This Advent, I am anticipating the arrival of a little baby. Yes, Jesus, but in my peculiar case, I am expecting another baby in addition to Him. You see, my wife is pregnant, and has a scheduled C-section for December 26.
As the pregnancy drew on, people started to ask: “Are you getting excited?” Until recently, my response was: “Not really. I am too busy to be thinking about the baby.” Between my work, my wife’s work, driving our oldest son to school, soccer, and everything else, and caring for a 2-year-old, I didn’t have much time for contemplating the arrival of our little girl.
It might also have been denial. Part of me does not want to think about the sleepless nights, yet.
Last week, I finished grading the last finals of the semester and attended the required meetings before the winter break. I was finally done with school work, until I return back to work after the baby, and at last, I had some time to mentally prepare for our newest child. My wife and I settled on the name (we couldn’t agree on the middle name), and we asked our friends to be godparents. We took the boys to Build-a-Bear to help create a gift for their sister, and we got the baby items (millions of them!) in the right places. Things started to fall in place.
As I focused more time and effort on the baby, I started to get more excited. My anticipation grew accordingly, and it was a great feeling.
Every Advent, I hear homilies and read blogs about making time for Jesus. I know it’s true, but I brush it off as the same old Advent message. I never took it seriously until this year.
The past few months, I had the epiphany that I could be too busy to ignore my own unborn child. It is hard to miss my wife’s growing belly, and my child’s presence is undeniable when she starts the in-utero circus routine every night, just as my wife is about to fall asleep. Even with all these signs in my face, I was too occupied to think about her coming.
It was only when I took time to prepare for her, that her imminent birth became real to me. That is, when I started planning, when I saw the little clothes, when I installed the car seat, and so on. It was these activities that opened my heart to her, and allowed for a joyful anticipation to grow.
The parallel with the coming of Jesus is obvious. We can’t prepare for the coming of Jesus, if we are too busy. We can’t fully celebrate Christmas, if we don’t do anything in Advent. Every December, we need to get ready for Jesus, just like we would prepare for our own child.
We need to see the signs of his coming birth: the Advent wreath and empty manager scenes. We need to prepare our hearts: with Mass, prayer, and confession. We need to share the message: talk about the coming of Jesus with each other, especially our family members.
The more effort and time we put into Advent, the more our anticipation will grow and the more profound our joy will be on Christmas. That’s the lesson my unborn daughter taught me this Advent.
December 18, 2014 03:06
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
Are you having a hard time finding a Christmas gift for someone on your list? Are you looking for a book that is physically beautiful but also inspiring? Then, you should checkout some products from the Sacred Art Series
by Bloomfield Books. There is a very practical Rosary Flip Book
to use as a devotional aid and a stunningly beautiful version of The Holy Gospels of St. Luke and St. John
. I have invited the editor of the series, William Bloomfield, to tell us more about the mission of the series and some of his products. I hope you enjoy the interview. (Use the code CATHVIEW by December 21 and get 15% off your Sacred Art Series Amazon purchase)
1) What is the Sacred Art Series?
The Sacred Art Series is a series of books I am publishing through my newly created family business, Bloomfield Books. In its most general sense, the series aims to help families grow in holiness. More particularly, the series uses sacred art to aid families in traditional Christian devotions such as the daily reading of Scripture and the family Rosary. The first book in the Sacred Art Series was the Rosary Flip Book, which was released last Fall. The second book, The Holy Gospels of St. Luke and St. John, was released on the Feast of St. Nicholas, December 6. Other books are currently being developed.
2) What inspired you to start the series?
A confluence of several things: First, My day job is as an assistant attorney general for the Michigan Attorney General. In this capacity, in the summer of 2013, I was assigned to the team of attorneys working to preserve the art collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts during the Detroit Bankruptcy. To my shame, I realized that I had not been to the DIA since I was a kid. Later in 2013, I rectified this and again toured the museum. I was thrilled to discover their beautiful medieval and Renaissance art, which includes pieces from Caravaggio, Bartolome Esteban Murillo, Gerard David, and even Fra Angelico.
Second, I had a conversation with my oldest niece, 8 and an avid reader, and I learned that she had already completed the Hobbit and the Narnia Chronicles and was already beginning The Lord of the Rings. This is all great; but I asked her whether she'd read the Gospels, and she had not. This got me thinking: is there a version of the Gospels that is suitable for a child? And as I began to look around, to my surprise, I realized that there was not.
Third, my wife and I received a set of old McGuffey readers from my wife's parents. We began using these with my son and I soon realized that I liked the way the books were laid out. The early books in the set--for beginning readers--used larger print and often included pictures. Gradually, as the series continued--and presumably, as the young reader's abilities developed--the books used smaller type and included more words per page. This seemed to be a winning formula.
Fourth, prayer. Not long before these discrete ideas began jostling around in my head, I attended an excellent Ignatian retreat with the religious order Miles Christi. My resolution from the retreat was a disciplined prayer life, which included regular recitation of the Rosary as I drove to and from work. One day, as I prayed, the idea formed: a book of the Gospels in a story-by-story format with large type and beautiful images of sacred art. And I was pretty sure that all that I needed was already in the public domain, and that I could self-publish using Createspace or some other print-on-demand publisher. Later, I determined to make the book truly beautiful by using a professional book printer.
3) What type artwork do you use in your publications? Why?
I don't claim to be an art historian or to have any real expertise in art, but I have always liked the beautiful churches and paintings and sculptures that I saw in Europe during my semester abroad. Beautiful art should be timeless and not subject to fads. And good art should appeal to all ages, both young and old; I've never really cared for the art in many children's books, which too often strikes me as childish. The art of the High Middle Ages and of the Renaissance met my criteria. Another advantage of art from this period, is that it has long been in the public domain. So when I began looking for art to use, I began here. I already knew of some great artists, like Michelangelo, Raphael, Caravaggio, and Fra Angelico, and I soon discovered other greats, like Titian, Duccio, Giotto, and Murillo. And as I found more and more good art, I realized that from my own schooling I knew so little, and that the Sacred Art Series would be a way of remedying this for my own children and those of others.
4) What is the Rosary Flip Book? How has it changed the way you and your family pray the rosary?
After I had essentially completed the manuscript for The Holy Gospels of St. Luke and St. John, I happened to go to New York City for a conference for work. Since some of the art from my book was located at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, my wife and I made it a point to visit the museum, which I had never been to. I was in awe to discover Fra Angelico's Crucifixion there, which I had not realized was at the Met. I also was delighted to discover a beautiful painting of the 15 Mysteries of the Rosary that had been created for a member of the Habsburg royal family. I had never seen anything like it. When I returned from the trip, I thought that the image could be used to create a devotional aid. And as my wife had given me a desktop calendar last year for Christmas, I thought this would make an excellent format.
My wife now prays at least a decade each morning with the kids as part of their homeschool routine. We also keep the 8 x 10 Rosary Flip Book displayed on our mantel throughout the day. So whether we're praying the Rosary or not, it provides an excellent reminder to pray and to meditate on the life of Christ and Mary. At work, I keep a 4 x 5 Rosary Flip book next to my computer monitor, and every day I flip to a new image. I really like it, and hope that others will to. I've also noticed that now, when I do pray the Rosary, whether I have the Rosary Flip Book at hand or not, I can easily call to mind the images for each of the mysteries, thereby aiding my prayer.
5) You have a book of the Gospels in Latin. Why Latin?
Yes, the Gospel of John is available for purchase as a softcover in Latin. Since I already had the manuscript prepared in English, it was quite easy to substitute the Latin Vulgate for the English text. So why not? My family routinely attends the Extraordinary Form of the Mass and I lead our small schola in the Latin Gregorian Chants. When I was a freshman at Steubenville, to satisfy my own curiosity regarding the liturgical changes following Vatican II, I read Sacrosanctum Concilium, Vatican II's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. There I read that Latin was to be preserved in the liturgy. Well, if the Church celebrated Mass for more than a thousand years in Latin and wants Latin to be preserved, who am I to disagree? I did not learn Latin as a child, but have now done some self-study as an adult. I love the beauty of the Latin and am impressed at how succinct it is. It also strikes me that anyone that learns Latin will greatly expand their English vocabulary and improve their grammar. So I'd like to help others to discover the beauty of Latin, and for me, one of the easiest places to read Latin is in the Gospels.
6) You have a new book coming out with the Gospels in English. What makes this book unique?
This book of the Gospels is the first to provide the actual text of the Gospels in a story-by-story format with beautiful images of sacred art. It bridges the gap between children's bibles and adult bibles. It is designed for children, but it is not childish. And I've left the entire book in the public domain, so anyone with an internet connection can freely download the text
7) Which translation did you use?
Because the most recent English translations are copyrighted, I used the Challoner Revision of the Douay Rheims, which is in the public domain and is approved by the Church. Because this book is designed for children, I updated the text to remove most thee's, thy's, thou's and -eth endings--but the substance remains that of Douay Rheims.
8) What are some of your future projects?
I am working on a Sacred Art Series Book of Saints and on a Stations of the Cross Flip Book. I'm also considering completing a second volume of the Gospels, which would include the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark in a similar format. Whether I complete these projects will depend, in part, on the reception of the Sacred Art Series by the public.
9) What impact do you hope this series will have on the church, on individual Catholics?
I hope the Sacred Art Series will help families to grow in holiness, and ultimately, to become families of saints. More specifically, I hope children learn more about the life of Christ through the text of the Gospels and that they will absorb the teachings of the Gospels into their daily lives. I also hope that children (and their parents) will be inspired by these beautiful works of art and come to appreciate and know the works of these great artists. How tragic that I did not know of Duccio or Titian until I produced these books! May this tragedy not be repeated for the next generation of young Christians.
10) Your family members are involved in some other publications. What are they?
My sister Emily Ortega has now written two short novels for young Catholics (especially young Catholic Girls), I'm Bernadette and Christmas with Bernadette. Both are available at http://www.bernadettebooks.com/
William R. Bloomfield graduated from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001 and Ave Maria School of Law in 2004. Following law school, he clerked for U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence Zatkoff and U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Ralph Guy. He then joined the U.S. Navy JAG Corps, where he served for 4 1/2 years, including a deployment to Iraq. For the last three years, he has worked as an assistant attorney general for the Michigan Department of Attorney General. William and his wife Anna have four children; their oldest is now six. They live in Lansing, Michigan.
December 08, 2014 03:59
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
At the mere mention of Thanksgiving, my mouth starts watering. The turkey, stuffing, mash potatoes, corn pudding, pie, and yes, sauerkraut (if you’re from Baltimore). It’s all so good. Spending time with family is nice, too, but the food, THE FOOD, is heavenly.
It has always been this way. At its very root, Thanksgiving is a holiday about giving thanks to God for providing food. We all know the historical origins of the holiday. (It’s not a day for shopping
… boo). We get all warm and fuzzy around Thanksgiving about being grateful for food, with most even donating food to those less fortunate.
Yet, I am calling the bluff this year. We have a major food problem in this country. Consider these two facts: according to a recent series on NPR
, “Forty percent of all the food in this country never makes it to the table — at a cost of $165 billion to the U.S. economy.” Yikes! We throw away forty percent of our food! But, here’s the real kicker. One in seven Americans do not have enough to eat. There is NO reason for anyone in twenty-first-century America to go hungry.
Here’s additional statistics from NPR’s report: 20 percent of all landfill waste is food, making it the number one form of waste, more than paper or plastic. If you’re you're keeping track, that’s 35 million tons of food. Just in case you missed it, we throw away 35 MILLION TONS of food every year.
Who’s to blame? Clearly, some of the fault lies with businesses. Grocery stores stock an incredible variety of food and certainly some of that supply is not sold before it goes bad. Restaurants also tend to prepare more food than they sell. However, only half of food waste comes from businesses, the other half is from consumers. On a positive note, there has been a national push for grocers and restaurants to donate unused food, but on the flip side, there has been no effort for consumers to cut back on their waste. That’s where you and I come in.
It is sad to see how much food is thrown away by American children. If you want to be depressed, stop by a school cafeteria and watch as children throw away whole meals, practically untouched. When I studied abroad for a year in Austria, I discovered they had strict laws about trash, and all biodegradable waste had to be collected separately. What shocked me is that the college’s cafeteria had one tiny bucket for food waste for the entire student body. We were instructed to only take small portions, and that it was taboo to throw away food. Why is there no stigma in America for discarding food?
We all need to take collective responsibility in reducing food waste in our homes. Here’s a list of things we’re doing (Please add to it in the comments below). First, buy only what you need. We switched to a weekly meal plan, and it hugely cut back on our amount of wasted food. We no longer have to stock all of the cooking essentials (It also reduced the amount we spend on food and our nightly stress around dinner time). Second, Tuesday is leftover night. I know it’s popular, but every week, we pull out all our leftovers and make a hodgepodge dinner. Third, think about portion size. We cook a lot, but only put a little on our plate. This is especially true with our children. Lastly, rethink the shelf life of food. We keep leftovers in the fridge for one week, hence the weekly leftover dinner. All the fresh fruit that is on its way out goes into a smoothie. For canned and packaged good, the “best by” date is not an expiration date, but when the flavors start to decline. Of course, be safe, especially with seafood and meat products. (Gorgonzola cheese always gets me. It smells rancid the day you open it, so how do know when it goes bad!?)
If someone asked you for something every day, and you gave it to them every day, would you be upset, if you found out that they were throwing it away? I would. We pray, “Give us our daily bread.” In other words, we ask for food every time we pray the Our Father. Our discarding of food seems ungrateful and duplicitous.
This Thanksgiving we need to do more than thank God with our mouths. We need to thank God with our actions. Oh, and does anyone have any good recipes for leftover turkey? I’ll need it this Tuesday.
November 24, 2014 03:25
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
Periodically, I hear about people who left the Catholic Church because they did not like their parish priest. In other cases, they left because they did not like the music or it wasn’t a welcoming parish or a myriad of other reasons.
Why do you go to church? Think about it for moment. Why do you get up on Sunday morning and go to Mass? Is it for the music? Is it for the fellowship? Is it for entertainment purposes? Is it for the homilies?
I hope not, because you won’t be going there for long. If you are looking for good music, you might be tempted to go to a concert instead of Mass. Certainly, the BSO provides better music than your parish choir.
If you’re attending church to be entertained, you’ll soon find something else that is more entertaining. From the sheer number of people wearing football jerseys at church, I feel many people view Mass as a warm up for the “real” entertainment of Sunday – the Ravens’ game. If Mass conflicts with a football game, I wonder which one people will attend? If they are looking to be entertained, it’s probably the football game.
I have heard my share of homilies, running the gamut from life changing to not so life changing, to be charitable. If you’re looking for a great homily every Sunday, you’re going to be disappointed.
Religion has a lot of competition. Many of the elements that churches try to emphasize - social justice, fellowship, enjoyment, a welcoming atmosphere – secular institutions do quite well. I would even contend that they do it better than a Catholic church.
Catholicism has a trump card. One point that no secular institution has: the promise of salvation. We should go to church to receive the Bread of Everlasting Life. As Jesus said, “Amen, amen I say unto you: Except you who eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you. He that eat my flesh, and drink my blood, hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:54-55)
Receiving Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is why we get up every Sunday morning, and if we truly believe it, we would never skip Mass or go to another church, no matter how bad the music or how bland the homily or how unwelcoming the church. We go to receive Jesus, and the value of these other elements is only in how they aid or diminish that key fact.
There is a lot of rhetoric about evangelization, especially the “new” evangelization. The recent synod that has been all over the news was called: Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization. The previous synod in 2012 was entitled: The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith.
It might be advantageous to return back to the basics in terms of evangelization, which means emphasizing the one item that Catholicism has to offer – a promise of salvation through Jesus Christ. It can be done in novel ways and using new technology but the message must hinge on this point.
Next time you go to Mass, try not to get worked up about the music or the homily. Turn your attention to the one aspect that really matters, receiving Jesus.
November 13, 2014 03:47
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
I have a brilliant idea. Let’s sell the White House to help pay off the debt. It’s valued at more than $300 million
and that would make a significant contribution. The Obamas could move into a nice townhouse, probably in the $300,000 range, within commuting distance of Washington, D.C.
I suppose some complications would arise from this plan. For security purposes, they would probably have to buy the surrounding houses or even the whole block. The president’s entourage would likely back up traffic as he is commuting downtown every day. They would also have to purchase new office space for his personal staff, and a large hall for hosting foreign dignitaries and holding functions. It also would be a shame to sell the White House to a private citizen because of its historical significance as the house and its artifacts should belong to the people of this country.
On further thought, my brilliant idea is pretty stupid. It would not even be a significant contribution, since it’s only worth .000000017 of the national debt. I am glad I did not write about this idea, and I’m really glad I did not send it to CNN to be published. Daniel Burke is not so fortunate.
In a recent article
, he blasted the archbishops for not following the example of Pope Francis in living in a more humble setting. I completely agree with Burke’s main point. It would be great if our church leaders chose to live in simple houses close to the people. Moreover, a few bishops have done great harm to the church by their extravagant spending, most famously German Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst
In Burke’s article, Archbishop William Lori
is mentioned because his residence is valued at $1.24 million. In this case, Burke fails to make some important distinctions. The archbishop’s house was not purchased by Archbishop Lori; it first served as the archbishop’s residence in 1832. In other words, Archbishop Lori paid nothing for it. It’s a free building for the church. It would, however, cost money if the spiritual shepherd of the Archdiocese of Baltimore wanted to buy a smaller, more humble residence.
Archbishop Lori's residence. (Tom McCarthy Jr. | CR Staff)
Second, it is not just a home for the archbishop. The article states that the rector of the Basilica and secretary of the archbishop also live there. It also has work spaces for them, meeting rooms, a place for receptions and a chapel. It is a functional building for ordinary Catholics to use in addition to the archbishop. If you want to meet the rector to plan a wedding in the Basilica, that’s where you’ll go. If there’s a small reception after a Mass at the Basilica, that’s where you’ll have it.
According to the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the basilica deed prohibits the sale of the residence. Even if it could be sold, it’s a historical building with limited appeal outside of the church. Moreover, it is attached to the Basilica. Think of all the expensive renovations to separate the house from the church. It would make zero economic sense to sell it and buy another property.
Lastly, the building has a deep spiritual legacy. It was the cradle of Catholicism in the United States. According to the current rector
, “In this house the Bishops of the United States met to commission the writing of the Baltimore Catechism, opened the Catholic School System and established the Catholic University of America. The Blessed Sacrament is reserved in the chapel and through the years the Archbishops of Baltimore have welcomed guests to the chapel including Blessed John Paul II and Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta.”
Think of all the saints who have come through its doors and prayed in that house. Its history is too rich to give it away.
Of all of the church leaders cited in the CNN article, guess who lives in the most expensive residence? Surprise, it’s Pope Francis. Of course, Burke misses this point. His “residence” cost $20 million to build in the 1990s. However, it is a massive dormitory with over a 100 rooms; clearly it’s not used just for him. Citing straight numbers without an explanation, you see, can be confusing.
As I said, I am glad the press is holding the church accountable. I am grateful that they have uncovered bishops who have spent money donated by the people for expensive and unfulfilling projects. However, I do not approve of sloppy journalism that makes generalizations about the archbishops of the United States, completely ignoring the nuances of the matter. Burke seems more intent on insulting Catholics than holding bishops accountable.
I believe that Archbishop Lori’s residence is free, highly-functional and a home with a unique spiritual legacy. As a local Catholic who makes a weekly financial contribution to the church, I am pleased that he has access to it, and I would protest any movement that tries to pressure him to vacate it.
This blog was updated with new information Aug. 8 at 6:18 p.m.
August 08, 2014 04:02
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
Life is short. I was reminded of this simple truth this past week after the wife and unborn baby of a college friend passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. Our society tries to hide death, old-age and sickness, but, eventually, we will all be called. Hopefully, we will be ready. The story of Sarah and Cecilia Harkins is tragic and painful, but it offers a powerful message. We need to live our lives with the purpose of being ready to meet God at any time.
Sarah Harkins was in her backyard
, when she disturbed a wasp’s nest and was stung. She had an allergic reaction to the sting, and struggled to make it back to her house. While her husband, Eric, called 911, she fell unconscious, never to awake again. Medics were able to revive her, and she was put on life support. Doctors later discovered that the shock triggered an aneurysm in her brain to burst, and at that point, there was little hope for a recovery. The unborn baby, Cecilia passed first, and then, the family made the difficult decision to take Sarah off life support.
Sarah left behind her husband and four surviving children: Liam (7), Analee (5), Jude (3) and Mary Faustina (1), who was born with Down Syndrome.
As news spread of her story, one of the recurring themes was that people could not stop thinking about her. Complete strangers, who found out about her through friends, Facebook, or various news stories, were drawn to her. Many confessed that they could not stop crying, even though they did not know her.
When I heard that she was in the hospital and the situation was bad, I texted my family asking for prayers. One of my sisters, who had never met her before, felt an instant connection. She Googled her name and came across her blog. She later emailed me, “Wow, she seems like a special person. Been thinking there is something that God wants us to notice when a young pregnant mother dies even though people are praying for a miracle. We have to pay attention because there HAS to be a reason.” When I followed up with a phone call, she revealed that Sarah had been on her mind the past few days, and she was amazed how much Sarah inspired her by reading just a few of her blog posts.
My sister is hardly alone. The world, yes the world, has been moved by Sarah. There are over a 1,000 new articles on her, with major papers like the Daily Mail and NY Daily Post picking up the story. On fundraising sites to help Eric and children, almost 3,000 people have contributed over a combined $200,000, and contributions have come from France, Germany, Japan and many other places. Moreover, the reporting, even in the secular press, has emphasized the profound faith of Sarah.
We are left to wonder: why did God not heal Sarah? Perhaps, God did not perform a miracle because she did not need a miracle. That is, she was on her way to eternal glory. The wasp’s sting was not part of God’s plan, but I believe God can take good even from the most horrible of events. In Sarah’s case, God maybe wanted to teach us something through this special person.
Sarah was best known for her profound devotion to the rosary. She started making rosaries when she was 15, and eventually, she started a business
selling her handcrafted clay rosaries. She said this about her business: “I have come to grow in my faith and my devotion to Mary through rosary making and the people that I've encountered because of my work. I believe this is what God wants me to do and I hope that I am spreading the Gospel through my work.” According to one article, she would get up early with her daughter Faustina praying the rosary with her, and then pray it again with the other children and husband later in the day.
Quite fittingly, her last blog post
was about making a bead to symbolize hope. She wrote, “I love the symbol of the anchor for hope. It is very powerful. Hope is the virtue of having confidence in God's mercy that we will be in heaven with Him someday. When we have that hope, nothing in life can move us. We are anchored in God. Now that is something I need to pray for every day and I hope you are inspired and reminded by this bead to pray, too.” This inspiring and beautiful quote has appeared in the television coverage, newspapers, and numerous blogs. Now, even a jewelry company has created the Sarah Harkins Memory Anchor based on the quote as a way to raise money for the family and spread the message of her blog post.
There are many other aspects of life which can inspire us. She was an active parishioner at St. Mary Catholic Church in Fredericksburg, starting a women's Bible study for the parish homeschool mothers. She home schooled her own children, and created a Montessori-style preschool program for the local home schooling co-op. She volunteered at Mary's Shelter crisis pregnancy center, and they recently announced that their next home to open in August will be called the “The Sarah and Cecilia Harkins Home.” And, the list goes on.
What is the lesson of Sarah’s life? We have to realize that life is short. We are a wasp sting, a car accident, a heart attack away from leaving this world. What are we doing? Are we preparing to meet God? Are we in good standing with our spouse and children? What would be our legacy?
We could start by emulating Sarah’s virtue of hope that we will live with God for all eternity, her devotion to a strong prayer life, especially the rosary, and dedication to family life, education, and the church.
Please pray for the soul of Sarah and Cecilia, pray for strength and comfort for Eric, the children, extended family and friends, and pray that her life will inspire many to better love and serve God.
August 06, 2014 02:13
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
In a widely praised move, the Church of England recently voted to allow for female bishops. It would seem to follow that the church’s shift toward popular opinion would result in an influx of new members. If one, however, looks at the American branch of the Anglican community, the Episcopalian Church, the predicated impact of the vote is quite the opposite.
The Episcopalian Church is far more progressive than its sister church in England. The American church consecrated Barbara Harris as its first female bishop in 1989, and in 2006, Katharine Jefferts Schori was elected as the head of the Episcopalian Church, the first female head of a national church.
Women priests in in York, England, react after the General Synod of the Church of England voted July 14 to authorize the ordination of women as bishops. The decision overturns centuries of tradition in a church that has been deeply divided on the issue. (CNS photo/Nigel Roddis, Reuters)
The Episcopalian Church is proudly and unabashedly a modern church with its approval of contraception as a matter of private conscience, legal abortion, same-sex blessings, married clergy, and openly gay priests and bishops. It is a church that emphasizes a message of diversity, love, and acceptance. It should be thriving it the modern world, poised for a major revival, yet it is dying.
According to their data, weekly church attendance dropped from 856,579 to 657,831 between 2000 and 2010, a drop of 23.2 percent. In addition to a decline in church attendance, the Episcopalian community has been torn apart. Dioceses, parishes, and individuals have all splintered off to form their own communities or to join other denominations.
I am not at this moment interested in the merits or lack of merits of female bishops, nor do I want to simply draw attention to the decline of mainline Protestant denominations. Rather, I'm intrigued by the phenomenon that a community so aligned with current trends seems to be declining the most in the modern world. Moreover, counter-cultural churches, such an Evangelicals and Catholics, are holding steady or increasing in size.
A strange disconnect exists between what people want in a church and what church they actually remain members of or join. To put it another way, if typical Americans made up their own religion based on their personal beliefs, they most likely would not join it. For example, 77 percent of Catholics support the use of birth control, 72 percent want married priests, 68 percent support women priests, and 50 percent support same sex marriages. Millions of Catholics would, therefore, find their views correlate better with the Episcopalian Church than the Catholic Church, yet the vast majority have not and will not leave the Catholic Church.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the Catholic Church experienced a similar occurrence to what is unfolding in the Episcopalian Church. That is, young progressives initiated numerous reforms into the church, and oddly, after getting many of the changes they desired, they stopped attending church or left the Catholic Church completely. Consequently, church attendance dropped from the 1950s to 1970s in an unprecedented fashion.
Trends in religion are counterintuitive; the more in align a religious denomination is with popular opinion, the more it declines. As Pope Francis and the world’s bishops prepare to review church policies, they should take a hard look at the recent experiences of the Anglican community. Earlier this year, Catholics were asked their opinion on a range of issues in preparation for the upcoming Synod on the Family. If church leaders think there is a simple correlation between Catholics disagreeing with church teachings and declining church attendance and that the easy remedy is to modernize the church’s teaching, they have no understanding of Catholic Church history nor have they studied what has happened to other faith communities in the last decade.
July 28, 2014 11:21
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
St. George might be the world’s most popular saint. Really, you might ask, what about St. Francis or St. Joseph? You’re probably not alone in your skepticism, but have you ever heard of the story of a knight saving a princess from a dragon? Well, that’s the legend of St. George. I suppose everyone who has seen a Disney film “knows” about St. George.
His appeal, though, goes far beyond the most famous chivalrous tale. He’s not only venerated by Catholics, but also by Protestants, especially Anglicans. Furthermore, he’s one of the most popular saints in the Orthodox tradition, and even more surprisingly, many Muslims honor him as Al-Khader. It’s hard to find an individual with a more universal religious appeal, outside of Jesus and Mary.
How many saints have a country named after them? St. George has Georgia, and that’s pretty cool. He is additionally claimed as patron of many other regions and countries such as: Aragon, Armenia, Catalonia, England, Ethiopia, Greece, Lithuania, Malta, Palestine, Portugal and Russia. He is the protector of many cities, including Antioch, Barcelona, Beirut, Genoa, Milan and Moscow.
He is also the patron of armorers, butchers, farmers, knights, scouts and soldiers, and he is said to heal those suffering from leprosy, skin diseases and syphilis.
What makes this list even more impressive is that it is far from complete.
Given his past prestige as a preeminent saint, his image has suffered from numerous attacks in the modern era. Many individuals now claim that he never existed. Undeniably, fundamental problems exist with the historical evidence associated with St. George.
The oldest accounts of his life are not reliable, focusing exclusively on seven years of torture in which he was killed three times, each time rising from the dead, before his fourth and final death.
More problematic is Pope Gelasius’ declaration in 494, Decretum Gelasianum, advising the faithful not to read the Passion of St. George because it was likely written by heretics.
Related to the papal document, some scholars believe the “real” St. George was George of Cappadocia, a fourth-century Arian bishop of Alexandria, a theory popularized by Edward Gibbon in the eighteenth century.
George, the Arian bishop, rose in prominence as a corrupt contractor, selling bacon to the Roman army, and then after accepting Arianism, he was appointed bishop of Alexandria. His rule was marked by avarice and corruption, and eventually, he was killed by a disgruntled mob. Needless to say, the two claims of St. George being either a mythical figure or a corrupt heretic have hurt his following.
After studying St. George for about 10 years, I am confident that he existed. Skeptics overlook surviving church inscriptions, some of the best evidence for a real St. George. According to tradition, he was martyred around 300, and numerous sixth-century inscriptions that mention St. George still exist, including one at a monastery at Ezra (Zorava) from 515, another at a church in Horvath Hesheq in northern Israel dated to 519, and one more at a church in Shakka in Syria from 535.
Besides these examples of direct evidence of a church dedication, abundant secondary evidence exists for other sixth-century churches dedicated to St. George; including monasteries in Jerusalem, Dorylleon, and Jericho, and churches in Bizani, Constantinople, Edessa and Cairo. It’s unlikely that that a non-existent individual would have produced such a widespread cult in 200 years.
Many people cite Eusebius of Caesarea’s Historia Ecclesiastica as the first reference to St. George. Eusebius recorded the story of a man who tore the imperial edict of Diocletian into pieces and was then martyred in Nicomedia. This silver bullet for the existence of St. George is flawed, however, because the martyr is unnamed. Furthermore, the edict was issued on February 24, making St. Euethius the likely martyr because he was martyred on February 24, 303, at Nicomedia.
The oldest Passion of St. George is a fifth-century manuscript composed in Greek and preserved in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, of which only fragments survive. The Greek Passion served as the basis of Syriac versions, and the oldest Syriac manuscript, written around 600, is at the British Library. While Passions in this tradition are full of fantastic elements, prompting the condemnation by Pope Gelasius, they describe a completely different person than the Arian bishop and portray him as a real individual.
After the condemnation by Pope Gelasius, a canonical version of the story appeared, accepted and promoted by the church, but the apocryphal version remained significant, most notably in the Western tradition. The canonical version started circulating in the sixth century, and the oldest surviving version is in the encomium composed by Andrea, Archbishop of Crete, from the seventh century.
Andrea’s version takes place during the persecution of Diocletian. According to this account, St. George lived in Palestine, but was born of Cappadocian parents. At court, the saint sees the harm done to Christians, and he is moved to give his possessions away and proclaim his faith in God. He then faces numerous forms of torture such as being placed on a wheel with knives, kept in a kiln for three days, and forced to wear heated iron boots, but he is not harmed. The guards and empress are converted by his miraculous resistance to punishment.
St. George then battles with the magician Athanasius, and the saint drinks poison provided by the magician without harm. He also raises a dead man back to life. Athanasius converts to Christianity, and he and the resurrected man are executed. On St. George’s last night on earth, he receives a vision foretelling his death, and he performs numerous miracles for those who visit him.
On his last day, Diocletian tries to persuade St. George to renounce Christianity and offers him half of his kingdom. St. George surprisingly declares he is ready to worship the Roman gods. When he enters the temple and makes the sign of the cross, the idols proclaim that St. George worships the true God, and the statues fall to the ground, breaking into pieces.
The empress then proclaims her secret faith in Christ and is executed. Finally, St. George is beheaded, which marks the end of the Passion.
Though his background and dates vary in nearly every account, they all recount that he was in the Roman army, defied the emperor’s order to persecute Christians, and thus, was tortured and martyred. The widespread collaboration of these basic facts from different traditions of Passions and church inscriptions point to a real St. George as the origin of the saint’s story.
What about the dragon story? For eight hundred years, St. George had no dragon, and most likely, the dragon developed from the emperor who killed St. George. In the first Passions of St. George, the emperor who martyred St. George was called a dragon. Moreover, in early depictions of the saint, found in present-day Georgia, he was killing a man, not a dragon.
From this point, the image shifted from the emperor, a very specific image of evil, to a dragon, a more general image of the devil and evil. Artists probably drew on older traditions of St. Michael, St. Theodore, and other saints who were depicted killing a dragon-like devil.
The first image of St. George killing a dragon dates from the early eleventh century and is located in the Church of St. Barbara, Soganli Valley, Cappadocia. A coin from the reign of Roger I, prince of Antioch from 1112 to 1119, also depicts St. George on horseback attacking a dragon, providing the first evidence of Crusader knowledge of St. George as a dragon-slayer.
From the visual presentation, the dragon story developed, borrowing from ancient pagan stories. Of all the ancient legends, St. George is most often associated with the Greek legend of Perseus and Andromeda.
In that story, Poseidon sends a sea monster to attack the kingdom of Ethiopia. To pacify the monster, Andromeda, the king’s daughter, is offered as a sacrifice. Perseus kills the sea monster, saves Andromeda, and then marries her.
The similarities between St. George and Perseus are numerous with both killing a monster terrorizing society and saving a princess. The two legends are also connected geographically. St. George’s cult was centered at Lydda, not far from the traditional place where Perseus battled with the monster at modern day Jaffa.
To claim St. George is only a Christianized version of these ancient myths would be a gross overstatement. The gap of eight hundred years between the martyr St. George and the dragon-slayer St. George suggests that the saint was more than a mythical figure adopted by Christians, but some elements of St. George’s battle with the dragon might have been borrowed from pagan legends.
The earliest written account of the dragon story is an eleventh-century Georgian manuscript. The story was popularized, however, when the dragon story was included in the medieval bestseller, Jacobus de Voragine’s Legenda Aurea, written around 1266. From that point forward, St. George had a dragon in the public imagination. Next time, you come across the story of a knight saving a princess from a dragon remember the real martyr who inspired that story and how he stood up to an emperor for his faith and was martyred as a result.
(I have spent the last 10 years studying St. George in the English tradition with particular attention to how his feast day became a nationalistic holiday, and here’s a shameless plug … I recently released a book based on my findings. If you’re interesting in medieval religious history (first two-thirds of the book) or English nationalism (last third of the book), you might want to check it out. It’s an academic work based on my dissertation and heavily footnoted, but accessible to the average reader. It’s available as a paperback
and a kindle
edition. If you have Amazon Prime and a kindle device, you can borrow it for FREE through Amazon’s lending library.)
April 23, 2014 10:43
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
Within Catholic circles, the Second Vatican Council is a flashpoint for debate, but there is one point that all Catholics – traditionalists, progressives, liberals, conservatives – agree on: the unprecedented level of change. Consequently, most scholars would argue that the council was the defining event of the modern church, and that nothing had a greater impact on the church since the Reformation.
As an historian of religious rituals, I have been fascinated on how this religious revolution played out on the parish level and how Catholics in the 1960s and beyond reacted to it. There is no shortage of institutional histories of the council, focusing both on the events in Rome and the implementation in the United States. These works, however, concentrate on the hierarchy and their actions in developing and executing changes following the council. Even works that promise a history of the council “from below” emphasize parish priests or records composed by clerics about the laity. The voice of the majority of Catholics seems lost in the historical literature of the modern church.
My initial thought was to do an oral history of the post-conciliar church, interviewing people who lived in the 1960s and 1970s. This approach is limited, however, by the small number of people that could be sampled and also by the lack of accuracy when dealing with distant memories.
In reading about the history of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, I began seeing references to the GIFT (Growth in Faith Together) program and an extensive survey that was part of the program. I discovered that upon returning from Rome, Cardinal Shehan developed a plan to visit every parish (either himself or an auxiliary bishop) in the diocese to discuss the changes that were taking place in the late 1960s. The meetings were contentious, and he described a heightened sense of “anxiety and confusion” in the parishes. He tasked the senate of priests to construct a program to address these issues, and the GIFT program was the result of their efforts.
It was a three stage program, including research, reflection, and response. In the research phase, the entire parish would take a 60 question survey, and then in the reflection period, the parish would break
up into small groups to discuss the results of the survey and pick a few topics to learn more about. Lastly, in the response time, experts would come in and deliver lectures on topics selected by the parish during the small groups phase.
The program was piloted in two parishes in the fall of 1970, and then the senate of priests voted to implement the program in all the parishes. A thorough reading of the GIFT program reveals that it increased tension, rather than diminished it. The response sessions turning into debates, and the Catholic Review saw an eruption of heated letters to the editor in favor and in opposition of the program. Furthermore, the senate of priests’ vote was close with 115 priests voting in favor of expanding the program and 101 voting against it, highlighting the divergent opinions of the program.
The GIFT program lasted from 1970 to 1975 and 21 parishes took part. An impressive 13,796 Catholics responded, and though I am not an expert in statistics, such a high number should provide enough data to make a definitive statement concerning the laity’s reactions to the changes following Vatican II.
Over the winter break, I spent several days shifting through the survey results in the diocese’s archive, located in the basement of St. Mary’s Seminary (It is a closed box and not accessible to the general public). The survey results could provide evidence for many articles, even books, but I was initially only interested in questions dealing with the liturgy.
The simple answer to the laity’s reception of the liturgical changes can be found in question 19: “Changes in the Mass have harmed rather than helped me to worship” and 27% agreed and 68% disagreed (with 5% not answering). These results confirm the standard narrative that the majority of Catholics preferred the new Mass with its use of English and more community oriented worship. Yet, a sizable minority, nearly a third, desired to go back to the old Mass. The traditional percentage is much higher than the often cited numbers compiled by Andrew Greeley, which claim that 85-87% preferred the new Mass. To this point, I was not overly surprised by the results.
What piqued my interest was question 23. This question, unlike the other questions, changed several times, and I have not determined the reason behind the shift. Its three versions with survey results are: I like to participate actively at mass: 75% agree and 24% disagree; There should be more lay participation in Sunday Mass: 35% agree and 64% disagree; I would prefer to take Communion in my hands: 17% agree and 82% disagreed. The first two versions reveal that people wanted to be part of the Mass, but not front and center.
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York distributes Communion at St. Patrick's
Cathedral in New York June 21, 2013.(CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)
The version relating to the reception of Communion in the hand is perplexing for a variety of reasons. First, the 1970s were not a traditional era. As seen above, most people approved of the main liturgical changes, and when it came to social issues, they were exceedingly liberal, with 68% disagreeing with the church’s teaching of contraception. Second, it is also curious that there has been nearly a universal switch. I have no statistics about current practices, but from my own personal experiences, almost everyone receives Communion in the hand.
Communion in the hand was not authorized by Vatican II; though in some countries, like Germany and the Netherlands, the practice became more commonplace after the council. To address the question, Paul VI surveyed the world’s bishops on the topic, and released a document, Memoriale Domini, to explain the church’s position. Below are the questions sent to the world’s bishops and their responses.
1. Do you think that attention should be paid to the desire that, over and above the traditional manner, the rite of receiving holy communion on the hand should be admitted?
Yes: 597 No: 1,233 Yes, but with reservations: 315 Invalid votes: 20
2. Is it your wish that this new rite be first tried in small communities, with the consent of the bishop?
Yes: 751 No: 1,215 Invalid votes, 70
3. Do you think that the faithful will receive this new rite gladly, after a proper catechetical preparation?
Yes: 835 No: 1,185 Invalid votes: 128
Since the majority of bishops opposed the vote, the pope issued a clear and poignant statement on Communion in the hand. “The Apostolic See therefore emphatically urges bishops, priests and laity to obey carefully the law which is still valid and which has again been confirmed. It urges them to take account of the judgment given by the majority of Catholic bishops, of the rite now in use in the liturgy, of the common good of the Church.” He, however, left open the option of a local conference to continue the tradition of receiving Communion in the hand, if the practice was already in place.
As an historian, I have two questions related to Communion in the hand. First, why was this reform the one that no group wanted? The pope and bishops, who a few years before passed sweeping liturgical reforms, came down on the opposite side on this issue. The laity also favored the majority of the liturgical changes, but not this one. What made the traditional practice of receiving communion, kneeling at a communion rail and on the tongue, so popular even with a progressive generation?
Secondly, how did the shift happen so rapidly? My first memories of going to Mass come from the mid-1980s, only 15 years after Memorial Domini, and Communion in the hand had already become the norm. How did a practice go from being unpopular to the universal practice in 15 years or less?
Of course, these questions on the reception of Communion touch on more than one aspect of the liturgy. Its significance relates to the meaning of Communion, the role of laity, the changing of the liturgy in general, and much more. I am interested in hearing your thoughts, especially if you lived through these events in 1970s.
April 10, 2014 04:13
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
Are you ready for a crazy statistic? Pope Francis, who just completed his first year as pope
, had a favorability rating of 79 percent midway through his reign. Surprisingly, Pope Benedict XVl about halfway through his reign in April 2008 had a favorability rating of 83 percent. It’s shocking that the pope demonized and held to be unpopular by almost everyone in the media had a higher approval rating at one point than the pope celebrated daily in the news.
Least, I seem dishonest. Benedict’s average for his entire reign was around 74 percent and Francis’s average over the entire year was 83 percent. Pope John Paul II was higher than both, averaging in the low 90s.
I am the last person to argue that approval ratings matter in religion, but I find these statistics useful because they complicate the standard narrative of the past year. Benedict was backwards looking and thus unpopular, and Francis is forward looking and therefore popular. That’s just not true.
This blog is not intended as an attack on Francis or a defensive of Benedict. Quite the opposite. My target is the imagined tension between the two popes, and the prevalent view that change is the key to success in the church.
Pope Francis greets people as he arrives for Mass at the parish of Santa Maria
dell'Orazione on the outskirts of Rome March 16. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
Undeniably, the current pope has made a huge impact in his first year. I have often used him as a source of inspiration for many blogs, and according to recent surveys, the majority of Catholics think the church is heading in the right direction and Catholics are more excited. The “Francis Effect” however has not materialized into concrete changes in practice. There has been no noticeable change in the number of Americans that claim to be Catholic or in church attendance, and less Catholics have reportedly gone to confession in the last year.
What is the pope’s role in the renewal of the church? I think he said it best in a recent interview: “I don’t like the ideological interpretations, a certain ‘mythology of Pope Francis’. If I’m not wrong, Sigmund Freud said that in every idealization there is an aggression. Depicting the Pope to be a sort of superman, a type of star, seems offensive to me. The Pope is a man who laughs, cries, sleeps calmly and has friends like everyone. A normal person.”
Catholics are often accused of worshiping saints and the pope. To many, they seem like our versions of celebrities or stars, but there is the huge difference. Celebrities are an end in themselves. The pope finds it offensive that he has been made an end unto himself; rather, he can lead us to the true end, the One who has already saved us.
As a historian, I believe the success of the church was not due to the leadership of great members of the clergy, but almost, in spite of them. In the above quote, the pope is highlighting that people looking for a pope-superman that will save the church might be disappointed. You’ll find a normal person.
Moreover, the beauty of the church is its timelessness in the face of change. Different popes come and go but the church remains the same. Every pope has a different personality. Some have been holy men and others have been great sinners. It’s the doctrines that remain constant which ground the church and keep its identity intact, which leads us back to the statistic I cited at the beginning of the article.
Don’t let popular columnists and pundits frame the narrative: Catholics want a revolution, the pope is leading a revolution, and therefore, he is popular and viewed as a superman or star. This does not correspond to the approval ratings of John Paul or Benedict, who were not revolutionary minded.
Instead, the narrative should read: Catholics want to encounter Jesus through the church, John Paul, Benedict, and Francis all accomplished this in a variety of ways (but with different styles), and that’s why they are loved by the faithful.
March 18, 2014 10:16
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By Dr. H. P. Bianchi