Monday, June 13, 2016

Fathers as Missionaries of Mercy

Fathers of families are

"the great adventurers
of the modern world."

+Charles Peguy

Merciful fathers have become so because they have been on the receiving end of the Father's mercy. They have dared to darken the door of a confessional--making the Sacrament of Mercy a regular resource in their spiritual tool boxes.

Merciful fathers know that they have been forgiven much, hence they show much love. They are patient because they have borne the weight of their own impatience; they are kind because they have seen the damage wrought by their own unkindness.

Merciful fathers have short memories because they know that the Father of Mercies does not hold a grudge. They strive to live in the flow of divine grace--receive; share; repeat--because they know that the ambivalent alternative is not a neutral path, but is a dangerous meandering on the wide road of destruction.

Whether or not the Father's love was reflected through their own earthly fathers as perfectly as they would have liked, today's merciful fathers have allowed themselves to be reformed by the steady hand of the Wounded Healer. They have even grown to look upon their own fathers with the face of mercy.

Merciful fathers know what it is like to be carried safely home on the shoulder of a friend or a brother--be it physically or spiritually, literally or metaphorically.  Therefore, they are more than happy to lift up those they meet. Especially those the world deems "undeserving" or "unfit" or "unwanted."

As the modern world's great adventurers, fathers of families dare to share, not hoard, a love of life. They choose to radiate, not restrict, authentic compassion.  They decide to live each day more for others than for self.

It's the least they can do, in response to the Father whom they have not yet seen face to face, but who has claimed them as sons forever.


P.S.  For a refresher on resources and suggestions for finishing the Jubilee Year of Mercy on a strong note, check out this array of ideas from the USCCB.

Monday, June 6, 2016

RENEWing Parish Life

Renew International's Process for Pastoral Planning

Given the challenges of the day, wouldn't it be great if there were a turn-key process to help infuse new life into your parish? Or, how about a practical program for making Pope Francis' call for a pastoral and missionary conversion of the Church come to life?

Inspired by The Joy of the Gospel, Renew International has prepared just such a resource.  Its core planning process for pastors and parish leaders includes video learning modules and guides on the following themes:
  • Sunday Matters: To the extent that people are still connected to the Church, then Sunday is clearly the best day to connect with them. Wouldn't it be nice to help parish leaders as they look for ways to reinvigorate outreach opportunities on Sunday?
  • Welcome Matters: Let's face it, we all know what "unwelcome" looks and feels like--and no one likes it. Since the world already delivering more than enough incivility and indifference, how about if our parishes were known for flipping the script?
  • Belonging Matters: Many commentators have noted that the old model for parish life was "Behave-Believe-Belong"; that is, if we acted like Christians, it would strengthen our faith and would result in us understanding to Whom we belonged (both personally and communally). Today, the post-modern approach is "Belong-Believe-Behave": that is, most people seek first a sense of belonging, and then their commitment to the Christian faith and way of life flow out from this experience. Given that Christians specialize in the communal life, isn't it time we find new ways to share this experience in a world that is so un-grounded and up-rooted?
  • Witness Matters: Nothing is more powerful than personal testimony about how the Lord has been active and present in the real details of a person's life; God is no abstraction, and the Resurrection is no mere symbol.  Wouldn't it be nice if we grew more comfortable about sharing our experience of his Presence and the "irresistible force" of the Resurrection (Pope Francis, EG, n. 276)?!
  • Mission Matters: For those of us who might be a bit "churchy" and/or fairly comfortable with our faith life, it is time to "go forth" from our comfort zones. After all, the Church exists not to provide contentment to those who happen to show up, but to nudge the core out the door.  Wouldn't it be great if the world was once again drawn to the light of the Gospel by the mighty works of mercy wrought by her members?

Monday, May 30, 2016

Seven Reasons Why Catholics Care About Immigration

"The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin. Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him.
Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible,
may make the exercise of the right
to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions,
especially with regard to the immigrants' duties toward their country
of adoption.
Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that
receives them,
to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens."

(Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2241)

The First Family of Immigrants

With the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops decrying new immigrant deportation raids, many people are still not quite clear why the Catholic Church is so focused on migrants and refugees.

Public authorities certainly have the responsibility for regulating immigration but, as the Catechism notes, this responsibility is always subordinate to the duty to welcome those who seek security and an opportunity to support their families. So, here are seven reasons why Catholics care so much about the immigration question:

1. Members of the Holy Family were themselves migrants, as were most of our ancestors.

2.  Pope Francis says that he is "the pastor of a Church without frontiers, a Church which considers herself mother to all" (EG, n. 210).

3.  Stephen Colbert thinks its better to take a stand than to try taking a farm worker's job. (It's timeless and timely Congressional testimony from 2010, in response to the United Farm Workers' "Take Our Jobs" campaign.)

Monday, May 23, 2016

Dictatorship of Relativism or Lordship of Jesus Christ?

Perhaps we should be grateful that the choice for or against Jesus is becoming so painfully clear.  Christians can no longer play the all-too-comfortable game of compromise with the culture, unless they are willing to be complicit with the the forces of radical secularism and ultimately subservient to the hegemony of the day.

In 2005, on the eve of his election as pope, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger identified the new totalitarianism of our times by coining the phrase "dictatorship of relativism." Ratzinger's homily to the Cardinals gathered in conclave offered the following insight: “We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires.” Pope Francis would subsequently reaffirm the concern shortly after his election as pope in 2013, and he has frequently decried the spiritual poverty of the so-called developed world.

Under the dictatorship of relativism, illogical as it is, the only self-evident truth is that there are no self-evident truths. Absent truths which we recognize as self-evident, those who wield power quickly begin to dictate what is right and true--under the guise of "tolerance," of course:
  • "Life begins and ends when we say it does", and medical evidence about fetal development and viability or concerns about "brain dead" diagnoses will not be allowed into the discussion.
  • "Marriage is what we say it is", and children no longer need a mother and a father, despite overwhelming sociological evidence to the contrary.
  • "Freedom of conscience means what we say it means", and health care providers should no longer be free to follow their consciences, despite the fact that conscientious objection has been a fundamental part of the American experiment from the beginning.
  • "Reproductive rights apply only to those who agree with us", and the cost of contraception and abortion should be imposed on everyone (both domestically and internationally), despite the fact that there are serious ethical and existential concerns about both. 
  • "The human person exists in as many sexes as we choose to define", and those who acknowledge only male and female are close-minded, despite obvious physical and chromosomal evidence in their defense.
  • "Title IX means whatever we want it to mean", despite the clear intention and obvious language regarding equal educational opportunities for males and females. 
Blind faith in unreasonable claims is required--lest one be branded a bigot. Public funding is wielded like a weapon, and cultural bullies threaten the reputations and livelihoods of those who attempt to resist.  In addition, as Ratzinger had noted regarding this dictatorship, the ultimate good of the human person is reduced to pursuit of one's egotistical desires: If I want it, therefore I have a right to it; if I feel it, therefore I must act on it.

Is it any wonder that emptiness and meaninglessness haunt the culture in which we live?

Under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, on the other hand, there is an authentic respect for reality which is understood a gift that is meant to be received.  Faith is not blind, but is eminently reasonable.  And Trinitarian Love inspires the deeper the logic of the Christian way of life--it fosters self-giving, not taking, self-emptying, not consuming, self-sacrificing, not self-aggrandizing.

Among the many promises which the Lord Jesus makes and fulfills are the following:

Monday, May 16, 2016

Waiting on a Bonaventure

"The papacy and the central structures of the universal Church
also need to hear the call to pastoral conversion....
Excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful,
complicates the Church's life and her missionary outreach."

Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, n. 32

When both Democratic and Republican politicians cite Pope Francis as one of the most influential people in their lives--and when they concur that he is the most respected leader on the face of the earth--is it a sign of the end times?

In confused and confusing times, the Bishop of Rome seems to be simultaneously a polarizing and a unifying force.  His unwavering commitment to the basic truths of the Gospel and his restless desire to stretch people out of their comfort zones continue to move forward, like intricately intertwined forces for transformation.

From his call for a pastoral and missionary conversion of the Church at the start of his papacy (see the sample passage above), through his expansive environmental encyclical; from his wide-ranging document on "Love in the Family," through the recent announcement of a commission to explore the question of female deacons, questions abound regarding where Pope Francis is leading the Church and the world.

No recent pope has spoken more frequently and more earnestly about the real spiritual challenges posed by the Devil.  Pope Francis is not naive about the Father of Lies, that master of disunity and disharmony and disintegration.  But Pope Francis' response has not been a defensive hunkering down; rather, he has gone on the offensive in an effort to stretch the Both/And of Catholicism.  For example: 
  • Both permanent and unbreakable marriage bonds, and pastoral outreach to those whose marriages have come undone.
  • Both an all male priesthood and episcopacy, and increased leadership roles and ministerial voice for females.
  • Both a clear recognition of the human person's unique place in God's plan of creation, and a boundless commitment to care of the environment.
  • Both a relentless rejection of gender ideology and the redefinition of the human person, and a sincere invitation to all who are open to lifelong conversion as disciples of Jesus.