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Christianity in a Post Religious Culture

Many scholars speak of the “Post Christian” world and ask how “religion” and “faith” should fit into this world. I think that these designations reveal the prejudices of such scholars. As a Christian myself, I think it much less provincial, and much more vital, to ask “what place does Christianity have in a Post Religious culture?” For the last century-and-a-half, culture has chosen to ignore religion in general. It is not the first time in human history that the gods have been thus ignored. Nor do I think that it is attributable to any doctrine besides that of the Fall. The more humanity gains knowledge of evil, the more it is aware of its own nakedness in a sea of threats. So, as in Genesis 3, it becomes afraid and it hides from God.

This “hiding from God” is what most characterizes the present circumstances. It is not, as far as I can tell, that humanity is any more optimistic about its fate. If that were the case, the argument could be made (and some sociologists do maintain this argument), that humanity has “progressed” or “advanced” beyond its need for reliance on the uncertain spiritual myths of ages past. This bland answer fails to take into account the extreme angst of the two world wars, the nuclear age, the digital age and the socio-economic unrest of the last 100 years. It does not seem that humanity has any reason to be more optimistic than she was just prior to the beginning of the 1914. In fact, hindsight being 20/20, it is a wonder that she has any optimism left at all.

I do not think that we can blame this “flight from God,” this fugo Dei, on mere secularism. Mere secularism has always been around. There has always been an element of culture and society that has looked at God, religion and prayer as a waste of time. Quite often, it has been a large element. It has always been a rich and influential element. Many of the aristocrats of the late middle ages & early Enlightenment were just as “worldly” as the present day upper-lower-middle class first-worlder. The difference, I believe, lies not in what a secularist believes (or claims not to believe), but rather in how a secularist lives. It is the lived-contradiction of the old aristocrats that makes them different from the contemporary secularist. The old secularist still gave lip service to God, faith and the like, even if they were an utter Philistine behind closed doors. Contemporary secularists is of a much less duplicitous mind. They will proudly proclaim their agnosticism. They go out of their way to make it clear that they could are less about the existence of an Eternal Truth.

The new skeptics cannot forgot about God, but desperately desire to seem like the whole question of His existence is somehow “beneath” them. Here, I believe is the significant point of departure between the Old and New secularist and what makes the new secularist truly “post religious.” The new secularists are determined
to remain undetermined. If told they had to reveal their naked conscience, they would rather walk through the streets naked (and most explicitly choose this latter option…at least, they do here in New Orleans). Their logic: in order to “do business” in this society, they must be perceived as a tolerant, open-minded, quasi-educated 21st century person. Religious conviction of any sort gets in the way this goal. Therefore, they pretend not to care about truth, faith and the question of God’s existence. Their posture, or pose, allows the secularist to meet with the least social friction as possible. It is “cool” to be a slightly sympathetic agnostic skeptic. It gives you access to the most wealth and opportunity with the least resistance.

The funny thing about this state of affairs is that these new secularists do NOT disavow sin. They are just as keen on “social justice” as ever, even if they ignore Divine Mercy. They might act as if Heaven is empty, but they still seem quite frightened at the prospect of Hell. This is why it is best to refer to this period, not simply as “post Christian” but “post religious.” It lacks that most vital quality of any religion: hope. The secularists of this age know quite well that the world might be going to Hell in a hand basket. They can be just as scathing a social critic as any Christian preacher or Jewish prophet ever was, and have just as dire predictions about the fate of humanity. The difference between the secularist and the believer, however, is that the believer still looks to heaven on the horizon.

All this to say, there seems to me no need to be intimidated by the dreams of the contemporary secularist attitude. It is a ghastly depressing thing that says that humanity’s greatest hope revolves around comfort and convenience. They imagine we live in a paradise of spas and smartphones…and nothing more. It is their despair that should shock us and move us, not to fear, but to a strong and persistent pity. Therefore we must, as Pope Francis has said, be the field hospital. We must make hope our banner. Yes, these are depressing times, but not for the Christian or religious person. Rather, the post religious period is most depressing for the secularist. Their hope has been extinguished and they pray not for dawn. Its a good thing, then, that we are the light of the world…

#popefrancislife

My students have gotten me in the habit of putting #life at the end of any description or tale that involves irony, paradox, awkwardness or humility (ie: those things that the world considers to be mere inconveniences, but in which are contained the meaning of existence). #life, unlike its distant cousin #yolo, is something a of real philosophical sentiment. It alludes to the fact that life is almost predictable. Just when you think you have life figured out and under control, your tire pops on the way to a job interview, you trip and fall in front of that attractive new co-worker, you sleep in late thinking its Sunday…only to remember it is actually Monday. Life is intelligible, but that intelligibility makes it none-the-less unpredictable. In fact, #life is nothing more than expressing that most shared of human experiences: that the only real rule in reality is to expect the unexpected.

As usual, GKC put it better than I;
The real trouble with this world of ours is not that it is an unreasonable world, nor even that it is a reasonable one. The commonest kind of trouble is that it is nearly reasonable, but not quite. Life is not an illogicality; yet it is a trap for logicians. It looks just a little more mathematical and regular than it is;its exactitude is obvious, but its inexactitude is hidden; its wildness lies in wait. (Orthodoxy)

Indeed, what could be more Orthodox than to wake up and realize that a God more rational and loving than you made the universe? What could be more #life? Reality should make perfect sense, but when we try to explain it, we always miss some critical step, trip, fall and end up upside-down. #life

The real misunderstanding, though, is not with the universe. #life, by its very nature, implies that there is something wrong with those that have life. And those that have life are not the objective rules of reality, but us. Pope Francis, with all his talk on sin, healing, Satan and holiness, seems keenly aware of this. In his interview last Thursday, his allusion to the Church as a ‘field hospital’ can only be interpreted in this way. Whether its due to his American upbringing, his Jesuit formation, his contact with contemporary issues or sheer grace of the Holy Spirit, Pope Francis understands #life better than many of the young people who have popularized this slogan.

And he’s up to something. It was not without calculation that he released an interview about finding a new balance in the Church’s theology on abortion but two days before addressing a group of Catholic gynecologists in Rome. On Thursday he surprises the world by saying our Prolife stance can be over-emphasized…and then on Saturday he says that the unborn “bear the face of Jesus Christ,” a strongly emphatic Prolife statement! Is the Pope pastorally self-contradictory? Or is he driving at something deeper.

Could it be that he knows that the root of the Church’s stagnation is a certain spiritual pride, a certain evangelical laxity? Is it that, for too long, Catholics and Christians have spouted their favorite doctrines without applying them in charity? Could it be that the Pope is saying and doing these things, not so much to surprise the media, as to unsettle complacent Christians? After all, he certainly has got our attention. When was the last time we listened this much to the Pope? The world, for its part, can’t seem to figure him out. But it seems to me that he’s got the world figured out. And he’s got us figured out to. And I think he aims to do something about it. So, if you were happy being a back-pew Catholic and coasting along not having to explain or explore your faith, get ready: this Pope is pulling the pew right out from under you. #life #popefrancislife

OMG! St. Paul Endorsed Slavery! (Or, Why Hasty Political Exegesis Shouldn’t Alarm Us)

Recently, many highly public Christians have endorsed gay marriage by citing the concept of the ‘development’ of Christian theology since the time of Scripture’s authorship. Kevin Rudd, an Australian politician, gave the most recent example when asked by a pastor why he didn’t believe the words of Scripture on this topic; “Well mate, if I was going to have that view, the Bible also says that slavery is a natural condition…because St. Paul said in the New Testament, slaves should be obedient to (their) masters. And therefore we should have all fought for the Confederacy in the US Civil War.” (BBC News, Sept 3, 2013). I cannot in so small a place do justice to so wide a topic as the Christian theology on human sexuality. However, since there is some precedence for blogs being used for Bible Study, I can quickly address the strange ignorance of Scriptural theology that the above statement represents.

To do justice to Mr. Rudd’s position (a position he shares with our very own Barack Obama and Chris Christie), the logic seems to follow this path: St. Paul, as a man of his day, presented Christianity in a world where both slavery and homosexuality fell into certain social categories, the former acceptable and the latter unacceptable. In order to present the Gospel in such a way so as to be palatable to the people of his time (and perhaps to be presentable to his own conscience), St. Paul merely presumed upon the necessity of these social mores and neglected to fully challenge their legitimacy in the light of the gospel. Therefore, it has taken millennia for the Christian people to ‘progress’ beyond the original inhibitions of St. Paul and the Apostles in order to fully realize their gospel of love. With the aid of contemporary psychological science and liberal democracy, we are now able to overcome these prejudices of the first Christians.

First off, this bland version of ‘progressive theology’ hardly does justice to the story of Scripture itself. Did St. Paul, as a devout Jew, look approvingly on the social institution of slavery? Most certainly not! The whole story of the Jewish faith is of a God who saves the Children of Israel from the “cruel slavery” of Egypt.(Ex 1:13, 6:5, 20:2; Dt 6:12, 7:8) The Jewish law, whom Paul was an expert in, is composed in light of a mercy toward slaves “for you were once slaves in the land of Egypt.” (See Lv 25:39-42, Dt 5:15; 15:15, 23:16, 24:18-22) And while it is true that the Old Testament fails to challenge slavery as a social institution, it would be incorrect to assume that it thusly taught to embrace slavery as such. St Paul knew that the the Old Testament theology, speaking “in partial and varied ways,” (Hb 1:1) could not in-and-of-itself end all injustices. Remember: it is not until the New Testament that God’s people are ordered to spread the morality of Monotheism beyond the borders of Israel. Until the coming of Christ, the assumption was the Polytheists experience “conflicting thoughts in their hearts” yet failed to repent were to be judged accordingly. (See Rm 14-16) Therefore, if St. Paul did indeed endorse a “theology of slavery,” then, Scripturally speaking, it indicated that a retrogression and NOT a progression had occurred from Old to New Testament!

Yet, St. Paul (and St. Peter, for that matter) happily and repeatedly called himself a “slave of Christ Jesus.” (Rm 1:1, Gal 1:10, Phil 1:7; Titus 1:1) This would be a radical thing for a Jew to say, and not the least because 1st century Pharisees were fond of pointing out that they had “never been enslaved to anyone.”(See John 8:33). Even a cursory glance at St. Paul’s writing reveals his strange affinity for the state of slavery. Beyond begging slaves to be “subject to their masters” (Eph 6:5; the phrase ‘subject to’ is difficult to translate from the Greek. It seems to indicate “a loving acceptance of” or a “filial obedience to”), St. Paul also asks for children and wives to act the same way towards the head of the family (Eph 5:22, 6:1; Col 3:20), for Christians to be “subject to one another out of reverence for Christ”(Eph 5:21) while always remaining respectful of the presbyters, bishops and leaders. (See Rm 13:7; 1 Thess 5:12; 1 Tim 5:19 Heb 13:17[not written by St. Paul, but in his tradition]) In fact, it seems that, according to this reading, St. Paul wanted everybody to be slaves to everybody else!

One could argue, however, that the above examples simply represent St. Paul’s pastoral zeal. Accordingly, he didn’t envision the Church entering into an official state of mutual slavery so much as a Christian love that takes the form of interdependent servitude. Such a pastoral exhortation only reveals that Paul, like Christ, was willing to use profane metaphors to make spiritual points. (See Matt 12:29, Luke 14:31) That line of thought may be true. However, the most glaring exception to that rule would be the short but terribly important letter to Philemon, in which Paul explicitly sends Onesimus, an escaped slave, back to his master. Both Onesimus and Philemon are Christians, and therefore equal in the eyes of the Church. Nonetheless, St. Paul orders Onesimus to return to his master rather than asking for his release. This must be taken as, in the very least, a passive acceptance of the social institution of slavery itself. However, when we look beyond the action itself and read the words of St. Paul, something strange appears. St. Paul begs for mercy from Philemon, seeming to place the blame on himself as a “prisoner of Jesus Christ.” (Phm 1:8-10) Next, he states that his ‘usefulness’ is now characterized by the relationship of love in Christ (v 11) and that Onesimus is Paul’s very heart (v. 12). Finally in verse 17, St. Paul entirely self-identifies with Onesimus, asking Philemon to accept him not as a slave but as a ‘partner’ in Christ. One could call this the first example of a theology of ‘solidarity,’ a very progressive stance indeed!

So is St. Paul’s theology ‘progressive’ or ‘traditional?’ Was it open to further development? And as it regards ‘social ethics,’ does it represent the final word of Christian theology?

Such questions, though popular, hardly seem as important in the light of the questions we could now raise: What is mutual subjection? What is ‘slavery in Christ?’ How am I to live so as to be ‘the heart’ of my fellow Christians? Such speculation represents a very brief look at St. Paul’s theological perspective on slavery. It is by no mean exhaustive, but it should at least be unsettling. I leave you with no direct answers, but only with a warning: it is a terrible mistake to assume that the ancient Christian Saints knew less about love than we do. To try to read Scripture in light of contemporary morals and cultural change is to become guilty of the very thing you accuse the Scriptural author of being: namely, a close-minded child of the current age. In contrast, wouldn’t it be better for a Christian to assent to the truth our teaching on human rights has remained solidly on the side of charity since the time of St. Paul? From that perspective, we take his words and actions as an example. We are called to ‘self-identify’ with all people without ever using political or social powers as a means to override the Gospel.

One final word on St. Paul’s theology. Far from being a personal reflection of a learned Christian, it is an essential part of the Deposit of Faith and, along with the words of Peter, John, James and Jude, represents an inexhaustible treasure of Christian truth. To dismiss or defend it with mere soundbites is to do an injustice to Divine Revelation, and to Jesus Christ himself. If this blog represents the briefest of reflections that can occur in good conscience, we should neither be inspired or upset about the off hand comments of an upset politician. Their ‘theology’ is as nothing compared to the vast Revelation that is offered us in the Gospel of Christ. It would be wise to look to Him before looking anywhere else.

“Fran-ces-co! Fran-ces-co!” (Or, Our World Upside Down)

In his famous biography of St. Francis of Assisi, GKC’s on-going metaphor is that the founder of the mendicants was more like the virtuoso of an artistic movement than the father of a religious order. His central image is that of Francis coming out the cave after receiving the Stigmata like an artist looking at the world upside down. So striking was this visual that Mumford & Son’s decided to write a song about it. So striking was St. Francis’ “artistic vision” that pilgrims, provinces, peoples and now Popes are righting wrongs according to it.

And indeed, with the election of Pope Francis, it has felt like our world has turn upside down. The Catholic Church, which one week ago was the object of annoyance to the every-man and a subject of scorn in the press, is now led by the “freshest,” “simplest” and “warmest” of individuals. He asked Rome to pray over him. He spurs limos and greets parishioners at the door. He holds “story-time” in Paul VI Auditorium. He laughs at slightest provocation. He leaves flowers at side altars like “a pilgrim among pilgrims.” And all this before he has even been installed as Bishop of Rome. The media (for the time being) has had nothing but nice things to say, even going out of their way to exonerate him from accusations that he was complacent during the Dirty War. News reporters smile confidently talking about the “Franciscan Reform” that has already begun. In short, Catholics went from being troglodytes to trendy all thanks to their new Pope. It matters not however long or short lived this perception in the press will last. All media perceptions are short lived in the grand scheme of things. I merely wish to highlight the contrast from how things were just seven days ago.

I would like to get back to St. Francis & Chesterton, though, because there is another part of this story that you will not find in newspapers or on TV. The press, for all their virtues, is ignoring the most profound part of Francis’ papacy just as they always misunderstand the most profound heart of St. Francis of Assisi. For Francis did not “rebuild the Church” so as to appeal to the public forum. In fact, GKC dwells on this story in his biography because he believes that it is the key to understanding why St. Francis did what he did. When the son of Assisi rebuilt the church there, it angered the public forum greatly. Far from popularizing his cause, the outcry of the people almost ended it prematurely. Then, as legend has it, Francis stripped before the crowd, wrapped himself in the bishop’s cope and claimed to belong entirely to the Church. St. Francis never saw himself as some outside reformer sent to rebuild the Church. He pictured himself in the very heart of the Church, surrounded by its splendor and apostolic tradition, yet simple and naked underneath it all. He saw himself as a faithful son doing chores for his Heavenly Father. I am certain that, regardless of public opinion, this is exactly how our new Pope Francis sees himself as well.

This is why I am excited: Francis sees himself as our brother. I chant his name, “Fran-ces-co,” as if I were calling on a sibling. The Franciscans took the name “friar” from the Latin “Fray” for “brother” or “frater.” The Franciscans were the first fraternity. They were the first “bros.” Their strength came from inclusion and cohesion, not outside manipulation. When Pope Francis reforms the Curia (as he most certainly will) it will not be because it has become too fraternal. It is because, with its careerism & constriction  the Curia has not been fraternal enough. He will trim and prune the branches of our Church, both at the Vatican and the Church’s other cities, according to the truer fraternity that he referenced in his opening address last week. From the porch of St. Peter’s, our new Pope has called for a return to brotherly love. Rome is now a “philadelpia.” Perhaps all Christians might start calling each other “brother” and “sister” upon Papal authority, the way Franciscans titled Brother Moon and Sister Sky on the authority of their founder. In any event, Pope Francis has inaugurated a new era in our Catholic Faith. What that new era will look like particularly is still anybody’s guess. But, in general, it should be obvious that our new Pope has not come so much as to divide as to unite. He has seen that the rich comfortable Church, too close to the world and too intimidated by its voices, was a Church upside down. In calling for a poor, simple, fraternal Church, he has flipped us right-side up again.

Of Resignation and Self Gift

“Mr. Lacourrege, can the Pope retire?” This was the question posed to me last Tuesday during my C period class. Its a group of about 30 freshmen, and Konnor Gaubert is one of the more curious of the bunch.

“Yes, Konnor, the Pope can retire, if he wants. Historically, its happened a couple of times before.”

“Do you think it will happen again, Mr. Lacourrege?”

“Well, certainly it could, but for the last six centuries or so, the attitude of the Popes has been to die with their boots on. You know, to keep the job until they pass away?”

“But do you think it could happen today, Mr. Lacourrege.”

“Probably not, Konnor. I mean, in today’s world, its highly unlikely that the Pope would ‘retire.’ Especially the current Pope. He’s a work-a-holic German.”

“So you really don’t think it could happen.”

“No, Konnor, I don’t. Now lets move on.”

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahhahhahahaha.

Heaven has the most vengeful sense of humor, especially when dealing with proud and impatient men such as myself. It is a great comfort to know that the Pope is neither proud nor impatient. It is my supreme hope that the next Pope follows in Benedict’s footsteps in this regard. Really, though, I woke up this morning feeling more proud to be a Catholic than I have ever felt in my life. The media has, as usual, put a completely wrong spin on the thing. They say he is stepping down because of political pressure (which is certainly not true). They say that the butler scandal has taken a toll on him (which may be true). Of course, fact is always stranger than fiction;

“I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to steer the ship of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.”
“For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.”

This short statement might be one of the most profound things the Pope has ever written on vocation. I say this well aware of the many profound things that he has already written on vocation. Yet in so simple a statement, with words that qualify his action, the Pope explains that he feels no longer capable of praying and suffering and acting and speaking for the Flock of Christ. He cites age, not politics. He cites weakness, not scandal. In short, he says that he is unable to make a full gift of self, and that is why he is stepping down.
The sheer sanity of the Catholic faith can be missed by those who are not looking for it. Our Papa has just admitted that he is too old to sail the Ship. Its as simple a statement as could have been made by an 84 year old shrimper on Bayou St. John. Heck, it could have been made by St. John the fishermen! It could have been made by St. Peter the fishermen. That’s the whole point of this event. Sometimes, a teacher gives the wrong answer to a question. Sometimes a Pope runs out of strength. And when we do, the Holy Spirit is cool with it. He’s totally ready for it. He knows better than anyone that we hold this treasure in earthen vessels. Because the Church is more earthy than the world, the world misunderstands Her. The world assumes that a man only relinquishes power when power is wrestled from him. The Church, on the other hand, knows the natural law: when a man can no longer give, his giving up is not defeat, but victory for those to whom he gives. Pope Benedict XVI has not died physically, but his resignation represents a spiritual death that will bear fruit for us, his children. Now, excuse me: I must prepare a lesson plan in which I die to self, apologize and reward the curiosity of Konnor Gaubert.

Of Saints and Sinners

At times, the tension of the Saints 2009 ‘super’ season was difficult to watch. Years of faith, hope and expectation culminated in an amazing dash for the Lombardi trophy. In our very own New Orleans Superdome, the sight of unprecedented destruction and disaster only 4 years before, the city watched as Sean Payton, Greg Williams, Jonathan Vilma, Tracy Porter and countless others did the impossible. We went to the Superbowl. We won the Superbowl. It all seemed too good to be true.

And it was.

In the last 24 hours, the NFL has revealed that their investigation of the New Orleans Saints has uncovered a history of corruption and cover-up on a Watergate/Spygate scale. While welcoming such football legends as Kurt Warner and Brett Farve into our stadium, coaches and players placed illegal bounties on their heads. The hard hits in those games, hits that virtually sidelined our most talented opponents, were fueled by more than just spirit: they were fueled by a cash flow. Greg Williams encouraged it. Sean Payton and Tom Benson knew about it, and did little to stop it. The crime was bad. The cover up was worse.

As difficult as it was to watch the Saints finally make it to victory, it is now even more difficult to watch this scandal unfold. Difficult in an entirely different way. Difficult in a way that makes it appropriate to discuss this in a spiritual way. The Saints, true to their namesakes, have become spiritual inspiration in this city. Payton, Benson and their comrades were made quasi-religious icons in this culturally Catholic city. We’ve attended Mass with them, seen them lead prayer breakfasts. We’ve waited in line for them to sign their books, but we’ve also watched them receive blessings from local ministers, Louisiana bishops and even the Pope. The NFL bestowed the Lombardi trophy upon them and, for our part, we bestowed something of a halo. They were heroes on the field and off: winning games, supporting charities and renewing our sense of hope and dignity. We had faith in them, faith in the full sense of that word. That faith is now reeling in doubt. What do we do with this? These men were hallmarks of integrity. They weren’t just lucky: they were good. We’ve discovered that some of them were just lucky and bad. Now, their luck has run out. And we who believed in them, are struggling to make sense of it all.

Lent in New Orleans has never been that big of a sacrifice. The seafood is good. There are a lot of festivals to distract us. Yet we all know that there is much we need to do penance for. With a consistently high crime rate, perennial public scandals and a ‘culture of violence’ that our Catholic mayor and Archbishop have decried, this should be a time of soul searching. Apparently that culture of violence is not limited to the Ninth Ward: it has infected our beloved Superdome as well. Paying bounties to knock revivals off is bad enough among drug dealers. Among NFL players, it’s just shocking.

That’s what we know thus far. So now, we pray. We fast. We repent. No, this isn’t just Catholic guilt extrapolated into the sphere of sports. Payton and Benson received the same ashes on their foreheads that we did last Wednesday. And those ashes are not an empty symbol. Nor are they just an emotional expression. They are the remains of last years palm branches. They are what is left over after the biggest parade in the church’s liturgy, when Christ rode into Jerusalem and was hailed as a king. We threw just such a parade for these men. Now, we must face the truth and wear the ashes. The difference, of course, is that Christ was innocent when, a week later, he was put on trial. These men may not be. Nonetheless, we must pray for mercy. Yes, pray. They are not just NFL leaders: they are our brothers in Christ. This is the season to love them more than we do during the football season. This is the season to change our ways, to become better and to look to a prize greater than the Lombardi trophy, that perishable crown. Don’t get me wrong. I love football. I am a Saint’s fan. I will remain a Saint’s fan. But, first and foremost, I am a Christian watching my fellow Christians endure tribulation. And I will pray them through it.

Called to be Saints in the New Millemium

 This is taken from the Holy Father’s speech to Students Yesterday.

It is not often that a Pope, or indeed anyone else, has the opportunity to speak to the students of all the Catholic schools of England, Wales and Scotland at the same time. And since I have the chance now, there is something I very much want to say to you. I hope that among those of you listening to me today there are some of the future saints of the twenty-first century. What God wants most of all for each one of you is that you should become holy. He loves you much more than you could ever begin to imagine, and he wants the very best for you. And by far the best thing for you is to grow in holiness.
Perhaps some of you have never thought about this before. Perhaps some of you think being a saint is not for you. Let me explain what I mean. When we are young, we can usually think of people that we look up to, people we admire, people we want to be like. It could be someone we meet in our daily lives that we hold in great esteem. Or it could be someone famous. We live in a celebrity culture, and young people are often encouraged to model themselves on figures from the world of sport or entertainment. My question for you is this: what are the qualities you see in others that you would most like to have yourselves? What kind of person would you really like to be?
When I invite you to become saints, I am asking you not to be content with second best. I am asking you not to pursue one limited goal and ignore all the others. Having money makes it possible to be generous and to do good in the world, but on its own, it is not enough to make us happy. Being highly skilled in some activity or profession is good, but it will not satisfy us unless we aim for something greater still. It might make us famous, but it will not make us happy. Happiness is something we all want, but one of the great tragedies in this world is that so many people never find it, because they look for it in the wrong places. The key to it is very simple – true happiness is to be found in God. We need to have the courage to place our deepest hopes in God alone, not in money, in a career, in worldly success, or in our relationships with others, but in God. Only he can satisfy the deepest needs of our hearts.
Not only does God love us with a depth and an intensity that we can scarcely begin to comprehend, but he invites us to respond to that love. You all know what it is like when you meet someone interesting and attractive, and you want to be that person’s friend. You always hope they will find you interesting and attractive, and want to be your friend. God wants your friendship. And once you enter into friendship with God, everything in your life begins to change. As you come to know him better, you find you want to reflect something of his infinite goodness in your own life. You are attracted to the practice of virtue. You begin to see greed and selfishness and all the other sins for what they really are, destructive and dangerous tendencies that cause deep suffering and do great damage, and you want to avoid falling into that trap yourselves. You begin to feel compassion for people in difficulties and you are eager to do something to help them. You want to come to the aid of the poor and the hungry, you want to comfort the sorrowful, you want to be kind and generous. And once these things begin to matter to you, you are well on the way to becoming saints.
In your Catholic schools, there is always a bigger picture over and above the individual subjects you study, the different skills you learn. All the work you do is placed in the context of growing in friendship with God, and all that flows from that friendship. So you learn not just to be good students, but good citizens, good people. As you move higher up the school, you have to make choices regarding the subjects you study, you begin to specialize with a view to what you are going to do later on in life. That is right and proper. But always remember that every subject you study is part of a bigger picture. Never allow yourselves to become narrow. The world needs good scientists, but a scientific outlook becomes dangerously narrow if it ignores the religious or ethical dimension of life, just as religion becomes narrow if it rejects the legitimate contribution of science to our understanding of the world. We need good historians and philosophers and economists, but if the account they give of human life within their particular field is too narrowly focused, they can lead us seriously astray.
A good school provides a rounded education for the whole person. And a good Catholic school, over and above this, should help all its students to become saints. 

 Let us join in the great hope of the Holy Father.  His hope is that he is speaking to some future English saints.  He calls them out at the very beginning.  You are called to be saints, don’t settle for something less.  He challenges the celebrity cult.  His goal is to refocus the youth on the saints.  He doesn’t want us to settle for created things what he prudently calls, “second best.”  Happiness is found only in God.  He invites the youth to friendship with God, what St. Thomas Aquinas called one of the greatest goals of human life.  Friendship with God helps us to see the truth of things in humility.  
The pope knows the scientific outlook is strong in England, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Stephen Hawking being its prime examples.  He warns them of the narrow outlook of scientific mentality.  He calls it dangerously narrow, cataracts on the intellect.  

Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover

Handbook for Ministers of Care by Genevieve Glen, OSB, Marilyn Kofler, SM, and Kevin E. O’Connor

This book was written for laity new to ministry of any kind, but especially to the unique and difficult ministry of visiting the sick.

Judging by a cover such as the one you see, worry is probable. I worry about books with such abstract drawings. These show up in various part of the book almost insultingly as if lay people can’t read a book without pictures. I didn’t particularly find the images even helpful in illustrating a point the authors were making.
In the first chapter, the writers made sweeping generalizations without backing them up. This book was written for people discerning such a ministry so it is written simply and matter of factly. However, one could give one historical example to back the claim, “{Ministry of care} was a ministry open to all the baptized that gradually, through the ages, became a ministry for priests and religious, especially those who established and served in hospitals,” (4). That might be true be a pastor or supervisor might not have the same historical theological background as the authors. One cannot take such a statement without some evidence. This happens a few more times where the authors make blanket statements such as the previous one.
The writing style is colloquial. This brings across the points the authors mean to make, and it makes for a clear and easy read. However, the colloquial style surrender theological clarity a few times using common phrases that can leave ambiguity.
If one who recommends it is aware of its shortcomings and properly explains things, it is a great source for those visiting the sick. It is very practical and helpful in providing someone with a good solid base knowledge of visiting the sick. It gives practical guides on how to order a visit. It goes through the liturgy of a communion visit. It goes through special cases that someone might or probably will run into. I found the entry on demetia and alzheimer’s disease to be very enlightening. It is good resource for someone visiting the sick to have.

The Ministry of Absence

So for several years now we’ve been hearing about this thing called ministry of presence, when you’re “there for people” in their time of need and minister simply by being there…more or less. With that stuck in my head as a common model of ministry, you can imagine my confusion when I read through Henri Nouwen’s book A Living Reminder and find him talking about a ‘Ministry of Absence’. I immediately went “HUH?!” As I read on it made sense though. So often we feel we have to be with people to comfort them that we forget that it is God who actually does the work in the person. Nouwen’s point is that just as Christ had to leave this world to send the Holy Spirit down upon us, so to in ministry must we know when to leave the person in the hands of God and allow the Holy Spirit to descend upon them and begin the healing that only the Hand of God can work. There was more in the book than just that one concept, but that is the thing that stuck out to me as I read through so I wrote on that. The book was a quick read, coming in at under 75 pages long in the big-margin, 1.5 spacing print (gotta love it!). Decent book; though I wasn’t entirely sure how it all came together as a whole…the pieces were nice.

WIT


Although we typically focus on books and such for this blog, I felt compelled to write about something else today… I guess it falls under the “other tidbits” category.

As part of my chaplaincy program here in Orlando, we do a variety of activities aimed at helping us to become better chaplains/pastors. One such exercise was done this morning, in the form of a movie. The film was called “WIT” and starred Emma Thompson; it was originally a play, written by Margaret Edson. It ran about an hour and a half and at the end, half the people in the room were crying. Even I felt like I should have been shedding a few tears. It was certainly yanking on my heart-strings like few movies can. The story is about a woman who undergoes treatment for ovarian cancer and illustrates her experience of the hospital and staff, among other things. At the end of the film, the five of us just sat there unable to say a single word as the credits rolled past. After watching it, it made me seriously consider what it is that I do when I go meet with patients. I would strongly suggest that everyone watch this movie. It’s not just about a woman’s battle with cancer – it is much much more.