Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Christ the King and the Catholic Doomsday Preppers

 During November, the Church remembers and prays for the faithful departed. Our November traditions remind us that at death “life is changed, not taken away,” and this is a consolation as more and more loved ones leave this earthly life.

A few years ago, my sister was taking a walk with her granddaughter and speaking about our then recently-deceased mother in the light of the Creed where we proclaim our faith in the resurrection when Jesus comes again. The little girl stopped, wide-eyed. 

“Jesus is coming back?!?!?!”

I wonder how many other Catholics would be similarly surprised.

Lately I have found myself drawn to praying a mystery of the Rosary that hadn’t ever caught my imagination before: the Second Glorious Mystery, the Ascension of Our Lord. I have begun to recognize its deep connection not only with the one article of the Creed that specifically invokes it, but with the Feast of Christ the King.

The Feast of Christ the King is, so to speak, the feast day of the Second Coming. We profess our faith in this culminating moment of history at the line of that long middle section of the Creed: “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.”

Granted, when the new translation of the Creed was introduced, so much attention was given to Christ’s being “consubstantial with the Father” that we can be forgiven for failing to notice that this consubstantiality is reflected on the other side of that part of the Creed. But there it is: Consubstantial with his Father, he is in his rightful place as the center of worship. And it is as King that he will “come again in glory to judge.”

That this is something to look forward to seems to have been forgotten, though. 

In a way, it’s understandable. 

We're in the middle of a pandemic that has altered every aspect of our social life, closing schools and offices, ending jobsand lives. Since the killing of George Floyd in May, we have seen rightful protests for racial justice  hijacked by special interest groups of extreme left and right; an increase in harsh rhetoric and the demonization of “others” whose message might have been thoughtful or nuanced; gun and ammunition sales soared even in the bluest of blue states. During the interminable  U.S. election season, many voters spoke of trying to discern the “lesser of two evils.” Catholic Churches across the countries have been vandalized. The sex abuse scandals are back in the headlines. Over the top anxiety crowds out trust in God, peace, thankfulness. Even prayer … seems to be desperate!

More and more good sincere, practicing Catholics have begun devouring conspiracy theories and “prophetic” messages and provisioning themselves with beeswax candles and other supplies like Doomsday preppers of the Apocalypse.

As if.

None of this has anything to do with our faith in Jesus Christ the King. 

This is the Jesus who told us to “consider the lilies of the field” and the “birds of the air,” provided with all they need by the same Heavenly Father who looks after us. (Reread the Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5-7.)

This is the Jesus who commanded us not to even prepare a verbal defense against those who would haul us off to court to bear witness to the faith. He promised that the Holy Spirit would speak for us when the moment arrived.

When a “prophetic message” leads people to act in a way that contradicts the message of the Gospel, even in something as “small” as trusting in Divine Providence, we should be put on guard. Our enemy is quite willing to clothe himself in light, provided he leaves one small measure of his own shadow. That shadow settles into the mind and begins to ferment, giving off little bubbles of anxiety that can spread throughout the system. The afflicted person may think that this ferment is zeal, and under its influence spread the “prophetic message” to others through social media, in book reviews, even at Church. Before you know it, there’s a run on beeswax candles, and people are warned not to look through the windows when the three days of darkness come, lest they suffer the fate of Lot’s wife.

This used to be called “vain credulity” and was listed among the sins against the First Commandment. Maybe we should make those lists again.

The flip side of vain credulity is a faith that pays lip service to the Lord, but keeps a firm hold on the reins of earthly life, refusing to submit anything to his dominion. In this view, Christ is just King in a symbolic way, over the spiritual or religious aspects of human life, the ethereal parts—because the other stuff, the dollars and cents and laws and policies and "choices," well, that’s our realm “Have dominion,” God told Adam and Eve. Right?

In fact, however, Jesus Christ is, as the Feast proclaims, the King of the Universe. But he can only reign over the earth if he reigns as King within us. 

This year, for the Feast of Christ the King, contemplate Christ’s kingship as it applies to you. You might find it helpful to meditate on the “kingly” mysteries of the Rosary as a means for looking at Jesus as Universal King, as your King, and as the one who shares his Kingly role with you.

Christ the King Mysteries of the Rosary

The Annunciation to Mary:  [Gabriel said,] “ ‘the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end’.” (Lk 1:32b-33).

Jesus Proclaims the Gospel of the Kingdom: “Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: ‘This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel’ ” (Mk 1:14b-15).

Jesus is Crowned with Thorns, Condemned, and Crucified: “Weaving a crown out of thorns, they placed it on his head, and a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ ” (Mt 27:29);  “Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, ‘Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews’.” Jn 19:19

Jesus Ascends to his Throne, whence He Will Come Again:  “The Lord says to my lord: 

    ‘Sit at my right hand,

    while I make your enemies your footstool.’

The scepter of your might:

    the Lord extends your strong scepter from Zion.

(Ps 110: 1-2a).

“ ‘Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven’.” (Acts 1:11).

As Paul noted in the famous hymn of the humbled and exalted Christ, Jesus “did not deem equality with God something thing to be grasped” (Phil 2: 6). His coming was meant not only to save us from the negative effects of sin, but to release for us a superabundance of grace, making us participants in his own royal priesthood through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit: “[I]t is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (Jn 16:7). And so this final Rosary mystery inspires us to pray “Thy Kingdom come” in a new way, as persons who through Baptism are the priestly, prophetic, and royal stewards of the Universal Lord. Through the Church, God's Kingdom is to be visible in time, "until Kingdom come"!

The Holy Spirit Descends upon the Church: “But you are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises’ of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Pet 2:9). 

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Dorian Cardinal Gray: Today's Report from the Vatican (updating in blue as I read the report)

Since the first ugly revelations over two years ago, every post carrying an image of Theodor McCarrick’s elfin features has consistently put me in mind of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray

For those unfamiliar with the classic (spoiler alert, but you really should know this one), the portrait of the title bore all the traits of the evil perpetrated by the increasingly callous, mysteriously youthful man it portrayed. As long as his portrait endured, Dorian Gray could not age. He remained strangely young and innocent of mein as his corrupting influence continued, year after year. The painting alone betrayed his interior depravity.

Oscar Wilde himself was betrayed to the law and imprisoned for the kinds of things that today’s Dorian Cardinal Gray managed to get away with for decades. McCarrick’s studious indifference to personal wealth and his shabby clothes made him seem as innocent as the peculiarly long-lived Gray with his carefully guarded old painting. 

Theodore McCarrick was consecrated bishop at what we now know was the statistical height of the clergy sex abuse crisis. At the time, no one who was consulted about McCarrick's possible consecration as bishop offered any reservation whatever. However, Kenneth Woodward wrote two years ago about the situation in some dioceses (and even at the head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Clergy) from the late 60's on in which the double lives of unchaste priests created a culture of hypocrisy and secrecy in which no one dared call out another for his transgression, no matter what line was crossed. George Weigel has also written about the clericalist culture which McCarrick played to his advantage for over forty years.

It was only in June, 2017 that McCarrick’s crimes finally caught up with him. The Archdiocese of New York had received an accusation of abuse of a minor that had taken place in the 1970’s; an independent review board deemed it credible and substantiated. Abuse of a minor changed everything: This was a crime that could be prosecuted according to Church law. In the juridical process, McCarrick was found guilty of acts against the sixth commandment with minors and adults, and then laicized.

Now we are going back to the ugly stories, but we are not looking for Dorian Gray this time. In today’s report, drawn up from an exhaustive analysis of documents and lengthy interviews, we are looking at his enablers, his collaborators, and the system he worked so well. How did this go on for so long, while this unworthy man climbed the ecclesiastical ladder to its highest ranks?

One thing that becomes sadly clear is that the unambiguous reports victims made to seminary superiors and diocesan bishops were not acted upon. Investigations from Rome (when they were carried out) were stymied by "inaccurate and incomplete information." The contradictory or vague responses made accusations against McCarrick seem baseless, even slanderous "gossip, rumors." Pope John Paul trusted his old friend until his dying day. But in 2006, Pope Benedict learned new details of a previously discredited accusation (concerning an adult) that dated to the 1980's. McCarrick was "invited" to "spontaneously" resign, but not subjected to canonical trial or penalties. In 2012, more information came forward about another case (involving a priest, this time in 1991). An investigation was ordered but never conducted, leaving McCarrick  unscathed. According to the report, Pope Francis (elected in 2013) was aware of only the basic outlines of the McCarrick case, presuming it to have been addressed by Pope Benedict. But when a credible accusation of abuse of a minor came in from New York, he acted with the kind of speed the Vatican is not equipped for, ordering a report that has taken over two years to come to completion.

In today's first reading, Paul speaks of us awaiting "the blessed hope, the coming of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ."

What do we do when we are without that kind of hope? Many of us may try to eke out as much from this life as we can, in whatever ways are within our reach. It can be tempting to look at the breathtaking wickedness done by Theodore McCarrick, or the complicity of bishops who failed to act, or blamed the accusers in response to Vatican investigations, or the damnable negligence of the Vatican diplomat who, in 2012, failed to carry out an investigation at all even though ordered to and feel somewhat holy by comparison.

Our own acts of hopelessness may be relatively puny, but perhaps only because we ourselves are so hesitant, uncreative, or unadventurous as sinners. Hans Urs von Balthasar once wrote (in Heart of the World, I think), "If there is a communion of saints, there is also a communion of sinners." We are all involved in sin in one way or another. Even venial sins are a cooperation with evil, a pulling away from communion with God that weakens the whole Church, down to the very last member, but when we are in the state of grace our prayers and acts of virtue strengthen the whole Church.

Theodore McCarrick is very old, and Judgment is coming for him and for all his enablers. Was he counting on his innocent image to cover for him forever? He has done tremendous harm, though no one can know why or know his state of soul. But we can, and must, pray for him and make sacrifices for his soul. Jesus Christ died to save even the likes of him.

We can, and must, pray for those who (whether naively or through self-interest) dissembled, looked the other way or joked about McCarrick’s peculiar charisma with handsome young men and deep-pocketed donors. 

We can, and must, above all, pray for all those who fell prey to this breathtakingly manipulative man. They carry a heavy cross, but thanks to them, Pope Francis has put in place new regulations for dealing not only with the abuse of minors, but also the "me too" cases in which people with authority intimidate those subject to them (whether by career or by vocation) into doing their will. Because of those who had the courage to speak out come what may, the truth is setting us all free.

Pope Francis ordered the lengthy report to be compiled and released "for the good of the universal Church."

The McCarrick Report (461 pages) (pdf): http://www.vatican.va/resources/resources_rapporto-card-mccarrick_20201110_en.pdf The first fourteen pages are the summary history of the McCarrick case. The report itself contains some graphic testimony. A trigger warning is included in the introductory pages (probably a first in Vatican history).

Commentaries on the McCarrick Report (I will update this list as I find other commentaries that I think are helpful)

From Where Peter Ishttps://wherepeteris.com/the-mccarrick-report-40-years-of-facts-laid-bare/

From Catholic News Agencyhttps://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/mccarrick-report-nj-bishops-gave-vatican-inaccurate-information-before-mccarricks-washington-appointment-84734

From Catholic World Reporthttps://www.catholicworldreport.com/2020/11/10/the-mccarrick-report-no-smoking-gun-but-massive-system-failure/

The third paragraph of this one really matches my impressions of the ex-Cardinal and his machinations, and helps explain in a small way how people who heard "rumors" seemed unable to take them more seriously: By Michael R. Heinlein: What Does the McCarrick Report Tell Us? https://www.osvnews.com/2020/11/12/what-does-the-mccarrick-report-tell-us/

On a related note (these links are updated frequently)

Powerful, but stick with him through the philosophy: Dr Larry Chapp, The McCarrick Report and the De Facto Atheism of the Churchhttps://gaudiumetspes22.com/2020/11/11/the-mccarrick-report-and-the-de-facto-atheism-of-the-church-2/

From Crux of the News: Cardinal Dziwisz Defends Himself in the Wake of the McCarrick Report: https://cruxnow.com/church-in-europe/2020/11/cardinal-dziwisz-defends-himself-in-wake-of-mccarrick-report/

From Catholic News Service, Fighting Abuse: What Pope Francis Has Done during His Pontificatehttps://www.catholicnews.com/fighting-abuse-what-pope-francis-has-done-during-his-pontificate/

By John Allen, from just before the release of the report: A Reader's Guide to the McCarrick Report: Beware of Bad Guys, Smoking Gunshttps://cruxnow.com/news-analysis/2020/11/a-readers-guide-to-mccarrick-report-beware-of-bad-guys-smoking-guns/amp/

By J. D. Flynn (Editor at Catholic News Agency, he is also a dad, and a Canon Lawyer with experience in clerical abuses cases): After McCarrick Report, Embracing the Crosshttps://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/analysis-after-mccarrick-report-embracing-the-cross-95084

Experts, Abuse Survivors Share Reactions to McCarrick Reporthttps://osvnews.com/2020/11/19/experts-abuse-survivors-share-reactions-to-mccarrick-report/

Saturday, November 07, 2020

Catholic Social Teaching: What is it? UPDATED Nov 9

As I write this, we have the first solid indications of a conclusion to an election year that has been ... interesting.

One of the especially interesting features to me was how many times during the final weeks of the campaign President-elect Biden used the phrase "Catholic social teaching." That's not to say that his party's platform truly reflects those social teachings in any kind of consistent way (neither did the other party's), but at least it gives us something substantial to refer to.

Talk of "Catholic social teaching" can make some Catholics nervous, especially when it seems like it the term is being used to cover over, rather than to address, key matters. However, social teachings have been a pivotal part of the faith since the early Church (read the Church Fathers!). It is nothing other than a spelling out of the Gospel implications for a particular culture. Naturally, that will vary across centuries as well as continents, though some of the warnings of saintly pastors like St John Damascene are still (uncomfortably!) fitting.

In the last 130 or so years papal teachings since Leo XIII's On the Condition of the Working Classes  (Rerum novarum: "New issues") have tried to apply the Gospel to, well, "new issues" in social life, so that "the split between Gospel and culture" that Pope St. Paul VI lamented in 1975 would not harden into an absolute chasm in society. It became a custom for Popes to issue updated documents on significant anniversaries of Rerum novarum: Pius XI's Quadragesimo Anno (Forty Years); Mater et Magistra (Christianity and Social Progress) by St John XXIII;  Octogesima Adveniens (On the coming Eightieth anniversary) by St Paul VI; Laborem Exercens (On Human Work) and  Centesimus Annus (The Centenary) by St John Paul II. 

In each of those anniversary documents, and in other major social documents (like Paul VI's Populorum Progressio; John Paul II's Evangelium Vitae, or Pope Francis' Laudato Si' ) and Fratelli Tutti, the application of the Gospel had to be applied not only to changed social, political, and even scientific conditions, but also to changes in intellectual frameworks: to the mindset with which people of different cultures approached matters such as knowledge, truth, human rights, the definition and limits of progress, etc.

One of the most important documents you can study in terms of Catholic social teaching is the book-length Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. Sometimes called the "Social Catechism," this really is a companion volume to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, but focused on issues of Catholic social teaching. (Order a physical copy of the book with this affiliate link: https://amzn.to/38nP8Hc.)

Since our President-elect professes himself indebted to Catholic social teaching, this might be a good time for all of us to pursue a personal program of study from the very best of sources: the one issued from the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace under the authority of Pope St John Paul II in 2004.

Professor Diana Duesterhoeft of St Mary's University (San Antonio) prepared a handy web page of references on Catholic Social Teaching: https://lib.stmarytx.edu/c.php?g=288002&p=1920734

Nov 9: I had forgotten to list the most recent of Church social documents: Pope Francis' Fratelli Tutti, so I inserted that in the list above. Today is one of your last chances to order the paperback version of the document with the pre-order discount; God willing, they should be shipping out later this week.

Monday, November 02, 2020

This Year's Concert: You Can Come!

We can't go on the road this year, but wherever you are, you can still come to the Daughters of St Paul annual Christmas Concert, suitably themed "Home for Christmas." 

I'll be in one of those now-ubiquitous squares to sing my part, but also will show up in the studio with Sister Margaret Timothy (piano) and Sister Julia Mary (harp) for an acoustic "O Holy Night" solo. (Pray for me.)

Mark your calendar and save the link to our YouTube channel for the live stream on December 3http://www.youtube.com/c/DaughtersofStPaul 

But now for your part: Tell your friends and family to join us for some seasonal inspiration; it will be a Christmas event like "nun" other!

Friday, October 30, 2020

Francesco: What Just Happened? UPDATED Nov 2, 7

Fasten your seat belts. This is a really long post. I've had to take all week to work on it because the subject merited research and reflection. This is also being included in my community's newsletter (welcome to all who have come from that link).

Francesco: What Just Happened?

Until ten days ago, if you had asked me to name some international film festivals, I could have come up with a few: the Venice Film Festival, Cannes (the glamorous one), Toronto, and Sundance (for independent films). And then came October 21 and the world premiere of Evgeny Afineevsky’s Francesco. Suddenly the whole world was paying attention to the Rome Film Festival.

Francesco is a documentary about Pope Francis which incorporates footage from a variety of sources, including the Vatican’s own archives. (The Vatican did not exercise any editorial control over the film.) Director Afineevsky is clearly taken with the Holy Father as a man open to all people, someone who does not put human beings into categories. Afineevsky calls Francis “a man of action,” “pro-life” in the most expansive sense of the term.

Somewhere in the course of 1 hour and 56 minutes comes Pope Francis’ familiar voice, in Spanish:

"Homosexual people have the right to be in a family…. They are children of God and have a right to a family…. Nobody should be thrown out or be made miserable over it…. What we have to have is a civil union law—that way they are legally covered. I supported that."

For the film festival audience, those words were an 18-second bombshell. The first headlines presented the Pope as “changing” a position and even a teaching on same-sex marriage. A media storm ensued. That should not be surprising. Why would an audience composed primarily of movie directors, producers, screenwriters, reviewers, actors, etc., be familiar with the Pope’s many remarks on the subject, or the doctrinal and ecclesial contexts surrounding them? 

What is problematic is not that secular media got this so wrong. It is that some Catholics (including bishops and Catholic media professionals) took those news headlines at face value and responded to them as if they genuinely conveyed something “new” and “unexpected” from the Pope.

Leaping headlong from the headlines

Headlines are just that: “lines” devoid of context.

For many hearers, the Pope’s words (as reported in social media headlines) seemed to indicate approval of so-called “civil unions” as a possible analogue for same-sex marriage. Activists hastened to raise cheers of victory, while some defenders of doctrine and tradition suggested it was time to abandon ship, and even some priests and bishops intimated that Pope Francis just wasn’t that good for the Church. (Seriously.)

All this on the basis of an 18-second video clip, or, in some cases, media reports about it.

First, everyone responded to the headlines.

Then they responded to each other’s responses.

What none of them did in those first heady hours, it seems, was try to find out if Pope Francis really said what the headlines reported, leaving the vast majority of listeners totally ignorant of how the Pope actually expressed himself. 

No one had looked for that.

And yet hints of a fuller truth were available the whole time. The people at Where Peter Is suspected that the clip was a composite. In his blog, Father Matthew Schneider, LC, did the grunt work of comparing the Francesco clip to the source video (from 2019). Father Schneider found a significant portion of the original video (and a transcript of it) right on the Vatican website. Contrary to the director’s early assertions, this interview had not been conducted by Evgeny Afineevsky, but by Valentina Alazraki for the Mexican communications agency Televisa.

Schneider’s work makes two things clear: First, that the 18-second clip in Francesco is an intricately composed mosaic of phrases taken from different parts of the 2019 interview, and second, that Pope Francis has long sought a way of avoiding any kind of equivalence between same-sex partnerships and natural marriage.

Contrary to the assertion of many Catholic contrarians, this is not a matter of the Holy Father being ambiguous. This is a case of a film director moving words around and eliminating clear statements within the very context in which he gave them.

So What Did the Pope Really Say?

The following is a graphic showing a computer translation of the part of the 2019 interview from which the 18-second clip was created.  In bold are words of the Holy Father that have been, to put it mildly, “overlooked.” Phrases are highlighted to show the editing: the first phrase heard in the 18 second clip is highlighted in orange, the second in yellow, the third in green. The words in blue (the final words of the 18-second clip) are not available in the Vatican transcript, but are reported in the October 24 issue of America magazine by Gerard O’Connell, who had access to the complete interview; the translation of that text is his.

From the color code and from the altered order, it is clear how highly edited the 18 seconds from Francesco are. 

Pope Francis has complained about his plain meaning being misconstrued by the media. Ironically, the film Francesco takes a sentence from one of these very complaints and uses it in just that way. (It is providential that this happened right before Media Literacy Week in the U.S. Could we ask for a clearer example of the need for media literacy in the Catholic Church, especially among users of social media?) 

It is interesting that bloggers were the first to notice and parse out the editing that created so much confusion. Of the professional Catholic media, America magazine offered the most thorough treatment, with Rome correspondent Gerard O’Collins finally getting access to the full, unedited version of the 2019 interview, though that took several days. Some other Catholic media and media personalities complained that “the Vatican” should to do more to respond to similar misunderstandings and distortions—but where there are Catholic media professionals in a culture, isn’t it part of their mission to notice and respond to such things?

Money, not truth

Headlines are summaries, but they are also spin: interpretations that often miss or skew the point for the sake of drawing readers, clicks, retweets. In the Internet economy, these are what generate income for headline producers. The more radical the headline, the more money it makes for the organization behind it, including “Catholic” organizations that traffic in the Pope’s name, words, and image.

Catholics should not depend on secular filmmakers for their understanding of what the Pope teaches or be surprised when “the world” acts like… the world. We do not get our knowledge of the faith from media headlines or from media (not even Catholic media!), but from the Magisterium.

Context is vital in understanding not only the words of the Holy Father, but the reactions on the ground, especially from people who pride themselves on being faithful Catholics. So many of the reactions I saw on Twitter and Facebook reflected fear, anxiety, confusion and anguish. There is a context for that, too.

This media storm happened a week and a half before an emotionally charged U.S. Presidential election, and (again, in the U.S.) during the politically divisive confirmation hearing for Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barret.

What all of three headliners have in common is leadership at the highest levels of their respective communities. 

It matters that people in key posts, whether in the Church, in government, in finance, business, medicine, education, etc., be people of integrity and knowledge. The survival of an enterprise cannot depend on the luck, pluck, or cunning of the person at the top. When it does, though, fear makes a lot of sense. When trust in the underpinnings of an institution runs low, it can be tempting to put all one’s hope in the person at the top. If people are longing for a specific kind of leadership, they may feel let down that Pope Francis refuses to conform to that image. 

As Catholics, we do not put our faith in the human character and personal qualities of the Pope. Our trust is in the promise Jesus made to Peter, the first man to hold that office.

Human Nature has not Changed.

In numerous ways, on many occasions, including his document on marriage (Amoris Laetitia), Pope Francis has refused to budge on the nature of marriage and the family. It was precisely this point he was confirming in the video passage that was surgically altered to create an 18-second clip. The Church’s teaching on marriage has not changed and will not change. It is close to the core of the faith itself, as Paul indicated in Ephesians (5:31-32), where he wrote that the one flesh union of husband and wife is a profound mystery that bespeaks “Christ and the Church.” 

What can change, and must change, are the ways Church institutions and ministers can best navigate society as it currently is, through changes of law, language, and expectations, while continuing to communicate the central truths and values of Divine revelation. When these are presented in a way that confirms the beauty, uniqueness and unrepeatability of the person we are with, those truths offer life in abundance. But defended with anxiety, fear, or even hostility, even the holiest truths can wreak damage on a soul. 

Pope Francis clearly thinks that government recognition of some kind of civil union (not necessarily limited to same-sex couples) could provide protection of important legal rights without creating a kind of quasi-marital institution that could compromise the rights of children to a mother and father. This is a moot point in the United States, where same-sex marriage has been the law since 2015.

As to the wisdom of this approach, Catholics are free to disagree with each other (and even with the Pope). But what is unacceptable is casting aspersions on the Pope as an authoritative and reliable teacher of faith. A Catholic’s default presumption should be one of respect for the Pope: for his person, for his authority, for his teaching. When people who offer commentary on matters of faith routinely respond to headlines about the Pope with anything but actual respect and a willingness to delve deeper, they are not recommending themselves to Catholics no matter what their position is, how many degrees in Sacred Theology they hold, or how many YouTube followers they have. At best, they may be intellectually lazy. 

Putting People First

Most of the reservations I saw to the Pope’s position seemed to assume that Francis was promoting something objectively wrong, or that was potentially “an occasion of sin,” or that was “redefining marriage” (which he explicitly ruled out in the same interview). The most revealing response I have seen to all this was published in The Washington Post by Catholic writer Eve Tushnet (the emphasis is mine). Tushnet opened by identifying herself as belonging to “the tiny community of LGBT Catholics who accept the church’s sexual ethic” and quickly got to the point: “[M]any Catholic priests and other leaders still assume that gay people’s biggest spiritual problem is lust, when in my experience the most common and deadly spiritual problem for gay Christians is despair.”

So many words about the Sixth Commandment…but, she says, this is not the problem people like her face on a day to day basis. The real issue is the most foundational commandment of all: the First Commandment, the one in which God, the Lord, is welcomed as the all-good Creator and Foundation and Goal of one’s life; the one who called us into being and sustains us at every instant out of love. Despair is the sin in which this God of love, goodness, and beauty remains unrecognized.

It is a core principle of psychology that one’s experience of parental love or rejection has profound implications for a person’s image of God. And so Pope Francis urges families, especially parents, not to reject their children with same-sex attraction. This is especially important in countries where people suspected of homosexual tendencies may be at risk of violence and even death. 

As a pastor of souls in Argentina, Pope Francis dealt closely with people who experienced same-sex attraction. He listened to them, “accompanied” them, shepherded them. They are not abstractions for Pope Francis: they are people with names and faces and personal, individual stories. They are not instances of “near occasions of sin,” but concrete people with experiences of rejection, despair, welcome, hope, peace, and growth. This focus on the individual person is a hallmark of Pope Francis’ ministry.

People’s spiritual survival (and sometimes their actual survival in this life) depends on their “knowing and believing in the love God has for us” (see 1 Jn 4:16). This is not trivial. This is the essence of evangelization. This is what the Church exists to proclaim.

What about the Rest of the Film?

I haven’t seen the documentary Francesco yet. If not for those unfortunately edited 18 seconds, it might have been something to recommend as the basis for conversations on a variety of topics with people of many faiths, or of no faith. Judging from the trailer, the almost two-hour long film may still be the basis for fruitful conversations with people on the Church’s peripheries, as long as the Catholics who go into a film viewing are sufficiently well-informed about the Pope’s convictions and teachings about marriage and about the dignity of the human person. 

The Pope Still Holds the Keys

Take a deep breath.

God is still in charge.

Jesus Christ is still the head of the Church. 

The Pope, yes, Pope Francis, still holds the keys.

What this means, practically speaking, is giving the Pope at the very least, the benefit of the doubt when it comes to provocative headlines in the media. 

Standing with Pope Francis, we will not be deceived. But we will have to work to stand with the Pope, whether it is Pope Francis this year, or some future Pope in years to come who may be quoted out of context. We cannot rely on middlemen who might be using his words, wittingly or not, inappropriately.

This gives us homework to do. We are to delve past the headlines, refusing to be sucked into a predetermined interpretation by the breathless declaration of unheard-of novelty or devilry coming from the only person on earth with a guarantee from Christ that “the gates of hell will not prevail” against the Church under his care (see Matt 16:18).

Watch the trailer here:

NOV 2: The Vatican has issued a statement about this; at the moment it is only available in Spanish. It confirms that the Holy Father was responding to different questions about completely different situations. https://wherepeteris.com/english-translation-of-vatican-response-to-francesco-documentary/

NOV 7: Here is a link to an October 30  letter from the Apostolic Nuncio to the US (Archbishop Christophe Pierre) to Archbishop Gomez, President of the US Catholic Bishops' conference: https://t.co/nIjpLzm3uV?amp=1

Here are my sources, plus some additional links you may find helpful:

Fr Matthew Schneider LC’s treatment, including going to the original video interview (and transcript) from which the controversial clip was taken: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/throughcatholiclenses/2020/10/pope-franciss-words-on-civil-unions-distorted-by-editing/
Fr Matthew Schneider LC’s follow-up, confirming that analysis of the full transcript of the original interview shows precisely what was edited out of the documentary, changing the meaning of the Pope’s words:


Gerard O'Connell is America magazine's Vatican Correspondent. Here is his article on the Vatican's Communications Dicastery and where it has been in all this: https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2020/10/24/pope-francis-vatican-communications-civil-union

Also from America, an article on Pope Francis' history of thought around civil unions; this article by Colleen Dulle was published the day after the Francesco premier: https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2020/10/22/pope-francis-gay-civil-union-lgtb-context-media-documentary

Two reflections on the context surrounding the Pope’s words and how video editing influences how words are understood:



Fr Agustino CFR has done a few videos as he tried to make sense of the clip. In this 10 min. video he corrects his earlier videos. He uses Franciscan Spirituality to inform and help listeners love the Church and “stay beside her.” https://www.facebook.com/padreagustino/videos/722836941654380/


Fr Raymond de Souza confirms that Pope Francis did not change Church teaching, recalling also Archbishop Levada’s decision in San Francisco about civil unions. (Levada was later made head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith by Pope Benedict XVI.):


Thomas Reese SJ affirms that Church teaching hasn’t changed; he includes reflection on how civil unions might impact areas of the world where homosexual persons are subject to loss of basic rights (his point #3).

Eve Tushnet in the Washington Post gives her perspective as a Catholic in the “LGBT community” who accepts the Church’s teachings on sexuality: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/10/24/what-does-pope-francis-believe-about-same-sex-love/

Statement by Cardinal Sean O’Malley:


“Pope Francis and Civil Unions,” statement by Archbishop Cordileone (San Francisco): https://sfarchdiocese.org/letters-and-statements

Friday, October 16, 2020

Novena to Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life (and a new chaplet!)

Our solemn novena to Jesus, the Divine Master, begins today, so I am gathering intentions as we sing our daily prayers (put yours in the comments; add a note if you want them kept private). But this year I was inspired to do something more, something that would allow you to participate (in a less complex way!) in our devotion. That was, after all, one of Blessed James Alberione's great dreams: for people to come to know Jesus as their Way, Truth and Life; to become his disciples with their whole being (mind, will, heart, strength) and so to become evangelizers: living branches of the True Vine, bearing the fruit of life all over the world.

So I've taken some of Alberione's directives and formulated them into a new chaplet. I'll try later to get it into a printable fashion; for now you can use your phone or tablet to follow the prayers. It is meant to be prayed with the rosary beads, so you won't need anything special in terms of "holy hardware."

Begin with the Sign of the Cross.

At the first bead, pray: O Master, we know that you are truthful and teach the way of God in truth.

On the following beads, pray the Act of Faith, Act of Hope, Act of Love (see below)

There is a theme for each decade:

  1. Jesus, the Incarnate Word, reveals God to all people: “If you know me, you will know my Father also. ... Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:7a, 9b).
  2. Jesus our Way shows us how God wants people to live, and his grace makes it possible: “I have set you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15); “Follow me…” (Mk 1:17).
  3. Jesus is our life. Through faith, by grace, we live in him and he in us. “I am the Resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (Jn 11:25-26).
  4. Jesus is Way, Truth and Life in the Church, his Mystical Body: “He who listens to you listens to me” (Lk 10:16); “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ” (1 Cor 12:12).
  5. Jesus intends to be Way, Truth and Life in the modern world through us: “Go into all the  world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15).

On the "Our Father" beads, pray: Jesus Master, Way and Truth and Life, teach us your way of truth and holiness.

And on the "Hail Mary" beads, pray: Sanctify us in the truth. Your word is truth (cf. Jn 17:17).

At the medal:

V. I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, says the Lord:

R. No one comes to the Father except through Me.

Let us pray:

O Almighty and eternal God, who in your love have sent us your only Son as universal Teacher, grant that we may learn his divine doctrine in order to more easily understand the supernatural realities. Through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.


Optional closing invocations to Jesus, the Divine Master:

Jesus Master, sanctify my mind and increase my faith.

Jesus, teaching in the Church, draw everyone to yourself.

Jesus Master, deliver me from error, empty thoughts, and spiritual blindness.

Jesus, Way between the Father and us, I offer you everything and expect everything from you.

Jesus, Way of sanctity, help me to imitate you faithfully.

Jesus Way, grant that I may respond wholeheartedly to the Father’s call to holiness.

Jesus Life, live in me, so that I may live in you.

Jesus Life, do not permit anything to separate me from you.

Jesus Life, grant that I may live eternally in the joy of your love.

Jesus Truth, may you shine in the world through me.

Jesus Way, may I faithfully mirror your example for others.

Jesus Life, may I be a channel of your grace and consolation to others.

Act of Faith:

O my God, I firmly believe that you are one God in three divine Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I believe that your divine Son became Man and died for our sins, and that he will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe these and all the truths which the holy Catholic Church teaches, because you have revealed them, who can neither deceive nor be deceived.


Act of Hope

O my God, relying on your infinite goodness and promises, I hope to obtain pardon of my sins, the help of your grace, and life everlasting, through the merits of Jesus Christ, my Lord and Redeemer.


Act of Love

O my God, I love you above all things, with my whole heart and soul, because you are all good and worthy of all love. I love my neighbor as myself for the love of you. I forgive all who have injured me, and I ask pardon of all whom I have injured.

Thursday, October 08, 2020

Last minute update (sorry!)

So there are just hours left, and this is the first you are hearing from me (on this channel, at any rate) about an amazing project that the sisters have been working on over a ten-year span. In Caelo et in Terra: a Year with the Saints will be every Catholic family's treasured volume, not only because it features a life of a saint for every day, with saints and blesseds from every part of the world, but because of the prayerfully done illustrations by our Sister Danielle Victoria Lussier who makes those saints so real.

Since the pandemic has profoundly affected the flexibility of our publishing house, we launched a Kickstarter project to help fund the printing costs. In just a day, we received enough pre-orders to cover the initial print run! 

You'll be able to place regular orders for the book in a couple of weeks, but today is the last day to get in on the offers associated with the Kickstarter program: entry-level support (a pre-order of one copy, basically) includes a set of limited-edition stickers and (a new addition for the final hours!) a print of Our Lady of the Rosary.

Even if you're not in the market for a new book about saints, no matter how well written or illustrated, do visit the Kickstarter page to watch the movie the sisters prepared; it's not the kind that I can import into the blog or I would have done that on day one. 

Needless to say, this would be a fabulous Christmas gift (in case you're thinking that far in advance, which...isn't that far in advance), and a sheer dose of inspiration for just about any occasion. (Personally, I think it would be lovely as part of a wedding gift for a Catholic couple.) 

Thursday, September 03, 2020

On the air!

Last week I was on Ave Maria Radio, talking about the Sister Thea Bowman album, Songs of My People. The show included lots of songs from the album, along with some background about the recording and the role Sister Thea hoped her music would play in interracial harmony. Listen to the whole thing here: https://avemariaradio.net/audio-archive/notes-from-above-august-16-2020-2/

This morning I am gearing up for a very different kind of interview: a live Internet video broadcast on The Backpack Show, a business program. I'll be one of two guests; the other is Tressa Smiley, whom I just "met" last evening via Twitter. She's a motivational speaker who helps her audience face life with a positive spirit (something we can't have too much of these days!). I'm looking forward to interacting with her in real time.

Watch it live here (10:00 EDST) or catch it after the fact:

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Talking about Sister Thea

Last week I was interviewed for Ave Maria Radio's music program, "Notes from Above." Deacon Tom and Sister Sarah played some of the very best of Sister Thea Bowman's spirituals from "Songs of My People" and I filled in with some stories. 

The music was going through my head for days afterwards. I think my favorite (this time around) was "Go Down, Moses." 

Take a listen, and tell me what your favorite is!


Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Praying for the Bad Shepherds

Today's first reading for Mass is a heavy-hitter from the prophet Ezekiel
. It starts out: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who have been pasturing themselves! (You have to read the whole thing.) Since we are still waiting for a report detailing who knew what when about one of the worst shepherds of our times, the ex-Cardinal "Ted" McCarrick, the reading is still painfully relevant. At the same time, the reading offers consolation for those who have a right to genuine shepherding. God swears an oath: "I am coming against these shepherds. I will claim my sheep from them and put a stop to their shepherding my sheep so that they may no longer pasture themselves. ... I myself will look after and tend my sheep."

I can't wait.

But we must wait and not only that. We must pray for the "shepherds ... who have been pasturing themselves"--those who may have had corrupt intentions all along; those who have fallen into self-seeking through weakness or by the corrupting influence of others, and who feel trapped or no longer even see what is wrong; and those who have "lost their first love" (see Rev. 2:4) and function on auto-pilot, spiritually and pastorally lifeless. Whatever the cause, the Church needs them to be who they were called and ordained to be. And for that, our first recourse is prayer.

In the Pauline Family there is a special Institute focused on pastoral ministry, with unique prayers for our ordained shepherds. The prayers are so particular to the Sisters of Jesus the Good Shepherd that we Daughters of St. Paul are mostly unfamiliar with them. They just don't match our life and mission, even though the basic spirituality and the goal is the same: to live Jesus Christ and bring him in his fullness to others. 

So today, in the light of the first reading and the many needs of the Church and its shepherds, I thought I would share with you the post-Communion prayer Blessed James Alberione wrote for the Sisters of Jesus the Good Shepherd, the "Pastorelle" or "shepherdess" Sisters:

Lord, I offer you, in union with the priests who today celebrate the holy Mass: Jesus-Host and myself, a small victim:

* In reparation for all the offenses committed against Jesus Good Shepherd living in the person of the Pope, bishops and priests.

* To invoke your mercy on all the sheep who have strayed from the true fold, or are still scattered like a flock without a shepherd.

* For the conversion of false shepherds who distance people from Jesus the Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep.

* To honor, love and follow only Jesus Way, Truth and Life.

* That we may cooperate with our shepherds in enlightening, guiding and praying for the salvation of men.

* To ask you that all shepherds and their collaborators, especially parents and teachers, may be holy, full of wisdom and zeal for the glory of God and the salvation of men.

* That vocations may be multiplied and be effective in their words; that they may fulfill the apostolate of prayer and example, so that soon there will be only one flock under one Shepherd.

* That all of us may know our ignorance and misery and the need to remain always humbly before your tabernacle invoking light, piety and mercy.