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. Irenaeus

As we have seen thus far, difficult situations in the Church and the world have been occasions for God to raise up great saints.  When we are in need of certain gifts, whether it is the logic of Thomas More, the fortitude of John Fisher, or the simplicity of Josemaria Escriva, God gives us the heroes we need.  Saint Irenaeus (125-202) was one of those heroes.

Like St. Cyril of Alexandria, St. Irenaeus spent a lot of time preaching and writing to refute misunderstandings and false teachings in the early days of the Church.  His greatest work, Against Heresies, was focused mainly on correcting the false teachings of a group called the Gnostics.

The Gnostics often used Scripture to back up their teaching and claimed to teach in the name of Jesus Christ.  Whoever responded to them would need to be articulate, intelligent, and precise.  He would have to know the truth and be able to preach the truth in a sophisticated, accurate, and attractive way.  He would need to be a deep thinker who would know the message of Jesus Christ through prayer, study, and lived experience, and be someone who could share the fruits of that prayer, study, and experience.

St. Irenaeus  was the man for the job.  He was a disciple of St. Polycarp, who had received the Gospel message from St. John, the beloved Apostle and evangelist.  Irenaeus wrote extensively, clearly, and with wit, while also ministering as bishop to the people of Lyons in modern-day France.

He not only knew the truth — he knew how to preach it.  The same thing is being asked of us today.

St. Peter gives us an important reminder in his first letter: “Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you” (1 Pt 3:15).

We must know what we believe, but we must also have the words to defend it.

Have you ever had someone ask a question about something you believe in, only to have you at a loss for words to answer them?  Hopefully such an experience would call us to investigate deeper, to ask questions ourselves, to read and pray and search for answers.

The religious liberty issue is much broader than the picture painted by most of the media.  Are we investigating the issues ourselves?  Are we ready to answer the questions that our neighbors, coworkers, or friends inevitably have?  The United States bishops have ample resources and articles on their website.

Have we tried to educate ourselves so that we can make a defense for the hope that is in us?

When the bishops of America met with Pope Benedict at the beginning of 2012, he spoke of a need in the American church: “the need for an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity.”  He emphasized that the “preparation of committed lay leaders and the presentation of a convincing articulation of the Christian vision of man and society remain a primary task of the Church in [the United States].” “The Church’s witness … is of its nature public: she seeks to convince by proposing rational arguments in the public square. The legitimate separation of Church and State cannot be taken to mean that the Church must be silent on certain issues, nor that the State may choose not to engage, or be engaged by, the voices of committed believers in determining the values which will shape the future of the nation.”

He said these things the day before the HHS mandate was announced.  Are we ready to answer that call?  We can’t afford to wait another moment.

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

St. John the Baptist

“A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord.” Isaiah 40:3

Today we celebrate the feast of the birth of John the Baptist, the precursor to the Messiah.  John heralded the coming of the Bridegroom even before he was born (Luke 1:41) and dedicated his life to this good news.   Hand-in-hand with his proclamation of the imminent arrival of the Messiah-Bridegroom was his testimony to the truth.

“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him.  He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light.”  (John 1:6-8)

It was for this unwavering fidelity to the truth that John was imprisoned by Herod the tetrarch and eventually beheaded.  John was preaching against Herod’s adulterous union to Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip (who was still living), and both Herod and Herodias were growing tired of their consciences being pricked.

The Gospel of Mark mentions an interesting detail about Herod and John, however.  Noting that Herod arrested John for the sake of Herodias, Mark notes that Herod liked to listen to John, even though he was perplexed by him (Mk 6:20).

You can almost see Herod sneaking down to John’s cell, without Herodias seeing him, and listening to this strange man speak of a new way of life, a kingdom and a Bridegroom, and repentance.  This charismatic preacher intrigued him.  This voice crying out proclaimed a message unlike Herod had ever heard.

That voice was a voice that could not be ignored.  It required a response.

Herod could listen to the voice.  Or he could silence it.  Listening to the voice would require sacrifice and courage.  In his case, it would require sending Herodias away and ending the sinful, adulterous union.  To listen to the voice demanded change. So Herod chose to silence the voice.

We too are faced with the same option.  We can listen to the Gospel message or we can silence it.   Once we hear it, it requires a response, and an affirmative response will demand that we live our lives differently than before.   Are we willing to let the Gospel change us?  Are we willing to embrace the sacrifices and the responsibilities the message will require?

The story of John the Baptist reminds us that the message does not remain a voice crying out into the wilderness.  It does not remain a Gospel preached from a pulpit or taught in a classroom.  The voice, the message, the Gospel must be responded to and must be lived.

But a culture that promotes secularism wants the voice silenced.  It does not want our lives to be changed by the voice.  It is uncomfortable about the demands the Gospel makes, and so it chooses to attack the voice rather than be transformed.

During this Fortnight of Freedom, we pray to have the courage of John the Baptist.  We pray for the passion to preach the truth and to join our voices to that voice crying out.  But we also pray for the courage to respond to the demands of the voice.  What am I called to do today, in my workplace or in my home?  What in my life needs to change?   Am I really willing to follow the Gospel?

Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher

There’s an unassuming little memorial just northwest of the Tower of London, often missed by tourists because of the large World War I and II naval memorials that stand directly adjacent.  The memorial is just a series of plaques with lists of names; individuals who, in many cases, are lost in history books.   An inscription reads that the simple plaques “commemorate the tragic history and in many cases the martyrdom of those who for the sake of their faith, country or ideals staked their lives and lost.”

On that spot, Bishop John Fisher died on this day in 1535.  Sir Thomas More followed a few days later on July 6.

Both of these men, canonized together in 1935, “staked their lives” on the same faith, the same ideals, and “lost.”

For what?  What could have been so important that these men were willing to commit treason and give up their heads?

A few simple sentences.

The drama of Henry VIII and his (first) divorce and remarriage had come to its climax.  Henry was not free to marry Anne Boleyn because Rome hadn’t annulled his first marriage to Catherine.  Henry didn’t just ignore Rome; he declared himself supreme and head of the Church of England.   The preamble to the First Succession Act, which declared the children of Henry and Anne to be heirs to the throne, declared that the Pope had no right to judge these matters.  That was the sticking point.  Thomas More and John Fisher both refused to take the oath and were sent to the Tower of London for treason.

To most of their colleagues in the government and British Church leadership, it seemed scrupulous to refuse.  Couldn’t they take the oath and ignore that part of the preamble?  Even Thomas More’s wife and daughter tried to convince him to take the oath and rationalize his actions.  Every English bishop took the oath… except John Fisher.

Hindsight tells us that these men opposed the beginning of the English Reformation, which would alter the history of England forever.  But it wasn’t that clear at the time that England had reached this turning point.  To most of their colleagues, More and Fisher were making a big deal out of nothing.

But it wasn’t nothing.  They were remaining true to their consciences, which had been well-formed by the truth of the Gospel. They were remaining true to their Church, their Pope, and to their faith.

These were not the actions of crazy men who loved tyranny and rebellion and hated their government.  Sir Thomas More held one of the highest positions in the English government as Lord Chancellor, until resigning his post to stay true to his conscience.  He was a friend of Henry VIII, well-respected by his contemporaries.  These were learned men who did not act rashly.  They were men who loved England , who loved the Crown… but loved God first.

They staked their lives on ideals: the authority of the papacy and the sanctity of marriage.  John Fisher famously declared publicly that he was willing to die as St. John the Baptist died: in defense of marriage.   Pope Paul III made him a Cardinal while he was in the Tower of London, but Henry refused to allow the red hat come to England, proposing he send Fisher’s head to Rome instead.

Although few realized it at the time, “it was a time of national crisis,” British author Ronald Knox commented.  “There were only a few people who kept their heads, and those few who kept their heads lost their heads.”

Are we willing to stake our lives on such ideals?  For a few small sentences?  Have we formed our consciences so as to rely on them in times of crisis?  Have we prayed for the courage to face the consequences if we stake our lives on ideals … and “lose”?

Thomas More and John Fisher show us that we are called to be good citizens of our homeland, but good citizens of Heaven first.  Even when our colleagues and friends tell us that the issue at hand doesn’t matter and compromise is the better route, we know that Jesus Christ and His Church are worth staking our lives on and losing.

Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher, pray for us.

“I die the King’s good servant, but God’s first.”  -St. Thomas More

When I am “the Church”

What is the Church? Perhaps I used to think that question had an easy answer.  But even flipping open the Catechism will give you several different images, definitions, and nuances.  It’s something Councils have discussed and ink has spilled out from theological pens about for ages.  The Mystical Body of Christ, the Bishops in union with the Pope, the People of God, the Bride of Christ, Ekklesia, the Kingdom of God.  People use the word to speak of our liturgical assembly and the local community but also the teaching body with its hierarchy.

I know what the Catechism tells me about it, I know it’s instituted by Christ, and I know it’s one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.

But what does this mean when someone is in my office, upset about what the Church teaches, and I’m trying to decide just what Church they’re talking about?  They’re angry at “the Church,” and I’m trying to decipher whether they’re angry at a person, angry at a teaching, or angry at God.

What about when someone asks me if I love the Church, and after I say I do, they then reveal how much “the Church” has hurt them?  I try to unpack in five minutes or less—before they write me off—how the Church can be holy when it’s made up of sinners, and they look at me blankly.  Suddenly I’ve become a theologian spouting concepts that mean nothing to their everyday life.  They have come to me with a wound, and I have tried to bandage it with definitions.

As I drive home and think over the conversation for the fiftieth time, I simultaneously love my job and hate it at the same time.  Once again, I’m reminded that I’m the face of the Church for someone.  Like it or not, every Christian is liable to be “the Church” for someone.  If I cut someone off in traffic and they see the Rosary hanging around my rear-view mirror, it might be the last straw in their disillusionment with Catholics.  If I distort a teaching of the Church to someone, it could be their understanding for the rest of their lives.  While everyone is accountable for their own journey of faith, I can’t hide from the fact that I could be a player in their drama.

On the reverse side, I have to cling on to the hope that I’m an actor in their drama in a positive way.  Perhaps they have a misunderstanding of a teaching of the Church that I help clear up.  Maybe they think all Catholics are heartless until they witness some small act of charity on my part.  Every time I fail at my vocation as a Christian, I pray someone witnesses when I succeed—not to benefit my pride, but so that they come away with a better idea of just what the Church is.

“The Church is both visible and spiritual, a hierarchical society and the Mystical Body of Christ. She is one, yet formed of two components, human and divine. That is her mystery, which only faith can accept.” (CCC 779)

Yes, that is the mystery.  Perhaps I need to talk less and pray more.  If it’s a mystery that requires faith, I can only explain so much. “It is only ‘with the eyes of faith’ that one can see her in her visible reality and at the same time in her spiritual reality as bearer of divine life” (CCC 770). The person sitting in my office has encountered the sinners, and I need to help him encounter the Savior.  She has encountered the wounds, and I need to help her encounter the Divine Physician.

At the very beginning, the Church was made up of a Pope who denied Christ and a friend who betrayed him.  There will be plenty of Judases to give us reasons to leave the Church.  Like it or not, the Church is made up ofpeople, and those people are sinners… of whom I am the first. (1 Tim 1:15).  May I never forget that I may be “the Church” to someone today.  Something I do, something I say, something I don’t do, may be filed away in someone’s consciousness as a paradigm of their image of the Catholic Church, for good or for ill. Christ, make me a worthy member of your Body today…

This post first appeared on “Between the Sundays” at Integrated Catholic Life.

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.

Division and hatred

sermon-on-the-mount-henrik-cropped

Today’s Gospel is one of those passages that seems to contradict the picture of Jesus we might have painted in our minds.

“Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.

Wait a minute? What happened to the Prince of Peace?  The Jesus we hear from today doesn’t seem to fit the “be nice to everyone” Jesus we all know and love.

From now on a household of five will be divided,
three against two and two against three;
a father will be divided against his son
and a son against his father,
a mother against her daughter
and a daughter against her mother,
a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law

Hm. Makes you want to squirm, right?

Well, maybe that’s his intent.  Maybe he wanted to correct a misunderstanding. The passage is within a great section where Jesus is speaking about the urgency of living the Gospel.  If you know the Master’s will, you’d better do it, and do it now. No delaying, no waiting.  If you read the end of the twelfth chapter of Luke, you can almost hear Him getting worked up as he talks to his apostles, finally culminating in:

“I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled!
I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how I am constrained until it is accomplished!
Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division;

So is he still the Prince of Peace?  Yes, but not perhaps the peace the way we want to define it.  I am reminded of the classic scene from The Princess Bride:

Often when we think of peace, we think of something more like appeasement. Don’t create waves, don’t hurt anyone, don’t judge anyone, just keep the peace.

But similar to the modern misunderstanding of mercy (which I wrote about here), I don’t believe this modern understanding jives with the biblical understanding.  Neville Chamberlain might have announced that he had secured “peace for our time,” but we all know that peace was a mere appearance that had no lasting impact.  It was comfortable for him, it was non-confrontational, but it wasn’t real.

To be Christian means to make waves. Why? Because to follow Christ means embracing a life that’s counter-cultural and has been since the very beginning. After all, the Prince of Peace and Lord of Love also told us:

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.

He wouldn’t win many points as a motivational speaker, would he? Wow.  “Hey, guys, if you listen to me, everyone’s going to hate you!”  Honestly, what a way to win followers. If he wasn’t the Son of God, who would follow this guy?

Christ’s message IS one of peace, love, mercy, goodness, but not necessarily by the world’s definition of those things.  This means that we have our work cut out for us.  It’s not enough to preach Jesus Christ, we also have to explain to our modern world what the Gospel means.  Some will accept it, even though truly understanding and obeying the Gospel is usually rather uncomfortable.  Others won’t accept it, because it’s too demanding, too counter-cultural, too odd.

But be consoled.  St. John apparently had difficulty, too.  No one wanted to listen to the truth of the Gospel then, either:

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.

The Gospel causes division. Why? Because it’s not as much this:

luv

As this:

Sorrowful Mother image 3