Category Archives: Feature

Movie Review: Samson, the new biblical epic

“Samson, my good man, I have one word for you: celibacy.”

That was the first thought that came to mind when watching the movie Samson, an adaptation from the Old Testament Book of Judges.

The quality of Christian movies has improved leaps and bounds in recent years. Samson, produced by Pure Flix and Boomtown, directed by Bruce Macdonald and Gabriel Sabloff, claims to go “epic” and fulfills its promise. This story of a man of supernatural strength remains faithful to the original story, while skillfully filling in the gaps.

Samson was chosen while in his mother’s womb to lead the Hebrews who had once again incurred God’s wrath because of their evil ways. They were delivered into the hands of the Philistines for 40 years. Samson was to take the three Nazarite oaths: no shaving of hair, no drinking of wine, and no touching of the dead. As long as he kept his oaths, Samson is promised extraordinary strength — and that is exactly what he gets.

He grows up to be a strong and handsome man who is also aware of the allure of his physical appearance and fame, finding himself often in the company of beautiful young women. The movie portrays him as a flighty youth who does not concern himself with serious matters like the Philistines’ oppression of the Hebrews. At least, he is not concerned enough to claim the judgeship that was foretold before his birth.

When he falls in love with a Philistine, despite his parents’ objections, he decides to take Taren as his wife. The Philistine Prince, an ambitious, blood and power thirsty man, agrees to the marriage in order to gain political grounding, but when the hubris of Prince Rallah and Samson clash, this time, Samson loses all in a game of riddles. That is only the beginning of his troubles as he breaks the oaths he made to God.

Finally, he accepts to be anointed as the judge, but still is not willing to fight to free the Hebrews from starvation and oppression. But Prince Rallah does not forget the man whose strength had slew a thousand men with the jawbone of an ass. The prince sends his beautiful wife Delilah to seduce him. It is not shock to the viewer that she succeeds and leads Samson to his downfall. In the Bible, his surrender is recounted. “When she pressed him hard with her words day after day, and urged him, his soul was vexed to death.”

The movie exceeded my expectations in regard to acting, special effects and costumes. Taylor James gives a convincing performance as Samson, even though his flirtatious looks with the ladies require a little more work. Besides James, Billy Zane as King Balek and Lindsay Wagner as Samson’s mother stood out as superb actors. Caitlin Leahy as Delilah also delivered a commendable performance. The special effects, little that they are, were well done without going overboard. Attention to detail and accuracy in costumes also made the story come alive.

A faithful adaptation from the Scriptures is arduous, since the creators and directors need to take a short four-chapter story and stretch into an enjoyable experience where the authenticity of the biblical account is preserved. This movie accomplishes the task of ripping the suffering of the Israelites and the failures of Samson from the pages to create a relatable character and a believable story. It is rated PG-13 with scenes of violence, but the writers managed to avoid the more suggestive parts of Samson’s exploits.

As far as movie-viewing experience goes, Samson is on par with The Case for Christ. In order to encourage such efforts, I believe, we need to support these movies. But the other —and more important— reason for anyone to see this movie is that Samson is an archetype for the Church.

Once the eye-rolling about Samson’s romantic pursuits stopped, I realized that the arrogant and sinful man who refused God’s calling time and again still triumphed over his enemies. Because the Lord keeps His promises, unlike Samson, and very often unlike us. We may wander off, stray away and even outright disobey, but Christ had promised that His Church will stand. After all, how can one explain that the Catholic Church is still standing despite heresies, invasions, or less than ideal leadership? Because Christ keeps his promises.

Of course, in Samson’s arrogance and sin, I also saw myself. My eyes still covet, my tongue is still unruly and my heart is still disobedient. But when I call upon the Lord in the confessional or before the Holy Eucharist, He always forgives. Again and again.

Read chapters 13 to 16 of the Book of Judges to find out how this superhero judge of the Israelites is immortalised within the pages of the Bible, and go see the movie to once again know that “there is nothing new under the sun” and the King of the Universe is forever faithful. – Derya Little, Catholic Herald

Singapore prelate recounts experience and witness of Church in the city-state

VATICAN CITY – In this third installment of the interview, Archbishop William Goh of Singapore recounts the experience and the witness of the Catholic Church in the city-state. He was with the Malaysian and Brunei bishops in their ad limina visit to the Holy See on 4-9 Feb 2018. This interview took place on Feb 9.

A large part of the Singaporean population identifies with a religious faith. Buddhists are about 40% and Christianity is the second largest group. Thanks also to Western influence, the number of Christians in the country (local and permanent residents) are growing and the approximately 383 thousand Catholics make up 11% of the population, while Protestants are 14%. Next in line is Islam at 18% and Taoism at 14%.

According to Abp Goh: However, and this is a concern for us, there is an increasing number of people who claim not to belong to any confession. This is an important group that we must try to approach as a possibility of evangelisation.

The archbishop of Singapore believes social outreach is “the main missionary front for the local Church.”

We have many organisations that assist people in need, such as Caritas Singapore, which leads other 25 associations. In Singapore, the funds and donations collected by our initiatives cannot by law be allocated to foreign projects, unless this is specified before to interested donors. For humanitarian initiatives outside the national borders (Cambodia, Vietnam, Philippines, Myanmar), the Archdiocese has established the Caritas Humanitarian Aid & Relief Initiatives (Charis). The faithful are very involved and offer great support, witnessing their faith among those most in need.”

Another focus area for the Singapore Church is interreligious dialogue and the promotion of harmony among the various confessions.

We organise many initiatives to share our experiences of faith without proselytising. We bear witness to what Jesus did in our lives, how he changed them and made the difference.

The archdiocese pays particular attention to the education of young people. In this regard, Abp Goh states:

In each of the over 35 Catholic schools we form the heart of the boys, even before their intellect. We do not want leaders who live for themselves, but people who care about their neighbour. The Christian schools, Catholic and Protestant, have worked hard on this and it is a precious legacy that they leave to the ruling class of the country.

If Singapore is a successful nation today, it is also because most of our rulers have attended missionary schools, even though many of them are not Christians. It is also thanks to the teaching of the values of the Gospel that Singapore pays special attention to policies in favour of life and the family, resisting the pressure of the West for the implementation of laws such as those on homosexual unions. Honesty and integrity are virtues that are very close to the Singaporeans.

Every year, the Church of Singapore welcomes about 3,000 new baptised, but conversions are not the sole purpose of the initiatives of the Catholic community.

Our goal is to build a Church that is vibrant, evangelical and missionary. This is also the decree of the archdiocese. My commitment is to make Catholics more aware, not only in Singapore but also abroad. To this end, we created the Catholic Theological Institute of Singapore (CTIS), to prepare students for the new evangelisation among the many cultures and religions of our continent, since the formation of the laity is fundamental to mission. The faith of the Catholic community in Singapore is truly surprising, for example the lunchtime mass we organise for workers. The cathedral is always crowded and the participation is remarkable in all the 33 parishes of the archdiocese, where every day there are about 300-400 faithful. They seek peace, comfort in a everyday life in Singapore, which can be quite stressful.

Having a high level of education, the Singaporean Catholics are quite demanding. So our priests have to give good homilies. The faithful crave the Word of God and feel the need to find a link between faith and their lives, which is why they know how to be critical of pastors whose sermons are lacking. Fortunately, we have good priests, who through the Word are able to touch hearts.

The decline in priestly vocations is a great concern for Abp Goh, who says increased lay participation in pastoral works a way to counteract the negative effects of the phenomenon.

It is more important than ever to involve the laity in the life of the Church, because in the end it is to them that it belongs. Our schools are directed above all by non-consecrated persons, since the average age of the clergy is always higher. In parishes serving about 6 thousand faithful, we consider a 40-year-old priest to be ‘young.’

In every community there is always a lot of work to do and the time we dedicate to young people is always too little. Added to this is the great difference in age between the young people and the pastors, which affects dialogue between them.  The risk is that there is no one to respond to the numerous and increasingly demanding questions of adolescents. To find a solution to the problem and provide for the pastoral care of young people, we have set up the Office for Young People (YOP). This initiative assists the youngsters in the search for Jesus and the answers they need. – Paolo Fossati, AsiaNews

Singapore prelate calls on Europe ‘to let itself be inspired by religion’

VATICAN CITY – AsiaNews published the second installment of a three-part interview with Archbishop William Goh of Singapore on 15 Feb 2018.  In this installment, the archbishop analyses the differences in religious experience in the West and East.  He was with the Malaysian and Brunei bishops at their ad limina visit to the Holy See on 4-9 Feb 2018 and gave the interview to Asia News Feb 9.

After having illustrated the climate of harmony and the relationship of collaboration between the city-state institutions and religious confessions, Archbishop Goh analyses the misunderstandings that mark relations between religion and Western societies.

Instead of rejecting it, the European countries should be inspired by religion in the government of people, in making their lives better, in giving them meaning and fulfillment. I think that Singapore can be an example in this sense.

However, unlike Europe, our government is secular but not secularist or anti-religious. The European weakness is represented by the fact that many governments are adverse to faith. How can a secular government help people to realise themselves, if it does not contemplate God and neglects religious sentiment? In the West, a very important dimension of people’s lives is being lost. In an attempt to be more and more secularised, faith is relegated to something private, marginal. In this way, men will never find happiness in the things they possess.

Although Singapore is a very prosperous country, where competitiveness and economic development are primary objectives, society holds “a strong religious feeling.”

The archbishop explains why:

When you have everything you need, the question that arises is: ‘What is the meaning of life?’. Religion provides the solution to this question, which cannot be answered without God. Even the younger generations of Singapore, who have been raised in a state of well-being, ask themselves these questions: ‘What do you live for? Do you want to make a difference in people’s lives? You cannot find meaning in your life if you do not live for others.

I am used to meeting numerous entrepreneurs, successful people, who in the course of their lives all become philanthropists. They are people who possess more than necessary, money that they would not be able to spend in their whole lifetime. And so they begin to try to benefit others, offering their service for the good of the country and giving part of their wealth to non-governmental organisations, the Church and charitable institutions. People in Singapore are very generous and donate without prejudice. The parishes are full and the Church is alive. This is why, when we come to Europe, we are sad to see empty churches. We are very busy and in all we celebrate eight liturgies every weekend.

Msgr Goh identifies in the “domain of rationalism and the industrial revolution” the causes of the crisis of values sweeping through European countries.

Europe has thus become rationalist, materialistic and individualistic – he says – religion cannot be explained, it is something that comes from the heart, it is an encounter. Faith and reason do not contradict each other, but faith is greater than reason.”

There are also many differences between East and West in how religion is experienced.

Asians are generally sentimental people, very spiritual. Europe has instead lost its spiritual dimension and a large part of religion is in the minds of people. Reasoning prevails over personal experience, over the encounter. The Gospel is a miracle, it goes beyond human words.”

According to Msgr Goh, one of the reasons why Christianity, especially Catholicism, has taken root in Asia is “respect for what is sacred”, typical of local cultures.

This is the reason why religions in Asia are flourishing, what drives us to rediscover our encounter with Christ. However,  given that Singapore subject to strong Western influence, my fear is that our citizens tend to be too ‘cerebral.’

Consequently, in his pastoral work, Msgr Goh seeks to renew the faith of Catholics through spiritual retreats and experiences of conversion.

As a bishop, it is my duty to guide this kind of initiative every year, to help people meet Jesus directly. This, moreover, is the foundation of our faith. Without this meeting, one can study all the theology that one wants, but no change will take place in people’s heart. Theology is faith that seeks knowledge, it is not an explanation of faith. This is where Europe’s failure resides, which also contributes to the scandals and bad examples that have invested religious leaders. As Pope Francis affirms, the renewal of the Church passes through the renewal of her pastors. The faithful want this change, in Singapore they are ‘hungry’ for the Word of God. We need a conversion of hearts that starts from the top and reaches the base. – Paolo Fossati, AsiaNews

Cardinal Ratzinger’s far-sighted address on current challenges in the Church

In his blog posted on 6 Feb 2018 on the National Catholic Register, Edward Pentin wrote on the talk given to European bishops in 1989 by the future Pope Benedict XVI who foresaw many of the challenges afflicting the Church today, and proposed how to understand and effectively deal with them.

How can we best understand and handle what seem today to be incessant challenges to the faith from inside as well as outside the Church?

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger gave some helpful pointers in a prophetic 1989 address in which he showed not only how these new revolutionary “paradigms” have evolved, but how to understand their specious nature, and in what way the faithful can effectively respond to them.

In his discourse to doctrinal commissions in Laxenburg, Austria, entitled Difficulties Confronting the Faith in Europe Today, the then-prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith pinpointed a “litany of objections” to the Church’s teaching and practice repeated by “progressive-thinking Catholics.”

The first of these objections, he said, was the rejection of the Church’s teaching on artificial contraception — a long-standing dissension which, during this 50th anniversary year of Blessed Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae, is now, for the first time, being promoted without censure by papal-appointed Vatican figures.

Cardinal Ratzinger said the rejection takes the form of placing artificial birth control on “the same moral level of every kind of means for the prevention of conception upon whose application only individual ‘conscience’ may decide.”

A second objection concerns the Church’s “discrimination” with regards to homosexuality, and the “consequent assertion” by progressive-thinking Catholics of a “moral equivalence for all forms of sexual activity as long as they are motivated by ‘love’ or at least do not hurt anyone.” Connected with this, he singled out the “admission of the divorced who remarry to the Church’s sacraments,” and, lastly, “the ordination of women to the priesthood.”

Cardinal Ratzinger noted how these “objections” question both sexual morality and the Church’s sacramental order, but are “very much linked together,” springing from “a particular notion of human freedom” and difficulties relating to the “Church’s traditional sexual morality.” Today, he said, man feels he has to “come to terms with his sexuality in a differentiated and less confining way” and he thus urges a revision of standards, ones which are deemed “no longer acceptable in the present circumstances, no matter how meaningful they may have been under past historical conditions.”

Conscience Rules

Such thinking, he added, claims to show how today we have “finally discovered our rights and the freedom of our conscience” and how we are “no longer prepared to subordinate it to some external authority.”

He added that for those who hold such opinions, the “fundamental relationship between man and woman” should be reordered in such a way that “outmoded role expectations” must “be overturned and that complete equality of opportunity be accorded women on all levels and in all fields.”  

The cardinal said it would be surprising if the Church, being the “conservative institution that she is,” would go along with such an ideology, but if she did, she would be obliged to “set aside the theological justification of old social taboos, and the most timely and vital sign of such a desire at the present moment would be her consent to the ordination of women to the priesthood.”

The future pope then turned to the roots of this “progressive-thinking,” and noted that its “key concepts” are the words “conscience” and “freedom” which, although supposed to “confer the aura of morality,” actually are a “surrender of moral integrity” and the “simplifications of a lax conscience.”

Conscience, he pointed out, is no longer understood as knowledge derived from a “higher form of knowing” but rather the “individual’s self-determination” — each person deciding for himself “what is moral in a given situation.”

Furthermore, he said the concept of “norms,” or the “moral law,” take on “negative shades of dark intensity,” and while an “external rule may supply models for direction,” for the progressive Catholic thinker it can in “no case serve as the ultimate arbiter of one’s obligation” — an argument used recently by a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life who placed conscience and responsibility above the moral precept of artificial contraception as an intrinsic evil.

These changes in approach, Cardinal Ratzinger said, are portrayed as “liberation” but actually lead to the disappearance of the differentiation between the sexes, precipitated by the separation of “sexuality and procreation” that was first “introduced with the [contraceptive] pill” and “brought to its culmination” by being able to “‘make’ human beings in the laboratory.”  

It has led, he added, to seeing as “unimportant” the differences between homosexuality and heterosexuality as well as other extra-marital relations — a “revolutionary vision” which lies behind the litany of objections to Church teaching he laid out at the beginning.

“Without a doubt this will be one of the principal challenges for anthropological reflection in coming years,” the cardinal said presciently, and predicted meticulous work is needed to discern which is in opposition to the faith’s vision of man, and which could be “quite meaningful corrections to traditional notions.”

Breathing in Paradigm Shifts

He then looked at how such thinking has come to be adopted by Christians, and concluded that it rests on a “far-reaching change of ‘paradigms’” that appear plausible while removing the old ones for consideration. Many Christians “breathe in” such an atmosphere, he said, which can easily appear more attractive.

“Who would not be for conscience and freedom and against legalism and constraint?,” he asked rhetorically. “Who wishes to be put into the position of defending taboos? If the questions are framed in this way, the faith proclaimed by the Magisterium is already manoeuvred into a hopeless position. It collapses all by itself because it loses its plausibility according to the thought patterns of the modern world, and is looked upon by progressive contemporaries as something that has been long superseded.”

To effectively respond to this, Cardinal Ratzinger advocated expressing the “logic of the faith in its integrity, the good sense and reasonableness of its view of reality and life.”

He also stressed the need to understand how this new revolutionary “paradigm” came into existence, and put it down to changes in three areas: The complete disappearance of the theological doctrine on creation which is connected to the demise of metaphysics; man’s “imprisonment in the empirical,” that is, knowledge based only on the senses, which has led to a “weakening of Christology” and essentially a lack of belief in the divinity of Christ; and lastly a loss of belief in the Last Things, and the fact that belief in eternal life “has hardly any role to play in preaching today.”

This has led, he continued, to the “Kingdom of God” being almost “completely substituted” by the “Utopia of a better future world,” but it is a yearning that “does not suffice.” Rather, it is dangerous, he added, “if the better world terminology predominates in prayers and sermons and inadvertently replaces the faith with a placebo.”

Cardinal Ratzinger ended by not wishing to appear too negative, but rather to set out the “obstacles to the faith in the European context” and to examine the “deepest motives which give rise to the individual difficulties in ever changing forms.”

“Only by learning to understand that fundamental trait of modern existence which refuses to accept the faith before discussing all its contents, will we be able to regain the initiative instead of simply responding to the questions raised,” he advised.

“Only then can we reveal the faith as the alternative which the world awaits after the failure of the liberalistic and Marxist experiments,” he added. “This is today’s challenge to Christianity, herein lies our great responsibility as Christians at the present time.”

The talk can be read in full on the Vatican website here.

Charity, clarity, and their opposite

In his column on posted on 6 Feb 2018, Archbishop Charles Chaput writes on the recent call to bless same-sex union:

Nearly everyone trying to understand the current government turmoil in Washington is either (a) pre-committed to one or the other political party’s version of events; or (b) thoroughly confused.  Most of us fall more or less in the second group. And that means a great many citizens end up feeling powerless, then disgusted, then angry.  If, as Scripture says, the truth makes us free, the lack of it makes us frustrated and locked in a state of uncertainty.

To put it another way: Confusion is bad. It’s bad for the individual soul, and it’s bad for the health of a society. It inevitably breeds division and conflict.

Confusion can have different causes. Some of them are quite innocent. A person may hear or interpret information incorrectly. Or a person may express himself or herself unclearly. Or factors beyond anyone’s control — for example, the prejudice or sloppiness of a news organisation — may interfere with, or dramatically color, how a message is communicated and received.

These things happen as a natural part of life. This is why leaders have a special duty to be clear, honest and prudent in what they do and say. They need to “speak the truth with love,” in the words of St Paul. To rashly, or deliberately, cause confusion about a significant matter is a serious failure for any person in authority. So it is in public life. And so it is in the life of the Church.

There is no love — no charity — without truth, just as there is no real mercy separated from a framework of justice informed and guided by truth. At the same time, truth used as a weapon to humiliate others, truth that lacks patience and love, is a particularly ugly form of violence.

So what’s the point of these thoughts?

Over the past few weeks, a number of senior voices in the leadership of the Church in Germany have suggested (or strongly implied) support for the institution of a Catholic blessing rite for same-sex couples who are civilly married or seeking civil marriage.

On the surface, the idea may sound generous and reasonable. But the imprudence of such public statements is — and should be — the cause of serious concern. It requires a response because what happens in one local reality of the global Church inevitably resonates elsewhere — including eventually here.

In the case at hand, any such “blessing rite” would cooperate in a morally forbidden act, no matter how sincere the persons seeking the blessing. Such a rite would undermine the Catholic witness on the nature of marriage and the family. It would confuse and mislead the faithful. And it would wound the unity of our Church, because it could not be ignored or met with silence.

Why would a seemingly merciful act pose such a problem? Blessing persons in their particular form of life effectively encourages them in that state — in this case, same-sex sexual unions.  Throughout Christian history, a simple and wise fact applies: lex orandi, lex credendi, i.e., how we worship shapes what and how we believe. Establishing a new rite teaches and advances a new doctrine by its lived effect, i.e., by practice.

There are two principles we need to remember. First, we need to treat all people with the respect and pastoral concern they deserve as children of God with inherent dignity. This emphatically includes persons with same-sex attraction. Second, there is no truth, no real mercy, and no authentic compassion, in blessing a course of action that leads persons away from God. This in no way is a rejection of the persons seeking such a blessing, but rather a refusal to ignore what we know to be true about the nature of marriage, the family, and the dignity of human sexuality.

Again: All of us as human beings, whatever our strengths or weaknesses, have a right to be treated with the respect that our God-given dignity demands. We also have a right to hear the truth, whether it pleases us or not — even if it unhappily seems to complicate the unity of the Church herself. To borrow from Aquinas: The good of ecclesiastical unity, to which schism is opposed, is less than the good of Divine truth, to which unbelief is opposed (see STh II-II, q. 39, a.2).

Jesus said the truth will make us free. Nowhere did he suggest it will make us comfortable. We still need to hear the truth clearly — and share it, clearly, always with love. Creating confusion around important truths of our faith, no matter how positive the intention, only makes a difficult task more difficult.

Conference addresses Catholic journalism, fake news, and a ‘post-truth’ era

LOURDES, France – Last week hundreds of Catholic media experts from all over the world gathered to discuss the problem of “fake news” and the challenge of reporting in what has been dubbed by some as the “post-truth” era.

With the advent of the internet and a sharp rise in the number of media outlets going online, competition to be the first to report a story is becoming more and more fierce.

The result is often a mass production and consumption of information with few adequate systems of checks and balances to verify what is being published. Pressure is high to compromise fact-checking for the sake of staying on top of a rapidly changing news cycle. Some entities intentionally offer misleading information to promote a certain agenda or sway public opinion.

Fake news can be hard to recognise because it often contains elements of truth, but is mixed with inaccurate or partial facts. This has led to confusion and a mistrust of information and the institutions providing it, experts say.

An analysis of this malady and proposals for a possible remedy were precisely the topic of discussion during this year’s Saint Francis de Sales Days conference, which took place on 24-26 Jan 2018 in Lourdes.

The conference, titled “Media and Truth,” was co-organised by the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communications and French organisation the Federation of Catholic Media (FMC). Other entities, including nonprofit media organisation SIGNIS and the French bishops conference, also participated.

Speakers at the conference, who hold various positions in Catholic media, discussed the topic from philosophical, theological, political, economic and journalistic points of view.

Typically an event for French speaking media, this year the conference was open to international media and coincided with the Jan 24 publication of Pope Francis’ message for the World Day of Social Communications, which was dedicated to the topic of fake news.

In comments to CNA, Msgr Dario Edoardo Vigano, prefect of the Secretariat for Communications, said talking about fake news right now “is central because the panorama of media has changed.”

With traditional newspapers in crisis, he said, news is increasingly being spread by “a plethora of people who think of themselves as authoritative interpreters of contemporary life on the internet.”

This phenomenon, he said, “confuses presence, at times very widespread, with pertinence.” Because of this, addressing the problem of fake news “means having the journalistic profession at heart.”

Natasa Govekar, director of the Pastoral Theological Department of the Secretariat for Communications, said that while technology may appear to make communication easier than in past generations, “in reality it’s harder… because we are inundated with images, but without an education on images.”

“We don’t realise the power that they have and we perceive them as if there were just illustrations that accompany a text to make it more interesting,” she told CNA. “We don’t realise that they arrive much faster and much more directly than words,” and often words aren’t able “to ‘correct’ the choice of a mistaken image.”

Govekar, who spoke on the second day of the conference about the impact of images in communication, said Pope Francis is a prime example of how a picture can communicate more clearly than words.

She said whenever she looks at the Pope’s social media accounts, particularly his Instagram “Franciscus” profile, the comments always say things like “I willingly listen to your words because of how you said them,” or “I like to see your comments or a minute of your video because you always have this smile that captivates,” or “Even if I don’t understand your language, just the tone of your voice is consoling for me.”

“Even before understanding what he is saying and what he is inviting us to, we see it. The image, the gesture, speaks before the words arrive,” Govekar said, explaining that people don’t need to conduct a study on the image to understand what’s being communicated.

Helen Osman, president of SIGNIS, echoed Govekar’s sentiments. With the rise of digital media, she said, information can be spread more quickly than ever before, but “the challenge is to provide quality material that people find useful and helpful in their lives.”

Osman spoke to the conference about state of both secular and Catholic media in the United States, highlighting a decrease of trust in journalists. This, she said, is largely due to the fact that journalists are perceived to be out of touch with their audiences, and can also be attributed to social media being used to promote “yellow journalism.”

“There’s this growing acceptance or reference for conspiracy theories or concepts that aren’t even factually accurate,” Osman said, explaining that in her experience, she finds that this trend is often due to fear.

As Catholic journalists, “we know what answers those fears,” she said, so “why are we not presenting that in a way that makes sense to people and helps them sort through this?”

Other speakers also noted that the Catholic media have not been exempt from the troubling trends plaguing modern journalism.

In his opening speech, Vigano observed that Catholic media are not only victims of fake news, “but we are also authors,” even if unintentionally.

And sometimes, fake news is spread intentionally, when worldliness and the search for honour become a motivation, he said. “Fake news is often used to eliminate an enemy or, on the contrary but no worse, to valourise a person who may not have any human or professional maturity.”

In her comments to CNA, Govekar warned that digital platforms can be a new and effective way to share the Gospel, but can also be misused to promote agendas under the guise of evangelisation.

Likewise, Osman – who in her speech said Catholic media in the US at times tend to be overly apologetic and defensive in tone – said Catholic media can also fall victim to fake news and conspiracies.

“We’re human, so yes we struggle with that,” she said, adding that “it’s not easy, it’s not easy to hear someone say things or demonstrate beliefs that are in direct opposition to my beliefs.”

She cautioned against the assumption that “anyone who disagrees with the Church is to be demonized or cast out, or at the very least not heard.”

Pointing to the Pope’s message for the World Day of Communications, Osman said Francis continues to challenge Catholics in this area, particularly on the need to listen and dialogue with others.

Communications, she said, “is about listening and about trying to understand the other person. So perhaps we can take off the lens that ‘this is an attack on me’ and instead focus on the other person and say, help me understand why you think this way.”

To avoid fake news, “the first step is to lean in more, to listen more, and instead of feeling like we’ve got to counter every position or every new development.”

“It’s not a debate for me to win,” she said, but “it’s a moment for me to understand who you are.”

Similarly, Msgr Vigano, in his opening speech Jan 24, also highlighted dialogue and listening as the remedy to fake news.

“The most radical antidote is to allow oneself to be (purified) by the truth” and to have “the ability to listen,” which involves actively trying to understanding their perspective.

Communications, he said, “isn’t just a transmission of facts,” but a reciprocal exchange with others. Ultimately, it’s “an occasion to build bridges of peace.”

In his comments to CNA, Vigano said that to fight against fake news, Catholics can first of all avoid sharing news that is unfounded and unverified.

He stressed that problem of truth “is in all of society, not just among Catholics,” and said that members of the Church, “we have a greater responsibility” than non-believers to work for truth.

For her part, Govekar said sharing information and working in teams is an effective tool to avoid fake news. She noted that Pope Francis, in his message for communications day, invites journalists “to be guardians of the news.”

Communion and teamwork help with this, she said, because involving multiple people creates feedback and fosters dialogue.

To recognise fake news, Osman urged readers to “come at all information with a critical eye: who’s writing it, what is their motive, why is this important to me, how does it stack up against my experience?”

“I think it’s a matter of not reading something and saying ‘oh, obviously this is true,’ but to…verify everything. In other words, don’t assume that this person or this material is bad, but verify everything.” – CNA

What’s destroying some Catholic marriages? The answer may surprise you

Of the countless Catholic couples who have come through Father TG Morrow’s office in Washington DC for marriage counseling, two remain imprinted in the priest’s mind even today.

In many ways, these two Catholic couples were the ideal; they were open to life, they formed their children in the faith and they frequented the sacraments.

But both of these marriages fell apart. The culprit? Anger.

“Anger is a poison,” Fr Morrow, a moral theologian and author of “Overcoming Sinful Anger” (Sophia Press, 2014)  told CNA. “If a husband and a wife are angry with each other a lot, it destroys the relationship. It makes it so painful that people want to get out of that relationship.

Everyone experiences the feeling of anger. It’s a natural, uncontrollable response to the behavior of others, he said. And anger can sometimes be righteous – St. Thomas Aquinas once said anger that’s aligned with reason is praiseworthy. But most often that natural response of anger morphs into sinful anger, which is motivated by a desire for revenge, the priest noted.

And this sinful anger has a devastating effect on relationships.

“It’s extremely important that people realise that (anger) can be a very serious thing, especially if they have major outbursts that really hurt other people,” Fr Morrow said.

Anger is so destructive that many marriage experts recommend couples have five positive interactions for every negative interaction.

“This anger, when it’s expressed badly, is a poison to every relationship,” he said. “Married people need especially to be careful about this…to work on this and to overcome this.”

Since the feeling of anger is natural and unavoidable, Fr Morrow said it is important to know how to express anger or displeasure in an effective and positive way. The first step: decide if it is worth getting angry.

“People get angry about little, trifling things,” he said. “You have to say “Is this worth getting angry about?” If not, then you have to let it go. Just forget it.”

If your anger is justified and a confrontation would promote the good of the other, use humor or diplomacy to express your anger. If a confrontation would not promote the good of the other, then Fr. Morrow suggested offering that anger to God as a sacrifice for your sins and the sins of the world.

“(Anger) won’t go away automatically in one try,” he explained. “We have to keep giving it to God as a sacrifice.”

Fr Morrow said this approach to anger does not mean every person should suddenly become a doormat who is too cowardly to express dissatisfaction with the actions of another.

He used the example of St Monica, the mother of St. Augustine of Hippo. Many of the men in Tagaste at the time had violent tempers, and St Monica’s husband was no exception. When he would come home and yell at St Monica, she would stay quiet. Some time after her husband’s explosion of anger, St Monica would approach her husband and calmly address his treatment of her and his complaints.

“She was the furthest thing from a doormat,” Fr Morrow explained. “She had a specific goal that she wanted to become holy and she wanted to covert her son. She pursued her goals ardently and as a result she converted her violent husband and eventually converted Augustine.”

Fr Morrow’s book “Overcoming Sinful Anger” (Sophia Press, 2014) reads like a manual and draws from his experience as a marriage counselor and spiritual director and his doctorate in Sacred Theology from the Pope John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family. – CNA

This article was originally published on CNA Aug. 14, 2015.

Children gain faith through Epiphany play

The shepherds pay homage to the newborn child, Epiphany Play, 7 Jan 2018, SHPC Karamunsing.

KOTA KINABALU – It is good to see Catholic traditions being maintained.

A group of young children from the Neocatechumenal Communities at Sacred Heart Cathedral (SHC) in Kota Kinabalu did precisely that on Epiphany Sunday, 7 Jan 2018.

Over 30 of them courageously stepped forward to become actors and singers for a 40-minute play staged with all necessary supporting props and impressive graphic backdrops at the main hall of the SHC parish centre.

A new born boy was found to take up the role of baby Jesus, a teenage couple played the central figures of Mary and Joseph; another girl as Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, and many boys and girls volunteered to act as angels and shepherd boys.

Their play was presented in five separate but well-integrated scenes with appropriate narration and backdrop icons to depict each segment – The Annunciation, Birth of Jesus, Visitation, Angels & Shepherds, Three Wise Men.

Grown-up children and some parents supported these young actors by taking up such roles as King Herod, the Three Wise Men, narrators, in stage design, management and production.

Great efforts were made all round to prepare the necessary stage props, including doors of inns where Mary and Joseph were told there was no room for baby Jesus to be born.

The children spent many sessions in practising their respective roles and in presenting all the songs for the play.

Suitable costumes and attires for all were designed and acquired for use for the occasion, adding to the outstanding display of talents by the players.

At the end of the show, Father Paul Lo, assistant Rector at SHC, told the children he was very impressed by their show of talents and presented to them special gifts on behalf of the parents.

Prior to the start of the show, Fr Lo had a brief dialogue with the young children thus helping them to know and understand the true meaning of the Feast of Epiphany and the manifestation of the light that comes with Jesus for all nations.

The Epiphany play has been consistently staged by communities of the Neocatechumenal Way in various parishes of the Archdiocese of Kota Kinabalu as one of the means to pass our Catholic faith to young children.

By taking an active part in such a play over a number of years, the children of the communities are given opportunities to gain knowledge and faith in the birth and mission of Jesus Christ in a personal and intimate way. – Joe Leong

2018 marks 50th anniversary of ‘Humanae Vitae’

Pope Paul VI is seen in an undated official portrait. Pope Francis beatified Pope Paul on 19 Oct 2014 during the closing Mass of the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family. The miracle needed for Pope Paul’s beatification involved the birth of a healthy baby to a mother in California after doctors had said both lives were at risk. (CNS photo/Felici, Catholic Press Photo)

This July will bring the 50th anniversary of one of the most controversial Church documents in modern times — Humanae Vitae (“On Human Life”), Blessed Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical reaffirming the Church’s condemnation of contraception. Its defenders see its issuance as an act of courage by the pope in the face of rampant sexual permissiveness. Pope Francis three years ago designated Paul VI “Blessed,” a step toward his possible future recognition as a saint. Critics dismiss the encyclical as a relic of outdated morality that Catholics can safely ignore. According to the polls, a large majority of US Catholics do exactly that where contraception is concerned.

One thing the defenders and the critics agree on: Humanae Vitae was a turning point, a watershed event in the life of the Church. To understand why, it’s necessary to understand some of the background that led up to its issuance.

Traditional teaching

Pope Paul’s encyclical was by no means the first time a pope had spoken against artificial birth control. Particularly noteworthy was Pope Pius XI’s encyclical Casti Connubii (“On Christian Marriage”), dated 31 Dec 1930. The document is a comprehensive presentation of Church teaching on marriage, but what it says about contraception was widely seen as an implicit response to a high-level Anglican Church statement from earlier that year giving limited approval to birth control.

Pius XI said: “Any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of a grave sin.” In the years that followed, Pope Pius XII repeated the condemnation of contraception a number of times. In an address in 1951, he said the teaching “is in full force today, as it was in the past, as it will be in the future also and always, because it is not a simple human whim but the expression of a natural and divine law.”

Catholic theologians also uniformly upheld the teaching. There was no visible dissent within the Church. In his 1979 book “The Battle for the American Church,” Msgr George A Kelly quotes a report prepared in 1965 for the US bishops saying Catholic theologians in the United States “have unanimously condemned contraception.”

“Now it is an outstanding manifestation of charity toward souls to omit nothing from the saving doctrine of Christ; but this must always be joined with tolerance and charity, as Christ Himself showed in His conversations and dealings with men. For when He came, not to judge, but to save the world, was He not bitterly severe toward sin, but patient and abounding in mercy toward sinners?

“Husbands and wives, therefore, when deeply distressed by reason of the difficulties of their life, must find stamped in the heart and voice of their priest the likeness of the voice and the love of our Redeemer.

“Nor is there any tendency in their published writings to defend the idea that the Church will or can change her substantial teaching on birth control,” added this document, which had been prepared in response to a Vatican inquiry.

By the early 1960s, nonetheless, pressure for change was gradually growing, fed by widespread acceptance of birth control, a shift in government policy that saw public funds starting to flow to birth control at home and abroad, propaganda about an alleged “population explosion” and the appearance on the scene of oral contraception — the pill. Now, too, some influential Catholic moralists, including the German Jesuit Father Josef Fuchs and American Jesuit Father Richard McCormick and Father Charles Curran, were publicly floating arguments that opposed the traditional teaching.

The birth control commission

Pope St John XXIII established a papal commission to study population issues. Pope Paul expanded its membership and placed the question of oral contraception on its agenda. Suddenly change began to seem like a real possibility.

Msgr Kelly says in his book that the creation and management of the papal birth control commission “was an example of how not to organise a scientific study group.” But the mere existence of such a body encouraged a mindset favouring change — especially when a document called “the majority report,” leaked to some Catholic publications and quickly publicised by secular media, showed a majority of members in favour.

As all this was happening, Pope Paul reflected and prayed. The delay by the pope, whose hesitation in making hard decisions had caused some people to liken him to Shakespeare’s tragic hero Hamlet, increased the expectation that change was on its way.

Then, on 25 July 1968, the pope issued Humanae Vitae. Citing the “inseparable connection” between the “unitive” (love-giving) and “procreative” (life-giving) means of the conjugal act, Paul VI said: “Each and every marriage act must remain open to the transmission of life.” He added: “Similarly excluded is every action which, either in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible.”

Coming amid the sexual revolution of the 1960s, the heady days of the immediate post-Vatican II period in the Church and the widespread expectation that the pope would change the teaching, this reaffirmation of traditional teaching received a firestorm of angry criticism led by theological dissenters, which spread by blanket coverage in the media. Paul VI was the target of much of it. Although an exodus from the priesthood and religious life had in fact begun several years before, now the pope was blamed for it. Defenders of the encyclical were either ignored or vilified. The mood of dissent spread and became entrenched.

Ongoing ramifications

Since then, the teaching of Humanae Vitae has been endorsed by Pope St John Paul II (who is said to have had a hand in drafting the encyclical), Pope Benedict XVI and now Pope Francis. In his own document on marriage, Familiaris Consortio, published in 1981, Pope John Paul II expressed sympathetic understanding for married couples who have difficulty living the teaching on contraception, and quoted Paul VI: “To diminish in no way the saving teaching of Christ constitutes an eminent form of charity for souls.”

Pope Francis echoed his predecessors last year in his marriage document, Amoris Laetitia: “From the outset, love refuses every impulse to turn in on itself; it is open to a fruitfulness that draws it beyond itself. Hence no genital act of husband and wife can refuse this meaning.” The passage carries a footnote reference to Humanae Vitae.

Francis also recommends that the teaching of Humanae Vitae and Familiaris Consortio now be “taken up anew” with the aim of countering “a mentality that is often hostile to life.” The 50th anniversary of Pope Paul’s courageous but much-maligned encyclical might be a good time for doing that. – Russell Shaw, OSV Newsweekly

What’s the biggest obstacle to addressing a culture of sexual harassment?

Photo by Mihai Surdu on Unsplash

The following is the outcome of a recent online survey on sexual harassment by ‘America the Jesuit Review’ posted on its website on 27 Dec 2017.

When asked if they had experienced sexual harassment, 89 percent of all respondents to our recent survey answered yes, while 76 percent told America that they had seen someone else experience harassment. Ninety-seven percent of women who responded said that they had experienced sexual harassment first hand.

“Sexual harassment is so commonplace in its different forms that it is easier to name the times and places it has not occurred,” wrote one reader from Medford, Ore. When asked to indicate the settings in which they experienced or witnessed harassment, readers most frequently named the workplace (79 percent), public places (62 percent) and school (45 percent).

Despite these sobering numbers, the majority of readers (77 percent) told America that they have noticed new efforts to respond to sexual harassment in the last decade. “I think a great deal changed in the workplace after Anita Hill,” a reader from Boston wrote.

Other readers noted productive efforts by their communities to end harassment. “My diocese has a program that trains all volunteers and employees in understanding both abuse and sexual harassment,” wrote a respondent from Austin, Tex. “Personal accountability and communal responsibility are priorities.”

A reader from New York City described the usefulness of online communities in this respect, singling out the #MeToo social media campaign. “#MeToo has helped me and others gain a voice against perpetrators,” she said.

Readers described many obstacles to addressing a culture that permits sexual harassment. One respondent said that “victim-blaming and making perpetrators the ‘victims’” is the biggest obstacle to moving forward. She gave an example: “Saying, ‘It’s a horrible time to be a man today,’ overlooks the fact it has been a horrible time to be a woman for a long, long time.”

Another reader, from Pasadena, Calif, pointed out that society’s attention has been disproportionately focused on high-profile harassment cases. “While we relish the downfall of powerful, abusive men,” he said, “we refuse to recognise the ways we are already complicit in this culture.”

A respondent from Pottsville, Pa, suggested that putting women in leadership positions could help: “Men tend to protect and shield other men even when they are guilty…. [They can be more] concerned with the perpetrator’s dignity than that of the victim. (We have seen this with our own clerical sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church.) More women need to be in positions of leadership and power because when we are not, we are more likely to be targeted as victims.” – america

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