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S+L on the road: The Vietnamese Connection

Portrait of Bishop Dominic Mary Ho-Ngoc-Can, founder of the Daughters of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary

My time in New Orleans has yielded many interesting stories, one of these is the role that the Archdiocese of New Orleans played in receiving refugees after the Vietnam war. At the request of Archbishop Philip Hannan the Daughters of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary moved from Philadelphia (where they were studying) to New Orleans to build up and support the Vietnamese community as they made their way in America.

We’ll explore that story line more in the series, but for now, I’ll share this article featured in America magazine. It’s an interview with Bishop Luong, the first and only Vietnamese American Catholic bishop. In the article, he speaks about his work among Vietnamese refugees and the continuing importance of the Rosary in Vietnamese family life today.

Sr Sandy Nguyen, Daughters of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary of Chi Hoa welcomes us.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves! Here’s a tidbit of info that my guide (and gracious host) Dr. Barbara Fleischer of Loyola Institute for Ministry pointed out to me on our drive over to visit the Daughters of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary.

Here, Sr. Sandy Nguyen gives us a quick tour of the Motherhouse.

S+L On The Road: The Producer Diaries
In this blog series S+L producer, Cheridan Sanders shares her experiences developing an original S+L television series featuring seven women religious communities located in Africa, the Philippines, Timor-Leste and the United States. The globe-trotting series invites viewers to delight in the spiritual gifts of each of community and witness the extraordinary work of: educating girls, ministering to outcasts, sheltering HIV orphans, preventing human trafficking, taking care of the elderly, and so much more. The time is now to show the world how magnificent our Sisters are! The new series is an exciting collaboration with the Loyola Institute for Ministry in New Orleans and is made possible through a $900 000 dollar grant from the Conrad Hilton Foundation.  

Ora et labora: the great “Amen!” to a Benedictine masterpiece

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Often our most valuable pieces of art are our most valuable pieces of history. The historic component of a work of art adds to its value because of its character, exclusivity and insight into an age passed through which we glean a portrait of a younger but equally impressive and imaginative humanity.

This will certainly be the case for the Saint John’s Bible, the first hand-written, hand-illuminated Bible commissioned by a Benedictine monastery since the printing press was invented over five hundred years ago. The seventh and final volume of the Bible, consisting of the New Testament Letters and the book of Revelation, will be presented to Pope Francis on Friday, April 17th during a special audience in Rome. It will be the great symbolic conclusion of more than a decade of tireless labor.

The Bible, which was written in English using the New Revised Standard Version translation, was first commissioned in 1998 by the Benedictines of Saint John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota (Ironically, the Abbey also boasts one of the most celebrated theological printing presses in the English-speaking world, the Liturgical Press). The original Committee on Illumination and Text brought together artists, theologians, biblical scholars and art historians to reflect on the purpose and process of the project. Of central importance was the notion of creating a Bible for the 21st century, that is, one that venerates the Word of God by bringing it to life for the people of our time. The various art forms and representations in the 160 illuminations signal a team mentality of inclusivity and dialogue that are so important for the Church today.

At the same time, by using the manuscript writing techniques of the monks of previous ages—including calfskin vellum, hand-cut quills and lamp black ink—the team revived an activity that was once at the core of the living patrimony of the Church and indeed of the entire human civilization.

The Artistic Director and head scribe was Donald Jackson, who works for the Queen of England’s Crown Office at the House of Lords in London. It was his lifelong dream to hand-write and hand-illuminate a Bible, an undertaking he once called “the calligraphic artist’s supreme challenge, our Sistine Chapel, a daunting task.” Jackson wrote and illuminated the entire Book of Revelation himself.

Apart from being a glorious work of art, the Saint John’s Bible is significant in the life of the Church for these other reasons:

Firstly, as I mentioned, the Bible preserves tradition in the best sense of the word. We tend to think of tradition as something old or outdated, conservative and narrow. Tradition literally means “to hand over” or “to pass on.” It is the opposite of what is commonly and falsely assumed as something “to hold on to.” In the case of the Saint John’s Bible, it’s not incorrect to say that the Benedictines have preserved tradition by creating something new.

Secondly, the Bible testifies to the authority of Scripture in the Catholic tradition. Until midway through the 20th century, Scripture was less a source of life and inspiration in the Catholic community than long-standing traditions and official edicts of the Magisterium. After Vatican II, the Catholic Church was able to rebalance these sources of divine revelation, though practically speaking Catholics generally still lack a solid Scriptural formation. The Saint John’s Bible provides an opportunity for Catholics—and non-Catholics—to engage the divine Word in new and exciting ways. It can contribute to the mission of the Church, as Pope Francis sees it:

“The study of the sacred Scriptures must be a door opened to every believer. It is essential that the revealed word radically enrich our catechesis and all our efforts to pass on the faith. Evangelization demands familiarity with God’s word, which calls  for dioceses, parishes and Catholic associations to provide for a serious, ongoing study of the Bible, while encouraging its prayerful individual and communal reading.” (Evangelii Gaudium 175)

I was fortunate enough to attend university with the Benedictines in Collegeville and see the original Bible on a number of occasions. My work at S+L gave me the opportunity to produce a short video on the Bible that you can view here:

Deacon-structing Unbelief

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Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe

I don’t know about you, but when I imagine the scene from John 20:19-31, I don’t think Jesus is giving St. Thomas a hard time. I think he’s encouraging him, consoling him.

Think about it: Your friend, the man you loved, your teacher, has just been arrested, tortured and killed. This just happened. Today is Sunday. He was arrested on Thursday, killed on Friday. It just happened. You’re devastated. On top of that, you’re terrified because the people who killed him will probably come and kill you next.

The Gospel tells us that the disciples were hiding with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish authorities. They were terrified. So, you’re devastated, sad, and terrified, and on top of that, this guy who you thought was the Messiah, the Christ – you staked your life on that – turns out that he wasn’t. He’s dead. You left everything to follow him and now what? You just wasted the last three years of your life. How are you going to go back home now? What are you going to tell your wife and family? You feel like an idiot, like a loser, like you’ve been taken in. Imagine the shame. And now these women (women were not considered credible witnesses at the time) say that the tomb is open and the body is gone. They’ve stolen his body…

That’s not un-belief or cynicism. That’s reality. All of us would come to the same conclusion. There’s nothing wrong with Thomas not believing. In fact, none of the disciples believed without seeing.

In the Gospel of Matthew, it says that even after they had seen Jesus (Mt.28:17), some worshiped him but some doubted. After they had seen him; they doubted. In the Gospel of Mark it says that no one believed Mary Magdalene when she said she had seen Jesus. They would not believe it (Mk 16:11). When Jesus appears to them he “upbraids them for their lack of faith and stubbornness” (Mk. 16:14). In the Gospel of Luke; same thing: The women say they saw angels and that Jesus is alive. But “to the disciples this seemed like an idle tale and they did not believe them” (Lk 24:11). Then it says that Peter got up and went to the tomb and it doesn’t say that he believed. It only says that he was amazed (Lk 24:12). Did he believe? I don’t know but when Jesus appears to them they thought they were seeing a ghost. Jesus says, “Why are you frightened and why do doubts arise in your hearts? (Lk. 24:37). And in John’s Gospel, Peter and John (or the beloved disciple) run to the tomb and it says that John “saw and believed” (Jn. 20:8). It doesn’t say that Peter believed. Then it adds that they “did not yet understand”.

You know what? None of them believed without seeing.  Why do we pick on poor Thomas for not believing? He was just like everyone else. They saw and touched and then believed. Maybe there’s nothing wrong with wanting to understand.

While working on our Creation series, I was at a faith and science event at the University of St. Thomas in Houston (named after the famous unbeliever) a few years ago and I was speaking to a physicist and astronomer who works with the Hubble Telescope. He’s a Catholic and he said that he believed in the resurrection because of evidence. Evidence? Really? What evidence? He said that we had the evidence of the first-hand testimony of credible witnesses.

And if you think about it, it makes perfect sense. When there is a trial – we watch them on Law and Order all the time– if there’s been a murder, for example, there’s physical evidence: DNA evidence or the murder weapon. Then there’s circumstantial evidence; evidence that we can deduce by logic, motive; and then there are witnesses. If someone actually witnessed the crime, “I saw the man pull the trigger; and it’s that man sitting right there,” that’s considered evidence. And then it’s up to the defense and the Crown or District attorneys to show whether these witnesses are credible or not.

Well, we have the credible first-hand testimony of witnesses to the resurrection. The Book of Acts tells us the disciples were looked upon with high esteem and they were baptising new Christians by the thousands (Acts 5:12-16). Why? ‘Cause they were authentic, credible witnesses. And what was their testimony? “This man was dead, and now he’s alive.” That was the first confession of our Faith. Today’s first reading (2nd Sunday, Easter, Cycle B: Acts 4:32-35) says that “with great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and great favour was accorded them all.”

In fact, if you read the Book of Acts, every time someone is professing the Faith, that’s what they say, “Jesus was dead, he died, he was crucified; and God raised him from the dead; He is alive.” It was only later that the longer creed was developed. All the early professions of Faith were simply that.

And we profess that at every Mass too: Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again. In fact, it’s called the Profession of Faith. The priest says, “The mystery of Faith” and we all respond, “We proclaim your death, oh Lord and profess your resurrection, until you come again.” That’s the earliest profession of Faith.

I started  thinking about this after Pope Francis’ first homily. It was very short – he spoke about three words: walking, building and confessing – a whole theology of life right there in those three words: walking, building and confessing. And I started thinking about “confessing.” What does that mean? What does it mean to confess our faith? Most of us are OK with learning about our Faith, living our Faith, and even sharing our Faith – but do we confess our Faith? Do we profess that Jesus was dead and now he’s alive? We’re ok professing it at Mass, but do we profess it when we leave the church building?

We can make that profession of Faith because we have evidence. We have witnesses like Thomas. So why does it sound like Jesus is giving Thomas a hard time for not believing? “Blessed are those who have not seen, and still believe.” It’s because that statement is not for Thomas. It’s for us. It’s for all the people who were reading the Gospel when it was first written. Remember that the Gospel of John was written about 70 years after the resurrection. All the first-hand witnesses had already died. And the early Christians were persecuted. The gospels were written to encourage them, to give them hope. That’s why John’s gospel has Jesus giving them peace. In other Gospels he says, “Don’t be afraid.”?

That message is for us today: If you’re afraid, if you’re struggling with doubt, have peace, don’t be afraid. Jesus is alive. He has triumphed over death. Have faith. In today’s second reading from 1 John 5:1-6, we hear that “the victory that conquers the world is our faith.”

And it is not a blind faith.  There’s a saying that says that Faith isn’t believing that God can do something; it’s knowing that He will. There’s a certainty in Faith. And it’s a certainty based on trust.

 This may seem a bit strange to you because we’re always hearing about how Faith has to be blind or that we have to believe without seeing, but think about it, we actually live by this kind of Faith every day. Do you believe that there is a $1000 bill? Have you ever seen one? Do you believe that there are black holes in space? Do you believe that there is dark matter? Do you believe that pi is 3.14159? Do you believe that climate change is a problem, or that it isn’t a problem? If you trust the news source, you’re going to believe the news. We do this all the time: we believe in things that people that we trust tell us.

Do we believe that the Church is a credible witness? Do we have a relationship with the Church that shows us that the Church is a credible witness, so we can believe everything that the Church teaches: That Jesus is present in the Eucharist; that Mary was conceived without original sin; that our sins are forgiven at Confession; that Marriage is a free, faithful, fruitful, total covenantal union between one man and one woman? Do we believe that the Church is a credible witness, or do we need physical evidence?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that: “Believing is not contrary to human freedom nor to human reason” (n. 154). And Pope Benedict in the document that kicked-off the Year of Faith, Porta Fidei, says that we have to understand Faith. If we can understand Faith, it means that it can’t be completely blind.

Thomas and the disciples believe because they saw and touched. The apostle John says, “We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands” (1 Jn. 1:1). Thomas believed that Jesus was alive because he saw and touched him. The disciples saw and believed so that you and I can believe without seeing.

But Thomas is blessed for believing something without seeing: When he sees Jesus, he says, “My Lord and my God.” This is the only time in all of Scripture that someone calls Jesus God. He can see Jesus and so believes in the resurrection, but he cannot see God, but still, he believes that Jesus is God. And that’s his confession of Faith.

Do you know that at Mass during the Consecration when the priest raises the host and the chalice and says, “Do this in memory of me,” we should respond with the words of Thomas, “My Lord and my God”? In fact, at that moment, the priest genuflects and he says that silent prayer, “My Lord and my God.” And that’s also the appropriate response for us. And it doesn’t have to be quiet. I don’t know if you learned to do this, but if not, starting today at Mass, this is what you should respond, “My Lord and my God.” And today when you go to Mass do something else: When you receive the Eucharist, when you drink from the Cup, make your confession of Faith. Respond with the words of Thomas, “My Lord and my God.” Make that your profession of Faith, so that we can go out there and be credible witnesses so that others can come to believe too.

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Photo: Dylan Martinez/CNS

 

TV Priests and where to find them

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Noel-BlogWelcome to S+L’s Weekly News Round-Up. As the Director of Marketing and Communications here at S+L, many interesting Catholic news stories and articles come across my desk on a daily basis. Some of them we’ll cover on our different television programs and others I’d like to share with you on this blog.

This blog column is where I’ll point out some of the more interesting news pieces that I’ve come across over the past week! Enjoy!

Ok, this week I’ve come across a diversity of articles to share with you. Some of them funny, some interesting, and others with a more serious nature. But first, who doesn’t remember their mother telling them, “Cleanliness is next to Godliness,” or “God won’t give you more than you can handle?” Interestingly, these and several other similar statements have gained enough traction that many people believe they’re actually Bible verses! Check out these 7 Unbiblical Statements Christians Believe are biblical!

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On that note, here is a fun article that talks about famous TV priests that are not actually priests! Read about it here on The Crux! – Now who doesn’t remember Fr. Dowling from Father Dowling Mysteries or Father Mulcahy, from M*A*S*H?

I came across this article last week on the Catholic Herald that made me realize how small and trivial my “first world” problems really are against the suffering in the world and the heroic acts of charity that, in many cases, never get recognized. This article titled , ‘The ‘angel’ among the garbage-pickers is truly an eye-opener- or rather a tear-jerker.

For now, Christianity is the most dominant world religion. However, did you know that the Muslim population is projected to match Christianity by 2050? These projections are being reported by the Wall Street Journal here and also backed up by the Pew Research Center here.

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Now who doesn’t remember or love St. Pope John Paul II?. I came across this article on the 11 of the Most Inspiring Quotes from Pope St. John Paul II, from our friends at Church Pop.

On that note, check out this video about what you may not know about Saint John Paul II:

COMBINATION PHOTO SHOWS PARENTS OF ST. THERESE OF LISIEUX

Speaking of saints, did you know that the first married couple to be canonized together are also the parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux? It is expected that Blesseds Louis and Zélie Martin will be canonized during the Synod of Bishops on the Family Oct. 4-25 of this year. Here is a very interesting article that details 8 Things You Need to Know About Louis and Zélie Martin and Their Upcoming Canonization!

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And finally, for all you movie fans out there, (like myself), who are always struggling to find good films to watch with the kids, Netflix has just released 12 great films about faith that are now available to watch right now. Some are better than others, but all definitely better than most of the run-of-the-mill garbage that’s out there. Check out the listing here.

Well, that’s it for me this week folks. I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments on these stories. If you have any interesting stories yourself, please feel free to send them to me!

I hope you enjoy these little stories! I certainly have. Till next week!

– Noel

Catholics Come Home on S+L

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In recent decades, millions of people have drifted away from Jesus and their Catholic faith.  The creative media team at Catholics Come Home feels a call from God to produce inspiring messages of the New Evangelization, which have already helped lead hundreds of thousands of inactive Catholics, converts, agnostics and atheists home to Jesus and His Holy Church.

Join us, as we travel across North America to bring you stories of heartbreak, redemption, and transformation as we meet some of the actual people that the Holy Spirit lead home. God wants us to spend eternity in heaven with Him and to bring as many people with us as possible. This is Catholics Come Home.

Airs Sundays at 8:30pm ET / 9:30pm PT

See episode schedule below:

Atheist Returns Home  |  Sunday April 12, 2015

Host Tom Peterson welcomes Dr. Gloria Sampson, a 74-year-old linguistics professor who taught in Communist China.  After living as an atheist for 52 years, witness her amazing homecoming to the Catholic Church.  Filmed on location in Vancouver, Canada.

Agnostic to Evangelist  |  Sunday April 19, 2015

Host Tom Peterson welcomes Oscar Cavazos, a 33-year-old culinary chef and owner of a Mexican restaurant.  After 17 years living as an agostic, discover how this father of three came home to his Catholic faith.  Filmed on location in Dallas, Texas.

Personal Relationship with Jesus  |  Sunday April 26, 2015

Host Tom Peterson welcomes Ms. Lydia Clark, a 22-year-old college student and daughter of a Presbyterian pastor. Discover why she converted to Catholicism, and how she helped her fiancée home to the Catholic Church. Filmed on location in Providence, Rhode Island.

Loneliness & Suffering  |  Sunday May 3, 2015

Host Tom Peterson welcomes Thomas Manns, a 45-year-old accounting clerk, who lived as a hermit and agnostic for nearly 25 years. Witness his transformation and return to the Catholic Church.  Filmed on location in Westminster, British Columbia.

Healing  |  Sunday May 10, 2015

Host Tom Peterson welcomes Ms. Devin Jones, a 36-year-old automotive delivery trainer, who left the Church during the priest scandals. Discover how she returned to the Sacraments and her Catholic faith.  Filmed on location in Denver, Colorado

Faith and Reason  |  Sunday May 17, 2015

Host Tom Peterson welcomes Harrison Garlick, a 27-year-old law student and convert from prosperity Protestantism. Find out why this new father attended Ave Maria University as a Protestant, and then how he converted to the Catholic faith. Filmed on location in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Our Church Family  |  Sunday May 21, 2015

Host Tom Peterson welcomes Mary Annthipie-Bane, a 47-year-old mother and preschool teacher. Shortly after converting and marrying in the Catholic Church, she and her husband church-hopped for years.  Find out what prompted their family of five to return to the sacramental church.  Filmed on location in Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey.

Call to Discipline  |  Sunday May 28, 2015  

Host Tom Peterson welcomes 44-year-old Chris Ahrens, former Marine and firefighter. Discover what helped this father return to his Catholic faith and attend the Latin Mass. Filmed on location in Denton, Texas.

One nation under God  |  Sunday June 7, 2015

Host Tom Peterson welcomes Shirley and Tom Hill, a farming couple in their 60’s, living outside St. Louis. Discover how Shirley returned to the Catholic Church after being away almost 40 years, and how her husband converted recently. Filmed on location in Farmington, Missouri.

Church is Our Home  |  Sunday June 14, 2015

Host Tom Peterson welcomes Daniel Bui, the 27-year-old son of Vietnamese Buddhist converts to Protestantism. Find out why this Houston area high school history teacher converted to Catholicism while at the University of Texas at Austin. Filmed on location in Austin, Texas.

Falling in Love  |  Sunday June 21, 2015

Host Tom Peterson welcomes Madge Winch.  Madge, a 64-year-old quilt-making grandmother of five, once served as deputy sheriff carrying a 357 Magnum. Discover what helped her and her family return to the Catholic Church, and what prompted her husband to convert to Catholicism.  Filmed on location in Bonne Terre, Missouri.

Slippery Slope  |  Sunday June 28, 2015

Host Tom Peterson welcomes Michael Mark, a 50-year-old former drug addict and dealer from Chinatown. Witness his incredible transformation, that brought him and his 90 year old father home to their Catholic Church family. Learn how God then called Michael to serve the homeless in a men’s hospice. Filmed on location in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Be not Afraid  |  Sunday July 5, 2015

Host Tom Peterson welcomes Susan Masi, a 71 year old baker and clerk at pet bakery. Find out what helped this divorced Catholic find her way back home to the Catholic Church. Filmed on location in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin.

Integral Ecology and the Horizon of Hope: Concern for the Poor and for Creation in the Ministry of Pope Francis

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Pope Francis’ universal prayer intention for April is for Creation: That people may learn to respect creation and care for it as a gift of God. The environment is a topic that many do not expect the Church to be vocal on, but if you followed Pope Benedict’s many addresses, you would know that he spoke about the environment and ecology quite often. We also now that the topic is close to Pope Francis’ heart: Pope Francis’ second Encyclical will be on this very topic.

This is very exciting for us at S+L and especially for me, since for the last four years, I have been working on a six-part documentary series titled Creation, that looks at the ecological teachings of the Catholic Church.

If you’re wondering what those teachings are, recently, Cardinal Peter Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (the council under which the encyclical will be released), delivered the Trócaire 2015 Lenten Lecture at Saint Patrick’s Pontifical University in Maynooth, Ireland. Trócare is the overseas aid agency of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference. The Trócaire theme for Lent 2015 highlights the growing problem of drought as a result of climate change. Cardinal Turkson’s address was titled  Integral Ecology and the Horizon of Hope: Concern for the Poor and for Creation in the Ministry of Pope Francis.

This address gives us a very good idea of what Pope Francis’ encyclical’s content and direction will be.

Introduction

Your Grace, Archbishop Martin, Brother Bishops, Seminarians, ladies and gentlemen, I thank Éamonn for his very kind introduction. I also thank Bishop William Crean, Chairman of Trócaire and Monsignor Hugh Connolly, President of Maynooth for their warm welcome and for the invitation to give the Annual Trócaire Lenten lecture in Maynooth. I have learned that in the very distinguished history of this University, thousands of men and women have left these halls over the years to bring the Gospel of charity and justice to the four corners of the world. I am aware of the leading role played by this University in dialogues between faith and science, between philosophy and praxis, between economics and development, and between environmental sciences and policy decisions regarding climate change.

This evening, I am also very conscious that the Irish people themselves have an outstanding reputation for generous giving and for commitment to development issues. According to the Charities Aid Foundation World Giving Index, Ireland is consistently among the five most generous countries of the world. It is the most generous country in Northern Europe. So when I come to Ireland, I already know that people in Ireland really do care about outreach to those in need, commitment to development aid, and engagement with the issues of international development. On behalf of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, I acknowledge and pay tribute to your tremendous generosity and compassion. I am glad to have this opportunity to pay particular tribute to the outstanding work of Trócaire. As the development agency of the Irish Bishops’ Conference and a member of Caritas Internationalis, Trócaire is a worthy ambassador of Ireland’s compassion and concern for justice across the world. Its professionalism and experience also make it a world leader and a respected voice in terms of insight into issues of international development and a leader in working for a more just world.

Misericordia in Latin, or Trócaire in Irish or Mercy in English: this has become a keyword in the ministry of Pope Francis. As in the Scriptures, Pope Francis often associates mercy and tenderness. Indeed, in his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, he appeals to all of us to bring about a “revolution of tenderness,” a revolution of the heart. For “there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor” when our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests, or when our national life and economy become caught up in their own interests.

Pope Francis intends to publish an encyclical letter later this year on the theme of human ecology. It will explore the relationship between care for creation, integral human development and concern for the poor. The timing of the encyclical is significant: 2015 is a critical year for humanity. In July, nations will gather for the Third International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa. In September, the U.N. General Assembly should agree on a new set of sustainable development goals running until 2030. In December, the Climate Change Conference in Paris will receive the plans and commitments of each Government to slow or reduce global warming. The coming 10 months are crucial, then, for decisions about international development, human flourishing and care for the common home we call planet Earth.

So this evening is a good time to look at the relationship between development, concern for the poor and responsibility for the environment in the ministry of Pope Francis. I do so under the title: “Integral ecology and the horizon of hope: concern for the poor and for creation in the ministry of Pope Francis.” I will focus on four principles of integral ecology. Through his teaching on these themes, Pope Francis is promoting integral ecology as the key to addressing the inter-related issues of human ecology, development and the natural environment.

The Holy Father has echoed the sense of crisis that many in the scientific and development communities convey about the precarious state of our planet and of the poor. What he adds to the conversation about future approaches is the particular perspective of Catholic Social thought, rooted in the Sacred Scriptures and natural reason. This offers something unique and vital to the efforts of the international community. Ultimately, of course, what Pope Francis seeks to bring to this sense of crisis is the “warmth of hope”. Indeed, from his very first homily as Pope, a fundamental aim of his ministry has been to point us to the “horizon of hope” in the midst of those he has called the “Herods,” the “omens of destruction and death” that so often “accompany the advance of this world.” In that spirit of hope, let me reflect on the four themes that are woven through the ministry and teaching of Pope Francis on integral ecology.

First Principle: The call to be protectors is integral and all-embracing

The first principle is this: that the call to be protectors is integral and all-embracing. We are called to protect and care for both creation and the human person. These concepts are reciprocal and, together, they make for authentic and sustainable human development.

At the inaugural Mass of his Petrine Ministry, Pope Francis put the protection of creation to the very forefront of his own ministry and the vocation of every Christian. He offered St Joseph as a model of protecting Christ in our lives, “so that we can protect others, so that we can protect creation,” and explained that the vocation of being a protector “has a prior dimension which is simply human, involving everyone.” Its scope is very broad; it involves

“protecting creation, the beauty of the created world, as the Book of Genesis tells us and as Saint Francis of Assisi shows us. It means respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live. It means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about. It means caring for one another in our families: husbands and wives…they protect one another, and then, as parents, they care for their children, and children themselves, in time protect their parents. It means building sincere friendships in which we protect one another in trust, respect, and goodness.”

Clearly this is not some narrow agenda for the greening the Church or the world. It is a vision of care and protection that embraces the human person and the human environment in all possible dimensions.

Saint Pope John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on human ecology.

In his insistence on an integral, relational vocation of protector, Pope Francis continues the thought of his two predecessors. In his social encyclical, Solicitudo rei socialis, Saint John Paul II spoke of the need to respect the constituent and inter-related elements of the natural world: “One cannot use with impunity the different categories of beings…animals, plants, the natural elements – simply as one wishes, according to one’s own economic needs. On the contrary, one must take into account the nature of each being and of its mutual connection in an ordered system, which is precisely the cosmos.” A recently republished pastoral of the Irish Bishops echoes his point: “Our earth is complex, its systems of life are interdependent and finely balanced. Small changes in one part of the planet’s rhythms and systems can have significant, if not dramatic consequences for the whole of the earth and its creatures.” For the natural environment to be respected, the human environment and its objective moral structure must also be respected.  When we ignore or neglect one, it has a destructive impact on the other.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI also had this point as a central theme in his teaching. Some called him the “Green Pope” because of the priority he gave to concern over our destruction of nature. He echoed the call of Saint John Paul II to “change our way of life… [to] eliminate the structural causes of global economic dysfunction, and to correct models of growth that seem incapable of guaranteeing respect for the environment and for integral human development.”

Pope Benedict’s message for the 43rd World Day of Peace in 2010 was abundantly clear: “The book of nature is one and indivisible; it includes not only the environment but also individual, family and social ethics. Our duties towards the environment flow from our duties towards the person, considered both individually and in relation to others.” On this basis too, in Caritas in Veritate, he famously called contemporary society to a serious review of its lifestyle, which is so often prone to hedonism and consumerism, regardless of their harmful consequences. What is needed, he said, is an effective shift in mentality which can lead to the adoption of “new lifestyles” in which the quest for truth, beauty, goodness and communion with others for the sake of common growth are the factors which determine consumer choices, savings and investments.

It is such integral ecology that Pope Francis took up, in eminently pastoral terms, in his inaugural homily. He does so again in his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium when he calls all people to a new solidarity, “the creation of a new mind-set which thinks in terms of community and the priority of the life of all over the appropriation of goods by a few” (n.188).

Second Principle: care for creation is a virtue in its own right

Compelled by the scientific evidence for climate change, we are called to care for humanity and to respect the grammar of nature as virtues in their own right.  This is the second principle that underpins Pope Francis’ approach to integral ecology as the basis for authentic development.

In an airplane interview while returning from Korea last August, the Holy Father said that one of the challenges he faces in his encyclical on ecology is how to address the scientific debate about climate change and its origins. Is it the outcome of cyclical processes of nature, of human activities (anthropogenic), or perhaps both? What is not contested is that our planet is getting warmer. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has undertaken the most comprehensive assessment of climate change. Its November 2014 Synthesis Report was as stark as it was challenging. In the words of Thomas Stocker, the co-chair of the IPCC Working Group I: “Our assessment finds that the atmosphere and oceans have warmed, the amount of snow and ice has diminished, sea level has risen and the concentration of carbon dioxide has increased to a level unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years.”

Yet even the compelling consensus of over 800 scientists of the IPCC will have its critics and its challengers. For Pope Francis, however, this is not the point. For the Christian, to care for God’s ongoing work of creation is a duty, irrespective of the causes of climate change. To care for creation, to develop and live an integral ecology as the basis for development and peace in the world, is a fundamental Christian duty. As Pope Francis put it in his morning homily at Santa Marta on 9 February, it is wrong and a distraction to contrast “green” and “Christian.” In fact, “a Christian who doesn’t safeguard creation, who doesn’t make it flourish, is a Christian who isn’t concerned with God’s work, that work born of God’s love for us.”

In this, Pope Francis is affirming a truth revealed in the first pages of Sacred Scripture. In the second creation account of the Book of Genesis, humankind is placed in the Garden by the Creator to “till it and keep it” (Gen 2:15). These concepts of “tilling” and “keeping” involve a vital and reciprocal relationship between humanity and the created world. They involve humankind, every individual and every community in a sacred duty to draw from the goodness of the earth, and at the same time to care for the earth in a way that ensures its continued fruitfulness for future generations.

Justice in this context is essentially a relational term. Its defining quality is fidelity to the demands of the threefold relationship within which each of us stands and upon which each of us depends for life itself: our relationship with the Creator, with our neighbour, and with the natural environment in which we live. To neglect or violate one of these relationships is an offense, quite literally a sin. In the Scriptures, the “just person” is one who maintains these relationships by respecting the demands that they entail. The just person is one who therefore preserves communion with God, with neighbour and with the land, and by doing so, also makes peace!  The various holiness and justice codes of the Old Testament are unequivocal. Those who till and keep the land have a responsibility to share it fruits with others, especially the poor, the stranger, the widow and the orphan. The law of the Covenant is clear; the gift of the land and its fruitfulness belongs to the whole people of Israel together.

So when Pope Francis says that destroying the environment is a grave sin; when he says that it is not large families that cause poverty but an economic culture that puts money and profit ahead of people; when he says that we cannot save the environment without also addressing the profound injustices in the distribution of the goods of the earth; when he says that this is “an economy that kills” – he is not making some political comment about the relative merits of capitalism and communism. He is rather restating ancient Biblical teaching. He is pointing to the fact that being a protector of creation, of the poor, of the dignity of every human person is a sine qua non of being Christian, of being fully human. He is pointing to the ominous signs in nature that suggest that humanity may now have tilled too much and kept too little, that our relationship with the Creator, with our neighbour, especially the poor, and with the environment has become fundamentally “un-kept”, and that we are now at serious risk of a concomitant human, environmental and relational degradation.

Third principle: we will – we must – care for what we cherish and revere

Thirdly, binding regulations, policies, and targets are necessary tools for addressing poverty and climate change, but they are unlikely to prove effective without moral conversion and a change of heart. Think of the present Pope’s choice of the name Francis. Saint Francis of Assisi is an example par excellence of a lived and integral ecology. In fact, Saint Pope John Paul II had declared him the patron saint of those who promote ecology. His love for creation, for creatures and for the poor, are one, they form an integral whole. And the prior and fundamental source of that integrated whole was his religious faith. In pointing to Saint Francis as a model, Pope Francis holds that a truly practical and sustainable integral approach to ecology, has to draw on more than the scientific, the material and the economic, more than laws and policies. When Saint Francis gazed upon the heavens, when he surveyed the wonder and beauty of the animals, he did not respond to them with the abstract formulae of science or the utilitarian eye of the economist. His response was one of awe, wonder and fraternity. He sang of “Brother Sun” and “Sister Moon.” In other words, his response was that of reverence – of a deep and relational respect based on kinship and fraternity, the kinship with God, our neighbour and the land spoken of in the book of Genesis and praised throughout the wisdom literature and the psalms.

There have been many attempts in recent years to implement international agreements on development goals, carbon emission targets and climate change limits, with varying degrees of success. For example, the Millennium Development Goals – many of which sought to remedy the particular crises that I have mentioned – have only achieved partial success, with half remaining unfulfilled. For instance, between 1.2 and 1.5 billion people are still mired in “extreme poverty.” Global inequalities continue to widen. Sub-Saharan Africa has the second highest rate of economic growth in the world (after developing Asia). Nevertheless, the region remains locked in a negative cycle of poverty and underdevelopment, with development aid shifting away from some of the poorest countries. The wealth of the top 1% has grown 60% in the last twenty years, and it continued to grow through the global economic crisis. Despite the UN Framework Convention of Climate Change signed in Rio in 1992 and subsequent agreements, global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) continue their upward trend, almost 50 per cent above 1990 levels. The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has reached a level last seen 3 million years ago – when the planet was significantly warmer than it is today. Millions of hectares of forest are lost every year, many species are being driven closer to extinction, and renewable water resources are becoming scarcer.

The list could go on. Certainly international agreements are important, they can help. But they are not enough in themselves to sustain change in human behaviour. As Saint John Paul II put it, we require an “ecological conversion,” a radical and fundamental change in our attitudes to creation, to the poor and to the priorities of the global economy. By pointing us to the example of Saint Francis of Assisi, Pope Francis teaches the world that the ancient wisdom, insights and values of religious faith, most notably the tradition of Catholic Social Doctrine, can contribute something of value to the search for sustainable development, based on an integral ecology. Genuine “ecological conversion” involves the whole person. Commitment assumes a relationship, an emotional and relational attachment. It is the kind of kinship and fraternity with creation, creatures and the poor that flowed so clearly and directly from the relationship between Saint Francis and the Creator.

This is why the cultural trend of relegating religious language, religious motivation and religious faith to the sphere of the purely private and personal undermines a vital and powerful source of meaning and action in the common effort to address both climate change and sustainable development. The Judaeo-Christian insight into creation can transform our relationship from that of remote observers or technical managers of nature, to that of “brother and sister,” of nurturer and protector of all. Religious insights into creation in this sense can help to orient and integrate us as humans within the wider universe, to identify what is most important to us, what we revere, sustain and protect as sacred. Giving space to the religious voice and to its ancient experience, wisdom and insight therefore can transform our attitudes to creation and to others in a way that purely scientific, economic or political approaches are less likely to achieve. What more radical and comprehensive charter for sustainable development and environmental care do we have after all than the Beatitudes, than the call to generosity that permeates Evangelii Gaudium: the command to go the extra mile, to give to the least, to give our tunic as well as our cloak to the one who asks us.

Fourth principle: the call to dialogue and a new global solidarity

Fourthly, for Pope Francis, integral ecology, as the basis for justice and development in the world, requires a new global solidarity, one in which everyone has a part to play and every action, no matter how small, can make a difference.

During World Youth Day celebrations in Brazil in July 2013, this call to solidarity became most explicit in his address to Varginha, a favela community. Pope Francis noted that the rich could learn much from the poor about solidarity: “I would like to make an appeal to those in possession of greater resources, to public authorities and to all people of good will who are working for social justice: never tire of working for a more just world, marked by greater solidarity… The culture of selfishness and individualism that often prevails in our society is not what builds up and leads to a more habitable world: it is the culture of solidarity that does so, seeing others not as rivals or statistics, but brothers and sisters.”

The Holy Father then added that giving “bread to the hungry,” while required by justice, is not enough for human happiness. “There is neither real promotion of the common good nor real human development when there is ignorance of the fundamental pillars that govern a nation, its nonmaterial goods,” he said. The Pope identified those goods as life; family; “integral education, which cannot be reduced to the mere transmission of information for the purposes of generating profit”; health, “including the spiritual dimension” of well-being; and security, which he said can be achieved “only by changing human hearts.”

As this year’s Drop in the Ocean campaign by Trócaire implies, and as the Pastoral Letter of the Irish Bishops’ Conference, The Cry of the Earth, points out, “Action at a global level, as well as every individual action which contributes to integral human development and global solidarity, helps to construct a more sustainable environment and therefore, a better world.” Thanks to the Trócaire box in many homes and classrooms during Lent, you already know how little gestures add up to make a difference.

Conclusion: Let us become artisans of the revolution of tenderness

Allow me to summarize all that I have said this evening:

  • The threats that arise from global inequality and the destruction of the environment are inter-related; and they are the greatest threats we face as a human family today.
  • In responding to this combined threat, every action counts. We all have a part to play in protecting and sustaining what Pope Francis has repeatedly called our common home.
  • Our efforts in this regard require an integral approach to ecology, not one limited to scientific, economic or technical solutions.
  • At the heart of this integral ecology is the call to dialogue and a new solidarity, a changing of human hearts in which the good of the human person, and not the pursuit of profit, is the key value that directs our search for the global, the universal common good.

In this, we have the core elements of an integral ecology which in turn provides the basis for authentic and sustainable approaches to human development.

In conveying my thanks to you once again for the honour of giving this annual Lenten lecture, and in commending Trócaire for its excellent and timely Climate Justice campaign, I encourage you to give great attention to the forthcoming encyclical from Pope Francis on the themes we have just considered.  As we confront the threat of environmental catastrophe on a global scale, I am confident that a shaft of light will break through the heavy clouds and bring us what Pope Francis describes as the warmth of hope! Most importantly, as we become revolutionaries of tenderness overcoming the world’s pervasive inequities, these years can indeed initiate a millennium of respect for life, of care for God’s creation, of solidarity and síocháin.  Peace!

Thank you for listening.

(CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Loyola vs. Quebec: the new reality of confessional secularism

Loyola
(Photo: loyola.ca)

The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that Quebec’s Minister of Education infringed upon the religious freedom of Loyola, a private Catholic high school in Montreal, by requiring the school to teach all aspects of the province’s Ethics and Religious Culture Program (ERC) from a neutral perspective, i.e. from a non-confessional, or specifically non-Catholic perspective.

This decision has sparked an animated conversation across Canada about religious freedom and the role of government, or as it’s traditionally known, the question of the separation of church and state.  One of my colleagues recently wrote on the proper role of the state in matters of religion and morals.  Here I offer the following reflection on another essential consideration, namely, the growing phenomenon of what we might call “confessional secularism,” that is, the transformation of a purely neutral secularism into a belief system; a faith.

A simple timeline of the six-year legal battle between Loyola and the Minister can be found at the end of this column.  For more background information visit Loyola’s website or read the Supreme Court’s decision.

Reading between the lines
From the outset, it is important to note that the dispute was not over the content or goals of the ERC Program.  Loyola does not object to the “recognition of others,” “pursuing the common good,” or promoting “openness to human rights, diversity and respect for others,” as outlined in the course.  On the contrary, these objectives are central to the mission of the school.  And historically speaking, the Catholic Church itself is responsible, in part, for embedding into modern society the fundamental principles of rights, equality, liberty and justice from which these goals originate.

The problem is the Minister’s insistence on the strict implementation of the ERC Program from a “neutral” perspective.  According to the Supreme Court, the Minister’s insistence suggests that, “engagement with an individual’s own religion on his or her own terms can be presumed to impair respect for others.”  In other words, the Minister made an irrational assessment of the Catholic perspective: that from a Catholic perspective it is impossible to teach children to respect others and promote dialogue and the common good, as articulated in the ERC course. (According to the Minister the perspective must be neutral, i.e. secular.)

The Court perceptively refuted this assessment of the Minister. In perhaps the most penetrating statement in the majority decision, the Court went beyond simply arguing that the Minister had violated the school’s religious freedom.  It also stated that preventing Loyola from teaching Catholicism from a Catholic perspective “does little to further the ERC Program’s objectives.”  This observation of the Court can form the basis of our consideration of “confessional secularism”.

Calling a spade a spade
As I understand it, confessional secularism is the result of transforming the fundamental tenets of secularism into a belief system.  It is one thing to promote a secular state that is neutral in matters of religion; it is quite another to promote a secular state that adopts secularism as a religion.  Confessional secularism is like any other religion insofar as a certain belief system is held to be true above other belief systems.

If we keep this in mind and follow the line of thought of the Supreme Court, we find the Minister’s insistence that Loyola teach Catholicism from a neutral perspective to be counterintuitive. We would expect to see the Minister uphold at all costs the integrity of the ERC Program.  Instead, we see the Minister insist on a strictly secular approach to religion and ethics that limits the religious freedom of a Catholic institution and thus undermines the very goals of the ERC Program, which were designed to celebrate openness and diversity.  How can this be?

I remember reading G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy for the first time, and being struck by a similar phenomenon. In the book, Chesterton reflects on the prevailing anti-Christian attitudes of the early 1900’s in Europe. Like many of his contemporaries he was open to new and progressive ideas, and traditional Christianity was largely seen by the intelligentsia as primitive and authoritarian.  The young and agnostic Chesterton celebrated these various critiques of Christianity, but then became alarmed by the inconsistencies he found in them.  At one point he wrote:

“It looked not so much as if Christianity was bad enough to include any vices, but rather as if any stick was good enough to beat Christianity with. What again could this astonishing thing [Christianity] be like which people were so anxious to contradict, that in doing so they did not mind contradicting themselves?”

We might pose a similar question to Quebec’s Minister of Education: What is it about the Catholic perspective on issues of religion and ethics that the government is so anxious to contradict, that in doing so it does not mind contradicting its own goals for the ERC Program?

I do not have a definitive answer to this question.  Nor is it the competency of the Court to try to answer it.  However, the Court did conclude that, “A secular state respects religious differences, it does not seek to extinguish them.”

We must acknowledge the reality of confessional secularism in our society today.  Forceful expressions of it seem to spring more frequently out of Quebec, but it is not a stagnant phenomenon and certainly not isolated in Quebec.  The subtle leap from a purely neutral secularism to confessional secularism is one that more and more Canadians are making.  It is indeed a leap of faith.

The difficulty with confessional secularism is not that secularism has become a new religion, but that its proponents sometimes fail to recognize it as such.  The Loyola case proved this definitively.  If confessional secularists are willing to recognize their belief system as a belief system, then Canadians should do as they have always done: welcome with open arms another group into our pluralist society.  But if proponents of this new religion advocate a kind of official atheism in the name of neutral secularism, then Loyola vs. Quebec won’t be the last case of religious freedom before the Supreme Court.

Timeline of events
2008

  • Quebec’s Ministry of Education, Sport and Leisure introduces its Ethics and Religious Culture Program (ERC)
  • Loyola applies for an exemption from the course, asking the Minister to allow the school to teach the content and goals of the program from a Catholic perspective
  • The Minister refuses an exemption to Loyola

2009

  • Loyola takes the matter to the Quebec Superior Court

2010

  • The Quebec Superior Court concludes that the decision to refuse Loyola’s request was invalid because it assumed the content and goals of the program could not be taught from a confessional (Catholic) perspective
  • The Minister appeals the Court’s decision

2012

  • The Quebec Court of Appeal overturns the Superior Court’s ruling

2013

  • Loyola takes the matter to the Supreme Court of Canada

2015

  • The Supreme Court of Canada overturns the Court of Appeal and rules that the Minister infringed upon the religious freedom of Loyola

Digital Citizenship: Your Voice Matters

THiNK

Noel-BlogWelcome to S+L’s Weekly News Round-Up. As the Director of Marketing and Communications here at S+L, many interesting Catholic news stories and articles come across my desk on a daily basis. Some of them we’ll cover on our different television programs and others I’d like to share with you on this blog.

This blog column is where I’ll point out some of the more interesting news pieces that I’ve come across over the past week! Enjoy!

This week on the Weekly News Round-Up, I thought I might do something a little different than the usual headlines I showcase. I’ll get back to that next week.

Instead, I thought I might share my experiences from an event that I had the great honor to speak at.

Yesterday, I was invited to speak to over 150 students from the Calgary Catholic School Board at their annual Digital Citizenship Conference, this year titled Your Voice Matters.

At this event, I was greeted by an enthusiastic bunch of junior high school students (grades 7-9) and their teachers at the Conservatory building of the Calgary Zoo, where I was asked to talk to them about Promoting a Catholic Presence on Social Media.

What a fantastic reception! The kids were engaging, funny and all around enthusiastic about their faith.

I was very appreciative of the kind hospitality the organizers Charmaine Monteiro, Stephanie Proctor and Andrea Gillier gave me and the many others who made my visit and stay a trip to remember!

What follows is my text of my speech. I hope you enjoy!

Thank you for the amazing and warm introduction! I’m very happy to be here to talk to you all. I love Calgary.

So earlier today, I had a chance to listen to both Julie and Paul. And I have to say, what wonderful speakers.

You are very lucky to have such great and talented speakers to help you navigate through this webspace we call the Digital Continent.

Before we begin, I’d like to ask a few questions…

First of all, can I get a show of hands…

  • How many of you out there are Catholic or Christian?
  • How many of you out there are on Facebook?
  • On Twitter?
  • On Instagram?
  • How many of you follow Pope Francis on Twitter?
  • Finally, how many of you have actually retweeted, shared, or liked a post by Pope Francis?

Very interesting indeed. Well, I’m happy to say that you’ve all passed and after this session, you can go see your teacher to redeem the extra bonus marks!.

Ok, in all seriousness, I’m here to take you along a different tangent from this mornings talks and talk about 4 main things:

  1. Why put yourselves out there as Catholics?
  2. What’s in it for you & what can you expect by doing so.
  3. I want to show you some great and fun sites you can share content from.
  4. Introduce you to one of the greatest communicators in recent history.

And to kick off this session, I’d like to say we’ve done it. My television station, Salt and Light TV, which broadcasts all over Canada, the US and now in Europe, have been doing it for the past 12 years.

We’ve been putting ourselves out there and now we’re in over 3 million homes and growing. Have a look:

Session 1 – So why put yourselves out there as Christians

And by “putting yourselves out there,” I mean: WHY

  • make a public statement of your Catholic beliefs on line?
  • share posts and pictures that promote your faith’s value?
  • follow the Pope and other Catholic speakers and figures?
  • be virtuous, thoughtful and positive with your comments and activities online?

And the answer to the “why” question is in this video.

This is what happens when you put yourselves out there.

Have a look:

Now when you do that, keep in mind that you will get criticized, sometimes laughed at, maybe called names like a bible thumper, holy-roller, Jesus Lover… or whatever, AND you may even lose the respect of some friends.

Be prepared for hostility for your beliefs, no matter what they are. That kind of sucks right?

BUT consider this. Consider what’s in it for you!

  • You’ll soon realize that you’re not alone in your beliefs.
  • You’ll gain new friends who share the same beliefs and struggles.
  • You’ll be part of a global movement, a global network of young Catholics.
  • You’ll be part of the solution not the problem.
  • You’ll connect with like-minded friends.
  • You’ll be exposed to experiences and people that you’d never have known if you didn’t
  • You become part of a world-wide posse of people who share the same values and will support you.

So consider this thought. The first person that benefits by putting yourself out and affirming your Catholic beliefs there is you. The second person that benefits is everyone else around you.

In essence, you become the Salt of the Earth and the Light of the World EXACTLY what St. Pope John Paul II specifically asked us to do.

Let me ask this:

  • Who loves junk food? – Show of hands
    • Who loves fries, chips, burgers, pizza?
    • What happens when you consume that kinds of food every day, day in and out?
    • Whats happens to your body? Anyone?
    • Who out there body-builds and hits the gym and exercises?
    • What kinds of food to you consume?

The reason I bring this up is because 90% of the content on the internet is like junk-food of various degrees but junk food nevertheless

Seriously. Fake, cheap, junk, filled with negativity, criticism, hate, abuse, bullying. IF you consume that crap day in and out, your mind will conform to those values and attitudes, then you become part of the problem.

However, if you are careful of what you put in your body, like a body-builder, you become different, strong… in your mind and attitude. You are what you consume and that saying doesn’t just apply to food. It applies to everything you consume, so be careful with what you consume for your mind.

Has anyone heard of the actor Mark Wahlberg, from Transformers? He really came out about his catholic faith on CNN. Check it out:

Now that is brutally honest. He took a lot of heat for that online.

There are many other high profile celebrities and hollywood A-listers that are putting themselves out there on social media because of the reasons we spoke about. Yeah, they’re not always be perfect but neither are we. They have the same struggles as we do, if not amplified, by their celebrity status. Celebs like Mel Gibson, Stephen Colbert, Martin Sheen, Jim Caviezel and so many others are proclaiming themselves Catholic/

And the reason why they are putting themselves out there as Catholics can be summarized in this little clip. Have a look:

Session 2 – How

In this session, I’d like to talk to you about how to put yourselves out there as good Catholics. And to begin, the easiest way is simply to like, post and share good Christian/Catholic content on whatever social media platform you use. It’s that simple.

You don’t need to make grand proclamations, you don’t need to be on CNN or make video clips to post on Youtube. Simply like, post and share good Christian/Catholic content that represents your faith, content that is positive, hope-filled and optimistic.

As a digital citizen, you have an opportunity to take a stand on issues and truly define yourselves to the world.

So I thought it would be kind of cool to have a look at some of the sites I personally like and some that we use at Salt and Light TV.

Here are a few of my favourite ones:

Session 3 – St. John Paul II

In this final session, I’d like to take a moment to talk to you about one of the greatest communicators of our time, of my time. Someone who by the very nature of his heart, and not by his job, put himself out there, in a way that none of his predecessors have done so in the past.

He did this at a time where the global and political environment was harsh against religion; at a time when being religious, let alone Catholic, could mean imprisonment or even death.

He was great not because it was his job to be great, but because of the suffering he endured throughout his life. He was renowned for NOT being bitter or harsh, but for courage and optimism in the face of evil, and the light of hope he spread in this world.

This person personally reached out to the youth of the world and hence started what has become one of greatest youth gatherings in the world. It happens every 2-3 years: World Youth Day.

The person I’m talking about is none other than Pope John Paul II or St. JPII. Have a look:

Be Not Afraid was his message to you, the youth. Be the Salt of the Earth and the Light of the World.

When you stand up for your beliefs, no matter WHAT they are, you’ll be criticized, antagonized, laughed at and, in some cases, villainized?

But. Be Not Afraid.

When you stand up to be a shining example of what’s good in the world, of what’s right in the world, of what’s just in the world, haters will try to extinguish that light with negativity and cruelness, especially in the digital world.

But dont worry. St. JPII reminds us that You are not what they say you are. Let me remind you who you are.

As the next generation of young, dynamic Catholics, we need to be present and available where people are spending much of their time – online. We have to take JPII’s call to evangelize on the digital continent very seriously and why?

Because YOU are the hope for the future. You are the beacons of light and hope that generations before and generations ahead will look to.

We have to stand up and freely and openly state: We Are Catholic!

Finally, to wrap up my time with you, I’d like to show you one last video.

If Social Media existed during the time of Jesus this is how things may have looked:

Now take that message, your message, and spread it with hope and joy throughout the world. Your world – the digital continent.

Thank you!

image003

Freedom from Religion – The Canadian Edition

Religious_Freedom

Freedom of religion, it is something that generally speaking, Canadians take for granted. You can wake-up on Sunday mornings, and drive/walk/ride to the local parish. The music plays, the congregation prays, the priest offers the sacrifice of the mass. For most, the conversation ends right there, freedom of religion delivered, your social contract with the state lives to see another day. However there is so much more to it than that. Faith is so much more than being able to assemble. Challenges to those rights are not always as overt as the violence and discrimination faced by our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world.

Cue up 2008, Montreal, Quebec: a private Catholic Boys’ High School called Loyola, takes issue with the new provincially mandated Ethics and Religious Culture (ERC) program. In the wake of doing away with religious schools, the government created a secular ethics program, which seeks to give students a “balanced” look at different faiths. Loyola being a private institution, applied to the Ministry of Education for an exemption. While not objecting to the bulk of the program, the school felt that it could not and should not have to teach Catholicism from a “neutral” or “unbiased” point of view. Administrators argued that it would be impossible and simply not right for teachers to have to leave their faith at the door for a period of each day.

With the government not willing to back down and Loyola not willing to compromise their beliefs, the battle went the way of the courts resulting in a ruling in Loyola’s favor. The government appealed and won, setting up a highly touted main event in the Supreme Court. Ultimately it was Loyola’s day, as just last week, the highest court in the land ruled that the provincial government had indeed infringed on the religious freedoms of the school.

There is no shortage of important points to be unpacked from this case, but the one that stands at the forefront, is the overarching reach of the state. The Government of Quebec has argued that it must equip young people for the future, for the secular society of which they are supposed to be productive members. They also believe that they have a vehicle in the form of the ERC to do so and that it belongs in Catholic private schools. However at what point did the state assume the powers of parents, families and Churches? It is not the job of state to teach people how to be moral. Certainly the state must legislate and enforce laws, however morality has rarely been the forte of governments throughout history.

The state cannot and should not have to try to protect people from themselves. This move, which follows the abolition of religious schools in the province, is at the very least, the tacit admission that faith plays an important role in forming people’s moral compass. However it isn’t the government’s job to mould society or its people. All of that comes organically through formation delivered by families, as well as the Churches and communities they are a part of. The government’s role in all of this is to preserve freedom. That freedom gives parents the chance to foster children in what they believe to be an appropriate environment, allowing them flourish and become their own person.

Yet in the case of Loyola, we have seen the opposite transpire. The government has de facto abdicated its responsibility as the guarantor of such an environment and in fact become the culprit. How sad, that this pivot comes as we make such incredible advances in the sciences and the arts. With all of this great knowledge there are those who argue that they must protect people from themselves, from what their faith may teach them. All of this to ensure, that people grow up to be productive members of an increasingly self-secularized society.

Canadians can be grateful that the justice system has fulfilled its mandate and upheld the laws of the land. However it is unlikely to inhibit such attempts curtailing the religious freedoms people of faith hold so fundamentally close to their hearts. If this case has taught Catholics anything, it is that they must be thankful for and respectful of the rights and freedoms of all. These come from God, the creator, whose authority and age, outstrips and predates any piece of legislation conceived. These freedoms are great and powerful and as with any great powers, come great responsibilities. Faith must be used to build a better world, to create a more just society and ultimately inform and inspire people to lives of virtue.

Deacon-structing Lent: part 4

Baptism_Lent

So far in part 1, we looked at questions people have regarding fasting and abstinence, in part 2 we looked at suffering and in part 3 we looked at what Scripture has to tell us about why Jesus had to suffer.  I think when people think of Lent, that’s what they think about: fasting, abstinence and suffering. Add to that penance.

It is true that Lent is a penitential season, but do you know that the word “Lent” comes from the old English word, “lencten” which  was the word used for “Springtime?” It comes from the old Germanic: “Lengen-tinza” which literally means “long days” (think of the English word “lengthen,” to make long – that’s the same root as the word Lent.) So the word ‘Lent’ refers to the lengthening of days; to the light that is defeating the darkness.  I think most of us think of penance and fasting when we think of Lent, but Lent is also about light defeating darkness. That’s what we see in the fourth Sunday of Lent this year. (On 4th Sunday in Cycle B with Jesus speaking with Nicodemus and also in Cycle A with the story of the man born blind).

How many of you, when you think of Lent, think of Baptism? (I would hope that those preparing for Baptism are thinking of Baptism during Lent; but the rest of us?) Recently, I received a book by Jerry Galipeau titled, You Have Put On Christ: Cultivating a Baptismal Spirituality. In it, he says that Lent is a baptismal time. He quotes the Second Vatican Council Document Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, #109:

“The season of Lent has a twofold character: primarily by recalling or preparing for baptism and by penance, it disposes the faithful, who more diligently hear the word of God ad devote themselves to prayer, to celebrate the paschal mystery. This twofold character is to be brought into greater prominence both in the liturgy and by liturgical catechesis.”

 And so, Lent has a two-fold character; two equally important strands: a baptismal one and a penitential one – we tend to over-emphasize the penitential one.  Traditionally, those preparing to be baptised or received in the Church do their final preparations during Lent. They are called Catechumens and we do see a special baptism emphasis for them during Lent, but all of us should be recalling our Baptism. At the Easter Vigil we will all be renewing our Baptismal promises.

I interviewed Jerry Galipeau for the SLHour for the first week in Lent and afterwards I decided that this Lent I was going to pay extra attention to the readings and prayers and look for all the baptismal themes. I was not sure as to what I was going to find. Then I came to the readings for the first Sunday in Lent. There are Baptismal elements in all the readings all throughout Lent, but let me use the first Sunday, Cycle B as an example:

The first reading from Genesis 9:8-15 takes place just after the flood. God is establishing a Covenant with all Creation; He will never again destroy with a flood. The flood was a cleansing, but also an opportunity for a new life, a regeneration. St. Peter, in the second reading (1 Peter 3:18-22) , tells us that the flood and the Ark prefigure Baptism. That’s what happens at Baptism: it is a cleansing and also an entering into a new life, a new life in Christ.

But the first reading is not directly about the flood; it is about God establishing a Covenant. Guess what I found: The YouCat (the Church’s youth catechism given to us by Pope Benedict XVI.) It says that “Baptism is a covenant with God” because “the individual must say Yes to it.” (YC#194) That makes sense since every Sacrament involves our action and God’s action: We do something and God does something – that’s a covenant. In Baptism, we do something: the prayers, the ritual, everything with the water, the oils, the white garment, the candle – that our part. Then God does his part; He sends us his Grace. In Baptism, we primarily receive two Graces: We are freed from sin and we are reborn as children of God (CCC#1213).  By going through the waters of Baptism, literally plunging into the waters (the word baptism comes from the Greek baptizein, which means “to plunge”) just as the people in the time of Noah went through the flood, we die to sin, all sin is buried in the waters, and we come up on the other side, reborn into Christ. Baptism is a death and a resurrection. St. Paul says that all who are baptised are baptised into the death of Christ, we are buried with him, so that as Christ is raised, we too can walk in the newness of life (Rom 6:3-4; Col 2:12). In Baptism, we are freed from all sin and we become children of God, no longer slaves to sin, but as adopted sons and daughters of God, who now have access to God’s very life, to the life that Adam and Eve had in the Garden of Eden. We must say yes to that. God does his part and we must agree. That’s what makes it a Covenant.

Now, the Gospel from the first Sunday in Lent is always about Jesus going to the desert. It’s easy to look at Mark’s version (1:12-15) and focus on the fact that Jesus goes into the desert – that’s very Lenten, very penitential. But what happens just before Jesus goes into the desert according to Mark? He is baptised! Then all Mark says about Jesus going to the desert is that “he was driven by the Spirit into the wilderness” and in the desert he overcomes temptation; he overcomes sin and he is among wild beasts and the angels minister to him. Who else lived among wild beasts and the angels ministered to them? Adam and Eve. So according to Mark, Jesus going into the desert is an analogy to what happens at baptism: We are freed from sin (Jesus never sins; he overcomes temptation), no longer slaves to sin but having all the benefits that come with being children of God, the Communion with God that Adam and Eve had.

And then what does Jesus do? He begins his ministry. And that’s what we forget about Baptism. Baptism is not the end of the journey, but the beginning. Baptism is the door to Faith and to ministry in the Church. God establishes a Covenant with us and we have to do our part.

So Lent is a time to remember and reflect on our Baptism. For most of us, we were baptised many, many years ago – we don’t remember it – some of us don’t even know when we were baptised or where. Some don’t have a relationship with their Godparents. We should know, at the very least when and where we were baptised. I was baptised on February 8th, 1969 at San Francisco de la Caleta Parish in Panama City, Panama. I know who was there, I have photos and I know who my Godparents are. Do you? Your baptism is where it all began. I would not be here today, as a Deacon, working at S+L and writing this, had I not been baptised. Most of you would not be reading this and would not be in Church every Sunday had you not been baptised – and I don’t mean Catholic baptism; I mean all Christian Baptism, because it’s all the same. We believe in one Baptism. If you are baptised in any Christian denomination, you are baptised – you’ve been freed from Original Sin and you have become a child of God. But we forget and don’t give Baptism the importance that it requires.

I used to think that since I was so young at my baptism and still very young at my Confirmation, there should be a second Confirmation – around our 30s when we truly accept, with full knowledge that we want to be Catholic followers of Jesus Christ – when we would renew our baptismal promises with full consent and knowledge. Most of us have forgotten our baptismal promises. But we don’t need a second Confirmation. At every Mass, when we pray the Creed, we are renewing our baptismal promises, and it is done with special importance, as a community during the Easter Vigil, at the end of Lent. So Lent is a time when we remember and reflect on our Baptism, so that at the Easter Vigil we can renew with vigour our part of the Covenant. God does his part; let’s prepare during this Lenten season so we can do ours.

Come back next time and we’ll deacon-struct Holy Week.