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Abortion info required at pro-life centers? Supreme Court takes up case

Tue, 11/14/2017 - 16:35

Washington D.C., Nov 14, 2017 / 02:35 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The U.S. Supreme Court has announced that it will consider a California law that requires pro-life pregnancy centers to display information about how to obtain an abortion.

Opponents of the law welcomed the high court’s Nov. 13 decision to hear the case.

“Forcing anyone to provide free advertising for the abortion industry is unthinkable – especially when it’s the government doing the forcing,” said Kevin Theriot, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom.

“This is even more true when it comes to pregnancy care centers, which exist specifically to care for women who want to have their babies.”

Given that information about abortion is already widely available, “the government doesn’t need to punish pro-life centers for declining to advertise for the very act they can’t promote,” Theriot said.

“The state should protect freedom of speech and freedom from coerced speech.”

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a legal complaint filed by Alliance Defending Freedom against the law. The complaint was filed on behalf of a pro-life pregnancy care network, and two pregnancy care centers.

California’s Assembly Bill 775, called the Reproductive FACT Act, requires licensed medical centers that offer free pro-life help to pregnant women to post a notice saying that California provides free or low-cost abortion and contraceptive services. The notice must include a phone number for a county office that would refer women to Planned Parenthood or other abortion providers.

Under the law, unlicensed pregnancy centers must also add large disclosures about their status as a non-medical provider, even if they do not provide medical services.

The petition, filed in March, charges that the legislation was enacted with the aim of targeting pro-life pregnancy centers based on their viewpoint that discourages abortion.

Alliance Defending Freedom said that courts have invalidated similar laws or parts of similar laws in Austin, Texas; Baltimore and Montgomery County, Maryland; and New York City.

The California legislature said that 200 pregnancy centers used “intentionally deceptive advertising and counseling practices” that confuse and misinform women and intimidate them “from making fully-informed, time-sensitive decisions about critical health care.”

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the law. Judge Dorothy W. Nelson, writing for the unanimous three-judge panel, said the state of California has “a substantial interest in the health of its citizens, including ensuring that its citizens have access to and adequate information about constitutionally protected medical services like abortion,” according to the New York Times.

Judge Nelson said the notice “informs the reader only of the existence of publicly funded family-planning services” and “does not contain any more speech than necessary, nor does it encourage, suggest or imply that women should use those state-funded services.”

But Elissa Graves, legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, contended that the law enables the abortion industry.

“Planned Parenthood, which makes millions from abortion, deceives women into believing that abortion is their only choice,” Graves said.

“Pregnancy care centers, which provide their care for free, were established specifically to help women understand that they have the choice of life for their children, and that they will be there to help them through their pregnancies.”


Archbishop Naumann elected US bishops' pro-life committee chair

Tue, 11/14/2017 - 10:27

Baltimore, Md., Nov 14, 2017 / 08:27 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In a move seen as an endorsement of St. John Paul II's “culture of life” approach, the US bishops on Tuesday elected Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas as chairman of the conference's committee on pro-life activities.

The bishops also elected a conference secretary and the chairs of five additional committees Nov. 14 during their plenary assembly in Baltimore, Md. Board members for Catholic Relief Services were elected as well.

Archbishop Naumann won the pro-life committee with 96 votes, or 54 percent. The other candidate, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, garnered 82 votes, or 46 percent. The committee has customarily been overseen by a cardinal.

Archbishop Naumann who was already a member of the pro-life committee, has challenged pro-choice Catholic politicians, spearheaded efforts to restrict abortion in Kansas, and prioritized abortion in his teaching ministry.

As a young priest, Naumann oversaw the pro-life office of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Under his leadership, the archdiocese began the Project Rachel ministry, a post-abortion healing ministry of the kind O’Connor championed. Naumann worked to support pregnancy centers and homes for mothers and children.

Cardinal Cupich has also spoken directly about the moral issue of abortion, and strongly criticized politicians whom he believes take pro-choice advocacy too far. But Cupich has contextualized these efforts in the memory of “seamless garment” approach of the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin.

In the vote for conference secretary, Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit won with 52 percent, to Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City's 48 percent.

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville was elected chair of the religious liberty committee with 57 percent of the vote to Archbishop Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee's 43 percent.

The chairman-elect of the communications committee is Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington, who garnered 116 votes to Bishop John Barres of Rockville Centre's 70 votes.

Bishop Nelson Perez of Cleveland was elected chair of the committee on cultural diversity in the Church with 57 percent to Bishop Shelton Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux' 43 percent.

For the committee on doctrine, Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend was elected as chair with 54 percent to Bishop Daniel Thomas of Toledo's 46 percent.

Bishop Joseph Cistone of Saginaw was elected chair of the collections committee by 66 percent to Archbishop Michael Jackels of Dubuque's 34 percent.

The bishops also elected six members of the board of directors for Catholic Relief Services: Bishop Felipe Estevez of Saint Augustine; Bishop Fabre; Archbishop Bernard Hebda of Saint Paul and Minneapolis; Bishop Rhoades; Bishop Oscar Solis of Salt Lake City; and Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami.

How Christians are continuing to help hurricane-devastated Puerto Rico

Tue, 11/14/2017 - 02:23

San Juan, Puerto Rico, Nov 14, 2017 / 12:23 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Seven weeks after Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico, the majority of the island is still without power, and many residents are without clean water as well.

While the rebuilding process is slow, Catholic aid groups are working to provide supplies to those who desperately need them.

On Nov. 10, Catholic Charities USA presented $2 million in additional aid to Caritas de Puerto Rico, the Catholic Charities agency on the island. 

This money follows the $1.5 million in funds given by Catholic Charities USA shortly after the hurricane struck the island.

Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico on Sept. 20 as a Category 4 storm. Up to 155 mile per hour winds and heavy rains destroyed buildings, caused massive flooding, and wiped out electricity to the entire island of 3.5 million people.  

The storm has killed at least 51 people, and Puerto Rican authorities have estimated the cost of damages at up to $95 billion.

Many residents are still in need of food and clean drinking water. The lack of communication has also been a serious issue, said one Catholic Charities worker.

“We have been trying to get ahold of the folks here in Utuado for almost a week and have been unable to do so…just packing up the jeep and bringing the supplies here is the only way we are able to communicate,” Kim Burgo told NBC.

More than half the population of Puerto Rico is Catholic, and about a third are Protestant. The island has a strong Christian presence that relies on the support of Christian churches.

While some churches were destroyed by the hurricane, many of those that survived have become safe havens for the Puerto Rican people. Caritas de Puerto Rico has set up locations in Catholic churches across the country to hand out food, water, and hygiene supplies.

Other Christian groups are also working to serve those in need. The Wall Street Journal reported on a Christian church housing more than 500 homeless people and a Southern Baptist group planning to send 200-300 volunteers to open kitchens serving food.

Looking forward, Caritas de Puerto Rico has identified four main objectives as initial steps to long-term restoration: improve distribution of supplies, develop disaster case management teams, provide mental health counselors, and establish a new health clinic on the island.


US bishops: Fighting racism is a long-term battle – but a critical one

Mon, 11/13/2017 - 17:39

Baltimore, Md., Nov 13, 2017 / 03:39 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Dialogue to foster conversion of hearts is the goal of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, said the group’s chairman in his first address to the bishops’ conference Monday.

“Our faith gives us confidence that Christ wishes to break down the walls created by the evils of racism. He wants us utilize us as his instruments in this great work,” said George V. Murry, SJ of Youngstown, Ohio.

This call is embedded in the Gospel message, he said, as we respond to those who even today continue to suffer from racism in the United States.

Bishop Murry spoke at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ fall general meeting, held Nov. 13-14 in Baltimore.

He gave an update on the conference’s Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, which he leads.

The committee was established in late August, after white supremacists and neo-Nazis rallied in Charlottesville, Va., and a 20 year-old man drove a car into the counter-protest, killing one and injuring 19.

The creation of the committee – the highest form of response that the conference can authorize – builds on other efforts by the bishops to fight racism in recent years, including a task force to explore the issue both inside and outside the Church, and a pastoral letter on racism, which is currently in the drafting process.

While racism is not unique to the United States, it is important to recognize the historical context that has led to this particular moment, Bishop Murry said, pointing the country’s history of slavery, the Civil War, and the progress made in the Civil Rights Movement.

“Even with that progress, one does not need to look very far to see that racism still exists and has found a troubling resurgence in recent years.”

For decades, the Catholic Church has been working to respond to the problem of racism, he said.

At times, some Catholic leaders have been part of the problem, failing to live up to Church teaching, and “this must be recognized and frankly acknowledged,” he said.

However, it is also important to recognize the contribution of many Catholics over the years fighting for racial equality and justice, he said.

So far, the ad hoc committee’s work has included a press conference last month at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C., and the creation of resources for the Sept. 9 Feast Day of St. Peter Claver as an annual day of prayer for peace within communities.

The committee is also working on plans for a national convocation early next year, as well as a series of listening sessions and dialogues across the country, which Murry described as key to the group’s work.

These listening sessions, he said, will seek to “hear the voices of people suffering as a result of racism,” explore the causes and effects of racism in the United States.

Looking forward, the committee will also be working to promote education, resources, communications strategies, public policy advocacy and care for victims.

Bishop Murry emphasized the importance of the committee’s work.

“Some people think that there is no need to confront racism, or that we should confront it only in private,” he said.

However, he continued, “to confront racism is essential – in fact, necessary – because the Gospel calls us to work for justice, and racism denies just to people simply because of their race.”

And public displays of racism – such as those seen in Charlottesville in August – require a public response, from society and from the Church, he said.

In a discussion following Murry’s presentation, the bishops shared their observations and experiences of working to fight racism.

Several bishops noted the need for symbolic actions, which can be powerful in changing minds and hearts.

They observed the intersection of social class and racial divisions, as well as the need to understand how racist ideas are spread, particularly on social media and among young people.

Addressing the question of whether racist speech is constitutionally protected, Bishop Murry suggested that the question is ultimately one of people’s desires, rather than legality.

The goal is conversion, he said, changing hearts so that people do not want to say racist things, even if doing so would be protected under the Constitution.

Protecting free speech is critical, added Archbishop Thomas Rodi of Mobile, Ala., because some people who object to the teachings of the Catholic Church accuse the bishops of “hate speech.”

While racism is a topic that many people find uncomfortable, the problem will only be overcome if opportunities are created for discussions to take place, the bishops observed.

Bishop Robert Baker of Birmingham, Ala., stressed the importance of the personal involvement of the bishops in fighting the scourge of racism. He said that he has found great success in leading listening sessions in his diocese, and has found a strong level of receptivity from his people.

Bishop Baker also stressed that people are open to addressing the issue, and that this is the “prime time” to do so, in a way that would not have been possible 50 or even 20 years ago.

The next challenge, Archbishop Rodi suggested, is finding a way to reach more people, since those who are willing to attend listening sessions are likely already willing to dialogue on the issue.

Archbishop Wilton Daniel Gregory of Atlanta emphasized that the fight against racism must be viewed as a long-term battle.

Hearts and minds will not be changed overnight, he said. However, the ad hoc committee raises the issue to the level of attention it merits and allows the bishops to offer a more comprehensive response.

Throughout the decades, Gregory said, the U.S. bishops have issued statements at key moments, including the 1957 Little Rock School Desegregation, the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the 1979 pastoral letter Brothers and Sisters to Us.

While these statements have allowed the bishops to take an important stand in reaffirming Catholic teaching, the creation of the ad hoc committee will allow the conference to do more than just speak, he said.

He compared racism to abortion, saying that both issues require active involvement in efforts to evangelize, catechize, and educate in order to change minds and hearts.

“Racism is never going to be conquered by speech,” he said, “but only by actions.”


US bishops to issue statement on need for immigration reform

Mon, 11/13/2017 - 16:30

Baltimore, Md., Nov 13, 2017 / 02:30 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As the conclusion of a lengthy discussion on migration, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops decided Monday to draft a statement from their president expressing the need for humane and just immigration reform.

The Nov. 13 proposal was first floated by Archbishop Michael Sheehan, Archbishop Emeritus of Santa Fe. After debating how to go about preparing a statement, it was agreed by oral assent that Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the conference, would issue a statement with the assistance of the Committee on Migration, chaired by Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, assisted by Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles.

The discussion followed brief presentations from Archbishop Gomez and Bishop Vasquez. The Los Angeles archbishop outlined the principles which guide the US bishops' work on migration, which come from Strangers No Longer, a 2003 pastoral letter issued jointly by the US and Mexican bishops' conferences.

“This is a time when newcomers [to the US] are fleeing violence or persecution or cannot find a livelihood in their own country,” he reflected, adding that the Trump administration has taken several steps on immigration that demand a response from the Church because they “have a direct impact on our pastoral care of immigrants, refugees, and DACA youth.”

The first of these is the decision to allow only 45,000 refugees in the coming fiscal year – the lowest level since the program's founding in 1980, and the second consecutive year in which the number of refugees admitted will be reduced.

This move, Archbishop Gomez said, “is simply inhumane, particularly when our great nation has the resources and ability to do more” for those “fleeing tyranny and persecution.”

He urged the preservation of DACA, which provides reprieve from the threat of deportation for undocumented persons who were brought to the US as minors, many of whom only know the US “and are by every social measure, American youth.”

Bishop Vasquez then spoke, saying the bishops are advocating for a solution for the DACA youth in the form of the DREAM Act, which would provide those young people with residency in the US.

He encouraged the bishops to contact their legislators to pass the DREAM Act or similar legislation as a prompt and humane solution, noting that 85 percent of Dreamers have lived in the US 10 years or longer, 89 percent have gainful employment, and 93 percent have a high school degree.

The Bishop of Austin also addressed temporary protected status, which has been extended to migrants from El Salvador, Honduras, and Haiti because of acute conditions of insecurity in their home countries.

“It is not the proper time to return 300,000 individuals” to their home countries when they remain insecure due to natural and manmade disasters, he said. These individuals have jobs and support their families, many have mortgages, and they have some 270,000 children who are US citizens.

“ A longer term legislative solution for these brothers and sisters” is necessary, he said.

The US bishops' “vigourous opposition” to many of the administration's actions on immigration has been taken because the Gospels “compel us to do so,” Bishop Vasquez stated.

“ Along with the right choices on refugee resettlement, DACA, and TPS, we also need comprehensive immigration reform,” he added, saying there is a need for a path to legalization and citizenship, acknowledging at the same time that “our country also has the right, and the responsibility, to secure its borders.”

Responding to the migration committee's presentation, Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento maintained that “the existence of the TPS population is in a certain sense a condemnation of the inability of Congress and administrations over the past 21 years to provide comprehensive immigration reform,” saying that having held them “in this holding pattern for decades is unconscionable.”

Archbishop Gomez stated that “all of us have to have a conversion, and that's why it's so important to talk about this, because people don't know what the Church teaches,” which echoed comments made by Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago.

The Chicago archbishop had lamented the “the poisoning rhetoric that is degrading of immigrants, and even demonizing of them,” which “is having an effect on our own people, because they pick up that language … there's something wrong in our churches when the gospel is proclaimed but people leave parishes with that rhetoric still in their hearts.”

Archbishop Gomez commented that “it's important for us to call people to conversion, and explain to them what is it we teach; it's so essential for the future of our country.”

Bishop Vasquez reiterated the importance of conveying the Church's teaching, and also of fostering personal encounters with immigrants or refugees. “Once you do that you understand the situation of persons … just like us, therefore we empathize and are in solidarity with them; that's what brings conversion and change of mind.”

Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces raised the question of how to counter charges that immigration policy is a matter of prudential judgement, and that the faithful may therefore in good conscience come to a judgement which differs from that of the bishops.

Bishop Thomas Wenski of Miami responded that “we're making our prudential judgement, too … in the light of Catholic teaching.” He emphasized that “immigrants are not problems, but brothers and sisters; strangers, but strangers who should be embraced as brothers and sisters. We're offering what we think is best, not only for the immigrants, but for our society as a whole. We can make America great, but you don't make America great by making America mean.”

Immigration reform, he maintained, must “include the common good of everyone: Americans and those who wish to be Americans.”

Bishop Soto responded that deportations do not fall under the category of prudential judgement, but rather were included by St. John Paul II in his 1995 encyclical Evangelium vitae among the sins which cry out to heaven, and so is not merely “consistent with Church teaching,” but “to discard it as a prudential judgement doesn't reflect our tradition.”

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco recommended the five principles from Strangers No Longer as a sine qua non, on which “there can be no disagreement” among Catholics. “While there's room for prudential judgement, it's not something that can be taken lightly” because it “involves such basic considerations of justice.”

Cardinal DiNardo: Amid division, we must look to the God who unites

Mon, 11/13/2017 - 14:45

Baltimore, Md., Nov 13, 2017 / 12:45 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Witnessing to the Gospel is the simple but fundamental call for people of faith who live in trying times, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo said in his keynote address to the U.S. bishops on Monday.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is meeting Nov. 13-14 in Baltimore for their fall assembly. This year's assembly marks the centenary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which was founded in 1917 as the National Catholic War Council.

Not unlike today, DiNardo noted, the U.S. bishops 100 years ago were dealing with trying times, including a massive overseas migrant crisis.

“The bishops back then knew that such challenges could only be met through a unified marshaling of all the Church’s resources,” said DiNardo, who is president of the conference.

“Not surprisingly, we are living in a time of similar challenge,” he said, and bishops today are leading “a diverse flock. People look, talk, and even think differently from each other.” Amidst such diversity, it can be easy to be tempted to division and fear, seeing strangers as a threat rather than as people to be welcomed, the cardinal said.

“But fear is not of God. God does not divide; God unites. And God, who is love, created us to love. Love is not naïve, but neither is it irritable, resentful, or rude,” he said.  

The Church in America is rich with people who have met the challenges of their time and witnessed to the love of the Gospel, Cardinal DiNardo said, pointing to the example of Blessed Father Stanley Rother, an Oklahoma priest and martyr who was beatified earlier this year.

Rather than abandon his people amidst a civil war in Guatemala, where he served, Fr. Rother  “offered his life for the people he had come to serve. In this way, he is a witness to the Love of God for all peoples, a truth that the Church must continually teach.”

The challenges of the present day are many, DiNardo noted, and the agenda of the bishop’s conference includes questions on “how best to care for the sick, the unborn, the poor, the immigrant and refugee, the unemployed and the underemployed in cities and towns across America.”

“But the question before us is straightforward: as a people of faith, what will our contribution be?” he said. “I would like to answer straightforwardly: our contribution is always to witness to the Gospel.”  

While the Gospel compels Christians to respond to the challenges of the times, it also calls them to respond in “civility and love,” he noted.  

“My friends, civility begins in the womb. If we cannot come to love and protect innocent life from the moment God creates it, how can we properly care for each other as we come of age? Or when we come to old age?” he said, to a round of applause from the bishops present.

Furthermore, the U.S. bishops must stand with the Holy Father in supporting comprehensive immigration reform in a system that is broken, promoting pro-life policies that respect human dignity and keep families together, he noted, to another round of applause from the bishops.  

Moral immigration reform has increasingly been an issue of concern for the U.S. bishops. Earlier this year, DiNardo and the U.S. bishops denounced the Trump administration’s decision to end DACA, a program that benefited hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. as minors.

“Providing for the common defense and the general welfare is a basic responsibility of government,” the cardinal said. “However, we have a moral responsibility to improve border security in a humane way.”

Racism is another divisive issue being considered by the U.S. bishops this year, made all the more urgent by recent violent demonstrations, such as the alt-right demonstration in Charlottesville in August, after which the bishops denounced “the evil of racism, white supremacy and neo-nazism.”

In order to address the issues of both overt and systemic racism, the conference recently announced the creation of an Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, which will be chaired by Bishop George Murry of the Diocese of Youngstown, Ohio.

“(T)hey are planning to meet with people across the country and to learn from them how the Church can best work with others in ending this evil,” DiNardo said. “Pray this conversation will lead to genuine conversion of hearts, including our own.”

The U.S. has suffered much as a country in recent times, DiNardo noted, including natural disasters such as Hurricane Harvey which swept through his own Archdiocese of Houston, killing nearly 80 people and leaving thousands displaced.

But it is often great suffering that “has brought the Church in America together and has reminded me of how wonderful the gifts of faith, hope and love truly are,” he said.  

“We need to constantly put forward these virtues, especially in light of the violence from what is a long and growing list of mass shootings in our schools, offices, churches, and places of recreation. The time is long past due to end the madness of outrageous weapons – be they stockpiled on a continent or in a hotel room,” he said, to another round of applause.

While the challenges facing the Church in the United States today are many, the bishops today are not unlike the bishops who first met 100 years ago, faced with the challenges of their own times, Cardinal DiNardo said.

“(L)ike our predecessors, we know that the love of Christ is stronger than all the challenges ahead,” he said.

“My brothers, let us follow our Holy Father ever more closely, going forth to be with our people in every circumstance of pastoral life. Drawing strength and wisdom from these past hundred years, let us sound our hands and voices joyfully. And let us always remind our people, and ourselves, that with God, all things are possible.”

At the end of his speech, all the bishops in attendance applauded Cardinal DiNardo with a standing ovation.


Youth ministry must reflect young people’s diversity, US cardinal says

Mon, 11/13/2017 - 13:14

Baltimore, Md., Nov 13, 2017 / 11:14 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Young people are not a singular mass, and ministry to them must reflect their diversity, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston told his fellow U.S. bishops Monday as they discussed the upcoming synod.

From a wide-ranging consultation process in the US, “what we learned and what was reinforced was that the 'youth', people ages 16-29, is comprised of several different groups, including high school youth, college students, and young adults” of diverse ethnic groups and cultures, and thus “ministry with these age groups is unique and should not be lumped together.”

Cardinal DiNardo, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, underscored that it is important to bring this message to Rome for the Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment next year, noting the importance of adapting the synod's findings to local circumstances.

He thanked the more than 100 dioceses and 25 Catholic organizations which helped respond to the consultation process, and in particular Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia and Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, who will attend the synod.

Archbishop Chaput and Cardinal Tobin will also be identifying and preparing three young adults who will travel to Rome to attend a pre-synod gathering meant to help the synod in its work.

The consultation process has helped the bishops in a “growing awareness of the challenges facing youth today,” Cardinal DiNardo said, enumerating economic struggles, poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, isolation and anxiety, and societal pressures.

Young people “want to be listened to” amid their struggles, he said. They “want to be invited to lead” and are also seeking “mentorship and spiritual direction, looking for support in time of transition.”

Many youth reported that they “don't know where to go to mentorship and spiritual direction” and “for many, the Church is not there for them at critical moments of transition in their lives.”

Cardinal DiNardo also pointed to the Church's struggle to connect with the “nones,” those who do not identify with any religious tradition.

Mental health and challenging immigration laws are particular concerns for minority communities, he said, including Native American youth. There is an unfortunate lack of “intercultural competency” in accompanying young people in these challenges, he said.

There are “many positive and encouraging signs with primary and secondary youth considering priesthood and religious life,” the cardinal reported, but there are greater challenges in connecting with college students.

“More work needs to be done in promoting vocations to religious and holy life, and the universal call to holiness,” he emphasized.

There are great leaders in youth ministry who are “ doing incredible things for young people with few resources,” and he commended the “dedication and energy of so many faithful leaders.”

Nevertheless, there are “untapped opportunities that exist to connect people to a relationship with Christ” and to help them find their vocation.

He concluded saying that “we can be hopeful this synod will bear much fruit” and that the feedback from American youth will be of help to the Holy See. He also noted that the Vatican is continuing to solicit responses from young people through Nov. 30.

Following Cardinal DiNardo's address, Cardinal William Levada, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, noted that he observed a lacuna in the preparatory document issued by the synod secretariat: that the “nones” demonstrate an increasing level of ignorance of the faith.

“I see nothing in the preparatory document that suggests one of the issues might be considered is the ignorance of the faith and how to go about remedying that. I think that as teachers of the faith, we have responsibility for that. I consider it a major problem to have a synod of bishops on how the Church can help young people and ignore the ignorance of the faith.  I hope that in the conference's approach to the synod we can take that up as well – how to increase knowledge of the faith among our young people.”

Cardinal DiNardo responded that both young people and those who minister to them had noted this same problem in their responses to the consultation, and that their reports have been delivered to the synod.

Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit added that the U.S. bishops' doctrine committee agrees that sound teaching is key and that “we need to make a good case for the reasonableness of the Church's teaching.” The doctrine committee has taken up the issue and endorsed Cardinal Levada's concerns, he said.


Be missionary disciples of Christ, apostolic nuncio encourages US bishops

Mon, 11/13/2017 - 11:20

Baltimore, Md., Nov 13, 2017 / 09:20 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On the opening day of the US bishops' plenary assembly, Archbishop Christophe Pierre addressed the gathering, encouraging them to prioritize youth, the mission of evangelization, and Christ himself.

“I offer you the example of the patroness of your country, the Blessed Virgin Mary, as someone who went forth with a sense of urgency” to share the joy of Christ with her cousin, Elizabeth, the apostolic nuncio to the US said Nov. 13 in Baltimore, Md.

The archbishop noted that the US Conference of Catholic Bishops is celebrating its 100th anniversary, and urged that in addition to remembering the past, they must look to the forward, avoiding “small-mindedness” and recommending three things about which to be passionate: the youth, the mission of evangelization, and the Lord himself.

“There is a goodness to the people of the Church in the United States.”-
Archbishop Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio. #USCCB17 @cnalive

— JD Flynn (@jdflynn) November 13, 2017 Archbishop Pierre mentioned the importance of the upcoming Synod of Bishops which will focus on young people, “to learn from them and to help them to discover the path the Lord has chosen for them.”

He addressed “the difficulties of transmitting the faith in our day,” especially in the face of the rise of the number of people not identifying with any religious tradition. The youth, he said, are faced “not only with existential questions” such as finding work, but above all with spiritual problems.

Turning to the importance of evangelization, Archbishop Pierre recommended four characteristics of a “new evangelist”: boldness, connectedness, urgency, and joy.

“The statistics alone should give us a sense of urgency; but is it an urgency motivated by fear of loss, or is it the joy of sharing the gospel?” he asked, offering the example of the Virgin Mary's Visitation: “having conceived of the Holy Spirit, she could not keep her joy to herself. Similarly, we cannot keep our joy to ourselves.”

An essential aspect of evangelization, he said, is “building a culture of encounter,” as Pope Francis is so fond of saying. He again pointed to Mary, who “was so passionate about bringing her Son to the world.”

It is critical to have a clear sense of mission, he stated, pointing out that many Americans, “including the young and those who do not know Christ … need to hear the basic kerygma,” the passion and resurrection of Christ “and the life he offers.”

The nuncio gave as examples the great evangelizers of the American past: St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, St. Junipero Serra, Bl. Stanley Rother, and Ven. Solanus Casey, who will be beatified next weekend. These were all exemplars of a “permanent state of mission,” he stated.

Being in a permanent state of mission is to be a faithful follower of Christ “who is in passionate love with his flock.” Returning to the youth, he said it is important to show them that “the Church is not self-referential but is there for them.”

Amid declining numbers, Archbishop Pierre told the bishops to “take courage,” for “there are signs of growth in the Church in the south and the west.” He recalled the recent dedication of a cathedral, attended by many Latinos, an experience which “confirmed for me the importance of the Fifth National Encuentro,” being held to assess and improve Hispanic ministry in the US. The Encuentro will be important for an “authentic renewal of the mission of evangelization,” he proclaimed.

The archbishop then turned to the prime importance of the person of Jesus, saying, “although we are pastors, we are first disciples.” As shepherds, the bishops are called to set an example of having a personal relationship with Christ based in prayer: “The time spent in prayer and adoration can renew us for the work of evangelization.”

In Christ “we find our true friend, who does not abandon us, so that we set out on mission with him and in him.”

“We are called first to be with Jesus,” he said, so that we can then go with him to his beloved flock, “to draw close to them, to be with them, to listen to them … and speak to them with the gentleness of Jesus.”

Going on mission without having spent time with Christ in prayer “would be going for a long drive without much fuel,” he reflected.

To enter into this life of prayer “we must empty ourselves of the many distractions of modern life,” he said, urging that each of the bishops “must ask himself: am I really passionate about Jesus? Do I convey that enthusiasm for the Lord?”

Archbishop Pierre concluded saying that despite demographic changes and the dictatorship of relativism, their ministry can bear fruit, recalling the missionary and apostolic zeal of the Spanish missionaries, the French Jesuits, and the early bishops of the United States, “who labored for the flock in the wilderness.”

This is a time of “opportunity for adventure, the adventure of faith,” a time “to be bold, trusting that the Lord will never abandon us.”

“For this reason, rather than to give into discouragement, we have every reason to be filled with hope and joy, because Jesus is in our midst … once more I repeat this can be a great moment for the Church in America.”

Cardinal Parolin invokes God's wisdom on the US bishops

Sun, 11/12/2017 - 21:38

Baltimore, Md., Nov 12, 2017 / 07:38 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Speaking to the US bishops gathered for the opening Mass of their plenary assembly on Sunday, the Vatican Secretary of State encouraged them to continue their prophetic witness in the face of the challenges facing the country.

Recalling the first reading from the Book of Wisdom, Cardinal Pietro Parolin said this “divine wisdom is a gift of the Holy Spirit,” which “enables us to serve God by doing his will.”

“May the fire of God's love inspire you as a body to make wise decisions free of all partisan spirit,” he added.

The US bishops were gathered for Mass Nov. 12 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore for their fall assembly. This year's assembly marks the centenary of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, which was founded in 1917 as the National Catholic War Council.

The conference “originated in a Spirit-filled and wise response to the human suffering and displacement of the First World War,” Cardinal Parolin noted.

The bishops' conference began as America's bishops cared for those who were “forced from their homes and came to the new world in search of security and a new life.”

The cardinal invoked this past “as the Church in your country seeks to provide healing, comfort, and hope to new waves of migrants and refugees.”

Turning to the Gospel reading of the wise and foolish virgins, Cardinal Parolin urged the bishops to a prophetic witness and “to be a source of wisdom and strength,” saying that “the oil with which the Lord asks us to fill our lamps is above all purity and an authentic personal conversion.”

As olives had to be pressed to produce the olive oil for the virgins' lamps in Christ's parable, so must we stamp out whatever “stands in the way of our growth in Christ: our worldliness, our desire for human respect.”

He applauded the charitable institutions of the Church in the US, and encouraged the bishops to always bring people to relationship with Christ, “which alone brings true joy and satisfies the desires of the human heart.”

The Vatican Secretary of State looked forward to the series of “Encuentros” which are being held to assess and improve Hispanic ministry in the US.

“In this way you are seeking to foster that heightened sense of missionary discipleship which Pope Francis considers the heart of the new evangelization.”

“In the century prior to the founding of your conference, the challenge facing the Church in this country was to foster communion in an immigrant Church to integrate the diversity of peoples, languages, and cultures in the one faith, and to inculcate a sense of responsible citizenship and concern for the common good.”

“At the same time the Catholic community is called under your guidance to work for  a more just and inclusive society by dispelling the shadows of polarization, divisiveness, and societal breakdown by the pure light of the gospel ” he said. He praised the bishops particularly for “defending the right to life of the unborn” and for their concern for ensuring access to health care.

“I cannot fail to mention the contribution made by the USCCB to the discussion of important social issues and political debates, above all, when this involved the defense of moral values and the rights of the poor, the elderly, the vulnerable, and those who have no voice.”

He also discussed the importance of pastoral care, saying that “in this process of accompaniment may you continue to exercise your prophetic office.”

He gave thanks for the Spirit's gift of wisdom shown in the bishops' conference, and concluding, prayed that “you make keep the lamp of faith burning brightly.”

The bishops' fall assembly meetings begin Monday, and will continue through Wednesday.


What's the most convincing argument against porn? Science.

Sun, 11/12/2017 - 18:02

San Francisco, Calif., Nov 12, 2017 / 04:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In 2013, Beyonce Knowles topped GQ’s list of “The 100 Hottest Women of the 21st Century.”

That same year, the “definitive men's magazine” that promises “sexy women” along with style advice, entertainment news, and more ran a shorter listicle: “10 Reasons Why You Should Quit Watching Porn.”

The list included reasons such as increased sexual impotence in men that regularly viewed pornography, and a reported lack of control of sexual desires. It was inspired by an interview with NoFap, an online community of people dedicated to holding each other accountable in abstaining from pornography and masturbation.The site clearly states that it is decidedly non-religious.

Matt Fradd, on the other hand, is a Catholic. Fradd has spent much of his adult life urging people to quit pornography, and developing websites and resources to help pornography addicts.

But even though he’s Catholic, Fradd’s recent anti-porn book, “The Porn Myth,” won’t quote the saints or the Bible or recommend a regimen of rosaries.

“I wanted to write a non-religious response to pro-pornography arguments,” Fradd said.

That’s not because he’s abandoned his beliefs, or thinks that faith has nothing to say about pornography.

“Whenever I get up to speak, people expect that I’m just going to use a bunch of moral arguments (against porn). And I have them, and I’m happy to use them, and I think ultimately that’s what we need to get to. But I think using always the best way to introduce this issue to people.”  

“In an increasingly secular culture, we need arguments based on scientific research, of which there’s been much,” he said. It’s why he cites numerous studies on each page of his book, and why he’s included 50 pages of additional appendixes citing additional research.  

Fradd is careful to clarify in his book that it is not a book against sex or sexuality. What he does want to do is challenge the way many people have come to think about pornography, and question whether it leads to human flourishing.

“This book rests on one fundamental presupposition: if you want something to flourish, you need to use it in accordance with its nature,” Fradd wrote. “Don’t plant tomatoes in a dark closet and water them with soda and expect to have vibrant tomato plants. To do so would be to act contrary to the nature of tomatoes. Similarly, don’t rip sex out of its obvious relational context, turn it into a commodity, and then expect individuals, families and society to flourish.”

But why dedicate a whole book to the scientific effects of pornography?

Fradd said that the sheer volume of pornography consumption makes this an especially urgent book - and it’s at least two decades too late. According to one survey, about 63 percent of men and 21 percent of women ages 18-30 have reported that they view pornography several times a week - not to mention those viewing it slightly less often.

“If we have an iPhone we have a portable X-rated movie theater. And some studies suggest children as young as 8 are being exposed to it,” Fradd said.

Fradd recalls in his book a study done by Melissa Farley, director of Prostitution Research and Education. When Farley’s team set out to do a study about men who buy sex, they had a difficult time finding men who don’t do so.

“The use of pornography, phone sex, lapdances, and other services has become so widespread that Farley’s team had to loosen their definition of a non-sex buyer in order to assemble a hundred-person control group for their research,” Fradd wrote.

Throughout the book, Fradd uses scientific research to debunk numerous and prevailing “myths” or arguments about pornography, including the ideas that pornography empowers women, that it isn’t addictive, and that it’s a healthy part of sexuality and relationships.

One of the most commonly believed myths is that pornography doesn’t hurt anyone, Fradd said. But he has found that pornography harms people personally, relationally, and societally.

On the personal level, a 2014 study from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin found that frequent pornography use in men was associated with decreased brain matter in certain areas of the brain.

The abstract explained that the association may not be causation, but correlation, “which means that if porn isn’t shrinking your brain, it would mean that people with small brains like porn more,” Fradd said.

“It’s not a feather in your cap, either way.”

As for whether or not pornography empowers women, Fradd said that while he agrees that a woman who consents to producing pornography is in some sense “better” than a woman who is forced or coerced, it's not by much, because pornography is still being used by the consumer to treat another person as a means to an end.  

“No matter the level of consent, it is a manly thing to treat a woman who has forgotten her dignity with dignity nonetheless,” Fradd wrote.

Fradd also quotes Rebecca Whisnant, a feminist theory professor, who once refuted the myth of porn as female empowerment in a talk:

“Feminism is about ending the subordination of women. Expanding women’s freedom of choice on a variety of fronts is an important part of that, but it is not the whole story. In fact, any meaningful liberation movement involves not only claiming the right to make choices, but also holding oneself accountable for the effects of those choices on oneself and on others,” she said in a 2007 talk.

These women are also perpetuating a system that robs women, as a group, of empowerment, Fradd said, such as women who are sex trafficked while participating in the porn industry. By some estimates, two million women and girls are held in sexual slavery at any given time.

It’s part of the reason why Fradd is donating all of the proceeds of “The Porn Myth” to Children of the Immaculate Heart, a non-profit corporation operating in San Diego, Calif, whose mission is to serve survivors of human trafficking.

Porn also disempowers the women whose relationships are destroyed by men caught up in pornography addictions, Fradd noted.

“Ask the millions of women whose husbands habitually turn to porn. Do these women feel empowered by pornography?” Fradd asked.

Pornography use in marriage is one way that porn harms relationships. According to Fradd’s research, a survey of 350 divorce lawyers reported in 2003 that pornography was at least part of the problem in half of all divorce cases they saw.

Another commonly believed myth is that marriage will solve a porn addiction, which shows a misunderstanding of the psychology of addiction in the first place, Fradd explains.

But pornography can also damage the relationships of a single person looking for love.

A 2011 TED talk by psychologist Philip Zimbardo said that studies showed a “widespread fear of intimacy and social awkwardness among men,” and an inability to engage in face-to-face conversations with women, Fradd wrote.  

“Why? Zimbardo says this is caused by disproportionate Internet use in general and excessive new access to pornography in particular. ‘Boys’ brains are being digitally rewired in a totally new way, for change, novelty, excitement.’”

And Zimbardo is not alone in his observations. As Fradd notes, neuroscientist William Struthers wrote in 2009 that “With repeated sexual acting out in the absence of a partner, a man will be bound and attached to the image and not a person.”

In other words, men can start preferring pixels to people. According to NoFap’s statistics in 2013, about half of their users had never had sex with a real person, meaning their only experience of sexual intimacy has been digital.

That reason alone has been why many people, men especially, have sought to kick their porn habits, Fradd said.

“I know agnostics or atheists who quit porn literally because they couldn’t have sex with people they were hooking up with. That’s why they quit porn. And these guys are fit, good-looking young men, who couldn’t get an erection around a young woman. But they realized if the woman left and they opened up their laptop they’d get an immediate erection.”

Studies have also shown that pornography addiction is driven by the increase in amounts, and varieties, of material readily available to anyone with access to the internet.

“People find themselves viewing more and more disturbing pornography, and the reason for this is because of a decrease in dopamine in the brain, which happens because of the addiction one has, and they end up seeking out more graphic, violent forms of pornography just to boost the dopamine enough to feel normal,” Fradd said.

“People don’t wake up when they’re 30 and decide to look at child porn or feces porn or something disgusting like that. These are big things that people spiral into, and the industry has to keep pushing the envelope because it’s addictive,” he added.

While the statistics of pornography can be disturbing and depressing, Fradd stressed that there was still hope. He devotes several chapters in the book to protecting children from pornography, dealing with pornograpy in marriage, and getting help for those addicted to pornography.

Fradd himself has spent years in ministry to those with pornography addictions, and helps run the site Integrity Restored, which offers numerous resources to help those struggling with addictions and those in ministry to them.

The most effective steps for someone to follow for someone addicted to porn?

“They should find a spiritual director, they should go to therapy, and they should find a 12-step group (like Sexaholics Anonymous),” Fradd said. “With those three things together, we’ve seen the most success.”

Often well-meaning Christians will relegate pornography addictions to the spiritual realm, telling people that they simply need to pray more, Fradd said. And while prayer isn’t a bad thing, it doesn’t address the psychological aspect of addiction.

“When people do things like put a picture of Mary on their laptop or pray more, it doesn’t actually usually work. It’s not a solely spiritual problem, so what we don’t need is a solely spiritual answer,” he said.

Just as you should encourage a clinically depressed person to seek counseling and therapy, you should also encourage someone experiencing addiction to seek professional help, he added.

Fradd said he’s also been encouraged by the number of celebrities who have recently spoken out against pornography, such as Pamela Anderson, British comedian Russell Brand, actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and former NFL player and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” actor Terry Crews, to name a few.

Slowly, he said, society is catching up to the science that shows how harmful pornography can be.

“We’ve reached a tipping point in our culture such that everyone either struggles with porn and/or knows someone who does, and we all see the negative effects,” he said.

“So the porn industry’s cronies can tell us that pornography is healthy for well-rounded adults,  but they now sound like the tobacco apologists sounded like in the '80s. In light of the evidence, their assertions seem increasingly ridiculous.”

Fradd’s book is available at:


This article was originally published on CNA March 26, 2017.

Is the Benedict Option the only option?

Sun, 11/12/2017 - 05:46

Denver, Colo., Nov 12, 2017 / 03:46 am (CNA).- When Josh and Laura Martin, both converts to the faith, moved their growing family of six from the city of Dallas, Texas to the hills of Oklahoma, they didn’t necessarily know that they were participating in the “Benedict Option.”

“We initially just wanted to get out of the city and raise our family in a more protected, slower-paced environment,” Josh told CNA.

“With all the families out here searching for the same thing, we gravitated towards it and made the leap.”

They moved to be close to the Benedictine Abbey at Clear Creek, Oklahoma, where dozens of other families from around the country have congregated over the course of the past 15 years or so.

Dubious of the direction in which the morals of modern society seem to be heading, they came in search of a slower pace and a more liturgical life with a community of other like-minded Catholics. Many villagers attend daily morning Mass with the monks before 7 a.m., and the traditional Latin Mass on Sundays. The monastery serves as the center of the community, the monks as a real-life example of religious life to the youngsters.

Journalist Rod Dreher is credited with dubbing this phenomenon “The Benedict Option,” a term inspired by the last paragraph of philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre’s book, After Virtue, in which he wrote about waiting “for another - doubtless very different - St. Benedict.” This new Benedict would help construct “local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages.”

Just as Benedict was looking to escape the crumbling and increasingly anti-Christian culture of Rome, families like the Martins are looking to the hills of Oklahoma to escape today’s secular society, where Christian values are seen as increasingly foreign or even hostile to the status quo. They are disturbed by trends such as the legalization of gay marriage, of the increasing popularity of gender ideology, or the shrinking of religious freedom.

In his recent book, “The Benedict Option,” Dreher calls the new societal trends and values “The Flood,” and argues that Christians can no longer fight the flood - they must figure out a way to ride it out and preserve their faith for generations to come.

“...American Christians are going to have to come to terms with the brute fact that we live in a culture, one in which our beliefs make increasingly little sense. We speak a language that the world more and more either cannot hear or finds offensive to its ears,” he writes.

“The idea is that serious Christian conservatives could no longer live business-as-usual lives in America, that we have to develop creative, communal solutions to help us hold on to our faith and our values in a world growing ever more hostile to them.”

Communities like the one surrounding Clear Creek Abbey seem to be the most obvious examples of the Benedict Option, their lifestyles most resembling the villages that grew up around the Benedictine monasteries in Europe centuries ago. However, Dreher does expand the definition to include other forms of Christian communities, like those that form around classical schools, such as St. Jerome’s school in Hyattsville, Maryland. The phenomenon is also occurring not just among Catholics, but among Protestant and Orthodox Christians as well.

Mike Lawless, his wife Kathy, and their children first learned about the community surrounding Clear Creek when they were living in San Diego. They were part of a homeschool group, and lived on the edge of town, as far away from the city hustle and bustle as possible.

But when a friend told them about the families moving near Clear Creek Abbey, the whole family of six (going on seven) loved the idea of the novelty and adventure of moving to the hills of Oklahoma, so they packed up and made the leap.

“What we were looking for was a healthier culture,” Mike told CNA. He wanted to raise his children in an environment that wasn’t heavily influenced by the prevailing secular culture.  

When Josh and Laura Martin moved in 2007, they were expecting their fifth child. They too were looking for a better place to raise their family.

It was rough going at first. The land by Clear Creek Abbey is not great for farming. Josh tried to make the leap from management positions to manual labor, but it ultimately didn’t work.

“I just fell flat on my face, burned up all my money, learned a lot of good valuable lessons I wouldn’t trade for anything,” Josh said. “After 4-5 years we realized that you have to do something that you know how to do.”

He’s now in a management position for a medical device company in the area, and things have been a lot better. Similarly, Mike Lawless tried to make living off the land a priority. But after his attempts at farming and cattle were heading in a “direction that wasn’t positive,” he had to scale back his agricultural projects and return to the work he knew, which was mechanical engineering.

“That romantic vision was shattered there pretty quick when we moved,” Mike said.

Most families in the area do not subsist off the land alone, but there are few options for work in town. The Institute for Excellence in Writing, directed by Clear Creek villager Andrew Pudewa, employs some people in the area. Others, like Mike, do much of their work remotely. Still others make the hour commute to and from Tulsa for work.

Despite the sacrifices, the geographic retreat is an important aspect of the Benedict Option for many of its adherents.

“Being in a rural area, where you’re not maybe as distracted by the noise and goings on of the city, there’s a little bit more quiet, and that silence gives you the opportunity to appreciate (the liturgical season) more,” Laura Martin told CNA.

“There’s fewer distractions, and that is helpful I think in focusing on trying to regain some of the culture that we’ve lost or the connections that we’ve missed in our busy lives, so that element has been really helpful for us to grow in our faith.”  

But one of the main critiques of the Benedict Option has stemmed from this idea of separation - both culturally and geographically. How can the faithful evangelize, as they are called to do, if they embed in communities of likeminded people in remote countryside hills?

“It’s not an insular community,” Josh insists, “but it is a sort of retreat because the cultural forces are so overwhelming that it’s difficult for me to imagine...trying to raise my family in that environment, so somewhere in that mix is the Benedict Option.”  

The Martins are aware of the dangers of becoming too insular. They send two of their kids to public school, and they let their kids play soccer on a local league, which has made them a lot of local, non-Catholic friends. But not everyone in the village agrees on this, or other subjects. The use of T.V. and internet varies widely among families, as do opinions about whether women should wear anything other than skirts (and of what length those skirts should be), or how much contact is maintained with the outside world.

The Martins were careful to specify they spoke only for themselves.

“Out here it’s very dangerous to speak for the community, because...there’s not one unified approach, there are many dissimilarities,” Josh said.

But what there is, is a strong sense of community and a desire to live out the Catholic faith. Whether it’s for funerals, weddings, baby showers, dances, parties - almost everyone is involved, he said.

“Weddings are just a complete madhouse,” Josh said, laughing. Baby showers can sometimes include 60-70 women. When a new family arrives, everyone pitches in to help them move furniture and get settled.

“There’s a huge sense of cohesion,” he said. “Your life is so intertwined with the community. There’s a strong identity of being definitely Catholic that would be very difficult to leave.”

What about parish life?  

For many Catholics, uprooting their lives and moving to Oklahoma (or near other monasteries) simply isn’t an option. The most basic building block of Catholic community and society available to them is their local parish.

Dreher writes of the importance of living in proximity to one’s parish, so that it can all the more easily become the center of one’s life. But Christians must still be discerning about whether their local parish is teaching the true faith, or whether it has been too compromised by the secular culture.

“The changes that have overtaken the West in our modern times have revolutionized everything, even the church, which no longer forms souls but caters to selves,” Dreher writes.

“As conservative Anglican theologian Ephriam Radner has said, ‘There is no safe place in the world or in our churches within which to be a Christian. It is a new epoch.’”

To be sure, parish life has seen significant shifts in the United States. When waves of Catholic immigrants arrived in the 19th and early 20th centuries, they found stability and community in the New World at their local, often ethnically segregated, parish. Often ostracized for their faith in other areas of society, they looked to their parish not only as a source for the sacraments, but as a place to meet friends, host meetings and dances, to rely on as a second family.  

Society has since shifted. As Catholics became more accepted into mainstream society, they no longer looked to their parish as their only source of community. And as ethnic ties became looser, the need for Polish Catholics to go to the Polish parish, for example, dwindled. The hub of Catholicism, once the East Coast, shifted west as people moved out of the city.

But while things have changed, that doesn’t mean that flourishing parishes can’t be found today, said Claire Henning, executive director of Parish Catalyst, a group that studies what makes parishes thrive.

“I’ve become more aware of how I’ve always perceived a parish as a building - but it really isn’t that, it’s a living, breathing ecosystem that expands and contracts depending on who’s there.”

For their recent book “Great Catholic Parishes,” William Simon, founder of Parish Catalyst, identified four characteristics of thriving parishes: shared leadership among clergy and laity, a variety of formation programs, an emphasis on Sunday and the liturgy, and evangelizing to people both in and out of the pews.

One of the main questions these thriving parishes are constantly asking of themselves is: “How do we speak the language of the Gospel to the people of today?” Henning said. “So you need people who are thought leaders to be thinking of that.”

St. Mary’s parish in Littleton, Colorado, is one such parish, with around 1800 registered families, an orthodox Roman Catholic faith and a thriving community life.

“The goal is to be a family of families,” said Linda Sherman, director of family life and service for the parish.

“What we’re looking for is to support families in all their various nuances and ages, to support them in their Catholic faith, and as they are growing in their faith and growing closer to God.”

It can be difficult to create a sense of community in such a large parish, Sherman admits, but the key is getting families involved in ministry.

Perhaps one of the most important ministries that St. Mary’s offers is called Mother of Mercy ministry, the purpose of which is “to fill in the gaps of people who don’t have an existing support system of families in town,” Sherman told CNA.

How it works: anyone can sign up for Mother of Mercy, either offering or asking for services ranging from lawn-mowing to rides to the doctor to babysitting. It connects volunteers with folks who need them, and helps people feel like they have a local support system, she said.

There are also youth groups, young adult groups, family groups and bible studies that allow people to grow in their faith in smaller settings, which then strengthens both their faith and their connection to the parish.

It’s become increasingly important for parishioners to find a community of others who share their faith and values, Sherman said.

“It allows you to be stronger in your faith if you have people around you who support you in your values. And that’s whether you’re newly married or you’re 50 years old and you’re working in a job with people who don’t have the same faith life as you, or any faith life,” she said. “You don’t want to feel like the odd man out.”

And while Dreher expresses concerns about the orthodoxy of many parishes and churches, Henning said it is the churches that focus on liturgy and discipleship that prove to be the best parishes.

“They actually are strategic about planning for discipleship, they challenge and engage the spiritual maturity of their people,” she said.

“And they really excel on Sundays. There’s an intense interest on preparing good homilies, they get the best music they can get, they’re very hospitable. And they really do have a plan for evangelization, they enter into mission, and they have a vision and structure for moving beyond the doors of the church.”

Prayer and the Eucharist are also central to thriving parishes, as Simon points out in his book. St. Mary’s parish has a 24-hour adoration chapel, accessible by code.

“The Eucharist is the source of unity for the parish; is is the supreme action that unites all who experience it to Christ and to the prayer and tradition of the universal Catholic community,” Simon wrote.  

Catholicism in the city: Ecclesial Movements

Another popular form of community within the Catholic Church, particularly in the post-Vatican II years of the 20th and 21st Centuries, has been Ecclesial Movements. These include groups such as Opus Dei, Focolare, or the Neocatechumenal Way.

In e-mail comments to CNA, Dreher said that he did not know enough about Ecclesial Movements to say whether or not they could constitute a “Benedict Option.” But they seem to have markedly different philosophies when it comes to living the Christian life in the world.

Ecclesial Movements seek to re-engage the laity in their faith and to evangelize the world. They include a variety of charisms, educational methods and apostolic forms and goals, and while they have local bases, they are not geographically bound to one location. Many have a presence in countries throughout the world.

Holly Peterson is the director of communications for Communion and Liberation, one such ecclesial movement that was founded by Italian priest Fr. Luigi Giussani.

As a young priest in 1950s Italy, where basically everyone went to Mass and Catholic school, Fr. Giussani began to realize that the faith didn’t actually mean anything to the real, lived experiences of the young students he was teaching. They went through the motions of the faith, but they didn’t seem to know what it meant to really live a Christian life.

“He later defined it by saying that he had this question in him - have the people left the church? Or has the church left the people?” Peterson told CNA.

Fr. Giussani started taking his students on retreats and excursions in the mountains so that he could teach them how to live an authentically integrated life of faith - much in the style of Pope John Paul II, a close friend of Giussani and the movement.

“He understood that...he needed to introduce them to life, because through their experience of life they would begin to understand who God was, who Christ was,” Peterson said.  

As his students grew up and continued following his teachings, a movement was born. Membership in Communion and Liberation is freely given - there’s no registration or membership requirements, and there are many different levels of association, but a standard commitment is attendance at the weekly meetings, called School of Community.

School of Community is more than just a meeting, Peterson said. It’s a chance for catechesis, for members to be spiritually fed, but also for them to develop Christian friendships that grow outside of the official meetings. Members form strong friendships and communities that carry on outside of the weekly meetings. They go out to dinner, help each other with babysitting, have parties, and just live life together.

The movement also has consecrated lay men and women - called Memores Domini - who live in community but work in the secular world. There are doctors, rocket scientists, secretaries, teachers and many other kinds of professions found amongst the members.

But regardless of the level of association, CL members have a markedly different way of viewing the world than the Ben-Oppers.

“We’re not afraid of doom and gloom around the corner, not to say that that’s wrong, but that’s not our style,” Peterson said.

“Instead we desire to dive into the deep end of the pool. We want to be present where people are suffering, we want to do what Pope Francis has called us to do, which is to go to the periphery.”

“And the periphery isn’t necessarily skid row of L.A., though that is the periphery as well,” she added. “My periphery could be my workplace, where everyone might live a pessimism that’s so thick and so sad, where they have absolutely zero hope in front of the reality that we live.”

The Community of the Beatitudes, founded in France, is another active ecclesial movement. Like the name implies, they strive to live the teachings of the Beatitudes within their community. Their charism is Eucharistic and Marian, and in the Carmelite tradition.

The community has consecrated brothers and sisters, as well as several hundred lay members and friends at various levels of association, that are active throughout the world. In the beginning, lay members lived in community with the consecrated members in huge monasteries in Europe that allowed each vocation to have it’s own separate wing. But more recently, the Vatican told the community that the lay members must not live directly with consecrated members.

“Rome said lay must be real lay, you don’t stay set apart,” Sr. Mary of the Visitation, a member of the community in Denver, told CNA.

“So obviously they are lay people, they receive the spirit and the charism of the community, they are full members of the community, they’re fully part of the liturgy, but they live in the world.”

The Community of the Beatitudes, much like Communion and Liberation, quickly spread all over the world. Their apostolates serve the immediate needs of their surrounding communities in various ways - schools, hospitals, catechesis - rather than focusing on one particular type of ministry. Members and friends of the movement regularly come together for meals, liturgy, faith formation and service.

Sr. Mary of the Visitation said that while her community anchors her, she desires to invite more people to live a life following the Beatitudes.

Although rooted in prayer, “we live in the world,” she said. “So if I’m going for a walk in the neighborhood, I will meet people, obviously when they see my habit they will think about God, but then we can have a conversation and go deeper.”

Sr. Mary said that on the one hand, she understands the Benedict Option desire to preserve the good, and to separate oneself from evil. Preserving oneself from too much T.V., or other inappropriate media, is a good thing, she said.

But she also worries that the Benedict Option may look at those in the world as “other,” rather than as brothers and sisters.

“What I dislike in this idea, is that it would mean that the world is bad, and the Benedictine Option is good. But we’re not in a movie with the bad and the good. We are in the reality of life, where the world is within me, and this is the most difficult part is to convert myself,” she said.

“And I really think that my brothers and sisters from the world, I cannot judge them, I cannot be separate from them, because I don’t want to go to heaven without them.”  

There have been concerns among some that ecclesial movements are taking the place of the parish in members’ lives. But lived properly, Peterson said, that’s not the case - movements should serve to strengthen parish communities.

“We try to be very engaged in the parish for that reason,” she said, “doing charitable work, teaching in parish schools, a lot of musicians in the movement are active in their parishes.”

Ultimately, she said, “I think these movements are the way that God is rejuvenating the Church...movements are called to give people life so that they can live in this crazy world here.”


This article was originally published on CNA Feb. 26, 2017.

Decision to axe US migration program endangers minors, bishops warn

Sat, 11/11/2017 - 08:04

Washington D.C., Nov 11, 2017 / 06:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Trump administration's ending of a program that helped reunite Central American minors with their parents in the U.S. has drawn strong objections from the U.S. bishops.

The administration decided to end refugee processing in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala for those who apply for U.S. entry through the Central American Minors program. The program had allowed some parents legally present in the U.S. to request a refugee resettlement interview for their children and other family members like the child’s other parent, a caregiver, or a grandchild, ABC News reports.

“This decision of the administration unnecessarily casts aside a proven and safe alternative to irregular and dangerous migration for Central American children,” said Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, head of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration. Terminating the entire program will “neither promote safety for these children nor help our government regulate migration,” he said Nov. 9.

“Pope Francis has called on us to protect migrant children, noting that ‘among migrants, children constitute the most vulnerable group’,” the bishop continued.

The Central American Minors program was established in 2014, at the height of the surge of unaccompanied migrant children coming to the U.S.-Mexico border from Central America, primarily El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

There were about 14,000 applications to the program, with 8,000 having been processed. A total of 3,328 children and family members were admitted as refugees and parolees. Another 6,000 people’s applications are still under consideration.     

Vasquez offered prayers for those affected.

“We continue to pray and express our support for parents who endure anxiety and emotional hardship knowing their children will continue to languish in violence; and to the children themselves, who will not be able to reunite and embrace their parents,” he said.

A U.S. State Department official told ABC News the program was ended “as part of the overall U.S. government review of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program” for fiscal year 2018.

Some critics of the program said many applicants did not meet the legal definition of a refugee because they were fleeing violent conflict, but not persecution of some kind.

Vasquez said the program, which had previously included both refugee and parole options, should have been maintained “precisely because it provided a legal and organized way for children to migrate to the United States and reunify with families.”

Vasquez cited the August decision to end the program’s parole option for Central American migrants. That decision caused “heartbreaking family separation for families who have learned that their child has no safe means of arriving to the U.S.”

Ending the overall program will “sadly perpetuate more of the same family breakdown,” he said.

The bishop was “deeply disappointed” that the administration decided to terminate the program in its entirety. He said it was “especially troubling” to have a short cutoff date for accepting applications to the program.

There was barely a day’s advance notice to those who provide services, he said.

The State Department recently ended temporary protected status for Nicaraguans, meaning about 2,500 Nicaraguans must leave before January 2019 or face deportation. Many of them have been living in the U.S. for years and have children. Protected status for Hondurans has been extended another six months.

Proposed tax bill has 'unconscionable' flaws, US bishops say

Fri, 11/10/2017 - 19:02

Washington D.C., Nov 10, 2017 / 05:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Proposed tax legislation under consideration in Congress needs many changes to avoid further harming the poor, the U.S. bishops have said.

“Doubling the standard deduction will help some of those in poverty to avoid tax liability, and this is a positive good contained in the bill,” they said. “However, as written, this proposal appears to be the first federal income tax modification in American history that will raise income taxes on the working poor while simultaneously providing a large tax cut to the wealthy. This is simply unconscionable.”

The bishops’ Nov. 9 letter to Members of Congress concerned the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. It was signed by Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, who chairs the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces, who chairs the Committee on International Justice and Peace; and Bishop George V. Murry, S.J. of Youngstown, who chairs the Committee on Catholic Education.

Citing the non-partisan congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, the bishops said that under the current version of the bill households with income between $20,000 and $40,000 per year would see tax increases in 2023, 2025, and 2027. In 2025, taxes will increase on most taxpayers earning between $10,000 and $20,000.

“At the same time, significant tax breaks to the very wealthy – including millionaires and billionaires – are projected for each year,” the bishops’ letter continued.

The bishops said amendments are needed “for the sake of families” and “for those struggling on the peripheries of society who have a claim on our national conscience.”

They found positive aspects of the bill in areas of education and child tax credits.

At the same time, they objected that the bill puts “new and unreasonable burdens” on families.

The bishops’ letter also objected to the removal of the adoption tax credit, which was only restored to the bill on Thursday after much protest from adoption advocates.

Other fixes are needed to remove disincentives for charitable giving and development projects for affordable housing and community revitalization, the bishops said.

They warned the budget deficit could be used as an excuse to limit or end “programs that help those in need, programs which are investments to help pull struggling families out of poverty.”

Hondurans in US deserve protection and a permanent solution, bishops say

Fri, 11/10/2017 - 13:27

Washington D.C., Nov 10, 2017 / 11:27 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Extending Honduran migrants’ protected status is the “right thing to do” because of the dangerous situation in their country, the U.S. bishops have said.

Hondurans with temporary protected status have “deep ties to our communities, parishes, and country,” said Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin, who chairs the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration.

“They are businesses owners, successful professionals, home owners, parents of U.S. citizen children, and most importantly, children of God,” he said Nov. 8. “We must find a solution for these individuals and their families, and we stand ready to support Congress in its effort to do so.”

An estimated 57,000 Hondurans’ protected status was automatically extended through July 5, 2018 after the Department of Homeland Security announced Nov. 6 that it needed more time to assess conditions in their country.

Renewed protected status for Hondurans comes under a humanitarian migration program that allows individuals to remain and work lawfully in the U.S. as long as it is considered unsafe for nationals to return to their home country.

Bishop Vasquez, citing a recent U.S. bishops’ report on the temporary protected status designation as it relates to Central America, said there are ongoing problems of violence and security threats, poverty, and environmental degradation.

The bishop voiced appreciation that the Department of Homeland Security is making a serious evaluation of conditions in Honduras. The extension of protected status would aid continued prosperity and growth of Honduran and regional security, he said.

He pledged the U.S. bishops’ continued engagement, information gathering, and cooperation with both the U.S. government and Catholic partners in Honduras. Their Honduran partners provide “extensive social welfare services”, working with both the U.S. and Honduran governments.

Vasquez also remembered the individuals affected by U.S. policy, saying, “my continued thoughts and prayers are with Honduran temporary protected status recipients and their families who still face uncertainty in their situation here in the United States.”

He voiced support for bipartisan efforts to find a legislative solution for Hondurans who have received protected status.

The little-known vocation of consecrated virginity

Fri, 11/10/2017 - 05:01

Denver, Colo., Nov 10, 2017 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- When speaking about vocational life, the first people who come to mind are often married couples, priests or nuns. Lesser known is the vocation of consecrated virginity, although it is the oldest recognized formed of consecrated life in the Catholic Church.

“Almost no one knows that it exists, let alone what is involved,” said Dr. Janet Smith, a consecrated virgin in the Archdiocese of Detroit and professor at Sacred Heart Seminary.

“But I am always touched by how many Catholics deeply respect the vocation when they hear about it,” Smith told CNA.

Andrea Polito, who recently dedicated herself as a consecrated virgin in the Archdiocese of Denver and works as a pediatric oncology nurse, would agree that there is often a sense of mystery surrounding the vocation.

“Most people even within the Church have no idea what this vocation is. And in their defense, consecration in the lay state at all is not widely known,” Polito told CNA.

What is a consecrated virgin?

A consecrated virgin is a never-married woman who dedicates her perpetual virginity to God and is set aside as a sacred person who belongs to Christ in the Catholic Church.

According to the Code of Canon Law, women who are seeking out this particular vocation must be consecrated to God through the diocesan bishop, according to the rite approved by the Church. Upon consecration, they are betrothed mystically to Christ and are dedicated to the service of the Church, while remaining in a public state of life. Consecrated virgins live individually and receive direction from the diocesan bishop. Their consecration and life of perpetual virginity is permanent.

Their call to a secular state of life means that consecrated virgins have jobs and lives much like that of the average person. They provide for their own needs and the local diocese is not financially responsible for them.

“My life looks pretty ordinary. I have a full-time job and volunteer with a few things,” Polito said.

“I do the same things everyone else does in Colorado – enjoy the beautiful mountains and really good beer, spend time with friends and family and try really hard to be holy,” she continued.

As a professor, Dr. Smith said she spends most of her days “preparing for the classes I teach and doing the work involved for all the invitations I accept.” She also tries to speak at local engagements and is involved with a bible study group.

Unlike most religious orders, consecrated virgins do not have habits or use the title “Sister.” They remain in their own diocese to serve the local Church community under the authority of the bishop.

A consecrated virgin also has a particular focus on prayer, which is usually lived out through Mass, Liturgy of the Hours, spiritual reading and personal prayer.

“My day begins and ends with prayer, specifically for the Church of Denver – her bishops, priests and people – that is the mission of a consecrated virgin,” Polito said.

Smith also said that she prays the Divine Office and engages “in meditative prayer and spiritual reading.”

Andrea Polito was recently consecrated as a lay virgin in the Archdiocese of Denver!

— Denver Catholic (@DenverCatholic) August 5, 2017 One of the primary goals of consecrated virgins is to point towards a bigger reality: Christ is the ultimate fulfillment. As such, consecrated virgins live out their daily lives as witnesses of this radical love of Christ – not as single persons, but as spouses of Christ.

Illustrating this point, the consecration ceremony has some similarities to a wedding, with the woman who is entering the vocation wearing a wedding dress and receiving a ring.

“Being consecrated and being single are in opposition by their definition,” Polito said.

“I am a bride of Christ, I am wed to Him. I am not consecrated so I can live the free, single life and do whatever I want. I am consecrated so I am completely available to the desires and work of my spouse.”

History of consecrated virginity

References of consecrated virginity can be found in sections of the New Testament, such as Matthew 19:12 and 1 Corinthians 7:25-40. Early church fathers, such as St. Ignatius of Antioch, have also mentioned consecrated virgins as a distinct group within the Catholic Church, dating back to 110 A.D.

Before women were able to enter a religious order, many dedicated themselves as consecrated virgins. St. Agnes, St. Agatha, St. Cecilia and St. Lucy are among the early saints recognized by the Catholic Church as consecrated virgins.

During the sixth century, the practice of consecrated virginity fell by the wayside as the popularity of monastic religious life grew, and became extremely rare the Middle Ages. However, consecrated virginity made a comeback as religious orders began to preserve the “Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity.” Vatican II also ensured consecrated virginity’s restoration in the modern world when it revised the “Rite of Consecration.”

Currently in the universal Catholic Church, there are around 3,000 consecrated virgins, 235 of whom live in the United States, according to the Association of Consecrated Virgins.

Discernment of consecrated virginity

For Polito, discerning the vocation to consecrated virginity was unique because she wanted to consecrate herself to the Lord, but was not attracted to the religious life. She felt torn.

“I brought these struggles to a priest who introduced me to consecrated life in the lay state and was very convicted of its importance,” Polito said.

She then spent years in prayer about consecrated life, and started to discern consecrated virginity more specifically. The two things that drew her to this vocation were the bridal and ordinary aspects of its calling.

“In being his bride, I am gifted a deeper sense of self, of love, of femininity – it is as if I never knew who I was until I entered my vocation and I now know myself only in Christ. It’s incredible,” Politio said.

“And then the ordinary – my life looks pretty similar to the average Joe, and there is something intriguing about that. I think I have been able to have many conversations about Christ and the Church because of that. It’s a beautifully ordinary and profound mission,” she continued.

Dr. Smith, who teaches at a seminary, said her road of discernment started by being inspired through the witness of the seminarians.

“It caused me to consider whether I had made the commitment to which God was calling me,” Smith said.

After this prompting, she attended several retreats, in which the path toward the vocation grew clearer.

“Becoming consecrated formalizes the relationship with amazing graces that enable one to live more confidently the vocation, to have greater clarity and confidence. I had no idea how transforming it would be,” she continued.

For women who are discerning consecrated virginity, Smith suggested that women should “read a lot about it” and “talk to those who are living it; go on a retreat and see if God is calling you to it.”

Polito’s biggest piece of advice was “to be not afraid.”

“The Lord plants desire in our hearts and will grow that desire into something beautiful, fruitful and fulfilling,” she said, adding that “Christ will lead you to where he wants you.”

“I would be lying if I said this vocation was easy, but Christ is real, His grace is real and His mission is needed.”


Adoption tax credit restored to GOP proposal after outcry

Thu, 11/09/2017 - 18:36

Washington D.C., Nov 9, 2017 / 04:36 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Republican leaders have restored the adoption tax credit to their federal tax proposal, after a week of criticism over the credit’s omission from the original House plan.

On Thursday, it was announced that the adoption tax credit is included in the Senate version of the tax plan, and has been restored to the House version, where it had originally been left out.

Created through a bipartisan effort in 1996, the tax credit allows families a maximum credit of $13,570 per eligible adopted child.

Advocates for the credit argue that it helps defray the high costs of adoption, which might prevent children otherwise eligible for adoption from finding families. They also argue that encouraging adoption saves state and federal money that would otherwise be spent on children in the foster care system.

The cost of a domestic adoption frequently tops $30,000, and international adoptions are even more expensive, according to the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute.

These costs cover birth expenses, counseling, fees for an evaluation of the adopting couple, legal work, documentation, travel expenses, and adoption agency costs.

Following the release of the House tax plan, several Republican congressmen – including Reps. Chris Smith (N.J.), Jeff Fortenberry (Neb.), Diane Black (Tenn.), and Trent Franks (Ariz.) – had called on party leadership to return the tax credit to the proposal.

Fortenberry told CNA that the policy is “a clear and legitimate statement by the government that we have a preferential policy for life.”

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, praised the decision to reinstate the tax credit in the GOP plan.

“This important pro-life tax credit costs the government relatively little, but by reducing the steep expenses of adoption, it makes all the difference to tens of thousands of families each year who open their homes and hearts to children in need,” she said Thursday.

“The amended bill gives these families the support they deserve in making the courageous, loving decision to adopt.”

At the Met, Catholic-inspired fashion now in style

Thu, 11/09/2017 - 17:30

New York City, N.Y., Nov 9, 2017 / 03:30 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Can the Catholic imagination dream up beautiful and compelling clotheswear?

That’s one of the questions behind an exhibit collection set to open next year through New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art

“The Roman Catholic Church has been producing and promoting beautiful works of art for centuries,” Greg Burke, director of the Holy See’s press office, told the New York Times. “Most people have experienced that through religious paintings and architecture. This is another way of sharing some of that beauty that rarely gets seen.”

Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination,” set to launch in 2018, was organized through the Met’s Costume Institute. The exhibit brings together Church garments borrowed from the Vatican, religious art from the Met collection, and 150 designer fashion pieces that were intended to pay homage to Catholicism, taking inspiration from Catholic iconography, the liturgy, or other parts of the faith tradition.

The exhibition will run May 10 – Oct. 8, 2018.

The church garments, many of which are still in use for liturgies, will be displayed separately from the fashion exhibit out of respect, the New York Times reports. There will be about 50 items in this separate exhibit. They come from the Sistine Chapel sacristy’s Office for the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff and range in age from the mid-1700s to the pontificate of Saint John Paul II.

The exhibits will be hosted at the Anna Wintour Costume Center, the medieval rooms at the Met on Fifth Avenue, and the Met Cloisters in uptown New York City. The three exhibit spaces total 58,600 square feet. It will be the Costume Institute’s largest show yet.

Andrew Bolton, the curator in charge at the institute, suggested the exhibit may have more potential than any other previous exhibit.

Explaining the exhibit’s vision, he said: “the focus is on a shared hypothesis about what we call the Catholic imagination and the way it has engaged artists and designers and shaped their approach to creativity, as opposed to any kind of theology or sociology. Beauty has often been a bridge between believers and unbelievers.”

Bolton had consulted with several Catholic groups and Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York to avoid any controversy in the fashion selections. The Church was receptive to the idea, but he had to travel to Rome eight times to discuss the show.

Bolton, who is Catholic, said he had initially intended to include the five world religions that are represented in the museum’s collections, but narrowed his focus after realizing that most Western designers were interacting artistically with Catholicism. He suggested this was because so many designers were raised Catholic.


#MetHeavenlyBodies—at The Met and The Met Cloisters—will feature a dialogue between fashion and religious artworks.

— The Met (@metmuseum) November 8, 2017


The “Heavenly Bodies” exhibit will include a Chanel wedding gown inspired by First Communion dresses and the fashion designer Valentino's couture gowns that draw on the style of the paintings of monk’s robes by the 16th century Spanish painter Francisco di Zurbarán.

One artistic rendering of an Elsa Schiaparelli evening dress, made for the summer of 1939, appears to evoke the keys of St. Peter and the color scheme of Christian iconography.

Versace and Dolce & Gabbana will contribute art in the style of mosaics, including mosaics of Sicily's Cathedral of Monreale.

A 1983 exhibit of Vatican liturgical garments at the museum was the third-most visited exhibit in its history, with nearly 900,000 visitors.

The “Heavenly Bodies” exhibit will have such sponsors as the media company Condé Nast and the Italian luxury designer Versace, as well as patrons such as Christine and Stephen A. Schwarzman.

The New York Times reporter Vanessa Friedman suggested that the exclusive, expensive opening night gala for the Costume Institute’s exhibit, as well as the exhibit's luxurious clothing, appear to contradict the priorities of Pope Francis and Christian humility.

The opening night gala’s honorary chairs include the Schwarzmans, Condé Nast artistic director Anna Wintour, the pop star Rhianna and the prominent lawyer Amal Clooney, wife of actor George Clooney.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York has been invited to the gala, but it was unclear whether he would accept.

How to evangelize like Bishop Barron

Thu, 11/09/2017 - 17:24

Los Angeles, Calif., Nov 9, 2017 / 03:24 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Facebook headquarters might be a surprising place to find a Catholic bishop giving a talk.

Nevertheless, earlier this fall, Bishop Robert Barron, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, was invited to give an address at the social media giant’s headquarters, where he talked about “How to Have a Religious Argument.”

By argument, he didn’t mean a fight in the comment boxes - “I mean something very positive,” he said. He meant evangelizing Facebook followers by presenting the beauty and wisdom of the faith.

That’s Barron’s forte, and the reason he was invited to the heart of Silicon Valley in the first place. His intelligent yet understandable, compelling yet approachable style has in many ways allowed Catholicism to be re-proposed to a culture that is becoming increasingly hostile to faith.

Mention Barron’s name to Catholics, and they’re likely to know at least some of his work, whether that’s his popular CATHOLICISM series, his online movie reviews, or his social media presence. Put Barron at a Catholic conference, and he’s treated like a rockstar.

But whether you’re a Bishop Barron aficionado or you’ve never heard of him, his latest book will offer new insights into the life and mind of one of the most compelling American Catholic figures of the 21st century.

The book, “To Light a Fire on the Earth,” is the collaborative product of interviews with Catholic journalist and author John Allen, who flew out to California to spend time with Barron, and who narrates his story. The result is part Barron memoir, part how-to evangelism guide, part cultural commentary and everything in between, covering everything from the transcendentals of beauty, goodness and truth to Barron’s love for baseball and Bob Dylan.

“(I wanted) to introduce my work to people, like this is the one book you could hand to someone and say, this kind of sums up what I’ve been about, as a theologian, as a teacher, an evangelist,” Barron told CNA.

“So I see it that way, as an attempt to introduce my work to a pretty wide audience.”

The book’s title, “To Light a Fire on the Earth,” is part of a bible verse that has played a central role in Bishop Barron’s philosophy and ministry, which he named “Word on Fire.”

The phrase comes from Luke 12:49, in which Christ says, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!”

“I’ve always loved that line from Luke’s Gospel, because I just love the drama of that image, the power of it,” Barron told CNA.

“There’s something wonderful, illuminating, a little bit dangerous, a little bit destructive, a little bit overwhelming about the word of God, and the purpose of the Church is to light the whole world on fire with that word,” he said.

That power and edge has been something that’s been essential to his “Word on Fire” ministry, which Barron saw as a direct response to “beige Catholicism” - a weak and uninteresting presentation of the faith that he and his contemporaries experienced in the immediate aftermath of Vatican II.

“In many ways there’s still vestiges of (that) in our education, our catechesis,” Barron said.

“I’m opposed to a dumbed down Catholicism, I don’t like a culturally accommodating Catholicism. I like when it’s bold and colorful and confident and smart and beautiful, so in that sense, I’m opposed to falling back into beige Catholicism,” he said.

In many ways, Barron thinks the Church has turned the corner on “beige Catholicism,” especially due to the influence of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.

“Word on Fire comes out of a Vatican II vision of bringing the light of Christ out into the world, reading the signs of the times, using the new move into the new evangelization of John Paul II and company. That’s the tradition I’m standing in, from Gaudium et Spes, all the way to Francis in Evangelii Gaudium, that’s the tradition I’m exemplifying, I hope,” Barron said.

In the book, Barron proposes that the most effective way to evangelize today is to lead with the beauty of the faith.

“There’s something more winsome and less threatening about the beautiful,” Barron wrote in a 2015 essay quoted in the book. “‘Just look,’ the evangelist might say, ‘at Chartres Cathedral or the Sainte Chapelle, or the Sistine Chapel ceiling, or the mosaics at Ravenna.’”

“‘Just read,’ he might urge, ‘Dante’s Divine Comedy or one of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poems, or Chesterton’s Orthodoxy.’”

Catholics hoping to learn and draw from what Barron considers to be a canon of great Catholic works of art will not be disappointed - throughout the book, he mentions what he sees as some of the best works of film, literature and art - including many works of American Catholic art - that can be employed to draw people deeper into faith and form them to be better evangelists.

And the need for a renewed desire to evangelize couldn’t be more urgent, Barron said.

“Our numbers are shrinking, especially among the young, there’s no question about that,” the bishop said.

“People are kind of leaving the Church in droves - for every one person that joins the church, six are leaving, so that’s a very discouraging thing.”

But rather than draw back in fear, Barron said these disheartening statistics awaken his instincts to “go out, and set the world on fire, and evangelize and do it with confidence.”

“Go out with fife and drum to meet the culture,” he added, borrowing a phrase from German Lutheran Paul Tillich. “I like that attitude, I like the John Paul II kind of swagger.”

Barron said he hopes that his book will do just that - inspire people to learn their faith, and to tell others about it.

For Catholics looking for practical advice on how to be better evangelists, Barron’s first recommendation is: “Read.”

“Read. Get to know the faith,” he said. “Because we have a lot of enemies now who are smart and they’re trying to convince people that religious folks are not too smart. And I think people have got to get informed.”

Barron’s intellect and ability to debunk arguments against the faith, Allen notes, is a key factor in his appeal.

“Barron...probably incarnates the classic Catholic synthesis between faith and reason more thoroughly and overtly than virtually any other living figure - or at least one with a Facebook following of 1.5 million, a Twitter following of 100,000, and more than 20 million views on YouTube.”

Another piece of advice that Barron would give to wanna-be evangelists - “Find a none.”

By “none,” he’s referring to the increasing number of people who claim no official religious affiliation.

“Whether it’s a child, a friend, a colleague, a co-worker, a parent who’s Catholic but not going to Church - make it your goal this year to bring that ‘none’ back to Church,” he said.

“I also think wearing a symbol of your faith on your person is not a bad way to evangelize. Let people know, not aggressively, but let people know that you’re a Catholic,” he said.

“And it might cause them to question - ok you’re a Catholic, tell me about that. How do you reconcile whatever their question happens to be? I think those are simple, positive things people can do.”

Ultimately, he said, he hopes that Catholics who read his book are inspired to recover their mission to evangelize.

“I’m hoping...that they’d see that their baptismal mission is to bring people to Christ,” Barron said. “Maybe they’d take some inspiration from the work I’ve done, and the people and things that have shaped me, and then say ok, I’ve got a similar task and I’m trying to find my way.”

What is it like to be a religious brother?

Thu, 11/09/2017 - 07:57

Boston, Mass., Nov 9, 2017 / 05:57 am (CNA/EWTN News).- When Brother Jim Peterson, OFM Cap., was in middle school and high school, he felt like every time someone prayed for vocations, they were praying for him.

“It was always kind of like, they’re talking about me,” he told CNA.

That was his first inclination that he had a religious vocation, though at first, he assumed he was being called to be a priest.

Although the call was always somewhere in his heart, Peterson said that he finished high school, and then college, and was struggling to find a job when he wondered if he should answer that call.

“But at the same time, I wasn’t sure if it was just me running away from something, so I decided to see if I could make my way in the world before making a decision like that,” he said.

It wasn’t until he finished law school, and worked for a few years as a lawyer in Pennsylvania, that he decided he couldn’t ignore God anymore.

Today, Peterson is a Capuchin brother with the Capuchin Franciscans of the St. Mary Province, which encompasses New England and New York. He spoke with CNA about the vocation of a religious brother during Vocations Awareness Week, an annual week-long celebration sponsored by the United States bishops’ conference, dedicated to promoting vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and consecrated life through prayer and education.

Becoming a Brother

It was during his time in law school and as a lawyer that he really wrestled with his faith, and what God could be asking of him, Peterson said.

Working as a lawyer, he had several “a-ha” moments that made him realize he might be called to a different life.

“One moment was when...I was given the task of evicting somebody from a piece of property that one of our clients owned. And so I got a phone call from the guy I had to evict and he said, ‘Don’t worry, you don’t have to go to court. I’m leaving, you can have your property back’,” he recalled.

“So I went and told my partner and he said, ‘Well, let’s just hope all of our problems aren’t solved so quickly.’ And this was a good guy and a good partner, but what he was saying was that we’re making money based on other people’s problems.”

“I realized then that there are a million lawyers in the country, anybody can take my place, but not everybody could respond to the call that the Lord has put before them,” he said.

Peterson decided to talk to a priest who was a good friend of his family, and who also happened to be a Capuchin friar, about this call he had been experiencing. They met and talked for two hours about the life of Capuchin friars, and afterwards, Peterson decided to attend a vocation retreat the next month, where he got to see the life of the friars firsthand.

“At the beginning of the weekend I was like this is crazy, what am I doing here,” he said.

But after seeing the friars in action, “by the end of the weekend...I said this is what I want to do with the rest of my life.”

The difference between priesthood and brotherhood

Peterson said that over the years, the call from God had evolved from what he thought was a call to the priesthood into a call to be a Capuchin brother. Part of the reason for this, he said, was that he felt that he was also called to continue being a lawyer, and Capuchin friars often continuing working in the fields in which they were working before they joined the order.

“In the Franciscan world, when St. Francis started the order, you did what you did before, you just did it now as a religious,” Peterson said. “So the priests who were already priests were now Franciscan priests, and the carpenters who came in were now Franciscan now I’m a Franciscan lawyer,” he said.

“I don’t feel called, and frankly my gifts don’t mesh well, with presiding at the sacraments, so while I love the sacraments, I love participating in them, I don’t feel called to lead them. But at the same time I do feel called to the Capuchin Franciscan life, the life of a brother,” he added.

One of the main components of being part of a religious order is living in community, Peterson said, which can be both a challenge and a grace.

“You’re living with people that you don’t get to choose, so you’re talking about different generations of folks, different interests, and the little things like people leaving crumbs behind and not picking up after themselves - things that I think any family struggles with,” he said.

“And so it has its challenges, but there’s also some really neat things,” he said, like the rivalry between the Yankees fans and the Red Sox fans within his own community. Another gift of community life is the universality of the community - there are about 11,000 Capuchin friars all over the world.

“The idea that you have something in common with people you don’t even share a language with is something I’m kind of still in awe of,” he said. “You find ways to share that commonality despite all the differences.”

Together, the community shares common prayer times, including Mass and meditation, in the morning. During the day, each brother serves in his particular ministry, which might take place outside of the friary, as is the case for Peterson, who works as a canon lawyer for the Archdiocese of Boston.

Other brothers serve within the order, either in forming younger friars or other ministries. In the evening, the brothers return home and again have dinner and additional prayer time together.

“Priests are a little bit more independent, they don’t have to live common life, they don’t take the three vows that a religious takes of poverty, chastity and obedience. They promise obedience to their bishop, but they don’t take vows of poverty. They are called to perfect continence but they don’t vow that, although it is one of their obligations,” he said.  

“A lot of people will ask me why aren’t you a priest? You’re smart enough, and so on,” Peterson said.

Ultimately, he said, it comes down to the call from the Lord, who knows what will make each person happy.

“I’d rather be a happy brother,” Peterson said. “I think the world is better served by a happy brother than an unhappy priest.”

What to do if you’re discerning

Peterson said that if he could advise other young people discerning religious life, he would tell them to take their time.

“I think too often we accept people who aren’t ready - they’re either too young or they’re not mature enough yet or they haven’t found their way in life,” Peterson said.

He encouraged young discerners to learn how to be independent, in order to better learn how to be interdependent within a community.

“That was an interesting part of the journey for me. My whole life I’m learning to break away from my family and support myself, and now I have to ask permission to take a car, or I’m given a limited amount of money for the month, things like that,” he said. “So it's learning to become dependent on others, but in a healthy way, not in a childish way.”

Furthermore, he said, maturity and independence are important in order for new members of a community to be able to contribute to the community.

“They often come looking for something rather than being ready to offer something,” Peterson said. “It’s ok to be looking for something but you have to be able to put your gifts and talents at the service of the community.”

He also encouraged anyone discerning to attend vocation weekends, or to read more about the saint or the charism in which they’re interested, to see if it is a good fit for them.

“Once I started reading about St. Francis, it was clear to me that this was the guy I wanted to follow, he understood what religious life was about and was following what Christ was about,” he said.

Ultimately, though, he said he would offer encouragement to those discerning, because following God’s call is the key to happiness in life.

“You can really find fulfillment,” he said. “Obviously if you’re called to something else then that’s where your fulfillment is. I’ve told people before that your happiness and fulfillment is tied up in your vocation, the two are interchangeable.”

“That’s not to say that there won’t be challenges, it’s definitely not going to be easy, but I don’t think the Lord would call us to something where you’d be unhappy,” he said.

He said the life of a brother has been a pleasant surprise, in terms of the freedom he has experienced in what he thought would be a more limited way of life.

“Being a celibate, you have much more freedom to interact with a wide variety of folks, you don’t have that one person that you’re tied to, and as a result, I’m able to be with a lot of different people, and I’ve met some amazing people along the way,” he said.

“It’s a blessed life.”


Coming soon: A virtual tour of the tomb of Jesus

Thu, 11/09/2017 - 05:08

Washington D.C., Nov 9, 2017 / 03:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Next week, the National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C., will open a 3D virtual tour of the Holy Sepulchre, the site of Jesus’ tomb.

While the exhibit will likely draw tourists from around the country, could it also be used as a type of virtual pilgrimage, perhaps for those who are unable to visit the Holy Land in person, due to cost, disability, or other factors?

Yes, says Dr. Anthony Lilles, academic dean and theology professor at Saint John’s Seminary in Camarillo.

Lilles told CNA that the intention is key in making the experience a pilgrimage. “A tourists goes because they are curious, a pilgrim goes for a sacred purpose,” he explained.

“We must not, so to say, stay on the level of surface appearance, but instead allow our imaginations to be baptized by the places we are visiting virtually – thinking about the reality of Christ’s historical presence and what it means for our lives now.”

The three-dimensional tour opens on Nov. 15 in Washington D.C. and will continue until August 15, 2018.

It will give viewers an inside look at one of the most revered spots in Christian history.

Veneration of Christ's burial place dates back to St. Helena in the fourth century, who discovered and identified the tomb. St. Helena’s son, Emperor Constantine, built the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in 326 and enshrined the tomb.

The shelf on which Christ's body was laid is the central point of veneration, which has been encapsulated by a 3-by-5 foot marble structure - the Edicule - since at least 1555.

A year-long restoration of the site was recently completed, and scientists are looking into additional restoration work on the foundation.

The virtual exhibit takes visitors through the history of the holy site and shows the new technologies used in its restoration.

However, Dr. Lilles said the virtual tour offers not only a lesson in history, but an opportunity for a deeper devotion to Christ.

“As beautiful as a virtual exhibit may be, we can be too passive in our engagement with holy places precisely because we are only experiencing them virtually,” he cautioned.

Those who wish to attend the exhibit as a type of spiritual pilgrimage should take careful steps to prepare, he said.

He suggested reading the Gospel accounts of Christ’s passion and resurrection before visiting. Going to station from station in the 3D tour, a pilgrim might choose a prayer or scripture verse to meditate on at each stop.

Additionally, he said, the pilgrimage should be accompanied closely by Mass, confession, and a work of charity. It should culminate with firm resolutions on how to “live differently in light of the mystery of our faith.”

While the spiritual pilgrimage to the D.C. exhibit would not have an indulgence attached to it as other formally recognized pilgrimages do, Lilles said, virtual pilgrimages have been supported by the Vatican before.

“John Paul II once led pilgrims in the footsteps of Abraham from Ur to the Holy Land to Egypt and back to the Holy Land. He wanted to actually go to these places during the Great Jubilee of 2000, but Saddam Hussein refused permission,” he recalled.

“So instead, in the Paul VI audience hall, he led us on a ‘spiritual’ pilgrimage where slides of the sacred sites of Abraham were shown,” and the Pope led prayerful meditations.

With the right mindset and adequate spiritual preparation, Lilles said, a virtual pilgrimage can yield spiritual fruits.

“One who goes as a pilgrim goes to out of devotion to Christ who became a pilgrim for our sake, do penance for his own sins and the sins of our society, to ask for the mercy of God for forgiveness and healing, and to thank God for pouring out His loving kindness.”