Saturday, January 14, 2017

Called to be holy


I would like to conduct an informal poll this morning. By a show of hands, how many of you would say that you are a saint?

King Henry III was King of Bavaria in the 11th Century. He was a God-fearing man but the demands of being king did not leave him much time for his spiritual life. One day he got so tired of being king that he went to the Abbot of the local monastery and asked to be admitted as a monk for the rest of his life. The Abbot said, “Your Majesty, do you understand that you must make a vow of obedience as a monk? That will be hard because you have been a king.” “I understand,” said Henry. “But, for the rest of my life I will be obedient to you, as Christ leads you.” The Abbott responded, “Good, here is what you must do. Go back to your throne and serve faithfully in the place where God has put you.” King Henry returned to his throne and he ruled his people with kindness and justice, in holiness. He was a saintly king.

In our second reading today St. Paul addresses us as those “who have been sanctified in Jesus Christ, called to be holy.” Paul is reminding us of that essential fact – we are all “called to be holy.” Now “holy” is just another word for “saint.” So if we are all called to be holy, my friends, we are all called to be saints! Holiness or saintliness is not a call that God places in the lives of just a few. Saintliness is not meant to be rare, but rather the norm for the followers of Jesus. We have been fortunate to live in an age of great saints – St. Mother Teresa comes to mind almost immediately to everyone just in the last few years, St. Pope John XXIII and St. Pope John Paul II were both canonized as saints.

Did you know that as Pope, St. John Paul canonized more saints than all popes before him combined? And he consciously canonized not just priests and religious, but he made saints of men and women from every state of life; every age group; every occupation; married, widowed, single. He did this for a reason – so that we might all be reminded when we look at the saints that they are like us and so we are called to be like them, “called to be holy”.

Like King Henry we sometimes believe that we need to run away from the demands of life and escape to a monastery, a convent or the desert, if we want to become a saint. But, as the Abbot reminded Henry, God expects us to be saints in the concrete situations of our personal, family and business or professional lives. Or stated another way, we are called to bloom where we have been planted.

As we leave Christmas behind end enter Ordinary Time, the Church reminds us that holiness is not meant to be extraordinary; it is not meant to be rare. Holiness is meant to be very ordinary, very common – it is meant to be in the reach of every baptized person. Let me ask a different question: by a show of hands, who hopes to get to Heaven? Many more hands this time, and yet, that is the very same question that I asked before. Who gets to Heaven? Saints do. Heaven is full of saints! We are all meant to be saints! While we may not feel like we are saints yet, that is the purpose for which God has called us. We are all called to holiness.

That God has called us to be “saints” doesn’t mean that we are called to be perfect and never without sin, it means that God wants us to be different than other people in the world. He wants us not to simply follow the crowd, but to blaze a new path – one that is marked by kindness, compassion, joy, forgiveness and healing. These are the tools of the saints, the tools of holiness. Our world needs holy parents, holy children, holy doctors and nurses, holy teachers, holy garbage collectors, farmers – wherever we find ourselves, whatever we do.

Shortly after he converted to Catholicism in the late 1930s, the famous Trappist, Thomas Merton, was walking the streets of New York with a friend who asked Merton what he wanted to be, now that he was Catholic. “I don’t know,” Merton replied, adding simply that he wanted to be a good Catholic. His friend stopped him in his tracks. “What you should say,” he told him, “is that you want to be a saint!” Merton was dumbfounded. “How do you expect me to become a saint?” Merton asked him. His friend said: “All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one. Don’t you believe that God will make you what He created you to be, if you will consent to let him do it? All you have to do is desire it.”

My brothers and sisters, one last question today – how many of us want to be saints? I hope it is all of us! Here’s the good news: to be a saint is nothing more complicated than to be ourselves – to be the person God created us to be. God has called us to be saints. All of us here today are called to be holy. Let us each desire to live saintly lives and may God consent to make each of us saints.

You may remember that at his funeral Mass, the crowds cried out for St. Pope John Paul, "Santo Subito!" or "Make him a saint immediately!" Let us make that the mission statement of our own lives; let us all pledge to be on the road to holiness, on the road to sainthood today. Santo subito!

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Go home by another way


Today, of course, we mark our last Sunday of the Christmas season. It will fully come to an end on Monday with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Today, of course, is the Feast of the Three Kings which marks the first time the birth of Jesus is acknowledged by outsiders. These “wise men” have travelled from afar because they saw His star at its rising and have come to worship the new born King. We call it “epiphany” because this is a word that means literally “to reveal” and Jesus, the Son of God, has been in this moment revealed to the world.

There are wonderful Christmas hymns for this day, the best known, of course, is We Three Kings. But my favorite song for Epiphany is one you may not have heard of. It is by James Tayler and is called Home By Another Way. It is a song about the dream that the wise men had following their visit with Mary, Joseph and Jesus; the dream that told them to avoid King Herod and seek a different route home.

This notion of moving in a new direction serves as a good understanding of what Epiphany is all about. Epiphany is about our call to change course in our lives and set our direction to the star that is Jesus. Just like the Magi, we have seen the star that called us to move towards Him. When the Magi saw that star they had no idea who Jesus was or what He would mean to the world. They were literally far from Him and made a choice to move in His direction. We too might find ourselves in the same position. Maybe we have always desired to know Jesus more intimately, more powerfully, more personally in our lives and yet have not come close. The star again calls us today. Maybe we have been hurt, wounded, or are sad or grieving and feel a great distance from Jesus today. Again, the star calls to us. Maybe our relationship with Jesus feels stagnant, like it isn’t growing or moving or changing, and we don’t know what to do to make it better. The star calls to us today.

Jesus wants to reveal Himself to each one of us today, just as He did to the wise men so long ago. And, He wants that revelation to change our very lives. We have to do our part and alter our course towards Him. Whatever parts of our lives have been distant – perhaps we have been full of anger or fear, anxiety or judgment. Perhaps we have old wounds and broken relationships that we’ve not tended to. Jesus wants to be the healing for all of the broken places in our lives.

Pope Francis in his homily for today said, “[The Magi] had to discover that what they sought was not in a palace, but elsewhere. In the palace, they did not see the star guiding them to discover a God who wants to be loved. For only under the banner of freedom, not tyranny, is it possible to realize that the gaze of this unknown but desired king does not abase, enslave, or imprison us. To realize that the gaze of God lifts up, forgives and heals. To realize that God wanted to be born where we least expected, or perhaps desired, in a place where we so often refuse him. To realize that in God’s eyes there is always room for those who are wounded, weary, mistreated and abandoned. That his strength and his power are called mercy.”

My friends, this is the “other way” that a living encounter with Jesus sends us. If we change our course to head towards the star, and there we encounter the real manifestation of God, we too will be sent home by another way. We too will be called to not take the road of self-fulfillment, but instead take the road of empathy, care and concern for others; the road of forgiveness, healing and hope.

Our beautiful manger scene is a perfect icon of this encounter. The manger reminds us exactly the way that God decided to come to earth and take on our human flesh. God chose to enter humanity not in a grandiose way, not with trumpet blast and glory, but in the simple way that you and I entered humanity - within a family. And, not only that, He chose to enter as someone who was homeless – they could not find a place to lay their head. He chose to enter as a migrant on their way to another land for the census. He chose to enter our world as a little baby, as someone who was helpless and had to rely upon the assistance of others if He were to complete His mission among us of spreading the good news and bringing His promised salvation.

God chose to enter our world precisely in the places and in the people and in the ways that we, today, so often struggle or even fail to see God. When we look at the immigrant, the refugee, the homeless, the helpless, what do we see? Do we realize that they too are icons of the very image of God as He was on that first Christmas morning; as He was as the Magi travelled to see Him? Every manger is an image of a homeless, migrant family who had no place to lay their heads. And all over our city, you can find a homeless woman or man huddled under a blanket or a cardboard box. As we pass them by, do we recognize that their image and the image of our manger are in fact the same? Do we see God present there when we see them? This is the new road our encounter with Jesus invites us to travel.

In a few days, our Christmas mangers will be carefully packed and put away for another year, but these urban mangers that surround us on our streets will remain in the men and women who live there. The star shines brightly today guiding us to change our course and head toward Jesus – here in this Church as He reveals Himself in Word and Sacrament. And, when we leave this encounter, Jesus tells us as a dream told the Three Kings to have the courage to go home by another way, to embark on the path that opens our eyes and our hearts, our minds and our lives, to the presence of Jesus that we will suddenly see is all around us.

Let us be mercy, the forgiveness, the healing, the joy and the hope that the Baby Jesus came to bring to our world.

Merry Christmas and may the Lord give you peace!

Click to enjoy the James Taylor song:

The real electoral problem may lie within us | Sr. Joan Chittister | NATIONAL CATHOLIC REPORTER

By Joan Chittister | Jan. 5, 2017 | NATIONAL CATHOLIC REPORTER

We're in the middle of it now. But where it's going in the end may be to the wrong place entirely.
The election is over but we are up to our ankles in the detritus it leaves behind. The new issues that have emerged in this election — the Electoral College, the media, the fake news, the hacking — are serious ones, yes. And yet, I do not think that these are the most important elements to be addressed in this term's electoral autopsy.
Yes, we now have a minority president who skated into the White House on a system meant, some point out, to correct the democracy the founders purported to set up. The Electoral College, some argued, would balance the numerical disadvantage of the less populated Southern slave states with the larger, immigrant-populated Northern states by counting slaves as part of the population though they were counted for absolutely nothing else. Or, as others say, the Founding Fathers created the Electoral College in order to save us from "the tyranny of the majority." So now, with slavery ended, we are apparently meant to believe that some voters know better than others though we have yet to be told on what grounds that correction should occur.
And all of that would be problem enough surely.

But the real problem is that we are also left with something even more dangerous than an archaic political system. We now have an electorate for whom facts have no meaning and programs apparently have little value and generate even less interest. And we have a word for it now: We have become the 'post-truth' generation. We rely more now on the kinds of feelings that can be generated in the electorate than we do on the kind of facts that once shaped decision-making in this country.
For instance, no major news media devoted time during this electoral cycle to teaching the American public the advantages or disadvantages of any single political promise. Hillary Clinton kept saying she had a plan and we could find it on her website. In Clinton-land there were plans for everything. But no major networks bothered to create a series of programs to evaluate any of them, let alone all of them. Ideas, it seems, do not get the media the kind of ratings that bring in ad income, and so are now being routinely ignored.
From the Trump campaign, on the other hand, assertions — and often downright lies, not plans — were the coin of the realm. There were no details to chart, let alone compare to other plans around them.
Instead, though the media struggled mightily to expose the constant stream of lies that were the pillars of Donald Trump's campaign — Mexico is forcing criminals into the U.S.; Hillary is the most corrupt politician of all time; there was voter fraud in Virginia, New Hampshire and California; there are 3 million criminals in this country illegally; and "In many instances, [people's] health care costs are more than their mortgage costs or their rent" — the lies fell on deaf ears. One lie after another; 25 pages of them all neatly archived now but apparently without any importance whatsoever to the voting public at the time. Instead, name-calling and assertion became the coin of the realm. Vice President Joe Biden said that the details of Hillary's campaign "got drowned out by the most vicious campaign, the craziest campaign I've ever witnessed."
So, the political autopsy is in full swing and the focus now is on why the Democrats lost the election.
But I do not think that party politics are either the real question or a substantial answer to the question of how and why a national electorate simply ignored the name-calling, the lack of plans, the din of vague accusations and the myriad shifting promises of a candidate for the highest office in the land.
Nor was there any explanation of how it could be that the ill-advised use of a private email server by one candidate could possibly outweigh all the outright lies of the other.
Nor was there serious mention of the Constitutional crises the Electoral College was charged to deal with concerning the kinds of conflicts of interest that ought to preclude a candidate's qualifications for presidency.
Instead, it's becoming plain, the real electoral problem may actually lie in us, in the electorate. Why didn't we insist on some kind of public consideration of these issues before the election? Why didn't we demand answers and data and the public analysis and discussion of programs and plans, and of the advantages and disadvantages of each? What happened to serious examination of serious questions? One candidate won all three debates, the process designed to do just that, and lost the election regardless.
So, what is missing? Not in the political campaigns but in us?
I've considered two possibilities. The first thought that came to mind is that this country's easy dismissal of liberal arts in education may have finally come home to roost.
Our colleges, in large part, have become extensions of U.S. business. We teach our students how to make money, how to build corporations, how to compete in the marketplace, how to win in a digital world, and how to "brand" something. Do we require courses on government or the history of ideas anymore? How long has it been since we heard about anyone taking courses on the Great Books as part of the core curriculum? When did we stop wondering which of the great philosophers really told us the most about what it means to be good, to be happy, to be beautiful, to be truth-tellers? How long has it been since we have had a good discussion on the purpose of a university?
Why is it that the first things to be cut in response to our shrinking education budgets are courses on world history, philosophy, logic, ethics, great literature, music, and the arts? How much time do we spend these days teaching things that concentrate on the development of the human spirit, the definition of the truly human, human being. How often do we ask whether what can be done ought to be done?
The question is a simple one: When will we again give as much attention to stretching the thought process and nourishing the soul of the society as we do to increasing the earning power of part of the population?
Or second, when will the Hastert Rule — institutionalized by Dennis Hastert, Speaker of the House from 1999-2007 — be seen for what it is? Hastert allowed only those bills that were known to already have the support of a majority of the majority party to be brought to the floor of the House for a vote. It is a strategy that smothers the democratic ideal. It makes partisanship the unwritten law of the land. It is the creation of one-party rule in what is meant to be a democracy of conscience.
It all but silences the thinking of the minority party by refusing to submit for consideration the contribution of the minority voice to the legislative development of the country. It is a crime against the democratic commitment to work for the common good.
From where I stand, it seems that we ignored the evaluation of ideas in this election for at least two reasons: First, we no longer put much emphasis on idea development and critical thinking. And second, we long ago abandoned the hard work of working through ideas together, even at the highest levels in the land. What we have learned is to let other people do our thinking for us. Then, the rest of us can simply sit by, make up false news, and substitute name-calling for thinking, for public planning, for the Constitution.
But that's not what we call democracy. That's what's we call oligarchy and plutocracy — rule by a few. Both of which systems failed. We'd all recognize it quickly — if we ever learned about the effects of something like that to begin with.

[Joan Chittister is a Benedictine sister of Erie, Pa.]

"Kindness to all" | Cardinal Joseph Tobin | AMERICA MAGAZINE

NOTE: I have been a big fan of Cardinal Tobin's for some time. I recall being at a keynote address that he gave to vocation director's about a year before the election of Pope Francis. He gave an exegesis on the term "pontifex" as "bridge builder". I can only hope that his voice continues to grow stronger with in Catholicism, especially American Catholicism. I think in so many ways our faith in the public sphere has been reduced to a sort of baptized political polarization that is more about what the Cardinal dubs "hot button issues" than it is about the core of our faith. Let's get back to what we are about - "See how these Christians love one another" and the rest will follow. - FT
Cardinal Joseph Tobin used his installation Mass as archbishop of Newark on Jan. 6 as an opportunity to call on Catholics to move away from rancor over “hot button” issues and toward contemplating how to live out their faith in a more holistic way.
Standing before a massive crowd inside Newark’s Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart, which included scores of clergy and local officials, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Cardinal Tobin said he was recently asked which issue worried him most about the future of the church.
His answer? What he dubbed “the chasm between faith and life”—and not the culture war issues that “dominate the discourse, both inside and outside the church,” he said.

“As noisy and divisive as those questions might be,” he continued, “they don’t worry me as a growing trend that seems to isolate us, convincing us to neatly compartmentalize our life, subtly seducing us to go to Mass on Sunday and for the rest of the week, do whatever we think we need to do to get by.”

He said that Christians must be marked by their willingness to show “kindness to all: to the searching young and the forgotten elderly, to the stranger and the voiceless, to the powerful and the cynical.”

Cardinal Tobin’s appointment to Newark came as something of a surprise, given that Pope Francis announced in October that the then-archbishop of Indianapolis would be made a cardinal in November. Just weeks after that announcement, the Vatican announced that he would be transferred to Newark to lead the archdiocese’s 1.5 million Catholics.
Outgoing Archbishop John J. Myers, who welcomed Cardinal Tobin to the cathedral at the start of Friday’s Mass, has faced criticism for his handling of instances of clergy sexual abuse and accusations of lavish spending on a retirement home.
Archbishop Myers is seen as a church traditionalist. He released a memo in 2015, for example, reiterating the church’s ban on divorced and remarried Catholics being able to receive Communion, just as other bishops from around the world were discussing the issue in Rome at the behest of the pope.
Cardinal Tobin, by contrast, is a member of a religious order and is viewed as someone open to dialogue and discernment.
“I think Redemptorists always like to look on the other side of the tracks and care for people that maybe the church isn’t able to care for,” he told America in October. “Our founder spoke of the most abandoned poor and that can take different form in different areas. The way I hear it, and the way I would speak of it when I was superior general, was basically we must go where the church isn’t able to go.”
He is also willing to take on difficult political questions, as evidenced by his 2015 refusal to comply with then-Gov. Mike Pence’s request not to resettle a family of Syrian refugees in Indiana, which brought him national attention.
In a speech at the University of Notre Dame last October, he said Catholics must “urge public officials to avoid reactions that politicize events abroad, or in this country, and to avoid misplaced blame that creates an atmosphere of fear.”
Ordained a priest in Redemptorist order in 1978, Cardinal Tobin, who speaks five languages, worked in parishes in Detroit and Chicago. By 1997 he was head of his religious order, based in Rome, and in 2010 Pope Benedict XVI promoted him to archbishop, assigning him the task of managing the Vatican office that oversees religious life.
Around this time the Vatican had launched two investigations of Catholic sisters in the United States, apparently the result of the dissatisfaction among some church officials at what they saw as a drift away from traditional church teaching on contentious social issues among U.S. women religious.
For his part, then-Archbishop Tobin emerged as an advocate for the sisters, ruffling the feathers of some church leaders. After serving just two years of a five-year term, he was appointed to serve as archbishop of Indianapolis, traditionally not a premier post in the American church.
Then, with Pope Francis, he was named a cardinal and sent to Newark, a meteoric rise after falling out of favor during a previous pontificate.
And he echoed the words of the pope during his homily, laying out his vision for the church.
Speaking to an audience that included six other cardinals and more than 60 other bishops, he said the church is “neither an elite club nor static container of truth,” calling it instead a “place where believers speak and listen to each other, and it is the community of faith that speaks with and listens to the world.”
Using language borrowed from the pope, he said “the church senses a responsibility for the world, not simply as yet another institutional presence or a benevolent NGO, but as a movement of salt, light and leaven for the world's transformation.”
“For this reason, our kindness must be known to all,” he said.
Michael O’Loughlin is the national correspondent for America and author of The Tweetable Pope: A Spiritual Revolution in 140 Characters. Follow him on Twitter at @mikeoloughlin.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

'Rogue One' and the Return of Reverence | First Things

By Mark Barnes | First Things | January 3, 2017
Star Wars is—or should be—a religious franchise. The Jedi are a monastic order trained in contemplating and manipulating an omnipresent Force, and in fighting against those who use the Force for evil ends. The crucial question for every character is always spiritual: whether one will choose the “light” or the “dark” side of the Force. Their character arcs involve taking a religious stance toward this mystical energy field.

At least that's how it was in the three original Star Wars films (1977-83). In the originals, access to the Force occured on the basis of faith and asceticism. Luke Skywalker had to cease trusting his physical eyes and take on the eyes of faith; he had to train his body and mind extensively before he was capable of the same feats of Force as Yoda.

By contrast, the Star Wars prequels (1999-2005) departed from this religious heart, by making the Force something embedded in the natural world:
ANAKIN : Master, sir … I've been wondering … what are midi-chlorians?
QUI-GON : Midi-chlorians are a microscopic lifeform that reside within all
living cells and communicate with the Force.
ANAKIN : They live inside of me?
QUI-GON : In your cells. We are symbionts with the midi-chlorians.
ANAKIN : Symbionts?
QUI-GON : Life forms living together for mutual advantage. Without the
midi-chlorians, life could not exist, and we would have no knowledge of the
Force. They continually speak to you, telling you the will of the Force.
In the prequels, the Force is a part of the biological world. It is accessed not by the mind or spirit but by microscopic organisms. This view renders the Jedi religion superfluous—one either has a “high midi-chlorian count,” or one does not. The prequels rewrite the Jedi’s disciplined access to the mystical life as something determined by a blood-test.

This secularization of the Force coincides with its most grotesque, irreverent use. The Jedi of the originals were concerned with not using the Force, with the profound need for being “ready” to wield it. Yoda told Luke he will be able to discern the ways of the Force “when you are calm, at peace. Passive.” He restricted its use: “A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack.” He warned that the “quick and easy path” is precisely what makes one an “agent of evil.”

But in the prequels, the Force loses its sacred status and becomes a magic weapon. Yoda—who trained Luke Skywalker by saying “Adventure. Excitement. A Jedi craves not these things”—draws his lightsaber by sucking it from his belt to his hand. He uses the Force to jump higher and fling things at his opponent, while dropping one-liners: “Not if anything to say about it, I have.” The all-pervading life-stuff of the universe becomes a mechanism for heavy-lifting. This is antithetical to Yoda’s original description of the Force, which is an “ally” not because it is a cool weapon, but because it is sacred: “For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.” The Force is used so often, and for so many purposes, throughout the prequels—from eating pears to throwing people—that it loses its religious valence and becomes just another technological element: blasters, lightsabers, X-wings, Force.

Atheism often seeks a replacement for religious reverence in a certain “awe” before the physical universe: Richard Dawkins’s “Science is Magic,” Alain de Botton’s “Atheism 2.0,” and the vague “space-theism” wherein internet-plebeians fill the need for the Absolutely Unknowable Other with Not-Very Knowable Things—dark matter, black holes, the multiverse, and so on. All these recommend themselves as methods of retaining some degree of reverence in a cosmos without God and without transcendence.

But the prequels give us a lesson that life repeats. No matter how amazing something is, if it is susceptible to our power and manipulation, it gets boring. Flying was once an exciting new possibility. But we’ve perfected it and commercialized it, and now we fall asleep, bored some 39,000 feet above Earth. Mars is exciting. Wal-Mart plans to subsume it under human use, where it will grow tiresome. In a thousand years, children will whine about going to school on the light-travel bus. There is no part of the physical cosmos that we cannot sap of its significance by making it a part of everyday existence—a thing we use, a thing we ignore. Only that which is not “currently” out of reach, mysterious “by the research standards of today,” can be approached with reverence.

Reverence is an emotion that responds to the presence of a value higher than ourselves—a value that exists in its own right and does not need us. Reverence is not oriented toward the useful, no matter how awesome the use. Only something that is by its very nature unavailable to being used by human beings can assert itself as worthy of reverence—of a continued, trembling respect for that which exceeds us. The prequels irreverently secularized the Force, making it a controllable entity, measurable and understandable, infinitely use-able.

But in the new Star Wars movies (2015-), something else has been happening. In The Force Awakens, Han Solo derides Finn’s blithe mechanization of the Force as an easy answer to the problem of how to disable some shields: “That’s not how the Force works!” This shut-down of Finn’s use-the-cool-Force attitude indicates a shift in the new Star Wars movies, a certain return of the religious dimension that fueled the originals—a return to reverence.

This turn achieves its maturity in Rogue One. If the prequels scooped the sacred from the Force by biologizing and technologizing it, Rogue One returns it by spiritualizing and refusing to use the Force. Physical sight can no longer behold the Force. Its main adherent is Chirrut Îmwe, a blind warrior-monk who believes in the power of the Force. Îmwe’s temple has been destroyed by an imperial power, and thus, deprived of any obvious geographical site of the sacred, he must carry the evidence of the Force that “binds the galaxy together” by his own prayer and upright action.

Barring a few from Darth Vader, Rogue One contains almost none of the technological “uses” of the Force that marked the prequels. There are no Jedi driving the action. Instead, we have a believer who trusts the Force, not as a power to be manipulated, but as an object of prayer: “The Force is with me and I am one with the Force.” Îmwe “prays” as he walks through the field of lasers, but we don’t see bolts careening off by the swipe of an unseen hand. It is Îmwe who must change in accordance with the Force. It guides him, not vice versa.

Similarly, there are no magical “saves” in Rogue One. The Force is not manipulated for human ends; rather, the human end of “avoiding biological death” is subordinated to the Force. The main characters die believing, but without “getting what they want” via that belief. The film embodies that fundamental religious recognition—that there is a life greater than biological life, and the true influence of the supernatural is to help us cast off our lives for this greater life. Martyrdom, by which one can willfully give up biological life for some higher value, is the true gift of the Force.

The religious emphasis of the film is not how to use the Force, but how to conform oneself to something that is beyond use. We do not hear the iconic line, “Use the force,” in Rogue One. We hear a reverent one: “Trust the force.” The difference between use and trust sums up the difference between magic and religion. Magic wishes to use supernatural powers for material ends. Religion wishes to subordinate material ends to a good and wise supernatural power. Rogue One elevates the disciple over the magician and the saint over the technician.

The Force regains its power to inspire reverence. It is inscrutable, the other that measures us. This is the religious conviction, that only what exceeds human manipulation can outlast the human capacity for boredom. Rogue One, by allowing the Force to remain beyond sight, allows it to exist beyond boredom.

Marc Barnes is a student of philosophy at the Benedict XVI Centre at St. Mary's University, Twickenham, and the author of the blog “Bad Catholic.”

Friday, December 30, 2016

No 'reform of the reform' | Pope Francis | AMERICA MAGAZINE

NOTE: This is such a welcomed clarification from Pope Francis. Now, if he would only state without exception that priests celebrating Mass with their back to the people is NOT a part of the ordinary rite. Leave it with the Extraordinary Rite. I have highlighted some key selections below. - FT

December 19-26, 2016 Issue | Gerard O'Connell | AMERICA MAGAZINE

For some years now there has been talk of a “reform of the reform” of the liturgy promulgated by Paul VI after the Second Vatican Council. Such talk became more vocal following Pope Benedict XVI’s decision in July 2007 to restore the “extraordinary” rite alongside the “ordinary” one. 

Moreover, more recently some prelates, including Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, have given credence to this possibility and advocated that priests return to celebrating Mass facing the altar rather than the congregation.

Antonio Spadaro, S.J., asked Pope Francis what he thinks of such proposals when he interviewed him on July 9, four days after Cardinal Sarah had given a lecture in London calling for priests to implement this change at the beginning of Advent and affirming that a “reform of the reform” is underway.

Francis’ answer appears in the preface to the 1,000-page book Nei Tuoi Occhi È La Mia Parola (In Your Eyes Is My Word), a collection of his main talks and homilies as archbishop of Buenos Aires.

He began by affirming that Pope Benedict XVI (in his motu proprio of July 2007 “Summorum Pontificum,” on the use of the Roman Liturgy prior to the reform of 1970), “made a right and magnanimous gesture by going to meet some groups and persons with a certain mentality that had nostalgia [for the old liturgy] and were distancing themselves.”
He emphasized, however, that this was “an exception” and “for that reason it is referred to as ‘the extraordinary’ rite, but the ordinary rite of the church is not this.” Francis recognized the need “to go to meet with magnanimity the one who is attached to a certain way of praying,” but he stated clearly that “the ordinary rite is not this.”

He insisted that the Second Vatican Council and its “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy”“must be carried forward as they are” and declared furthermore that “to speak of ‘the reform of the reform’ is an error!”

Probing further, Father Spadaro asked whether “apart from those who are sincere and ask for this possibility out of custom or devotion,” the desire for this rite “could also express something else.”

Francis responded: “I ask myself this. For example, I always try to understand what is behind persons who are too young to have experienced the preconciliar liturgy but who nevertheless want it. At times, I find myself in front of persons who are very rigid, an attitude of rigidity. And I ask myself: How come such rigidity?” And when one “digs” deeper, he said, one discovers that “this rigidity always hides something: insecurity, or at times something else…. Rigidity is defensive. True love is not rigid.”

Turning to the question of tradition, Father Spadaro noted that “some understand this also in a rigid way.” Francis responded, “But no: tradition blossoms!” Nevertheless, he said, “there’s a traditionalism that is a rigid fundamentalism; this is not good. Fidelity on the other hand implies growth. In transmitting the deposit of faith from one epoch to another, tradition grows and consolidates itself with the passing of time, as St. Vincent of Lerins said in his Commonitorium Primum.” And the Liturgy of the Hours, the pope pointed out, quotes St. Vincent: “The dogma of the Christian religion too must follow these laws. It progresses, consolidates itself with the years, developing itself with time, deepening itself with age.”

It is worth noting that on the day Pope Francis spoke with Father Spadaro, he also received in private audience Cardinal Sarah, who has emerged as the standard bearer of those who are pushing for a “reform of the reform.” Two days later, at the pope’s instruction, the Vatican spokesman, Federico Lombardi, S.J., issued a declaration stating that the “ordinary” form of the celebration of the Mass is the one envisaged by the Missal promulgated by Paul VI, while the “extraordinary” rite approved by Benedict XVI is not to take its place. Father Lombardi denied that new liturgical directives would be introduced in Advent and asked that the expression “reform of the reform” be avoided in referring to the liturgy. He revealed that Cardinal Sarah “expressly agreed to all this” in his meeting with the pope.

In a word, Francis wants the Second Vatican Council’s directives on the liturgy to be more fully implemented, not rolled back. It seems clear that he feels this has not yet happened.

Gerard O’Connell is America’s Vatican correspondent. America’s Vatican coverage is sponsored in part by the Jesuit communities of the United States. Twitter: @gerryorome.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Our churches as sanctuaries | Fr. Ron Rolheiser

NOTE: This appeared on Angelus News
Whenever we have been at our best as Christians, we have opened our churches as sanctuaries to the poor and the endangered. We have a long, proud history wherein refugees, homeless persons, immigrants facing deportation and others who are endangered take shelter inside our churches. If we believe what Jesus tells us about the Last Judgment in the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, this should serve us well when we stand before God at the end.
Unfortunately, our churches have not always provided that same kind of sanctuary (safety and shelter) to those who are refugees, immigrants and homeless in their relationship to God and our churches. There are millions of persons, today perhaps the majority within our nations, who are looking for a safe harbor in terms of sorting out their faith and their relationship to the Church.
Sadly, too often our rigid paradigms of orthodoxy, ecclesiology, ecumenism, liturgy, sacramental practice and canon law, however well-intentioned, have made our churches places where no such sanctuary is offered and where the wide embrace practiced by Jesus is not mirrored. Instead, our churches are often harbors only for persons who are already safe, already comforted, already church-observing, already solid ecclesial citizens.
That was hardly the situation within Jesus’ own ministry. He was a safe sanctuary for everyone, religious and nonreligious alike. While he didn’t ignore the committed religious persons around him, the Scribes and Pharisees, his ministry always reached out and included those whose religious practice was weak or nonexistent. Moreover, he reached out especially to those whose moral lives were not in formal harmony with the religious practices of the time, those deemed as sinners.
Significantly, too, he did not ask for repentance from those deemed as sinners before he sat down at table with them. He set out no moral or ecclesial conditions as a prerequisite to meet or dine with him. Many repented after meeting and dining with him, but that repentance was never a precondition. In his person and in his ministry, Jesus did not discriminate. He offered a safe sanctuary for everyone.
We need today in our churches to challenge ourselves on this. From pastors to parish councils — and from pastoral teams to diocesan regulators to bishops’ conferences, to those responsible for applying canon and church law, to our own personal attitudes — we all need to ask: Are our churches places of sanctuary for those who are refugees, homeless and poor ecclesially? Do our pastoral practices mirror Jesus? Is our embrace as wide as that of Jesus?
These are not fanciful ideals. This is the Gospel, which we can easily lose sight of, for seemingly all the right reasons. I remember a diocesan synod where I participated some 20 years ago. At one stage in the process we were divided into small groups and each group was given the question: What, before all else, should the Church be saying to the world today?
The groups returned with their answers and everyone, every single group, proposed as its first-priority apposite what the Church should be saying to the world as some moral or ecclesial challenge: We need to challenge the world in terms of justice! We need to challenge people to pray more! We need to speak again of sin! We need to challenge people about the importance of going to church! We need to stop the evil of abortion! All of these suggestions are good and important. But none of the groups dared say: We need to comfort the world!
Handel’s “Messiah” begins with that wonderful line from Isaiah 40: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” That, I believe, is the first task of religion. Challenge follows after that, but may not precede it. A mother first comforts her child by assuring it of her love and stilling its chaos. Only after that, in the safe shelter produced by that comfort, can she begin to offer it some hard challenges to grow beyond its own instinctual struggles.
People are swayed a lot by the perception they have of things. Within our churches today we can protest that we are being perceived unfairly by our culture, that is, as narrow, judgmental, hypocritical and hateful. No doubt this is unfair, but we must have the courage to ask ourselves why this perception abounds, in the academy, in the media and in the popular culture. Why aren’t we being perceived more as “a field hospital” for the wounded, as is the ideal of Pope Francis?
Why are we not flinging our church doors open much more widely? What lies at the root of our reticence? Fear of being too generous with God’s grace? Fear of contamination? Of scandal?
One wonders whether more people, especially the young and the estranged, would grace our churches today if we were perceived in the popular mind precisely as being sanctuaries for searchers, for the confused, the wounded, the broken and the nonreligious, rather than as places only for those who are already religiously solid and whose religious search is already completed.
Oblate of Mary Immaculate Father Ronald Rolheiser is a specialist in the field of spirituality and systematic theology. His website is

Friday, December 23, 2016

Do not be afraid!


Join me in a little sing-a-long: “Silent night, holy night. All is calm. All is bright. Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child. Holy Infant, so tender and mild. Sleep in heavenly peace. Sleep in heavenly peace. ” Is there any hymn that captures the quiet, the holiness, the hopes and the peace of Christmas than Silent Night? Just singing that song fills me with the peace of Christmas – and I hope you too.

There is a wonderful Christmas edition of the Family Circus comic that I always think of this time of year. In it, the young girl, Dolly, shares the story of Christmas with her two young brothers. Here’s how she told it, “Mary and Joseph were camping out under a star in the East…It was a Silent Night in Bethlehem until the angels began to sing…then Santa brought Baby Jesus in his sleigh and laid Him in a manger… Chestnuts were roasting by an open fire and not a creature was stirring…so the Grinch stole some swaddling clothes from Scrooge – who was one of the three wise men riding on eight tiny reindeer.” Dolly then scolds her brother, “Pay attention, Jeffy, or you’ll never learn the story of Christmas!” Although Dolly got the details a bit mixed up, she’s right – pay attention or you’ll never learn the story of Christmas!

I am such a big fan of all the traditions that surround this time of year. I particularly remember as a child all of the Christmas TV specials. During that time from Thanksgiving to Christmas we were so excited when any of them would come on. After dinner, we would hurriedly take our bath, put on our PJs and sit in front of the TV to watch, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, The Year Without a Santa Claus, or How the Grinch Stole Christmas. It wouldn’t be Christmastime without watching It’s a Wonderful Life, and my all-time favorite, A Charlie Brown Christmas.

I recently saw something online that made the message of A Charlie Brown Christmas even more profound. At the heart of A Charlie Brown Christmas is the scene were young Linus reminds every one of the true meaning of Christmas as he recites the story of the birth of Christ from the Gospel of Luke. It is the same passage we just heard proclaimed tonight. “The angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.’”

But, for as many times as I have seen that special, there was one small but important detail that I had never noticed before until now. Charlie Brown is best known for his striped shirt, and Linus is most associated with his ever-present security blanket. Throughout the story of Peanuts, Lucy, Snoopy, Sally and others all are always trying to separate Linus from his blanket. And they always fail. Even though his security blanket is a source of ridicule for the otherwise mature and thoughtful Linus, he refuses to give it up. It makes him feel safe and secure.

Until this moment. As Linus is sharing the story of Christ’s birth, he drops his blanket. In that climactic scene when Linus shares what Christmas is all about, he drops his security blanket, and most telling is the specific moment he drops it: when he utters the words, "fear not" or in our translation “Do not be afraid.”

This cannot be a coincidence or something unintentional. It seems instead that Peanuts creator Charles Schultz was telling us something so simple, so important, so brilliant. The birth of Jesus separates us from our fears. The birth of Jesus frees us from the habits we are unable (or unwilling) to break ourselves. The birth of Jesus allows us to simply drop the false security we have been grasping so tightly, and instead to trust and cling to Jesus.

We all know that 2016 has been a fairly terrible year for our nation, for our world. So much of the struggle of this last year has been based on fear. Fear of the other, fear of the immigrant, fear of the refugee, fear of the poor and the homeless and the addict. Fear of war, fear of terror. Fear seemingly everywhere. We may be among those who find ourselves grasping at something – anything – that offers a sense of security, whatever that might mean.
But, in the midst of it all, Jesus comes once again to remind us of something profound and deeply meaningful – “Do not be afraid…For today a savior has been born for you.” My friends, we are reminded so especially today of this eternal truth: We were not created for fear. We were created for hope. We are the “light of the world”. We are the “salt of the earth”. We are called to be the leaven in our society, lifting the world out of its fear and anger and negativity into the joy, love, compassion, forgiveness and healing of Jesus. We have been created for hope. Do not be afraid.

A local church was conducting a Christmas pageant one year. The grand finale came as a class of six-year-old’s rose to sing the song, "Christmas Love." As they sang, the children in the front row held up large letters, one by one, to spell out the title of the song. As each letter was presented, the children would sing "C is for Christmas," or "H is for Happy," and so on, until each child holding up their portion had presented the message "Christmas Love." Everything was going smoothly, until everyone noticed a small, quiet, girl in the front row holding the letter "M" upside down - totally unaware her letter appeared as a "W".

The audience lightly chuckled at the little girl’s mistake. She had no idea they were laughing at her, so she stood tall, proudly holding her "W". Although the teachers tried to quiet the children, the laughter continued until the last letter was raised. And when it was, a hush came over the audience and eyes began to widen. In that instant, they understood the true message of that day, and that perhaps God had a plan in the little girl’s “W”. For when the last letter was held high, the message read loud and clear: "CHRIST WAS LOVE”. And, I believe, He still is.

My friends, “Do not be afraid”. Instead be the light, be the salt, be the leaven, be the hope and love that Christ created you to be. And then our world will be a better place.

Merry Christmas and may the Lord give you peace. Let's sing again, Silent Night…

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Biggest Catholic Stories of 2016 | America Magazine

Below are some of the biggest Catholic stories of 2016. What stories do you think should have made the list? Leave your comments below.
1. Catholics from the pope on down played a role in U.S. presidential politics
Catholic angles to major political stories were easy to find in 2016, when the U.S. presidential election dominated the news.
Perhaps the most obvious example dates back to February, when Pope Francis and then-G.O.P. presidential hopeful Donald J. Trump verbally sparred over Mr. Trump’s proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. During a visit to the Mexican side of the border, the pope faced the United States, where dozens of undocumented migrants sat behind a border fence, and prayed for those who died making the journey north.
Though the rift appeared to soften after the Vatican said the pope was not speaking about any particular politician, a group of Catholic intellectuals urged their fellow believers in March not to back Mr. Trump, saying he was unfit for the presidency. When Mr. Trump wrapped up the nomination, a group of Catholics came out in support of him, pointing to the candidate’s promise to appoint to the Supreme Court someone in the mold of Justice Antonin Scalia, a Catholic jurist who died in February.
Intense campaigning between Mr. Trump and Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton was put on hold for a single evening in October, when the pair traded jokes at the Al Smith Dinner, a New York fundraiser for Catholic charitable organizations hosted by Cardinal Timothy Dolan.
But just days before the election, Pope Francis delivered a passionate speech in Rome in which he urged individuals not to succumb to the politics of fear, which some U.S. Catholics interpreted as a shot at Mr. Trump’s campaign. Come Election Day, however, Catholic voters nonetheless backed the Republican real estate mogul.
2. From gun violence to minimum wage, Catholics were part of the conversation
The year wasn’t marked solely by presidential politics.
Catholic bishops, for example, urged lawmakers to support modest gun control proposals championed by Mr. Obama in January. Then following a mass shooting at a gay club in Orlando in June, which left close to 50 people dead, several bishops repeated the call to regulate firearms more effectively, though just a handful of bishops noted that the attack specifically targeted the L.G.B.T. community.
Protests continued across the nation to raise the federal minimum wage, an issue to which Cardinal Dolan lent his support in February.
In May, the University of Notre Dame sought to diffuse the intense partisanship plaguing U.S. elections by honoring Vice President Joe Biden and former Speaker of the House John Boehner, two Catholic politicians whose careers came to an end this year (we think...#Biden2020?).
On the religious liberty front, the U.S. Supreme Court in May kicked a challenge from the Little Sisters of the Poor against certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act back down to a lower court, prompting the sisters to declare victory. Earlier in the year, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan had invited some of the sisters to hear President Barack Obama’s final State of the Union address.
3. A crop of new leaders for the church in the United States emerged
There was also plenty of church news involving American Catholics as well.
Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago was given two major nods by Pope Francis, who named him to the powerful Congregation for Bishops in July and then made him a cardinal in November. In addition to Cardinal Cupich, the pope also gave red hats to two other American bishops: Archbishop Joseph Tobin of Indianapolis, who will soon head off to lead the Archdiocese of Newark, and Bishop Kevin Farrell, who was the bishop of Dallas before being appointed by the pope to run a new Vatican office that deals with family life in August.
The pope also launched a commission to study the history of women deacons in the church, and appointed to it American scholar Phyllis Zagano.
Georgetown University in August announced that it would apologize to the descendants of 238 slaves it had sold in 1838 and permanently rename two campus buildings honoring the Jesuits who signed off on the sale.
American bishops elected new leaders in November, sticking to custom and elevating Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston from vice-president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to president. They selected as his number two Archbishop JoséGómez of Los Angeles, the first Mexican-American to hold a top leadership post in the conference, a fitting milestone as bishops also learned at that meeting that the future of U.S. Catholicism lies with younger, Latino Catholics.
They also announced that a new pastoral letter condemning racism was in the works, and Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta called on bishops to condemn post-election hate crimes.
4. Protecting immigrants was once again a priority for bishops
Circling back to the new president, U.S. bishops expressed optimism in working with Mr. Trump on abortion, but they also voiced support for undocumented Americans in light of the president-elect’s suggestions that he would seek to deport the nearly 11 million people living illegally in the United States.
In response to that campaign promise, the heads of 27 Jesuit colleges and universities in the United States signed a statement pledging to protect undocumented students.
5. And Pope Francis showed no signs of slowing down
Finally, Pope Francis turned 80 in December, and he marked the day by celebrating with some of Rome’s homeless. But that’s not all he did in 2016. Read more about the biggest pope stories of the year later this week.
Michael O’Loughlin is the national correspondent for America and author of The Tweetable Pope: A Spiritual Revolution in 140 Characters. Follow him on Twitter at @mikeoloughlin.