Monday, February 8, 2016

"The Name of God is Mercy"

Roberto Benigni Promotes Pope Francis' New Book

Stories touch hearts. Once a heart is touched, it stands open to the possibility of healing and hope.

This is one of the main reasons people around the world are drawn to Pope Francis: He is a masterful storyteller. Enticingly entitled The Name of God is Mercy, the pope's new book provides the most recent evidence of his gift for speaking to the soul of his readers.

This accessible and engaging interview has the potential to soften even the most hardened cynics. Indeed, for those who are courageous enough to maintain "at least an openness" to letting Christ into their lives (EG, n. 3), this book has to potential to open new doors. Whether it be for Lenten spiritual reading, an Easter gift for a loved one, or a fresh way to enter into the Jubilee Year, commit to picking up The Name of God is Mercy as soon as possible!

Here is a sampling of the kinds of stories that leap off the pages:
  • Pope Francis' own life-changing confession. The Holy Father's revisits this pivotal event from his teenage years--an experience which continues to inform his own appreciation for Reconciliation. The story invites the reader to consider listening for Christ speaking through this great Sacrament of Mercy.
  • The back story and definitive explanation about the pope's famous line, "Who am I to judge?" A must read, given the ongoing obfuscation of what the Holy Father really thinks about this pressing issue of the day.
  • Colorful language to provoke new thoughts about seemingly old ideas: Further explication of the Church as a "field hospital"; discussion of Confession as neither a "torture chamber" nor a "dry cleaner"; the call for a "visceral love" of the outcast and the imprisoned.
Somehow it seemed perfect that Roberto Benigni, the Academy Award Winner, served as a leading pitch person for the pope's book. After all, Benigni and Bergoglio are both keenly aware that "Life is Beautiful." Indeed, Pope Francis' focus on mercy has helped people start to see that all beautiful story lines take on similar features.

Life-changing stories ultimately center on a self-sacrificing love which is stronger than death; they revolve around a gift of self which nurtures new life in the other. And, in the end, there is one Story of Stories that Pope Francis returns to over and over again.

It is a true story, about the merciful love of the Son of God poured out for us on the Cross--while we were still sinners, as St. Paul reminds us.

This was our Father's sacrifice. This was his gift to us. This is why his name is Mercy.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Punxsutawney Phil, Presentation Day, Plus More

Secular and sacred calendars collide every year on February 2nd, a day devoted both to a certain groundhog and to the Presentation of our Lord at the Temple.

As followers of Jesus in the 21st century, we are called to be in the world, but not of it. We are challenged to see God in all things--and all things in light of God. We are invited to embrace personal conversion, but also to contribute to cultural transformation.

So what's the deal with Phil and the Presentation?! The question of 2/2 is whether this day is merely a coincidence of scheduling or a providential reminder that there is always something more going on than meets the eye. Here are a couple considerations for your musings:

Check out the humor and humility of God:  Why would the Lord of the entire cosmos create such a curious looking creature, if not to make us smile? Why would God establish a Law to which his own Son needed to submit and thereby transform, if not to reveal his own desire to serve his creation?
  • While Phil foreshadows a prediction about the question of when spring will arrive, the child Jesus fulfills a promise about the ultimate issue of how God will deliver us from slavery and death.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Exploring Indulgences with "Pat in the Pew"

Rembrandt's "The Return of the Prodigal Son"

Pope Francis’ Jubilee Year of Mercy has clearly struck a chord in the hearts of Catholics around the world.  Since nobody’s perfect, everybody intuitively knows the need for Divine Mercy.

Yet, like a crazy uncle at a family party, Papa Franchesco has included a potentially confounding twist in announcing the Jubilee festivities: Indulgences.  If you are already walking with the Holy Father on this and are up to speed on the Catechism’s explanation (n. 1471ff.), keep on hitting those holy doors and don’t waste any more time reading on!  

However, if you have never really heard about or understood indulgences, you might be more like "Pat in the Pew." Pat is a regular attendee of Sunday Mass, a Catholic who understands Jesus’ gift in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, someone who is happy to self-identify as Catholic, even without having easy answers to every question that might arise about the faith. To Pat, indulgences might seem like a combination of a Medieval board game and a Harry Potter incantation; they could sound like obtuse rules to a game no one remembers, which allege to deliver a solution for a problem we didn’t know we had.

And yet, Pope Francis has placed a premium on indulgences during the Jubilee year. In Misericordiae Vultus ("The Face of Mercy"), he writes that “A Jubilee also entails the granting of indulgences,” adding that “This practice will acquire an even more important meaning in the Holy Year of Mercy” (MV, n. 22).

Here are four principles that might help "Pat" (re)consider the gift of indulgences during the Year of Mercy:

      1) It’s about relationships, not rules.  Sure, the idea of going to a specific church, walking through the designated holy doors, offering prayers for the pope, receiving Holy Communion, and making a sacramental Confession within a week could sound like some kind of religious business deal.  However, as usual Pope Francis does not obsess about the details.  Rather, he describes the process as “indulgence on the part of the Father who, through the Bride of Christ, his Church, reaches the pardoned sinner and frees him from every residue left by the consequences of sin, enabling him to act with charity, to grow in love rather than to fall back into sin” (MV, n. 22).

Monday, January 18, 2016

Why Questions about Contraception Still Matter

Robin: "Did the Pope just...?" (
If you are among the vast number of Catholics who understand the gravity of the respect life issue, but don't get the Church's ongoing concerns about contraception, here are four reasons why you should keep an open mind on the topic:
  1. Because fifty years of a failed social experiment is enough. Perhaps you think contraception has been good for your marriage and has helped you lead a more virtuous, Christ-centered life. My personal experience is that the Church's beautiful teaching on natural family planning offers a path for husbands and wives to embrace the Beatitudes and to explore God's vision for a holy marriage (using the best science of our day, since NFP is not your grandmother's "rhythm method"!). So this could be a great conversation for friends to enter into.

    However, on a social level, objective observers should recognize that the almost ubiquitous  use of contraception has failed to deliver on the very promises its advocates once championed: out of wedlock births have skyrocketed; abortions have continued in their appalling seven-digit pace, year after year; sexually transmitted diseases continue to mutate even as infection rates spiral out of control; then there is the pandemic of marital infidelity and divorce.

    Thirty or forty years ago, perhaps we could say that we didn't know any better.  But now that we have seen the "fruits" of this failed experiment, why would we want to continue imposing this way of life on the next generation? Isn't the more Christian response to hope that we are capable of something better--given that we now have a better understanding of the alternatives?
  2. Because we should be merciful toward Holy Mother Church (after all, it's the Year of Mercy!).  Let's face it, most people have not heard compelling reasons why they should resist the world's contraceptive mentality. God's revelation about the meaning and purpose of human sexuality have not magically "trickled down" to the people in the pews.

    Indeed most pastoral leaders have given up trying to show how Christians could be liberated from current versions of secular "sexolotry" (although in "Create in me a Clean Heart" the U.S. Bishops have recently addressed the widespread addiction to pornography, so closely predicated on the separation of sex from procreation and/or even a loving relationship of husband and wife). And most people are afraid to question the myth of overpopulation, even as we watch the "demographic winter" hit western Europe and the birth rates in the U.S. fall below replacement levels (without the influx of new immigrants).

    Nonetheless, from Bl. Paul VI's prophetic teaching in Humanae Vitae (check out paragraph #17's predictions, written almost 50 years ago!), through St. John Paul II's inspired insights regarding a "theology of the body," to Pope Francis' current concern about an integral human ecology in his environmental encyclical, there is a wealth of philosophical and theological insights that support the "green sex" movement the new pro-life generation.

Monday, January 11, 2016

What it Would Mean to Come Out as Baptized in '16

To come out as baptized would be
to affirm and actualize my deepest identity.

More valuable than perfectly matched powerball numbers, Baptism confers upon each and every Christian an inheritance of infinite worth.

Just as no one chooses to be born, so no one chooses to be baptized.  Baptism is first and foremost a gift from the Lord Jesus himself; it is the prior and primary grace to which we respond throughout the course of our Christian lives.  It is a new beginning to which each of us is carried--one way or another--by the love of those around us. 

To come out as baptized would be
to transform all other dimensions of my life in light of this gift.

Grafted onto the Mystical Body of Christ, our baptismal dignity should elevate all of our other interests and allegiances, casting them in a supernatural light.  The ethnic, cultural, and familial ties that bind; the political, economic, and sexual dimensions of our lives--all should be in-formed and re-formed by our new life in Christ. 

To live our baptismal call is to experience a synthesis and integration of our very selves into a new and irrevocable identity, as brothers and sisters in the Son.

To come out as baptized would be
to embrace a real communion with two billion followers of Jesus around the world.

Authentic diversity always affirms a deeper unity; individuality flourishes not in isolation but in various networks of interrelation.  We exist as a communion of persons here and now, and so we aspire not to impose a way of life on others, but to invite all people to know the eternal Communion of Persons.

To come out as baptized would be
to live a lifestyle centered on imitation of Christ

Baptism confers a unique mission on each person claimed by Christ, and the Lord delivers with it the appropriate charisms of the Holy Spirit.  Baptism creates a living and breathing bond of connection with the mystery of Trinitarian Love. 

The mission of the baptized consists in transforming the world with and through this Love.  It means willing the good of the Other before self.  It means letting Christ live in us, so that others might have life more abundantly through Him.

To come out as baptized would be
to hear the Father call us beloved sons and daughters "with whom I am well pleased."