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CNA's favorite books in 2019

Tue, 12/31/2019 - 12:15

Denver, Colo., Dec 31, 2019 / 10:15 am (CNA).- Here are a few of the best books we read in 2019, from some of the journalists at Catholic News Agency:

Hannah Brockhaus, Senior Rome Correspondent:

The Enchanted April,” by Elizabeth Von Arnim.

Four unacquainted English women, discontented with their very different lives, spend a month's holiday together in Italy. In the process, they find joy and come to love each other and themselves better. I enjoyed this novel for its subtle humor, lovely descriptions of place and internal thought, positive story, and overall charm.

Carl Bunderson, Managing Editor:

Real Presences” by George Steiner.

A refreshing look at language and art that presents their fundamental grounding in the transcendent, and encourages a return to 'the sources'.

Grace: Commentary on the Summa theologica of St. Thomas, Ia IIae, q. 109-14,” by Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.

A fascinating study of grace, and an inspiration to pray for the gift of perseverance and efficacious grace.

Middlemarch,” by George Eliot.

A detailed picture of 19th century life in an English village that gives a striking look at the need to discern marriage well, and the disaster of failing to do so; a cautionary tale. Slow to start, perhaps, but well worth continuing.

Ed Condon, DC Editor:

My Father Left Me Ireland,” by Michael Brendan Dougherty.

A deeply personal and thoughtful reflection on identity, nationality, and especially family and parenthood. It reads like a ground-view experience of the themes laid out by JPII in "Memory and Identity."

Christine Rousselle, DC Correspondent:

Do-It-Yourself Stitch People: 2nd Edition

After breaking my elbow in Lourdes, I needed a new hobby as my two main ones (Irish dancing and cooking) were unsafe or impossible during the recovery period, and cross-stitching filled this void quite nicely. I fell in love with crafting, and it was so nice to have a creative outlet once again. This book has simple--and adorable--patterns to create individualized portraits of people, pets, and more, and they're so fun to make.

A Testimonial to Grace," Cardinal Avery Dulles.

This book shook me to my core, and it was one of the best, and brutally honest, conversion stories I've ever read. I fell headfirst into Dulles' writing after this, and he was truly a remarkable man.

Kevin Jones, Senior Staff Writer:

I too would name “My Father Left Me Ireland.” Dougherty nails the difficulties of trying to embrace Irish culture and history as an Irish-American in the 90s when so many Irish themselves were running away from their past. and their American cousins were falling into superficial half-remembered fantasy.

Dougherty talks candidly about the struggles and misunderstandings of growing up with an absent father. The sacrifices of his parents are sometimes not clear until decades later.

Matt Hadro, Senior DC Correspondent:

The passion and death of Our Lord Jesus Christ,”  Archbishop Alban Goodier.

Best Lenten reading I’ve had.

Mary Farrow, features writer:

"Somehow I Manage" by Michael G. Scott. Unpublished working manuscript. Taught me how to manage an office.

Kidding!

My favorites were both classics and novels, so lots of people have probably read them, but:

"The Picture of Dorian Gray" by Oscar Wilde. A haunting look at what happens when we let sin rule our lives and pride get in the way of doing anything about it.

Also "Death Comes for the Archbishop" by Willa Cather. A historical fiction based on real priests/bishops including Colorado's Bishop Machebeuf about the grit and guts and sacrifice it took to found Catholicism in the west.

I would also put in a plug for "The Day the World Came to Town" by Jim DeFede.

DeFede, a journalist, documents what happened to Gander, Newfoundland and the surrounding small communities when 38 planes were rerouted there on 9/11 and passengers were stranded for a week while U.S. airspace remained closed. It's a testament to the goodness of people and a small-town community in dark times and a fascinating, lesser-known part of the story of 9/11.

Courtney Mares, Rome Correspondent:

Three to Get Married,” by not-so-soon-to-be-Blessed Fulton Sheen.

Peter Zelasko, social media manager:

"Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI" by David Grann.

I don't normally read true crime, but this was a fascinating look at the history of both the Osage Nation and the FBI during this strange time period. It's a stark reminder of how sin can corrupt and the struggle against evil is ongoing.

I'm also intrigued by "Theology of Home: Finding the Eternal in the Everyday" by Carrie Gress, Megan Schrieber, and Noelle Mering. "Haven't flipped through this new coffee table book, but I like the idea of finding and bringing joy into our homes and families. It's on my wife's Christmas list this year."

Michelle La Rosa, Deputy Editor-in-Chief:

The Remains of the Day,” by Kazuo Ishiguro.

This novel follows the reflections of a butler looking back over his career during the decline of the British aristocracy. The questions it raises about memory, duty, and loyalty in politics are remarkably pertinent today, 30 years after the novel was written.

The Moon is Down,” by John Steinbeck.

This short propaganda novel is among Steinbeck’s lesser-known works, but was influential to the resistance movements of World War II. Depicting the interaction between occupying forces and the citizens of an invaded territory, the book met with poor reception in the U.S., where it was viewed to portray Nazi-like characters as too human. But it resonated strongly with the experience of people in Nazi-occupied Europe, where tens of thousands of copies were clandestinely produced and distributed, despite it being banned.

Alejandro Bermudez, Executive Director, ACI Group:

Chris Arnade’s “Dignity” was the best thing I read this year. It was absolutely cathartic to me. Many years ago, on my way to Mount Rushmore during the Thanksgiving weekend, I stopped at a large gas station in middle-of-nowhere South Dakota. Inside, I saw a very large family of white and Indian members celebrating Thanksgiving with burgers and fries. The patriarch of the family led everyone in prayer before the humble feast started. It was very clear to me that this scene was both ignored by American elites and at the same time was essential to understanding American identity. This was the real America.

Arnade portrays that hidden country with contagious respect and sympathy. But most importantly, with no preaching, he brings home a hard truth: if this “second row” America is not integrated into the future of the country, something really, really bad will happen soon. And the elites will be responsible for it.

JD Flynn, editor-in-chief

Many of the books mentioned by others also stand out to me. But here are a few others I read and loved in 2019:

Novels:
The Sword of Honor Trilogy, by Evelyn Waugh.
"The Blood of the Lamb," by Peter De Vries.
"Wise Blood," by Flannery O'Connor.
"Back to Blood," by Tom Wolfe.

Non-fiction:
"Storyworthy," by Matthew Dicks.
"The Irony of Modern Catholic History," by George Weigel.
"Primal Screams," by Mary Eberstadt.
"John Henry Newman: A Biography," by Ian Ker.
 





 

 

 

Discerning in, and discerning out: What happens when seminarians leave?

Tue, 12/31/2019 - 09:15

Denver, Colo., Dec 31, 2019 / 07:15 am (CNA).- Catholic journalists know that discernment stories are popular because they give readers hope. And they often follow a pattern: They usually include a “God moment” in which the subject, through a dramatic circumstance, hears the word of God and finds with sparkling clarity the call to become a cleric or religious. They end with ordination or follow final vows.

Jacob Hubbard’s discernment story isn’t like that.

Hubbard had multiple “God moments,” and he entered seminary because of them. But in seminary Hubbard realized that ordination wasn’t his calling. In November 2018, he discerned out of seminary.

“By our baptism, we're all called to be priests, prophets, and kings,” Hubbard told CNA. “So although I won't be an ordained priest, I'll be living out my calling by being the priest of my family- the bridge between them and God, offering them Christ as much as I possibly can and relying on His Strength to do so.”

It could be easy to see Hubbard’s discernment out of seminary as a failure. In fact, many seminarians who discern out of seminary face a kind of stigma from their friends and family, and even from themselves.

But that stigma is based on a misunderstanding of seminary’s purpose, Hubbard told CNA.

As Hubbard said, “The stigma today is that when people see seminarians, they don't see them as discerning individuals, they see them as mini-priests.”

Seminary is a “house of discernment,” he said, “not a house of mini-priests,” adding that if a man leaves seminary, it’s often a positive sign of his ongoing vocational discernment.

Fr. Phillip Brown, President-Rector of St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore, agreed.

“As a seminary faculty and as a rector, when a seminarian discerns out, and we're satisfied that it was an authentic, good, discernment, we don't consider that a failure. We consider that a success,” Brown explained.

“What I say to the seminarians is that in the end, the objective here is not to become a priest, but to be what God has made you to be,” Fr. Brown said.

Discerning with openness to God’s call

According to Fr. James Wehner, rector of Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, only about 30% of men who originally enter seminary are ordained.

“It's not a failure,” Fr. Wehner said. “We think it's a very healthy process of discernment where he and the Church recognize that he's not called to priesthood.”

“But we want to give the guys an opportunity to discern and to form, and if they're not called, they will leave here stronger, healthier, Christian men because they were totally open to the formation experience, so it's a win-win situation.”

Even if a man leaves before ordination, Hubbard told CNA, “you can walk out a better man if you do seminary right. You could really figure out the areas you have believed lies your entire life. And then you can accept God's love there instead.”

The difficulties and the fruits of seminary life

There are many gifts that come with entering seminary, but they come alongside trials, Hubbard said.

When he entered Holy Trinity Seminary in Dallas, Hubbard found himself face-to-face with a slew of challenges.

A strict schedule and constant obligations kept him busy, even without the additional work a full-time student must face at the school next door, the University of Dallas.

“You need structure to build your life on, and that structure needs to include self-love, so doing things that you personally love, and then of course prayer where you receive love from God,” he said regarding structure.

The routine of seminary taught Hubbard that “it's impossible to earn God's love by your own measures. But the routine can open you up to being able to receive it more.”

Hubbard said he had long considered the priesthood, with encouragement from his family, and reflected on it while journaling about his prayer life while in high school, and through retreats and mission trips.

After several invitations to visitation weekends at HTS, he attended one, and after a “God moment,” he chose to apply to the seminary, entering as a sophomore in college.

Discerning out of seminary

During Hubbard’s time in seminary, he worked hard to be engaged in the community and to take the opportunities presented to him.

The summer before his senior year, his pastoral assignment was as a counselor at The Pines Catholic Camp, a summer camp in East Texas. There, Hubbard worked closely with other counselors to teach and take care of children at the camp.

Hubbard told CNA that he was struck by some of the beautiful and inspiring marriages he saw the camp directors have, and the happiness he saw that came from their relationships with their wives and children.

That summer he also participated in Trinity Cor, “a two-week backpacking journey to discover your heart,” Hubbard explained. “To really find your manly heart and discover your masculinity, and it was awesome.”

“Coming back from that, I was really feeling like I had more grasp at my heart, and really had the question of discernment lodged in me from The Pines because I saw beautiful relationships there. That experience of The Pines mixed with deepening the discovery of my heart through Trinity-Core began the questioning of my discernment,” Hubbard said.

He sought out counsel about his questions, and trusting his spiritual director to keep his best interests in mind, opened up to him about everything.

One of the biggest moments for Hubbard was when his spiritual director asked Hubbard to consider marriage.

His spiritual director asked Hubbard to imagine himself, in prayer, as a priest coming home from a good day of Confessions and Mass, and then to imagine, in prayer, being married and coming home to a wife and children.

“I felt so much more deeply my heart belonged with a family,” Hubbard explained. “There's no way to really articulate it, except that I just felt myself more present, more human there. Even just painting the picture almost brought me to tears.”

Hubbard left seminary in November of his senior year.

“And I have not regretted it since,” he said. “It's been a beautiful journey. Seminary was a necessary step, and so I know that God has just continued to lead me along a path which I hope one day, He will use to help heal those hurting around me. I want to still give of myself to those around me."

Does “discerning out” mean failure?

Although seminary was helpful for Hubbard in his discernment both for the priesthood and for the married life, he found that a lot of people misunderstood the reasons he had left, and some saw it as a failure on his part.

“I think that a lot of people have the misconception that when you step out of seminary it's a failure of sorts. Their reactions are, ‘Oh, I'm sorry,’ or things like that. The negative stigma of discerning out needs to be eradicated so that seminarians who are torn don't have that fear that when they leave, their friends, their families, their priests back home will be disappointed.”

“The stigma holds seminarians back from being able to healthily discern. I think that's something pretty unaddressed in today's world: the very healthy and good option of discerning out. People see it as something entirely negative, and they shouldn't,” Hubbard continued.

After explaining his decision to his friends, they understood and supported him, he told CNA, but the initial uncomfortable or negative feelings still felt like a stigma, or at least a misunderstanding, about what he considered to be a healthy discernment.

“And I experienced that a bit with some of my friends and family, but I also had overwhelming support, especially from my father, and so it was okay,” he said. “I definitely felt supported in my decision.”

Discerning into seminary at 18, his father told Hubbard that he “was proud of Hubbard no matter what.” At the time, Hubbard wondered why his dad didn’t seem more enthused about his entrance to seminary.

“But that consistency was something that was actually beautiful in the long run, and that's what I think parents should strive for when their kids enter seminary,” he told CNA.

“That's the exact same thing he said to me when I discerned out of seminary, and I knew that he supported me on either side and trusted my judgement, so it was incredible. It really was,” Hubbard said.

Hubbard’s father, Brad, told CNA that his first and foremost step is to pray for his children, and says that he wanted to make sure his son was happy with the formation he was receiving while in seminary.

“For me, it's just the importance of leaving the discernment to God. As a parent, I'm there to support and especially pray, and then God's will be done in regards to that.”

Hubbard’s Future

Last May, Hubbard graduated from the University of Dallas with a degree in philosophy, and he now plans to attend the Augustine Institute for a graduate degree in theology.

He believes he has had many blessings throughout his time in seminary and now working, and wants to have the opportunity to impact people through an occupation in ministry after he graduates.

Hubbard finds that despite the magnitude of the decision, he does not question his choice. He told CNA that his relationship with God has grown since his departure from seminary.

And in the pursuit of marriage, Hubbard has felt more confirmed in his choice.

“If everything else were to fall apart in my life, if I questioned every other piece of discernment, that is what I could hold onto and know for a fact that I made the right decision because I have so deeply encountered God's love incarnationally in a way that I could not have in seminary,” he said.

This article was originally published on CNA July 23, 2019.

High school founded by former NFL star aims to make virtuous students

Tue, 12/31/2019 - 05:00

Minneapolis, Minn., Dec 31, 2019 / 03:00 am (CNA).- Not everyone who goes to high school will go to college, the founders of a new Minnesota high school say, but everyone should be prepared for leadership, service, and virtuous lives.

Preparation for a good life, no matter what comes after graduation, is the goal of Unity High School, set to open this fall in Burnsville, Minnesota.

Matt Birk, a retired football player who played with the Minnesota Vikings and Baltimore Ravens, and Tom Bengtson, the owner of a small publishing company, are the founders of the school.

“At Unity, we are sure a lot of kids will go into college, some will go into the workforce, some will go into the military, some will discern religious vocations, and we think there is equal dignity in all of those things,” Birk told CNA.

“We are college prep but we are not only college prep. Not everybody is a candidate for college, people choose different paths and we believe that there is equal dignity in any of these paths. We are happy to prepare kids for post high school life regardless of what it looks like,” Bengtson added.

Birk has been involved with education programs in underprivileged communities since 2002, when he was playing professional football. As a father of eight, he said he knows that not all kids thrive in a competitive academic environment, noting that a “high-stakes” test-taking culture is not for everyone.

“If you look back at the genesis of the American education system, I think the original charter says the goal of education is to teach knowledge and develop character. As the U.S. keeps falling on the global list of test scores, we just keep focusing more and more on the testing,” he said.

“Character has been pushed out of mainstream education because it is all about the test now,” he added.

Birk said that because public school funding is tied to test scores, education models focus on test-taking skills, instead of adapting to the needs of each learner.

Birk added that while not every student will go on to college, every person can be formed for success.

“If we are only doing it to show how well we can take a test, what’s the point?” he asked.

“If you go to an Ivy League schools is that a guarantee to a great life? No, no it’s not. I would say the most important thing to me … is that they would have a firm foundation in their Catholic faith, that would be number one, and then, number two, I would say to be equipped with some skills to be able to help them with whatever path they choose.”

Birk added that digital technology has been detrimental to some areas of ingenuity - communication, teamwork, and social and emotional intelligence. As a result of increased technology and media influence, he said students are suffering more narcissism and depression, while developing less empathy and abilities to handle anxiety.

Unity aims to address these issues as it grows. The Fall 2019 semester was the inaugural semester for the school, which is located at Mary, Mother of the Church Parish in Burnsville. To start out, the school will only teach high school freshmen, but it plans to add a new grade each year, until the first incoming class graduate as seniors.

The school's leaders acknowledged that it is starting small, and said they hope to discuss recognition from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis down the road.

Unity will focus on practical opportunities for students to develop skills in academics, character, leadership, and service.

Birk said the school will “be vigorously Catholic,” including opportunities for students to engage with an instructor who can foster “interior life and their personal relationship with Jesus.”

The former NFL center's own faith is central to his life, he said. He is especially active in pro-life work. In 2013, after Birk's team won Super Bowl XLVII, he declined to attend a reception at the Obama White House.

“I have great respect for the office of the presidency, but about five or six weeks ago, our president made a comment in a speech and he said, 'God bless Planned Parenthood.' Planned Parenthood performs about 330,000 abortions a year. I am Catholic, I am active in the pro-life movement and I just felt like I couldn't deal with that. I couldn't endorse that in any way,” Birk said.

He said he hopes Unity High School will form students who are committed to faithful Catholicism.

“We really want the faith to be alive, to really be a part of the kids’ lives, not just taking a religion class,” said Birk.

Citing the cardinal virtues of prudence, temperance, justice, and fortitude, Birk said the Catholic faith has a great framework for building character. To foster character development, students will be involved with regular service projects, like monthly outings to nursing homes, where the teens can get to know the people they are serving.

A major component of the school will be its “Real World Wednesdays.” On those days, the students will take “life skills” classes and character development, including opportunities to listen to guest speakers and attend field trips and service projects.

The teens will learn entrepreneurship, leadership, interview techniques, resumes, and financial literacy skills. The students will also be exposed to trades, through courses and workshops in auto maintenance, metal or wood shop, or home economics.

The school will also partner with an organization called Pursuit Academy, which teaches ethical enterprise, encouraging students to become entrepreneurs, to plan and manage their future goals, and to be leaders in their communities. Among other things, the teens will learn about engaging with peer pressure, managing risk, and public speaking.

Birk said a focus of the “Real World Wednesdays” will be developing what he calls “the-other-people-matter” mindset.

By identifying the good in themselves and in other people, students will establish better relationships in the community and a better relationship with God, he said.

Developing leadership skills and character “might not necessarily help them get an A on a test or score higher on their SAT, but they are going to be equipped with skills that they can use in their lives, whether it is in the careers or their marriages or as parents or as communities members.”

“Let’s get them some of that stuff,” he added.

In light of the school’s emphasis on both academic and practical skills, Unity has chosen two patron saints: John Paul II and Mother Teresa of Calcutta. These saints are not only modern figures for students to model after but fantastic examples of the school’s goals, Bengtson said.

“John Paul II had all this rich philosophy of the dignity of the human person, which we will be teaching at Unity High School, including Theology of the Body,” Bengtson said.

“Then you got someone like Mother Teresa who took that theology and put it into practice - reached out to the poorest of the poor and saw dignity in folks who were in extremely dire circumstances.”

“In my mind, I seem them as both the hands and the heart at work together,” he added.  

Bengtson said the school is convenient financially and geographically. Tuition will be $6,500 for the first year, which is half or even a third of the prices at other Catholic schools, Bengtson said. He also said the school will fill a neighborhood need in the southern metro area of the Twin Cities.  

“It’s a large geographic area with 10 Catholic grade schools, through eighth grade, who collectively are graduating 300 students per year. Most of those students will go into public schools,” he said.

“About 75 students will stay in the Catholic school system and they have to travel quite a distance to Catholic high school.”

The lower price does mean there will be tradeoffs, Bengtson said, noting that the school will have to improvise for a gymnasium, science lab, and auditorium at first. However, the school will have a thoroughly Catholic culture, he said, with Mass three times a week and a holy hour once a week, which is not offered at all Catholic schools.

Birk expressed enthusiasm for the new venture.

“We are still very much like a typical school in a lot of ways, but we are tweaking the model. I don’t know where this goes, but hopefully it will show people that there is a better way to do it.”

 

This article was originally published on CNA May 11, 2019.

'Made for Mission': Student Leadership Summit kicks off in Phoenix

Mon, 12/30/2019 - 20:00

Phoenix, Ariz., Dec 30, 2019 / 06:00 pm (CNA).- Thousands of Catholics from across the nation are gathering in Phoenix, Arizona, this week for SLS20, the biennial Student Leadership Summit hosted by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS). 

The conference, which is being held under the theme “You Were Made For Mission,” opened on Dec. 30 at the Phoenix Convention Center, beginning with a Mass and keynote addresses from author and musician Emily Wilson, and Fr. Mike Schmitz. Fr. Schmitz is chaplain for the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota-Duluth and leads the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the Diocese of Duluth.  

Over the next four days some 9,000 Catholics will attend keynote talks and small-group sessions about missionary discipleship. There will also be daily opportunities for Mass, adoration and confession. 

Though SLS20 is organized by FOCUS, the four-day event is not exclusive to college students. It includes programming to help post-college attendees and even campus ministry professionals become better missionaries in their families, parishes, and workplaces. 

“Attending SLS two years ago served as a catalyst for how my husband and I view our role as missionary disciples - more specifically, how we enter into the mission field of parenting our children and in helping them develop a personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” said Marilee Nordhus, of Wichita, Kansas.

Marilee attended SLS18 in Chicago and is now in Phoenix for SLS20. 

“We are forever grateful to FOCUS as they simplified what I used to think was a daunting task,” she said. “Today’s young people need courageous adults who love Jesus and find strength in Him as we help change culture.”

Keynote speakers for SLS20 include Fr. Michael E. Gaitley, M.I.C., Sr. Miriam James Heidland, SOLT, Sr. Bethany Madonna, S.V., Fr. Agustino Torres, C.F.R., Helen Alvaré, Curtis Martin, Damon Owens, Dr. Jonathan Reyes and Dr. Edward Sri.

SLS20 takes place across the New Year holiday, and includes a New Year’s Eve party for attendees. Entertainment for that party, and throughout the event, includes artists like Ndolo, Jeremy Camp, and Matt Maher. 

All Masses and evening keynote addresses will be live-streamed on the FOCUSCatholic Facebook page.

After Columbine: How one survivor found faith, and a vocation

Mon, 12/30/2019 - 09:01

Denver, Colo., Dec 30, 2019 / 07:01 am (CNA).- Many years before she entered religious life, Sister Mary Gianna Thornby was an ordinary high school sophomore at Columbine High School in the suburbs of Denver.

Like many high schoolers, she occasionally struggled with her identity, had experienced some bullying in middle school, and ultimately just wanted to fit in. She wasn’t raised in a Christian home; at that time, God, faith – and certainly the Catholic Church – didn’t register on her radar.

“Growing up, I didn't really know if God existed or not, or that He had a plan,” Mary Gianna told CNA.

All that changed 20 years ago on April 20, 1999.

Mary Gianna had a habit, she said, of going to the library to study every single day during lunch period her freshman and sophomore years. During her sophomore year, she and a friend even changed their schedules so they would have two hours off during lunch to study together in the library.

That April morning, sitting in art class right before the lunch hour, Mary Gianna said she felt an overwhelming urge to leave school. She says she remembers thinking: “I'm going to go home, and no one's going to talk me out of leaving.”

Her friend was confused, and asked Mary Gianna why they weren't going to the library like they always did. She suggested they go and study for an upcoming test at a restaurant instead, so they walked out of the school and hopped into Mary Gianna's car, which her dad had only just bought her the week before.

As they were driving away, she looked in her rearview mirror and saw hundreds of her schoolmates running out of the school building.

With no idea what was going on, Mary and her friend simply continued on and arrived at a bagel shop. It was there that they heard what had happened.

On that morning, two students – 17 and 18 years old – began shooting people outside the high school, ultimately killing 13 and wounding more than 20 others before taking their own lives as well.

The violence perpetrated at Columbine would remain the most deadly shooting at a U.S. high school until February 2018, when 17 students died at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Florida.

Mary Gianna soon learned that most of the killings took place in the library – the place where, on any other day, she would have surely been during that exact time.

“And so I wondered: why wasn't I there?” she mused. “Every other day I was there, but that one day – what gave me that urge to leave?”

She remembers being told by someone: “God must have a plan for your life.”

“I realized God existed, and He had a plan, but at the time I didn't know who God was. And at the time, people were questioning how could God allow something like this to happen,” Mary Gianna said.

Every day, the next school year, she would walk by the spot where the library used to be – since so many of the killings took place there, it was demolished and eventually rebuilt in a different spot – wondering why she had been spared. At that time, she had the stirrings of faith, but still no clear answers.

She said she started drinking, going to parties, looking for other things to offer fulfillment – but she knew in her heart it wasn't where she was supposed to be. Her senior year, she said, she felt like she had finally reached “rock-bottom” and lost all hope.

“It was in those moments that I felt like I just couldn't go on in life that one of my friends invited me to the Catholic Church at St. Francis Cabrini in Littleton, Colorado,” she said.

Immediately upon walking in, she met a representative of Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio, who encouraged her to consider going there for college. She also met a youth minister named Kate.

“She started telling me about a God that passionately loved me,” Mary Gianna recalled.

Kate started taking her out for coffee and telling her about God's love – that He does have a plan, that Mary Gianna was made in his image and likeness. Growing up, she had no direction in life, Mary Gianna said, and God's love was that thing that she had been missing.

“Not only did God lead me out of Columbine that day – he was leading me home on that day. He was leading me to Himself,” Mary Gianna said.

“And I wanted to say ‘yes’ with all my heart to God's plan. I realized that He had a plan, and I wanted to say ‘yes’ to that plan."

She ended up enrolling at Franciscan University, even though at first her father had misgivings about the cost. Later on, however, it seemed his heart had been changed. Mary Gianna said her parents were very supportive of her faith and the direction her life took after her conversion.

She went through RCIA her freshman year at Franciscan, and at the Easter vigil Mass on March 30, 2002 at the age of 19, she was received into the Catholic Church.

Mary Gianna experienced the call to religious life in 2008, when she went to the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul, Minnesota and prayed that she would be able to enter into the Mass in a way she had never experienced before.

It was through Mass that she felt God's presence before her. She walked out of the chapel changed; all she wanted was religious life.

She chose a charismatic, Franciscan, contemplative, and missionary order called the Disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, which brought her to Prayer Town, Texas, northwest of Amarillo. She pronounced her final vows on August 4, 2018.

Twenty years on from the Columbine tragedy, Mary Gianna said she thinks more of her former classmates are finding the strength to talk about what happened that day. She said she keeps in touch with some of her classmates, teachers, and the former principal of the school, especially her friend who left the school with her that day. They've talked about the experience since.

“I often think of the greatest tragedy of Jesus being put to death on the cross, and how it led to our salvation, and that even in the midst of the tragedy at Columbine, God can bring good,” she reflected.

“That He would bring life out of death. And I think we've seen that in a lot of ways.”

She mentioned the widely-known story of Rachel Joy Scott, a passionately Christian teenager who was one of the first Columbine students killed during the massacre. Rachel reportedly told her teacher shortly before her death that she thought she was going to have a “major impact in the world,” and she always took care to reach out to the “new kid” in school and those who had been bullied or had no one to sit with at lunch.

Witnesses said the gunmen asked another student if she believed in God, and she answered yes. Then they shot her.

“I was amazed that: here was a girl from my high school who was so passionate about her faith that she was willing to say ‘yes’ and die for Christ,” Mary Gianna reflected.

“And I thought: what would I have said? I could have easily been there that day. I didn't have faith. But then I realized: God knew this is where I would be. That if she was able to say ‘yes’ and die for Christ, I can say ‘yes’ and live for him. And that's what truly inspired me to really say ‘yes,’ to live for Him.”

The religious sister says the Lord took her from a life of despair and hopelessness to a place of great joy for life, and a desire to share the “fullness of life” with others.

“I really feel like the sufferings I've had in this life; I think it's kept me close to the Lord. And I think it's the call to trust God, that He never allows a tragedy or a heartbreak to happen unless He can bring a greater good out of it,” she said.

 

This article was originally published on CNA April 17, 2019.

Arizona home helps women rebuild lives after prison

Mon, 12/30/2019 - 05:13

Phoenix, Ariz., Dec 30, 2019 / 03:13 am (CNA).- Women leaving prison can face numerous challenges – from finding housing and employment despite a criminal record to repairing relationships with family members and friends.

At one women’s home in Flagstaff, Arizona, former inmates receive help getting back on their feet. The home, run by Catholic Charities, has seen so much success in its first few years that it is now planning to expand.

Since it opened in 2016, the Juniper House has helped some 55 women re-enter society after leaving jail – with a sober environment, manageable rent, and the resources to get their lives on track.

The Juniper House began through a partnership developed between Catholic Charities and the local authorities.

Sandi Flores, Catholic Charities Community Services’ senior programs director for the northern offices, said the project works with the woman who have gone through Exodus, a sobriety program completed during incarceration.

“[It began with] some interest from the local sheriff department and jail folk, who were looking for an alternative for women who were exiting the substance abuse program that was offered at the jail. So we collaborated with them.”

Since women will exit the Exodus program at different times, the Juniper House staff consistently conducts interviews at the jail once a month. The house only holds eight women at a time, so there is a growing wait list.

Women going through the program will set goals, like focusing on jobs, completing their education, or reuniting with family members.

Flores said many of these women will face challenges that hinder these goals and their recovery. A criminal record may make it hard for the individuals to find work, and past friendships may push the women back into substance abuse.

The goal of the Juniper House, she said, is to minimize the stresses these women face as they exit incarceration, giving them the best possible shot at remaining substance-free, finding work, and moving forward with their lives.

Residents receive free rent for the first month, followed by discounted rent. This allows them to focus on sobriety and accessing resources, like school or searching for employment.

“It gives them a chance, when they first get out, to be in a sober living environment, focus on recovery, to work at getting a job, learning to budget their funds, build some social support and social connections that don’t involve alcohol or drugs,” said Flores.

Unlike many other halfway homes, Flores said, the Juniper House allows residents a significant amount of freedom. Women who live at the house can take behavioral medication and work late if necessary. They are not removed from the program if they relapse, but instead will be coached alongside a case manager to develop a recover plan. And they are able to move at their own pace, with some staying a house for a few months, and others for up to a year.

Flores said the one of the house’s most beautiful qualities is the accountability that develops among the women. While it can be difficult for people in general to give or receive feedback, she said, the women routinely warn each other about dangerous behavior or motivate each other to find better solutions.

“They empower each other, and they support each other, and they are quick to point out when they are seeing something that is starting to go wrong.”

“We don’t want them to feel accountable to us. That’s not our role. Our role is to provide an opportunity for them and the support and resources to help themselves to permanent stability. Holding them accountable to us is not the message, is not the mission. Letting them be accountable to each other is very strong and powerful.”

According to the Catholic Sun, 50% of the residents are expected to gain income within 30 days and 80% to gain income within 60 days. Four in ten are working to reunite with their children. Last year alone, the house served 25 women.

The Diocese of Phoenix now wants to use the Juniper House as a model for similar homes across the state of Arizona. A diocesan campaign that began two years ago has raised the funds to help the project expand to Maricopa County and Yavapai County, with $1 million going toward the expansion.

Flores expressed hope that the project will continue to grow, providing more women with the opportunity for rehabilitation.

At Catholic Charities, she said, “it is always our mission to serve our community’s most vulnerable. So we are always looking to see what is that vulnerable population that is not being served.”

 

This article was originally published on CNA March 31, 2019.

 

Cardinal Dolan: Antisemitic attacks ‘sickening’ and must be ‘condemned completely’

Sun, 12/29/2019 - 18:02

New York City, N.Y., Dec 29, 2019 / 04:02 pm (CNA).- On Sunday, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York condemned the recent spate of attacks against Jewish people in New York, following a stabbing that left five people injured during a Hanukkah celebration at a rabbi’s home on Saturday night.

“The news of last night’s attack at the home of a Jewish family in Monsey, New York, is the latest in a series of sickening acts of violence against our Jewish brothers and sisters,” Dolan said in a statement.  

“Such acts must be condemned completely and without reservation as totally contrary to everything that people of faith stand for,” he added.

More than 100 people were gathered at Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg’s home in the New York suburb of Monsey to celebrate the seventh night of Hanukkah when suspect Grafton Thomas, 38, reportedly broke into the home around 10 p.m. with a knife that looked "almost like a broomstick," a witness told CNN.

Of the five people wounded in the attack, two were critically injured. One of the victims is reportedly the rabbi’s son. According to the New York Times, one of the critically injured victims suffered a skull fracture.

The suspect was arrested shortly after midnight Sunday after his car was tracked to Harlem. He was charged with five counts of attempted murder and one count of first-degree burglary. Authorities reported that Thomas has no criminal history and is believed to have acted alone.

“An attack on any individual or group because of his or her religious beliefs is an attack on us all. This hatred has no place in our city, state, or nation, or anywhere else on our planet,” Dolan said in his statement.

“At my Sunday Mass this morning, I prayed in a special way in solidarity with the victims of these heinous acts of violence, and urge all people to come together in a spirit of unity to reject such hatred and bigotry wherever it occurs,” he said.

The Monsey stabbing is the latest in a series of antisemitic attacks throughout New York. According to CNN, at least one antisemitic attack has been reported every day this week. The incidents are being investigated as hate crimes. It also comes two weeks after two gunmen opened fire at a kosher market in Jersey City shot and killed four people on December 13.

The Monsey stabbing and other attacks have been widely condemned by community leaders and advocates for the Jewish community.

U.S. President Donald Trump urged Americans to "come together to fight, confront, and eradicate the evil scourge of antisemitism" after the stabbing, he said in a tweet on Sunday. "Melania and I wish the victims a quick and full recovery," he added.

On Sunday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo condemned the attack as an act of “domestic terrorism.”

"They're trying to inflict fear. They're motivated by hate. They are doing mass attacks," Cuomo said. "These are terrorists in our country perpetrating terrorism on other Americans, and that's how we should treat it and that's how I want the laws in this state to treat it."

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a statement that he was “saddened, disturbed, and outraged” by the “senseless” attack on Saturday.

“We are calling for increased protection for the Jewish community now and for those in positions of power and leadership to guarantee that the full force of the law is brought down on those who perpetrate these horrific crimes.”

How a Kansas humanities program shaped a generation of Catholic leaders 

Sun, 12/29/2019 - 17:23

Denver, Colo., Dec 29, 2019 / 03:23 pm (CNA).- Almost 50 years ago, the University of Kansas established a new humanities curriculum. It lasted only about 10 years. But those 10 years inspired conversions, priestly vocations, and so many Catholic initiatives that the program is still leaving its mark on the life of the Catholic Church.

In September, a memorial dedicated to the Pearson Integrated Humanities Program (IHP) was unveiled at KU’s Catholic student center, gathering alumni like Bishop James Conley of Lincoln and Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City.

“The professors saw that the modern students who came to the university might be very bright academically, but their memories and imaginations were so affected by the modern world. They were sort of bankrupt when it came to the imagination,” said Conley, who attributes his conversion to Catholicism to the experiences and friendships that came out of the program.

“They began by appealing to the heart and to the imagination, and the students just responded,” he added.

“They were able to introduce these great ideas that colored and flavored the imagination, and students fell in love with learning and fell in love with wanting to know more of truth, goodness, and beauty,” Conley told CNA.

The project was led by three Catholic professors: John Senior, Dennis Quinn, and Frank Nelick. While each brought something to the table, the most famous is Senior, a professor of classics who wrote a number of well-known books, including “The Death of Christian Culture.”

Senior was born in New York in 1923. As a child, he wanted to be a cowboy. When he was 13, he ran away from home to become a ranch hand. He worked in the Dakotas and in Wyoming, and he was shaped by his life on the plains - sitting around campfires, singing songs, and gazing at the stars.

When he attended Columbia University, he came under the influence of Mark Van Doren, a poet and an English teacher. Searching for meaning, Senior explored religions and philosophies, among them communism and eastern spirituality. He eventually discovered the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas and Blessed John Henry Newman.

Senior became Catholic in 1960.

Later that decade, he left a job at a college in Wyoming and began teaching at the University of Kansas.

Patrick Callahan, a classicist and the coordinator of a leadership and ethics program at Emporia State University, told CNA that Senior was known for his deep affection for poetry, sometimes even reciting bits of poems at random, and for his profound introspection.

Callahan also said the teacher had meaningful personal relationships with his students.

“He would work personally with students to help them get internships and apprenticeships in the manual arts as well. That is one way he would look for the dignity of the worker in all tasks, not just the intellectual life,” said Callahan, who ran a similar program on KU’s campus ministry during the 2010s.

The Integrated Humanities Program officially began in 1970, though a trial program began the year before. There were 20 students in the first year, and, by the second year, the program had 140 students.

The students of the IHP were given an education through classical literature, poetry, stargazing, and even waltzing lessons. Callahan said class lectures were complemented by experience, poetry memorization, and an effort to inspire within students an attitude of wonder.

He said Senior advocated for “poetic learning.”

“The idea of a way in which we can come to know the world in a poetic way through the imagination,” Callahan explained.

Kyle Washut, academic dean at Wyoming Catholic College, lamented a trend toward increasingly abstract specialization in academic research and teaching. He likened the situation to a professional astronomer who is unable to identify a single constellation in the sky.

Washut said Senior pushed for tangible experiences, adding context and texture to learning.

“The love of ‘the real’ is also really important for John Senior. There is a sort of moral formation from being rooted in the land, rooted in this real direct experience, either through that raw encounter with nature or through a vicarious, poetic experience,” he said.

“[A person] has to go out and experience that world, look at that world, know that world as [their] own and then … engage with more careful reflection on that world,” Washut added.

The IHP was a two-year program for students. Its inclusion of classic literature and poetry fulfilled several core curriculum requirements at the University of Kansas, making it attractive even to students who might not otherwise seek out such a program.

Students read epics of Homer and Virgil, the philosophy of Plato, Greek and Roman historians, and the Bible. They also read St. Augustine of Hippo, St. Thomas Aquinas, Chaucer, Don Quixote, and Shakespeare.

Twice weekly, students would listen to the three professors discuss the texts together. As part of their weekly class, students would also engage in discussions, and conduct poetry recitations. Students took an immersive Latin class, which was based on rhetoric, rather than a more systematic approach to the language.

IHP was also renowned for its extracurricular activities, and seemingly unconventional methods of education. Students were encouraged to attend stargazing sessions, ballroom dances, and medieval banquets. Before every lecture, an upperclassman would teach the students a song, usually an English ballad or American folk melody.

The program has inspired similar initiatives, including Wyoming Catholic College. In 2005, the college was founded by Bob Carlson, who was a graduate assistant for IHP and an undergraduate student for Senior when he taught in Wyoming. Washut said Carlson was inspired by Senior and sought to create a similar experience.

“That humanities course, like it was at Pearson, it was not any one discipline, but it was a combination of literature, history, and even some philosophy text, and occasionally some theology texts, but all read with the goal of encountering them and engaging them in much the way that students would have engaged them at the IHP,” he said.

“[It is] a raw encounter with the natural realities as a necessary foundation for further studies. So we have a field science, we have a backpacking trip, we have a horse riding class,” he said.

IHP inspired conversions and religious vocations. The founding monks of the Benedictine Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey in Oklahoma were students of the humanities program. After they graduated from KU, many students traveled abroad and discovered the Abbey of Our Lady of Fontgombault in France. Some of the travelers became monks in the order, and, in 1999, they returned home to establish a monastery in Oklahoma.

Coakley and Conley, who were roommates at KU, were spiritually inspired by the program.

Both bishops told CNA that they grew up with little interest in Christianity. Coakley was raised Catholic, but he said it was not until he entered the program that he appreciated his faith. Conley grew up going to Presbyterian church, but he said the program, especially the readings of Augustine and Newman, inspired him to convert to Catholicism during his junior year.

They described themselves as “70s kids,” who had long hair and listened to rock music. But they said that because of the IHP, they were captivated their freshman year by a world of beauty - full of literature, poems, music, and nature. It was the world of the IHP.

“It was an incredibly effective program, in terms of awakening a sense of wonder in students and a love for learning. In fact, the motto of the program was ‘Nascantur in admiratione’: ‘Let them be born in wonder,’” Coakley told CNA.

“The overarching theme was to immerse the students into the good, the true, and the beautiful, so that we might ask the big questions: ‘What is life all about?’ ‘What is death?’ ‘What is eternity?’ ‘What is evil?’ ‘What is good?’” Conley reflected.

“We students began to look deeper into those perennial questions. And for many, like myself, it led us to our faith and to the Catholic Church,” he added.

When asked about their favorite aspects of the program, both bishops said they enjoyed the literature, the poetry, and the adventures, but they especially appreciated the joy of a community unified by its pursuit of truth.

“This community was formed based on really deep study of those perennial truths as they were taught through literature, art, music, [and] architecture,” said Conley. 

“I was with others who were on the same journey searching for the truth. That combined experience really changed my life.”

On Sept. 1, a memorial ceremony was held at the St. Lawrence Catholic Center, adjacent to the University of Kansas. A barbecue was held the day before.

Mass was offered by Archbishop Coakley, and concelebrated by Bishop Conley and some of the Clear Creek monks. After Mass, participants processed to the memorial, which was completed last November.

Sculpted from Indiana limestone, the memorial commemorates the founders, and depicts a scene from “Don Quixote,” - the famous battle with a windmill.

 

This article was originally published on CNA Sept. 1, 2019.

 

Joliet Bishop Conlon announces medical leave of absence

Sat, 12/28/2019 - 11:20

Joliet, Ill., Dec 28, 2019 / 09:20 am (CNA).- The Diocese of Joliet announced Friday that Bishop Daniel Conlon will take a medical leave of absence from leadership of the Illinois diocese.

During Conlon’s absence, “Bishop Richard E. Pates, Bishop Emeritus of Des Moines, will serve as Apostolic Administrator of the diocese,” the diocese said in a Dec. 27 statement. “Bishop Conlon expresses his deep affection for the clergy, religious and laity of the Diocese of Joliet and will keep them in his prayers during his time away. He also asks for their prayers,” the statement added.

The diocese did not say what health problems Conlon is facing.

Conlon, 71, has been Joliet’s bishop since 2011. From 2002 until 2011 he was Bishop of Steubenville, and before that a priest in the Archdiocese of Steubenville.

The Joliet diocese, which is home to 618,855 Catholics, will be led by retired Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, during Conlon’s absence.

“I applaud Bishop R. Daniel Conlon for undertaking a program to address his health concerns. He is a good bishop and will benefit from his time away,” Pates said in a statement.

“As I begin services as Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Joliet, I welcome the opportunity to journey with the priests, deacons, religious and laity of this local Church. The diocesan community enjoys an outstanding reputation and I feel privileged to participate in your life.”

“We, the Catholic Church, dedicate ourselves anew to the lifegiving message of Jesus Christ as we embrace a new year and a new decade. May we humbly experience ‘the Joy of the Gospel’ in the spirit of our beloved Holy Father, Pope Francis,” Pates added.

The announcement comes two weeks after Bishop James Conley of Lincoln announced that he would be taking a medical leave of absence, explaining that he had been “medically diagnosed with depression and anxiety, along with chronic insomnia and debilitating tinnitus, which is a constant ringing of the ears.”

The Joliet diocese gave no indication when Conlon is expected to return.

 

Why Blessed is She's founder says she's blessed

Sat, 12/28/2019 - 09:00

Denver, Colo., Dec 28, 2019 / 07:00 am (CNA).- Jenna Guizar grew up without any sisters.

But these days, Guizar relishes having a "sisterhood" of digital and physical communities of Catholic women around the world.

Guizar presides over a growing international women’s ministry, Blessed is She, which marked its fifth year in September. The ministry began as a web-based devotional for Catholic women based on the day’s Mass readings.

“I loved what some of the Protestant women’s ministries were doing with Scripture study, inviting women to spend time daily in the Word. I wanted that for Catholic women, too,” Guizar, 35 and the mother of four daughters, explained.

“I saw an opening for this kind of content for women, and a hunger in the Church. I was hungry for it, too, and I didn’t see it happening in the Church, but I never thought of going elsewhere, I wanted to be fed in the Catholic Church.”

Now Guizar, along with a small staff and a national team of writers, whose contributions are vetted by theological editors, is feeding more than 60,000 women around the world with a daily email that delivers reflections on the Mass readings, along with a link to the readings themselves on the USCCB website.

On social media, tens of thousands follow along in regional Facebook groups, forming virtual communities that have morphed into hundreds of physical communities around the world.

On Blessed is She’s Instagram account, which has more than 100,000 followers, retreat director Beth Davis hosts a popular segment called ‘Teachable Tuesday,’ where she gives instruction on different Catholic methods of prayer, wisdom from the lives of the saints, and deeper dives into Scripture.

Participants pop on at the beginning of the segment and announce their geographical locations: Ireland, Australia, Tanzania, Mexico, and the United States.

“Basically my whole adult life has been spent working for the Church,” says Davis, “but I’ve never experienced what we experience with these women every day, on retreats, on Instagram, in regional groups.”

“There’s almost too much to choose from,” she said, when asked for stories about her experience. “[We have] stories of women coming home to the Church, of becoming Catholic, of encountering Jesus for the first time in spite of years of knowing Him on an intellectual level.”

“What makes Blessed is She different is that it’s not about one person, there is no cult of personality. It’s all focused on Christ,” Davis explained, and Guizar agreed, when asked what she thought was driving the ministry’s growth.

“We’re just here walking alongside the women we serve, as women who are experiencing deeper conversion in their own lives,” added Guizar, explaining that she doesn’t see herself as doing anything extraordinary, apart from being available and willing to answer a need to which she herself felt drawn.

“My own personal, daily conversions happen in large part because of Blessed is She. I feel a great responsibility and honor to be given this ministry by the Lord. I feel a great responsibility to draw closer and closer to Him so that I can be the leader and woman He wants me to be,” Guizar said.

Guizar recalls one of the first times she realized Blessed is She might become something bigger than she’d envisioned:

“It was getting close to Advent during our first year, and I thought I’d like to make a little prayer journal and offer it to our subscribers. I had no idea whether it would sell, I just created it in a computer program and self-printed them. But we ended up with more than 800 presales. That’s probably the first time I started to realize this was going to be a lot bigger than me.”

Both Guizar and Davis said that working for the ministry has deepened their spiritual lives.

“I get to come to work every day with someone who prays with me, asks me about my prayer life, who really lives an example of personal holiness,” said Guizar of Davis, “it’s so good for me.”

She continued, “My spiritual life has changed dramatically through the discipline of prayer. I feel drawn to live a life of integrity. If I'm asking a woman to do something in her life, I better be doing it as well... like I have to be living this out in order to talk about it.”

Guizar recounts growing up in a dynamic youth group in the Diocese of Phoenix: “After youth group there was nothing to fill that void of community in my life as an adult. We had good friends and we had a good parish, but we didn’t feel like we were growing in our faith, and we didn’t feel like our relationships were really rooted in Christ.”

“I needed this community for my own conversion,” Guizar said.

She recalls feeling a growing sense of isolation as a young mother, struggling to find her place in the Church.

“I wasn’t homeschooling my kids or doing liturgical crafts. I was fascinated by that experience when I read about it, but it wasn’t my life. I felt like I had more questions than answers. I didn’t have any wisdom or experience to offer.”

That’s when Guizar conceived of a daily Bible devotional modeled after some of the Protestant women’s ministries she admired. “I knew of all these Catholic bloggers, women with a deeper knowledge of Scripture and with more formation than me, so I reached out and invited them to contribute.”

That was back in the fall of 2014. The first Blessed is She devotion went out on September 1, 2014. By the end of the year, more than 200 women had signed up to receive the emails. By 2015, that number had increased to more than 2,000 women. And by early 2019, that number had risen to more than 60,000.

Fifty percent of Blessed is She participants are millennials - or younger - falling between the ages of 18 and 35. Women between 36 and 65 make up another 35% of the demographic.

Blessed is She brunches and retreats now make up a significant portion of the ministry’s focus, with more than 400 member-hosted brunches logged in 2018. So far in 2019, more than 500 women have attended a Blessed is She retreat somewhere in the US or abroad. Still to come this calendar year: retreats in Nashville, Texas, and Ireland.

If you ask for stories of how Blessed is She is impacting women’s lives, the answers come back to a common theme: community.

Oliva Spears, a Blessed is She writer who manages the site’s blog content recounts “dozens of messages” from women who are coming back to the Church through their involvement with Blessed is She:

“Faithful Catholic women who are lacking community in real life and who’ve felt like they’re the only Catholic left on the planet” are finding out they’re not alone, and being encouraged by other women who are following Christ.

Nell O’Leary, Blessed is She’s managing editor, remarks on the community built in the regional Facebook groups that becomes “real, in-the-flesh friendship.”

O’Leary said, “One older woman had prayed specifically for a young mom who was moving to her city to find the perfect house. When those two met at my Blessed Conversations group, they embraced like old friends. The bonds of sisterhood transcended age, location, and even the internet."

Bonnie Engstrom, another contributing writer, told the story of re-watching an old ‘Teachable Tuesday’ recording on Instagram with her small group in her parish:

“Beth talked about how God’s not finished until He is finished. She specifically said that to older moms whose children have left the Church and there were so many grandmas present who felt so reassured by that. These are women who are in church every day, praying for their children. They felt heard by God through Beth’s words.”

Guizar touched on the theme of community repeatedly in an interview with CNA, emphasizing its significance to the heart of the ministry.

“I want women to know that the Lord loves them right where they’re at, and that He wants to bring restoration and healing, that He will bring it.”

When asked about how her four young children fit into the mission, Guizar acknowledged the tension between being open to life and leading an international ministry.

“Mike [my husband] is great about it, he is always saying, ‘If the Lord wants it right now, it’s going to happen.’ We don’t shy away from having more kids, because we want more kids to know the Lord, to live as missionaries in a secular culture.”

Guizar says she doesn’t have a plan for Blessed is She, but is just trying to be faithful.

“The Lord gave me Blessed is She to save my soul every day,” she said. “I really believe it was as much for me as for the women who we serve.”

“I have no idea where Blessed is She will be in five years. I had dreams at the beginning that I think have evolved now, into an acknowledgement that even if I had a plan, He would surprise me anyway. So I'm just along for the ride.”

 

 

Jenny Uebbing is a periodic freelance contributor to Blessed is She.

This article was originally published on CNA April 22, 2019.

Can tattoos be sacramentals? 

Fri, 12/27/2019 - 17:30

Denver, Colo., Dec 27, 2019 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- When the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to the English Carmelite, St. Simon Stock, she carried the Carmelite scapular in her hand and told him: “This shall be the privilege for you and for all the Carmelites, that anyone dying in this garment shall be saved.”

Some 300 years later, by the 16th century, a smaller version of the Carmelite scapular, known today as the Brown Scapular, was made available to lay Catholics who underwent a small ceremony and blessing that enrolled them as a member of the Brown Scapular Confraternity.

The scapular, carrying the powerful promise of escaping hell, remains a popular devotion today.

But scapulars can be awkward under certain types of clothes or simply easy to forget in the morning. So, could a well-intentioned Catholic already enrolled in the Brown Scapular Confraternity get a tattoo of the image of the scapular on their skin and receive those same graces and promises?

CNA asked; theologians and priests answered.

The short answer is: no. But, you might not want to write off tattoos completely. There is a bit more to it than that.

“It seems the answer is quite simply, no,” Dr. Mikail Whitfield, a professor of theology at Benedictine College in Atchinson, Kansas, told CNA.

The reasons for this have to do with the way the Catholic Church defines sacramentals, and the nature of tattoos, he added.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, sacramentals are “sacred signs which bear a resemblance to the sacraments. They signify effects, particularly of a spiritual nature, which are obtained through the intercession of the Church. By them men are disposed to receive the chief effect of the sacraments, and various occasions in life are rendered holy.”

The Catechism adds that sacramentals “do not confer the grace of the Holy Spirit in the way that the sacraments do, but by the Church's prayer, they prepare us to receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it.”

Sacramentals are not just objects, such as brown scapulars or Miraculous Medals, but the Catechism notes that blessings, of people, objects, meals and places, are primary among the sacramentals.

The Miraculous Medal is a sacramental inspired by the Marian apparition to St. Catherine Laboure in Paris in 1830. On one side it features an image of Mary, and on the other, a cross with an “M” underneath it, surrounded by 12 stars and the images of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Canon law defines sacramentals as “sacred signs by which effects, especially spiritual effects, are signified in some imitation of the sacraments and are obtained through the intercession of the Church” (Can 1166).

“Thus, for something to be a sacramental it needs to be a common object (or act) which can act as a sacred sign, which carries some imitation of the sacraments and is set aside by the Church as a means to seek grace,” Whitfield said.

The scapular, in its smaller form used by laypeople, imitates the full-length scapulars worn by members of religious orders, is a piece of wool clothing which is a common object, and imitates the vestments worn at baptism and by priests, Whitfield said.

Tattoos, on the other hand, lack many of these elements.

“While a tattoo is a thing, it is hard to consider it an object. It is more properly an image, though admittedly images can be sacred. Furthermore, it is certainly not a ‘common object’ of daily life by which we can be reminded that all the things we do in this life, even the simplest things like wearing clothing, are supposed to be ordered towards our heavenly end,” Whitfield said.

Furthermore, he added, tattoos do not seem to imitate any other sacramental aspects of the Church, and they have not been set aside by the Church as sacramentals themselves.

In fact, the Catholic Church has not made any definitive statements on the morality, or lack thereof, of getting tattoos, and so answers to questions about tattoos vary widely among theologians and priests.

“I don’t think we can talk about tattoos as something good,” said Fr. Luis Granados, D.C.J.M, who serves as the J. Francis Cardinal Stafford Chair of Moral Theology at St. John Vianney theological seminary in Denver.

“They are not ‘intrinsically evil’ but they are wrong ways of treating our body,” he said, even if a tattoo is religious in its image or messaging. 

“The problem of a tattoo is...we are misunderstanding the meaning of the body,” he said. “Our body is called to be accepted as a gift from God. We can heal what is sick, but we are called to accept our body, with its characteristics.”

Adornments of the body, such as makeup or nail polish, are different because they are not permanent changes to one’s body, Granados said.

“I think the question to understand why a tattoo is wrong, is: Why do I want to get a tattoo? Why do I want to spend this money and to some extent risk my health? My body has been wonderfully created by God (Psalm 139) and it does not need my additional words. It already speaks,” he said.

However, in some parts of the world, there are deeply rooted traditions of Christian tattoos. Some Coptic Christian churches require that Christians must have a tattoo of a cross on their arm in order to be admitted into their churches.

One Coptic Christian family has been tattooing pilgrims to the Holy Land with crosses and other religious symbols as a token of their visit for more than 700 years.

Seeing a priest or a religious sister or brother with tattoos may become a more common occurrence as well, because according to a 2015 Harris Poll, a whopping 47% of millennials reported that they have at least one tattoo.

Br. MJ Groark O.F.M. Cap., is one of those millennials, and is “heavily tattooed.”

“As a millennial (and soon to be priest), I can tell you that my tattoos have been generally met with overwhelming generosity. I have a heck of a conversion story, and these are part of it,” he told CNA.

“I can tell you that God is calling many men and women from this generation into ministry, and a whole bunch of us have tattoos. It's part of our generation's way of expressing our lives, and increasingly, our spiritual beliefs,” he said.

Groark said that considering what he learned in his moral theology training, he thinks the morality of a tattoo lies in its meaning.

“...the human person is created imago Dei (in the image of God). We are indeed temples of the Holy Spirit. And like the temples of old, and the temples we continue to worship at, we are somehow lured by the Catholic imagination to decorate and to magnify the beauty of our spaces,” he said.

“As long as a tattoo points towards the true, the good, and the beautiful, I'm okay with it. If it does not, then there would be a question of the morality.” 

Father Ambrose Dobrozsi is another tattooed millennial priest in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, Ohio. Dobrozsi told CNA that he did not think tattoos could not be considered sacramentals in the strict, proper sense of the word.

“Sacramentals, used well, keep us close to the grace of Christ given to us in the seven sacraments, and receive their graces by the authority that Christ gives his bride, the Church, when she asks for his help. When the Church asks Christ for graces, He never refuses his bride,” he said.

“This means that sacramentals only work when they are done according to the rules of the Church. If we want to ask Christ for these graces, we need to make sure we do so authentically as the Church, obediently accepting the rules she sets down. It's clear in Canon Law that the Apostolic See alone has the authority to establish sacramentals and define the criteria for their use [c. 1167],” Dobrozsi said. 

However, he added, it is possible that tattoos could be “sacramentals” in a broader sense of the word.

“A permanent image, engraved on the skin, could certainly serve as a constant, physical reminder of our new life in Christ. The image of a rosary, a cross, or other sacramental on our skin could lead us frequently to pray, to desire the seven sacraments more, and to think and act in communion with the Church,” he said.

“So, while a tattoo could not fulfill the requirements to be a proper sacramental in itself, if used in discernment and good faith it could certainly provide similar benefits and be helpful in the pursuit of holiness.”

Whitfield said that another reason that a tattoo would not be a proper scapular is because “an image is not the thing it images.”

“A picture of Michelangelo’s Pietà is not the same as seeing it in person. And standing in front of his sculpture pales in comparison to those who stood at the cross and saw Mary in person holding Christ’s lifeless body in her arms. The thing is always greater than the image. So, not only is a tattoo of the scapular not the scapular, but there’s some question of why it would be preferable; its an image of the thing, not the thing itself,” he said.

The Church already provides Catholics with an alternative to the traditional, woolen brown scapular through the wearing of a scapular medal, which was approved by the Church as a substitute for the scapular in 1910.

“Why? In certain tropical and subtropical areas of the world the use of a scapular had been identified as impractical. High levels of sweat would cause scapulars to break down and deteriorate at such a rate that they were hard to maintain,” Whitfield said.

Is it possible, then that the Catholic Church could extend through its authority the same graces and promises of the scapular to a tattoo of the scapular?

“Aside from the fact that as we’ve seen, tattoos do not seem to be of the nature to appropriately be a sacramental, I have a hard time seeing a practical purpose why such an extension should or would be made,” he said.

Part of the appeal of a scapular tattoo, as previously mentioned, is its permanence - someone with a scapular tattoo would not have to remember to put their scapular back on every morning when they got dressed.

But that remembrance is important, Whitfield said, and a one-time commitment “is not how the Christian life is lived.”

“Each and every day we recommit to the God whom we love. Even those who take permanent vows must choose to live them out each day. It is a daily struggle, and choosing to affirm that wearing the scapular is as important to me today as it was yesterday is part of the very commitment that one makes in putting it on,” he said.

Ultimately, Whitfield said, because God is all-powerful, he could decide to extend the graces of the scapular to someone with a scapular tattoo, but he is not bound to do so, as they are not the same as the sacraments of the Church.

“Sacramentals are reminders and holy practices which dispose us to grace, and through them we believe that God gives further graces by the will of his divine mercy,” Whitfield said.

“(God) has not bound himself to giving graces through sacramentals in the same way he has in the sacraments. So, might he be able to will to give the same graces to someone with a tattoo as someone who wears the scapular? He certainly could, but having the tattoo doesn’t mean he will.”

 

This article was originally published on CNA Aug. 29, 2019.

Strong online boundaries make for the happiest relationships, study finds

Fri, 12/27/2019 - 04:55

Washington D.C., Dec 27, 2019 / 02:55 am (CNA).- Cutting ties with old flames, before the internet, used to be easy.

After a break-up, people could easily lose touch with their ex, who could move or change phone numbers. Tracking them down, sans Google or social media, was at least somewhat difficult.

Today, that has changed. An ex may be far from one’s mind, until a photo of their wedding, or baby, or recent vacation pops up in a social media feed.

That could spell trouble for current relationships, according to a recent report on relationship happiness and online behaviors.

In a survey that included 2,000 married, cohabiting and single people spanning multiple generations in the United States, as well as data from the General Social Survey, researchers found that couples who flirted with online boundaries and relationships were less happy than those who kept strong online boundaries.

The analysis of the survey, entitled “iFidelity: The State of Our Unions 2019,” was a research project from the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia and the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University.

“Those currently married or cohabiting who blur those boundaries are significantly less happy, less committed, and more likely to break up while, conversely, those taking a more careful stance online are happier, more committed, and less likely to separate,” the study states.

“For example, those who did not follow a former girlfriend/boyfriend online had a 62% likelihood of reporting that they were ‘very happy’ in their cohabiting or marital relationship. Only 46% of those who did follow an old flame online reported being very happy.”

The survey asked about nine online behaviors, and whether or not participants considered them to be “unfaithful” or “cheating.”

According to the survey, most Americans (70% or more) rated six behaviors as cheating or unfaithful, including “having a secret emotional relationship or sexting with someone other than a partner/spouse without the partner’s/spouse’s knowledge and consent.”

Three behaviors were the exception - most Americans did not find flirting with someone in real life, following a former love interest online, and consuming pornography to be cheating or unfaithful behaviors.

The results also varied by age. Millennials were the most likely group to have permissive attitudes about online behaviors, and were also the most likely group to admit engaging in online behaviors ranked as “unfaithful” or “cheating.”

W. Brad Wilcox, editor of the survey and director of the National Marriage Project, told CNA that he thought there were at least three possible reasons for this discrepancy.

“Millennials have been shaped by the rise of the internet more than other generations so that has conditioned them to be more open to these kinds of boundary-crossing behaviors on the internet,” he said.

“Another possibility is that they’re just younger and that’s the story here, and as they age and mature they will be more prudent about how they approach the internet. The third possibility here is that they’re more likely to be cohabiting couples than married, and we’ve also seen the data that cohabiting couples are more likely to cross these emotional and sexual boundaries online compared to married couples,” he added.

One of the most surprising and concerning finds of the study for Wilcox was that there was a noticeable decline - an 8 point percentage over a 20 year span - of people who said it was “always wrong” to have sex with someone who is not one’s spouse.

“This is a worrisome development because we know that support for sexual fidelity in principle and also living the virtue of fidelity in practice are both linked to higher quality and more stable marriages,” he said.

Jeffrey P. Dew, an associate editor of the study and an associate professor in the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University, told CNA that one of the findings of the survey that surprised him was that the rate of unfaithfulness in marriage has remained stable over the past few decades, despite increasingly permissive attitudes about marriage and sexuality.

“In terms of the percent of ever-married people who admit to having an affair, that’s been stable at about 15% for two or three decades now,” Dew said.

“That surprises me. Certainly as a society we’re much more permissive and tolerant of people’s lifestyle choices, and yet we still find, when it comes to their own behavior, the vast majority would just as soon make sure that their own relationship is exclusive.”

Part of the problem of unfaithful online behaviors is that they can be based on a false perception that greater happiness lies elsewhere, Dew said.

“I think even just following an old boyfriend or girlfriend can be problematic because you compare what you think you see online to your own real life, lived experience with your current partner,” he said.

“Of course we know that Instagram and Facebook and all those other social media sites - everyone portrays life as this golden, glowing, happy thing, so of course following an old flame online might cause your own current relationship to sour somewhat,” he said.

Wilcox said the way people perceive their online lives as being somehow different or separate from their real lives could also be a factor in permissive attitudes toward online infidelity.

“Most of us are probably more considerate and thoughtful about how we treat others in person than when we are interacting with them online, in terms of a disagreement for example,” he said. “I think that same spirit of kind of greater orientation towards risk or being less careful also applies to this domain of our online lives.”

Jackie Francious-Angel and her husband, Bobby, are Catholic speakers on the topic of relationships and marriage, and are the authors of “Forever: A Catholic Devotional for Your Marriage.”

Jackie told CNA that she agrees that online infidelities might be easier to slip into, because people are less careful with what they say online than with what they would say in real life.

“With messaging and texting...you say things there you would never say face to face, because it’s so easy,” she said.

“Words carry weight and meaning,” Bobby added. “We could think, ‘well I didn’t do anything, nothing actually happened.’ We equate cheating with physical activity. But...our words and what we’re doing digitally has just as much an impact on our relationships as physical activity does.”

Jackie said that a good rule of thumb for couples to consider is whether or not they would be ok with their spouse reading their text messages or social media messages.

“I would say any time there’s a secret outside of your marriage with somebody else, that’s a bad sign,” she said. “We should be able to be open books with our spouses. They should be able to open up our Facebooks, Twitter, Instagram, and we would be absolutely ok with anything our spouse sees. It’s a bad sign if we’re hiding something.”

Bobby told CNA that the internet and social media have placed young adults in a “weird era” where they have to reconsider what appropriate boundaries are in light of their online lives.

“So much of this stuff lives on online, where it used to be over and done, and I didn’t have to (see an ex),” he said. “But now it’s like look, here’s a picture.”

Jackie and Bobby said that when it comes to following old flames online, they believe spouses should discuss with each other what their boundaries are. If a former relationship was casual and mutually fizzled out, that might be ok, they said, but if it was emotionally intense, that might be a different consideration.

“We have friends who even on text messages, they’ll add me and Bobby both on a thread just to be above reproach,” Jackie said. “There’s not a lot of need to text people of the opposite sex” in a marriage, she added.

Bobby also noted that despite the attitudes reported in the survey, he still considers pornography to be cheating.

“(Pornography) hijacks our God-given ability to love and to long for beauty and just twists that so it’s a selfish, destructive force,” Bobby said.

“The reality is if I vow myself to look at and be faithful to one and only one woman, emotionally and physically, my whole sexuality, my intimacy - and then go out and seek out pictures and videos of other people - it’s absolutely cheating,” he said.

“It’s cheating yourself as well as your relationship. It’s a ripple effect. It doesn’t make (people) happier, it takes a toll on their family...because you’re just in this angry, dejected state. I think if you look at it from the world’s perspective of cheating, did you go out and have an affair? Well no. But I would say you’re cheating your relationship.”

Ultimately, Jackie and Bobby said good relationships need transparency, good boundaries and the self-knowledge necessary to avoid situations that could lead to infidelity, online or in real life.

“Nobody sits down and is like, ‘This year I’m going to cheat on my spouse,’” Bobby said.

“It’s this expression over and over again of ‘it just happened’...[but] there were nine boundaries crossed into this place of ‘it just happened.’ And we’re often not aware of these thresholds until it’s too late.”

 

This article was originally published on CNA Aug. 7, 2019.

St. Augustine and a patient husband led this long-searching Christian to Catholicism

Thu, 12/26/2019 - 17:01

Denver, Colo., Dec 26, 2019 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- For Colorado native Juliana Pybus, faith has always been a central part of her life.

She was raised as a member of the Churches of Christ, an ecclesial community that is democratic, lacking a central authority, and leans heavily on the idea of sola scriptura - “if it's in the Bible you do it, and if it's not, you don't do it,” Pybus told CNA.

It was the church of her mother’s side of the family. Her grandfather was a heavily involved elder, a song leader, and a founder of one of the communities. Pybus’ mother had been going to the church since birth; her father, a lapsed Catholic, joined the Church of Christ upon marriage.

But despite her family’s strong ties, Juliana struggled to feel a connection to the small community. She joined a youth group in 6th grade, but there were only 10 kids, and she was the only girl her age.

“I was born in a year where it was just mostly guys. And at that age, you're not really going to interact with them,” Juliana recalled. “So I just never connected. I never really got involved there.”

In high school, Juliana started making friends with a lot of people who were involved in the St. Frances Cabrini youth group, a large group at a Catholic parish with involved priests and seminarians. Juliana said she was drawn to the enthusiasm and friendship of the leaders and members, the beauty and reverence of the Mass, and the intellectual arguments related to the Christian faith.

“(The seminarian leaders) weren't pushy about it, but they just were really good at talking about apologetics and what they believed and why they believed it. It was the first time that I think I had an intellectual explanation of anything faith-related. It was very logical in itself.”

At the time, Juliana’s parents did not voice strong objections to her involvement in the Catholic youth group.

“I remember the first time [my mother] dropped me off, she said something to the effect of, ‘just always think about what the Bible says.’ But [the youth group] had very biblical answers for all my questions,” she said. “She didn't say much about it, but we never talked a whole lot about...faith and deep things.”

For the most part, Juliana’s parents were happy about her involvement in the group.

“[My dad] was happy that I went, and I think that was my mom’s take too, was at least I had friends, I was going to youth group and I'm not doing other things I could be doing in high school. Like lesser of two evils kind of thing,” she said.

By the end of her senior year, Juliana was poised to convert to Catholicism - she said she was especially convinced after reading the bread of life discourse in the Gospel of John. A friend from the group had offered to be her confirmation sponsor, and she started talking with her family about it.

It did not go over well.

“When I told my mom, it was just a mess,” she said. “She was not happy about it. I don't know if mad is the right word...upset and confused, and probably had seen it coming, but didn't know what to do with it.”

Juliana said she also couldn’t bear the thought of telling her grandfather that she was leaving the community he loved.

“I couldn't get the courage to tell my grandpa. I just couldn’t do it,” she said. “He was a huge figure in my life. I looked up to him, really respected him, I did not want to do anything to disappoint him.”

Juliana went off to Abilene Christian University, her mother's alma mater, and doubts about her Catholic convictions continued to creep in. She tried to remain involved in Catholicism, but there were few Catholics in the area. She found an adoration chapel and joined RCIA, but she lacked the strong community she had in Denver.

“I started to wonder, well, maybe it was a social thing. Maybe it's not the right time. This is really creating a rift between me and my family, I don't like that. Maybe I was just rebelling, I don’t know. So I put it on pause. I felt like that was the best thing to do,” she said.

As school went on, Juliana studied philosophers such as Nietzsche and Marx who prompted her to question her faith even more. She also started spending time with a group of friends who were not very religious.

“I decided that the most responsible thing I could do, if I was ever going to believe anything, was to start from scratch as much as I could, just say I don't believe anything and see where I go,” she said. “This sounds weird in retrospect, but at the time I didn't know what else to do.”

She stopped going to church - kind of. “Sometimes I would go out of guilt,” she said.

But she couldn’t stay convinced that there was no God for long.

“I was like, ‘I think there must be something, and I don't know what, and maybe no one ever will, but it's not just us.’ I remember I was going home at night and I looked up … I just couldn't explain any of it - nature or how we work biologically. I just couldn't explain any of it without something higher, something outside.”

In her senior year, Juliana met Lawton, the man who would eventually become her husband. Faith-wise, they were in a similar place - discontented atheists who were sure there was more out there.

“I don't know if some people are just more drawn to (faith), if it's a personality thing... both of us were never content to stop looking for something. Maybe it was just grace, I really don’t know.”

When they started dating, Lawton had been occasionally going to an Episcopalian church in the area. Juliana started to join him.

“It was a gothic style church, really pretty,” she said.

Juliana said that in retrospect, she has always found herself drawn to beautiful churches and reverent liturgies.

“It was different, and sacred. And I don't think you get that in a lot of Protestant churches,” she said. “I'm not trying to critique, but (Protestants), we've got PowerPoint and we have a screen, we have Starbucks, you know?”

That Easter, after a lot of reading and consideration, Lawton was confirmed in the Episcopalian community - though he had also seriously considered the Orthodox Church.

Not long after, Juliana moved to North Carolina for work, while Lawton stayed in Texas for a year. They continued their relationship, and Juliana attended Episcopalian services on occasion.

When Lawton moved to join her in Raliegh, they decided they needed to become more involved with the Episcopalians. Juliana was confirmed, and they found a church they really liked, with a “high church” liturgical feel, active ministries, and a devout priest who was close to his people.

A year later, the priest to whom Juliana and Lawton – who were now married – had grown close announced to his congregation that he was converting to Catholicism.

“Lawton was like, ‘I respect him, I look up to him. What's he doing?’” So Lawton and Juliana started reading, and Lawton read a book on Church fathers, and St. John Henry Newman’s An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. Lawton was growing more convinced that Catholicism was true, but Juliana was actively trying to persuade him otherwise.

She said she had some resentments toward her high school experiences with Catholicism - she had started to doubt whether some of the friendships had been genuine. Her experience as an English major at a liberal arts school also jaded her against certain teachings of Catholicism.

"Who are you to say that you have truth, and who do you think you are?” Juliana said she thought of Catholicism at the time.

“Everything I would say, Lawton would have an answer for it, or he'd come back with an answer for it. And there didn't seem to be any arguing with it, so we just stopped talking about it for a while,” Juliana said.

When Lawton announced he had decided to convert, Juliana said she thought, “‘Well, I guess we'll figure it out.’ It was pretty painful though.”

A priest advised Lawton to wait a year to convert, since Juliana was not on board. He said he wanted them to talk about how they were going to raise their future children, and where they would go to church as a family. Lawton remained respectful of Juliana’s decision to remain Episcopalian, and attended services with her as well as Mass on Sundays.

Lawton joined RCIA, and after a time Juliana began attending with him, since he was making an effort to go to church with her. Most of the information was not new, she said, since they had both done a lot of reading about the Catholic Church. They made some good friends, but Juliana was still reticent to convert to Catholicism.

She said she started to accept that they would just believe different things, and they would work it out with their children as they came.

Some of the hardest things to accept about Catholicism for Juliana were its teaching against contraception, and the teaching authority the Church claims to have.

“Again, it was like, ‘Well, who are you to tell us what to do? This should be up to us,’” she said of her thoughts at the time on the Church’s teaching against contraception. “I get that in theory maybe it makes sense, but in practice, this is ridiculous that you'd ask people to do this.”

“And they claim authority. And so if you accept the authority, then you can kind of go along with everything else. But if not, it all kind of falls apart. So it's that lynch point,” Juliana said.

And having grown up a Protestant, she had a hard time coming around on Mary and the Eucharist.

“It was like, ‘Well, those are Catholic things. Those are where they went wrong,’” she said.

Lawton was confirmed into the Catholic Church in 2018, and that year they moved to Denver, having finished their graduate studies. They started attending Holy Name Catholic Church, a parish that had the liturgical elements and beautiful music they were looking for.

It was there that Juliana discussed some of her lingering hesitancies about Catholicism with the pastor, who encouraged her to read St. Augustine of Hippo's Confessions. At that time, Juliana said, she had “run out of arguments” and had intellectually accepted most things about the Church, but emotionally she was not yet on board.

She read the Confessions that summer in a month, during a bout of insomnia.

The story of St. Augustine’s own conversion - long in coming, reluctant in many ways - spoke to Juliana and convinced her that she needed to join the Catholic Church.

“I was hearing some of the things I'd gone through, and he's asking some of the same questions that I was asking, and he's feeling like he needs to move forward, but he tells God ‘not yet.’”

“I thought, ‘I guess if he could do it, I could do it.’ I just had a moment where I thought if anything's ever going to change or develop, this is the only way forward. If I stay here trying to get all the answers figured out, I'm going to be here forever. So I need to just do it,” she said.

Juliana was confirmed in the Catholic Church on Easter 2019, and chose St. Augustine as her confirmation saint. Since converting, she said it has felt peaceful and right.

“(I)f Christ really is who he says he is, then I believe that he intended to found a Church, and history, theology, and my own experience converged pointing to it being the Catholic Church. And that if Christ is the revealed truth and image of God, then following everything he taught and commanded should be, by grace, our only real goal in life,” she said.

“The Church seemed to provide the best groundwork for taking that seriously and offered the clearest path toward that, through sacraments and devotions and examples of the saints. And I wanted to be part of that communion, which despite so much ugliness lately and throughout history, has also produced so much beauty in art, literature, and especially the lives of the saints. It’s unpopular to say nowadays, but it all rang so clearly of truth that I couldn’t ignore it.”

“And honestly, having Lawton stay with me through long-distance and all the craziness, I think if it weren't for him...I wouldn't be Catholic if it wasn't for him.”

New Michigan vocational school combines Catholic education, skilled trades 

Thu, 12/26/2019 - 05:18

Grand Rapids, Mich., Dec 26, 2019 / 03:18 am (CNA).- A new vocational school in Grand Rapids, Michigan will open its doors next year to young men interested in learning both a skilled trade and formation through a Catholic curriculum.

Harmel Academy is founded by Brian Black, head of Grand Rapids Builders, and Ryan Pohl, a journeyman CNC machinist. The program is supported by Kuyper College and Micron Manufacturing, both located in Grands Rapids, Michigan.

Black told CNA that the first year will begin with 12-15 students, and the program will grow each year. The goal is to offer students an authentically Catholic experience, like they might find at Thomas Aquinas College or Ave Maria University, he said, but with trades instead of a bachelor’s degree.

He said the students will have the opportunity to gain hands-on-experience in actual trades and grow in an understanding of “Christ in their lives as it relates specifically to work, their family life,  and their own mission in the Church.”

“We are going to tell you about the integrity of your life. We are going to inform you about Christ who chose to become man as a carpenter, as a tradesman,” he added.

The two year program’s initial education will be centered on Machine and System Technology, which includes experience in electrical, machine operation, and 3D printing. The school will eventually add other skilled trades, including HVAC and plumbing. The curriculum is split into three parts: lessons, apprenticeship, and humanities.

Classes will take place both online and on the Kuyper campus, which can house 300 people. Students will work part-time in a particular trade as part of a paid apprenticeship. After two years, graduates will receive a certificate in their trade and be half-way through the completion of their journeymen card.

In addition to their education in a trade, students at Harmel Academy will receive spiritual formation through a two-year long humanities course. They will study history, philosophy, theology, and politics, with texts including papal documents and the works of Aristotle.

Black said the humanities course will not include lengthy written assignments, but is still designed to be challenging to the students, though classroom discussions and light reading.

“It's going to be very practical. It’s going to be rigorous and vigorous at the same time. We are planning on challenging and [investing] into some of this stuff because there are a lot of issues that young men have to face now.”

The humanities course will be split into four sections: the self, the other, the family, and the community, which includes courses on the nature of work, economics, politics, taxes, the structure of the state, and military service.

Students will also gather daily for the Divine Office’s morning prayer. Bishop David Walkowiak of Grand Rapids has approved the project and is helping the school find a priest so the campus can eventually hold Mass and retreats.

Black said the school wants to remain small to help to ensure strong relationships among the students and with the staff. The campus environment will be conducive to building genuine friendships, he said, noting that college relationships are a considerable aspect of formation.

“We want faculty and students to know each other well,” he said. “The key thing here is to foster a physical environment that fosters community. The college experience is a unique opportunity to form lifelong friendships.”

Tuition at Harmel Academy is $18,500 per year, which covers room and board. To apply, candidates must have their GED or High School Diploma, a car, and letters of recommendation. The students must also take a personality test, pass a criminal background check and drug test, and undergo an interview process. The school’s accreditation process is in progress.

Black said he and Pohl came up with the idea for the school several years ago, upon noticing that some men were uninterested in a four-year college but still wanted to prepare for a career while in a Catholic environment.

“[Some] young men struggle with what to do when they had a strong mechanical interest. They don’t want the enormous debt of college and they didn’t feel called to spend that much time at something that didn’t really have a direct relationship to their lives,” he said.

“[These] men are more mechanically minded and it seemed like there really wasn’t anything in the Church [for them].”

Across the U.S. the skilled trades industries are seeing a labor shortage, as the number of workers retiring far outstrips the numbers entering the field.

Black said many young adults are a good fit for the typical four-year university experience, but others are more naturally suited for skilled trades, working with their hands, and seeing the results of their labor. He noted that Christ himself was a carpenter.

“I think the trades give young men a unique ability to truly imitate Christ and that’s pretty powerful stuff.”

Black is enthusiastic about the opportunities Harmel Academy will provide for its students. He said the goal of the academy is not only to lead young men to a career, but to form their understanding of work and faith.

“The key thing we are looking at here is forming a fully integrated man who knows what he is about [and] knows how God built him.”

 

This article was originally published on CNA Aug. 9, 2019.

Rorate coeli désuper: Louisiana church blesses community from plane

Tue, 12/24/2019 - 12:08

Lafayette, La., Dec 24, 2019 / 10:08 am (CNA).- Father Matthew Barzare blessed 100 gallons of water on the Ember Saturday of Advent, which was then loaded into a crop-duster and sprayed over fields and the town of Cow Island, Louisiana.

“The blessing was the brainchild of L'Eryn Detraz, a missionary currently stationed in Ohio who is a native of Cow Island,” according to a Facebook post from the Diocese of Lafayette.

The Dec. 21 blessing took place after Mass at St. Anne church in Cow Island, about 35 miles southwest of Lafayette.

Fr. Barzare told NPR that "It does have a history for us in our Catholic faith, that the priests would bless the fields, and of course the community, around certain times of the year, especially harvest times. We call them ember days."

“Most parishes have a central location, but my area that I have to cover is a good 30 minutes to the next church, and so by plane, we realized, it might be the easiest way to sprinkle people's fields, rather than me going in a car to different locations,” he added.

Ember Days were traditionally days of fast and abstinence. They are tied to the seasons of the year, and are held on the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday of four weeks: the third week of September, the third week of Advent, the first week of Lent, and the octave of Pentecost.

Mentors are key in program to get civilly married couples back to Church

Tue, 12/24/2019 - 08:45

Lafayette, La., Dec 24, 2019 / 06:45 am (CNA).- When Mary Rose Verret first welcomed Douglas and Elizabeth into her home, Douglas’ boots squished with the sewage he worked with, and Elizabeth smelled of french fries from her fast food job. Douglas was also just a few years of out jail.

Burnt out after years of ministry, Mary Rose didn’t think she would have anything in common with this couple, whom her pastor had asked Mary Rose and her husband, Ryan, to mentor through a process to convalidate their marriage in the Church.

“It was a difficult, complex situation that on paper didn’t look like it was going to go well,” Mary Rose recalled. Often, she saw couples like Douglas and Elizabeth disappear from the Church as soon as their marriage was blessed.

But when Douglas opened up about how he found Jesus in prison, and about their desire for a sacramental marriage in the Church, Mary Rose was humbled.

“On my end, working with this couple, I thought I was going to teach and I was going to form, and Ryan and I thought we were going to give everything to them,” she told CNA.

“But when we started listening to them and the husband’s experience of getting to know Jesus at a bible study while he was in jail, and the relationship he had with Jesus, and how he wanted to make things right with God, and how he wanted to have a marriage in the Church and he wanted Jesus to be part of their marriage, it was very humbling...and it really changed the way Ryan and I lived our ministry and lived our faith and lived our marriage,” she said.

The Verrets founded Witness to Love, a Catholic marriage prep renewal ministry, several years ago with the intent to give newly-engaged couples an older mentor couple of their choosing in the Church that could walk with them through marriage preparation and beyond.

Now, they are launching a Witness to Love track specifically for couples who are seeking to have their civil marriages blessed by, or convalidated in, the Catholic Church.

“We saw that with Witness to Love, in the parish where we started this, engaged couples were benefitting so much, but we were seeing couples who were having their marriage blessed who didn't go through Witness to Love, they met with Father a few times...they were getting divorced quickly, some of them even a month after having their marriage blessed,” she said.

Couples seeking to convalidate their marriage in the Church make up a significant percentage of sacramental marriages in the Church each year - roughly 20 percent, Mary Rose said. In 2017, the total number of sacramental marriages in the U.S. was 144,000 - meaning approximately 28,800 of them were convalidations.

In response to this growing need, the Verrets tweaked their marriage prep program to offer a track specifically fitted to couples seeking convalidations in the Church. They interviewed couples seeking convalidations and looked at best practices throughout the country for bringing them into the Church. Many couples seeking convalidation would do so around the time their children needed sacraments - baptism or communion or confirmation. It was a time they could reconnect with the Church and felt they needed to “get right with God,” Mary Rose said.

But old approaches of bringing these couples into the Church weren’t working - couples would fail to connect with the Church community and drop off, or even divorce, shortly after they received the sacrament. That’s where Mary Rose thought the Witness to Love mentorship model could work.

What’s different?

What sets Witness to Love apart in marriage convalidation preparation “is every other mentor model out there says: the Church is going to choose and train and assign mentor couples to you. You don't know them, you didn't pick them, you don't know how old they are or their background,” she said.

“And we're telling this to a generation that doesn't trust the Church, many of whom have been abused, have a pornography addiction, haven't been to church in 15 or more years. And we're asking them to talk to complete strangers, who are like uber Catholics, about their faith life and sex life and we wonder why it doesn't work out.”

The choice in mentor couples provides the “skin in the game” for the marriage prep couple and the room for the Holy Spirit to work, Mary Rose said.

Beyond that, the program is tweaked to match the language that civilly married couples use, and to emphasize how the grace of the sacrament builds on the natural goods of a civil marriage.

“There are two ways of looking at marriage. One is just on the natural level - you're living together, balancing a checkbook, you have kids, you share groceries - you know, life,” Mary Rose said.

“And there's a lot of natural goodness there, but there's also a lot of natural challenges and we have fallen nature. So the grace of the sacrament helps you get through some of those things, love through things, grow through things, work through things, offer things up, pray for your spouse,” she said.

“The reason that we have the grace of the sacrament is that it’s impossible, on a human level, to love completely, totally, freely and fruitfully. It is impossible,” she noted.

“With the grace of the sacrament, you just have to ask God everyday to please help me keep my wedding vows,” she said, which also differ in wording and intent between civil and sacramental marriages.

Often, couples who have convalidated their marriages become the best witnesses of the grace of the sacrament of marriage, Mary Rose noted, because they know what it’s like to live without it.

“When they have their marriage blessed, if they are formed, then it's a whole different experience, because if they just have one or two quick meetings and then never really understand this grace they receive, they can't really tap into it.”

Going through the process

Meghan Reily and her husband Brendon were high school sweethearts who met in middle school, dated through college and got married civilly in 2016 - Meghan was Catholic, Brendon was not.

Once Meghan discovered that her marital situation was keeping her from the sacraments, she talked to Brendon about having their marriage blessed in the Church.

“After much discussion and prayer, we decided to go through the process. I think that shows a true testament to Brendon’s character,” Meghan told CNA.
 
“I could tell that this was something that was important to her and for the Church,” Brendon added, though he admitted to being “a little apprehensive at first.”

“Opening up about your relationship is something that is very personal to me,” he said. “But going through this, I have never felt closer to Meghan than I do now. Same with our mentor couple. I’ve known them for several years, but I feel like they are family now too. They will always be someone who we can call on for anything.”

For their mentor couple, the Reily’s chose a couple that Meghan had known since childhood.

“We were in the same parish and I grew up with their daughter. We became best friends and her family was like a second family to me. Since I was always so close to them, Brendon got to get to know them when we were dating,” Meghan said.

“When asked who to choose as a mentor couple, it was a no-brainer for us. Their love for God and putting Him right at the center of their family is exactly the type of environment we want to have for our family.”

Meghan said the mentorship and the program of Witness to Love brought a “self-awareness” to their marriage that they hadn’t had before. It gave them tools to know and love their spouse better, and to work on virtues together.

“It was both challenging and rewarding. It in a way forced you to have those difficult conversations you don’t necessarily want to have,” she said.

“While we have been civilly married for two years, we are nowhere close to having it all figured out! The workbook provided great tools to give you insight on how you are wired and how your spouse is wired so you can better understand each other and how to handle situations, or discover what things you need to work on that you didn’t think was even an issue,” she added.

Brendon said the program changed their relationship by emphasizing that “it takes three to get married” - the couple and God.

“We are much more open in sharing what’s on our hearts so that we can pray for each other and build each other up,” he said.  

Much of the content of Witness to Love is virtue-based. It encourages couples to examine different virtues - love, honor, courage, respect, humility, and so on - and how those virtues can best be lived out in a marriage.

“By learning the virtues, you are growing closer to God and understanding fully how much He loves you and how you need to love your spouse in return, because God loves your spouse that much and He put you together by His grace,” Meghan said. “Doing that, well, that’s what gets you closer to Heaven - knowing how to love and accept someone for all of who they are.”

Meghan and Brendon’s marriage will be blessed in the Church this March. Meghan said she would “absolutely” recommend the Witness to Love mentorship program to other couples in similar situations.

“It’s definitely something I’ll want to reference going forward in our marriage,” she said.

Responding to the needs of the Church

When Bishop Joseph Strickland was first made bishop of the Diocese of Tyler, Texas in 2012, strengthening marriage and family life was one of his top priorities.

“I wanted to really focus on marriage formation because in some ways I think we find ourselves needing to rebuild Christian society, and the stronger the marriages are, the stronger the families will be, the stronger (the faith of) the children will be, and I think that's where we can begin of a joyful revolution of deeper faith,” Strickland told CNA.

About a year ago, the Diocese of Tyler began using Witness to Love’s marriage prep program - “I liked the solid theology on marriage and the beautiful presentation of what the sacrament of marriage is about for us as Catholics,” Strickland said.

Located in a minority-Catholic area, Strickland said he sees the need for good convalidation formation continuing to grow, as more couples delay marriage, or decide to come back to the Church later in life.

“There are so many couples that need convalidation, and we’re really encouraging and wanting to support those couples,” he said.

Having worked on a marriage tribunal for years, Strickland said what appealed to him about Witness to Love, besides being theologically sound, was that it didn’t feel as “bureaucratic” as some other marriage and convalidation programs.

“You’re having to talk about this very personal information with a priest that you don’t know, maybe you don’t feel you’re that comfortable with them, maybe you’re not Catholic or haven’t been practicing your Catholic faith for a long time,” he said.

“So I think to have the mentor couple, who would be someone who is faithfully living their Catholic faith, to help them feel like they’re welcome and to navigate any issues they might have...would be important especially for couples who may have been married civilly for quite some time and have had a number of kids and are having to negotiate some significant complexities.”

Mary Rose said the mentor couple relationship is so key to Witness to Love because it works both ways - the convalidating couple receives formation, but the mentoring couple is also challenged to examine their marriage and “step it up”, so to speak, in order to be a good example. She said some mentor couples have told her that being asked to mentor another couple is what saved their own marriage.

“It’s kind of a dead end if you don’t open at least a crack for the Holy Spirit, and in Witness to Love that risk has always been allowing the couples to choose their own mentor,” she said.

“But it’s that invitation, that personal relationship - it’s a two-for-one evangelization effort that has made all the difference and transformed parish communities, because instead of a couple coming through the Church and never seeing them again, their mentor’s marriage is renewed, the community is renewed.”  

 

This article was originally published on CNA Feb. 10, 2019.

College freshmen found faith through friendship

Mon, 12/23/2019 - 21:00

Denver, Colo., Dec 23, 2019 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- The phenomenon is well-documented. When young Catholics go away to college, a troublingly high percentage of them stop practicing their faith. And many who stop going to Mass in college never return.

Initiatives like FOCUS, and Newman Centers across the country, are all geared toward helping young Catholics stem the tide - to grow as Catholics in college, rather than wither.

Last Easter, three young men in Colorado were part of a different trend. They didn’t leave Catholicism in college. Instead, they became Catholics.

Jake Keller, a civil engineering major; Ian Horton, a finance major; and Anthony Ascolese, a natural resource management major, will be upcoming sophomores at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Keller and Ascolese began their freshman year in 2018 with little religious formation at all. Horton, who had been a committed atheist until age 17, entered the University of Colorado at Boulder as a newly converted Protestant. He transferred to CSU during his second semester.

Ascolese told CNA that he grow up occasionally going to Baptist services with his grandmother, or to Mass with Catholic families, but that he had never given much attention to faith. But when he began attending CSU, he connected with some Catholic friends and was invited to some events at the Catholic student cener.

“[Growing up,] they have always invited me to [Catholic] stuff, and [they] invited me to the intramural fields that are on campus,” Ascolese said.

“I saw this big flag that said ‘Ram Catholic,’ and I was like, ‘Oh no, here they go again,’” he told CNA.

Initially, Ascolese said, he felt uncomfortable at Catholic events.

“I would just feel really out of place because I didn’t have much of a knowledge of God or anything like those traditional stories... So anytime I was there, like a Bible study or Mass, I felt really out of place.”

But he was joined at some of those events by other non-Catholics, among them Horton and Keller. That helped overcome the awkwardness.

Ascolese said the community was friendly and he soon realized that “religious people” could be “ordinary people.”

As he spent time in a Catholic circle, he grew more comfortable with the faith.

“I just kept growing and learning and hanging out with everyone and really falling in love with Mass. Everything about the Church was really coming together, and God was doing so much work through that,” he said.

Eventually, Ascolese attended a campus ministry retreat: “Ram Awakening.” There students participated in the sacraments, praise and worship sessions, and had religious discussions.

One of the major turning points, he said, was receiving letters of encouragement from his family and strangers during the retreat.

“The amount of love I felt from them, even just reading a piece of paper. You can really see how genuine and loving every letter was, even though I didn’t know any of the people staffing it. It shows how happy, joyful, and loving they were for me being there. It was really amazing,” he said.

“I think three days after that, I went over to the Church and met with Jessica Harris who leads RCIA at St John [XXIII Catholic Church].”

Keller has a similar story. He told CNA that he and his family and attended nondenominational services a few times each year.

At Colorado State University, Keller was invited to attend some religious events by some Catholic friends from high school. He said the events began as an opportunity to reconnect with old friends, but the faith soon became his point of interest.

“I started to become more in touch with God, praying a lot more, and believing a lot more. After joining their Bible study [and] doing a bunch of stuff with the Church, I eventually went on this retreat called Ram Awakening, we have at CSU,” he said.

“That retreat really changed me. I learned a lot about suffering and how that can make your life better,” he further added.

Keller said he especially struggled with the clergy sex abuse scandals and the Church’s stance on marriage and abortion. He said, through discussions with friends, he was better able to understand these issues.

“[The scandal] was the main thing holding me back. I guess just trying to think about priests not as someone who is representing God but someone who God is acting through. It’s hard to look up to someone but also understand that they are still human and they’re imperfect,” he said.

“Going through with them, I wasn’t doing it alone. It helped me look past the scandals in the Church because I am not doing it alone and there are other people doing it with me. Working through community helped a lot.”

Holton was a staunch atheist for about 10 years; as a teen he devoured the work of intellectual atheists like Christopher Hitchens. But when he was 17, he became focused on researching and understanding Christianity. After reading books by authors like Thomas Aquinas and GK Chesterton, he realized, to his surprise, that he accepted Christianity.

A new believer, Holton said he didn’t know where to fit in among Christians when he began attending college. He said that one day he visited the Thomas Aquinas Catholic Center, just off campus in Boulder. There, he said, a priest answered a lot of his questions about faith, and set him in the direction of Catholicism.

“From then on, I recognized that I appreciated Catholicism more than Protestantism because it was far more beautiful, interesting, and, most importantly, that is when I realized it was true.”

He started RCIA in Boulder, but he transferred to CSU in Fort Collins, where he is from.

There, he said he discovered a rich and active Catholic community among the youth. He said he was further inspired to the faith by Fr. Rocco Porter, the pastor of St. John XXIII Catholic Church near the university.

Holton said he is inspired by discovering the traditions of the Church and participating in Mass, noting he has had a strong connection to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, the Latin Mass. He said he’s realized, through the impact of the saints and Catholic intellectuals, that the Church has been the most influential institution in the world’s history.

“I love to know that I’m part of the faith and the Church that Jesus himself founded. And to know that I’m participating in the original sacrifice of the Mass that’s been going on for 2000 years.”

“I love to couple the Bible with the Sacred Tradition that we have of how we do love Mary [and] how we do venerate the saints,” he said. “Not only do we have [these saints], we have 2000 years of some of the best philosophers and theologians the world has ever seen.”

The three men said that through RCIA, they were able to grow closer to Christ together, pray for each other, and discuss the intricacies of the faith.

Ascolese said it is exciting to have a group of men who shared in each other’s enthusiasm and kept each other accountable.

“We talked about God, but we were also there to be there for each other and love each other. You could really see the good from that, like God was just with us during that time,” he said. 

“When I knew I wanted to become Catholic, saying prayers and working with Jake...and God was working through my prayers and that really helped me too, seeing something was working.”

Ascolese recalled the power of prayer: One night all of the men went to Qdoba in place of Bible study. Keller had not yet decided to become Catholic. But after their conversation at Qdoba, he received a text from Keller about his conversion.

“When I got to my dorm room I got a text from him saying ‘hey, can you send me [the RCIA] number?’ which was wild to me, because I was just praying about that stuff,” Ascolese said.

All the men said they felt supported by their parish and the RCIA program but added that it has been a challenge to face ethical questions, including abortion and gay marriage, with other students on campus.

When asked about additional tools parishes should offer to support new Catholics, Horton said there should be mentorship opportunities or an apologetic course.

“I think what parishes can do to support new converts would be to have a bit of spiritual mentorship by either a priest, an RCIA leader, or a theologian,” he said.

“I am in favor of apologetics,” he said. “I think it is very important in this day and age when most young people leave the Church because of questions about science and genesis.”

All three men are excited and joyful for their encounter with new faith. They said the experience has not only challenged each other to entertain intellectual properties of the faith but it also has encouraged them to embrace a life of virtue. 

The change in his lifestyle has been a thrill, said Anthony, “seeing the difference of having God in your life can do for you, especially in the truest form through Catholicism. You can see so much good from it and the suffering you do get ultimately leads to good.”

 

This article was originally published on CNA Aug. 25, 2019.

 

Are millennial Christians really killing evangelization?

Mon, 12/23/2019 - 17:06

Washington D.C., Dec 23, 2019 / 03:06 pm (CNA).- Millennials are notoriously blamed for being killers of previously-thought-necessary industries and activities: Applebees. Napkins. Golf. Mayonnaise. Lunch. And so on.

For the ever-shrinking number of millennials who are practicing Christians, could evangelization be on the chopping block next?

Data released this year from the Barna group, which researches the intersection of faith and culture, shows that of millennials practicing their Christian faith, almost half - 47 percent - believe it is at least somewhat wrong to “share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith in hopes that they will one day share the same faith.” This is significantly higher than the number of Gen X-ers (27 percent), and Boomers (19 percent), who said the same.

But while at a glance this statistic may be alarming, given the missionary mandate of the Church, there might be more behind it than just another hit on the millennial kill list.

Elizabeth Klein is an assistant professor of theology at the Augustine Institute in Denver, Colorado. One of the main goals of the institute is to prepare students to respond to the New Evangelization - a term popularized by Pope John Paul II that emphasizes a renewed call to share the Gospel with the world.

Klein said before sounding the alarm about the death of evangelization, the statistic should be read in light of the others also shared by Barna - that 96 percent of millennials believe “part of my faith means being a witness about Jesus,” that 94 percent said that “the best thing that could ever happen to someone is for them to know Jesus,” and that 73 percent said “I am gifted at sharing my faith with other people” - higher than every other generation included in the data.

And in 2013, 65 percent of millennial Christians said they had shared the Gospel with someone in the past year, compared to the national average of about half of Christians in general.

“I thought it was interesting that they didn't highlight that millennials in fact evangelize more than the older generations do,” Klein said of an article from Christianity Today on the data.

Furthermore, she said, the phrasing of the particular question about evangelization probably also affected the way millennials responded.

“I thought the phrasing of the specific question - it’s about people who already have a religious faith, so I thought that was a big factor,” Klein told CNA.

“I think millennials are more likely to see someone of a different faith as more of an ally maybe than in the past,” she said, “because we are in such a post-Christian, post-religious world that anyone else who is practicing a faith may be more likely to be seen as someone you have a lot in common with, rather than the chief object of evangelization for millennials,” which would probably be atheists or fallen away Catholics, she said.

Vince Sartori is a regional director with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), which trains students and missionaries on college campuses to form disciples through friendships and Bible studies. Evangelizing in a millennial culture is at the heart of the group’s work.

Sartori, who served as a missionary on two different campuses before becoming a regional director, said he has noticed a hesitancy in millennials on campus to engage in evangelization.

“I think some of it comes down to a misunderstanding of evangelization versus proselytization,” Sartori told CNA.

Proselytization, Sartori said, happens when “the person is preaching or going out to be heard, not listening to someone but rather just trying to get a point across.”

Evangelization, on the other hand, is “about building trust, encountering a person, understanding a person, and introducing them to Jesus and proposing ideas, as opposed to just telling them something.”

Sartori said the way millennials answered this question also reflects the current political climate and a culture that prioritizes people’s comfort over everything else.

“In this culture of ‘if you disagree with me you hate me,’ I would say most millennials would say: ‘I’m not trying to convert anyone,’” Sartori said.

“But I would hope everyone is trying to convert someone, it’s just that there’s a right and true way, and then there’s a way that’s just kind of yelling at people, and that’s obviously not what I’m about and not what anyone would desire. And I think in general millennials are really sensitive to that.”

Klein also said that millennials are reacting to the polarization that characterizes the political and social media world of today.

“Actual authentic dialogue has in fact broken down, and I don't think that's a delusion of millennials; things are often so polarized that it is very difficult to have a dialogue which is perceived as open and a back and forth, and not somehow inauthentic or aggressive,” she said.

“It’s not that they don't want to share their faith, but it seems that sharing via dialogue or speaking makes people uneasy, and I don't think that's inexplicable, that seems to make sense,” she said.

Part of the training of FOCUS missionaries is teaching them how to evangelize, Sartori said - which includes building friendships and trust with people before proposing that they consider going to church or learning more about Jesus.

“The three habits (taught to missionaries in training) are the things we emphasize that help us to go and do evangelization,” Sartoir said. “The first is divine intimacy (with God), the second is authentic friendship, and the third one is clarity and conviction for what we call spiritual multiplication. So this idea that you’re investing deeply in a few people, and sharing your faith in a way that they can then go and do that with others.”

“You’re listening, you’re building trust, you’re speaking in a way that they’re going to be able to hear you,” Sartori said, “but you’re also hearing where they’re coming from on things.”

Once a friendship is established, Sartori said one of the easiest ways to talk to someone about God is to ask them about the faith tradition they had while they were growing up.

“It’s the basic questions of like - did you ever go to church growing up? Something like that that’s less attacking than, say, ‘How do you feel about abortion?’ or something that’s more politicized or a hot topic,” Sartori said. “You want to do something that’s a softer, more inviting conversation, so you can just understand the person.”

After a conversation about faith has been opened, then it can be time to invite someone to events at a parish or into a Bible study, if the person is open to it.

“While there’s an urgency for someone to accept the Gospel as quickly as possible, we also want to propose it and not impose it, so we’re not going to rush into anything on that,” Sartori said.

Klein said millennials are also most likely to be tuned into the need for authentic witness - that someone must be living a personal life of holiness and friendship with God before they can propose it to someone else.

The article on the Barna research from Christianity Today ended with: “Younger folks are tempted to believe instead, ‘If we just live good enough lives, we can forgo the conversation entirely, and people around us will almost magically come to know Jesus through our good actions and selfless character.’”

“This style of evangelism is becoming more and more prevalent in a culture constantly looking for the fast track and simple fix,’” it said, quoting Hannah Gronowski, the founder and CEO of Christian non-profit Generation Distinct.

But Klein said this kind of attitude is overly dismissive of the importance of personal holiness.

“Witnessing personal holiness - it's not like that's easy, its plenty important,” she said, especially with the recent sex abuse scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church.

“I don't think that millennials are crazy to think that personal holiness is the most important thing right now, especially when dialogue has broken down and there has been a lot of - with the recent scandals - insane hypocrisy where people's lives are not matching what they're saying,” she said.  

“I think a big part of it is...holistic Catholic formation,” Klein added. “If you're not prepared to pursue wisdom and pursue personal holiness, you're not going to have that authentic witness and authentic life to share.”

While that doesn’t remove the necessity of evangelizing with words, Klein said, it does point to why millennial Christians may have answered that particular question the way they did, beyond a trend toward universalism and relativism.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church itself recognizes the disconnect that may exist between a person’s holiness and the preaching of the Gospel: “On her pilgrimage, the Church has also experienced the ‘discrepancy existing between the message she proclaims and the human weakness of those to whom the Gospel has been entrusted.’ Only by taking the ‘way of penance and renewal,’ the ‘narrow way of the cross,’ can the People of God extend Christ's reign. For ‘just as Christ carried out the work of redemption in poverty and oppression, so the Church is called to follow the same path if she is to communicate the fruits of salvation to men.’” (CCC pp. 853).

“It’s very clear that the Church has a missionary mandate, but I think it nuances that very well and talks about the hypocrisy that has been found,” Klein said. “I think that tension is what millennials are most keyed into, that personal holiness comes first before you can even think about opening your mouth.”

An oft-quoted line, typically attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, speaks of the tension between personal holiness and evangelizing: “Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words,” the saying goes.

But if that quote really came from St. Francis of Assisi, Sartori said, it came from a saint who preached the Gospel so prolifically that he was known to preach it “to the birds.”

“He couldn’t stop preaching,” Sartori said, “so of all the people to have said that, St. Francis is one of the greatest examples of preaching (the Gospel).”

So while personal holiness is a must, he said, so is preaching the Gospel with words.

“To preach the Gospel is an integral part of being a Christian,” he said, “and we can’t separate that.”

This article was originally published on CNA Feb. 13, 2019.

U.S. bishops praise rule publicizing abortion 'surcharge' in health plan exchanges

Mon, 12/23/2019 - 17:00

Washington D.C., Dec 23, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- The U.S. bishops have welcomed changes to the way abortion coverage is billed in some federally-funded health plan exchanges, saying the changes will allow Americans to choose health care plans consistent with their views.

Those who purchase health plans “have a right to know if they are paying for elective abortion,” said Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“While the Affordable Care Act still allows government-subsidized plans to cover abortion, at least with this rule, Americans can now see and try to avoid complicity by choosing plans consistent with their consciences,” he said Dec. 23.

“I commend the administration for enforcing the law, for its efforts to ensure transparency in healthcare, and for attempting to respect unborn human life.”

Section 1303 of the Affordable Care Act, passed in 2010, mandates that if a qualified health plan covers elective abortions, it must do so by collecting a payment separate from the standard premium, and depositing that payment into a separate account. The previous regulations allowed for health insurers to collect an abortion surcharge without separately identifying it on monthly invoices and without collecting it separately.

That changed on Dec. 20, when the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued the Exchange Program Integrity final rule.

One of its new provisions concerns health insurance exchange plans set up under the Affordable Care Act and covering elective abortions—procedures which under federal law cannot be funded with federal funds.

These plans must now send customers separate health insurance bills for abortion coverage. The agency justified the rule on the grounds that it better aligns with congressional intent in segregating payments for elective abortion.

The rule appears to allow consumers to avoid payment on the surcharge without losing coverage. The fact sheet for the rule states “if the policy holder fails to pay the separate bill in a separate transaction as instructed by the issuer, the issuer may not terminate the policy holder’s coverage on this basis, provided the amount due is otherwise paid.”

Critics have long argued that enforcement of these regulations under the Obama administration was so permissive as to render the rules meaningless. A Government Accountability Office report in 2014 found that many insurers were ignoring requirements to segregate abortion coverage funds.

The Trump administration rule had been proposed about a year ago, but it had not been finalized and implemented.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, said the rule “will ensure compliance so that 'separate' no longer means 'together' when it comes to funding abortion.” The law will “provide transparency about abortion funding hiding in Obamacare,” she said, referring to the 2010 health care legislation.

“President Trump has delivered an important victory for American consumers and taxpayers, the majority of whom oppose using tax dollars to pay for abortions.”

Jacqueline Ayers, vice president of government relations and public policy at Planned Parenthood, opposed the rule on the grounds it tried to reduce access to abortion.

“This rule won't just require separate payments, it further splits off abortion from other reproductive health care and puts up massive barriers to access,” she said.

Ayers added that Planned Parenthood, which is the largest abortion provider in the U.S., “vehemently opposes this rule and will continue our work to stop the administration's attacks on our health and rights.”

The Association for Community Affiliated Plans, which has 60 Medicaid-focused health care plans, also opposed the rule, CNN reports.

“Requiring people to pay two bills for one product -- health coverage -- is a non-solution in search of a problem,” said Margaret Murray, the association's CEO.

Critics of the previous rule have sought change under the Trump administration. In 2018 U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), in a letter to the Department of Health and Human services signed by 102 Members of Congress, requested regulations to make consumers aware of the surcharge.

In October 2019, more than 40 pro-life organizations sent a letter to the Trump administration backing the new changes. Signers included leaders with the Susan B. Anthony List, the National Right to Life Committee, March for Life Action, Americans United for Life, and the American Association of Pro-Life OB-GYNS.

They said that insurance companies could create “hidden abortion surcharges” which mean health plan enrollees are “unknowingly paying into plans that subsidize elective abortion.”

Their letter cited the Hyde Amendment, first passed in 1976, which bars federal funding for most abortions. They objected that the treatment of abortion coverage violates the amendment in principle. Requiring separate payments would help provide transparency.

While the Hyde Amendment applies to federal health care programs including Medicaid, pro-life advocates have voiced concern for years that the Affordable Care Act does not follow its requirements.

Federal rules against taxpayer funding for abortions have had longtime support even among pro-abortion rights politicians, but the Democratic primary candidates for president have increasingly rejected them. Following criticism from pro-abortion rights activists, former vice president Joe Biden retracted his support for the Hyde Amendment in June.

Safety first: How parents can know who is working with their kids

Mon, 12/23/2019 - 16:00

Washington D.C., Dec 23, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- The abuse of children is not limited to one organization, and predators can be found anywhere. Headlines in recent months have pointed to abuse withing USA Gymnastics, the Boy Scouts of America, public schools, the Catholic Church, figure skating, Hollywood, the Southern Baptist Convention, and the list goes on.

Keeping a child under constant watch is neither feasible nor a sensible option, most parents conclude. And while children are statistically to be harmed their family already knows, vigilance, especially about strangers, is important.

So what are parents to do to ensure that their children are safe outside the home?

According to Dr. Michaela Zajicek-Farber, an associate professor from the Catholic School of Social Service at The Catholic University of America, parents need to be proactive in examining not only the organizations they affiliate with, but how those organizations screen their employees and volunteers.

“It’s a good rule of thumb to have a parent really ask the organization or the program, ‘how do you screen your staff? What policies do you have in place to protect children?’,” she said. These types of questions are not meant to be accusatory, but rather as a parent, Farber said it is a primary responsibility to protect their child.

Particularly, Farber said that parents should inquire about background screenings or checks, and what type of screenings are done. While it is common for places to require references, they are not always followed up or confirmed, she said. Parents should ask how seriously these precautions are taken before enrolling their child in a program.

Farber told CNA that parents should look for organizations that utilize the “rule of two” when adults are working with children. This means that at any given time, there should be at least two adults present with at least two children at all times.

According to KidCheck, a company that makes software and equipment to assist with child protection, the rule of two is beneficial for both adults and children. The presence of another adult would dissuade a predator from harming a child, and it also helps to prevent any false accusations against someone. The presence of two adults also helps to reduce liability and negligence claims, and can be beneficial in the case of an emergency situation.

“There should not be secrecy, there should be transparency,” said Farber. Parents should also speak to any coach, volunteer, or mentor and get to know them, and identify why it is they went into coaching. Parents should also ensure that anyone they leave their children with is properly educated about what the policies are if things were to go wrong, she said.

“I as a parent should consider how well (the caregiver) interacts with me,” said Farber. “I mean, in other words, it’s like, as a parent you are putting your child in the care of another person, another adult, so you have a responsibility to really get to know that person,” she added. If a parent is made uncomfortable by something a coach or supervisor says or does, they should have no qualms about taking their child out of that situation.

Parents, said Farber, have a right to know who their child is associating with, is talking to, and who is part of their lives, and they should not be afraid to inquire about these things.

As for tools parents can use to further ensure their children’s safety, Farber suggested both background checks and the “Parent Toolkit” that was published by the U.S. Center for Safesport. The U.S. Center for Safesport is a federally-authorized organization that was founded in 2017 after numerous sexual abuse scandals among children’s sports.

The Center, per their website, “develop(s) resources and policies to safeguard athletes from bullying, harassment, hazing, physical, emotional, sexual abuse, and sexual misconduct,” and is the “exclusive authority to respond to reports of allegations of sexual abuse and sexual misconduct within the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee and their recognized National Governing Bodies.”

The Parent Toolkit is available online and contains age-specific appropriate resources for parents in how to identify abuse and other risk factors, as well as how to examine a situation for potential danger.

As for background checks, Farber suggested that there are many websites and programs that parents can utilize to screen out potential caretakers and employees for any sort of behavior.

Among the most commonly recommended of such sites are Intelius, US Search, TruthFinder, BeenVerified, and PeopleFinders, in addition to court information available online by public record.

Farber also recommended a more old-fashioned approach for concerned parents: picking up the phone.

“There’s nothing wrong with calling your local police station and finding out (information) about screening for my babysitter or gardener we hired,” Farber told CNA.

But most of all, parents should trust their innate sense if something seems off about a situation.

“Listen to that gut (feeling) and find out more, or go elsewhere,” said Farber. “There’s no reason why you should stay with the program or sport coaching situation which makes you uncomfortable.”

 

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