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2014 Synod on the Family

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????On October 8, 2013, Pope Francis announced that an Extraordinary Synod of Bishops would meet in October 2014 to discuss ways that the Church could continue our mission of evangelizing the family. This first synod would identify some of the modern challenges, and the bishops would then meet during an Ordinary Synod in 2015 to discuss practical ways to address some of these issues.

In November of 2013, a Vatican commission released a preparatory documentthat outlined the purpose of both synods. It included basic catechesis on the family and was sent to the bishops around the world asking their input on nine questions surrounding the topic.

The answers to that questionnaire were collected and synthesized in a document called the “Instrumentum Laboris” that was published in June 2014. This document outlined the challenges presented by the bishops and provided the outline of topics that would be discussed by the bishops during the synod.

In the months and weeks leading up to the synod, many bishops provided interviews for various news outlets around the world. Quickly, the world seized the opportunity to discuss the Catholic Church’s teachings on family life. The result was a firestorm of media coverage before, during, and immediately following the synod.

When the synod began, the bishops’ discussions were not made available to the public. The press was not allowed to be present during their interventions. After all the various bishops spoke, their contributions were synthesized into a midterm report called the “relatio post disceptationem.” This report was published by the Press Office of the Holy See, and it caused an enormous controversy.

That mid-term report was then discussed by all of the bishops in small groups organized by language. They were tasked with reading the mid-term report and proposing amendments. Their amendments were submitted, the relatio was revised accordingly, and a final copy was voted on by the bishops. That final “Relatio Synodi” was approved by the bishops, sent to Pope Francis, and then published for the general public to read, too.

And this is the Church, the vineyard of the Lord, the fertile Mother and the caring Teacher, who is not afraid to roll up her sleeves to pour oil and wine on people’s wound; who doesn’t see humanity as a house of glass to judge or categorize people. This is the Church, One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and composed of sinners, needful of God’s mercy. This is the Church, the true bride of Christ, who seeks to be faithful to her spouse and to her doctrine.” – Pope Francis

Discussion Questions

  1. What was your experience of the synod? What did you read and hear about it? What reactions do you remember?
  2. The synod was tasked with identifying the issues being faced by families around the world. If you were given the same task, what issues would you discuss? What do you see are the biggest challenges facing families?
  3. Before the synod, an expectation arose that the Church would change some of her teachings and practices. Did you hear anything like this? If so, what were some of the changes that various groups were calling for?
  4. The “relatio post disceptationem” caused quite a stir. Many raised questions about some of the language that was used. What might have caused controversy with the following sections:
    1. Cohabitation: “A new sensitivity in today’s pastoral consists in grasping the positive reality of civil weddings and, having pointed out our differences, of cohabitation. It is necessary that in the ecclesial proposal, while clearly presenting the ideal, we also indicate the constructive elements in those situations that do not yet or no longer correspond to that ideal.”
    2. Communion for divorced and remarried: “For some, partaking of the sacraments might occur were it preceded by a penitential path – under the responsibility of the diocesan bishop -, and with a clear undertaking in favor of the children. This would not be a general possibility, but the fruit of a discernment applied on a case-by-case basis, according to a law of gradualness, that takes into consideration the distinction between state of sin, state of grace and the attenuating circumstances.”
    3. Homosexuality: “Are our communities capable of providing [an encounter with a Church that offers them a welcoming home], accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?
  5. Several people made comments that the Church was not changing her doctrine or teaching, but was simply trying to change her tone’ in regards to many of these challenges. Do you think the Church needs to alter the tone’? Why or why not?
  6. What do you think is the goal of Pope Francis with the synod? With his emphasis on an “open and fraternal discussion,” how do you think the synod will change the encounter with the Church?
Further Readings

Famine on the Word of God

Irish_potato_famine_Bridget_O'DonnelLast Friday, our nation celebrated our independence on July 4th. The readings at Mass for that day came from the 8th chapter of the book of Amos and are worthy of our reflection. The following reflection is based on a blog post from Msgr. Charles Pope.

Yes, days are coming, says the Lord GOD,
when I will send famine upon the land:
Not a famine of bread, or thirst for water,
but for hearing the word of the LORD.
Then shall they wander from sea to sea
and rove from the north to the east
In search of the word of the LORD,
but they shall not find it.
– Amos 8:11-12

The Prophet Amos speaks of a “famine for hearing the word of the LORD.” Before this, he warned Israel about a number of sins that were present among the people. The prophet claims that the poor were being neglected and trampled over, the Sabbath was being neglected because of the desire to make a profit, people were cheating each other by altering their scales, and he accuses them of selling the poor as slaves for a bit of silver or a pair of sandals. Earlier in the book, Amos also chastises the people for a number of sexual sins, as well.

God speaks to the people of Israel through the prophet that if their sins continue, they will no longer hear the word of God. Their sinfulness will make them deaf in their relationship with God and cause them to search for the truth. However, without God’s guidance they will not find what they are searching for.

Msgr. Pope says that a famine for the Word of God exists in three ways:

  1. First of all, when many people insist on sinful, unjust, and evil practices, the Word of the Lord begins to sound obnoxious and they refuse to read or hear it.
  2. Second, we see a kind of induced famine caused by those who collectively work to eliminate the Word of God from the public square.
  3. The third form of famine, is subtle. This is the famine of the Word of God that occurs on account of silence from the pulpits.

Further Reading

Original Post from Msgr. Pope
Amos Chapter 8

Discussion Questions

  1. The prophet mentions a famine of the Word of God caused by the abundance of sin. As Msgr. Pope says, “The Word of the Lord begins to sounds obnoxious and they refuse to read it or hear it.” Do you think there is currently a “famine of the Word of God” in our culture? What would you cite as examples?
  2. The famine of the Word of God exists because of sin. The prophet mentions sins against the poor, primarily and also a lack of respect for the Sabbath. Msgr. Pope says, “Many starve themselves from the Word because it is no longer a food that is palatable to them. They would rather dine on the strong wine of this world that numbs them from the pangs of their own consciences. Or perhaps they would rather eat the Twinkies and other junk food of pop culture, which excuses and even celebrates bad behavior.”
    1. If the Prophet Amos were to describe the sins of modern Western culture, what might he say today?
    2. Are the sins of the modern world the same as those of the prophet’s day? Why or why not?
  3. The second form of the famine described is the elimination of the Word of God from the public square. 
    1. With the many public debates about religious freedom currently ongoing, what role should the Word of God have in the public square?
    2. Christians are often told to “stop shoving your Bible down other people’s throats.” With reactions such as this, what should be the proper response? What might cause this reaction?
  4. The third form of famine described is the lack of the Word proclaimed properly from church pulpits. Msgr. comments that he often hears of complaints that homilies are too vague, and this is caused by fear on the part of the clergy. 
    1. Is this true in your experience? Do you find a lack of focus on the Word in everyday preaching and teaching?
    2. Msgr. Pope mentions that people tend to vehemently disagree with things that priests might preach about, and this causes fear amongst the presbyterate. What kinds of things can be done to ease those concerns and fears?
  5. How do we ensure that a famine of the Word of God doesn’t exist in our own life and in our own families? How do we work to correctly promote a love for the Word of God?

Saintly Popery: Saints John XXIII and John Paul II

On April 27, 2014, Divine Mercy Sunday, the Catholic Church celebrated a momentous occasion in the course of her history. Pope Francis, joined by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and surrounded by over 1 million faithful people from across the world, canonized two of his predecessors: Popes John XXIII and John Paul II. Of the 266 successors of St. Peter, only 80 of them are saints. The canonization Mass set history: it was the first time a pope ever celebrated Mass joined by a predecessor in public and the first time two popes were canonized at the same time. To put the magnitude into perspective, the last pope to be canonized was St. Pius X, who died in 1914, but before him, it was St. Pius V, who died in 1572. The Church hasn’t seen two canonized popes in the same century since Gregory VII and Leo IX who both lived during the 11th century!

In the hour of farewell, or, better, of leave-taking, I repeat once more that what matters most in this life is: our blessed Jesus Christ, his holy Church, his Gospel, and in the Gospel above all else the Our Father according to the mind and heart of Jesus, and the truth and goodness of his Gospel, goodness which must be meek and kind, hardworking and patient, unconquerable and victorious. -St. John XXIII

Pope St. John XXIII was born in Italy 1881 with the given name Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli. The 4th of 14th children, he was ordained a priest at 23 years old. He served the Church in a number of different ways, including being nuncio (ambassador) to Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey. Pope Pius XII named him the Cardinal Archbishop of Venice in 1953. He was elected pope in 1958 in the 11th ballot of voting to his great surprise. His life and papacy was marked by many surprising moments when he would spontaneously visit places throughout Rome, much like Pope Francis. The people of Rome affectionately called him “Good Pope John.”

His life was also marked by a great sense of wit and humor. Once, he went to visit a hospital in Rome called the Hospital of the Holy Spirit, run by a group of Catholic sisters. The mother superior, deeply stirred by the papal visit, went up to him in order to introduce herself: “Most Holy Father,” she said, “I am the superior of the Holy Spirit.” “Well, I must say you’re very lucky,” replied the pope. “I’m only the Vicar of Christ.”

Pope St. John Paul II was born in Poland in 9120 with the given name Karol Józef Wojtyła. He was the second longest serving pope in modern history and the first non-Italian Pope since Adrian VI in 1523. He was the most well-traveled pope in history, having visited 129 countries as pope. A great theologian and philosopher, he published an average 3,000 pages a year as pope.

The Apostolic See… offers for imitation, veneration and invocation by the faithful those men and women who are renowned for the splendor of their love as well as the other evangelical virtues and, after conducting the appropriate investigations, declares with a solemn act of canonizations that they are saints. -St. John Paul II

Discussion Questions

  1. John XXIII’s landmark achievement in his pontificate was the calling and opening of the Second Vatican Council. He said” Everyone wants the forthcoming Ecumenical Council to give all possible impetus to the spread of Christianity. It must give louder and louder utterance to that “word by which the kingdom is preached” mentioned in the parable of the sower, and help to bring about the wider extension of “the kingdom of God” in the world. But all this must depend to a large extent on the dispositions of the souls which the Council will be endeavoring to inspire to truth and virtue, to the worship of God both in private and in public, to a disciplined life and to missionary zeal. Paenitentiam Agere.
    • What effects did Vatican II have on the Church? For what reasons do you think he called the Council?
  2. Context is very important. Why do you think Pope Francis canonized John XXIII and John Paul II at the same time?
  3. Pope St. John XXIII was a man of great humor, wit, and laughter. He was famously asked by a reporter one time: “How many people work in the Vatican?” He responded, “About half.” What role should humor play in the Church and in the life of faith? How does it help?
  4. John Paul II was the most well-traveled pope in history, visiting over 129 countries and traveling more than 1,100,000 kilometers (680,000 miles). He attracted the largest crowds ever in the history of the human race, such as the World Youth Day in Manila at 4 million plus.
    • What was so attractive about John Paul II?
      What is attractive about the lives of the saints?
      What does the life of a saint inspire?
  5. The canonization of John Paul II has not been without criticism. Some have said that the rapid canonization, coming only 9 years after his death in 2005, is too hasty. Where do you think the criticism comes from? Do you think the concern is a valid one?
  6. In his pontificate, John Paul II beatified 1,340 people and canonized 483 saints. That’s more than the number of blessers and saints than the previous five centuries combined. What do you think John Paul II was trying to tell the world about the faith in the number of his canonizations and beatifications?
  7. What does it mean for us to live in a time surrounded by many saints? What saints have been created in the last century, and what does that tell us about the status of the Church in the world?

Purgatory: God’s Gift

“Thus you may understand that love alone is the true seed of every merit in you, and of all acts for which you must atone.” – Dante, Purgatorio

Purgatory MemeAmong the teachings of the Church that are misunderstood or cause controversy in the midst of discussion, there are few that bring the same intensity as the Catholic doctrine on the existence of purgatory. For non-Catholic Christians, or even for Catholic converts from Protestantism, the existence of purgatory is often a source of many questions.

The Catholic Church teaches that the elect experience a temporal state of purification after death before they enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. This temporal state exists to purify the soul of the remnants of sin which still cling to the departed. It is this process of purification or “purgation” whence purgatory receives its name.

However, the existence of a need to be cleansed of sin causes a great deal of controversy. Non-Catholics argue, for example, that this seems to conflict with the teaching that Jesus’ death on the Cross is the universal and total source of salvation. For some, it seems to imply that Jesus’ sacrifice was not perfect and that humanity is performing work in purgatory to be cleansed of sin. For others there is a difficulty because the word purgatory isn’t directly mentioned in Scripture. Also, Jesus doesn’t seem to refer to it explicitly in his preaching and teaching.

Tonight, we will discuss the topic of purgatory. We will look at its existence, what the Church understands it to be, and how its existence influences our life here on earth and our eternal life to come.

Questions for Discussion

  1. What were you taught about purgatory? What do you understand it to be?
  2. What might be objections to the Catholic doctrine of purgatory? Can you think of any arguments against its existence? How should they be answered?
  3. What are the sources for Church teaching on purgatory?
  4. How does the existence of purgatory (or the lack thereof) affect ones approach to eternal life? In what ways might the belief change one’s approach to life on earth?
  5. Part of the doctrine of purgatory includes prayers to help the deceased. How does a concept of purgatory affect one’s burial or funeral practices? If we should pray for the dead, what is the difference between a funeral service in a funeral home and a funeral Mass? How should purgatory affect our speech about the deceased?
  6. What role does the virtue of Hope play in our theology of death?
  7. Do you think purgatory is often viewed as a “second chance?” Meaning: “If I didn’t do good in life, I will make up for it after death.” How do we connect purgatory and the finality of judgment at the end of one’s life?
  8. Have you ever considered purgatory to be a gift from God?
  9. Pope Benedict XVI referred to St. Catherine of Genoa: “The soul”, Catherine says, “presents itself to God still bound to the desires and suffering that derive from sin and this makes it impossible for it to enjoy the beatific vision of God”. Catherine asserts that God is so pure and holy that a soul stained by sin cannot be in the presence of the divine majesty (cf. Vita Mirabile, 177r).
    We too feel how distant we are, how full we are of so many things that we cannot see God. The soul is aware of the immense love and perfect justice of God and consequently suffers for having failed to respond in a correct and perfect way to this love; and love for God itself becomes a flame, love itself cleanses it from the residue of sin.
  10. What image(s) does purgatory conjure up in your mind? What about art? What are good analogies we can use to describe it? Do you consider purgatory to be a gift from God?

Further Reading

Catechism of the Catholic Church on Purgatory
Pope Benedict on St. Catherine of Genoa
St. Catherine of Genoa’s Treatise on Purgatory
Scott Hahn on Purgatory
Dante’s Purgatorio

It’s God’s Plan: A look at predestination

baloopredestinationIt often occurs in the midst of life’s events, such as in tragedy, that we seek to find some sort of meaning. One of the ways this is evidenced is by the phrase, “It was God’s plan.” At times, this can bring a certain amount of comfort: such as when someone receives a new job, has a certain need met, or a prayer answered. But in times of tragedy, such a phrase and mindset can have the opposite effect.

Consider the following:

“My Pentecostal Grandmother told me after my 2 yr. old died from Leukemia that it was punishment’ for my past sins. This was many years ago – my precious Nikki would be 45 now and from that day until the day my Grandmother died, I never forgave her.”
– Shirley Ramsey.

What undergirds statements such as these about the plan of God come from a concept called “predestination.” Predestination is a theological doctrine which states that God has willed all events that occur in time. It has it’s basis in Scripture. One of the central passages comes from Romans 8:

We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his son, so that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined he also called; and those he called he also justified; and those he justified he also glorified” (Rom. 8:28-30).

The doctrine of predestination, however, also must be balanced with the concept of freedom. If God wills all things, are all human actions predestined and planned by God? This is what leads to a great deal of controversy within Christianity. John Calvin, for example, is famous for his doctrine of double predestination:

“By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death” (Westminster Confession of Faith, 1643).

In other words, God predestines some to heaven and others to hell.

The doctrine requires an obvious balance between our understanding of human freedom and God’s omnipotence and omniscience. Scripture teaches that God wishes all to be saved (cf. 1 Tim. 2:4), and this must be kept in balance with the gift of human freedom.

Tonight, we will discuss some questions that arise from predestination.

Discussion Questions:

What do you think of comments such as “It’s all part of God’s plan”? Have you encountered such statements? Do you think they are helpful, especially in the face of tragedy?

Do you think God wills evil? What about death?

How influential do you think the concept of predestination is? For example, do you often hear people speak about going to heaven whether or not they’ve lived good lives here on earth? The opposite? What other consequences might arise from the idea that God plans all things before they happen?

What do you make of the some of the Reformer’s idea that God predestines some to heaven and others to hell? What might that mean for freedom?

What does double predestination mean for action within life? If I am predestined for heaven/hell, does it matter how I act?

The Church teaches that Mary was conceived immaculately in the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. This means that she was part of God’s plan from the beginning. At the same time, the Church teaches that Mary was free to choose to accept the angel’s invitation.

What might Mary’s example and actions teach us? How should we use God’s gift?

The Catholic Church’s understanding of predestination is part of the mystery of God. On one hand, we know that God is all powerful, knows all things, and has ordered creation towards salvation. But at the same time, we uphold the freedom of people to accept or reject God’s plan of salvation.

Does the idea that God predestines the elect for heaven reveal anything about his love?

Predestination means that we are a part of God’s plan of salvation. Does it excite you that God wishes you to be saved and part of his elect?

What role could this idea play in evangelization? Do you think it is helpful to teach people that God is doing everything possible to give them salvation?

Evangelii Gaudium: The Joy of the Gospel

Evangelii-Gaudium“I am aware that nowadays documents do not arouse the same interest as in the past and that they are quickly forgotten.” These are the words Pope Francis recently used in his first apostolic exhortation to the Church entitled Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel). The purpose of an apostolic exhortation is to exhort the Church to implement what the Church already teaches. They don’t usually contain new teachings but help us to find ways to live out what the Church is asking of us. This week, we will look at parts of this exhortation and how it can help us prepare in this Advent season for the joy of Jesus’ arrival.

On Joy
“The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew. In this Exhortation I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come.”

1.  How has your faith in Jesus Christ brought you joy? What are some of the joy filled moments you can remember that you wish to share? How would you compare the joy that Christ brings to the pleasure or momentary happiness that the world might bring? When has your faith not brought you joy? What has that looked like?

Pope Francis mentions the dangers to joy: “The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. This is a very real danger for believers too. Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless. That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ.”

2. What does this offer to us in the Advent/Christmas/Holiday season?

Pope Francis greets people in St Peter's SquareOn Evangelisation
“I hope that all communities will devote the necessary effort to advancing along the path of a pastoral and missionary conversion which cannot leave things as they presently are. ‘Mere administration’ can no longer be enough. Throughout the world, let us be ‘permanently in a state of mission…I dream of a ‘missionary option,’ that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation.”

3.  Francis mentions that the Church needs to be always in evangelization-mode instead of self-preservation. What do you think are some of the signs of a Church being in self-preservation instead of evangelization? What might the ‘missionary option’ look like? What can we be doing in our own parishes? Diocese? Nation? World?

On Parishes
“The parish is the presence of the Church in a given territory, an environment for hearing God’s word, for growth in the Christian life, for dialogue, proclamation, charitable outreach, worship and celebration. In all its activities the parish encourages and trains its members to be evangelisers. It is a community of communities, a sanctuary where the thirsty come to drink in the midst of their journey, and a centre of constant missionary outreach. We must admit, though, that the call to review and renew our parishes has not yet sufficed to bring them nearer to people, to make them environments of living communion and participation, and to make them completely mission-oriented.

4.  What is your experience of your church parish? In another place, Francis says that it can’t be a place of the ‘self-absorbed cluster made up of a chosen few.’ Have you ever experienced that in a parish or church? What do you think Francis’ vision of a parish looks like in practical terms? How do we promote the view that the church is the place where we come to be refreshed and renewed? Be sure to focus on the theme: joy.

131106172149-01-pope-1106-horizontal-galleryOn the poor
God shows the poor ‘his first mercy…I want a Church which is poor and for the poor. They have much to teach us. Not only do they share in the sensus fidei, but in their difficulties they know the suffering Christ. We need to let ourselves be evangelized by them…We are called to find Christ in them, to lend our voice to their causes, but also to be their friends, to listen to them, to speak for them and to embrace the mysterious wisdom which God wishes to share with us through them.”

5. Where do you think the poor find joy in their lives? Much of this document about the joy of the Gospel is spent speaking about the poor. What do you think is the connection between poverty / the poor persons of the world and Jesus’ constant teachings about being mindful of the poor?

6. What do the poor have to teach us about joy in the Advent/Christmas season? What does the story of Christ’s birth show us? (think of the conditions, those who came to worship, the livelihood of Mary and Joseph, etc.)

Further Reading

Evangelii Gaudium (Full Text)

Daily Reflections for Advent based on Evangelii Gaudium

Key quotes from EG

Not everyone likes it: “It’s Sad How Wrong Pope Francis Is” by Rush Limbaugh

A response to Rush Limbaugh by Rev. Robert Sirico

 

Overwhelmed: The New Normal

0511-1009-1319-0462_Black_and_White_Cartoon_of_a_Stressed_Out_Guy_with_the_Word_Overload_clipart_image_1Recently, a 2013 Work Stress Survery revealed that 83% of Americans feel stressed at work. Throw in the annual performance reviews, exams for those still in academia, the economic pressures relating to employment and the state of the stock market, sprinkle them with health issues, mix them all with family pressure, and we find a common thread in many lives right now: the stress of being overwhelmed. In my ministry over the last few weeks and months, I’m hearing this more and more: from the young kids in grade school to the elderly I visit at home, it seems that many people are stressed and overwhelmed.

Tonight, we will take a look at the levels of our stress, both personal and social, and see what discoveries we can find of value.

As we look around the world, one of the interesting developments is that we have never had more “creature comforts” here in the US and in the West in general. Life really has never been more “comfortable” in all of history than it is currently, but at the same time, we discover high levels of stress and a gnawing sense of dis-satisfaction.

I’ve heard it said that much of the dissatisfaction comes from a subconscious belief that “we can have it all.” In other words, I can have the nice house, the perfect family, the super high paying job, the deepest and most perfect faith, along with a beautiful yard, the latest and greatest gizmos and gadgets, and the…well, you know the rest.

The fifth chapter of the Book of Ecclesiastes says:
Whoever loves money never has money enough;
whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.
This too is meaningless….
The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether he eats little or much,
but the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep. (Eccles 5:10,12)

In the midst of all this, we find a faith that says something important:

Better a little with the fear of the LORD than great wealth with turmoil. Better a small serving of vegetables with love than a fattened calf with hatred (Prov 15:16-17).

Make simple my heart, O Lord. (Psalm 86:11)

Discussion Questions

Do you feel stressed and battle the feeling of being overwhelmed? If so, what do you find yourself being overwhelmed about?

Do you think that our society is stressed or overwhelmed? Where might we see examples or manifestations of this? Are there any recent events in our local area, our country, or our world that might reveal a very high level of stress?

What are some of currents in our culture that might contribute to a growing sense of stress or being overwhelmed? What goals might society have taught us that can lead to this feeling of being burdened or stressed?

Is it possible to “have it all?” If yes, how is it possible? If no, how should we live?

What does our faith say about these goals and ambitions?

Can you think of any saints whose lives model something in this area? Who in our current world might be a good example?

What are practices we can do to reduce the burden of stress and being overwhelmed? What role does prayer play in all of this?

What can we do as young men and women of faith to reach out to those whom we know are overwhelmed and stressed? What can we do to help?

From Luke 21: When he looked up he saw some wealthy people putting their offerings into the treasury, and he noticed a poor widow putting in two small coins. He said, “I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than all the rest; for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood.” (Luke 21:1-4)

What is Jesus teaching us?
What does the poor widow teach us?

Pope Francis’ First Tweets

Pope FrancisPope Benedict surprised the world by taking to Twitter. For the first time, a pope would take advantage of social media within 140 characters. At his election, Pope Francis kept up his predecessor’s tradition. He has continued to evangelize through short messages about once per day. Even though they are short, they provide us with some great insights into the Christian life and prayer. This week, we will look at Pope Francis’ first tweets and discuss what we can take away from them.

Dear friends, I thank you from my heart and I ask you to continue to pray for me. Pope Francis. – 17 March 2013

Let us keep a place for Christ in our lives, let us care for one another and let us be loving custodians of creation. – 19 March 2013

True power is service.  The Pope must serve all people, especially the poor, the weak, the vulnerable. – 19 March 2013

Being with Jesus demands that we go out from ourselves, and from living a tired and habitual faith – 27 March 2013

How beautiful is the gaze with which Jesus regards us – how full of tenderness!  Let us never lose trust in the patience and mercy of God. – 7 April 2013

Never forget this: The Lord never gets tired of forgiving us. It is we who get tired of asking for forgiveness. Have a great Sunday and a great lunch! – First Angelus Address on 17 March 2013

Being a Christian is not just about following commandments: it is about letting Christ take possession of our lives and transform them. – 10 April 2013

Worshipping God means learning to be with him, stripping away our hidden idols and placing him at the centre of our lives. 14 April 2013

Mary is the one who says “Yes”.  Mary, help us to come to know the voice of Jesus better, and to follow it. 23 April 2013

At this time of crisis it is important not to become closed in on oneself, but rather to be open and attentive towards others. 25 April 2013

Dear young people, do not bury your talents, the gifts that God has given you!  Do not be afraid to dream of great things! 26 April 2013

How marvelous it would be if, at the end of the day, each of us could say: today I have performed an act of charity towards others! 29 April 2013

Dear young friends, learn from Saint Joseph. He went through difficult times, but he always trusted, and he knew how to overcome adversity. 1 May 2013

My thoughts turn to all who are unemployed, often as a result of a self-centered mindset bent on profit at any cost. 2 May 2013

It would be a good idea, during May, for families to say the Rosary together.  Prayer strengthens family life. 3 May 2013

Questions for Discussion

  1. What do you think about the Pope using Twitter and social media? What are the pros and cons?
  2. Which of these first tweets from Pope Francis stand out to you?
  3. Can you identify any themes that Pope Francis touches on often? What direction do you think he is plotting for the Church and for us?
  4. What things does Pope Francis speak about that we should bring to prayer? How can they help us to grow?
  5. How have you been inspired Pope Francis’ words and deeds? Have you found any discouragement in anything?
  6. If you were the pope, what would you tweet about? What kinds of things would you focus on?
  7. What do you think he might tweet about in the future?

Further Reading

http://twitter.com/Pontifex

Do Recent Legal Trends Present A Bias Against Faith?

gavelThis week, our discussion will be led by Mr. Jared Watson, an attorney who practices real estate and corporate law in Lake Charles at Robicheaux, Mize, Wadsack, and Richardson, LLC. Dedicated to his Catholic faith, Jared has prepared a short introduction to some recent legal trends in the United States. We will discuss what these trends might reveal about the way our culture views faith.

Introduction

On the topic of Religious Freedom, there have been at least two recent United States cases noteworthy for discussion.  We thought that these two cases could work as “springboards” into wider-ranging topics relevant to all of us, not just lawyers.

The first is the case of Hobby Lobby v. Kathleen Sebelius et al. out of the United States 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.  The second is the New Mexico Supreme Court case of Elane Photography v. Willock.

Hobby Lobby deals with the case of the Green family who owns Hobby Lobby stores and a bookstore chain through closely held corporations.  Evangelical Christians, the Greens provide health insurance to their around 13,000 employees.  However, under the Affordable Care Act, “Obamacare,” the Greens are obliged to cover contraceptives and abortifacients.  In a partial victory for the Greens, under the merits of the case, the court ruled that the “contraception mandate” under Obamacare substantially burdens “the religious values” they attempt to follow.   According the court, the Greens assert, among their “sincere beliefs,” a “belief that human life begins when sperm fertilizes an egg;” that they “believe” they would be “facilitating harm to human beings” if they cover those drugs in their plans. [Emphasis added.]  Further, the court notes that Hobby Lobby drew a line at providing coverage for drugs or devices “they consider to induce abortions.”

In Elane Photography, a New Mexico couple in the photography business declined to photograph the “wedding” of two women; the business equally wouldn’t photograph two men or two women holding hands or engaged in gestures that marked a homosexual relation.  The court stating that they declined due to their belief that taking such pictures violates their religious beliefs.  In doing so, they were sued and lost under the New Mexico Human Rights Act which prohibited businesses from discriminating people on the basis of their “sexual orientation” despite arguments of free speech and freedom of religion.

Discussion Questions

  1. The arguments raised by the Christian parties in both cases—are they merely just “beliefs”?  What does “belief” connote?  Or what about the word “values”?
    • In Hobby Lobby, the court says that Hobby Lobby ‘s position is similar to a U.S. Supreme Court case, Thomas v. Review Board of the Indiana Employment Security Division, wherein Thomas, a Jehovah’s Witness, was willing to work in a foundry turning out metal for use in tanks, but declined at working on the turrets for the tanks.  It was hard to see the difference in principle, but the U.S. Supreme Court wouldn’t worry itself with those questions.  To the court in Thomas, if it’s made based upon his religious beliefs the court wasn’t going to interfere.   Is Hobby Lobby (or even Elane Photography) really similar to Thomas? Is the position of Hobby Lobby or Elane Photography like the kosher butcher challenging a regulation mandating non-kosher butchering practices?  What are the grounds for challenging the mandate? Do some parties have better or more arguments than others?
  2. Can arguments on merely “sincerely held beliefs” lead to trouble?  If the argument of Hobby Lobby or Elane is merely about “sincerely held beliefs” or tastes or preferences, is it easier for the opposing party to take the supposed higher, moral ground?  Think of the moral buzzwords around today:  equality, fairness, toleration, liberty, justice.
  3. For the Hobby Lobby case, does relegating ourselves to the merely “sincerely held beliefs” argument for religious freedom contribute to the view that their grievance is just another instance of “faith” trying to quash “health?”  Is that confusing two subjects, “religion” and “health,” as if the Church were arguing that the Food & Drug Administration should acknowledge the Hypostatic Union of Christ?  Is faith and health not compatible?
  4. If you haven’t fully addressed it with your group yet, if you were representing Hobby Lobby or Elane Photography, how would you argue your case to a religious skeptic?
  5. In the U.S. Supreme Court Establishment Clause case called Lee v. Weisman (1992), we get a picture of the court’s substantive (in contrast to legal) view of religion.  Having a non-sectarian prayer by a rabbi at a middle school graduation was ruled unconstitutional.  Their position was that religion is irrational (in addition to being divisive and other things).  But can’t religion be reasonable?  Can’t your religion be more reasonable than others?  Consider Pope Benedict’s comment in his Regensburg Address:  “Not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God’s nature,” for “in the beginning was the logos, and the logos is God.”
  6. Let’s step back a bit.  With these court cases in mind, we see a very narrow, negative view of religion; one where it appears that religion is barely tolerable, very irrational and divisive, and that is undermines human achievement.  So, imagine if you were asked to write a new Constitution, and you can’t merely appeal to the present Constitution to ground you claim, would you include the First Amendment allowing for freedom of religion?  But why?  What is so special about religion, its beliefs, and its practices, that require the Constitution to protect those of its citizens that embrace them?  On the other hand, if religion and its practices are of such importance to the political community, why would your Constitution prohibit the establishment of a religion?
  7. Consider the following two quotes and discuss the differences.  The first is from the concurring opinion of the Elane Photography case.  According to Justice Bosson, the Christian couple needs to bear the following in mind when operating their business:
    • “In the smaller, more focused world of the marketplace, of commerce, of public accommodation, the Huguenins have to channel their conduct, not their beliefs, so as to leave space for other Americans who believe something different.  That compromise is part of the glue that holds us together as a nation, the tolerance that lubricates the varied moving parts of us as a people.  That sense of respect we owe others, whether or not we believe as they do, illuminates this country, setting it apart from the discord that afflicts much of the rest of the world. In short, I would say to the Huguenins, with the utmost respect: it is the price of citizenship.”
    • The second is from Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen:  “If you do not live what you believe, you will end up believing what you live.”
  8. With what you’ve already discussed in mind, consider the following quote from one devil to another, from C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters:
    • “It sounds as if you supposed that argument was the way to keep him out of the Enemy’s [God’s] clutches.  That might have been so if he had lived a few centuries earlier. At that time the humans still knew pretty well when a thing was proved and when it was not; and if it was proved they really believed it.  They still connected thinking with doing and were prepared to alter their way of life as the result of a chain of reasoning. But what with the weekly press and other such weapons we have largely altered that. Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to have a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesn’t think of doctrines as primarily “true” of “false”, but as “academic” or “practical”, “outworn” or “contemporary”, “conventional” or “ruthless”.  Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church.  Don’t waste time trying to make him think that materialism is true! Make him think it is strong, or stark, or courageous – that it is the philosophy of the future.  That’s the sort of thing he cares about.”
  9. Regarding losing these some of these religious liberty arguments in the public square, Ryan T. Anderson states that:  “It isn’t surprising that we’re not getting it right. Part of the blame lies with us.  If government doesn’t respect religious liberty and the rights of conscience, perhaps it’s because I don’t exercise my religious liberty as I ought, that I don’t follow my conscience as I should.  If I don’t take my faith and conscience seriously, it’s no wonder that the government doesn’t either.”  Do you agree?  How can we as Catholics get government and society at large to see the truth of our religion and thus our religious arguments?

Further Reading

  1. http://www.thecatholicthing.org/columns/2012/religious-and-secular-arguments.html  “Religious and Secular Arguments”
  2. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324783204578624510558738282.html  “Religious Freedom Is About More Than Religion”
  3. http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2006/september/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20060912_university-regensburg_en.html  Pope Benedict XVI: “Faith, Reason and the University:  Memories and Reflections” (aka “The Regensburg Address”)
  4. http://www.thecatholicthing.org/columns/2013/religious-freedom-in-search-of-its-argument.html  “Religious Freedom in Search of its Argument.”
  5. http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2013/07/calling-and-witness-holiness-and-truth  “Calling and Witness, Holiness and Truth”

Too Much Stuff! A discussion of Luke 12:13-21

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For the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, the Church reflected on the Gospel of Luke 12:13-21. Jesus speaks about wealth and the problem of greed. This month, we will be reflecting on this Gospel and the topic of greed in our world.

Gospel

Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.” He replied to him, “Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?” Then he said to the crowd, “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” Then he told them a parable. “There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. He asked himself, ‘What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?’ And he said, ‘This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, “Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!”’ But God said to him, ‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’ Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.” – Luke 12:13-21

Reflection

  1. The Problem that is Portrayed
    The text begins with Jesus addressing the crowd in a clear warning against greed, which causes us to be ungrateful and discontented. Unchecked, greed causes a desire for more and more stuff and can lead us to inflict harm and injustice on others.
  2. The 5 I’s of wealth
    1. The initiation of wealth – Wealth in itself is not evil, but can initiate the temptation to greed.
      • We notice that the land produced the increase, not the landowner. With the increased wealth, the landowner experiences the temptation to greed. The fact of having more makes him susceptible. The wealth is not evil, but it creates the temptation that leads to greed.
      • In his use of things man should regard the external goods he legitimately owns not merely as exclusive to himself but common to others also, in the sense that they can benefit others as well as himself. The ownership of any property makes its holder a steward of Providence, with the task of making it fruitful and communicating its benefits to others, first of all his family. (Catechism 2402, 2404)
    2. The inconvenience of wealth – He asks, “What shall I do?” Then he builds new barns. Having more stuff makes him anxious and stressed. The increased wealth was inconvenient. And generosity wasn’t an option for him.
    3. The illusion of wealth – Riches lead to the illusion of self-sufficiency. “Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!” Wealth creates the illusion that we don’t need God, and that we won’t suffer any further suffering. It can make us less dependent on faith.
    4. The insufficiency of wealth – Our things can’t redeem us; we will all still die. However, the temptation is that we don’t need God anymore because of the achievements afforded us by wealth and power.
    5. The instruction about wealth
      • What matters to God is that we be rich in justice, mercy, love, holiness and truth, and that we be generous sharers of the bounty he bestows. And thus the Lord teaches us to generously share what we have over and above what we do not need.
      • St. Augustine: “The bellies of the poor make better storehouses than barns.”
      • The Lord teaches that the poor we help will welcome us to heaven and speak on our behalf before the judgment seat about how we used our wealth to help them.
      • Therefore, this final teaching or perspective on wealth is to be rich in what matters to God by being generous not greedy.

Further Reading

Questions for discussion

  1. What is your reaction to the landowner’s behavior in the Gospel?
  2. The landowner builds bigger barns rather than sharing his wealth. In what ways do we “build bigger barns” for ourselves?
    • Does this apply to corporations, businesses, the stock market, etc.? For example, Apple has received criticism for having $145 billion cash on hand.
  3. The semi-official newspaper of the Vatican, L’Osservatore Romano, recently analyzed the 2012 publication of a Vatican document on the economy and the poor. It found that 300 children die every hour from malnutrition and there are almost 1 billion people in the world without access to clean water. However, there are now more billionaires than ever: over 1,200.
    • What might be the root cause of this situation?
    • What ways can we begin to address it?
    • If you were a billionaire, what might you do to help?
  4. Wealth isn’t evil itself but can initiate greed. Have you experienced this in your own life or seen it in action somewhere? Think about the topic of the lottery. What do you think happens to the winners? If you won, how would you protect yourself from greed?
  5. Wealth is said to be inconvenient. The idea is that the more we have, the more stress it causes. Does having more stuff make life more stressful? What might that say about the happiness of life in the United States versus life in a third-world country?
  6. Pope Francis recently released an encyclical on faith. What might he be trying to say about faith as it relates to the problem of wealth and greed? Do you think greed creates a tendency to rely on one’s self instead of God? Do you think the wealthy experience the temptation to view their riches as something they earned or something that was given to them?
  7. St. Augustine says, “The bellies of the poor make better storehouses than barns.”
    • What is he advocating?
    • As young adults, we don’t have much money, but we probably have a lot of stuff. What can we do to ensure we are building up treasure in heaven?
  8. It is said that at judgement, the poor who received gifts and blessings from someone will appeal to God on their benefactor’s behalf.
    • What role might this image help in teaching and preaching about being generous to the poor?
    • What role should an eternal perspective play in our efforts for evangelization?
  9. Is it possible to be wealthy and still build up treasure in heaven? How hard might it be?