noted activists and dissenters from Church teaching on human life and sexuality to meet the Pope at the White House.  While the Pope certainly has never backed away from greeting people who disagree with him — and neither did Jesus — this is clearly orchestrated for other reasons.  If you stop to think about why the Pope is coming, it makes your mind reel.

The Pope is coming to the United States to do a variety of things, but the main reason he is coming is for the World Meeting.  He is coming to preach the authentic understanding of the human person, of marriage, of sexuality, of family.

We live in a moment of darkness, when people don’t even see the lies they’re being told about who we are and who we were created to be.  Sure, some people preach a false gospel with evil intentions, but so many are good-intentioned and they don’t even see….  We are surrounded by so much darkness and there’s so much suffering because of this intellectual darkness.

But what Philly is about is the joy and the gift of the Gospel. This next week is an opportunity for abundant graces.  The Holy Father will be on our shores and will be praying, as Benedict did, for a new Pentecost.  The graces will be flowing through the streets of D.C., New York, and Philadelphia.

My prayer is that the joy of truth shines out during this time.  We can so often become burdened by the darkness, it’s easy to forget that we’re called to have that joy of the Gospel.

Truth is beauty. Truth is joy.  Amidst the darkness of this world, may we never lose hope, never lose joy, never lose the faith that will save us.

“Little children, you are of God, and have overcome them;
for He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.
They are of the world, therefore what they say is of the world,
and the world listens to them.
We are of God. Whoever knows God listens to us,
and he who is not of God does not listen to us.
By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
Beloved, let us love one another.”
1 John 4:4-7

More than a Venue

I recently had someone ask me, “What’s the least you have to do to get married in the Church?”  When I spoke to another person who works for a church, she said she gets that question all the time.

My first thought was, “What a great way to begin a marriage!”

What is the minimum?

In light of the news from yesterday and in anticipation of the upcoming synod, I thought it was timely to share my thoughts on this.

The fact is, a Catholic Church is not a venue.  A Catholic marriage is not the same as getting married in front of the justice of the peace. At (most) Catholic weddings, there is something much greater happening than a union in the eyes of the state. There is (most of the time) a sacrament taking place.

To get married in the Catholic Church is to say something particular.  You are saying that you are marrying for life, you intend to be faithful to one another, and are open to children. You are promising to lay down your life for your spouse. If you’re not willing to say that, you should probably go elsewhere.

Does that sound harsh?  Well, maybe it should.  Because Catholic weddings say something – or rather, they say that YOU say something – and if you’re not willing to say that, then you shouldn’t be standing in a Catholic Church saying it.

This is why marriage preparation is so important.  How the heck is that engaged couple going to know what they’re saying if we don’t teach them what marriage is?  How are they going to know what their presence on that altar signifies, what the vows they recite mean, what the witnesses are witnessing if we don’t teach them what marriage is?  Do you think society is going to tell them?  Do you think their parents are going to tell them?

The Church has the responsibility to make sure you know what you’re saying. So yes, marriage prep should be hard.  I have to say- I think it should be more than a weekend retreat.  Weekend retreats may be valuable, but are they enough?  By agreeing to witness your marriage, the Church is saying that we believe you are saying something particular.  When the priest signs that marriage certificate, he is saying he believes you said something particular. So it’s the Church’s responsibility to make sure you know what you’re saying.

I’ve had people tell me that priests can’t turn a couple away because the couple has the right to the sacraments.  Well, if you’re not prepared for the sacrament, if you don’t know what you’re saying, there’s no sacrament occurring.  Why? Because the sacrament requires matter and form to be valid.  And the matter and form is the couple’s consent.  Do they know what they’re consenting to?  Are they doing it honestly and openly?  If not, no sacrament.  Visit a tribunal sometime and you’ll see the hurt and brokenness that results.

Yes, you have the right to the sacrament.  Which means the Church is obligated to prepare you for the sacrament.

And if you ask me, we haven’t done a great job of it in the past.  Forget compatibility tests. Forget time lines about when to contact the organist. Forget rules about birdseed.  We need to be preparing these couples for a sacrament that will give them the grace to survive the inevitable crosses that their marriage will face.

Disclaimer: I do not write this as a diocesan employee.  I write this as a concerned young woman who looks out at my generation and sees young adults who have no idea what marriage is.

There was a lot of concern yesterday about the changes to the annulment process.  I’d like to see half as much concern for the fact that those annulments are often a result of bad catechesis. We can do better.