Archive | January, 2014

Gimme Shelter, The Pro-Life, Pro-Catholic Film, Big Hollywood tried to Stop

29 Jan

 Gimme Shelter movie poster

After reading this article  in the National Review about how Big Hollywood desperately tried to stop a pro-life film that features James Earl Jones as a pro-life, Catholic priest who helps a troubled, pregnant  teen  by referring her to a shelter for expectant moms run by a devout Catholic, I was convinced that we Catholics need to support the film, Gimme Shelter in large numbers.

Gimme Shelter stars Vanessa Hudgens (remember her from High School Musical) as Apple, a pregnant teenager who flees an abusive mother only to find herself pressured into having an abortion by her estranged wealthy father (played by Brendan Fraser).

Gimme Shelter is based on a true story and was just released this week. Given that the sooner you see a film the more the producers make we need to reward them by seeing this film early and often, and let all our friends know.   We need to let Hollywood know we like seeing movies that show Catholics, especially priests, in a positive light, and we are tired of having to watch re-runs of the Bell of St. Mary’s to get that.

Here’s the trailer on youtube:  Gimme Shelter .  I was moved just by watching it.

The Cry of the Poor

23 Jan

pope francis 6As mentioned in our last installment of our series on Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium, or “EG”), the Holy Father believes that the inclusion of the poor in society is an urgent issue for the Church today. He therefore devotes an entire section of this document (EG 186-216) to this most significant topic.

Pope Francis begins by pointing to our faith in Jesus Christ, who was always close to the poor and outcast, as the basis for our concern for the most forgotten members of society (EG 186). He also quotes several Scripture passages that impel the people of God to hear the cry of the poor in our midst (EG 187). He emphasizes that compassion for the poor is not the concern of only a few, but rather flows from the grace working through the entire body of believers, leading us to think in terms of the good of others and the good of the wider community (EG 188).

What the Pope is calling for is an authentic solidarity that is not only open to the renewal of social structures, but even more to the renewal of our convictions and attitudes (EG 189). He speaks with particular force and urgency regarding the cry of entire peoples: “the mere fact that some people are born in places with fewer resources or less development does not justify the fact that they are living with less dignity” (EG 190). And the goal is not merely “dignified sustenance” for all, but their welfare and prosperity, which includes education, access to healthcare and, above all, employment (EG 192).

We hear the cry of the poor when we are moved by the suffering of others. This must elicit mercy from us (EG 193). “Blessed are the merciful, because they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7). One concrete, biblical expression of mercy toward the poor is almsgiving (cf. Tobit 12:9; Sirach 3:30).

Pope Francis stresses that the Gospel is simple and clear when it comes to our responsibility to be just and merciful to the poor (EG 194). Doctrinal orthodoxy is of no avail if we don’t take to heart this teaching.

For St. Paul, the key criterion of a Christian’s authenticity is whether he remembers the poor (EG 195; cf. Galatians 2:10). The Pope challenges us to “remember” and not allow ourselves to become distracted by the consumerism that surrounds us (EG 196).

God has demonstrated a special love for the poor throughout salvation history, culminating in the coming of the Savior’s embrace of poverty (EG 197). The Church’s tradition bears witness to the fact that the “option for the poor” holds a place of primacy in the exercise of Christian charity. For that reason, the Pope declares “I want a Church which is poor and for the poor” (EG 198). In saying that, the Holy Father is not calling for mere activism, but for loving attentiveness and identification with the poor. When we don’t welcome the poor, the proclamation of the Gospel loses its compelling resonance (EG 199). The Pope also emphasizes that the preferential option for the poor includes spiritual care, which sometimes is lacking (EG 200), and that no one is exempt from the concern for social justice (EG 201).

Pope Francis then discusses the economy and the just distribution of resources. He calls inequality the root of society’s problems. While welfare programs provide temporary solutions, we must address the sources of inequality (EG 202). Clearly economic policies must be based on the dignity of the human person and the pursuit of the common good. We cannot be indifferent toward these concerns, nor can we exploit them through recourse to empty rhetoric (EG 203).

Gone are the days in which we can trust in the “invisible hand of the market” (EG 204). Rather, we must be intentional when it comes to bringing about necessary reform. Therefore, the Pope prays that Lord will grant us politicans who realize that charity is not only inter-personal, but also the principle that must govern our life in society (EG 205). He stresses the value of governments working together, as economic decisions in one part of the world have repercussions elsewhere (EG 206).

Pope Francis here returns to the Church community, and says that the Church has to do its part in reaching out to the poor in action, and not through “unproductive meetings and empty talk” (EG 207). The Holy Father uses strong language through must of the exhortation, which he acknowledges in EG 208, but he affirms his affection for all and his desire for the good of all apart from any personal or political interest.

In the last part of this section, Pope Francis says that since Jesus the Evangelizer identified with the vulnerable, so too must we in our apostolic outreach (EG 209). He then refers to several classes of people who are particularly vulnerable in our present-day circumstance. He mentions the homeless, addicts, refugees, the elderly, and many others. He mentions the particular challenge posed by migrants, noting that he is “the pastor of a Church without frontiers” (EG 210).

The Holy Father expresses particular love and concern for unborn children (EG 211). He says that “it is not ‘progressive’ to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life” (EG 212). In a very pastoral manner, he also affirms that the Church must do more to accompany women in difficult situations, such that abortion does not appear to be the best or only solution in those circumstances.

He concludes by affirming our role as stewards over all of creation (EG 215), and in the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi calls us to watch over and protect the fragile world in which we live, as well as its inhabitants (EG 216).

A Message to College Students

21 Jan

March for LifeYou are survivors. Millions–and I mean millions–of your peers have been legally slaughtered, the victims of the deadly culture war in which we find ourselves.

At the time of Moses and Israel’s slavery in Egypt, and at the time of Jesus and the Holy Innocents, evil forces resorted to the killing of the young in a futile attempt to thwart God’s saving plan for all of humanity.

But that was then and this is now. This is our time. Even more, it is your time. Our God must have big plans for you. Modern-day popes have described these plans as entailing a “new springtime of faith,” the fruit of a massive “new evangelization” aimed at bringing all men and women to Jesus Christ. This effort, already taking shape throughout the world, has raised Satan’s ire to such a degree that he’s resorting to the same tactics he used in Egypt and in Bethlehem, and once again, they’re not going to work. God’s saving plan will not be frustrated, though it will be opposed, and there will likely be casualties.

I wish that your generation could sit back and comfortably live the good life in Tolkien’s Shire. But I have news for you. We’re at war. Your freedom–not simply political and material but even more your religious and spiritual freedom–is something you’re going to have to claim and fight for, or you may as well start waving your white flag. Don’t let the fact that you can’t see the Enemy fool you. Don’t let the fact that many of your friends are oblivious to this epic conflict discourage you. You have some idea as to what we’re up against. Take up the weapons of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, and gird yourself for battle.

To my way of thinking, Satan is attacking your generation largely through his propagation of a secular worldview. What is this worldview saying to you?

Well, the world is telling you that you are disposable. Face it, you’re junk. Aside from your potential classmates and leaders who were legally killed in the womb, the rest of you are valued only for what you do or contribute, and not for who you are. We want only the “perfect kids” who look like Barbie dolls or who have LeBron James’ muscles or Albert Einstein’s intelligence. You’re animals who can’t be expected to exercise self-control, so we cross our fingers and hope you’re “safe.” You’re machines with interchangeable parts that you can cut off, mutilate, adorn, or surgically alter at your whim. When you’re an old dog or your machine-like body gives out, don’t expect us to give you anything but a lethal injection.

I could go on, but the point is that our society doesn’t think much of you. Whether you know it or not, you’re under siege.

But there’s another worldview. It’s the perennial Christian worldview, but it has been articulated with particular poignancy and urgency by the Church since the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).

The Church’s message is that you’re masterpieces. You have the spark of the divine in you. You have God-given dignity, which entails both rights and responsibilities. You have been entrusted with dominion over our world. You have been called to a sublime vocation in Christ as God’s own children by adoption. Making the Lord’s words his own, the Pope calls you to cast out into the deep, to step out bravely in faith. He exhorts you not to be afraid. He beckons you to befriend the poor and the marginalized. He tells you that giving your life to Christ is not only radical, but eminently practical if you want life in abundance.

This courageous message of hope, echoed by the last three popes, explains the Church’s appeal to today’s youth, as evidenced by the massive turn out each year at the March for Life in Washington and local events throughout the country. If you subscribe to the world’s view, you are headed toward ruin. But it is not too late for you. Turn back to the Lord now, with all your heart!

And if you already accept the pope’s worldview, that’s great, but not enough. Now is not the time for armchair Christians. Live your Christian convictions with integrity and zeal, knowing that the Lord calls all of us to lead lives worthy of our calling. Life is not only worth living, but it’s worth living well. May God bless you and strengthen for the great work He sets before you!

I originally published this article ten years ago. Three of my daughters–who were 11, 9, and 6 when I wrote the article–are in Washington right now for the March for Life. Please remember them and all our young pilgrims from across the country in your prayers!

Takin’ It to the Streets

16 Jan

Pope Francis5As we continue our tour of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium, or “EG”), we come to a chapter that clearly is close to the Holy Father’s heart. This chapter is entitled “The Social Dimension of Evangelization” (EG 176-258). He’s clearly very concerned about an impoverished if not distorted approach to evangelization that would downplay the social dimension of the Gospel (EG 176).

Today we will consider the Pope’s reflections on how the heart of the Gospel, or “kerygma,” necessarily has communal and social repercussions (EG 177-85). After all, according to the Holy Father, “the very heart of the Gospel is life in community and engagement with others” (EG 177). This perspective clearly reflects the understanding that authentic faith cannot be separated from our life in the world.

Pope Francis remarkably notes that Christ has not only come to redeem individual persons, but also human relationships (EG 178). There is a profound connection in the Gospel between evangelization and human development. The Holy Father says that our “primary and fundamental response” to God’s love is “to desire, seek, and protect the good of others” (EG 178).

He then goes on to provide strong biblical support for the proposition that fraternal love must go hand in hand with our acceptance of the Gospel. For that reason, we can say that charity is a “constitutive element of the Church’s mission and an indispensable expression of her very being” (EG 179, quoting Pope Benedict XVI). The Church exists to evangelize, which means that the Church exists to radiate the love of Christ to the world, inviting all to a relationship with the living God.

The Holy Father urges us to avoid two extremes when it comes to the Gospel. On the one hand, he says the Gospel is not merely a “me and Jesus” proposition. On the other hand, it’s also not simply about doing random acts of kindness to make us feel good about ourselves. Rather, the Gospel is all about the Kingdom of God (EG 180)! Our very lives must bear witness to the reality that “the Kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15). This kingdom encompasses every aspect of human existence, and it injects supernatural hope into human history (cf. EG 181).

From this perspective, we understand that the Church has so much meaning and depth to offer to everyone. For that reason, the Pope insists that faith cannot “be restricted to the private sphere” or seen as existing only “to prepare souls for heaven” (EG 182). God desires us to experience legitimate “enjoyment” (see 1 Timothy 6:17) in this life as a foretaste of the fullness of happiness prepared for us in heaven. Therefore, our conversion necessarily entails our commitment to work for the common good.

Further, faith cannot be considered an exclusively private matter such that it is excluded from our social lives (EG 183). Our faith impels us to seek to make a difference in the world and work for the just ordering of the society. The Pope insists that the Church cannot be relegated to the sidelines in the fight for justice, as her positive message has much to offer the world today.

Pope Francis readily admits that the apostolic exhortation is about evangelization, not the social doctrine of the Church. For the latter, the Pope heartily recommends the faithful to study the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, especially in light of the many grave social issues confronting the world today (EG 184). He also states the obvious fact that the Church does not have a “one size fits all” solution to the various complex issues we face today. While the Church articulates the operative principles, it is up to the local Church and communities to apply these principles to their unique circumstances.

The Pope ends this section by informing us that he is now going to take up two issues that he believes are most urgent and significant at this moment in human history: the inclusion of the poor in society, and the promotion of peace and social dialogue (EG 185). We will take up those issues in the next installment of this series.

Psalmody to Love

9 Jan

billie hollidayTrivia question (answer at end): What would you have if Billie Holliday came back to life and prayed the Liturgy of the Hours?

I still vividly recall entering a religious community in the mid-1980s. A native of Los Angeles and a fairly recent law school graduate, I knew I was stepping into a very different environment. As I settled into this life, I realized that I was doing many of the same things I had been doing before entering this community. I had already become accustomed to daily Mass and holy hours. The studies (I was preparing for the priesthood) likewise came naturally to a “professional student” like me. And of course the meals and recreation times were very enjoyably spent with the great guys we had in the community.

The one thing that was markedly different for me was praying the Liturgy of the Hours (aka “Divine Office”) at set times each day with the other seminarians and religious. I had owned and used a breviary (a prayer book containing the Liturgy of the Hours) before entering seminary, but the regularity and fervor of this prayer of the Church was the most distinctive–and in many ways the most enriching–aspect of my seminary journey. This attraction to the Liturgy of the Hours has stayed with me ever since.

For that reason, the commitment of deacons and deacon candidates to pray the Liturgy of the Hours has fit me as an old, comfortable shoe as I’ve begun formation for the diaconate here in Kansas City. I especially enjoy the opportunity to pray the Liturgy of the Hours with my awesome brother candidates during our formation weekends and other occasions.

Still, the Church in our time, particularly since the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), has encouraged all Catholics to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. While one may find one-volume and four-volume breviaries at any Catholic bookstore, there are also apps and websites available that add a further element of convenience. I’d also like to mention that my friend Daria Sockey has an excellent blog that gives terrific information and guidance to anyone who would like to take up this beautiful prayer of the Church.

Okay, here’s the answer to the trivia question: Psalm Sung Blue (Yes, my wife didn’t laugh either.) Lord, have mercy on me in your kindness . . .

Going Deeper

7 Jan

Pope as CatechistAfter a Christmas hiatus, it is time to continue our overview of Pope Francis’ apostolic letter on the new evangelization (Evangelii Gaudium, or “GE”).

When most people think of “evangelization,” they think of the initial proclamation of the Gospel (the technical term is “kerygma”), that invites people to a new relationship with Christ.

Yet, as Pope Francis points out, when Christ sent out His apostles as missionaries, He gave them this instruction: “Teach them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). The Holy Father sees in this instruction the need for ongoing formation and maturation, what we traditionally call “catechesis” (GE 160), which is part of the larger process of evangelization.

For those of us familiar with CCD and School of Religion programs, we must admit that sometimes we think of catechesis as primarily intellectual formation—a “class” that one has to attend. Yet the Holy Father is clear that catechesis is not primarily doctrinal, but about growing in grace and virtue (GE 161), recognizing that it is always the Lord who initiates the process (GE 162).

Pope Francis acknowledges the normative role of Church teaching on catechesis (GE 163), but offers further reflections that are significant for our time. One point of emphasis is the heart of the Gospel, the kerygma, which is both Trinitarian and Christ-centered. Just because it comes “first” doesn’t mean it can be forgotten later (GE 164). Rather, all catechesis must continually circle back to the heart of the message, which means that God’s saving love must be stressed ahead of religious and moral obligations (GE 165).

Pope Francis emphasizes the role of mystagogic catechesis, which is catechesis that is liturgical and involves the entire community (EG 166). This is just one more way that the Pope is emphasizing the need for catechetical formation that affects the entire person (not just a “head trip”) and one’s environment or culture. Like Pope Benedict, Pope Francis emphasizes the role of beauty in catechesis, including new forms or modes of beauty that are meaningful to today’s seekers (cf. EG 167). Catechesis also has a moral component, and the Holy Father decidedly prefers a joyful, positive approach that presents the moral life as the quest for authentic wisdom, self-fulfillment, and enrichment (EG 168)

Perhaps the most striking insight that the Holy Father gives us in this section is his call that all members of the Church be initiated in the “art of accompaniment” (EG 169), which in some ways reminds me of some of the writings of Blessed John Paul II, especially Crossing the Threshold of Hope.  This simply means that the Church needs people who can help lead others closer to God (EG 170). Those who serve as spiritual mentors must be good listeners (EG 171), fostering spiritual growth and the development of virtues in a spirit of patience and compassion (EG 171-72). Also, spiritual accompaniment isn’t an end in itself, but is part of the Church’s never-ending mission to bring the Gospel to the world. As the Holy Father says, “Missionary disciples accompany missionary disciples” (EG 173).

Pope Francis ends this section of the apostolic exhortation by stressing that Sacred Scripture is at the heart of all Church activity (EG 174). The Church evangelizes only to the extent she continually allows herself to be evangelized through the ministry of the Word. For that reason, the Pope invites all believers to become intimately familiar with Scripture, which he calls a “sublime treasure” (EG 175).

Pope Francis’ Intentions for January

3 Jan

ecumenism2Following are the Intentions of our Holy Father Pope Francis for the month of January, courtesy of the Apostleship of Prayer:

  • Economic Development.   That all may promote authentic economic development that respects the  dignity of all peoples.
  • Christian Unity.   That Christians of diverse denominations may walk toward the unity  desired by Christ.

January is always a good month to pray for Christian unity, given the fact that Christian Unity Week is usually observed toward the end of the month.  January is also a good month to pray for the end of legalized abortion in this country and for a renewed respect for all human life, in observance of the anniversary of Roe v. Wade on January 22, 2014. For more information on that, check out the March for Life site.