Monday, September 25, 2017

A Relatable Face of Holiness for Today

St. Vincent de Paul
Holiness looks like something. But is it possible that a 17th Century priest could speak to 21st Century questions about the meaning and purpose of life?

Known as the "Apostle of Charity" and "Father of the Poor," St. Vincent contributed to the internal reform of the Church in France through a simple formula: the faithful preaching of the Gospel; the intentional gathering of disciples of Jesus for meaningful Christian community and mutual support; and the radical commitment to serving the needs of the poor and the marginalized.

Faithful preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ--both in words and in actions--is the necessary starting point for a life of holiness. It not only comforts wounded sinners but also exhorts them to ongoing conversion of heart.  Faithful preaching of the Gospel resists the reduction of Christianity to a mere reflection of worldly wisdom or a mere repetition of universal religious claims--as if the Incarnation of God happens anywhere else but in Jesus Christ.

Meaningful Christian community and mutual support allows real relationships to flourish. This is the context in which people can let themselves be vulnerable and open their hearts to God's transforming grace. This is the place where authentic diversity of personalities and opinions can be held in tension, out of mutual respect. The human person is made for relationship with God, which sin has wounded and the grace of Christ has repaired, but it must be lived out in concrete, interpersonal relationships.

Radical commitment to serving the needs of the poor and the marginalized may be St. Vincent's most enduring legacy, and this may be the easiest point of entry for 21st Century Christians.  St. Vincent's Daughters of Charity, which he co-founded, and his Vincentian priests continue their work today. His designation as patron saint of all charitable societies keeps his smiling presence front-and-center for all who would serve the least, in the name of Jesus. But his abiding relevance for today might just be his simple, direct, hands-on approach to helping the people God placed right in front of him each day.

Notwithstanding heroic moments of Christian witness and/or martyrdom, most moments of holiness resemble small acts of kindness, offered out of love. This is because holiness looks like Someone--Jesus Christ--whose face we glimpse when we encounter the least and whose work continues in and through us when we serve those in need.

May St. Vincent intercede on our behalf that we might find everyday ways to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the ill, and visit the imprisoned (Mt 25:35-36)!

Monday, September 18, 2017

Embracing an Evangelizing Catechesis

USCCB Catechetical Sunday Resources

It all starts with a joke: The junior high teacher asks the class, "Who can explain the difference between ignorance and indifference?"  After a long, awkward silence, a weary student responds, "I don't know, and I don't care."  Exactly!

The old educational adage is that students will never care how much the teacher knows until they know how much the teacher cares. In terms of teaching the Catholic faith, people will never care to learn more until they experience why they should care.

An evangelizing catechesis starts with helping people care. It begins with the awareness that, before we can hand on what we have received from the Apostles, we need to help people hear and respond to the Good News of Jesus--personally. We need to return to the basic proclamation of the Gospel, the Kerygma, so that baptized Catholics might encounter the life-changing revelation anew--personally.

An evangelizing catechesis helps people move from caring into life-long learning.  Once people care about how the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ directly impacts them, they care to embrace ongoing conversion of heart and thus walk the path of missionary discipleship.

An evangelizing catechesis is rooted in the first announcement or kerygma. In the words of Pope Francis (EG, n. 164):
  • "In catechesis too, we have rediscovered the fundamental role of the first announcement or kerygma, which needs to be the center of all evangelizing activity and all efforts at Church renewal. The kerygma is trinitarian. The fire of the Spirit is given in the form of tongues and leads us to believe in Jesus Christ who, by his death and resurrection, reveals and communicates to us the Father’s infinite mercy. On the lips of the catechist the first proclamation must ring out over and over: 'Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.' This first proclamation is called 'first' not because it exists at the beginning and can then be forgotten or replaced by other more important things. It is first in a qualitative sense because it is the principal proclamation, the one which we must hear again and again in different ways, the one which we must announce one way or another throughout the process of catechesis, at every level and moment..."
An evangelizing catechesis compels a response. Indeed, the more I open myself to embrace the message that Jesus loves me personally, that he gave his life to save me personally, and that he is living at my side each day, the more I want to learn about Him. Likewise, the more I learn about Jesus Christ, the more I am drawn into friendship with Him and so drawn into the mystery of Trinitarian love--into the very relationship of the Son with the Father through the gift of the Spirit.

In the 2017 Prayer for Catechists from the U.S. Bishops, we ask that the Church's heroic and evangelizing catechists might help more people care to know the Truth which alone sets them free:

O God, our Heavenly Father, you have
given us the gift of these catechists to be
heralds of the Gospel to our parish family.
We lift them up to you in thanksgiving
and intercede for them concerning their
hopes and needs.

May we be attentive to the presence of
your Word in them, a Word that lifts up
and affirms, calls forth and challenges, is
compassionate and consoles.

We pray that our parish family will always
be blessed with those who have responded to
the call to share in Christ's prophetic mission
as catechists. May we too be open to the
universal call to service that Christ addresses
to all of his disciples, contributing our gifts to
the communion of faith, the Church.
We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen!

Monday, September 11, 2017

A Fatima Centennial Self-Evaluation

What if the Blessed Virgin Mary asked me
to pray the Rosary every day?

The Mother of God's message at Fatima was meant to be personal. Not just for the three shepherd children to whom she appeared over a six-month period in 1917--the long-suffering St. Lucia and her recently canonized cousins, Jacinta and Francisco--but for me and for you.

So, here's a spiritual "gut check": How would you rate your level of knowledge and commitment on the following Fatima spectrum?

Novice                                   Intermediate                                       Advanced
Aware                                       Fairly Familiar              Well-versed in the details
Not so interested
                 Open to the implications                   Deeply devoted

If you are somewhere between a 1.0 and a 2.5, check out the brief overview below which outlines Our Lady's maternal messages at Fatima (and if you're closer to a 3.0, enjoy thinking about all the other key details we might include, given the 100 years of Fatima)! But wherever we might fall on the spectrum, this very public 20th-century miracle should provoke some deeper self-reflection during this centennial year.

Four Fatima-related questions for ongoing self-assessment:

  1. Do I believe that Heaven is closer than imaginable? Jesus wants us to embrace his Mother as our Mother, and she always stands ready to intercede on our behalf. Isn't Fatima's evidence of Mary's ongoing maternal concern enough to open my eyes to life's deeper realities?

  2. Do I believe that Hell is a real possibility? Presumption is still a sin, and assuming that all will be saved is just as problematic as thinking we can know who might be damned. Dorothy Day said that we only love God as much as the person we love the least. Isn't it time to consider whether I actually hope for the salvation of those whom I love the least--and whether I am actively concerned for those who are clearly very far away from God?

  3. Do I understand why and how my sacrifices might contribute to the salvation of souls? The Law of Love revealed on the Cross shows us that it is in self-giving that we find self-fulfillment; it is in self-emptying that others are raised up. Isn't it time to start offering my daily sufferings and sacrifices for the salvation of souls?

  4. Do I believe that praying the Rosary each day can change the world?  Twenty minutes is easily gobbled up skimming social media, surfing the internet, or vegging out in front of some show. Isn't it time to plan how/when I can commit to a daily Rosary--in the car, during a daily walk, or before resorting to screen time? 

 A brief review of Mary's messages during the six Fatima apparitions:

  • "I come from Heaven" (5-13-17): Announced by a flash of supernatural light, the Blessed Mother asks the three children whether they will bear the sufferings that God sends them in atonement for the sins that offend God and for the conversion of sinners. She promises that the grace of God will strengthen them, and asks them to pray the Rosary every day to bring peace to the world.
  • "The Fatima Prayer" & Devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary (6-13-17): The beautiful Lady returns as promised, shares the prayer which is now included at the end of each decade of the Rosary (see below), and again urges the three children to pray the Rosary every day. The Blessed Mother also asks the children to promote devotion to her Immaculate Heart, as a path to lead the whole world back to God.
  • The Vision of Hell and the Three Secrets (7-13-17): With reassurances that Heaven is their destiny, reminders of daily Rosaries, and the prediction of an October miracle, Our Lady proceeded to shock Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta with a vision of eternal damnation. She then commented: "You have seen hell, where the souls of poor sinners go. It is to save them that God wants to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If you do what I tell you, many souls will be saved, and there will be peace." In addition, the Blessed Mother shared the secrets of the message of Fatima, whose drama would unfold in the decades that followed--including the consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart.
  • Delayed Visit & Promise of Basilica on the Site (8-19-17): Growing pressure from arrogant atheists and secular obstructionists caused increasing problems for the three children, and a local political figure prevented them from keeping their monthly appointment on the 13th. However, the Blessed Mother greeted the children a few days later with this message: "Pray, pray very much. Make sacrifices for sinners. Many souls go to hell, because no one is willing to help them with sacrifice."
  • Prediction of Future Visions (9-13-17): With crowds continuing to grow, the Blessed Mother's message once again focused on making sacrifices and praying the Rosary. She also promised the children that, one month later on her final visit, they would have a vision of Our Lord, Our Lady of Sorrows and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, and St. Joseph with the Child Jesus.
  • Miracle of the Sun Witnessed by at least 70,000 People (10-13-17): The children saw the visions promised in September; the massive crowd saw the rain stop, the skies open, and the sun become a whirling dervish. Even as many of the hardened cynics and skeptics feared the end of the world, the Blessed Mother reassured the children that the war would end soon. Perhaps the most stunning evidence of this supernatural occurrence was the fact that all who were present admitted that the "miracle of the sun" had dried their previously rain-soaked clothes and shoes.

    After revealing herself to be Our Lady of the Rosary, the Virgin Mary also told the children: "People must amend their lives and ask pardon for their sins. They must not offend our Lord any more, for He is already too much offended!"

A Closing Fatima Prayer:

Let's pray that we continue advancing along the spectrum of Fatima devotion, as we move ever closer to our personal and communal judgment days: "O my Jesus, forgive us our sins; save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to heaven, especially those who are most in need of your mercy."

Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us--

P.S. Don't miss the Holy Father's announcement of a plenary indulgence through the end of this liturgical year.

Monday, September 4, 2017

A Litany of Laboring Love


For all those laboring to recover from Hurricane Harvey,
Christ hear us.

For all those laboring to help others find meaningful work,
Christ hear us.

For all those laboring build a more just society,
Christ hear us.

For all those laboring to bring new life into the world,
Christ hear us.

For all those laboring to exercise responsible dominion over creation,
Christ hear us.

For all those laboring to care for the infirm and the elderly,
Christ hear us.

For all those laboring to create grace-filled Christian families,
Christ hear us.

For all those laboring to serve the Lord in the least,
Christ hear us.

For all those laboring to build bridges of trust and solidarity,
Christ hear us.

For all those laboring to bring peace amid senseless strife,
Christ hear us.

For all those laboring to offer up their sufferings for the salvation of souls,
Christ hear us.

For all those laboring to seek first the Kingdom of God,
Christ hear us, Christ graciously hear us.

Most Holy Trinity, laboring to draw all people into the eternal exchange of Love,
Have mercy on us!

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Truth, Beauty, and Goodness of God's Creation

"Even before revealing himself to man in words of truth,
God reveals himself to him through the universal language of creation,
the work of his Word, of his wisdom:
the order and harmony of the cosmos--
which both the child and the scientist discover--
'from the greatness and beauty of created things comes
a corresponding perception of their Creator,'
'for the author of beauty created them' (Wis 13:3,5)."

What if we encounter almighty God--who IS Truth and Beauty and Goodness--in our everyday experiences of truth, beauty and goodness?  

Reflecting on St. Francis of Assisi's profound communion with God's creation, St. Bonaventure maintained that we have the capacity to see "vestiges" or "traces" of God's Trinitarian Presence throughout the cosmos. Francis didn't love creation in a pantheistic way, as if the created order was divine in and of itself, but he affirmed its deepest dignity as a mirror in which we gaze upon the very wisdom of God.  St. Francis' sacramental world view enabled him to encounter the Supernatural in and through the natural order.

Our own glimpses of God's glory in and through nature are like detecting the fingerprints of the Creator in his creation. Such experiences of the truth and beauty and goodness of creation are not mere matters of taste, as today's prevailing relativism claims with ironic and absolute certainty. When we find ourselves touched by an overwhelming sense of the order and harmony of the cosmos--the unfolding miracle of new life in the womb; the power of the sea, or the majesty of the mountaintop; the preternatural dance of darkness during a total eclipse of the sun--we rightly sense that we are apprehending something More
Such moments of wonder are not mere matters of opinion. They are the perception of a reality which expresses itself through nature, even as it transcends the physical world. Individual human souls may have different sensibilities or capabilities to notice and appreciate these experiences, but all persons are capable of discovering truth, goodness and beauty. We may prefer a sunrise to a sunset, but we dare not deny that they are both literally awesome.  

The question, however, is what we make of these experiences. To perceive the truth that "everything is connected....everything is interconnected" (Pope Francis) should lead us to marvel at the beauty of creation's language. But it should also compel us to protect and defend the goodness which overflows from God through his created order.

Since Holy Father Francis has designated September 1st as the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, we might consider acting on these insights in one of the following ways:
  • Resisting the "throwaway culture" (Pope Francis) and rejecting products and practices which contribute to a toxic environment.
  • Exploring deeper issues about climate change through resources from organizations like the Catholic Climate Covenant.
  • Praying that we might personally and collectively have the mind to know, the heart to love, and the hands to serve God in and through our care of creation.

Finally, as the revealed Word of God reiterates, let us not fail to marvel at the Truth and Beauty and Goodness who is the source of all our everyday experiences of these three transcendental attributes of the Lord God:

"In the beginning was the Word....
All things came to be through him,
and without him nothing came to be."
John 1:1,3

"He is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of all creation.
For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth,
the visible and the invisible...
all things were created through him and for him.
He is before all things,
and in him all things hold together."

Colossians 1:15-17

Monday, August 21, 2017

America's Original Wound and Ongoing Eclipse of Human Dignity

Gordon, an ex-slave, from Wikipedia

Some scars never go away.

With our nation once again reeling from a violent eruption of heinous and explicit racism, a number of people have raised related questions about the way that unconscious and implicit racism continues to shape the current cultural landscape.

If humanistic luminaries like our nation's founders could be blind to their own denial of basic human rights to black citizens, and if highly educated judges and legislators could support institutional segregation for decades, how likely is it that 21st century Americans are without our own racial blind spots? Isn't the probability very high that this era has its own social and cultural structures of sin that impact all of us?

These are not comfortable questions for cocktail-hour conversations, of course. They are matters for deep reflection about our most basic presuppositions, which routinely go unexamined. They are also questions that often leave people thinking, "I don't know where to begin with that..."

Here's a starting point, a must-read for anyone who dares to delve more deeply into questions of institutional and structural racism: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in a Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander.

The importance of this book cannot be overstated, just as its provocative thesis cannot be easily digested: Alexander argues that the "war on drugs"--promoted by Republican and Democratic presidents alike, and propped up by a number of shocking Supreme Court decisions--is the vehicle of ongoing racism in our times. It is a machine which has targeted and incarcerated black men at outrageously disproportionate levels, and it leaves a devastating swath of convicted felons in its wake who have no hope of re-integration into society. Somehow the author manages to address what seems like all conceivable counter-arguments, even demonstrating the essential role played both by the myth of colorblindness and by black exceptionalism (e.g., the election of an African-American president).

Just as Original Sin left the human race with a weakened will and darkened intellect, so today's racial structures of sin continue to compromise and implicate us all. Statues and monuments may remind us of past structures of sin, but debates about where they belong might just be a distraction from addressing current racial inequities. With a targeted minority--black men--continuing to suffer mind-boggling levels of felony convictions, it seems that the least we can do is to begin seeing the unconscious and implicit mechanisms at work today.

Ultimately, of course, only a Wounded Healer can save us from the mess in which we are living. Yet he needs us to be his agents in this noble mission. The Lord knows we did not choose to be born into this particular system, but he also knows that we can choose whether or not we perceive the reality. And we can decide how to begin tending to the wounds.

Reading The New Jim Crow would be a great place to start.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Max-imizing Each Moment

Maximilian Kolbe

St. Maximilian Kolbe heroically stepped forward to accept a death sentence in the place of another prisoner at Auschwitz. What prepared him for such a moment, and what might we learn from his example?

There could be no ultimate gift of self
without a lifetime of giving of oneself.

There could be no heroic taking-the-place-of-another
without a lifetime of standing for-and-with others.

There could be no act of perfect courage
without a lifetime of courageous daily actions.

There could be no "yes" to self-sacrificing Love
without a lifetime of sacrificing one's lesser loves.

There could be no laying down one's life
without a lifetime of taking up one's cross.

There could be no "Martyr of Charity"
without a lifetime of dying to love of self.

There could be no explanation like Kolbe's "I am a Catholic priest"
without a lifetime of proudly professing one's Catholic faith.
There could be no allowing another person to live on one's own borrowed time
without a lifetime of sharing a New Life borrowed from Another.

May the witness of Max Kolbe, the patron patron saint of media communications, political prisoners, families, drug addicts, and the pro-life movement, help us walk in friendship with Jesus and our Immaculate Mother each day--


Monday, July 31, 2017

"Lord, teach us how to pray..." (Lk 11:1)

After observing the depth, the faithfulness and the fruitfulness of Jesus' prayer, the disciples couldn't help but ask: How can we pray like you, Lord (so we can be more like you)?

Jesus does not get into practical strategies--e.g., posture or breathing techniques or meditation mantras--but he gets really real.  His answer is that we need to enter into his prayer, into his lived relationship with the Father, through his Holy Spirit.

The Lord's Prayer is a summary of the Gospel because it draws us into the mystery of Our Father's personal quest for an intimate relationship with each of his created sons and daughters.  In and through his un-created Son, by the power of his proceeding Spirit, the Father seeks to draw each of us into intimacy with the Blessed Trinity's eternal exchange of Love.

But we are practical people with many day-to-day concerns--not unlike the first disciples (!)--and so we want to know what this lesson on prayer means for us right now.  Here are seven suggestions, following the seven petitions of the Lord's Prayer:

  • (Re)Claim and (Re)Frame our lives in terms of relationship with our eternal Father. When we pray that the Father's name be holy, "we are immersed in the innermost mystery of his Godhead and the drama of the salvation of our humanity" (CCC, n. 2801).  Because the Father is perfect and holy, Jesus wants us to let his image and likeness shine through our lives.
  • Walk in the presence of the Father, who IS in heaven and who IS close to us wherever we are. This is what it means to ask that his Kingdom come; this is why Jesus proclaimed that "The kingdom of God is at hand" (Mk 1:15). Heaven contains the earth as the soul contains the body.
  •  Will the Will of the Father, in matters great and small. Holiness looks like something--conforming my will the the Will of the Father.  And it looks like Someone--Jesus--who lived 30 years of ordinary life and 3 years of extraordinary ministry simply willing the Father's Will, moment-to-moment.
  • Eat and drink giving thanks to the Father (particularly at his eucharistic table)! To resist the myth of our own self-sufficiency and our own self-made-ness, perhaps there is no better place to start than looking at every drop and morsel we consume as signs of affection from the Father: "all good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights" (Jas 1:17).
  • Forgive with the prodigal and gratuitous love of the Father. We must redirect those who have hurt us, so that they stop their bad behavior and so that relationships might be restored.  But this requires that we remember how much we have already been forgiven: "Merciful and gracious is the LORD, slow to anger, abounding in kindness" (Ps 103:8).
  • Cast out temptations in the name of Jesus, the Father's beloved. The father of lies will not rest until he has drawn us from the embrace of our heavenly Father. Temptations are guaranteed until the end of time, but we resist their control when we name them and dismiss them by invoking Jesus' authoritative name and example, "Get away, Satan" (Mt 4:10).
  • Trust that it pleases the Father to deliver us from every evil: Even before Jesus put evil to death on the Cross, he invited his followers to walk as he walked, with utter assurance in this promise: "Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom" (Lk 12:32).

In sum, Jesus teaches us how to pray by inviting us into his own prayer, into his inner life. We simply need to live from this mystery "in a vital and personal relationship with the living and true God"; after all, as the Catechism succinctly notes, "This relationship is prayer" (CCC, n. 2558).

Monday, July 24, 2017

Convocation + Conversation => Conversion

An opening riddle: What might Orlando in July and a breath of fresh air have in common?

Acceptable answers: The 2017 Convocation of Catholic Leaders--or--the Holy Spirit blowing through the battered--but not broken--body of the Church :)

The experience seemed like: one part national "world youth day," with a powerful presence of young adults, and many others exhibiting a renewed young-at-heart status; one part pilgrimage, with 3500 amazing companions from across the country; one part incredible retreat, with heavenly liturgies and dynamic nightly devotions; and one part "killer" conference, with star-studded keynote addresses, witness talks and panel discussions.

Of course, the preferred terminology was "convocation"--as in, "a coming together." It was an assembly led by scores of Bishops and their respective delegations. It was a gathering of people who represented the entire body of the Church, whose authentic unity in diversity was on full display.

The operative word throughout the event was "conversation," and the intention was clearly to engage as many diverse voices as possible--and to spark ongoing conversations at the dioceses and parishes throughout the U.S.  The call to ongoing personal and ecclesial conversion was clear throughout. Even though the preparation materials described all of the participants as "protagonists," it seemed that the delegates were even more like actors on the stage of a divinely inspired drama--with the promised Advocate leading the way.

In addition to calling forth delegations from around the country, the Bishops led by contributing reflections, facilitating the panel discussions, and listening to the joys and concerns of all present. Four great themes from Pope Francis' The Joy of the Gospel framed the conversation in the plenary sessions:
  1. Charting the Landscape and Mission Field: As the Greek root of the word indicates, this current time of "crisis" is a transition between what is passing away and what is coming next; it is, therefore, a kairos moment--an opportune time for the Lord's ongoing activity to unfold (H. Ospino). It is time for the Church to again be poor and be for the poor, per the charge of Holy Father Francis.

  2. The Radical Call to Missionary Discipleship: Rooted in evangelical discernment of the signs of the times, we must declare ourselves to be in a permanent state of mission (Pope Francis). In addition, we must understand that the goal or end of evangelization is to address poverty in all its forms, by fostering the habits of divine intimacy, authentic friendship and spiritual multiplication (C. Martin).

  3. Going to the Peripheries: Where there is great suffering, Jesus is already there; the only question is whether or not we will be there with Him (C. Anderson). We must see and go out to meet all those on margins--whether these be economic, cultural, geographic, generational, or existential peripheries.

  4. Spirit-filled Evangelizers Equipped for Excellence: Poured out upon all the baptized, the Holy Spirit both dwells within and inspires all those who evangelize (Bishop Malone). Boldness and fearlessness must mark this new age of missionary outreach, and bearing fruit will require a commitment to accountability (P. Lencioni). Bishop Barron's capstone address address spoke to not only three great threats (a mythological divide between faith and reason which he called "scientism"; a culture of indifference or a "whatever" mentality; and a culture of self-invention), but also three great opportunities (linked to the True and the Good and the Beautiful).

Although the phrase "new Pentecost" might seem either too dramatic or too trite for such an event, this intentional re-framing of the Church in the U.S. in terms of missionary discipleship was clearly essential for this moment in history. Outreach to suffering souls must be a primary focus in this post-Christian transition of culture, if a more fully human culture is going to have the chance to emerge.

The Convocation of Catholic Leaders seemed to be a moment when the bruised body of the Church, after having endured an extended coronary attack, received the supernatural defibrillator it needed.  Along with these words from Pope Francis, let's pray for the ongoing pastoral and missionary conversion which must follow:

"I hope that all communities will devote the necessary effort
to advancing along the path of a pastoral and missionary conversion
which cannot leave things as they presently are.
'Mere administration' can no longer be enough.
Throughout the world, let us be "permanently in a state of mission'."
(EG, n. 25)

Come, Holy Spirit!

P.S. For a short sample of the Convocation, check out Discipleship at the Center of Convocation: 3-minute video clip from CNS.

P.P.S. For a full sampling of plenary sessions, Masses and devotions, follow this link to the USCCB's Convocation 2017 Video on Demand.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Jesus and Gender: Resources for Inquiring Catholics

"Christ and the Rich Young Ruler," by Heinrich Hofmann

During these confusing and disorienting times, Jesus the Teacher continues to speak regarding urgent questions about gender and the nature of the human person.

Jesus reveals not only who God is, but also who the human person is--why we are here, and where we are going. Like the rich young man pictured above, we too can approach the Lord and have the experience which Mark's Gospel describes so beautifully: "Jesus, looking at him, loved him" (Mk 10:21). We might even see the following resources as a sign of how the Lord's voice continues to echo today, "come, follow me":

1. Foundational Sources and Documents

2. Pope Francis’ Teachings and Related Reflections

Amoris Laetitia: On gender ideology (n. 56), and On same-sex unions (n. 251)

4. Support for Families

The Courage Apostolate:

The Institute for Healthy Families: Homosexuality and Hope

5. Related Films & Videos

Jason Evert, On effectively reaching out to people who identify as transgender 

6. A Meta-Analysis of Biological, Psychological and Social Science Research

New Atlantis article by Dr. Lawrence S. Mayer and Dr. Paul R. McHugh:
Sexuality and Gender--Findings from the Biological, Psychological, and Social Sciences

Monday, July 17, 2017

Moving from Accedintal Gardener to Soil Specialist

"The Sower" by Vincent van Gogh

"...But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit,
a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold." (Mt 13:8)

Real gardeners may cringe at this confession, but for the past couple of years I've been randomly jamming plants into my designated space at my sister-in-law's community garden. 

With no real idea of what I'm doing--other than digging up the plot, watering along the way, and trying to keep up with the weeds--I go through the growing season with a hidden hope that something will bear fruit. One year the tomatoes went crazy; another year it was the cucumbers. Lately it's been the weeds!

I often wonder about the metaphor of this experience in relation to the journey of Christian discipleship: Am I being accidental or intentional in my effort to bear fruit for the Lord? Am I putting in the necessary work to ensure that my soul resembles the rich soil which the Sower is looking for? Do I have a plan for identifying and uprooting the weeds which threaten from different directions?

Perhaps most importantly, am I willing to serve as a co-worker with the Sower, who continues his work for the salvation of souls? Risen and Present, Jesus Christ roams through the garden of his creation, liberally scattering seeds of the Kingdom of Heaven in the hopes that they produce a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. Here and now.

But he needs our help, or at least our invitation to let him help us. Jesus forces no one to embrace and cultivate Eternal Life, and he will even help us work the soil of our souls--if only we ask. The Lord knows that no one wants to live a fruitless existence, but he waits for us to ask for help in unearthing the rocks and pulling the thorns and breaking up those well-trodden paths that stifle the growth of the Kingdom.

The Sower longs for co-workers who are willing to embrace this apprenticeship. The Lord will provide for the growth, as long as we show up each day with a plan to say "Yes" to our labor in the vineyard.

With a hoe full of humility and enough faith to fertilize our respective mission fields, we can become soil specialists who will help cultivate an eternal produce--for the greater glory of God.

"Whoever has ears out to hear." (Mt 13:9)

Monday, July 10, 2017

Killing the Death Penalty

Now, as from the beginning, Jesus Christ calls his followers to be fearless victims of state-sponsored persecution, rather than complicit perpetrators in deadly structures of sin.

To use the threat of death is a ploy of the powerful, not of those who are meek and humble of heart. To throw convicted criminals to the proverbial lion is the work of empire-makers, not of Kingdom builders.

Jesus shocks his disciples--both yesterday and today--with a radical teaching to turn the other cheek when someone strikes you (Mt 5:39). Even more compelling than this teaching on non-violence may be Innocent Victim's command to Peter as he was being arrested: "Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword" (Mt 26:52).

Even those who've done violence to others--from Moses and Saul to Alessandro Serenelli and beyond--should have an opportunity to encounter Divine Mercy. Cycles of violence can only be broken by Christian non-violence, that is, by a divine justice which transcends base desires for revenge. Otherwise, "righteous" vengeance will continue as a justification for further violence in perpetuity, and many will indeed perish by the same sword they have taken up.

Of course, the Catechism of the Catholic Church begins its teaching on this topic by stating that "the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor" (n. 2267).  But in a passage prophetically revised by St. John Paul II, the Catechism effectively closes the door on the death penalty in the 21st century with these two subsequent sentences:

"If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person. Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the stat has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm--without definitively taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself--the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity 'are very rare, if not practically non-existent'" (CCC, n. 2267).

From Jesus' personal witness, through the testimony of both Scripture and the living Tradition of the Church--including Catholic Social Teaching on the Death Penalty--the demise of the death penalty has officially arrived.  It's obituary simply needs to be written, since the ongoing rationalization of such state-sponsored killing weakens the Christian resistance to other forms of brutality, such as legalized abortion and euthanasia.

To help the crucified and risen King kill death once again: Take the National Pledge to End the Death Penalty.

Monday, July 3, 2017

What does authentic Independence look like?

As we reflect on independence this again year, perhaps it is time to ask what it really means for Christians in the 21st century.  Is independence just the freedom from external coercion, or the ability to choose whatever I want, whenever I want it?

Self-seeking comes naturally,
and Jesus reminds us of its natural results:
"Whoever finds his life will lose it..."
(Mt 10:39a). 

Christian freedom involves a new way of living out our lives. It is the recognition that our very existence is itself a gift--one which is meant to be received with gratitude and then given away.  It is the acknowledgment that new life in Christ has been freely poured out upon us, and so we should freely pour it forth in return.
Self-giving comes supernaturally,
and Jesus reminds us of its supernatural results:
"Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Mt 10:39b).

Christian freedom is a liberation from fear, since the Lord promises to be with us always.  It is a exodus from slavery to self, since the Lord guarantees the grace to live as beloved children of God. It is a defeat of deadly sins, since the Lord commits himself to silencing all the storms which threaten to swamp our souls.

Christ-centered living enables us to choose the good,
to know the true and to bask in the beautiful. 

It requires recognition of our interdependence with others and all of creation, just as it demands the humility to acknowledge our dependence on the One who continues to create, redeem and sanctify us.

True freedom comes shaped like a cross because it requires that we will what's best for the other. True freedom is always a pouring out of love, since it embraces Jesus' own commitment of putting God and others before self..

Let's pray that this Independence Day provides a new opportunity for Christians around the country to love God and neighbor self-sacrificially, to the greater glory of God!

Monday, June 26, 2017

"Evangelization 101" for Practicing Catholics

"Everyone who acknowledges me before others
I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father."

(Mt 10:32)

If I am part of the 25% of baptized Catholics who worship the Lord weekly, how can I help the Church move from maintenance mode into a "permanent state of mission" (Pope Francis)?

Jesus clearly expects me not only to respond to his universal call to holiness, but also to contribute to the universal call to mission, and here are five ways I can make become part of the solution:
  1. Actively pursue ongoing conversion of heart.  I need to fend off the temptation to tepid minimalism, since Sunday Mass is an absolutely necessary but not sufficient element of missionary discipleship. I need to overcome timidity and sloth through a renewed commitment to daily prayer, reflection on the living Word of God, and devotions like the Rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet. If I'm not moving forward, then the world and the flesh and the Devil will inevitably drag me backwards. Therefore, I need to commit to a daily examination of God's grace and my response (or lack there of), as well as to Confession--that great Sacrament of Healing.

  2. Give witness to the beauty of the Christian life. Matthew Kelly says there are four signs of a "dynamic Catholic"--prayer, study, generosity, and evangelization.  So before I speak about my faith and my friendship with Jesus Christ, I have to make sure that the witness of my daily life is already demonstrating the deepest commitment of my heart. If I'm not uprooting areas of vice, hounding out hypocrisy, and striving to embrace the gift of new life in Christ, then my evangelizing efforts will never bear fruit. I need to strive constantly to grow so that I'll be more ready when the Lord says it's time to go.

  3. Share the great story of Salvation History and the basic proclamation of the Gospel. Sherry Weddell says that intentional disciples are not afraid to mention the name of Jesus. It is not enough for my life to reflect the fact that God loves me, but I need to be prepared to share the good news of salvation with my words: From God's overflowing love which brought all of creation into existence so that human beings might freely share in the divine life; through the reality of sin which has ruptured this relationship, and God's rescue plan which was rooted in his covenant with the Chosen People; to the sending of God's only begotten Son, who would conquer sin and death by freely laying down his life out of love for the whole human race, and the promise of the Holy Spirit to guide the Church as his evangelizing instrument, until he returns at the end of time.  If I'm not sharing the message in my own words--whenever I have a chance--then woe to me. I need to see this great story as the key to understanding the story of my own life.

  4. Reflect on, name and share the ways that God continues to work in my life.  Ever since my Baptism, I have had countless personal encounters with the Lord Jesus.  It might be through the Sacraments of the Church or a word from Sacred Scripture; it might be through an act of mercy shown by a friend or a chance encounter with a stranger; it might be through an inspired hymn or through the surprising beauty of God's creation.  If I am not willing and able to describe the overflowing gift of God's grace in my life, I won't be able to touch the hearts of family members and friends. Jesus has changed my life--and continues to touch my heart each day--so I need to look for opportunities to share this beautiful truth. 

  5. Rely on the Holy Spirit. There is only one way to guarantee that I'll have the courage, the wisdom and the grace to speak with love of the Love which is at the center of my life. If I am too self-reliant and unwilling to pray, "Come, Holy Spirit," I will certainly fail to respond to my evangelizing mission; but if I trust in the work of the Spirit, miracles will begin to happen. Jesus promises that we are never alone as he sends us out to acknowledge him before others.
May our Mother Mary, Star of the New Evangelization, make us fit instruments in the hand of the Holy Spirit, witnesses of her divine Son, and apostolic souls who will help lead our brothers and sisters back to communion with the Father of Mercy!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Freedom for Mission: 6.21.17 -- 7.4.17

In an effort to focus on our fundamental "freedom for mission", the U.S. Bishops are again challenging Catholics across the country to embrace a fortnight of prayer, fasting and study.

Fourteen days may seem like a long time to address what should be an obvious freedom for Americans, but real threats require real resistance. One problem with current attacks on religious liberty is that they clothe themselves under the mantle of "justice."  Indeed, the prevailing secular orthodoxy often seeks to diminish and restrict this "first freedom" precisely in the name of freedom--shaming and silencing religious believers under the guise of preserving freedom from alleged "hate speech" or "bigotry."

However, followers of Jesus Christ don't discriminate; they just disagree with the myths and truth claims being propagated by opponents of religious liberty.

As we advocate for a renewed freedom for mission, maybe we should start by acknowledging that  "evangelical atheists" are actually promoting a meta-narrative about the human person and about the meaning of life.  This new quasi-religious world view stands in stark contrast with a Christian world view, and the simple act of naming it as such could lead to potentially fruitful conversations about authentic pluralism.  We might even be able to invite people to consider how respectful "coexistence" would differ from coerced compliance.

The identity of the human person and the destiny of the human family is at stake, so let's pray that the Holy Spirit will animate the national convocation on The Joy of the Gospel in America with a renewed missionary mandate.

And let's each make some small effort in the two weeks ahead to help promote authentic human freedom: As the Lord said following the healing of a boy afflicted with a mute and deaf spirit, "This kind can only come out through prayer" (Mk 9:29)!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Working with a "Catholic Climate Covenant" Mindset

Everything is connected...everything is connected...everything is connected: Ever since Pope Francis's encyclical Laudato Si' repeated this mantra dozens of times, we have been left with many practical questions about how best to address the complex crisis of social and environmental issues which we currently face. 

What follows is a sample letter from the Catholic Climate Covenant, designed for easy delivery to our nation's leaders. If it speaks to you, please feel free to send it to your elected officials (the link is below), and pass it along to family and friends:
“Our nation’s willingness to honor our commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement is in doubt.   As a Catholic echoing, Pope Francis’ call for climate action, as your constituent, and for the sake of our shared present and future, I urge you to support our nation’s continued and constructive involvement in the Agreement.  I ask that our nation’s participation include honoring our commitments under the Agreement to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, so that we may do our part in the global effort to limit global average temperatures to well below 2°C.
Climate change is impacting poor and vulnerable peoples around the world right now in tragic ways.  More frequent and intense storms, prolonged droughts, food and water shortages, and reduced crop yields, threaten their ability to survive.  These circumstances foster suffering, desperation and displacement that lead to global instability and unrest.  It is our moral duty and in our national interest, to honor our pledge in the Paris Agreement and assist the poor and vulnerable among us to adapt to climate change.
Pope Francis makes it clear that our care for one another and our care for the Earth are intimately bound together. The Church calls all of us to be stewards of God’s creation, respectful and mindful of the fact that we depend on nature to survive. The Paris Agreement is a manifestation of this stewardship, recognizing we all contribute to the causes and solutions to climate change. 
As Pope Francis receives President Trump in the coming days, I hope that our nation’s commitment to the Paris Agreement will be affirmed.  The world’s leaders have an obligation to protect God’s creation, to ease the suffering of the poor and vulnerable, and to protect our nation and world from the harms of climate change.  Choosing to remain in the Paris Agreement helps further these goals.  I urge you to affirm our commitments to the Paris Agreement and the resources needed to implement the U.S. commitments to the Agreement.” 

To support the U.S. remaining part of the Paris agreement, simply follow this link and email this message to President Trump, as well as to your Representative and two Senators (you will also have the option to edit the letter).

As Pope Francis wrote in his environmental encyclical: "A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system....Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it." (LS, n. 23).

Isn't it time to act, given that "everything is interconnected" (LS, n. 138)?!