Tag Archives: Catholicism

Cardinal Pell’s response to his charges

The sexual abuse crises in Catholic dioceses from the USA to Ireland have created great distress and fomented considerable media attention. It is a sickening tragedy and grave injustice, always and everywhere, when adults in positions of trust take advantage of vulnerable children and young adults under their supervision. However, it is also a tragedy and injustice when the reputations and lives of the innocent are ruined by false allegations, and also when organizations which provide significant support to the community are tainted by scandal, with the ongoing contributions of the majority of their members overlooked.

The Catholic Church is the largest charitable organization in the world, and also in Australia, providing vital healthcare, educational and social services every day. At the same time, the 2016 census found that, for the first time in Australian history, there are now more people identifying as non-religious than Catholic. Meanwhile, the media has fudged the statistics to make levels of historical abuse appear higher than in actual fact. In reality, priests are less likely to commit sexual offenses than the average male (for example, in the USA, 4 percent of priests active between 1950 to 1992 were accused of sexual misconduct, and it is estimated that 10 percent of American males commit sexual abuse; as George Weigel notes, the Church is probably the safest place for a young person today). David Gibson of The Washington Post reasons:

Part of the issue is that the Catholic Church is so tightly organized and keeps such meticulous records – many of which have come to light voluntarily or through court orders – that it can yield a fairly reliable portrait of its personnel and abuse over the decades. Other institutions, and most other religions, are more decentralized and harder to analyze or prosecute.”

The charges against 76-year-old Cardinal George Pell in particular have occasioned significant media frenzy, in Australia and overseas. His case is unique, because he is the highest-ranking Australian Catholic and highest representative of the Universal Church to be charged. Pell was ordained in 1966 and served as the Archbishop of Melbourne (1996–2001) and eighth Archbishop of Sydney (2001–2014) before becoming the first Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy (2014–present), in charge of managing the Vatican’s finances. He is the third most senior official in the Vatican.

Cardinal Pell was not obliged to return to his homeland to face the charges, as the Vatican has no extradition treaty with Australia. However, he said: “Court proceedings now offer me an opportunity to clear my name and then return here, back to Rome to work.” Pell has willingly cooperated with the entire legal process, beginning with an interview with three Victorian police in Rome last October. His legal bills will not be funded by the Archdiocese of Sydney.

On 26 July, Pell appeared in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court for a filing hearing and entered a plea of not guilty, even though he was not obliged to do so, and had to walk through a massive media scrum including reporters who had flown in from other countries. Pell has thus demonstrated his complete willingness to engage with the proceedings against him.

Pell’s forthrightness is unsurprising, given that he established the Melbourne Response in 1996 to handle allegations of clerical abuse, six years before The Boston Globe broke the scandal which became the premise for the 2015 movie Spotlight. The Melbourne Response was the first Catholic redress scheme addressing child abuse. It was only last year that the Australian federal government introduced a national compensation scheme. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has been holding inquiries into various Australian organizations and state institutions, including the Australian Defence Force. Child abuse is a horrible scourge in Australian society, now increasing with technology.

Let us pray not only that the truth will be uncovered and justice be done, but also that the wounds of all involved, and all those affected by the media coverage, will be healed.

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The Church Embraces All People: Thoughts on the Beatification of Fr. Stanley Rother

“They must be going to the beatification!” I yelped happily, as I pointed towards a well-dressed group of people walking down the sidewalk. It was early in the morning on Saturday, September 23rd, and I could not contain my excitement. Several minutes later, I found myself also walking down the sidewalks of downtown Oklahoma City. My husband, myself, and our toddler joined the massive throng of people who wrapped around the Cox Convention center, waiting to enter the arena. From around the state of Oklahoma – and around the world – we all came together for this historic event: the beatification of Fr. Stanley Francis Rother.

The view as we rushed through the arena, looking for open seats.

After bustling around, trying to find seats, we wound up sitting in the overflow section behind the altar. I was expecting many people to attend the beatification Mass, but the sight of so many people was incredible. Over 13,000 people crammed together to pray and celebrate the life and legacy of the first U.S.-born martyr to be beatified.

Throughout the beatification Mass, I kept thinking of how this event showed that the Church truly is universal and all-embracing. There were hundreds of priests and consecrated religious, and over 50 bishops. There were thousands of lay people. These individuals came to Oklahoma from all parts of the country – or from other countries, like Guatemala, where Blessed Stanley served and was martyred. The petitions during Mass also reflected the universality of the Catholic Church; they were read in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Filipino, Comanche, Tz’utujil, and Korean.

As I looked out on the massive, diverse crowd of people, I thought of how Blessed Stanley Rother gave his life as he ministered in love to others. He didn’t stay in his comfortable little hometown in Oklahoma, but he went out to embrace and guide those in another country during a tumultuous time. He helped translate the New Testament into the language of the people there, Tz’utujil. He lived simply, joining in solidarity with the men and women around him. In his life and work, he sought to serve and love others.

There have been many times where I have found myself becoming self-absorbed. I’ll think that “my way” is the “best way” when doing different activities. Or, I’ll narrow my field of vision and think that a Catholic must look or act in one particular way. At times like these, I forget that Christ welcomes all people into His Church – those who have cultural differences from me, those who have backgrounds different from my own, and those who pray in ways which I do not. In his letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul writes: “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ” (1 Cor 12:12). As I saw during the beatification Mass of Blessed Stanley Rother, there is a beautiful diversity among the members of the Catholic Church. Let us rejoice in the unique gifts that each person brings to the Church, and let us remember to embrace and welcome all people with the sacrificial love of Christ, so that we may all grow closer to Him together.

What’s Cooler Than Getting Ashes on Your Forehead?

Ash Wednesday is a fairly busy day in many places. People cram into churches and receive ashes in the form of a cross (or a big blob, depending on who is distributing them) on their foreheads. Many churches offer small midday services with readings from Scripture and a distribution of ashes for people who cannot attend Mass that day. Also, as controversial they may be, some places offer “drive-thru” ashes so that people don’t even have to leave their cars to receive ashes!

Photo Credit: “Ash Cross” by Myriams-Fotos via Pixabay (2017) CCO Public Domain

I find it admirable that so many people begin Lent by receiving this outward sign of our sinfulness and need for God’s mercy. Yet, I think it is important that we place our enthusiasm in the right places. I have heard a variety of stories in which Catholics focus more on getting ashes than receiving the Eucharist, and these stories make me a little sad. Then, I think about the times in my own life when the main motivation to get myself to Mass on Ash Wednesday was that afterwards, I would be able to compare foreheads with my friends—and I realize that I do not appreciate the gift of the Eucharist.

Many of us get enthusiastic to receive ashes each year as Lent begins, but we pay no attention to the fact that we receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ each week—or several times a week. Should we be proud of this fact?

Personally, I am ashamed of myself. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with taking Ash Wednesday selfies or comparing foreheads with others, but if I’m placing more of my focus on this external marking than on our Eucharistic Lord, I think there is a problem. I cannot count how many times that I have focused more on ashes or some other external aspect of Mass than the gift of the Eucharist!

Ash Wednesday is long gone, and we won’t receive ashes again for many months (that’ll be a nice Valentine’s Day present in 2018!). Yet, while we won’t receive trendy crosses on our foreheads for quite some time, we have the opportunity to receive Jesus Christ. Will we open ourselves up to the graces that He wants to pour out on us? Will we let ourselves be changed as we eat His flesh and drink His blood? The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that:

“Communion with the Body and Blood of Christ increases the communicant’s union with the Lord, forgives his venial sins, and preserves him from grave sins. Since receiving this sacrament strengthens the bonds of charity between the communicant and Christ, it also reinforces the unity of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ.” (#1416)

Isn’t this amazing?

Receiving ashes on our foreheads is cool, but consuming Jesus Christ in the Eucharist is infinitely better.

Learning to Listen to the Divine Whisper

It has been a crazy past few months here. I have been facing the usual high school senior dilemmas regarding the “afterlife”, so to speak, of high school — whether to go to college or not, whether I should go immediately or postpone it, what I would do in the meantime, and to which colleges I should apply to and visit. All of this on top of my normal activities: finishing up my schoolwork so I DO have a joyful afterlife, working, taking guitar lessons, and the million-other household tasks which are forever regenerating themselves. Ugh. Never before have I been so stressed out about the calendar and fast-approaching deadlines!

In deep waters.

A few weeks ago my dad and I drove to a college here in the Southeast. It was an eight-hour drive, but a comparatively uneventful one. We were attending Scholarship Day at the college. I was excited to be interviewed for a prestigious scholarship, tour campus, attend seminars, and meet students. My dad and I were very impressed with the college.  As we were leaving campus I knew that it was the school I hope to attend.

Over the next couple weeks, I feverishly worked on applications for some outside scholarships. I wrote essays, tracked down signatures, and received letters of recommendation. Yesterday I was informed that I hadn’t received my much sought-for scholarship from the college, although I was eligible for some minor scholarships.

At the end of all this, I just want to laugh the laugh of a treasure-seeker who has searched the world for years for a priceless treasure, beautiful beyond imagination. When he finally finds the treasure, in his exultation he slips on the damp floor of the cave. The treasure slips out of his hands and into the mouth of the volcano. There are only two possible reactions: to weep or to laugh. He begins to laugh.

Perhaps my problem is I am too anxious to discover God’s plan for my life. I stress out too much about what it could be, and the fastest way of obtaining it. Hence, I will run in all directions hoping that I will find a billboard screaming “THIS IS IT”. But of course that is not how God works. I need to remember how God spoke to Elias: not in the wind; not in the earthquake; not in the fire; rather, in the whistling of a gentle air.

Let’s Hear It For The Church!

While I was thinking about all this, it dawned on me. I already know what God’s plan for me in this life is. As a matter of fact, it is what the Church has been telling me my entire life!!

Q. Why did God make you?
A. God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in heaven.

—Baltimore Catechism (Lesson 1, Question 6)

That is exactly what I have been looking for, right in front of me the entire time! As long as I truly know God, love Him, and wish to serve Him, everything else will fall into place!! I don’t need to worry about the college I go to, or whether I am to be married or enter a convent. God will tell me in a whisper when I can no longer serve Him in my current situation. He will lead me on the path to Him. All I need to do is to follow. If I know Him, love Him, and serve Him in every “now”, I will forever be living His plan for my life.

I am still looking at my options for this coming year. I don’t know where I’ll be six months from now. It might very well be that I’ll be working overtime at some job trying to save up for college. But right now I am surprisingly unstressed about it; I know that God has a perfect plan for me, and for right now He wants me to swing along behind Him until He can trust me with knowledge. Until then, if anyone wants to hand me $68,000, that would be all right, too. You’ll know where to find me: just follow the trail of empty coffee mugs, chocolate crumbs, Rosary beads, and Divine Intervention.

Promise and Challenge: Catholic Women Scholars Take On Feminism and Complementarity

promiseandchallenge

Promise and Challenge: Catholic Women Reflect on Feminism, Complementarity, and The Church. Kinda says it all, doesn’t it? In this book a group of distinguished, faithful, Catholic women scholars take Pope Francis’ call for a deeper theology of women and run with it. They reflect on what such a theology would look like and where the feminine genius is needed in the Church today.

They go in some surprising directions. A couple of essays tackle the question of a “theology of men”, arguing that a theology of women demands a corresponding look at men. One can only be as good and thorough as the other. We are complementary sexes, after all. My favorite essay seeks to translate Church teaching on sexuality in terms that a stereotypical radical second-wave feminist would understand, framing it largely in terms of social justice.

If you’re a theology and women’s issues nerd like I am, this is definitely a book to be read and then placed in your reference pile. Quotes from this book will be found on this blog and on the John Paul II Center for Women’s FB and Twitter pages in coming months.

If you are one who wonders how the heck an intelligent, successful woman can stand by the Catholic Church in 2016, this book could help you with some answers if you approach it with an open mind.

This book is available now at your favorite bookseller. I got it a month ago at my semi-annual trip to Catholic Supply of St. Louis. (Just a shout out to home! I miss you guys!)

This book review originally appeared on True Dignity of Women.

Man and Morality: The Truth that Sets us Free

The human person knows by nature that there is a certain code by which he must live.  Man also knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that he wants to be happy.  As fallen human beings, we often sense a strain between the natural law and our innermost need for happiness.  In the world today there are many moral theories that try to address this issue by divorcing freedom from truth, separating the actual acts of the human person from his moral status, or even by justifying intrinsic evil because “one’s own conscience” condoned it, or because it “fits” with one’s developing culture.  All these issues show two very interesting and integral aspects of man’s character: 1) man is not at rest, but is anxiously seeking an answer to that voice calling, beckoning to him, whether he acknowledges God’s creative act in his life or not; and 2) man also necessarily recognizes (at least implicitly) that he is so aware of the necessity of fulfilling the natural law that he goes to great lengths to justify his position, clearly demonstrating that every person knows deeply in his heart that the need to live a good moral life is essential to our human nature.  But in order to assess whether living the natural law really inhibits man’s freedom, we must first consider: what is his human freedom for, and how does man’s conscience function to determine what he will freely choose?  Is moral truth merely relative, or does the conscience serve as a judge of a universal standard?  If God created man in His own image and likeness, surely the natural law written in our hearts points us to the fundamental reality: man was created for the purpose of happiness, which he may obtain, if he but use his freedom to live in accordance with the truth.

In the world today, there are many theological theories that distinguish a man’s actions from his moral status, “detaching human freedom from its essential and constitutive relationship to truth.”[1]

As St. Pope John Paul II wrote,

Indeed, something more serious has happened: man is no longer convinced that only in the truth can he find salvation.  The saving power of the truth is contested, and freedom alone, uprooted from any objectivity, is left to decide by itself what is good and what is evil.[2]

This kind of mentality sharply contradicts the human person, whom God created in perfect love and order with Himself.  He who is Truth, desiring our happiness, created man to be happy when he lives in the fullness of his purpose, choosing to act in accordance with the right order of the natural law.  Clearly, the idea that certain acts do not contribute to the person’s moral make-up because they are “pre-moral” is not in keeping with any of the teachings of Christ or the early Church: “The Apostles decisively rejected any separation between the commitment of the heart and the actions which express or prove it (cf. 1 Jn 2:3-6).”[3] As both soul and body, man must live out what he believes, and not just merely acknowledge it.  “In fact, body and soul are inseparable: in the person, in the willing agent and in the deliberate act, they stand or fall together.”[4]

This becomes gravely relevant in considering that there are acts which, by their very nature, essence, and being, are contradictory to the human person, and are therefore intrinsically evil.  For example, God alone is the Author of Life, and therefore the only One to be worshipped.  The early Christians knew that the act of making offerings to a false god was thus intrinsically evil, and countless numbers refused even at the price of martyrdom. “They even refused to feign such worship, thereby giving an example of the duty to refrain from performing even a single concrete act contrary to God’s love and the witness of faith.”[5] This recognition of objective moral truth, upon which the natural law is written in the heart of the human person, is the essence of how a man brings his purpose to fruition by choosing the good for which he was created, and therefore achieving ultimate happiness.  Those who deny this fundamental need to recognize objective morality and intrinsic evil fall into the snare of self-deifying, where man becomes the author of his own morality and truth.  “Such an outlook is quite congenial to an individualist ethic, wherein each individual is faced with his own truth, different from the truth of others.”  But, “taken to its extreme consequences, this individualism leads to a denial of the very idea of human nature.”[6] Such prevalent thinking as this has “led to a denial, in opposition to Sacred Scripture (cf. Mt 15:3-6) and the Church’s constant teaching, of the fact that the natural moral law has God as its author, and that man, by the use of reason, participates in the eternal law, which it is not for him to establish.”[7] Man cannot be his own god, because he is a creature, created in the Divine Image.  Man, living the natural law by freely choosing what he perceives through the judgment of his conscience as objectively good and refusing intrinsic evil, can fulfill who he is in his person, bringing peace to his restlessness as he takes his abode in God for Whom he was created.

The Church, therefore, teaches strict adherence to the moral law because this is the foundation of who man is; to deny the moral law is not to meet man in compassion, but in actuality it is to deny man himself.  Thus, the Church reaches out with true charity, seeking the good of her children.  “The Church is in fact a communion both of faith and of life; her rule of life is ‘faith working through love’ (Gal 5:6).”[8] Man’s freedom is thus not to make up his own set of laws, but to fulfill that longing within him that urges him to do the good for which he was created.  “Patterned on God’s freedom, man’s freedom is not negated by his obedience to the divine law; indeed, only through this obedience does it abide in the truth and conform to human dignity.”[9] Thus, in obeying the moral law, there is this complete unity of faith and morals, freedom and truth, real life and compassionate love.  True Christian faith, “which is not simply a set of propositions to be accepted with intellectual assent,” is “rather…a lived knowledge of Christ, a living remembrance of his commandments, and a truth to be lived out.”[10] This vibrant relation with Jesus is the core and essence of morality for man.  Faith is not about a lonely soul estranged from the actions of the body: “faith is a decision involving one’s whole existence. It is an encounter, a dialogue, a communion of love and of life between the believer and Jesus Christ, the Way, and the Truth, and the Life (cf. Jn 14:6).”[11] In Christ, we are freed from the addiction of sin, and the power to choose what is good is restored to us.  By perceiving the truth once again, our conscience can lead us forward to the happiness for which we long in achieving the fullness of a human person created in God’s image.  Then, we may truly act with freedom, according to Our Lord, for “you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”[12]

 

[1] Pope John Paul II, Veritatis Splendour (6 August 1993), §4.

[2] Veritatis Splendour, §84.

[3] Veritatis Splendour, §26.

[4] Veritatis Splendour, §49.

[5] Veritatis Splendour, §91.

[6] Veritatis Splendour, §32.

[7] Veritatis Splendour, §36.

[8] Veritatis Splendour, §26.

[9] Veritatis Splendour, §42.

[10] Veritatis Splendour, §88.

[11] Veritatis Splendour, §88.

[12] The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, (John 8:32), National Council of the Churches of Christ, 1971, accessed 30 July, 2016, https://www.biblegateway.com.

Does Evil Disprove God?

In an apologetics course I am taking this semester, we recently discussed the argument often propagated by atheists that God must not exist due to the existence of evil in the world. Based on the arguments for God’s existence in spite of evil, found in “The Handbook of Catholic Apologetics” by Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli, S.J., I wrote a fictitious dialogue, following below, that expresses a Christian response to this atheistic argument.

Atheist: Good afternoon, Joe!

Christian: Hello, Bill! It’s good to see you.

Atheist: So, our coworkers tell me you’re a Christian now.

Christian: Yes, praise God!

Atheist: Joe, we’ve been such friends for so many years, I can’t help but be blunt with you: how foolish can you be? There is no God and there can’t be a God—hasn’t evil disproven the existence of God already?
Christian: How so?

Atheist: You believe in a good God, right? Well, if He were really as “all-powerful” as you profess, then why would He have permitted evil? Or perhaps He isn’t all-good, and is Himself the author of evil?

Christian: No, He certainly cannot be both all-good and the author of evil. Nor is He. I profess that He is all-good—it is we human beings who have brought evil into the world.

Atheist: Well then! Your God clearly isn’t all-powerful, if there’s something we can do that He can’t!

Christian: Would you say that you are less powerful—perhaps, shall we say, less free—than a convict, justly imprisoned?

Atheist: Of course not!

Christian: So also with God. It is not God’s lack that He did not create evil: it is our own self-imprisonment that we fell into evil.

Atheist: But if we “created” evil, we’re more powerful than God, right?

Christian: Evil can’t be “created” because evil has no being—evil is the disorder or perversion of what God has created. Only being can be created, and evil is best described as non-being.

Atheist: All right, then. I’ll accept that as true enough, I suppose—but, even if I give you that we “fell into evil,” as you say, back in the Garden of Eden (I suppose you’d prefer to refer to “Adam and Eve”), then why doesn’t suffering fit into the world fairly? To refer to your analogy: I haven’t committed any crime, so here I am, free. The convict is justly confined, and receives punishment for the evil he did. If your God is so good as you say, why didn’t He map out the world like that, so that only wicked people suffer and good people don’t? Honestly, as it stands, it’s happened again and again that the saintly suffer, and it’s the wicked that make them suffer!

Christian: Yes, this is often true: but you are speaking of suffering. Physical evil, or suffering, is not the same as moral evil. As human beings, we are hereditary. You can see how every child inherits physical qualities, such as eye and hair color, from his parents. Well, we know that there is more to man than the body: there is also the psyche, or the soul. If our first parents chose evil, isn’t that going to affect their children, and all their descendants?

Atheist: Logically, yes. But that still doesn’t explain why good people suffer.

Christian: Well, first: remember that all men, from the moment of their conception, inherit moral evil. Physical evil, or suffering, is both a punishment due to sin—the evil that so disorders man’s right relationship with God—and also a means of atonement and discipline for the soul. Thus, even a child bears moral evil already. Yet, even a child’s sufferings have value, because we can all suffer together, with and for each other. To get back to the analogy of the criminal: even though you haven’t done anything so terrible as the convict, you are still paying tax dollars to make his imprisonment possible.

Atheist: Hmm, well…I still don’t think you’ve explained how God can be all-good and permit evil—both kinds, according to your terminology: moral evil and suffering. I still don’t see…

Christian: It is difficult to grasp, because it is practically counterintuitive. The very fact that we are so “turned off” by evil of either sort helps point to the truth: we weren’t made for evil! We are meant for something great and good and true: the happiness for which we all long.

Atheist: Happiness, huh? Do you mean the various needs and desires people experience, like wanting a “happy family,” or to make your dog “happy,” or to have a “happy time” watching a movie?

Christian: These have varying degrees of “happiness,” and in some sense that “happiness” is superficial, because it is not the ultimate, filling happiness: none of them ever satisfy to the full, even if they contribute in some way. That’s why people who strive after these things keep seeking them, and keep wanting more: they’re never filled, and the empty longing cries out inside for completion. So, the happiness I’m talking about is not a fleeting sensual experience, or emotional pleasure, or even a passing joy, all of which are usually largely dependent on what happens to us: I’m talking about happiness as something we can not only achieve by choice, but that is firm and lasting, and cannot be effaced from ourselves by any outside forces. This happiness is at the heart of the reason for God’s allowance of both moral and physical evil.

Atheist: How do you mean?

Christian: Animals can’t be truly happy (in the sense I just described): only creatures with free choice. Yet, you can also choose otherwise, and it’s because of our free choice that evil entered the world. So, that’s why God allows moral evil: He desires our potential for happiness, rather than our mere existence. Second, physical evil is an outside force, and not a choice on the part of the person (as a general rule—a person who injures himself or takes his life willfully is principally concerned with moral evil already, and any pain that follows his choice is punishment for that chosen evil). Thus, physical evil cannot break down a person’s happiness.

Atheist: So, God would just as soon let you suffer?

Christian: Rather, God gives us the chance to freely suffer. It’s similar to a situation like this: when your son dumps out all his toys across the room right after you told him not to do so, you don’t clean everything up while he stands by. You have him gather the toys, and endure every tear and grumble, because you know he will never become better unless he works with you to aright what he has done. And well you should: God doesn’t give us free will so that we can commit evil and then stand by to watch Him tidy our mess: He wants us to get in there with Him and choose to aright our wrongs. That’s what much of suffering is about.

Atheist: I can’t say I agree with you, Joe, but I must say I am a bit perplexed: I always thought that evil disproved God’s existence soundly. Now, I am not so sure evil can do anything but prove that evil cannot be the final word…

Christian: No, it cannot. I am always eager to speak with you, whenever you want. God bless—see you soon!

The Sensitive Child and Lent

Lent is one of my favorite times of the Church year. There is a lot of richness in these forty days, and so much opportunity for family and personal faith development.

But, Lent and Easter can also be a challenge to teach children about, especially if you have a sensitive child. I was a sensitive child myself, and my oldest definitely falls in that category. We sensitive people feel the sufferings of others in a more acute way. Things that are sad seem really sad, and teaching a child like that about Jesus dying and suffering can be a real challenge.

I’m of the school of thought that you shouldn’t teach children fluff (especially not fluffy theology). What you present to children should be full, rich, and deep. They must be given the fullness of the truth, if they are ever to fall in love with it. That being said, there is a difference between giving them the fullness of the truth and giving them the fullness of truth all at once. Teaching children about the faith should be kind of like the process of introducing a baby to solids. First you give them milk or formula, then you may give them pureed foods and foods that are small enough that they won’t choke on, then somewhat bigger pieces and more complex foods, etc. At each stage, you are giving them real food, not something watered down to the point that it offers no nutrition. But, at each stage, you’re also giving them only what they are actually ready for. (I wish I could claim this analogy as my own, but I have to thank good ‘ole St. Paul for this gem.)

Teaching a child about her faith is much the same. Take the Eucharist for example. At every stage of the learning process, I teach our little ones that the Eucharist really is Christ. When they are babies, I point out the tabernacle to them, and tell them it is Jesus and that he loves them. When they are toddlers, they learn to blow Jesus a kiss, and maybe say a simple prayer. Then, when they are preschoolers, the questions start….and presumably, they never stop!

But when talking to a three year old, for example, you don’t explain the Eucharist in the same way that you would to an adult. You have to make it accessible to them. You have to put it in to words they know and understand.

This is the case even more so when you are teaching a sensitive three year old about the faith. The guidelines I’m giving you today work for the sensitive topics that arise in Lent (i.e. Jesus’ suffering and death) but they also will work with teaching your sensitive child (or any child, really!) most anything about their faith.

1. Teach with love at the center. Our faith is one of love. It has Love Incarnate, born and died for us, at its very center. So, when you teach your sensitive child about the faith, help her to come to know God’s love for her first and foremost. When you talk about the cross, present it as something that Jesus did because he loves us and didn’t want us to have to suffer in that big way. He suffered and died because that was the way that he opened the gates of heaven, and he loves us so very much and wants us to be with him in heaven. Help her to see that when something bad happens, Jesus understands what that is like, and so we can offer up whatever bad things happen to us to Jesus. Since he loves us so very much, he will make sure that we are not alone, especially when we’re sad.

2. Deal with the topic of sin with great gentleness. A sensitive soul does not need to be “guilted.” Typically, it takes very little for a sensitive child to feel guilty, and so one must always be mindful to not cross that line. Surely, say what needs to be said to help your child understand what is right and what is wrong (and when they are old enough, teach them the word “sin” and help them to understand those implications…but don’t worry about that kind of vocabulary with a three year old!), but stop there.

Once she gets that what she did was wrong, there is no need to press the issue. And above all else, be quick to forgive the sensitive child, once she understands that what she did was wrong. When the child is younger than the age of reason, it is not necessary to talk about asking God for forgiveness, because she isn’t spiritually mature enough to understand all that. Rather, what you teach her about right and wrong and forgiveness in her experience with you lays that foundation beautifully for the conversations that are to come as she gets older. If she understands right and wrong and the love and forgiveness of a parent from firsthand experience then she will “get” the Sacrament of Reconciliation much more easily.

3. Teach with love. This is actually different than #1, because this isn’t about what you say, but rather what you do.When my oldest was two, and wfather-445096_1920e took her to the Stations of the Cross at our parish, she saw the
picture of Jesus being taken down from the cross and was very concerned that Mary was so sad. She was only two! Sensitive children pick up on these sorts of things much more easily. As I said, I’m not a fun of watering down the faith for them, so as they discover these more painful stories of our faith, they will need your love to navigate it. You can’t hide the cross from them, but you can hold them if the thought of the cross makes them sad. You can hug them when they are worried that Mary looks sad, and tell them that the Blessed Mother is probably happy to know that they care so much about their “Mommy in heaven.”

When she was small, my oldest and I used to go on Saturday morning Mass dates, and I took advantage of that time to pray in a particularly tender way with her.  Embrace your child, kiss him or her, pray lovingly together, stroke their hair; whatever your child’s favorite forms of affection are, employ them when teaching about her faith.

4. Finally, BE SENSITIVE. Even if you are not a sensitive person yourself, be sensitive to how your sensitive child may perceive the harder parts of the faith. You don’t need to say, “Oh, yes, Jesus died but HE ROSE AGAIN AND EVERYTHING IS HAPPY, SEE??” Because, if you are overly sensitive, everything is not happy. Jesus died? You mean, the Jesus that you’ve been teaching me to love? Why does he have ouchies? What is that soldier doing to him? BE SENSITIVE. Be aware that these are painful things for a sensitive person to talk about, and so proceed with much gentleness when the inevitable questions arise.

Don’t try to ignore the sadness your sensitive child may feel, but help him or her to understand it and take it to prayer. Help them to see that their sadness can be a good thing – it is a sign that they truly love Jesus. Teach them to pray, “I love you, Jesus,” and tell them that that prayer makes Jesus so very happy. Don’t avoid talking about the more difficult parts of our faith, but with great love, help your child to navigate those waters.

The “I’m ‘More Catholic’ Than You Are…” Problem

I will be the first to admit that I love knowing (often useless) bits of information. Trivia games excite me, as I like to impress people with my knowledge. Who doesn’t enjoy looking intelligent? However, just as I can get prideful over the facts that I know, many of us Catholics can get prideful over the devotions we know about or follow. And just as I sometimes don’t comprehend how the facts I know fit into the grand scheme of things, sometimes Catholics don’t realize that their faith is so much more than they take it for.

Catholics who have been raised faithfully can occasionally become caught in pride. Many of us have had this pride at some time or another, to a greater or lesser degree; sometimes we don’t even realize that we have it. We can become proud of our faith, which is a good thing, but we can also become proud of it without fully understanding it, which is not a good thing. Then we sometimes start looking down on those whom we deem “less holy” than ourselves. “So, you haven’t memorized St. Gertrude’s prayer for the souls in Purgatory? Well,” I might say with a knowing smirk, “I have.” Whether I mean to or not, I’m hinting that I’m a better Catholic than you are, forgetting that I’m not the judge and that Catholicism is not something that is measured by degrees.

Just labeling yourself as “Catholic” is not going deep enough. Just being proud of the fact that you know the St. Gertrude’s prayer, or wear the brown scapular, or pray a daily novena, isn’t helping you if you don’t truly understand why you perform these actions. These devotions are to help us get to Heaven and grow closer to God, and if we don’t understand this then they are of small use to us. If we don’t carry out these devotions seriously and with all our hearts, we’re not accomplishing that for which they are meant.

Also, viewing the Catholic Faith simply as if it is some sort of “cool club” with cool stuff for cool people is not appreciating Catholicism’s inestimable value. It’s superficially treating something that is sacred and beautiful. It’s comparable to someone simply waving a hand and saying dismissively, “oh, that’s kind of cool,” when he hears a heart-wrenching movement of music or sees the ocean at sunset. Christ died for us, and we are His children. That is something to be proud of and something to be taken seriously.

So don’t just advertise yourself as Catholic. Don’t just say the words about how much you love being Catholic. Truly live your Catholic faith in your deeds as well as your words, so that people can see it and love you and God for it. We should not become too caught up in what we know and look down on those who might not have performed specific devotions or heard of specific saints. We should instead focus on deepening our faith and growing together in love of God.

“A Single Bead” Book Review

I was recently invited to read and review A Single Bead. Written by Stephanie Engelman (who blogs over at A Few Beads Short) this beautiful little novel is a part of the Pauline Teen offerings.

From the book’s description:

“On the anniversary of the plane crash that took the life of her beloved grandmother and threw her own mother into a deep depression, 16-year-old Katelyn Marie Roberts discovers a single bead from her grandmother’s rosary-a rosary lost in the crash. A chance encounter with a stranger, who tells Katelyn that a similar bead saved her friend’s life, launches Katelyn and her family on a quest to find the other missing beads. Their mysterious journey, filled with glimmers of hope, mystical encounters and unexplained graces takes them further into the unknown. Katelyn turns to the Rosary for answers and soon finds that family, prayer and the help of others may be the key to restoring what was lost.”

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This is the book that I wanted to read when I was a teenager – a book steeped in Catholic culture with a beautiful, compelling story line.

Although my teenage years are but a memory, I still thoroughly enjoyed this book. I’m always a little bit leery of reading religious fiction, as it sometimes sacrifices quality writing for the sake of conveying the message. Engelman’s book does not fit that stereotype. The writing is simply beautiful, the characters are rich and full, and the entire book is extremely readable.

In a world that is often hostile to Catholicism, it was reassuring to be lost in a story that was so thoroughly steeped in Catholic culture. Although the main character does not have a particularly strong faith at the outset of the story, she is surrounded by a large and loving extended family that does. Yet, there is nothing preachy about her family. Their faith is believable because they practice what they preach, and in a time of family crisis, they pull together and find a way to pull through. The rosary, Mass, the faith – they do not overpower the family experience. They are simply and naturally woven throughout. Kate’s aunt invites her to go to Mass with her at one point, but she also takes her out to dinner. This natural interaction of faith, family, and food – the Catholic trifecta, as any good Catholic knows – carries Kate through a time of doubt and anxiety. Not only does Kate’s extended family offer her emotional support, but they feed her warm food and surround her with companionship at table. I’m reminded of James 2:16, which says, “If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” This family gets that.

But most importantly, the writing in this book is simply beautiful, and it makes the reading experience cathartic. I’m not sure what your personal history is, in terms of life, family and friend relationships, healing and grief – but no matter what your background, I’m sure there will be something here that may strike a chord with your own suffering. I’ve never known the grief that Kate knows, but I’ve known my own griefs, and sought my own hope. I find a real comfort in this novel, and in Engelman’s ability to bring the emotions and faith of Kate to life.

A truly good book brings you through a place of pain, shows you bits of beauty, and leaves you with a deep sense of hope. This book does that. The ends don’t need to be perfectly wound up in a good book, and it tends to be more realistic if they aren’t. Although there is reconciliation at the end of this book, the ending isn’t perfect and tidy (as no real life ending is). But the ending is infused with hope.

I highly recommend this book – for your adolescent or teen, for the young adult in your life, for someone of any age who is in need of a story of hope and healing, and especially for anyone with a deep and abiding love for Mary, our Blessed Mother.
You can purchase the paperback or e-book copy of this book on Amazon, or directly from Pauline Books and Media.

Choral Music in the Churches: Part I, Inculturation

When I imagine liturgists, this is what comes to mind:

Dalek Meme

Inculturation, the adaptation of liturgical texts, languages, rites, and, most especially, of music, to respect or reflect the sensibilities of various peoples, while certainly a watchword in the postconciliar Church, has been a reality from the very beginning of Christian history.

At some point in the earliest years of the Church, we witnessed the divergence (whenever it was) of Aramaic, Greek, and Latin liturgy, alongside the emergence of the very unique Ethiopian tradition, amongst many others. Later on, history records the translation by Sts. Cyril and Methodius of the Greek liturgy into Old Church Slavonic, the fusion of the Frankish and Roman traditions of ecclesiastical singing into the Franco-Roman body of sacred song that would come to be known to the ages as Gregorian Chant, just to name a few representative examples.

In each case, these adaptations have come about by the conspiracy of legal fiat and organic growth, growth often born in response to the legal change. When Pope St. Gregory the Great in the 6th Century declared that, on weekdays, the petitions would be left out of the litany in order to draw attention to the meaning of the prayer contained in the formulaic response “Lord, have mercy” alone, he set in motion the process that would eventually express that humble and profound prayer for the Church and world more beautifully than any litany could. This gave birth to a text simple and supple enough to inspire music that moves as freely as a setting of Alleluia, but, unlike that cheery text, uses that freedom to convey the depth of this suffering world’s need for God’s loving help and great mercy:

Or, to take another instance, when Charlemagne insisted that the Church throughout his Empire should sing as the Roman Church, the exchange of master chanters that followed actually led to a mixture of the two traditions, and to their eventual harmonization into the so-called Gregorian chant. While those in authority may have a certain vision in mind when they set about reforming worship, what results often far exceeds it in scope, and lies certainly beyond their control.

While inculturation is often viewed as liturgy’s response to the culture in which it finds itself, history reveals that it is just as much, if not even more, that culture’s response to the liturgy.

It is interesting to see these two perspectives juxtaposed in the Magisterium of the 20th Century. On the one hand, in 1903, we have St. Pius X writing about sacred music in his famous Motu Proprio Inter Sollicitudines, which, in addition to containing the seeds of the liturgical reform and of vocal, congregational participation as a major priority of the Church, also contained the seeds of the modern discussion of inculturation. He writes:

“[W]hile every nation is permitted to admit into its ecclesiastical compositions those special forms which may be said to constitute its native music, still these forms must be subordinated in such a manner to the general characteristics of sacred music that nobody of any nation may receive an impression other than good on hearing them.”

Notice here that St. Pius assigns the agency of inculturation to the nations themselves, acknowledging the historical fact of the matter, especially obvious in sacred music, that cultures will attempt to suit the liturgy to their sensibilities, and to adorn it with their own contributions. The role of the Church’s authority is neither to encourage nor to discourage this, but rather to ensure that this natural process does not weaken the link of any local church’s liturgical prayer to that of the universal Church.

Contrast this attitude with paragraph 40 of Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, which enjoins:

“The competent territorial ecclesiastical authority mentioned in Art. 22, 2, must, in this matter, carefully and prudently consider which elements from the traditions and culture of individual peoples might appropriately be admitted into divine worship. Adaptations which are judged to be useful or necessary should when be submitted to the Apostolic See, by whose consent they may be introduced.”

This attitude assigns the agency of inculturation to ecclesiastical authorities, whose responsibility it is to adapt the liturgy to the local cultures by incorporating local customs or traditions into the rites themselves, in an effort to render them more effective and edifying.

In broader context, this is a missionary attitude, echoing the Slavonic liturgical books of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, music sung in Iroquois during Mass in the missions, and the Chinese Rites controversies during the reign of Benedict XIV, which were especially fresh on the mind of the Council Fathers after the recent reversal of that pontiff’s negative judgment under Pius XII. In a preceding paragraph (38), the Council acknowledges this:

“Provisions shall also be made, when revising the liturgical books, for legitimate variations and adaptations to different groups, regions, and peoples, especially in mission lands, provided that the substantial unity of the Roman rite is preserved.” [emphasis mine]

It is also interesting to note in this paragraph the subtle change in expectation for the inculturated liturgical project. Whereas St. Pius X expects that this will exhibit practical unity throughout the Church, such that any Catholic from anywhere in the world can hear another culture’s liturgical music without scandal, and indeed come away with a good impression, the Council expects only that the substantial unity of the rite be preserved.

Reading immediately postconciliar commentators on Sacred Music, such as Joseph Gelineau, Lucien Deiss, and others, one cannot help but suspect that this relaxed expectation flows in part from a certain skepticism about even the possibility of music that truly transcends culture, an attitude that views art as intelligible only within its own cultural context, and incapable of aspiring to universal human values. It is similar to the view that yielded the “dynamic equivalence” model of translation for liturgical texts set forth in the 1969 document Comme le Prevoit, a model which at its worst views languages and cultures not as interactive, living realities, capable of absorbing other syntaxes, constructions, and thought patterns, but rather as frozen, hermetic realities, sealed in their own prison of self-reference, into which no new thought can be introduced unless it is expressed in the way it would have been expressed, had it originated in the target language and culture.

What I am arguing for should not be construed as cultural insensitivity! It is obvious, to take one example, that the Our Father (which, as an aside, 21st-century man is able to recite just fine with all its “thees” and “thous”) is both good English idiom and a literal translation in a way that so very nearly all of the pre-2011 ICEL prayers are neither. And no one can doubt that our language, Germanic though it may be, has been enriched by the liturgical idioms (“Lord, have mercy,” for instance) carried over quite literally from the Latin & Greek, and by all of the Hebrew words carried straight over without concern for translation. We are fortunate that, as of 2002’s Liturgiam Authenticam, the Church now recommends literal translation where possible, and dynamic equivalence only where absolutely necessary, and then discreetly and, as the document puts it, “soberly”. This represents a matured understanding of the way that languages respond to ritual texts, and are more enriched by a faithfulness to the content of the prayers than by any attempt to reproduce their “impact” on worshippers in the target language (supposing we have any native speakers of Latin on hand to experience and describe that “impact” in the original language). It also represents a renewed aspiration for that universality in worship called for by St. Pius X, in which local usages of the Roman rite are experienced harmoniously enough to engage and edify the faithful of whatever nationality.

With the 2011 translation of the Roman Missal, the American Church is once again able to experience a Gloria, responses, prayers, prefaces, and Eucharistic Prayers that are the genuine equivalents of those prescribed by the universal Church. Like tuck-pointing a building, this kind of restoration is not glamorous business, and its benefits are invisible to most; the inconvenience and expense of the work are what are most obvious to many. Possibly most of the response to it will consist of complaints. But the good it is accomplishing, though invisible, is real.

But how can this practical, experiential unity, the kind envisioned by St. Pius X, that is now being recovered in the language of the liturgy be recovered in the music of the liturgy? Dare we yet assert that musical expression might not be entirely culturally relative? That the people of one culture are not only not hermetically excluded from appreciating the music of other cultural expressions, but that they may adopt these modes of expression, take ownership of them and, perhaps by the addition of some local color, actually contribute to them?

Gangnam-Style

Certainly this has been the case with popular music, and there’s a strong argument to be made that the same has been true for sacred music, which I hope to tackle in my next post.

Comfort In Christ Falling

Titian_-_Christ_Carrying_the_Cross_-_WGA22830Multiple times I have written about the struggles of being a goal-oriented person, about the difficulty in surrendering when my first instinct is to try and plan my life down to the minute, to try to make it as productive as possible.  As my journey through college continues, the idea of opening my hands to receive God’s grace while simultaneously letting Him take control has become harder and more necessary to embrace.

In the midst of a particularly anxious moment while traveling back from Thanksgiving Break, it occurred to me that Christ, the perfect role model, not only showed me how to “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48), how to walk by grace, but also how to fall by grace.  By falling upon the road to Calvary, Christ admitted human weakness, but also showed the strength of faith.  He fell three times; He did not walk the whole way without difficulty.  Yet as the perfect Lord He did not fall because He could not do it, but because He wanted us to see that taking up one’s cross is hard.  When striving to be perfect, one will stumble sometimes and will need help, yet a fall is not a failure but rather is an opportunity, and as Christ showed us, we must get up again.

This realization came upon me rather suddenly, but it was truly the answer to my prayer.  So many times over the past couple years I have tried to complete fitness challenges, regularize my prayer life, let go of stress, find peace, and so many times I have failed.  As an over-achiever I became increasingly discouraged, thinking I must be particularly weak and sinful since I was so good at failing.  The more discouraged I became, the less I liked myself and the more critical I became, always on the defense trying somehow to justify my failings by comforting myself with the thought that others were failing too.  Inevitably, these thoughts only added to the anxiety rather than soothing it away, and any respect or love I had for myself slowly dissipated.

But Christ has blessed me from the moment of my birth by constantly surrounding me with people who love me, and who I love.  And suddenly I began to see that I had been so focused on myself, my feelings, my failures, that my negativity had started hurting those around me.  I learned that dwelling on my failure was a type of pride as well, for I had become so isolated in my thoughts I had stopped considering or truly loving those I thought I was protecting by internalizing the problems.  Come to find out, I am more of an open book than I thought.

Slowly but surely I started trying to fix it, but it was discouraging to begin again with things I had done well not that long ago.  As I sat in the airport, I read about a new fitness challenge starting in January, one hosted by the same women who hosted the previous ones I had tried.  And for the first time I did not want to sign up, I did not want to start planning to ensure my success, because I knew I would fail anyway.  This horrible attitude accompanied me onto the plane, mixing with my fear of flying and turning into a perfect emotional storm.

Then a “still, small voice” whispered in my ear, “You are not alone,” and I knew then that Christ did not fall because He lacked the strength to bear His cross, but because He wanted to show me, to show all people, that a fall is not a reason to quit but rather an opportunity to get back up, to keep trying, “to finish the race” (c.f. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27).  He fell for us just as He died for us, and in that moment Christ reminded me that it was not my falls that defined me, but how I responded to them.  For the first time I understood, in a small way, why Christ fell three times upon that difficult road: because He knew that His children, already fallen and always falling, would need someone to show them how to do it, and how to get back up again.