A few months ago driving to work, I listened intently to NPR’s special report entitled, Losing Our Religion
. The particular story that caught my attention was a group interview of young “nones,” people who do not identify with any religion. Having written my dissertation on the process of secularization and studied the phenomenon of “nones” extensively, the majority of responses were predicable. Until, they were questioned: do you pray?
To my surprise, every interviewee acknowledged that they pray. With great candor, one admitted hypocritically to praying when hitting rock bottom, yet not believing in God. Others revealed that they often expressed a spirit of gratitude or did a daily examination. While not directed to a personal God, these actions contain many characteristics of prayer.
Reflecting on these responses, I concluded that prayer is a very natural response to certain circumstances. We often pray to God when faced with a great difficultly – a death, illness, or loss of job, or we offer a prayer of thanks when something good happens. It’s intuitive. We don’t even have to think about doing it.
Now, it’s time for my confession. Even though praying is a natural action, I am very bad at it. I went to Catholic schools, attended religious education classes, and heard thousands of homilies, and yet, I struggle communicating with God in a personal and meaningful way.
What did you think of the responsorial psalm from last Sunday? Were you blown away by its profound meaning? If you are like me, then you probably don’t remember it. I am not an expert in body language, but are most people at Mass present only physically? Too often, when I am praying the rosary or night prayers, I am planning the next day or daydreaming about something else. I am merely saying words with no movement of my heart.
(Tom McCarthy Jr. | CR Staff)
I feel like I am not alone, and I would argue that it is more a problem with Catholics than members of other denominations and faiths. In today’s Catholicism, there is a strong emphasis on verbal prayers. We teach children to memorize certain prayers, but neglect to instruct them what to do mentally while praying the words.
Communicating with God through prayer has many similarities with interacting with a spouse. It is natural and easy to communicate with your spouse at first, but over time, it takes work to develop and deepen your relationship. You cannot say the same thing over and over again, and not expect the relationship to become stale. You have to create new ways to express your love in order for your marriage to be fresh and vibrant. The same is true with our relationship with God. If we repeat the same prayers while we are zoning out, we will not grow in our love for God.
Most Catholics assume other faiths are more attentive toward mental prayer. Eastern religions, like Buddhism and Hinduism, are focused on meditation, and Protestantism has a rich history of spontaneous prayer. Catholics have even sought to integrate eastern mysticism and revivalism into Catholicism in order to enhance their prayers.
Borrowing or inventing new methods, however, is not necessary as Catholicism has a profound tradition of mental prayer. The church has always encouraged mental prayer, and countless mystics have written on the subject, climaxing in the writings of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. The current problem is not that Catholicism is opposed to this type of prayer, but that it has been forgotten and neglected.
We need to be part of a movement that restores mental prayer to the forefront by reading and learning from the classical texts. Yet even before exploring the writings of the mystics, we can begin with simple practices like taking a few minutes every day to meditate on the passion and death of Jesus while contemplating a crucifix or reading a passage from the Bible and then silently reflecting on it.
Some of the “nones” in the NPR report were former Catholics. Why did they leave? Perhaps, they were not taught how to properly pray, and therefore, they felt that their prayers were fake and empty, prompting them to leave the faith. It is our responsibility to ensure that does not continue to happen.
Catholic instruction should move beyond memorizing prayers. It should help people develop a deep and living prayer life by building on people’s natural desire to pray and develop and deepen it with proper guidance. Only with this renewed focus on mental prayer will young Catholics see their relationship with God as meaningful and thus remain devoted to the faith.
May 29, 2013 12:25
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
Famous individuals receive all the attention. Whether in a history book or a popular magazine, celebrated men and women dominate the headlines, but what is the impact of a single individual? Is there a limit to what one person can accomplish?
A dynamic and talented political candidate will not get very far as an independent. Rather a potential politician needs an elaborate network, such as a political party, with scores of volunteers and an endless source of revenue just to make the ballot.
The same principle is true in the religious sphere. If Mother Teresa acted alone, she would have helped a few thousand individuals and had only been known locally in Calcutta. It was because she founded a religious order that millions of people were helped in dozens of countries and her influence spread around the world.
Similarly, Father Michael McGivney probably reached hundreds of parishioners during his life, but the organization he began, the Knights of Columbus, has impacted millions of people around the world from its beginnings in the 19th century to the present day.
Members of the Knights of Columbus hold American flags.
In short, associations have been overlooked in their ability to affect change. Possibly, this disregard is because individuals are exciting, and associations are boring. People neglect the influence of associations across the board, and this is likewise the case in the Catholic world.
On the level of the parish, most would assume that a dynamic pastor is the key to a vibrant parish. Instead of reflecting on the pastor, I would judge the parish by examining the bulletin and determining how many groups are active in the parish. The latter is a more telling sign of the dynamism of the community.
From a historical perspective, the church in the Middle Ages had a thriving culture due to religious guilds, which were distinct from the more well-known professional guilds organized around a single profession. Religious guilds were dedicated to a patron saint or title of Jesus or Mary, emphasized community prayer and Mass attendance, and hosted religious celebrations and processions. Many scholars argue that the guilds, which existed in churches all across Europe, were responsible for the flowering of Catholic culture in the High and Late Middle Ages.
The American church experienced a similar growth in Catholic associations in the early part of the twentieth century. The Knights of Columbus was only one of many organizations thriving in Catholic parishes. Lay Catholics flocked to groups, such as the Holy Name Society
, the Catholic Daughters of America, and dozens of other sodalities, confraternities, and third orders groups.
Today, most Catholics do not belong to a parish-based group. Many groups still exist with a handful of members from the 1960s and 1970s, but as the older members die off, few new people join them. The Holy Name Society in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, for instance, went from 40,000 members in 135 parishes at its height to now 500 members in 18 parishes. As a result of declining associations, parishes have lost a lot of activities and members.
A few bright spots do exist as the Knights of Columbus continue to expand and youth groups are now a staple of many parishes. Yet, the majority of Catholics are not involved in any association.
From a purely anecdotal level, many people I know have grown in their faith through joining an association. My wife and I met and grew in our faith while attending a Theology of the Body
study group. My brother-in-law recently revealed it was through his youth group that his faith began to blossom, and currently, he is on track to be ordained a priest in the Archdiocese of Baltimore next June. At my college, numerous nominal Catholics joined a Catholic fraternity (called a household) in which I was a member and became practicing, dedicated Catholics through it.
Why are Catholic groups so effective? In part, members feel part of a community. Often, the parish is too large, and one could attend Mass every weekend and still not know anyone. Within a smaller group, individuals form personal relationships with other Catholics, leading to a deeper faith.
More specifically, there is an increased level of support being part of a Catholic association. Peer pressure has a negative connotation, and we often instruct children not to hang around with the “bad crowd” because their influence will lead them to perform negative actions. The principle, however, works in reverse. If you associate with people that share your beliefs, it will strengthen your faith. We live in a culture that is constantly directing us away from God. It is important to have a group that supports and encourages us to stay on the straight and narrow path.
In addition to support, a smaller group also provides accountability. It is easy to skip Mass from time to time or to stop praying all together when you are on your own. In my current men’s group, we reflect on our prayer life as a group. It is not judgmental or accusatory, but meant to be encouraging. I want to pray more, but sometimes, I can be lazy. Occasionally, you need a friend to push you along and to hold you accountable.
Returning to my original point, the individual is weak, and conversely, there is great power in numbers. Ten people acting together are more effective than ten individuals working by themselves. In the history of the church, there has been an emphasis on working in groups. From the very beginning, Jesus selected the Apostles to minister with him, and the disciples were sent out in pairs. As the church developed, communities formed in local churches, and religious communities developed in monasteries and convents.
If you do not belong to a group, think about joining one: a youth group, a young adult group, a Bible study, a men’s group, a mom’s group, the Legion of Mary, the Knights of the Columbus, and so on. If there is not a group that fills your particular need, then start one. Lastly, if you are already in an organization, invite someone else to join.
May 24, 2013 10:49
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
Several months ago, the nation came to a halt due the mass killings in Newtown, and rightfully, every news station, newspaper, and the like covered the story for days. It precipitated a national conversation on how to prevent future massacres from gun control to mental health care. It was the innocence of the young children that struck a chord with people. How could anyone hurt a young child?
Currently, the trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell is underway. For those unaware, he routinely delivered live babies during the third trimester, and then cut the spine of the baby in order to kill them, decapitating breathing, screaming, moving babies. He even joked that one baby was so big he could “walk me to the bus stop.”
Where is the new coverage? Where is the outrage? Where is the national conversation?
The murder of these innocent children has been greeted by silence.
The pro-abortion lobby is scared of this case because it shows the true face of abortion. You can dress up the issue with a discussion of privacy and rights, but the reality is a baby loses his or her life in the process. The trial, the grand jury report, and the pictures make this loss of life painfully clear.
Finally, a few honest journalists have picked up the story. Instead of repeating their work, I encourage you to read their articles in USA Today
and The Atlantic
and to share them.
April 12, 2013 12:50
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
When I came across a CNN blog about the challenges facing the new pope, I expected the standard items: reforming the Curia and dealing with the sexual abuse scandal. I did not anticipate reading about a full scale persecution of the church.
I pride myself on being informed, especially about religious news, and I am familiar with the recent attacks on Christian churches in Egypt. The media has treated these persecutions of Christians as a sporadic and limited phenomenon, but John Allen’s blog
paints a different picture:
The most harrowing Christian storyline of the early 21st century is the rising tide of anti-Christian violence and persecution in various global hotspots. From the Middle East to Sub-Saharan Africa, from India to Eritrea, Christians today often find themselves in the firing line, and they’ll expect the new pope to have their backs.
The statistics are staggering. According to the International Society for Human Rights in Frankfurt, Germany, fully 80 percent of all acts of religious discrimination in the world today are directed at Christians. According to the Pew Forum in Washington, Christians face some form of harassment in 137 nations, two-thirds of all countries on earth.
In the most bone-chilling assertion of all, the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary claims that an average of 100,000 Christians have been killed for the faith each year for the past 10 years. That works out to 11 new Christian martyrs every hour of every day for the past decade.
A few points bare repeating: 80 percent of religious discrimination is directed at Christians, two-thirds of all countries harass Christians, and 11 Christians are martyred every hour!
In the United States, we are in the midst of a soft attack on our religion. Certain actions of our government from the HHS Mandate to the legalization of same-sex marriage are going to reduce or inhibit certain functions of the church. Yet, we can go to church without fear of punishment or death. In many countries, that is not the case.
With more than 2 billion Christians and with Christian nations constituting the majority of the most powerful nations in the world, Christians do not appear to be an embattled minority. Subsequently, many people assert that Christians have a martyr-complex, believing the world is out to get them even though they comprise the most powerful bloc in the world.
This view has gained prominence due to a new book by Candida Moss, a professor at the University of Notre Dame. In “The Myth of Persecution : How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom,” she maintains that early Christians were not persecuted during the first 300 years of their existence, and the church later exaggerated claims of martyrdom to enhance the image of the early church. Due to this inaccurate vision of the early church, Moss claims Christians view themselves as incessantly being targeted with persecution. She connects this paranoid view with today’s politicians and pundits on the right, who often denounce an imaginary war on religion.
A historical consensus exists that the Roman persecution was often local and sporadic, with the exception of Diocletian’s universal attack, and early Christians could escape harm in the large and decentralized state by taking a low profile. The martyrdoms, however, were real, and hardly a myth.
While this blog is not a full rebuttal of Moss’s argument, her books should be considered with a few critical limitations. First, most people are unaware of the thousands of Christians dying today even with the modern media and record keeping. Nearly 2000 years ago, the documents of a church on the fringe of society would have been far more incomplete, and we can assume that most martyrs and persecutions were not recorded. Second, the limited records that do exist show a church under duress. I wrote my dissertation on an early martyr, St. George, and though not an expert on the whole period, I am unfamiliar with any document pointing to a positive relationship between Romans and Christian in the first 300 years of the church. Lastly, to think that the classical world was a tolerant place where minorities were accepted is a little dishonest. It’s anachronistic to assert that a person holding a different religion from the state religion would suffer no consequences.
That said, Moss’s review of the early church is true in respect to the dearth of sources, but her giant leap to the present day is inexcusable. Since the Christianization of the Roman Empire, western states have been religiously homogenous. For centuries, many people never encountered a person of a different religion, with the exception of the Reformation era. The fact that an official persecution is a hallmark of Christianity ignores the vast majority of Christian history! It is only in the modern period due to migration and colonization that people are exposed to different faiths.
Most people miss the point when they think of persecution, limiting it to the actions of a hostile state, such as the Roman Empire. Rather, Christians believe the world is a struggle between good and evil. If you try to do good, people inspired to do evil will impede you. Jesus instructed us to be prepared for this rebuke, but also to love those who persecute us and reach out to them.
When St. Benedict was abbot of a monastery, the monks opposed to his methods tried to poison him several times. After St. Theresa of Avila attempted to reform the Carmelites in Spain, she gained many enemies, was put on trial, and was forced into seclusion. The point is that you do not need an official persecution to be harassed. Speaking the message of Jesus could result in rebuke even in the most Christian countries during the most Christian times.
I invite skeptics to post a Christian message on Facebook or go door to door with a Bible. Even if it is done in the most loving and gentle manner, I am certain that you’ll receive some nasty feedback.
As important as the martyrs are to the early church, Moss overestimates their role in the formation of a Christian identity. Martyrs were not important in themselves, but in the fact that they mirrored the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. It is the death of Jesus, not the martyrs, that forms the primary connection to being persecuted for your faith. Even without the Roman persecutions, Christians would still be called to pick up their cross and follow Jesus.
So, is the story of Christians being persecuted a myth? It’s unlikely that Moss’s book is a best-seller with Chaldean Catholics in Iraq.
What about us? If we hear the stories of the martyrs and react with hatred, anger, and paranoia, then there is a problem. The story of the martyrs is supposed to inspire us. If Catholics in Iraq can risk their life by going to church, perhaps, we can set our alarms a little earlier and make it to Mass, too. If people can face prison for wearing a crucifix in Libya, then maybe we can share our faith with those we encounter in our lives.
April 09, 2013 10:43
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
“What do you think of the new pope?”
“I like him.”
The verdict is in; the world likes, no loves, Pope Francis.
In the past month, I have slammed the media’s coverage of Mother Teresa
, and the pre-conclave speculation
. Imagine my surprise in the glowing coverage of the new pope. It feels strange to see a pro-Catholic news article, and even stranger, to see pro-Catholic comments after the article.
The press has even gone as far as defending his record in Argentina’s Dirty War, the one area of controversy surrounding his election.
For me, the likeability of the pope ranks fairly low on my desirable characteristics. As we go through the readings during Holy Week, it is clear that Jesus was not well liked. I cannot read Francis’s mind, but I am pretty certain that he does not care if people like him or not.
Pope Francis gives a thumbs up as he leaves St. Peter's Square after celebrating
Palm Sunday Mass at the Vatican March 24.
(CNS photo/Paul Haring)
The church has often been seen as hypocritical, preaching one thing but doing something else. One of the reasons Francis is so beloved is his authenticity. He lives the message that he preaches. It is disarming to see someone that is meek and humble, which makes it hard to have negative opinion of him.
We need to be held to the same standard as the church. Do you like the pope’s message of helping the poor? Then, make plans to help the poor. Do you like his call for forgiveness and mercy? Then, strive to be more forgiving and merciful.
Francis is delivering a message, a message that has been around for 2000 years. It is important that it’s conveyed in an effective manner, and Francis appears to have a gift spreading Catholic teaching. However, he is not the message.
More than liking the new pope, we need to listen to him, and beyond listening, we to need to live the Christian message. Francis desires that people put his words into practice more than praise his sermons and speeches.
Are you one of those people who likes the new pope? If yes, then it is time to put his message into action.
March 26, 2013 11:43
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
With the current situation in Washington, it is unlikely that any pro-life initiatives are going to be successful on the national level. It is, therefore, important to push small, incremental changes on the state level, especially in light of the recent tragic death
during a late-term abortion in Germantown. Tonight, we will have a chance to voice our support for pro-life laws at our state’s capitol in the presence of many lawmakers.
The schedule is as follows:
5:15pm Mass @ St. Mary's in Annapolis
6:30pm March through Annapolis
7:00pm Pro-life Rally at Lawyer’s Mall
8:00pm Free Chick-fil-A @ St. Mary's School
Four years ago, my wife was interviewed
during the march. Her story complicates the idea that there should be exceptions to laws against abortion. Her birthmother was only 16-years-old when she became pregnant, and her biological father was not in the picture. Most teens in that situation would opt for an abortion, but fortunately, her birthmother chose to have the baby and then give her up for adoption.
Without her heroic decision, her adopted parents, who had trouble conceiving, would not have had a daughter, I would not have a wife, our sons would not have a mother, and most significantly, my wife would not have had a chance to live. Everyone, no matter what their circumstances, should have the right to life.
Come to Annapolis tonight to support this issue, and in case you were on the fence, the free Chick-fil-A should push you over the edge.
March 11, 2013 09:15
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
When logging into my Yahoo! email, I came across a feature article on Mother Teresa. Out of curiosity, I clicked on the link and was greeted with a shocking headline: “Was Mother Teresa actually sort of a jerk?
The article references a recently published study in Religieuses, a religious studies journal, which argues that Mother Teresa’s organization, the Missionaries of Charity, offers substandard health care and poor living conditions for those it serves. Meanwhile, they receive millions of dollars in donations.
The real problem is that the writers of this report and article are utterly ignorant of true poverty. They are so sheltered in their affluent and comfortable world, far removed from extreme poverty, that they would be aghast to see what Mother Teresa saw in her life. There are countless people who have been kicked out of their homes and are dying on the streets, with no one to even acknowledge them as a human. There are babies dying because their mothers were abandoned by their fathers, and these mothers had no food to give to their starving children. This is real. This is happening today all over the world.
Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, the foundress of the Missionaries of Charity, who
was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2003, would have celebrated her 100th
birthday Aug. 26. She is pictured in a 1979 photo. (CNS photo/KNA)
Mother Teresa founded an order that serves the poorest of the poor. It should not be surprising that the conditions are lowly in these facilities, and perhaps, they are even shocking for westerners accustomed to a certain standard. Some of the homes have no running water or electricity because they are in areas that are incredibly poor and underdeveloped. They are not seeking to build world-class hospitals, new Mayo clinics in the third world. Their mission is to serve the dying, starving, and abandoned and offer them a little relief in the form of food, medicine, a place to stay, and love.
The exact amount of donations is not reported by the Missionaries of Charity. One website
hostile to the order estimates yearly donations of $100 million, which could be exaggerated to bolster its claims. They have more than 700 houses, and thus, an average house has less than $150,000 to pay the staff and offer free food and medical supplies.
The study states: “One may ask where the millions of dollars for the poorest of the poor have gone?” Spending $100 million to manage 700 houses is not a mishandling of funds. It's brilliant management. By contrast, John Hopkins Hospital has an annual budget of $6.5 billion (65 times as much!). That’s what it takes to operate ONE world-class facility. If you are wondering where Mother Teresa was hiding her millions, she was spending it on the poor.
One could also consider Joe Flacco’s new contract, in which he earns $120 million to throw a football. There does not seem to be uproar over it, but heaven forbid, you use $100 million to feed and care for millions of people.
, who is a Missionary of Charity in Cotonou, Benin, provides one example of what a small house of sisters can accomplish. Their home focuses on sick children, and they care for about 40 children and 20 mothers. They also distribute medicine because though the local emergency room is free, the prescriptions are useless because people cannot afford to buy the medicine. The sisters address this problem by giving out medicine for free. Twice a week, they also have a medical dispensary for the local community with more than 100 people attending every clinic. Then twice a week, they go out to rural villages to distribute medicine in areas without any pharmacies. Additionally, they hold regular distributions of powdered milk for infants and food. My sister is a registered nurse, and my father, a medical doctor, volunteered at this home for several weeks, and based on their reports, this simple, low-budget house is saving thousands of lives.
It raises the question, if the study’s claims are correct, why are people coming to the sisters? It’s simple. The poor have no other place to go. My sister previously worked with the dying in Liberia, and revealed that people are disowned once they are diagnosed with AIDS. They come to the sisters because otherwise they would be dying in the street.
When most people see an ill person on the street, they walk by without giving them a thought. Mother Teresa stopped and picked those people up and cared for them. Now, a growing group of skeptics are standing next to the dying people in the streets - telling would-be helpers not to pick them up unless you have proper health care training. An even viler group, stands next to the dying individuals, refusing to help, but documents how they are being improperly helped, writing an exposé on the evilness of those caring for the sick.
These westerners have a naïveté reminding me of Marie Antoinette’s infamous “Let them eat cake.” Except they are proclaiming: “Let them all go to first-class hospitals.” These authors need to spend some time in the slums, and realize the homes of the Missionaries of Charity are not resorts, but they are infinitely better than the places that the poor are coming from.
The world is full of hypocrites, but the Missionaries of Charity are not frauds. They have limited belongings: three outfits, a few books, and a couple personal items. The sisters do not have air conditioning, showers, bed (they sleep on cots), or carpeting. They do NOT spend money on themselves. There are no secret lavish parties or mansion for the nuns.
Have you ever heard a Missionary of Charity asking for money or have you received a letter requesting funds. No! It’s forbidden. Their disregard for money is a rarity, and perhaps, they are the only charity in the world that does not ask for donations. Yet, they are being targeted for devising a complicated, devious plot to raise funds.
The writers of the study only examined 287 published documents on Mother Teresa. They did not visit any communities or conduct any original research. They most likely relied on a handful of negative works on Mother Teresa (Christopher Hitchens and the like), but for every negative book, there are dozens of positive ones. Moreover, one of the authors, Serge Larivée, is a heavily involved religious skeptic, and has authored other anti-religion studies. In short, it’s hardly an unbiased, reliable academic study.
These people are extremely opposed to the Missionaries of Charity, and they want to put them out of business. If that is their mission, they should seek to end all poverty. They seem to have a lot of ideas about provided health care and taking care of the poor, but I doubt they have ever seen extreme poverty. There is a big difference between writing about something and actually doing something. As long as poor still exist, they need to get out of the way and let the nuns in white saris with blue stripes help them.
I am an optimistic person, and I believe things are getting better in our society. Articles like this one, however, make we wonder about where we are going. You are a jerk if you dedicate your entire life to serving the poor without any financial or material reward, but you are a hero if you write a cynical, demeaning study from the comfort of your home. God help us all.
Thankfully, my sister does not have a computer or the Internet and will not have to read Yahoo! “News” hit piece on Mother Teresa. Instead, she’ll see the hundreds of smiling faces this week as she hands out medicine and food.
March 08, 2013 05:24
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
It’s been painful watching the media attempt to cover the papal succession. Beyond the incessant coverage of Catholic scandals (real and imagined), everyone seems to have an opinion of what the next pope should do or what he should be like.
Many of their views regarding the next pope are so divergent from Catholic tradition that I wonder if any of these journalists have ever studied Catholic history or theology, or do they intentionally jam the papacy into modern constructs?
The pope is not a politician.
In our hyper-political world, many people assume the pope is the president of the Catholic Church. As we well know, presidential succession hinges on the idea of change. If the president is a Democrat, the Republican candidate offers a message of change and vice versa.
Contrarily when one pope leaves, the next one should not seek change but continuity. Unlike economic theories or foreign policy, the church’s teaching should not fluctuate from pope to pope. If one pope upholds a teaching, the next one is not going to come in and overturn it.
If you are hoping for a new pope that will switch the teachings of the church, you are going to be disappointed. The next pope is going to hold the same beliefs as Benedict XVI, John Paul II, and those before them.
Additionally, the pope as a politician would be a disaster. The church as a democracy might sound good, but the last thing I want is morality determined by a majority vote. Can you imagine a papal nominee campaigning throughout the Catholic world? Just think of a candidate trying to shore up the youth vote by promising to make premarital-sex no longer a sin.
Undoubtedly, the next pope will have a different personality and management style than previous popes, but he will teach the same exact things as those before him.
The pope is not a CEO.
There are 1.3 billion Catholics, 410,593 priests, and 5,065 bishops. The pope is the spiritual leader of the church; he does not manage it day to day. Given the numbers listed above, it would be impossible.
Unlike a CEO who is constantly reviewing performances, promoting and demoting subordinates, the church allows bishops a great deal of autonomy in administrating local dioceses. I would even argue that priests are impacted more by a new bishop than a new pope. Likewise, the average Catholic is affected by a new pastor more than new a pope.
Given this fact, the single most important managerial task of the pope is the selection of bishops and cardinals. Sadly, this important task was neglected in past decades, and many individuals with questionable backgrounds were promoted, causing great confusion and scandal in the church. In the past eight years, Benedict XVI was much more proactive in removing problematic church leaders and selecting bishops who are orthodox, able administrators, and serious about preventing abuse within the church, a fact overlooked by the media. My one hope is that his successor makes even greater strides in this area.
The pope is not a public relations guru.
News articles have often blasted Benedict XVI for his formal style and stiffness. The pope does not need a dynamic personality, for Catholics should not follow the pope due to his celebrity status.
Recent popes, like all men, had faults, but fortunately, they were also men of great personal holiness, which has not always been the case. Many Renaissance popes, for instance, were outwardly evil, living openly in sin, yet the church persisted and the faithful remained loyal.
It is a scary thought, but the next pope could make a major plunder or be personally involved in a terrible scandal. While it would be horrible, it should not disturb our faith.
The pope is not God.
The pope as God may seem odd to Catholics, but go to the comments section of any article on the pope and you’ll see people writing that Catholics make the pope to be more important than Jesus.
This attitude is most likely due to confusion around papal infallibility. I assume that many non-Catholics believe that if the pope casually said that 1+1=3, all Catholics would have to believe it. I dare not wade into the complex theological debate surrounding papal authority, but suffice it to say, the pope rarely speaks ex cathedra, the mark of an infallible statement. Any non-Catholic reading this blog can rest assured, we do not worship the pope nor is everything he says a dogma of our faith.
Moreover, the vast majority of what the popes have said and written is merely an explanation, elaboration, and reiteration of truths previously defined. If you look at the most controversial topics - abortion, women’s ordination, homosexuality, - the “shocking” declarations of the pope are only restating what previous popes have said hundreds of times before.
The pope is a shepherd.
We are a wandering flock, and the pope is our shepherd guiding us to God. Looking at the thousands of other Christian denominations, I see many leaderless churches without unity and holding contradictory beliefs. In God’s wisdom, he provided us with his vicar on earth to keep us on the correct path.
This blog is perhaps a letdown in the building up to the next pope. The man who is pope, be it Wojtyła, Ratzinger, or whoever is next, is not as important as the office, and ultimately, it is God who is in charge of the church. That said, I am eager to have the seat occupied once again. It is comforting to know that the ship I am on has a captain.
All the talking heads continue to instruct the next pope to do this or that. Let us not seek the pope that we want but the pope that God desires, and let us pray that he has the strength and wisdom to complete his trying task.
March 05, 2013 12:36
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
I have a confession to make. I am a Patriots fan. Please keep reading. I’ll explain.
I grew up in Connecticut, watching the Patriots every Sunday; yes, even during those horrible pre- Belichick / Brady years. I move down “south” to attend graduate school at The Catholic University of America, fell in love with a girl from Baltimore, and the rest is history.
Her family is typical Baltimorean, and by typical, I mean crazy about the Ravens. Even though I sported my Patriot gear every fall and winter, they accepted me. I suppose by the grace of God. Needless to say, games between the Ravens and Patriots have become major events in our house.
Last year, I was particularly excited for the AFC Championship game, hoping for a little revenge for the 2009 Wild Card debacle. I never watched the game.
That Sunday morning, we received a call that my wife’s aunt had a heart attack and was at St. Agnes Hospital in critical condition. We spent that afternoon in a hospital waiting room, not in front of the television. The doctor informed us that she would have died, if she had not been brought in, and things still looked pretty bad.
When I eventually heard of Cundiff’s missing field goal. I felt nothing. My team was going to the Super Bowl. Who cares!
My wife’s aunt never improved. After several months of horrible suffering, she passed away. She was a saintly person, and as one relative stated, if she did not go straight to heaven, we are all in trouble.
Last year, I realized football is just a game, and it is not the players on the field that make watching the game great. If the Lance Armstrong case teaches us anything, it is that we tend to over idolize athletes.
It’s the people sitting next to you that make watching the game great. I’ll be wearing a Brady jersey on Sunday in a sea of purple, but there is no place I would rather be than with my family.
Aunt Mary Ellen, I love and miss you.
January 18, 2013 10:51
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
Two days after Chase Kowalski perished during the massacre at Sandy Hook, he appeared to his mother, Becky, in a vision. He delivered a message that the world would change for the better because people would be touched by the incident. She called the day of her son’s death, the worst day ever, and the day of the vision, only two days later, the best day of her life.
It’s been a month. Have we changed? Has the world changed?
At first, we needed to mourn and pray for the victims, but now, we owe it to Chase Kowalski and his classmates to use this event to improve our society. Many national conversations have been initiated, ranging between guns, school security, mental health care, violent video games, and beyond, but have we missed one?
Dan Malloy, the governor of Connecticut, delivered the most memorable quote in the aftermath of the tragedy: “Evil visited this community today.” Is it time for a national conversation on evil?
Our society has become so dismissive of morality that many have forgotten evil exists. We have neglected moral codes and blurred distinctions between right and wrong. It is only in the face of a horrible display of evil, like Sandy Hook, that we collectively realize its presence.
Many modern philosophers argue that our notions of good and evil are socially constructed. For instance, you believe murder is evil because society repeatedly tells you it is evil. Subsequently, morality is relative to the society, making intrinsic evil non-existent.
This relativistic philosophy has been accepted by most Americans. It’s become commonplace to tell people not to impose their views of morality on others. Where are the relativists now? Why have they not come to the defense of Adam Lanza? Why is it okay to label this act as evil?
People want to improve our country, but we cannot begin to do this until we acknowledge there is good and evil, moving to eliminate what is evil and to promote what is good.
One of the outcomes of this awful event should be that people are more aware of evil. We need to see the evil present in injustices directed against the poor, persecuted, and weak, and work to challenge it. We should also examine spiritual evils in our own life, such as pride, vanity, or jealousy, which offends God, and seek to remove it.
Other questions are also raised by the presence of evil. Most commonly, how does evil exist in a world created by God, since He is good and created everything? In this case, where was God during the massacre? Why did He not stop the shooting? In short, God created humans with free will. He wanted us to love Him based on freedom rather than being forced to love Him. With this freedom, however, there is the option to reject God, and thus, to commit great sins, such as murder. Accordingly, the fault lies not with the Creator, but with the individual who used his free will.
Another familiar question is why do evil things happen to good people? How could such innocent children be killed? God does not promise justice or wellbeing in this world. If you are a good person, you will not be necessarily guaranteed wealth or good health. We should pray and strive to create a better society, but nothing can assure that good people will not be killed, be poor, or get sick. That is not God’s promise.
Our consolation is that justice will be delivered in the next life. In worldly terms, the victims at Sandy Hook faced the same fate as the perpetrator. People might think it is unfair that no punishment was dispensed to the individual behind the crime, and that the innocent people who died will not receive restitution.
Justice will be served. The children and the self-sacrificing staff will be completely compensated by God for their suffering, far greater than we can imagine. On the other hand, Adam Lanza will be judged and punished for his crime. Suicidal mass-killings will never be eliminated, but they will be reduced if people believed death was not the end, but the beginning of another existence based on prior actions.
Returning to the vision of Chase, he informed his mother that one of the outcomes will be the return of God in American society. While one’s initial reaction might be to question God, a thorough examination of the reaction to the tragedy only reinforces belief in God.
The killing of children was universally described as evil. Everyone was disturbed by the killings and deemed it a great tragedy. The event was not atoms interacting with other atoms. It was not a lion attacking a herd of antelope. It was recognized by all that human actions have a moral dimension and this particular action was evil.
For an intrinsic evil to exist, it presupposes moral laws. How did these laws arise? If created by society, one faces the awkward position that mass killings might not be a true evil. Some societies could create a moral system where killing children is viewed as a morally good action.
The Christian position maintains that a moral code exists because God created it. The moral law is not only revealed, but it is also written on our hearts. The identification of what happened at Sandy Hook as evil by everyone points to a natural and universal law of good and evil.
People asked: where was God? That was the right question, but it was asked in the wrong context. We should not wonder why God was not present during the tragedy. He was there. He created the moral code, He was more deeply offended than us, He dealt a swift justice to the perpetrator, and He welcomed the victims with their due reward.
We should ask where was God in the life of Adam Lanza? Barring metal illness, why did he not have a better sense of good and evil and fear of eternal judgment?
As we learn and grow from what happened a month ago, we should not rush into action. Rather, let us think about the root of the tragedy and consider that evil played a role. The post-Sandy Hook national conversation should, therefore, include a discussion about our blindness to evil and our attachment to moral relativism.
Family of 7-year-old killed in Newtown makes a statement on her life
January 16, 2013 01:30
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By Dr. H. P. Bianchi