All posts tagged: Pope Francis

Can Catholicism’s Truth Be Known Beyond Its Walls?

Reflecting on the role of Christians in today’s American society, Bishop James Conley of Lincoln writes, “We know what it looks like when the Church forgets her holiness: Daily discipleship gives way to rote weekly churchgoing. Tough demands of the Gospel are ignored. Prayer, fasting, and penance are bypassed. Christ’s holy Church becomes indistinguishable from the world.”[1] In this brief statement, Conley summarizes what I take to be one of the central claims of Rod Dreher’s recent book, The Benedict Option. Pace those who associate him with a religious “self-separatism,”[2] the “option” proposes not a self-separatism, but a series of practices, habits, and distinctive cultural rituals that seek to provide a solution to the social fragmentation both within and outside of the boundaries of the Church, due to acedia and a rejection of the sacred.[3] Without wading into the merits of the specific arguments and narratives proposed in his important work, I will follow the lead of Nathaniel Peters, who argues that, if the Benedict Option is to succeed, it “needs to be guided by …

Resetting the Synod

Antagonisms are what we most frequently and efficiently pass on to young people. We teach them to do what we do and to become what we model. Ideals and hopes are diverted this way or that, to this side or that side, so it seems as if the only imperative is to establish oneself, one’s faction, in opposition to others. We are so deft at these maneuvers that we almost cannot help ourselves; we do it instinctively, somewhat naturally. Surprisingly yet predictably, this same old formational screenplay is playing itself out during the preparation for the 2018 Synod of Bishops on “young people, the faith and vocational discernment.” Ironically, antagonism and its animating spirit, the hermeneutics of suspicion, are what young people tend to despise most of all. Yet, these things are precisely what we in the Church are preparing them to assume through what we do and what we model. When the final document from the Vatican’s pre-synod meeting of 300 young people was released at the end of March, the accusatory tweets and …

Recent Reports on Sino-Vatican Negotiations Raise Many Complicated Questions

In recent months Catholics in China had anticipated the upcoming February 1 implementation of the government’s new, stricter regulations on religion with a sense of foreboding, viewing them as the regime’s attempt to achieve two goals with regard to China’s divided Catholic Church: 1) to greatly increase its already strong control over the “official” (government-recognized) church, and 2) to eradicate the activities of the “unofficial” or underground church though fines and prohibiting their gatherings (presumably stopping them by force, whereas they had previously often turned a blind eye), with the goal of eliminating it altogether by forcing it to amalgamate with the official church. I should note at the outset that virtually everything in China is complicated, and government policies are not uniformly applied and enforced the same way in all circumstances throughout the country. Understanding these events requires some background which is beyond the scope of this article, but I have provided elsewhere.[1] Simply hearing that an “underground Church” still exists in China naturally raises questions for Catholics in the West: what is it …

Salvation Cannot Occur in Isolation

One of the most striking aspects of Pope Francis’s ministry is his constant insistence that “the Church must step outside herself,” and foster a “culture of encounter” with others.[1] The essential insight of this mission is the recognition that others “all have something in common with us: they are images of God, they are children of God.”[2] Pope Francis’s theological focus on dialogue and encounter presents a hermeneutic for interpreting and realizing the vision of the Church set out by the Second Vatican Council. In this regard, he is indebted to the theologians who preceded and shaped the Council, especially those who emphasized a return to the early Christian sources, a movement known as Ressourcement. Although he rarely utilizes direct quotations, Pope Francis’s words reflect the language and ethos of the ressourcement theologians. In particular, several key concepts and themes from the work of Henri de Lubac, a fellow Jesuit and explicitly recognized as a significant influence by Pope Francis, consistently reoccur in the pope’s theology.[3] According to de Lubac, humanity’s vocation is essentially communal. …

What is the Community of Sant’Egidio?

1. What is Sant’Egidio? What is its charism? I often think that the Sant’Egidio Community is best understood through its founding, precisely because its founding was not really a founding. Nobody decided to create an organization, a rule, a structure. No, in Rome in 1968, at a time of great social ferment, a group of Catholic high school students began to gather together as friends in order to pray and to seek out and befriend the poorest of the poor. They did this regularly, grew in their ranks, and today you have a community of friends numbering tens of thousands and spanning nations and continents. This community has borne remarkable fruit, including friendship with the elderly and advocacy for the poor around the world, opposition to the death penalty, the combatting of AIDS in Africa, the mediation of numerous peace agreements in Africa and Latin America, and numerous other projects and causes. These “works,” though, all grow out of the community’s basic charisms of prayer, communicating the gospel, and friendship with the poor. Friendship comes …

The Cure for a Throwaway Culture

Fr. Julián Carrón, leader of the Communion and Liberation movement, has a familiar refrain when asked about the Holy Father, “If you don’t think Pope Francis is the cure, you don’t grasp the disease.” The disease, already well-advanced in the developed West, is the “throwaway culture.” Francis describes those of us who have it as slaves to mentality “in which everything has a price, everything can be bought, everything is negotiable. This way of thinking has room only for a select few, while it discards all those who are unproductive.” The inherent, irreducible value of inefficient human beings who are a net burden is ignored or even actively rejected by a throwaway culture which finds such value inconvenient. Francis obviously has direct killing as a primary concern here, but is also worried about the structural violence present in how we order ourselves. Francis insists that a commandment like Thou Shalt Not Kill applies very clearly to our “economy of exclusion.” In the Pope’s view, this economy “kills.” And the kind of exclusion with which Francis …

Stewards Not Ravagers

If we consider the etymological roots of the word “ecology,” we can see in its Greek root the word oikos (meaning “household”). The word “ecology” itself thus already indicates to us a deep sense of radical relationality between human beings and the world, human beings, and one another. This means that care for the earth and care for persons (particularly the most fragile among us) are intimately bound, that environmental ecology and human ecology stand or fall together. We are one household, marked by an intricate web of relationships. When these relationships are conceived competitively rather than cooperatively, when nature or human beings are treated merely as instruments, both human dignity and the dignity of the created order are compromised. As Archbishop Wilton Gregory noted in a 2016 address, the divinely ordained task for human beings to be stewards of creation must begin with “the lofty dignity of the human person.” He noted that the created order was a good in itself because the act of creation bestowed “upon all of nature [is] an undeniable …

Agrarian Insights on Ecological Conversion: Living Laudato Si’

Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’ posed a tremendous challenge for the Church and the entire world. Although the encyclical letter was seen widely as an intervention on climate change negotiations, it in fact offered much more – including a radical critique of our entire societal status quo. In particular, Francis challenges the “dominant technocratic paradigm,” outlining its various damaging cultural and spiritual effects while also offering suggestions toward cultivating an alternative lifestyle: “A great cultural, spiritual and educational challenge stands before us, and it will demand that we set out on the long path of renewal ” (Laudato Si’, §202).  The encyclical’s reception has been varied. Recent research indicates that the Pope’s teachings about global warming contributed to greater public engagement with the issue.[1] Still some, including American Catholics, continue to deny the full extent of our ecological problem. Others find themselves frustrated with institutional inaction or paralyzed by the immensity of the issue. The climate-change crisis, and our apparent inability to face it, is deeply distressing to the Church, since the roots of the problem …

Learning to Behold

Our efforts to keep up with such a fast-paced world can result in a real poverty of presence – presence to one another, presence to ourselves, and presence to God. We are tempted to live in an idealistic future, in the days of our past, or in the world of technology that promises to make us happier than the here and now. Our memories, hopes, and dreams are not balanced by a sobering awareness of our present state. A poverty of presence manifests itself in our homes, in our social circles, in our spiritual life, etc., and it can hinder the way in which we bear witness to Christ in our everyday lives. Scripture gives us a simple instruction to help us be present: to behold (e.g. John 1:29, 19:26-27; Luke 1:38; Matthew 28:20; Revelation 21:5). Learning to behold another in our midst teaches us to slow down, to listen, to be with, to really hold another’s joys and sorrows as our own. Pope Francis reflects: “Meanwhile, the Gospel tells us constantly to run the …

Celebrating Easter, Part 6: The Redemption of Farming

Organic-biodynamic farming, though it possesses many practical benefits—such as raw milk, fresh vegetables, fresh meats and eggs—has always been for me a kind of sacred activity. This sacredness resides in one undeniable fact: the Blood of Christ saturated the earth on Golgotha. This is not some minor, locally interesting detail. Rather, it is a supernatural event of the highest importance for the entire planet, and, indeed, for the cosmos. He makes all things new. When I work the land, I am mindful that this soil has been redeemed along with all of Creation by Christ’s Blood. This is not some piece of abstract doctrine for me, but a scientific truth. However, this is a truth I must not fully understand: if I did, I’m afraid I’d be too awestruck to do anything. Nevertheless, his Blood saturated the soil and its power still enlivens it. My job, as I see it, is simply to help the vegetables and forage crops I plant find access to that power. This care implies tending: planning, planting, weeding, composting. In …