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Lumen Fidei


On the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, Pope Francis signed his first encyclical entitled “Lumen Fidei,” the Light of Faith. For the first time, Pope Francis acknowledged that a substantial portion of the encyclical was written by Pope Benedict XVI and that Francis had received a draft from him. The document completes a trilogy of encyclicals on the theological virtues: Deus Caritas Est (God is love) and Spe Salvi (hope that saves).

LUMEN FIDEI encyclical provisional cover_ B 13.inddEncyclicals are letters written by popes to the entire Church. They carry significant value for the Magisterium of the Church, as encyclicals are often places where the popes teach about topics to a specific cultural context. In order to understand an encyclical well, it’s necessary to understand the time and context within which it was written as they often address topics relevant to that time.

Outline and Summary
Introduction – The ancients always put faith in something and proceeds to modern culture’s conception of faith: that it is for the blind and driven by emotion. At the same time, we are struggling with the discovery that reason alone isn’t enough. Jesus shines light in the world.

Chapter 1 – We Have Believed in Love (cf. 1 John 4:16) – This is an overview of salvation history. Abraham is the Father of Faith, who encounters God in a relationship and goes on a journey with God. It includes the story of Israel and the temptation to Idolatry.

Chapter 2 – Unless You Believe, You Will Not Understand (cf. Isaiah 7:9) – This is dedicated to the relationship between faith and truth, as well as the intertwining of love, reason, and theology. Truth is necessary for faith or else it will not remain grounded. Love also needs truth or else it becomes too influenced by emotions. We must grow in the truth and our love of it.

Chapter 3 – I Delivered to You What I Also Received (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:3) – Faith and truth are received in a community. Must have faith in the truth that others are giving to us, including the Christian faith that is handed on to us. We accept faith in a community in the Church.

Chapter 4 – God Prepares a City for Them (cf. Hebrews 11:16) – Faith must be the foundation of society and of marriage and family. Faith also provides strength in suffering. It doesn’t provide the answer to every question, but is the light shining in the darkness. Faith provides us with joy. We should imitate the faith of Mary, who believed with joy.

Further Reading

Questions for Discussion

1. Encyclicals are addressed to the “bishops, priests, deacons, consecrated lay persons, and the lay faithful” of the Church. Have you ever read an encyclical before? If so, which ones? If not, why not? Since this includes everyone in the Church, do you think many people read them? In your experience, do your friends and family read papal encyclicals? If not, why not?

2. What can the church do to better promote the teachings of the popes? What might be some of the obstacles to reading encyclicals?

3. In the introduction, Pope Francis explains that the document was written for the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and to coincide with the Year of Faith.

4. How has the Second Vatican Council influenced your faith? The Year of Faith? Should we be doing more to understand both of them?

5. Pope Francis says, “Faith is not a light which scatters all our darkness, but a lamp which guides our steps in the night and suffices for the journey. To those who suffer, God does not provide arguments which explain everything; rather, his response is that of an accompanying presence, a history of goodness which touches every story of suffering and opens up a ray of light. -LF 57. What might be some examples of the darkness that faith shines into?  What might he be thinking of?

6. The idea that God doesn’t explain or argue away suffering but walks with us in a journey is most important. Have you encountered situations of difficulty where people let faith die because of suffering they experience? How does our faith in God as a companion in our suffering help us endure it?

7. Pope Francis makes it very clear that faith must be experienced in community, in a communion with the Church. When we each say, “I believe,” we are professing that together as one Church.Do you agree? Does faith require a community? Can faith be real if it is kept personal?

8. Francis specifically mentions the family in relation to faith. A family with faith, he argues, can fill the society with light. What role does the family play in faith? Many people argue that children shouldn’t be baptized or evangelized: just let them choose when they are old enough. How should we respond to that line of thinking?


Heaven: Learning to Love It

heavenIt can often be helpful to be reminded of the goal that we are working towards. When athletes train and find it difficult to continue, the desire for the championship ring can provide the motivation. When marathon runners find themselves tired, thoughts of the finish line keep them going.

As Catholics we are no different. We are all working towards a final goal: heaven. But have you ever stopped to think what heaven actually is? It is generally understood to be a reward for a good life and the opposite of hell. If hell is eternal punishment and fire, many seem to think heaven is clouds, sunshine, and perpetual bliss. Msgr. Pope says that heaven is often defined according to one’s own thoughts and desires: “Heaven is a paradise of my own design, the place is perfect as I think perfect should be…and this usually includes things like golf courses, seeing my relatives and friends, there are my own self-selected pleasures, and the absence of struggles such as losing a job or saying farewell.”

Heaven, however, is not ours. It’s the kingdom of God. In Scripture, heaven is always spoken of in liturgical terms, a “reality rooted in praise and worship, prayer and adoration.” Heaven, then, is something complex that we must learn to love. The appeal of being with God as a saint might not be immediately obvious. It might even want to be rejected.

This isn’t unheard of. The “finer things in life” often are of an acquired taste. Good wine, beer, scotch, or cognac are rarely pleasurable in their first encounter. Few people actually seem to enjoy an opera or classical music when they are introduced to it. But over time, the subtle beauty and complexity reveals itself, and then these things can be enjoyed at a deeper level.

If heaven is spoken of in liturgical terms since it involves adoration and praise, we can look to our own liturgy. Mass isn’t something that people seem to love during their first encounter. Kids, for example, often need to be forced to go. Many people unfamiliar with Mass can find it “less than satisfying” (at least emotionally) as a way to pray. Once the reality is understood, though, it’s hard to get someone who knows and understands the beauty of liturgy to leave it behind.

If this is true, we must learn to love heaven. The appeal of being a saint engaged in perpetual worship and adoration of God may not be a pleasing concept to many people. Instead of earthly pleasure, heaven must be thought of in God’s terms: what is pleasing to him? If we want to find out, we have to learn to love God and the things of God.

In other words, we must learn to love heaven.

Further Reading

Discussion Questions

  1. What is heaven? How has your understanding of heaven changed over the course of your life?
  2. What are activities, hobbies, or things in your life that you enjoy now but didn’t enjoy at first? What made you change?
  3. Do you find that the concept of heaven as being an “anything goes” kind of place, or a place where all my desires are fulfilled, to be popular or prevalent?
    1. Does such a notion or definition have consequences on who or what type of person might enter heaven?
  4. Msgr. Pope shared a thought by GK Chesterton: “The point of the story of Satan is not that he revolted against being in hell, but that he revolted against being in heaven. The point about Adam is not that he was discontented with the conditions of this earth, but that he was discontented with the conditions of paradise.” (New York American, 12-15-1932)
    1. What is your reaction to Chesterton’s statement that Adam, Eve, and Satan rejected paradise?
    2. What do you think of the idea that someone could actually find heaven to be uncomfortable? That someone might actually hate being in heaven, or at least find it very unsatisfying?
  5. If we want to be a part of heaven, we have to learn to love God and the things of God. Msgr. Pope lists a few things that are of God and his kingdom: mercy, justice, truth, love, compassion, chastity, forgiveness. What else can we add to the list? How do we practice them?
  6. Many of the things of God, like the “finer things of life” may not be enjoyable at first glance. For example, how often to do you see magazine advertisements extolling the enjoyment found in mercy and chastity? If the things of God must be “learned,” how do we begin? How do we do a better job of introducing people to the things of God?
  7. What role does the Church play in our journey to heaven? Liturgy? What about good deeds?

Losing Our Religion: The Growth of the ‘Nones’




In October, the Pew Center for Research released a study called “‘Nones’ on the Rise” that found that one-in-five adults have no religious affiliation in the United States. This demographic was given the names “none” because of their answer when asked to identify their religion: none. The group expectedly includes atheists and agnostics, but it also includes many who consider themselves “spiritual” or “religious” in some way, including prayer.

NPR’s Morning Edition ran a week-long story in January called “Losing Our Religion” that takes a look at this growing demographic. “Young people today are not only more religiously unaffiliated than their elders; they are also more religiously unaffiliated than previous generations of young people ever have been as far back as we can tell. This really is something new,” says Greg Smith of the Pew Center. According to Harvard’s Robert Putnam, this phenomenon is not isolated to religion alone:  “They’re the same people who are also not joining the Elks Club or the Rotary Club. I don’t mean to be casting that as a critique of them, but this same younger generation is much less involved in many of the main institutions of our society than previous younger generations were.”

“It begins to jump at around 1990,” he says. “These were the kids who were coming of age in the America of the culture wars, in the America in which religion publicly became associated with a particular brand of politics, and so I think the single most important reason for the rise of the unknowns is that combination of the younger people moving to the left on social issues and the most visible religious leaders moving to the right on that same issue.”

In the second installment of the series (aired on January 15, 2013), NPR’s David Greene interviewed 6 young people who consider themselves to be without religious affiliation. Their discussion is incredibly interesting, and it reveals a few trends. They all admire the comfort that they see in people of faith and most acknowledge the role that religion can play in coping with suffering. They admire the communities that religion creates and the strong relationships within them. However, they struggle with the idea that religion creates a set of rules that must be adhered-to.

However, they almost all expressed spiritual longings and admit to engaging in some type of prayer.

To read and/or listen to the programs, see the links below.

Questions for discussion:

  1. The power of new communications tools and the increased access to education might contribute to this trend. How do you think seeing other people ask questions might cause oneself to ask questions? Have you yourself begun to ask questions? If so, what about?
  2. What do you think are some of the contributing factors to this growing trend in the United States? Do you think this is a trend in Europe? Globally? What might be some of its sources?
  3. The number one reason given was that religion is too concerned with “money and power.” Thoughts? Reactions? Is it true? (Bonus: Pope Francis…why now?)
  4. The researcher from Pew mentions that it’s not just about religion, but also a lack of participation in other institutions as well. Why do you think? How might that affect our society in the future? What might be the cause?
  5. Melissa Adelman grew up Catholic. She contributed this to the discussion: “The thing for me — a large part of the reason I moved away from Catholicism was because without accepting a lot of these core beliefs, I just didn’t think that I could still be part of that community. I remember a theology test in eighth grade where there was a question about homosexuality, and the right answer was that if you are homosexual, then that is not a sin because that’s how God made you, but acting upon it would be a sin. That’s what I put down as the answer, but I vividly remember thinking to myself that that was not the right answer.”
    1. Have you encountered similar thoughts or questions in your faith journey or the journey of others? This could be about any topic, not just about homosexuality
    2. What teachings of the Church do you think causes people to ask the most questions? What discussions in our current culture do you think will be leading people to ask the same types of questions? Why?
    3. She mentions not accepting core beliefs is the cause for not belonging to the community. Thoughts? Is that a contributing factor? Is this important for Catholicism?
  6. Rigoberto Perez grew up as a Seventh-day Adventist. He prayed in the hardest parts of his life: when his mother was diagnosed with cancer, when his father battled alcoholism, and when his brother committed suicide. At some point, he began to question prayer: “’Why does all this stuff happen to people?’ And if I pray and nothing good happens, is that supposed to be I’m being tried? I find that almost kind of cruel in some ways. It’s like burning ants with a magnifying glass. Eventually that gets just too hard to believe anymore.”
    1. What would you offer to someone like Rigoberto? Have you ever encountered the same questions? How do we answer them?
  7. Many of the young people, though, expressed the desire for faith of some sort and that they often find themselves praying. However, they struggle with the “visible structure” of a religion. What might be at the core of those troubles? How might we respond?
  8. It seems like this trend is likely to continue. Do you see it as a problem? How might the Church respond? What do you think might cause the questions, and what might be the solution?
  9. What role will clergy play? Religious? Laity? Visible hierarchy? Invisible?

Further Reading

NPR’s Losing Our Religion:

  1. Losing Our Religion: The Growth of the ‘Nones’
  2. More Young People are Moving Away from Religion, But Why?
  3. After Tragedy, Nonbelievers Find Other Ways to Cope
  4. On Religion, Some Young People Show Both Doubt and Respect
  5. Making Marriage Work When Only One Spouse Believes in God
  6. As Social Issues Drive Young From Church, Leaders Try To Keep Them





Welcome Pope Francis!

It’s with great joy that we watched the white smoke billow up from the chimney above the Sistine Chapel. For the next hour, the entire world was abuzz with excitement: who is the new pope? Both social and traditional media exploded with the news as the planet stared at the curtains above the the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica waiting for the next Vicar of Christ to step out on the balcony.

For weeks, people speculated about the “papibili,” the most likely candidates. It seems that the entire College of Cardinals was scrutinized one-by-one. A number of lists were published as people shared their thoughts on likely candidates. The news media had their favorites, many families and classrooms had adopted a cardinal, but in the end, the Holy Spirit showed that God is still in charge of His Church. Cardinal Jean-Louise Pierre Tauran shocked the crowd at St. Peter’s, and the world, with the new pope’s first name: Georgium. A minute later, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the previous Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires, slowly came forward wearing a simple white cassock. His name was a surprise as well–Francis.

It was a moment of many firsts: the first pope from the Americas, the first Jesuit elected pope, the first to take the name Francis, and the first non-European pope since Gregory III since 731 (he was from Syria).

As he stepped out of the window, he seemed to be in as much shock as the rest of the world. It took him a few moments before he even waved. And it seems that with his first words, he won over the world: “Buona sera” (Good evening, in Italian). “You all know that the duty of the Conclave was to give a bishop to Rome. It seems that my brother Cardinals have come almost to the ends of the earth to get him… but here we are. I thank you for the welcome that has come from the diocesan community of Rome.”

And then another first: he asked for prayers for Benedict XVI. After an Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be in Italian, he stunned the world again with a simply request, “Pray for me.” He asked that the entire world pray to God to bless him in his new ministry. And folding his hands, he bowed. In a matter of seconds, the hundred-thousand people in St. Peter’s Square that had been shouting phrases such as “Viva il papa” was silenced as the entire world paused to pray.

It’s said that the first impression is the most important. Pope Francis has stormed the world as a pope of humility. These are his first impressions:

Questions for discussion:

  1. What is your first impression of Pope Francis?
  2. The election was only 5 ballots and lasted around 24 hours. What significance might that have?
  3. Why the name Francis? After whom? Significance?
  4. St. Francis heard the words “re-build my church” and it spurred him to become the great saint he is today. Do you think that fact influenced his decision to pick the name Francis?
  5. What was your reaction to the announcement of white smoke? Where were you? What was your feeling like during that hour between the smoke and his appearance on the balcony?
  6. Judging from his first day, what kind of pope do you think he will be? What do you think his focus will be in his papacy? What sort of work do you foresee him doing?
  7. As the first pope from the Americas, how do you think his Argentinean heritage will affect the way he will shepherd the Church?
  8. Pope Francis dispensed with several traditions while on the balcony. He refused a gold pectoral cross for a wooden one, didn’t stand on a platform that elevated him above the other cardinals, didn’t wear the mozzetta (there are several versions, but the famous one is the ermine-lined red cape that popes wear) and asked the world to pray for him first. Why and what does it mean?
  9. It is obvious that Francis is a pope with a different personality and style than Benedict and John Paul II. What similarities do you think he will focus on?
  10. Francis made it a point to stop and pray at the tomb of St. Pius V (1566-1572) in the basilica of St. Mary Major. St. Pius V is a pope famous for his reforms: cleaning up the curia, excommunicating heretical bishops and Elizabeth I, and cleaning up immorality in the church. Benedict prayed at the tomb of St. Celestine V–twice–the pope who abdicated for the good of the church.  Reaction? Especially in light of his personality? (Note: he also arrived at the basilica in a standard sedan, not the Mercedes with the papal license plate SCV1 traditionally used by the pope)

Further Reading




The first words of Pope Francis

Why did Pope Francis go to St. Mary Major?

The future Pope Francis on apostolic courage and the danger of ‘spiritual worldliness’

Pope Francis’ 1st Homily

Pope Francis eschews trappings of papacy on first day in office

Pope Francis – A new chapter

Pope Francis’ First 24 Hours: Doing it his way


Pope Benedict’s Abdication

65245_160579974091753_1515079139_nI know that I, like the rest of the world, was shocked to hear about Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to abdicate his position as Bishop of Rome and Holy Roman Pontiff on February 28th at 8pm Rome time. In fact, the cardinals too were surprised, at least according to Cardinal Arinze. His decision has caused many people to ask lots of questions about the health of the Holy Father, the current status of the Church, and the relevancy of the See of Peter in the modern world.

Knowing that these questions are circulating, this moment presents us with a great teaching opportunity. The last time a pope abdicated his office was nearly 600 years ago with Gregory XII in 1417. With the world’s fascination for the Successor of Peter, it puts the Church in the spotlight. What more could you want in a great story? We have a 2,000 year old tradition that’s done in secret by people in special clothing behind locked doors who don’t communicate with the outside world except by colored smoke. The new vicar of Christ will be elected by a 2/3rd majority vote and will help guide and shepherd the 1 billion+ Catholics of the world while witnessing to the beauty of the Gospel and the Church to the rest of the world.  It’s a great time for us to learn about the office the pope holds, what it means to be the successor of Peter, and even how a pope is elected.

Below, you’ll find several resources to help with your learning. Explore the great beauty of our tradition, and find great consolation in the work God is doing!IMG_0863

In just a few weeks, we will have a new Holy Father. We give God thanks for the leadership and guidance of Pope Benedict, and we pray that the Holy Spirit will help guide the new election process.

Questions for Discussion

  1. What was your first reaction to the news that Pope Benedict was abdicating? How did you hear about it?
  2. What might be some of the reasons Benedict has chosen to abdicate and resign himself to a life of quiet prayer?
  3. Pope Benedict always takes the opportunity to teach. By taking the step of abdicating instead of waiting until death, what might he be teaching the Church? What might he be teaching the world? How might his step influence the future generations of popes, especially when they consider the possibility of resignation?
  4. Joseph Ratzinger never showed himself to be a rash or quick thinker. He was asked before if he would resign, and each time he said that it wasn’t the right time for the Church. What do you think he is teaching or showing the world by resigning now, in Lent of 2013? What might be the significance of the link between Lent and Easter?
  5. Some media resources have called into question the need for the pope. What role do you understand the pope to have within the Universal Church? Do you think his role is still important?
  6. There have been comments made about the nature of a pope’s election. Because the pope is only elected by the cardinals whom are all created by the pope himself, some say that the Church’s method creates a sort of “closed loop.” Instead, they think the Church should open the election to the general faithful. What is your reaction to that idea?
  7. There are legitimate questions about how Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI will be referred to after his resignation. There are also questions about what he should wear. What are your ideas?
  8. How has the news affected your prayer life? Has it done anything for your Lenten journey?


How a Pope is Elected
The Vatican Insider has created a really great animation about the process of electing a new pope. If you’ve ever wondered how the conclave will function, give this a look.

The Pope
For information about the Catholic belief about the role of the pope, as well as where our tradition and belief comes from in Scripture and Tradition, the Catholic Encyclopedia provides and excellent resource.

Electing the Pope
This website was recently created to help people seeking information about the pope and the election process. There is some great information in a clear and easy to read format.

Conclaves oaths, secrecy, and rituals explained
The Houston Chronicle talks about some of the oaths and the secrecy that will be behind the Conclave.

A quick course in “Conclave 101”
The National Catholic Reporter gives an interesting piece about the internal happenings during a conclave.

Universi Dominici Gregis
If you want to know the rules and ins and outs of a Conclave, this is the official text governing it from John Paul II

Cardinal Arinze Interview
Cardinal Arinze was interviewed shortly after the Holy Father’s announcement. He shares some great insights into what we believe as Catholics and where we place our hope and trust. Also, he throws in a bit of humor. Definitely worth 5 minutes.