Dr. H. P. Bianchi is an assistant professor of history at a local community college, where he teaches courses on Western Civilization and Asian history. He received his master’s degree in modern German history from the University of Connecticut and his doctorate from The Catholic University of America. His research focuses on the question of secularization in Britain and the United States.

Dr. Bianchi is happily married and the father of two sons and a daughter. You might find him perusing one of his interests in gardening, disc golf, hiking, cooking and traveling when he isn't working.

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Catholics should definitely vote. My article's thesis is that Catholics should not publicly promote either of the major candidates, and when there is a discussion of current problems facing our country, Catholics should not address them from a Clinton or Trump perspective, but a Christian perspective. Thus, the church could serve as a alternative to the current political system.

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If Bianchi is proposing that we not vote at all, he is wrong. The choice is between a woman who could serve as an example of many of the seven deadly sins and a man who has his faults, but the biggest is that he is not a politician and has no experience "playing the game". BUT if the proposal is a write-in ballot for Jesus Christ, then he may have some merit in his thoughts.

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Fertile Soil

Why having two horrible presidential candidates presents a golden opportunity for Catholics




After the first presidential debate, it was clear we have two of the worst candidates for president imaginable. We would be hard pressed to find individuals more unpopular than Clinton and Trump, and as the election quickly approaches, we are left wondering: what happened? Yet, this election could be a great opportunity for Catholics. In fact, this could be our moment.

Wait. What?

Catholics have debated who is the lesser of two evils. We can’t vote for Clinton. We can’t vote for Trump. But perhaps, could we vote against one of them? That’s been the incessant debate for the last few months. However, a third option exists, and I am not talking about Gary Johnson.

It doesn’t have to be Trump or Clinton. It could be neither Trump nor Clinton. The third option could be a complete rejection of the political order and a full embrace of the teachings of Jesus.

We have fallen into the same trap as the Zealots during the time of Jesus, waiting for a political leader to save them. Instead, God sent Jesus who began his life in a humble stable and ended it on cross. He largely ignored the political elite, and was never one of them.

The moment is right for Catholics to offer the message of Jesus as an alternative to the illogical ramblings of current political leaders. People are dissatisfied. They are angry. But, they are also looking for alternatives. No one is under the allusion that any candidate will solve their problems. There is no lofty optimism that was associated with Obama is his early years, or present in the campaigns of Ron Paul or Bernie Sanders.

Catholics have The Answer. We have the Jesus card, and it’s time to play it.

Every bishop, priest, and deacon should preach on this message from now until Election Day:

I understand your dissatisfaction with the current political climate and the lack of a true Catholic candidate. The main political parties do not have policies that will solve our country’s current difficulties, for they are part of the problem. Trump’s wall will not solve our problems. Clinton’s pandering will not solve our problems. A lesser of two evils will not solve our problems.

Nov. 8 will be a depressing day, and many people will be greatly distraught by the results. Yet, there is no reason to despair or rush to buy land in Canada. Catholics will face uncertainties in an increasingly hostile political arena, but the political world is becoming increasing unpopular.

Public disapproval has grown because the political world has abandoned truth, civility, common sense, decency, humility and so many other attributes of a good political order. We renounce it.

While we watch the political world crumble from within, I offer you another place and another person: our Church and the person of Jesus Christ. You will not find the money or power of politics, but you will find love, joy, peace, kindness and goodness.

In the coming weeks, we need to pray for our country, but not that the right person is elected. We need to pray that in midst of this political mess, we collectively repent of our mistakes and turn back to Jesus.

You can find profound personal peace amid the chaos by trusting in Jesus and not political leaders. Too many people have an overwhelming feeling of angst due the election, but we can let it go. All we to do is shift our desire for the impossible, a perfect politician who will create a perfect world, to the possible, an eternity of happiness with God.

Lastly in your daily conversations, you hear the crumbling about the election. Share with your friends and family the alternative. Welcome them to step away from the false promises of the political world, and to accept the teachings and promises of Jesus.  

If these themes become the dominate discourse in sermons and the Catholic media, then this election might provide an unparalleled opportunity of growth for Catholicism, turning a disaster into a blessing and a moment of despair to a moment of hope.

Also see:

When the choice is Clinton or Trump, what's a Catholic to do?

Archbishop Lori: Faithful Citizenship





 

October 07, 2016 09:39
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi


Imitation of Christ: The essence of a Catholic mindset





An image of Jesus is seen as Pope Francis greets a young woman during the World Youth Day welcoming ceremony in Blonia Park in Krakow, Poland, July 28. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

My wife and I recently finished watching a series on Netflix. As with any well-written show, I found myself engrossed in the characters and storyline. Throughout the day, I caught myself thinking about the latest plot twist and counting down the hours to when I could watch the next episode. 

In my last blog post, I wrote that “Catholics no longer think like Catholics. They think like Republicans, Democrats, liberals, conservatives, socialists, or secularists, but not as Catholics.” What is the key to restoring a Catholic way of thinking? In short, Catholics must seek to think like Jesus. 

And for me to think like Jesus, I need to replicate my experience of “binge watching” television shows such as "Lost," "Downton Abbey," "Blacklist" or more recently, "Stranger Things" by “binge meditating” on the life of Jesus. In the past, while commuting to work, sending an email, or watching the children, I was reviewing the latest episode of the show in the back of mind. As a Catholic, I need keep the mindfulness of a world beyond our present world, but replace the television show with the life of Jesus. In this process, my life will be less molded by the fictional characters of the newest hit show, and more by the life of Jesus. 

The concept of imitating Jesus has a rich tradition in Catholicism. In the New Testament, St. Paul commented, “And you became imitators of us and of the Lord,” (1 Thessalonians 1:6) and St. Peter wrote, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21). Saints built on this biblical tradition, and fully developed the idea of following Jesus. Famously, St. Francis of Assisi emphasized a literal imitation of Christ, and Thomas a Kempis wrote The Imitation of Christ, perhaps the most popular devotional book ever on the concept.  

Quite simply, Jesus is the model Christian. He is the paradigm. To follow in his steps, Catholics must immerse themselves in the life of Jesus. That is, they need to read and reflect on the Gospels. Often Gospel passages are plucked out of context to justify a position, but we are called to accept the whole Gospel, the parts that are easy to follow and the parts that hard to follow.

Beyond reading the Gospels, Catholics should mediate on the mysteries of his life – his birth, his death, his resurrection, with particular focus on a daily reflection on his passion and death. As Catholics become more aware of the life of Christ, they should have a greater sensitivity to the living like Jesus. It has become trendy to speculate “what would Jesus do?” but seeking to live out that simple phrase is the essence of being a Christian, uniting our will with the will of Jesus.

It can be intimidating to imitate Jesus. While he was fully human, he was also God. The gap between Jesus and humanity is vast, and it is hard to ascertain how we can be like Jesus. Moreover, Jesus lived in a different time and had a different vocation from most modern Americans. How does a modern, married, businessman model his life on Jesus? It is helpful to look at the lives of Mary and the saints. Mary is highest of all creatures, and Catholics understand her as means to become closer to Jesus. Mary’s life provides a perfect example of how we are called to unite with Jesus. In addition to Jesus and Mary, the saints provide further examples in numerous vocations, time periods, and locations. In the wisdom of the church, she provides the saints as tangible models to imitate the life of Christ. Therefore, the formation of a Christian mindset is aided by knowledge of the lives of saints, and reading their spiritual instructions.

Even with the examples of Mary and the saints, it is still difficult to imagine how we can become like Christ. Fortunately, God has done the majority of the work. The wonderful mystery of the Incarnation is that God became man, entering the world as a little and poor baby in Bethlehem. We do not have to cross the great abyss to encounter Jesus; he crossed it for us. During his life, humans were able to see God face to face. With his Ascension to heaven, however, Jesus did not leave us. God sent the Holy Spirit only 10 days later at the great feast of Pentecost, and he also left us the sacraments. Jesus is present to us in Mass, and in the Blessed Sacrament. We need to spend time with Jesus in order to become more like him, and for us, we are with Jesus through frequent reception of Holy Communion and visits to the Blessed Sacrament.

Catholics no longer think like Catholics because they do not think like Christ. We have immersed ourselves in the lives of politicians, celebrities and fictional characters rather than the life of Christ. We can restore a Catholic mindset by imitating Christ, which begins with reading the Gospels, studying the lives of Mary and the saints, and regular reception of Holy Communion and visits to the Blessed Sacrament.



September 06, 2016 10:08
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi


In search of a Catholic mindset



A world Youth Day pilgrim prays at Sacred Heart Church in Krakow, Poland, July 28. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)


Soon after the terrorist attack in Orlando, Catholic leaders, writers and commentators issued “Catholic” responses to the tragedy. The reactions to the violence, however, were often contradictory and the ensuring debate over whether Catholics should apologize was contentious. Bishops were pitted against bishops, cardinals disagreed with the pope and Catholic bloggers detailed every stage of the dispute.

A similar discord among Catholics can be found in opinions about the presidential election. Certain Catholic commentators claim that a Catholic could never vote for Trump, while others respond that a Catholic could never vote for Clinton. This sequence of disagreement is repeated with every major global event, political issue and election. These “Catholic” responses seem to betray more about the authors’ personal views than their Catholicism. The only common link among all these “Catholic public opinions” is the authors’ claims to be Catholic.

One cause of the bifurcation of Catholic viewpoints is the death of a collective Catholic mindset.

Catholics no longer think like Catholics. They think like Republicans, Democrats, liberals, conservatives, socialists or secularists, but not as Catholics.

In the past, historians attempted to categorize the collective thought of a historical group, and numerous books appeared detailing the Greek mind, the Victorian mind or the Islamic mind. Other scholars explored the Zeitgeist or the “spirit of the age,” trying to capture the essence of a particular time period. French historians in the mid-twentieth century looked at mentalite, which could be defined as the thoughts, values and beliefs of a shared community. German scholars used the term, Weltanschauung, or worldview, in an effort to describe the way an individual or group viewed life and the world.

Some Christian thinkers sought to borrow these theories from the social sciences and apply them to Christianity. Harry Blamires, a devout Anglican and friend of C. S. Lewis, wrote The Christian Mind, The Post-Christian Mind, and Recovering the Christian Mind. Monsignor Romano Guardini held the unique position at the University of Berlin of chair in the Philosophy of Religion and Catholic Weltanschauung, and prolifically wrote on the encounter of faith with the world. These past attempts to examine the fundamental aspects of a Christian mindset, however, have fallen from favor.

In the academic world, the broad categorization of a mentalite or zeitgeist is seen as an overgeneralization. Critics claim that no one can summarize millions of individual minds, and any attempt to draw a generalization would merely rely on stereotypes. Current academics seek to disrupt and complicate the standard categories, rather than reinforce them. They look for the female who challenges gender roles, or they highlight the young Muslim who promotes secularism.

From a popular perspective, a collective mentality has a negative connotation, connected to the ideas of herd-mentality or groupthink. This hostile attitude is manifest particularly in an older generation of Catholics who grew up in a church still promoting a traditional mindset but who came of age in a culture that promoted a modern, secular way of thinking. They can promptly recall memorized sections of the Baltimore Catechism, but jokingly refer to it as a form of brainwashing. Modern culture values critical thinking and individualism, and celebrates revolutionaries and trailblazers. Individuals who protest, contest, revolt  and critique are praised; while those who uphold and defend are dismissed. All this, regardless, of the positions held. Thus, not only are the particular tenants of a Catholic mentality under attack, but the very concept that Catholics should think a particular way is questioned.

Preliminary steps to recover a Catholic mindset

In order to begin thinking like a Catholic, individuals must first reduce their exposure to secular mentalities. Modern American are inundated with beliefs and values hostile to a Catholic mindset, and Catholics need to limit this exposure, especially through the media — television, the Internet and movies. One, for example, cannot listen to heavy metal music or hip hop for hours, and then, attempt mental prayer. Your mind would be flooded with noise. Similarly, if one is inundated with the rhetoric of a secular mentality, you cannot turn it off, and think like a Catholic.

Secondly, a Catholic mindset must focus primarily on religious elements. In the last few decades, ambiguities have blurred the nature of the Catholic Church. Some see the Church as a place for fellowship. Others see the Catholic Church as an institution working for social justice and still others expect to be entertained at church. If a group of Catholics exclusively focus on any of these aspects, they will be an utter failure. Nonreligious institutions are far more proficient at entertaining or political activism.

Catholics need to focus on the church’s fundamental function, the salvation of souls. No secular institution offers this function. There is no competition in this endeavor, the most important task of the church. At its fundamental level, the Catholic mindset thus needs to exclusively focus on religious elements, without the political and social ambiguities.

The Catholic mindset should not seek to compromise on its principles. Progressive commentators often propose finding a theological meeting point between the Catholic worldview and the secular worldview, and they believe this shared intersection could become a place for dialogue. While it is necessary to engage with everyone, the purpose of the encounter for Catholics is to bring others to Christ, and not to change the tenants of the faith for the sake of dialogue.

Compromising the fundamentals of Catholicism will only hurt the church and fail to attract others to it. For current members, the result of a watered-down faith is lukewarm Catholics, who are ambivalent about their faith and immobilized. For those who are the object of the outreach, why would they be moved to join the Catholic Church? Who willingly makes the sacrifice to become Catholic for partial truths? It sounds like common sense, but the Catholic mindset should be unabashedly Catholic.

The only mechanism to ensure a unified Catholic mindset is to control membership. In every example, dissenters within an organization weaken the group. If the Republican Party is run by individuals espousing Democratic ideals, then the Republican Party will do poorly. If a pro-life group has members supporting abortion, they will be removed from the group. It makes no sense for members of an institution to not support its most basic ideals and principles. Yet, the Catholic Church has numerous Catholic politicians and individuals working at Catholic universities among many other Catholics who publicly denounce Catholic teachings.

In order to unify a Catholic mindset, those converting to Catholicism should go through a long process which instructs them in the faith and guarantees that they are serious about Catholicism, and not joining the faith for pragmatic reasons. More importantly, a second mechanism needs to be in place for adult Catholics, who were baptized as infants. The Catholic faith has clearly delineated teachings on numerous issues, and if a Catholic publicly denounces those teachings, then there must be some repercussion. If the church fails to correct erring Catholics, people will not know what Catholicism entails, resulting in confusion over what are the key elements of Catholicism.

Catholics often find it easy to compromise their positions, to water-down the faith in order to accommodate current trends in popular culture, and to ignore Catholics who denounce the faith, but these action harm the church. If Catholics only share what is popular, they will focus on what is vague and fluff, barely moving beyond that God is love.

Conversely, if Catholics collectively followed the preliminary steps I outlined above, they actions will result in an increased level of rebuke and persecution. Quite simply, if Catholics seek to be Catholic and reject secular culture, then there will be pushback from society. People with a strong religious mindset can be difficult to live around. They point out immoral actions, they stand for objective truths, they critique society and so forth. All of these actions can make people uncomfortable and result in an intensification of persecution against Catholics.

The pushback against a stronger Catholic mentality is not necessarily a bad thing. It will lead to unity among Catholics, as external threats typically help to heal internal divisions. Periods of persecution, historically, also led to internal growth. The church grew through the initial persecutions under the Roman Empire, and amid the strong anti-Catholicism in United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

In sum, very few Catholics think like Catholics. In order to restore a Catholic mindset, Catholics needs to break away from secular culture and embrace an abashedly Catholic way of thinking. This mentality would focus primarily on religious elements and not compromise on truths. Additionally, the church should have a tighter monitoring of membership and Catholic institutions, and in the face of these efforts, Catholic should expect renewed persecution.

Principles of a Catholic mentality

The above points highlight step towards reestablishing a Catholic mindset, but what are the basic principles of Catholic thinking? What elements of Catholicism are mentioned over and over again for the last two thousand years? What is present in the Bible and repeated in the works of the Church Fathers and saints? I postulate these seven essential points. All Catholics should…

1. Seek to imitate Jesus

2. Place God at the center of all activity

3. Have an eternal perspective

4. Respect tradition

5. Have a missionary zeal

6. Be mindful of good and evil

7. Love selflessly

In the following weeks, I will elaborate of each of these points. They are not the basic teachings of Catholicism. They are the context through which Catholics should see the world, and not merely political or global events. They should provide guidance on everyday events: how to raise my child, how do I divide my time, what media should I consume and countless other decisions we face on a daily basis.


August 07, 2016 06:27
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi


Franciscan University: Fertile Soil for the Faith



Pre-theologate students at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, gather for evening prayer in this 2009 file photo. (CNS file photo)


When I was a student at Franciscan University, I remember hanging out with my brother’s roommate, Father Michael Gaitley (best-selling author and national speaker), playing intramural volleyball with Jason Evert (author and international speaker on chastity), passing Steve Skojec (founder and editor of OnePeterFive) in the cafeteria and having intense spiritual discussions with Father Jeffrey Kirby (author and media personality).

I also remember pulling pranks on Bob Lesnefsky (missionary to urban youth and Catholic Hip Hop artist), going on camping trips with Paul Coakley (inspired the Catholic world with his holy death), being quizzed on Catholic history by Bryan Mercier (Catholic speaker), traveling around Europe with my roommate Will Bloomfield (founder and editor of the Catholic Art Series) and visiting the off-campus house of two graduate students, Matthew Leonard (author) and Michael Miller (film director and fellow at the Acton Institute).

My wife, who didn’t attend Franciscan, is always surprised by how many people I know when we attend a large Catholic gathering. I am not trying to name drop, but demonstrate that over the course of a few years at Franciscan, I befriended numerous individuals who would go on to become leaders in the Catholic world – speakers, authors, bloggers, intellectuals, teachers and religious.

My Franciscan connection is with many more people than just those who went on to become “Catholic famous.” Franciscan formed countless individuals who now serve as the backbones of their local Catholic communities.

Who’s that young priest everyone is excited about? He is a Franciscan graduate. Who is that young mom running the homeschool association? She is a Franciscan graduate. Who is that dynamic youth minister that is great with the kids? He is a Franciscan graduate. Who is that young sister, inspiring the next generation of young women? She is a Franciscan graduate.

What makes Franciscan University so special? Catholic scholars have speculated on the nature of a true Catholic culture. They write on living in the High Middle Ages, the climax of Catholic civilization, and they describe the dynamism of American Catholic parishes in the early part of the 20th century. If you are wondering what a Catholic community entails, you don’t need to speculate about a historical era. You can rather visit Steubenville, Ohio.

I was fortunate enough to go to college in the late 1990s and early 2000s before the popularization of cell phones and the Internet. I checked my email once a month at the university computer lab. We only had access to a few televisions, and I only watched a movie once every couple of weeks. I was completely detached from modern secular culture. Moreover, the campus is on a hill, physically separated from the local town, and there are not many reasons to explore the surrounding area, to put it nicely.

On this little hill rising up from the banks of the Ohio River, the students, staff, religious, and faculty of the university have created a small but vibrant Catholic subculture. The student body is 99 percent Catholic, and the faith is activity lived out. The sacramental life is vigorous with nearly universal attendance by students at Sunday Mass (98 percent), and daily Mass is attended by more than 700 students. Confessions are held by seven or eight priests, four times a week, with long lines of students. The mercy chaplet is prayed daily at 3 p.m., and numerous public rosaries are recited each day. My personal favorite was the walking rosary around campus, which took place nearly every evening.  

Catholicism is physically present on campus. Every residence hall has a chapel with the Blessed Sacrament, and one chapel has perpetual adoration. The campus is filled with religious imagery, including the Stations of the Cross, a tomb for the unborn, a Marian Grotto, and numerous outdoor statues. Crucifixes adorn the wall of every classroom, and dorm rooms often contain images of students’ favorite saints. Around the necks of students and staff, you’ll catch a glimpse of miraculous medal or scapular.  

The college has a system of small groups, called households, in which members commit to attending religious activities – daily Mass, rosary, retreats – and foster a sense of accountability. I had friends who were on the verge of being kicked out of school their first semester because of excessive drinking, but after joining a household, they were regularly attending daily mass at 6:30 a.m., a changed person. Numerous other organizations exist on campus to promote the culture of life, vocations, evangelization and service endeavors. Dozens of students leave in the evening to help the local homeless population, or an equally impressive number drive to Pittsburgh to protest prayerfully in front of an abortion clinic every Saturday morning.

A strong Catholic culture is created at the university with its own practices and traditions. You might hear students talking about heading over to the “Port” to pray, slang for making a holy hour at the replica of the Portiuncula on campus. Students finishing an 11 a.m. class might naturally make their way to noon Mass as a group. As the events unfolded on Sept.11, 2001, one of the chaplains set up an altar for eucharistic adoration, and as I approached the altar, I saw hundreds of students kneeling and praying for those impacted by the events and for our country. Catholicism infuses every action at Franciscan.     

Some are critical of Franciscan, and there is a valid critique that it is financially challenging to attend the college.  Yet as one friend put it, your soul is worth it. Others claim that it is a Catholic bubble and does not represent the real world, which baffles me. Why would you want to send your teenager into the real world? Do you think it is better for an eighteen-year-old to go to a secular school and experiencing drinking and loose sexual morality, all in the name of experiencing the real world?

To use a military metaphor, Franciscan is like Catholic boot camp. You would not want an untested and ill-prepared teenager to be sent into a battle zone like Iraq or Afghanistan without any preparation. Similarly, you do not want to send your child out into the world without a strong faith. The students who graduate from Franciscan, for the most part (there are always exceptions), are prepared and ready to encounter the world without becoming part of it. My experience showed me that Franciscan is fertile soil for the faith and helped generate the next generation of Catholic leaders.

Click here to learn more about Franciscan University.


February 11, 2016 10:50
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi


Time to move the March for Life



Victor Jauquet was one of the younger representatives of Our Lady of Victory in Arbutus at the 2016 March for Life. (Erik Zygmont/CR Staff)

Every year on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, hundreds of thousands of people from around the country descend on Washington D.C. to petition for the end of abortion and showcase the strength and youthfulness of the pro-life movement. And every year, the weather is horrible. Without fail, it’s either freezing cold or snowing, and this past Friday was no exception.

Media blackout

After attending the march, one feels re-energized about the pro-life cause, and confident the tide has turned on this important moral struggle. That positive energy is dampened, however, when you see the complete secular media blackout of the event or the blatant dishonesty. That is, the national news rarely covers it, and if they do, they give equal time to the handful of pro-abortion protestors and drastically underreport the number of marchers.

Pro-life organizations have documented the lopsided media coverage, and the March for Life organization, under new and younger leadership, have made a point to increase media coverage.

A radical proposal

I do not intend to duplicate their critique of the media blackout, but propose a radical shift in the way the march is organized. That is, the march should be moved to another date. The traditional date - January 22 - is the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision, and many schools and organizations have made plans to attend the event on the January date.

It is always difficult to change, but the March for Life should be moved to an early fall date, for example on the last Saturday of September.



Peggy Nichols traveled from Dallas to walk in the March for Life, on crutches, with Our Lady of the Fields in Millersville. (Erik Zygmont/CR Staff)

Weather

No organization would intentionally plan for a major rally in January due to possibility of horrible weather. Some years, it was dangerously cold, and marchers sought out shelter in nearby museums and restaurants. I recall seeing parents desperately trying to warm their children near heaters after spending hours in the cold. The potential for cold weather makes it irresponsible to venture out with small children and attend the march as a family, which seems odd for a pro-life event.

This past Friday, numerous organizers cancelled their buses due to snow storm. Many that went were stuck in bad weather as they tried to return home. I followed the story online as buses from my alma mater, Franciscan University, were stranded on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

Go for a million

During a warmer time of year and on a weekend, the March for Life should aim for one million participants. The media can only ignore crowds below a certain number. They can only diminish the numbers to a degree, and their favorite phrase is thousands of people. The more accurate estimates are: “Around 250,000 people attended the march until 2010. Estimates put the 2011 and 2012 attendances at 400,000 each, and the 2013 March for Life drew an estimated 650,000 people.”

Few rallies generate enough interest for a million participants, but the March for Life is nearly there. With a million marchers, the media would be hard pressed to ignore its historical significance. 

Parish and family model

The goal of a million participants is reachable. The final push could be accomplished by a strategic plan to involve families. Marching in cold weather and on weekdays has prevented many pro-life families, both young and old, from attending. The move to a weekend in late September could provide a huge boost with that demographic. It could be easily facilitated by working with church leaders to ensure that every parish in the mid-Atlantic region has at least one bus attending the march (many already do).   

Schools

If you have attended the march recently, you know the crowd is mostly composed of high school and college students, the only age groups crazy enough to brave the harsh conditions. Relying on schools as a means to bring young marchers makes a summer date impossible. The September date ensures that it is early enough in the school year that they could miss a Friday, as a travel day, without major repercussions. One individual from Baltimore informed me that the January date conflicts with midterms and preparations for Catholic Schools Week, making it difficult for local school children to attend the march.

Political pressure

One of the advantages of scheduling the march on a weekday in January was the presence of lawmakers, and undoubtedly, fewer members of Congress will be present on a weekend in the fall. I doubt any politician was swayed by the presence of pro-lifers, but a massive million-person march a little more than a month before elections would provide far more political pressure. In other words, there is more to be gained than lost.

Think outside the box

Strangely, the march may have gotten more coverage this year than in any past years. It was not the events that played out in the nation’s capital. When several buses were stranded in Pennsylvania, the passengers got out of the bus, built an altar of snow, and several priests concelebrated Mass on the edge of the snowy highway. Pictures of the Mass went viral, and the story was covered by numerous news programs across the country.

Involve individuals with huge social media followings. Matt Walsh, for example, is a local pro-life advocate, and he had the most-commentated Facebook post of 2015 (620,111 comments on one post)! He and others could generate attention for the march without the traditional networks.

Install a station of 20 to 30 buttons across Constitution Avenue, and have every marcher hit one as they pass, generating a running total of the exact number of participants. Something unusual, like a Mass on the side of a highway, might create more attention than hundreds of thousands of of marchers alone.

It is time

A few years back, I was caught in a snow storm driving back to Steubenville after attending the march. It was a stressful drive back, and fortunately, we make it back to campus safely. One car that left right after us got into an accident, but no one was badly injured. Parents are going to be more reluctant to let their children go to the march in inclement weather, especially with the thousands of students stuck in this year’s storm. It might be a sign that it’s time to move the march to another date, and the nation’s most important pro-life event will be stronger for it. 

Also see:

Life beats blizzard, say participants in 2016 March for Life

Why I am pro-life

 
 

January 29, 2016 10:24
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi


16 tips for praying the rosary with young children


I am not an expert on helping young children to pray. Quite the opposite! Visitors to our house, especially those who do not have children, might be shocked by the chaos surrounding the recitation of our daily family rosary. They would be even more surprised that I am offering advice on the topic.

I believe it is absolutely essential that a family pray together, and, in desperation, I have tested countless different methods to help our children pray with us and bring some resemblance of order out of the chaos. It is from this long process of trial and error that we found some methods that work, and that’s what I would like to share with you.




Amy Olsen holds her 1-year-old daughter, Piper, as she lights a candle in St. Louis late last year. (CNS photo/Lisa Johnston)


1) Clean the room

First, we clean the living room and make sure it is a presentable and suitable place for prayer, leaving a few toys out for the baby. It removes distractions for the older children, and much like having a guest over, it demonstrates that we are inviting Jesus, Mary, the saints and angels to join us in our prayers.

2) Use a small altar

We have a small altar on top of a short bookshelf in the living room, which has a few statues and images of Jesus, Mary, and the saints. It also has a small flipbook of the mysteries of the rosary. It serves as a focal point for our prayers.

3) Light a candle

I am not sure why, but children love candles. We light a candle in front of the statues, and it draws their attention to images. We also allow the children to blow out the candle, if they are well behaved, which they make into a much bigger deal than it is.

4) Find a place for every child

After dinner, our two older boys are pretty wound up. They are jumping around and touching (hitting) each other. We decided that the two boys needed to find a place and stay there for the duration of the rosary, marked by a square on the couch or loveseat.

5) Sing

If the boys are still running around, we begin by singing a song. We use this time to teach the various sung parts of the Mass—the Gloria, Alleluia, for example. During particular liturgical seasons, we’ll sing an appropriate song. During the rosary, we’ll also sing a short refrain from a song, usually the Ave Maria from Immaculate Mary. Our three year old, who often refuses to pray, will at least join in on the sung parts of our prayer time.

6) Assign jobs

Children thrive on responsibility, and we allow the children to pass out the rosaries, turn the page in the flipbook or blow out the candle, which they love to do.

7) Pray with older children (6+)

Expectations for the children is based on their age. Our oldest boy is six, and he is required to pray with us. He leads two decades, and when not leading a decade, he can look at his rosary book, illustrated Bible or other religious book.

8) Work on gestures with younger children (3+)

The next boy is three years old, and he just has to remain in his place looking at books. We work on making a nice sign of the cross and being still (it is a struggle). We allow him to do religious activities, working on a religious themed puzzle or picture.

9) Let babies play (0-3)

Our youngest is a one-year-old girl, and she just meanders around the floor playing with her toys. We try to time it right and give her a bottle (or my wife breastfeed her when she was younger) during the rosary. That way, we would have some quiet time for part of it.

10) Intentions

We begin our prayers by asking our children to recite their intentions. Often, it is the same memorized list, but sometimes, they pray for a special intention, which comes directly from their heart.

11) Model reverence

We realized quite early that our children mimic us. If we sit nicely, our children were more likely to sit nicely. If we slouched, our children were more likely to slouch. Therefore, my wife and I paid closer attention to making a reverent Sign of the Cross and sitting properly. We recently started kneeling to further show the importance of praying. If we demonstrate prayer is important by our gestures, our children will pick up on it.

12) Explain the mysteries

At the beginning of each decade, we often ask our oldest son to explain the mystery, or my wife or I will give a little explanation or reflection. Periodically, we use a prayer book that provides a short reflection or a scriptural quote for each decade.

13) Consequences

Parents need a system of punishments and rewards. It begins with clear expectations. The boys know what is expected of them - the place where they are supposed to sit and what activities are allowed. If they eat their dinner, they receive a small dessert. However, they do not receive the dessert until after the rosary, and poor behavior during the rosary can result in the dessert being lost.

14) Chaos will happen

If you think your children will sit nicely and pray, you are gravely mistaken. Young children will move around and make noise. That’s part of having children, and you cannot change that reality. Sometimes you need to call it. If it is late, children are sick, and everybody is running around screaming, which does happen, we will end the rosary after a few decades and go upstairs to get ready for bed. The next evening we will try again.

15) Pray with other children

It feels like our children listen to everyone but my wife and me. During a family gathering, I am amazing how our children sit nicely next to their cousins and pray with them, or how well behaved they are in church when they are with their classmates or religious groups (Blue Knights). Make time when gathering with friends and extended family to pray. They will learn that other children pray as well, and be inspired by their example.

16) Do it

You must persevere through the difficulties. It would be so much easier to pray after the children have gone to bed. However, how will they ever learn to pray if we never do it as a family? It is especially essential that you pray with your older children, but is also important that younger children be exposed to the importance of praying and to see it being done. Parents must instill good habits into their children, and the earlier that you introduce them to daily family prayer, the more likely they are to keep the practice throughout their life.

“A family that prayer together, stay together” - Father Patrick Peyton

January 21, 2016 01:18
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi


The church as peacemaker


Religion in general and the Catholic Church in particular have a historical reputation for inspiring wars and violence. Critics incessantly cite the Crusades as an example of this bellicose sentiment even though they were not led by the church nor initiated by the church. The Crusades began when the Byzantine Emperor asked for western help in fighting a defensive war against Islamic armies threatening his state. The Fourth Crusade, when western knights attacked the Byzantines, is a good example of the many excesses of the movement and how it went astray over time.

Detractors are hard pressed to find another aggressive war fought by the church, besides the Crusades. The church, however, has played the role of peacemaker numerous times. One of the most famous examples is when Pope Leo the Great rode out to meet Attila the Hun and convinced him to spare Rome, which he did. In modern times, St. John Paul II protested the ill-fated invasion of Iraq. A few weeks ago, I provided some historical examples on how the church promoted human rights, and then, I gave some instances of how the church supported education and science.

This blog post will focus on illustrating the church as peacemaker and how individual Catholics embodied the principles of peace and love of neighbor.  


A 19th-century painting by Emile Signol depicts the taking of Jerusalem by the Crusaders. (Public Domain) 

The peace and truce of God

Feudalism was the political system of medieval Europe, and if you remember your history lesson on feudalism, a whole class of people known as knights existed to fight, thus ensuring a violent society. The task of curtaining violence during this period was taken up by the church. After the collapse of Charlemagne’s kingdom and in the wake of the Viking attacks, the church pushed for a system known as the peace and truce of God.

The peace and truce of God was a popular religious movement to guarantee the safety of the vulnerable. Priests, women, children, peasants and pilgrims were granted protection during wars, and religious authorities dictated that harming or robbing them a punishable offense. The law also granted immunity to individuals when on church property. In other words, churches and monasteries and the land they owned were safe havens. It also restricted the days permitted for warfare, beginning with Sunday and feast days, but later, fighting was prohibited during Lent, Advent and other holy weekdays.

The enforcement of these religious and pacifist traditions was difficult. The only true guarantee of peace is a strong army to enforce it, not a church. That said, knighthood took on a strong Christian element in the Late Middle Ages, and the code of chivalry placed a premium on honor and loyalty. As the peace and truce of God grew, knights took an oath to uphold it, and the church would excommunicate knights who broke the oath, a serious repercussion for the Middle Ages.

The Bianchis

Italy was hit hard by wars during the Late Middle Ages because it was not unified and the numerous small states were constantly fighting. Out of this context came a popular movement that was both religious and pacifist called the Bianchi of 1399. It was inspired by a vision of the Blessed Mother, who informed a peasant that Jesus was dismayed over the violence. She instructed the peasant to preach and pray for nine days and nine nights. Beginning with this one lowly individual, the movement grew like wildfire.  

The penitents dressed in white robes marked with a red cross, and because of the white robes, they were known as the Bianchi (Italian for white). They travelled for nine days, moving from city to city, preaching their message of peace. One scholar of the Bianchi wrote: “They insisted that everyone forgive their enemies and make peace with them before joining the processions. And they tried to convince individuals in the cities they visited to lay down their weapons and make peace, while urging the governments to repatriate exiles and release prisoners.”

The movement did not have a lasting national impact, but many individual relationships were healed, and numerous friendships were renewed due to the Bianchi. On a side note, many people are named Bianchi in northern Italy, and there are a few in Owings Mills, too. 

Number of religious wars

A standard claim of the New Atheism is that religion is the main cause of war. Really!

The numbers completely debunk this proposition. Christian apologists point to Philip and Axelrod’s three-volume Encyclopedia of Wars, which chronicles some 1,763 wars. Of those wars, only 123 are considered religious in nature by the authors, which is a surprisingly low 6.98 percent. If Islamic wars are subtracted (66 wars) from the total, then a minuscule 3.23 percent of all wars are related to all other religions.

Even atheists have dropped the idea that religion is the primary cause of war. As one prominent atheist conceded: “Moreover, the chief complaint against religion -- that it is history’s prime instigator of intergroup conflict -- does not withstand scrutiny… A BBC-sponsored “God and War” audit, which evaluated major conflicts over 3,500 years and rated them on a 0-to-5 scale for religious motivation (Punic Wars = 0, Crusades = 5), found that more than 60 percent had no religious motivation. Less than 7 percent earned a rating greater than 3. There was little religious motivation for the internal Russian and Chinese conflicts or the world wars responsible for history's most lethal century of international bloodshed.”

The greatest love

I would be remiss to end my argument here. Over the past few weeks, I have cited some examples from church history and quite a few statistics demonstrating that the church has been a leader in human rights, promoting education and science, and advocating for peace. This depiction of the church runs counter to the standard narrative delivered to us in schools and the media, but it makes the church appear as a super-awesome NGO. Something is missing. For me, the most important aspect of church history is that for 2,000 years the church has provided meaning, purpose, and a path to salvation to people, which makes it wholly different and far more important than an NGO.

It’s hard to prove this claim with specific examples, especially with regard to salvation, but the greatest image of meaning, purpose, and love is the cross. God came down to earth and died for each of us. Many Catholics have emulated Jesus in this radical fashion, laying down their life for another person

St. Alban, the first British martyr, was killed because he was sheltering a priest, but the details of story provide a moving account. When the local authorities became aware of the priest, St. Alban switched clothes with the priest and offered himself up, saving the priest and taking the on punishment and death reserved for the priest.

St. Maximillian Kolbe switched places with another prisoner at Auschwitz, who was sentenced to death. St. Kolbe was moved when the prisoner cried out about never seeing his wife and children. It was a long and painful death as the prisoners were locked in an underground bunker and slowly starved to death.

St. Gianna Molla refused an abortion when she was pregnant with her fourth child despite knowing that continuing with the pregnancy could result in her own death. She died from the complications, but her daughter survived. In effect, she gave her life so that her child could live.

Mercedarian Fathers

The Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy, or Mercedarian Fathers, was founded in the thirteenth century to help free slaves captured by Muslims in Spain. They would travel to North Africa, and attempt to negotiate the release of Christian slaves. They took a fourth vow to give their life, as Christ did, if necessitated by their work. Today, they would be similar to an individual traveling to Iraq to negotiate with ISIS. They are far more brave and selfless than I.

St. Serapion of Algiers carried out several redemptions. In the last one, he remained a hostage for some captives, and his companion traveled quickly to Spain to look for additional money. When the money for the ransom did not arrive in time, the Moors nailed him on an X-shaped cross, like Saint Andrew’s cross, and then, dismembered him. 

St. Peter Paschasius was captured in Granada, and several times, redeemers sent ransom money but Peter preferred to have other captives recover their freedom instead of him. In 1300, while he was still wearing the vestments he had used to celebrate Mass, he was beheaded in his dungeon.

Conclusion

People often ask why I study history. In part, I enjoy gaining new historical knowledge. It’s important for Catholic, for example, to know church history, and to be able to share that information.

On a deeper level, I love history because it inspires me. In the past few weeks, I covered a lot of historical information, and sought to correct the perception of the church. More significantly, I hope the historical examples made you proud to be a Catholic, and will help you to live your life as a better Catholic.

 

 

January 11, 2016 02:24
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi


I need your help: Oral history of Catholicism in the 1960s


The 1960s were a remarkable time for the church. The decade saw an unprecedented level of change in the liturgy, Catholics interaction with other religions, the design of churches, the role of the clergy and laity, and many more issues. Never had the church changed so dramatically and so quickly. Moreover, the church had to respond to the radical events unrolling in society, including the Civil Rights movement, Sexual Revolution, and Vietnam War.

There is no shortage of books on the Second Vatican Council. However, these works focus on the events unfolding in Rome or how theologians and the hierarchy in the United States responded to the council. The works also emphasis the experiences of the clergy and tend to push a particular ideology. There is not one book centered on the laity which details the implementation of the council on the local parish level.

Numerous people alive today remember the events of the 1960s. I want to record their memories before they pass away. Once they are gone, it will be impossible to reconstruct their experiences from archival material.

I am looking for volunteers to share their experiences for the historical record. The only requirement is that they are at least 70-years-old and attended a Catholic church in the 1960s in Baltimore or the surrounding areas.

The interview process would only take an hour and it will be recorded. I am willing to travel to any locations around Baltimore. If you are interested or more likely, if you know someone who might be interested (a parent, grandparent, aunt, or uncle), please contact me at my personal email hanaelb@yahoo.com with “Oral History” in the subject line.

 

November 15, 2015 10:03
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi


The Catholic Church and science


The Catholic Church is often perceived as being anti-education, anti-reason, and particularly, anti-science. The history of the church, however, paints a different picture. Last week, I examined a few episodes from church history demonstrating the emphasis Catholics placed on human rights. This week, I will review some instances of when the church promoted education and science. 

Reckoning in the Early Middle Ages

The Early Middle Ages are typically dubbed the “Dark Ages,” the period when the Roman Empire collapsed under the influx of German Barbarians. Nowhere in Western Civilization was spared from the chaos, except Ireland, and during this time, scholars have argued that the Irish monks saved Western Civilization. Thomas Cahill, in his best-seller How the Irish Saved Civilization, chronicles how the monks copied and preserved important religious texts and also secular classical works. When the Germans were Christianized and settled down, a renaissance of learning occurred under Charlemagne, largely due to the Irish monks who came to the continent with their manuscripts. Ninety percent of Roman works that we have today exist due to the work of the monks from the period of Charlemagne. In short, we would not know about the classical world and all they did without the work of the Irish and Carolingian monks. 

These monks achieved an incredible accomplishment by saving history, but the argument focuses only on how medieval monks preserved civilization. A far less known element is that these same monks were also active in scientific inquiry. In the Early Middle Ages, the reckoning of time was the most important area of scientific research, and over 9,000 Latin manuscripts dealing with the calculation of time survive from this period. Wesley M. Stevens, a historian, noted these documents are the “best and thus far least known evidence for studies in early medieval schools.” This substantial effort in the discipline of reckoning demonstrates that the medieval period was an era of active learning.

Our calendar is a product of the Catholic Church. The dating of years, the seven day week, the synthesis of the Jewish lunar calendar with the Roman solar calendar are all early medieval accomplishments. The calendar currently in use, the Gregorian, named after Pope Gregory XIII, built on the medieval tradition, and corrected the calendar by aligning calendar dates with astronomical events and adjusting the use of the leap year to make it accurate over the long term. 

Additionally, the medieval period was the time when universities were founded. The first European schools of higher education were attached to monasteries and cathedrals. Some of these developed into universities, and others arose independently. It is another accomplishment of the so called “Dark Ages” and one in which the church played a large role. 

Niels Stenson 

Have you ever wondered who first theorized about fossils? Originally, people argued that fossils grew spontaneously in rocks, but the person who put the pieces together was Niels Stenson, arguing that fossils came from living organisms. Furthermore, he established a whole theory on how strata developed over time. He was not the first to speculate on some of these theories, but he systematically came up with laws to explain them. In doing so, he challenged the authoritative texts, which relied on Aristotle, and for his work, he is considered the father of geology and paleontology.

His work was groundbreaking and led to numerous scientific advancements, but what does it have to do with Catholicism? Well first, he was a priest, and then later, he was elevated to a bishop. Moreover, he led a saintly life, and he was beautified in 1988, which is the last step before becoming a saint. Every more interesting is that Stenson was a convert. He grew up in a religious Lutheran family, and he converted to Catholicism in the midst of his scientific discoveries. He was a great biologist in his early career before converting, and discovered a duct, colloquially called Stensen's duct. 

According to recent biographer, “For Stensen, there was no conflict between science and belief. For him they were but two sides of the same object.” I was particularly struck by one of Stensen’s quotes: “Beautiful are the things we see. More beautiful what we comprehend. Much the most beautiful what we do not comprehend.” His words demonstrate that his search for knowledge was a significant part of his worldview. Most people are satisfied with the beauty that they see, but Stensen was driven to comprehend the natural world beyond just seeing it. Yet, he thought the most beautiful was contemplation of the divine (what we do not comprehend). This beautiful saying explains how scientific discoveries coincide with religious growth in three short lines.   

Stensen is not the only Catholic priest-scientist. The range of the following list is impressive, though it is not exhaustive. Ockham, a Franciscan, and Albert the Great, a Dominican, (patron saint of scientists) were key medieval figures, who laid the groundwork for scientific inquiry. Roger Bacon, not to be confused with Francis Bacon, was a Franciscan and hugely famous for advocating for the scientific method.  Copernicus was a canon. Historians are uncertain if he was ever ordained, but he dedicated his seminal work on the solar system to the

Pope!  Friar Gregor Mendel, an Augustinian, is the father of modern genetics. A twentieth-century priest, Father Georges Lemaître, was the first to formulate the Big Bang theory. 

Slightly less know are Father Roger Joseph Boscovich, discovered that the moon has no atmosphere; Father Francesco Maria Grimaldi, worked on diffraction and mapping the surface of the moon; Father Pierre Gassendi, named the northern lights; Father Francesco Lana de Terzi, studied flight; Father Jean Picard, accurately measured the earth; and Father Giovanni Battista Riccioli, a Jesuit astronomer. 

Conclusion

Today, the Catholic Church runs 93,315 primary schools and 42,234 secondary schools, and 1,358 colleges. These numbers are amazing for an institution that is considered anti-education and anti-science. Church history demonstrates that Catholics played a large role in science and education from the monks who saved Western Civilization to their work on reckoning to the founding of universities to priest-scientists like Stensen. Non-Christian civilizations made many practical advancements, in particular Asian civilizations, but it is no coincidence that the Scientific Revolution arose from a culture rooted in Catholicism.  

I will be speaking on the history of the Catholic Church on Oct. 21 at 7 p.m. at The Grill at the Harryman House. For more information see the Facebook event

October 19, 2015 12:42
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi


An ode to the iPhone


A young woman tweets a message in this CNS file photo. (Paul Jeffrey/CNS Photo)

I used to kiss my wife when I woke up; now I roll the other way and check my notifications.

I used to read in bed; now I play a few rounds of Candy Crush.

I used to talk to people while waiting in line; now I read a blog.

I used to build mental strength when exercising; now I drown my thoughts streaming a Pandora station.

I used to entertain a cranky child; now I put on a YouTube video.

I used to write in the evenings; now I peruse BuzzFeed articles (number 4 was soooo amazing).

I used to call people for their birthday; now I send them a text with an emoji.

I used to read Aristotle when going to the bathroom; now I check Facebook.

I used to enjoy special moments; now I am too busy capturing them with a camera.

I used to thank God for the many blessings in my life; now I am consumed with comparing my life to others.

I used to relish quiet moments by myself; now in solitude, I feel the urge to check my phone. 

I used to prioritize intellectual, social, and religious pursuits; now I own an awesome smartphone.
 

October 09, 2015 04:58
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi

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