Saturday, August 31, 2013

Romanian priest who died in Communist prison camp beatified

The following comes from the Catholic World Report:

This weekend Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, will beatify a Romanian priest who died in a Communist prison camp in 1954. Msgr. Vladimir Ghika, who was tortured and left to die of hunger and cold in Jilava prison, will be beatified during a Mass in Bucharest on Saturday, and will be considered a martyr.

“Martyrdom isn’t just a phenomenon of Christianity’s first centuries,” said Archbishop Ioan Robu of Bucharest.“People gave their lives for the faith in recent memory and are still doing so in large numbers now.”

A brief biography of the new beatus, who was a convert from Orthodoxy, from Catholic News Service’s Jonathan Luxmoore:
Mgr Ghika was born on December 25, 1873, in Istanbul, where his father was Romania’s representative at the Ottoman court. He was one of six children in an Orthodox family. He studied in Paris and in Toulouse, France, his mother’s home country, and received a theology doctorate in 1898 at Rome’s Dominican College.

He was received into the Catholic Church on April 15, 1902, but was persuaded by Pope Pius X, whom he knew personally, to remain a lay man in order to evangelise more effectively among non-Catholics.

After aiding the sick in Thessaloniki, Greece, he moved to Bucharest, where he founded Romania’s first free clinic, as well as a hospital and sanatorium, before returning to France to care for the displaced and wounded during the First World War.

In 1921, he was awarded the Legion of Honor for helping restore France’s diplomatic ties with the Holy See. On October 7, 1923, he was ordained in Paris and was authorised to conduct liturgies in both the Latin and Eastern Catholic rites.

He befriended prominent Catholics such as writers Jacques Maritain and Paul Claudel while ministering in the rough quarter of Villejuif. In the 1930s, he also travelled widely in Europe, Asia and the Americas as a representative of Pope Pius XI.

Mgr Ghika returned to Romania at the outbreak of the Second World War to organise help for refugees and bombardment victims.

Having rejected advice to leave the country after the Communists seized of power, he was arrested on November 18, 1952, for refusing to break ties with the Vatican, and survived more than 80 violent interrogations before being sentenced to three years’ incarceration at Romania’s infamous Jilava prison, where he died, emaciated, on May 16, 1954.


Friday, August 30, 2013

Athletic Clergy Use Sports for the Good of Souls

The following comes from the NCR:

Some people think of the priesthood as the death of any enjoyment of life. No wife, no children, no sports, no fun. It’s all dreadfully serious business for priests, the thinking goes. Such thinking itself, according to notable clerics, must go.

“Certainly the priesthood is serious business. You can’t get any more serious than eternal salvation,” said Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Ill. “However, everyone needs to step away from their responsibilities from time to time in order to recreate, and the clergy are no different.”

Aside from providing much-needed recreation, Bishop Paprocki, who has completed 19 marathons himself, has found athletics to be very helpful in drawing others to Christ. He uses time spent running to pray (often on a 10-bead finger rosary) and to mentally assemble homilies and articles that are often introduced by sports stories.

“I’ve used sports many times to begin a discussion, especially with the young,” the national chaplain for LIFE Runners explained. “St. Ignatius of Loyola said that you should meet someone where he’s at in order to bring him where you are. You make the effort to see things as your audience does and then connect that perspective with what you’re delivering. You build on what’s already there, and for many young people, what’s already there is sports.”

Sports have been there for Bishop Paprocki since his youth in Chicago. As one of seven boys, he played everything, from hockey (a family favorite) to soccer and baseball. Yet, despite having a ready-made team on hand and a great enjoyment of sports, he didn’t consider himself to be a gifted athlete as a young man. Instead of letting this get in his way, however, it was motivation to improve.

“Even though I had six brothers and a real appreciation for sports, I certainly wasn’t the best at any sport I played in,” Bishop Paprocki admitted. “I think that made me work for things and become a better person overall. Instead of taking sports for granted, I realized how much effort can be needed to learn them, and I understood the setbacks people encounter. This has helped me pastorally, because I can use my own challenges to connect with and help others.”

Bishop Paprocki has found fear, frustration and failure to be among the most common difficulties people encounter. He has taught that fortitude, faith, family, friendship and fun can be the solutions: “The challenges we face in sports are so similar to the ones we face in other areas of life. Sports give us, especially when young, the opportunity to learn how to overcome problems on a smaller scale. Then we can take what we’ve learned and transfer it to the bigger world beyond sports.”

“I’ve written about this topic in a new book called Holy Goals for Body and Soul: 8 Steps to Connect Sports With God and Faith. I wanted to give readers some practical ways to live faith-filled lives through the lens of sports. There is so much to be learned from sports, not only for the sake of playing them better, but for living better, God-centered lives.”

Plowing Ahead
Franciscan Father Gregory Plow, who has competed in 11 marathons, including one with Bishop Paprocki, recently took his running skills to a whole new level. Not content with traditional 26.2-mile races, Father Plow, who is the coordinator of household life at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, decided earlier this year to enter his first ultramarathon.

The Wild Idaho Ultramarathon, which took place on Aug. 3, extended 53.4 miles, up and down the mountainous terrain of the Boise National Forest, under midday 90-degree heat. Not surprisingly, there were a mere 22 participants and only 17 finishers.

“It was by far the toughest thing I’ve ever done physically,” Father Plow related. “We started at 6:00 in the morning, and, because of the continuous elevation differential and pit stops, I didn’t finish until just after midnight: 12:07, to be exact. I was the last one to finish, but I did finish.”

Finishing strong was a central theme for Father Plow, who suffered in the heat during the day, and, because of the temperature decreasing to the 40s at night, later approached hypothermic conditions. His hands became chalk white, indicating blood had gone from his upper extremities to his major organs in order to keep them functioning.

This slow shutdown was first noticed at the 38-mile checkpoint, where Father Plow met up with an aid-station volunteer who had completed an ultramarathon himself. The volunteer, an experienced ultramarathoner named John, offered his jacket — and his companionship — to Father Plow, accompanying him to the end of the race.

“I was really struck by John’s generosity and his personal sacrifice, which helped me to finish strong. I was reminded of how all the apostles abandoned Jesus on the way to the cross — that is, all of them, except John. It was a tremendously moving experience, not just from a social standpoint, but from a spiritual one as well.”

Prayerful faith in Christ was on Father Plow’s mind from start to finish. He offered the first 48 miles of the race for each of the 48 campus households in Steubenville. Miles 49-52 were offered for those who will be awarded the Spirit of St. Francis Scholarship, and the remaining distance was presented to God in thanksgiving.

“My fellow friars were thankful I made it through the race, and most of them thought I was crazy for entering it in the first place. It was gut-wrenching, to be sure, but it was also thrilling to be in it, especially because of its greater purpose,” Father Plow concluded. “I wanted to encourage holiness of life for students already at Franciscan University, and I wanted to enable incoming freshman to attend the school, despite their financial difficulties.”

Father Plow, who is the chaplain for the Steubenville chapter of LIFE Runners, said he will not be competing in the Wild Idaho Ultramarathon or any similar ultramarathons again. However, he won’t rule out shorter or less elevated ultramarathons, and he is scheduled to run in a standard one on Sept. 15.

Vocation Pitches
Father Larry Young is a diocesan priest whose athletic background includes baseball, backpacking and canoeing. In 2010, he recruited other priests and some seminarians to form the DC Padres, a Washington-area baseball team. Father Young plays and manages the squad as they compete against local high-school varsity teams, with the purpose of promoting vocations to the priesthood.

Most of the DC Padres have played high-school baseball, and about half of them have played on club or intercollegiate teams at the university level. Players on opposing teams and spectators in the stands have taken notice that this is not about washed-up baseball players retreating to slow-pitch softball, but still-fit players continuing in fast-pitch hardball. As Father Young said, “It is real baseball that we play against high-school teams. We’re throwing and hitting fastballs out there. It’s incredibly fun.”

Because of the primary obligations of priests and seminarians, Father Young’s team has only been able to play eight games in the past three years, yet they have a respectable 4-3-1 record, after winning their game on Aug. 25. “We would like to play more games, but, so far, that hasn’t been possible,” he said. “We just try to make the most of the games we have played, and we look forward to maybe one day playing in even larger venues.”

Each game, which is played at a minor-league stadium around metro Washington, includes a short vocation talk at the end of the third inning. One of the DC Padres gives his own personal testimony to the crowd, the largest of which so far was around 1,000 people. While no team-influenced vocations statistics are kept, Father Young hopes the talks — and his team’s play —will encourage the thought of the priesthood in spectators’ own discernment.

“People see us out here as normal, red-blooded American men enjoying our national pastime,”

Father Young observed. “We enjoy sports as much as anyone else, so we like to let young men know that a vocation to the priesthood doesn’t mean you’ll somehow have to give up every kind of recreation you formerly enjoyed.
“We want young men to see that it is a manly thing to be a priest and that Our Lord calls men to imitate him by laying down their lives in the service of his Church. One active and enjoyable way to communicate this message is through baseball, which we use not only to throw hardball pitches, but as a platform for a vocation pitch. We’ve found that sports and spirituality can easily go hand-in-hand.”

Thursday, August 29, 2013

A Theist or Atheist?

The following comes from Fr. Dwight Longenecker: 
HuffPo reports that an atheist in New Jersey has succeeded in getting a license plate that reads ATHE 1ST. The problem is the statement is ambiguous. What if I read it and conclude that the driver is… A theist? That’s the problem with atheists…they haven’t thought of all the possibilities.
Their advertising stunts are so lame. What about the one in Times Square last year which showed encouraged people to enjoy Santa Claus, but not Christ because Christ was a myth? Duh. So Santa is real? Then there is the really, really smart clever and witty bus signs posted in England that said something like, “God probably doesn’t exist so enjoy yourself.” Is that it? Is that all they could think of? Is that the extent of their wit, their wordplay, their badinage? What about the super dull bus poster above? And advertising on a bus to start with? Who advertises on a bus? Can’t help thiking of nuns on the bus. It’s much the same sort of tiresome, self righteous, yawn inducing activism.
And people say Christianity is boring?
Geesh, Christianity is very interesting compared to these yawners. I mean we’ve got cool stuff like snake handlers, incorrupt bodies of saints, relics, Eucharistic miracles, statues that weep and bleed, apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary and more. We’ve got monks who brew beer and nuns who levitate. We’ve got saints who bi-locate, exist for years on nothing but the Eucharistic and joke with their torturers. You might not believe any of that stuff or think it’s all some sort of psychosis, but at least it’s interesting. Furthermore, we have fun stuff like pilgrimages, and World Youth Day, and all night vigils and climbing the Santa Scala on your knees–not to mention wild places like Antonio Gaudi’s cathedral in Barcelona, Mont St Michel, the catacombs or that Capuchin cellar in Rome with all the bones.
Atheism on the other hand is so mind numbingly dull, and the worst kind of atheism is the self righteous, “We’re good people too you know” kind of atheism. “Oh, look at me. I’m working at the soup kitchen!  I campaigned to ban nuclear power! I have a ‘co-exist’ bumper sticker on my Prius.” They pretend to be revolutionaries, but to me they seem as dull as the McMansion next door and the usual suburban, fast food, shop at the mall American. At least the old fashioned atheists followed their logic and tried to wipe out everyone who didn’t agree with them. Stalin, Lenin, Mao and Pol Pot had teeth. The present day respectable atheists are about as interesting as yesterday’s oatmeal.
They’re bland. “It’s a case of the bland leading the bland…and they shall both fall into the ditch.”
Not only dull, but humorless. The closest thing to wit I’ve ever experienced with atheists is a bit of sophomoric sarcasm. They’re always so darned serious…especially about themselves. Not only dull, but a little bit spooky.
The conversation with atheists always lacks a certain edge. There’s a slipperiness to it and a lack of grip–like wrestling in jello with a one armed man. I have thought long and hard about this phenomenon and I think it is because the theist is arguing from a positive proposition and the atheist is arguing from a negation. The theist is arguing in support of something positive. The atheist can only deny. That denial and essential negativity culminates in a vagueness about everything–their mindset seems dull and out of focus.
The bottom line is that if there is no God, no heaven and no hell and no final judgement then what’s the point? The weary dullness of the atheist is a true reflection. Without an afterlife and a final tally then there are only two options: the old Greek choice– Epicureanism and Stoicism. The first is, “Eat, Drink and be merry for tomorrow you die.” The second is “Be good. Be noble… for tomorrow you die.”
It’s like we’re all on the deck of a sinking cruise liner with no lifeboats. The Epicureans sit down to a five course meal and try to hold on while the tables slip away. The Stoic stands on the deck, gazes into the distance and goes down with the ship.
The Christian spots a distant light, believes it is a rescue ship, dons a life jacket and jumps in to swim for it or die in the attempt.
Chesterton writes better on this subject here.

Tim Staples: Are all religions equal?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Restless: On Silence and Worship by Audrey Assad

The Joy of Repentance

The following comes from Fr. Dwight Longenecker:

We celebrate this week the life of that most famous of sinner-saints, St Augustine, who said, “Lord make me chaste, but not yet.” Augustine’s lust for love and his desire for God are tied together with his passionate approach to life. “Love is the beauty of the soul!” he cries.
What Augustine teaches us is the practical joy of repentance. Repentance is simply the heart felt realization that one is a sinner. So often this realization is linked with guilt–as if feeling guilt is a bad thing. But guilt is simply the pain one feels at the realization of the deep wound of sin. If I have cancer and feel pain a good doctor tells me I have cancer and I need an operation and that may cause me more pain, but it also brings me to face reality and brings me to the point of a possible cure. The pain was therefore a necessary evil. So guilt reminds me of the cancer of sin in my life and that I need the radical surgery from Doctor Jesus to be healed.
That transaction takes place through repentance. When I say “I’m sorry” I become most fully real because I am facing reality. When I say “Mea Culpa–It’s my fault” I achieve freedom. When I cease to blame others and say “What’s wrong with the world: I am.” I am taking responsibility and when I take responsibility I take charge. My will is engaged. I am suddenly mature and fully human.
This is why repentance is joyful–because I am facing reality and accepting freedom. Repentance requires humility, and another quote of St Augustine’s is, “Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility.” This action has built into it our need for God, for why would we repent unless we were asking forgiveness and why ask for forgiveness unless we trusted in the only one who has power to forgive? This step of humility is also a step of good humor, for when we know we are weak we are most strong, and that paradox is a joyful, hilarious realization.
Repentance also lays the foundation for experiencing the truth. When we repent we admit that we know nothing and it is only at the point that we admit that we do not know that we can begin to learn what we do not know and then learn what we need to learn. Repentance is growth. The Eastern Orthodox teach that the soul is closest to God not when he is receiving consolations or is experiencing some great miracle or wonder, but it is when he truly and honestly utters the words, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have Mercy on me a Sinner.” At that point the soul takes a great leap towards God and is then the closest to his love.
Before this  moment of realization and return, before this moment of repentance our hearts are restless–always searching for an answer and yet at the same time always running from the answer, for our hearts are truly restless until they rest in God, and that rest in God can only come on the other side of repentance. Then the soul is not only at rest, but it enjoys a quiet and joyful rest that is the radiance of the Divine Mercy.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

St. Monica, pray for us!

A Heart for ‘Evangelizing Through the Media’

The following comes from the NCR:

Colleen Carroll Campbell, an award-winning journalist, host of EWTN’s Faith & Culture show and author of the 2013 Christopher Award-winning memoir My Sisters the Saints, is taking on a new role: anchor of EWTN News Nightly With Colleen Carroll Campbell, which will debut Sept. 3.

She spoke recently with the Register’s associate editor, Amy Smith, about evangelizing through the media, her love of the saints, discernment and balancing motherhood and journalism.

What is the setup of the news program, and who would you like to see as guests?

It is an international nightly newscast — to be broadcast to the entire English-speaking world.

We hope it will have an international focus, as well as focus on national events. Our studio is on Capitol Hill — at the center of the action — so it will have a global and Catholic perspective on the top stories, with commentary and analysis from a Catholic perspective.

We hope it will be a show that encourages an understanding of the day’s events and the big questions of the day.

There is a wide, rich pool of guests in Washington and New York, which is not far, to draw on nightly, so I think we will have a broad roster. I have done 80 shows for Faith & Culture since it started in 2006. A lot of those folks are excellent … I’d like to bring them back. I hope to shine a spotlight on Catholics who are already in the trenches, even in situations where it is difficult to live the truth, experts who can help our viewers make sense of the day’s news.

How should Catholics approach the news?

Catholics should be careful about where they get their information. There are positives and negatives to the changes in today’s media landscape.

The idea of one media establishment — that’s fading way, which is positive. The downside: Sometimes what is called news is not news or no fact-checking or context is given. We’re all drowning in information, but it often lacks context and understanding — and understanding from a Catholic perspective.

Was covering the papal transition and election of Pope Francis in Rome for EWTN this spring good preparation for your news show?

It was a great couple of weeks. No one expected Pope Benedict XVI to resign. Most of us didn’t expect the conclave to progress so quickly or that we would have the first Jesuit, first Latin-American and first Francis as pope — or see someone elected who was counted out by conventional wisdom due to his older age.

It was an exhilarating surprise. It was an honor for me to be able to announce it to EWTN viewers. It was a wonderful way to prepare for the news show.

Has your past work as a speech writer for President George W. Bush and news writing prepared you for broadcast news? Did you think you would end up in broadcast journalism, or did God surprise you?

God is full of surprises. That truth has been a staple of my life and career. I am a print journalist by training, with a liberal arts background at Marquette University, where I focused more on humanities and liberal arts in my education.

I had on-the-ground training in journalism. My first job was at the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Then I worked at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, reporting and then opinion writing. Then I wrote the books and was a White House speech writer.

I see myself primarily as a writer. My TV work grew out of that. It’s Providence at work in my life.

It’s a delight to be able to present the news and the day’s most pressing issues and to help viewers understand the news. In some ways, this newscast is an extension of my work on Faith & Culture. It will be newsy, topical, fast-moving — all in one show.

I do think it’s part of the larger pattern that God has woven into my career and the mission he has called me to: evangelizing through the media — not necessarily always Catholic media, as I have worked in secular media.

It’s the fundamental idea of proclaiming the Good News and Catholic teaching that is close to my heart.

Do you think your book’s appeal is due to the timeless message of the saints?
The feedback I get the most is that readers connect with the stories — my personal story as an entry point into the stories of the saints.

I wrote the book the way that I did to have an entry point to deliver the message of the saints. They are very real: our friends in heaven and models for us in living on earth.

My Sisters the Saints is about how I experienced these wise and holy women and what they taught me about being truly liberated as a woman. My story is, in a sense, an introduction to the wisdom of the saints — their message for our own lives.

The riches of faith and experience of the saints are urgently relevant to our struggles, even if their lives seem worlds away from ours. They remind us to tap into the riches of the faith, and they help us answer timeless questions. I like to say that we stand on the shoulders of the saints, especially in our struggles to see the relevance of the faith to our lives. They can help us when we find ourselves asking a question such as, "How can a mom find a way to be active in public life while not neglecting motherhood and home life?" They remind us that we need to be in the world and not of it. We need to focus on work that uses our gifts while not neglecting our vocation. The saints can teach us a lot.

How did you discern your new work in daily TV news in relationship to your role as a wife and mother to three little ones, a boy and two girls?

It was a discernment process. My top concern was how it would fit into my family’s life. I made that clear from the start. It’s a good schedule; it’s not 9-5. The job has flexibility, since it’s an evening show. I will have the daytime with my children. We have lots of time together, since they’re not in school yet. In so many ways, it has worked out. But it was not an automatic Yes.

In My Sisters the Saints, I share how becoming a mother was a long struggle, so I really appreciate the gift of motherhood and do not take it for granted.
Nothing is more important than following Jesus and raising little souls to heaven and living marriage with love and fidelity. I consider this newscast part of my efforts to build a better world for my children.

The call of God is surprising, in many ways. He likes to upend my plans, but following his plan leads to more freedom and joy. There can be a sense sometimes that "I can’t be called to x, y or z" because of whatever responsibility I may already have, but God has a different, unique call for each of us. I’ve learned not to create rigid rules on what is or isn’t work-life balance. Follow the call of Christ. Have openness to the Holy Spirit, and let God do the leading. Blessings will follow, even when you’re being led to unexpected places, even to a different state.

When it came to discerning this decision to accept the position as anchor of this new newscast, as with all of my major decisions in life, the support and encouragement of my husband, Dr. John Campbell, were crucial. John is my partner in everything, and I’m blessed to have a spouse who is so open to following God’s call, wherever it leads — and so intent on encouraging me to do the same.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the discernment process for this job was very much a team effort between John and me, not something I did alone. And the move entailed a significant sacrifice for John, a physician, who is leaving his position as chief of geriatrics at a hospital here in St. Louis so we can move to D.C. He recently accepted a new geriatrics position at a hospital in D.C.

We both believed that this was God’s will for our family, and we’re excited about this new chapter in our lives.

But it’s not without its sacrifices, and it is, in some ways, a surprising development. God is full of surprises!

Any final thoughts on discernment or your book on the saints?

That book, in many ways, is relevant to discernment decisions. It takes readers through my 15-year journey and decision points, which were not at all clear at the time. I discerned step by step, speaking with the saints through prayer and seeking God’s will. It was not all black and white. I found that trust in him and attentiveness to God’s will are what bring joy.

From working at the White House while engaged to a medical student 800 miles away to dealing with my father in his struggle with Alzheimer’s disease to dealing with the moral and emotional questions of infertility, I came — with the help of the saints — to decisions that brought peace.

God is faithful if we are truly attentive and yearn to know his will. He eventually makes it clear, but sometimes he asks us to walk in trust. It’s a hard lesson. Learning that has helped me, and I hope my story helps readers.

My Sisters the Saints offers readers a glimpse of how one modern, believing woman struggles to do God’s will in the company of the saints.

Fr. Robert Barron comments on The Shawshank Redemption

Pope Francis: Be true Christians!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Even the Winter by Audrey Assad

Word on Fire: The Necessity of Youth Ministry

The following comes from Word on Fire:

Recently, "Bad Catholic" blogger Marc Barnes wrote a thoughtful piece on the "problem" with youth ministry within the mission and life of the Church. Today, WOF Blog contributor Fr. Damian Ference responds to Marc's critique of youth ministry and offers his own priestly perspective on this aspect of the Church's evangelical outreach. 

Last week one of my priest colleagues here at the seminary emailed me about a new essay on youth ministry. The piece was entitled, “The Problem With Youth Ministry,” written by the young, brilliant, prolific, and envy-inducing, Marc Barnes over at Bad Catholic. Barnes is almost half my age, yet I look up to him. He knows his faith, he gets the culture, he writes very well, and he’s funny. 
Barnes’ essay on the problem with youth ministry is provocative, which is evidenced by the many comments, likes, and re-posts of this particular work. His thesis is that, unlike the family and the apostolic priesthood, which maintain a natural authority to proclaim the Gospel to young people, youth ministers have no natural authority to do so. Barnes argues, “Youth ministry as a primary catechetical and evangelical tool only exists as a necessity if the family has failed.” Youth ministers, according to Barnes, are spiritual band-aids that are doing important work, but in a perfect Catholic world, there would be no need for youth ministers or for youth ministry as we know it.
Barnes is right that the home is the fundamental and original source of catechesis and evangelization – he cites the Catechism twice to ground his argument. Let me bolster the argument even more by referencing the Rites for Marriage and Baptism.

First, before a couple professes their vows at the altar in the sacrament of marriage, the priest or deacon asks them three questions. Here’s the third: “Will you accept children lovingly from God and bring them up according to the law of Christ and His Church?” The minister needs a public confirmation from the couple that they understand that their duty as a husband and wife is to be open to bringing children into the world, and to educate those children in the Catholic faith. As Barnes notes in his essay, parents have a natural authority over their children and it is fundamentally their duty as Christian parents to hand on the Faith to their sons and daughters. 

Second, in the Rite of The Baptism of a Child, just before the Renunciation of Sin and the Profession of Faith, the priest or deacon speaks to the parents and godparents: “On your part, you must make it your constant care to bring him (her) up in the practice of the faith. See that the divine life which God gives him (her) is kept safe from the poison of sin to grow always stronger in his (her) heart.” I have always liked the tone of these words – they are pointed and serious. They make demands. Sometimes parents and godparents gulp when I deliver them. And that’s a good thing. It means that they understand their responsibilities.
Following the actual baptism, the anointing, the clothing in the white garment, and the presentation of the candle, the minister offers prayers over the mother, the father, and then the entire assembly. Here’s an important excerpt from the prayer over the father: “He and his wife will be the first teachers of their child in the ways of faith. May they also be the best of teachers, bearing witness to the faith by what they say and do.” This prayer supports Barnes’ argument as well. To quote Barnes, “The family consists in a natural authority, and as such, is a fundamental space in which to proclaim the Gospel.” Amen.
Barnes and I agree that the fundamental and original source of catechesis is in the home, and it comes specifically from mothers and fathers who have a natural authority over their children. Parents have a privileged role in passing on the Faith to their sons and daughters, not just in what they say, but more importantly, in what they do. Moms and dads are called by the Church to be disciples of Jesus in order to show their children how to be disciples.
So what of youth ministry? Is Barnes right that if Catholic parents simply did what they were supposed to do (as the natural communicators of the Gospel to their children) that the American model of youth ministry would have no need to exist? I don’t think so, and I’d like to suggest a few reasons why youth ministry is necessary, good, and dare I say, supernatural.
First, in this Year of Faith – a time when we’ve been asked by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI to study not only the Catechism of the Catholic Church, but also the documents of the Second Vatican Council – let’s see what, if anything, the Church has to say about lay ministry, in particular, youth ministry. Lumen Gentium states that “the laity can be called in different ways to more immediate cooperation in the apostolate of the hierarchy. . . . (t)hey may, moreover, be appointed by the hierarchy to certain ecclesiastical offices which have a spiritual aim.” (LG §33) Barnes argues that only the family and the apostolic priesthood enjoy a natural authority in the proclamation of the Gospel, but Lumen Gentium seems to indicate that some lay people are indeed called to direct cooperation in the apostolate of the hierarchy. In other words, the Church extends some of its natural (or supernatural) hierarchical authority to the laity.

A shorter document from the council, The Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People (Apostolicam Actuositatem) states that “different fields of apostolic action are open to the laity” and it mentions ministry to “the young” in particular. (AA §9) Barnes is right that the apostolic priesthood contains a natural authority, but the Church insists that the laity are able to participate in that very authority through their baptismal priesthood. The Council reminds us that, “Their activity within the church communities is so necessary that without it the apostolate of the pastors will frequently be unable to offer its full effect.” (AA §10)   Youth ministers may not be clergy, but the clergy need them to help carry out their mission. 

What particular actions does the Church envision from such lay persons? Here’s a nice list: “(T)hey engage zealously in apostolic works; they attract people towards the church who had perhaps been far away from it; they ardently cooperate in the spread of the word of God, particularly by catechetical instruction; by their expert assistance they increase the efficacy of the care of souls.” (AA §10) The best youth ministers I know embody this list in their parish or campus apostolate. 

Youth ministry, when it is being what it is called be, is not out to replace the family or the apostolic priesthood – it offers humble and zealous cooperation in the Church’s saving mission which begins in the family and continues in the ecclesial community. 

Second, we must not forget that youth ministry has been around for a long time –we just didn’t call it “youth ministry.” Men and women in religious communities played the role of “youth minister” for centuries, and they were good at it. Think of all the Catholic grade schools and high schools that were once staffed almost entirely by consecrated religious. Parents wanted other faithful people to play an important role in the religious formation of their children, and they knew that religious communities could offer such help and cooperation. In other words, they looked to other faithful people to assist them in raising and forming their children. 

Do men and women religious who are not ordained to the apostolic priesthood have a “natural” authority over children? Maybe not, but surely they have some authority – it’s the authority that comes from their baptism. It may not be natural, but perhaps “super-natural” is more than sufficient. And maybe that’s what Jesus was getting at when he told the crowd, “Who are my mother and my brothers? . . . Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” 

Third, recall Pope Francis’ words from World Youth Day 2013: “What is the best tool to catechize a young person? Another young person.” It’s true that parents are called to be the first and best teachers to their children in the ways of faith, but they can’t do it alone. Even good Catholic parents are constantly longing for other credible models who can affirm all that has be learned in the home and expand upon it. They know that they need the help of the church community to raise their children well. Children eventually come to a point in their lives where they ask, “Is everything I learned at home true?” Having credible witnesses close at hand is necessary to confirming all the good work that began in the home. Teens need to see people other than their parents living a rich life of faith to assure them that what they’ve been told is actually true. (Trust me, I’ve worked with many parents who did a fine job communicating the Gospel to their children in the home, but whose children are now very far from Christ and his Church.) 

Fourth, “LifeTeen” and “Edge” are not meant to replace the role of the family in religious education and formation. Both the middle school and the high school programs exist in order to bring teens closer to Christ and his Church, regardless of family background. My first parish assignment was a “LifeTeen” parish, and I will admit that I too approached the program with suspicion. But when I noticed that teens from very solid Catholic families were participating to grow deeper in their lives of faith, and then would reach out to minister to their peers whose faith and whose families weren’t so strong, I changed my tune. Moreover, when I witnessed a youth minister and his core staff modeling good Christian living as they often played the role of father, mother, sister, and brother to teens who needed to know that they were loved, I was reminded of the way that many religious communities took care of young people as their own throughout the history of the Church. And when teens who came from non-practicing families experienced profound conversions through their participation in youth ministry, and then were eventually able to catechize their own parents and bring them back to Jesus and his Church, I was sold. (It’s also worth noting that that same parish has eight young men studying for the apostolic priesthood in our diocesan seminarians, and not all of them come from “ideal” Catholic families.)

Finally, it’s important to remember that our world is fallen. Yes, Jesus has saved us, and yes, original sin is washed way in baptism, but the effects of original sin remain with us, even after baptism. Augustine called this reality concupiscence, and its power should not be taken lightly.   People are weak and they do stupid things, and a lot of the time they don’t even know why they do them. Often, they don’t even want to do them, but they do them anyway. I’ve never met an engaged couple that planned on getting divorced after marriage or a seminarian who hoped to leave priestly ministry after ordination, but unfortunately it happens. We ought to do everything we can to prevent it from happening, but it happens. And every time it happens, it’s sad. 

So what do you do with children who come from divorced families, or families of unwed parents, or families who don’t practice their faith, or families who get to church on Sunday but lack even the most basic understanding of Catholicism? Who is going to evangelize their children? Who is going to help parents in their Christian formation of their children? Should we leave them in the dark? Of course not. 
Parents are supposed to be the fundamental, original source of catechesis and evangelization to their children, but many parents fail in this responsibility. Marc Barnes is right to say that parents need to be better at parenting, to do the work that they promised to do at the altar and at the baptismal font. But as we’ve seen, even the best of parents need help from the Church in raising their children in the life of faith, and that help comes not only from those in the apostolic priesthood, but also from youth ministers, whose authority comes to them through baptism and who have been entrusted “with tasks more closely connected with the duties of pastors.” (AA §24)
The world is fallen, but ecclesia supplet.
Rev. Damian J. Ference is a priest of the diocese of Cleveland.  He is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy and a member of the formation faculty at Borromeo Seminary in Wickliffe, Ohio.

Cardinal George Praised for His Outspoken Vigor

 Cardinal Francis George of Chicago’s “intellectual vigor” and “forceful defense of the Church” may be why Pope Francis has yet to allow the 76-year-old cardinal to retire, one religion news observer has suggested.

“Cardinal George’s newspaper column often reads now like a battle plan against government overreach,” Nicholas G. Hahn III, the editor of, said in the Wall Street Journal Aug. 23. “The cardinal takes a particularly grim view of what this intrusion by government could mean for church and state relations.”

The cardinal has famously said, “I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.”

As required by canon law, the cardinal submitted his resignation to Pope Benedict XVI last year upon turning 75, but neither Pope Benedict nor Pope Francis have accepted his resignation.
The cardinal is now recovering from his second fight with cancer.

Hahn noted that Cardinal George, a former president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, continues to play a prominent role in Chicago and in American public life.

The cardinal was active in the recent controversy over the Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights, a church-funded group which endorsed “gay marriage” in May.

He warned that the endorsement could end Catholic Church financial support for the group. This drew opposition from several prominent state lawmakers who contended that Cardinal George was using immigrants and their allies as “pawns in a political battle.”

The cardinal, in a strong response in the Catholic New World newspaper, rebuked his critics.

“It is intellectually and morally dishonest to use the witness of the church’s concern for the poor as an excuse to attack the church’s teaching on the nature of marriage,” he said, reminding the politicians that they would have to account for their own actions.

“Jesus is merciful. But he is not stupid,” he said.

Hahn said Cardinal George’s decision on funding the immigrant group “had nothing to do with politics.”

“The Church doles out money to organizations on the assumption that they will not violate church teachings,” Hahn said. “If a church-funded environmental group announced its support for abortion, for instance, it could lose funding.”

Hahn said the immigrant group’s decision had “clearly broke an orthodoxy compact with the church.”

Cardinal George has also been an outspoken opponent of the HHS mandate requiring most Catholic organizations and employers to pay for or provide access to no-copay insurance coverage for employees that includes sterilization procedures and contraception, including early abortion drugs.
The cardinal said the Obama administration has acted as if there is a “right to free contraception” that trumps “the genuinely constitutional right of freedom of religion.” He said that the Catholic Church “will simply not cooperate” with the law.

Hahn also cited Cardinal George’s analysis of the root cause of the threat to religious freedom. The cardinal has said that the government’s tendency to claim authority over all areas of human life draws from “the secularization of our culture.”

“If God cannot be part of public life, then the state itself plays God,” Cardinal George said.

The cardinal’s public life has also included support for comprehensive immigration reform legislation, an issue on which he has stressed the bishops’ teaching authority.

Body & Soul: Priests' focus on health

Remembering Pope John Paul I

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Pope Francis: You are not excluded!

(Vatican Radio) In his Angelus address on Sunday, Pope Francis spoke about the words of Jesus from the day’s Gospel: “Strive to enter through the narrow gate.”

The Holy Father noted that Jesus was responding to the question of how many people will be saved. But, the Pope said, “it is not important to know how many are saved. Rather, it is important to know what is the path of salvation.” Jesus Himself is the gate, a gate “that allows us to enter into God's family, into the warmth of the house of God, of communion with Him. This gate is Jesus Himself.”

Pope Francis emphasised that “the gate that is Jesus is never closed . . . it is always open and open to everyone, without distinction, without exclusions, without privileges.” Jesus, he continued, does not exclude anyone. Some people might feel excluded because they are sinners – but Pope Francis definitively rejected this idea. “No,” he said, “you are not excluded! Precisely for that reason you are preferred, because Jesus prefers the sinner, always, in order to pardon him, to love him. Jesus is waiting for you, to embrace you, to pardon you.”

We are called to enter the gate that is Jesus. “Don’t be afraid to pass through the gate of faith in Jesus,” Pope Francis said. Don’t be afraid “to let Him enter more and more into our lives, to go out of our selfishness, our being closed in, our indifference toward others.”

Jesus speaks about a narrow gate not because it is a “torture chamber," but “because it asks us to open our hearts to Him, to recognize ourselves as sinners, in need of His salvation, His forgiveness, His love, needing the humility to accept His mercy and to be renewed by Him.”

Finally, the Holy Father emphasised that Christianity is not a “label” – it is a way of life. Christians must not be Christians in name only: “Not Christians, never Christians because of a label!” he said. He called us to be true Christians, Christians at heart. “To be Christian,” said Pope Francis, "is to live and witness to the faith in prayer, in works of charity, in promoting justice, in doing good. For the narrow gate which is Christ must pass into our whole life.”

At the conclusion of his Angelus, the Holy Father greeted the many pilgrims from around the world who had gathered in Saint Peter’s Square, with special greetings for a number of groups from Italy and Brazil, and for priests and seminarians from the Pontifical North American College. Noting that many people are nearing the end of their summer break, he offered best wishes for a peaceful and committed return to normal daily life.